Broader Horizons Triumph in ‘Best of Times for Women’


By Masha Leon

Published May 30, 2003, issue of May 30, 2003.
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Journalist Ruth Gruber and sex guru Ruth Westheimer — with doctorates, the “two Drs. Ruth” — took center stage at the May 12 women’s luncheon hosted by the Museum of Jewish Heritage–A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Following greetings by co-chairs Patti Kenner and Ann Oster, museum chairman Robert Morgenthau and director David Marwell, CBS news correspondent Magee Hickey struggled to interview these two feisty ladies whose paths had crossed in Israel in 1948.

Westheimer told the 500 guests at the Pierre Hotel that she’d been a “gun-toting” member of the Haganah. “I was a superb sniper,” she said, but “I never killed anybody.” Wounded in both legs, she recalled, since “there were no beds… and I am so short, I was put on a shelf in a closet.”

When Westheimer relinquished the microphone “to another short woman who can do wonderful things,” Gruber got to describe her experiences as a wartime correspondent for the Herald Tribune. “I was almost killed,” she said. “An Englishman saved me… and a yekke [a German Jew] at Hadassah [hospital] fixed me up.”

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The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York was launched in 1995 when five women in a UJA-Federation ladies’ lounge “agreed that only a small percentage of money raised by the Jewish community made its way to programs for Jewish women and girls,” according to foundation president Frances Brandt.

At the May 1 luncheon at the Pierre, emceed by WNBC anchor Jane Hanson, 330 guests — including John Ruskay, Peggy Tishman and Lillian Vernon — helped raise $263,000 for JWF grants.

Syms Corp. CEO Marcy Syms acknowledged that it was threads that launched the family fortune and philanthropic largesse. Sporting a white suit and hat, she joshed that among the 10 most important things a woman must know is “the difference between white, eggshell and ivory.”

“When our company went public, it enabled us to fund 700 Jewish students at the [Sy Syms] business school at Yeshiva University.” She concluded with, “Thank God for letting me live in the best of times for women.”

Also honored were Naomi Levine, executive director of New York University’s Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising; Nancy Lieberman, partner at Skadden, Arps, Meagher and Flom, and disability health advocates Elly and Stephen Hammerman, who is deputy commissioner of legal matters for the New York City Police Department.

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The New York chapter of the National Women’s Division of Albert Einstein College of Medicine celebrated the “Spirit of Achievement” at its May 7 luncheon at the Pierre Hotel. Emceed by WNBC anchor Michele Marsh, the luncheon lauded honorees model Christie Brinkley, Olympic gold-medalist skater Sarah Hughes, novelist Susan Isaacs, makeup maven Trish McEvoy, designer Betsey Johnson and actress Dana Reeve, an advocate for those with spinal cord injuries. The event’s 450 guests raised $400,000.

Referring to herself as the “uptown girl” — an allusion to her “ex” Billy Joel’s song — Brinkley, an environmentalist, created a frisson of discomfiture by telling the guests that they were “enjoying their dessert in the cross-hairs of three nuclear plants.”

A charming Hughes spoke lovingly of her mother, who has had radical surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer, and of her brother, who was born three months premature. He was treated as a newborn at Albert Einstein and is “now a 6-foot-tall, 180-pound hockey player.”

Isaacs was a hoot with her description of trying on an outfit for her son’s bar mitzvah at a “hoo ha” store. “‘You’re my favorite writer!’ exclaimed the fitter, a woman with a Middle European accent. She embraced me, then blurted out ‘Vendee Vassershtejn!’” Obviously, the fitter had a certain other Jewish playwright in mind.

* * *

Capitalism in the service of humanity was at the heart of honoree Bruce Klatsky’s address at the May 6 Safe Horizon’s 25th anniversary awards luncheon. Chairman and CEO of the international Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., Klatsky, whose grandparents came from Russia, said: “Capitalism is the most efficient system ever devised at generating economic… development.”

“Yet,” he continued, “basic human needs [must be met]…. And that is why as a company [we] encourage tolerance, celebrate diversity, mandate safe and humane working conditions and protect the environment in all the communities where we operate.”

Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading nonprofit victim assistance advocacy organization — known as Victims Services when it was founded in 1978 by Lucy Friedman — fields 300,000 calls from New Yorkers each year who have been victims of crime or abuse. Event chair Cynthia Lufkin touted Safe Horizon’s 1,000 volunteers and its 80 programs that include hot lines for victims of rape, torture and stalking, as well as aid to immigrants and refugees.

In his address, guest speaker, Gavin de Becker, expert on violence and author of “The Gift of Fear” — who at age 10 saw his mother shoot his stepfather — said, “Since 9/11… though we are pre-living a tragedy about things to happen and worst-case scenarios… we need not be victims in waiting.”

To cap off the event, Bette Midler sang “Happy Birthday” to the 1,000 Safe Horizon boosters at the Waldorf-Astoria who helped raise $1.2 million. Among them were Ed Koch, Cornelia Guest, Jessica Seinfeld, Donna Hanover, Betsy Gotbaum, Rosina Abramson and Muffie Potter Aston.

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