Past Honorees

At Central Synagogue

From 1984-2015, Central Synagogue conferred the annual Shofar Shabbat award on a Jew of exceptional distinction who exemplifies the principles of Judaism and the beliefs of the Jewish people. Our honorees included leaders in social activism, science, politics, business, art, and journalism; all are accomplished individuals who represent the ideals we strive to uphold in our community.

Simon Schama
Simon Schama
Author and Historian

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and a Contributing Editor of the Financial Times. He is the author of sixteen books and the writer-presenter of more than forty documentaries on art, history and literature for BBC2. His art criticism for The New Yorker won the National Magazine Award for criticism in 1996; his film on Bernini from The Power of Art won an Emmy in 2007 and his series on British history and The American Future: a History, Broadcast Critics Guild awards. He won the NCR non-fiction prize for Citizens, National Book Critics Circle award for Rough Crossings, the WH Smith Literary Award for Landscape and Memory. He writes on cooking and food for GQ; fashion for Harpers Bazaar and on everything else for the FT. He curated the Government Art Collection show Travelling Light at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and has collaborated with Anselm Kiefer, John Virtue and Cecile B. Evans on contemporary art exhibitions and installations. His latest project is The Story of the Jews, which was broadcast on television and published as a book in the UK in autumn 2013, and in the US in spring 2014.

Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan
Author and Food Activist

For the past twenty-five years, Michael Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment. He is the author of four New York Times bestsellers: Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (2010); In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008); The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006) and The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001). His most recent book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, was published in April of 2013.

Pollan was named in the 2010 TIME 100, the magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people. In 2009 he was named by Newsweek as one of the top 10 “New Thought Leaders.” A contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine since 1987, his writing has received numerous awards. In 2009, he appeared in a two-hour PBS special based on The Botany of Desire as well as in the documentary Food Inc., which received an Academy Award Nomination.

Born in 1955, Pollan grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Bennington College, Oxford University, and Columbia University, from which he received a Master’s in English. He lives in the Bay Area with his wife, the painter Judith Belzer, and their son, Isaac.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Letty Cottin Pogrebin

Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s writing and advocacy helped secure equal rights for women at a time—not so long ago—when the notion of equal pay and non-sexist childrearing were novel and controversial ideas in American society.  She was a founding editor of Ms. magazine as well as a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, which supports women who seek political office.

Pogrebin was raised in an observant Jewish home in Jamaica, Queens, and studied Torah and Talmud, a rarity for girls of her generation. Her mother died when she was 15, and when she was denied the honor of being included in the minyan to say Kaddish because she was female, she turned away from Judaism for years.  The account of the incident in her book Deborah, Golda and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America is shocking and haunting.  But as women in liberal Judaism were allowed to take their place in minyans, and became rabbis and cantors in the 1980s, she was, in her own words, “born again” to her people.

When the 1974 United Nations Conference on Women passed a platform declaring that “Zionism is racism,” Pogrebin challenged this anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic stance by writing about it in Ms. and other publications. She has been a regular contributor to the Forward, the Jewish Week, Moment, Taken, and Lilith and has also been extensively published in Ms., the Ladies Home Journal, the New York Times, and others too numerous to name.

She served two terms as chair of the board of Americans for Peace Now, an advocacy organization that works toward a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has also been president of the Author’s Guild. She is a member of the advisory board of the Harvard Divinity School’s Women in Religion Program as well as on the board of the Women’s Studies Program at her alma mater, Brandeis.  With Marlo Thomas, she co-created the book, record album, and Emmy-award–winning television special Free To Be You and Me.  She is the author of ten books.

Pogrebin and her husband Bert have been married for over 40 years and are the parents of Abigail, Robin, and David and the grandparents of six.


Tony Kushner
Tony Kushner

Born in New York City in 1956 and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Tony Kushner is best known for his two-part epic, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. His other plays include A Bright Room Called Day, Slavs!, Hydriotaphia, Homebody/Kabul, and Caroline, or Change, the musical for which he wrote the book and lyrics with music by composer Jeanine Tesori.

Kushner has translated and adapted Pierre Corneille’s The Illusion, S.Y. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Sezuan and Mother Courage and Her Children, and the English-language libretto for the children’s opera Brundibár by Hans Krasa.

He wrote the screenplays for Mike Nichols’s film of Angels in America and Steven Spielberg’s Munich. His books include Brundibár with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present, and Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict, co-edited with Alisa Solomon.

His latest work includes a collection of one-act plays entitled Tiny Kushner, featuring characters such as Laura Bush, Richard Nixon’s analyst, the queen of Albania, and a number of tax evaders, and The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures (which will premiere in New York City in 2011).

An off-Broadway revival of Angels in America is currently in previews at the Signature Theater in New York and will open at the end of October 2010.

Among other accolades, Kushner is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an Emmy Award, two Tony Awards, three Obie Awards, an Oscar nomination, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the PEN/Laura Pels Award for a Mid-Career Playwright, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and a Cultural Achievement Award from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture.

In 2008, Kushner was the first recipient of the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award. He was also awarded the 2009 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for lifetime achievement. He is the subject of a documentary film, Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, made by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock.

Kushner lives in Manhattan with his husband, Mark Harris.

Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman
Author & Journalist

Thomas L. Friedman is a world-renowned author and journalist and the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes. He joined The New York Times in 1981 and has reported extensively on the Middle East conflict, the end of the Cold War, U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy, international economics, and the worldwide impact of the terrorist threat. His foreign affairs column, which appears twice a week in the Times, is syndicated to one hundred other newspapers worldwide.

Friedman is the author of From Beirut to Jerusalem (1989), The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999), Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11 (2002) and The World Is Flat (2005) among other books. He graduated summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a degree in Mediterranean studies and received a master’s degree in modern Middle East studies from Oxford.

Growing up in Minnesota, Friedman was sent to Hebrew school five days a week, but after becoming bar mitzvah he had little interest in the synagogue and considered himself “a three-day-a-year Jew.” That changed in the winter of 1968 when, as a 15-year-old boy, he traveled to Israel for the first time with his parents.

As he writes in the prologue of his first book, From Beirut to Jerusalem:

The trip that would change my life. [S]omething about Israel and the Middle East grabbed me in both heart and mind. I was totally taken with the place, its peoples and its conflicts. Since that moment, I have never really been interested in anything else. Indeed, from the first day I walked through the walled Old City of Jerusalem, inhaled its spices, and lost myself in the multicolored river of humanity that owed through its maze of alleyways, I felt at home.

I began to read everything I could get my hands on about Israel. In the period of a year, I went from being a nebbish whose dream was to one day become a professional golfer to being an Israel expert-in-training.

[As an undergrad at Brandeis] I gave a slide lecture about Egypt. An Israeli graduate student in the audience heckled me the entire time asking, “What is a Jew doing going to Egypt?” Worse, he got me extremely flustered and turned my talk into a catastrophe I would never forget.

But I learned two important lessons from the encounter. First, when it comes to discussing the Middle East, people go temporarily insane, so if you are planning to talk to an audience of more than two, you’d better have mastered the subject.

Second, a Jew who wants to make a career working in or studying about the Middle East will always be a lonely man: he will never be fully accepted or trusted by the Arabs, and he will never be fully accepted or trusted by the Jews.

Dr. Ruth  Westheimer
Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Sociologist and psychosexual therapist

“A satisfying love relationship is not something that ‘happens’ to a couple; it is something they make happen.”

Dr. Ruth Westheimer – sociologist, psychosexual therapist, and former Jewish freedom fighter – is a true Renaissance woman, and has made a name for herself in almost every avenue of media. In her long career she has authored 35 books, served as an adjunct associate professor of human sexuality at Cornell University Medical Center, created critically acclaimed documentaries on the experiences of Ethiopian Jews and Bedoin women, and hosted the television and radio shows What’s Up, Dr. Ruth and Sexually Speaking.

Born Karola Ruth Siegel in Germany in 1928, Dr. Westheimer was sent to a children’s home in Switzerland at the start of the Holocaust, escaping the horrible death her parents suffered later in concentration camps. When she was 17 she moved to Israel and fought for independence with the Haganah, the organization that later became the core of the Israeli Defense Forces. Westheimer eventually immigrated to the United States in 1956, settling in Washington Heights, Manhattan, where she raised her two children and continues to reside today.

Earning degrees in Sociology and Education, Westheimer began studying human sexuality and working for Planned Parenthood, building the basis for her future role as a promoter of sexual literacy. She built a flourishing career out of answering people’s questions about sex on her television show, in her newspaper column, and even in her books Dr. Ruth’s Encyclopedia of Sex and Sex for Dummies. Dr. Westheimer has received many awards and acknowledgements for her work, both as a sex therapist and a humanitarian, including the Leo Baeck Medal for her work promoting social justice, the Liberty Medal from the City of New York, and Honorary Doctorate from Hebrew Union College - Institute of Religion in 2000 for her work in Human Sexuality and her commitment to the Jewish People, Israel and Religion. She currently serves as the Honorary President of the Council on Sexuality and Aging at the National Sexuality Resource Center.

Scott S.  Cowen, Ph.D.
Scott S. Cowen, Ph.D.
President of Tulane University

Professor Scott S. Cowen, author of four books and over 100 other academic works, has been president of Tulane University in New Orleans since 1998. His excellent work there earned him recognition in TIME Magazine as one of the top 10 college presidents in the U.S., as well as the Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award in 2009. In 2010 he received the double honor of being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of being appointed by President Obama to the White House Council for Community Solutions.

Cowen is also well known for his dedicated and successful efforts of rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, particularly in his role in the city’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission, leading a committee to repair the city’s failing public school system. Under his guidance, Tulane chartered a K-12 school in New Orleans and created an Institute for Public Education Initiatives to support the reform of public education in New Orleans. In addition, Cowen co-founded the Fleur-de-lis Ambassadors program in order to promote news of New Orleans recovery and status as a livable and economically viable city to the rest of America. He was honored for his efforts with the award of the Times-Picayune’s Loving Cup, and by being named New Orleanian of the year by Gambit in 2011.

Before he became a nationally recognized figure, President Cowen earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in 1968 and then his masters and doctoral degrees in finance and management from the George Washington University. In the intervening three years he served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army. Before coming to Tulane, he served as a professor and eventually a dean at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Today he is the chair of the Association of American Universities, and has four children and four grandchildren with his wife, Marjorie.

Frédéric Brenner

“I believe that what Jews have in common is their differences. I spent 25 years going around the world from India to Sarajevo, from Rome to New York, from Beijing to Buenos Aires, and to Morocco and Ethiopia trying to understand what makes a people. I really see these portraits as a puzzle and each fragment is necessary and indispensable. Each place enabled me to express a part of myself and a part of what the Jewish people are.”

Frédéric Brenner is a French photographer who has spent the last 25 years traveling around the world chronicling Jewish life, often in surprising places. He earned many prestigious awards for his work, including the Prix Niépce and the Prix du Salon de la Photo when he was just 22, as well as the 1992 Prix de Rome. In 2003 he published the groundbreaking book Diaspora: Homelands in Exile, which contained 264 photographs of Jews from 40 countries on 5 different continents – the most extensive visual record of Jews ever created.

Born in Paris in 1959 to Holocaust survivor parents, Brenner was brought up in a family trying to distance itself from its Jewish heritage and painful past. However, the Six Day War served as a turning point for his family; he was sent to a Jewish school, and eventually joined a youth trip to Israel when he was 18. His travels in Jerusalem at that time inspired his search for the meaning and varieties Jewish identity, a search that later became his life’s work.

Before his most recent work, Brenner published five books on similar subjects:  Jerusalem: instants d’étérnite (1984), Israel (1988), Marranes (1992), Jews/America/Representation (1996), and Exile at Home (1998). He also directed the 1997 film The Last Marranos, about the descendents of Jews forced to convert to Christianity, and their Jewish revival. His art has been displayed in galleries throughout the world, from New York to Tel Aviv to Buenos Aires.  He currently lives in Paris with his wife, the poet and painter Myriam Tangi, and their two daughters.

Barry  Scheck, Esq.
Barry Scheck, Esq.
Defense Attorney and Professor

Barry Scheck is a nationally recognized and acclaimed defense lawyer and professor hailing from New York City. From staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx, to president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, his successful career has spanned 35 years, during which time he has helped to reform and reshape the United States justice system. He is perhaps most famous for co-directing The Innocence Project, which he founded at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in 1992 with Peter Neufield, also his partner in their law firm dedicated to civil rights, Neufield Scheck & Brustin, LLP.  The Innocence project is a non-profit organization dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions through the use of DNA testing, and has exonerated over 300 men and women who served or were still serving prison sentences for crimes they did not commit.

Scheck is also known for serving on the defense team of O.J. Simpson in his highly publicized 1995 murder trial, as well as serving as the personal lawyer for other high profile defendants, including Hedda Nussbaum and Louise Woodward. Scheck has received numerous awards and recognitions for his work, including the New York State Bar Association gold medal in 2013, National Trial Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, and the 2009 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law. He has additionally been named one of the 100 Best Lawyers in America multiple times.

Born in 1949 in Queens, Scheck graduated from Horace Mann School in Riverdale, went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1971, and later his JD from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley in 1974. He is currently a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where he has been a faculty member for 30 years.

Dr. Judah Folkman
Medical researcher

Dr. Judah Folkman (February 24, 1933 – January 14, 2008) is best known the founder of the field of research on angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood vessels. He initially began studying blood vessel growth as a lieutenant in the United States Navy at the National Naval Medical Center in 1960. Through these studies he came up with a possible cure for cancer – cutting off tumors from the blood supply they need to grow. Folkman’s idea eventually led to the successful cancer drug Avastin, approved in 2004.

Folkman was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1933. He decided to become a doctor at the young age of 7, after visiting hospital patients with his father, a rabbi. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University in 1953, and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1957, where he had invented one of the first pacemakers. He continued his work on pacemakers in his surgical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he eventually became Chief Resident in surgery. In 1968 he became the youngest full Professor at Harvard Medical School in history; his departments were Pediatric Surgery and Cell Biology.

Folkman received many honors and awards for his work, including the George Ledlie Prize from Harvard, Israel’s Wolf Prize in 1992, Switzerland’s Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Award, and the 2007 Hope Funds Award of Excellence in Basic Research. In 2006 he was appointed to the National Cancer Advisory Board of the National Institutes of Health by President Bush.

At the time of his death Folkman was director of the vascular biology program at Children’s Hospital Boston, where he had been for nearly forty years. He leaves behind his wife, two daughters, and one granddaughter.

Ruth Gruber
Ruth Gruber
Journalist and humanitarian

“Have dreams, have visions, and let no obstacle stop you.”

Ruth Gruber, now over 100 years old, has had a long and extraordinary career in which she played many different roles – writer, government official, photographer, and humanitarian. A 2010 documentary film based on her autobiography Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent (1991) chronicles Gruber’s early career, which defied the limits and expectations placed on women at that time, and shows her important role in key moments in history.

Gruber was born to Russian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn in 1911. She attended New York University at the young age of 15, and eventually won postgraduate fellowships from both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Institute of International Education in Cologne, Germany, where she became the youngest person in the world to receive a Ph.D.

She began writing about such hot button issues as Fascism and Communism for The New York Herald Tribune in 1935. Her success as a journalist and a foreign correspondent led to her appointment as Special Assistant to the United States Secretary of the Interior during World War II. It was in this role that she conducted a secret mission to Europe in 1944 to bring 1000 Jewish refugees and wounded American soldiers from Italy to the safety of the U.S. She later published a book based on her interviews of the refugees, Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America, which was adapted into a film in 2001.

After the war Gruber returned to journalism, writing for publications such as The New York Post and Hadassah Magazine. She continued to play a role in international affairs – the only journalist to interview the Exodus 1947 refugees, the first to enter the newly created Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. Her book Raquela: A Woman of Israel, about an Israeli nurse who worked in a British detention camp and in a hospital in Beersheba, won the National Jewish Book Award in 1979. She went on to publish Rescue: The Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews (1985) and what is considered to be the second volume of her autobiography, Inside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to Israel (2002).

Gruber has received many honors for her work, including the Na’amat Golda Meir Human Rights Award. She was also recently honored by National Coalition Against Censorship for her promotion of free expression. Gruber has two children and four grandchildren, and lives in New York City, where she originally began her incredible life.

David   Halberstam
David Halberstam
Journalist and Non-fiction Writer

David Halberstam (1934-2007) is a Pullitzer Prize winning journalist and author of 22 books whose early and most well known work was his coverage of the American war in South Vietnam for the New York Times in the early 1960s. In his reports he criticized the war’s progress and predicted its failure, uncovering lies United States officials were telling to the public about the status of the war. This earned Halberstam the anger and criticism of American military commanders and politicians, including President Kennedy –but it also earned him a the Pullitzer Prize in 1964, as well as a George Polk Award for his account of a Buddhist’s monk’s self immolation in 1963. He later wrote a book explaining why the war in Vietnam was a failure, called The Best and the Brightest (1972).

Halberstam’s additional works include reporting on the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, particularly an article for Harper entitled “The Second Coming of Martin Luther King,” about his journey accompanying Dr. King across the country. His 1999 book The Children focused on the Nashville Student Movement from 1959-1962. Among his other books is Firehouse, which chronicles the lives of 13 New York City firefighters who were in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Born in 1934, Halberstam graduated from Harvard in 1955. He married Jean Sandness, a writer, in 1979. In 2007 he was tragically killed in a car accident in California, on his way to interview Y. A. Tittle, the former New York Giants quarterback, for a book he was working on about the 1958 championship game. He is survived by his wife and their daughter, Julia.

Peter Yarrow
Peter Yarrow
Musician and Activist

“We’re part of a long train ride.”

Peter Yarrow – singer, songwriter, social and political activist – was born in Manhattan in 1938 to Ukranian immigrant parents. Perhaps most famous for his part in the successful folk music band Peter, Paul & Mary, his musical career took off in 1962 with the group’s first album. He is responsible for penning some of the group’s most memorable songs, including “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Day is Done,” and “Light One Candle.”

Yarrow’s political activism is intertwined with his music career, and began around the same time. He was very active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, coordinating music festivals in for peace as well as the 1969 anti-war March on Washington, which had around half a million participants. His music has always played a crucial part of his advocacy, as in the Peter, Paul & Mary song “No Easy Walk to Freedom”(1986), which concerned the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

Yarrow’s other work includes his involvement in the Guggenheim’s “Learning Through Art” program, his support of Holocaust remembrance and education programs, and most recently Operation Respect, a non-profit organization he helped to start that combats bullying and violence in schools. He has received numerous honors for his efforts, including the Allard K. Lowenstein Award in 1982 and the Tikkun Olam Award from the Miami Jewish Federation in 1995.

Yarrow’s other artistic work includes four solo albums, three television specials based on “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and the production of the film You are What You Eat. He has two children, Bethany and Christopher. 

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Ice Cream Entrepreneurs, Philanthropists and Activists

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – better known as Ben & Jerry – are the businessmen and philanthropists behind the popular ice cream brand that is now distributed worldwide. Both born in March of 1951, they bonded over their mutual hatred of gym class at Merrick Avenue Junior High School on Long Island in 1963, and have been friends ever since. In 1978, they opened their first ice cream shop in an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont. Their ice cream was a hit, and slowly, over the years, their business grew. (Their creative flavors, particularly known for their many chunks and mix-ins, were influenced by Ben’s anosmia, or loss of smell and almost loss of taste, which led him to more texture differences in his food.)  In 2000, they sold Ben & Jerry’s to the multinational corporation Unilever, giving up management but remaining the influential faces of the company.

The business the pair built was not only successful, but socially conscious; in 1985 the two established the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation to fund community oriented projects. In 1988 President Reagan honored the team with the U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year Award. In 1992 they joined in the Children Defense Fund’s campaign to bring the basic needs of children to national attention and priority on the United States’ agenda.

Cohen is also well known for his social activism outside of his role in the ice cream company. He founded Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a non-profit organization composed of business leaders trying to shift federal spending money from military programs to social programs like education, healthcare, and green technologies. He also founded True Majority, a liberal advocacy group, one of the largest of such groups in the United States. He was honored in 2000 by the New York Open Center for his socially conscious business model.

Greenfield is also active in Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, and originated the idea for Ben & Jerry’s Joy Gang, which promotes happiness in the workplace. He has a wife, Elizabeth, and a son, Tyrone, born in 1988. He lives in Williston, Vermont, a small town not too far from the now multimillion dollar company first began.

Felix G. Rohatyn
Former U.S. Ambassador and Investment Banker

Felix Rohatyn, investment banker and former U.S. ambassador to France, was born in Vienna, Austria in 1928. His family fled to France in 1935, and then fled again when the Vichy government took over with the help of the Brazilian diplomat Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas, who helped over 800 people escape from France during the Holocaust. Rohatyn’s family’s journey ended in 1942 in the United States.

Rohatyn is perhaps best known as the American Investment banker who helped save New York City from bankruptcy in the latter half of the 1970s. His financial career took off in 1948 when he joined investment banking firm Lazard Frères & Co., LLC in New York. After a brief interlude between 1951-3 when he served in the Korean War, he eventually became a partner in the firm in 1961. From 1968 until 1972 he served on the board of the New York Stock Exchange. In 1975, during New York City’s financial crisis, he became chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation of the State of New York, which ultimately helped resolve the crisis. 

Rohatyn’s diplomatic work began in 1997, when he served as the U.S. ambassador to France during the second Clinton administration. His service ended with the administration in 2000, but he remains a commander of the French Legion of Honor. He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and the Council of American Ambassadors, as well as a Trustee for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Rohatyn has received numerous honors for his work, including The Hundred Year Association of New York’s Gold Medal Award In 1990, and the International Center in New York’s Award of Excellence.

Rohatyn has also been honored with three children with his first wife Jeannette Straight: Pierre, Nicolas, and Michael, and is married to second wife Elizabeth Fly Vagliano. He lives in New York City.

Senator Charles E.  Schumer
Senator Charles E. Schumer
Democratic Politician

Charles “Chuck” Schumer has been a Democratic United States Senator from New York since 1998. He is currently the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

Born in Brooklyn in 1950, Schumer first became involved in politics during his undergraduate years at Harvard, when he campaigned for Eugene McCarthy in 1968. He later graduated from Harvard Law School with honors in 1974, but ultimately never practiced law. In 1975, at the age of 25, Schumer was elected to the New York State Assembly, becoming the youngest person elected to the New York legislature since Theodore Roosevelt.

After serving three terms in the legislature, Schumer served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 until his election to the Senate. Schumer has held numerous important positions with the Senate, including chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2005 to 2009, and chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee since 2010.

Schumer has never lost an election. His focus on local issues, such as tourism and local taxes, has helped him achieve widespread popularity in New York.  He is also the only New York Senator to visit each of New York’s 62 counties every year that he has been Senator. In 2007 he published Positively American: Winning Back the Middle-Class Majority One Family at a Time, a book he wrote with Daniel Squadron outlining his election strategies.

Schumer lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with his wife, Iris Weinshall, vice chancellor at the City University of New York and former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. They have two daughters, Alison and Jessica.

James Ingo Freed

James Ingo Freed (1930- 2005), a German born American architect, is known for designing and overseeing the building of many famous and iconic American structures, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

Born in Essen, Germany, Freed’s family fled Europe in 1939, and ultimately settled in Chicago. In 1956 Freed received his architectural degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and he soon began working at the architectural firm I.M. Pei in New York, which later became known as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. During his time there, Freed designed some of his most well known buildings, including the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and Plaza in New York (1986, 1988), the Los Angeles Center Expansion (1993), the San Francisco Main Public Library (1996), and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington D.C. (1998), just two blocks from the white house.

Although Freed worked at I.M. Pei in New York until his death in 2005, he also spent a significant amount of his career in Chicago. From 1975-1978 he served as the dean at The School of Architecture at his alma mater.  Around that time he was a member of the Chicago Seven, a group of post-modernist architects trying to overthrow the hegemony of modernism in architecture and design at the time. Later, Freed was a member of a number of other architectural organizations, including the American Institute of Architects, the Architectural League of New York, and the Municipal Art Society.

Numerous honors were presented to Freed for his work, including the Arnold W. Brunner Prize in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1987), the first annual Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture from the American Institute of Architects (1992), the National Medaw of Arts awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts and presented by Bill Clinton (1995), and the Award for Outstanding Achievement in Design for the Government of the United States (1997).

At the time of his death from Parkinson’s disease in 2005, Freed was working on the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, which was later completed in 2006. He lived in Manhattan. 

Marion Wiesel
Translator and Humanitarian Activist

Born in Vienna as Marion Erster, Marion is generally known as the wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. A Holocaust survivor herself, Marion Wiesel is also a tireless activist, and has worked with her husband on many humanitarian projects and publications throughout their marriage.

Mrs. Wiesel’s family escaped Austria during the Holocaust by hiring a guide to illegally transport them to Belgium. However, once the Nazis took over Belgium in 1940, her family was taken to an internment camp in France. Mrs. Wiesel’s family escaped from the camp in 1942 when her mother sold her jewelry to bribe another guide to take them across the border into Switzerland, where they remained until 1947.

In 1959, she married F. Peter Rose and they had a daughter named Jennifer in 1960. Marion divorced Peter in 1969 and married Eli Wiesel that same year in Jerusalem.

The pair became a writing team as well as a couple; fluent in five languages, Mrs. Wiesel translated his works, many of which were originally written in Yiddish or French.

In 1986 Mrs. Wiesel co-founded, with her husband, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The foundation is dedicated to combating indifference, intolerance, and injustice. Their programs include an essay contest on the topic of ethics for high school students in the U.S. as well as international conferences for young people in conflict-ridden countries.

Marion Wiesel has two children – Jennifer, her daughter from her first marriage, and Elisha, her son with Mr. Wiesel.

Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe
Physician and Medical Activist

Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D. is an American physician, activist, and expert in internal medicine. He is best known for his campaigns against the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of medications which could pose a danger to public health.

Wolfe’s interest in public health began soon after he earned his medical degree at Case Western University and completed his residency in internal medicine. He was conducting research on blood-clotting at the National Institutes of Health when he met Ralph Nader at a meeting of the American Patients Association in Washington D.C. The two eventually co-founded Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, a consumer lobbying organization, in 1971.

Wolfe’s work in this organization led him to campaign the FDA for the removal of dangerous drugs from the market, as well as stronger warnings on labels for medications with serious side effects. In one of his longest running cases, for 30 years he fought for the removal of propoxyphene, a pain medication, from the market due to its sometimes fatal side effect of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat). He finally succeeded in 2010, when the FDA recommended discontinuing the drug, which is now off the market in the United States as well as Europe.

Wolfe has published many books intended to educate the consumer on pharmaceutical safety, including Worst Pills, Best Pills: A Consumer’s Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness, originally published in 1990 with Larry D. Sasich and Peter Lurie, with many new editions since then. Also in 1990, Wolfe received the MacArthur’s Fellow Program Award. 

Wolfe is still director of Public Citizen, as well as a member of the Society for General Internal Medicine. Since 1995 he has also been an Adjunct Professor of Internal Medicine at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Adam  Michnik
Adam Michnik
Journalist and Anti-Communist Dissident

Adam Michnik, a fierce and unrelenting political dissident during the Communist regime in Poland, was editor-in-chief of Poland’s largest and best-selling daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. Imprisoned on many occasions for his anti-communist activities and writings, he played a vital role in the 1989 “Polish Round Table Talks” with the communist government, and is now an almost legendary figure in contemporary Poland.

Although born in Warsaw in 1946 to a family of Jewish communists, Michnik’s opposition to the communist regime started at a young age, as he aligned himself with various leftist groups during his school years. In 1968 he was expelled from the University of Warsaw and imprisoned for his activities in the Polish political crisis and crackdown (otherwise known as the March Events), ignited by anti-Russian allusions in a play at the National Theater. Released in 1969 under an amnesty, he was forbidden from continuing his studies until the middle of the 1970s.

After being involved in several different opposition groups in the 1970s, Michnik served as an adviser to Lech Walesa (eventually president of Poland from 1990-1995) in Solidarity, the first non-communist party controlled trade union in the Soviet bloc, from 1980-9. However, during this time spent a cumulative 4 years in jail: from 1981-1984 he languished in prison without a verdict for refusing to sign a loyalty oath under the newly imposed Martial Law, and in 1985 he was again arrested for organizing a strike in a shipyard.

Michnik continued his work for Solidarity, becoming a member of the Solidarity Citizens Committee and the Coordination Committee. He helped plan and participated in The Round Table Talks in 1989, which prompted the government to allow elections. In preparation for elections Lech Walesa told Michnik to organize a daily newspaper to serve as the mouthpiece for the Solidarity party – Gazeta Wyborcza (“Election Newspaper”). The newspaper became Poland’s most widely read daily newspaper, with Michnik as its paper’s editor-in-chief until 2004, when he retired.

Michnik has received many honors for his work, including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1986, the French PEN Club Freedom Award in 1988, the OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy in 1996, the Erasmus Prize in 2001, and was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 2003. He has published several written works including Letters from Prison and Other Essays (1986), translated by Maya Latynski, a collection of writings smuggled out from his prison cell. He is currently a member of the Association of Polish Writers and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Jonathan  Kozol
Jonathan Kozol
Author and Education Activist

Excerpt from Letters to a Young Teacher (2007): “In my writings through the course of nearly 40 years, I have always tried to bring the mighty and ferocious educational debates that dominate the pages of the press and academic publications, in which the voices of our teachers are too seldom heard, back from the distant kingdom of intimidation and abstraction—lists of ‘mandates,’ ‘sanctions,’ and ‘incentives’ and ‘performance standards’ and the rest —into the smaller, more specific world of colored crayons, chalk erasers, pencil sharpeners, and tiny quarrels, sometimes tears and sometimes uncontrollably contagious jubilation of which daily life for a real teacher and her students is, in fact, composed.”

Jonathan Kozol is a well known non-fiction writer and activist concerning the inequalities of public education in the United States. For over 40 years, he has fought against and raised awareness of racial segregation in the public school system and the neglect impoverished children’s education, and has published many award winning and bestselling books on the subject. He has founded two non-profit organizations, Cambridge Institute for Public Education as well as Education Action!, to organize and support teachers trying to create a more equitable system of public education.

Born in Boston in 1936, Kozol graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1958. Although awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he did not finish his graduate studies, and instead lived in Paris, learning how to write from the American ex-patriot authors there, including Richard Wright. Soon after his return to the U.S., he became a teacher in Boston Public Schools but was fired for reading a Langston Hughes poem with his class. Published in 1967, Kozol’s first book, Death at an Early Age, chronicled his year as a teacher in Boston and won the National Book Award in Science, Philosophy, and Religion.

Kozol’s other publications include Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America (1989), which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Conscience in the Media Award; Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (1992), which won the New England Book Award; Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (1995), which won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (previously earned by Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr.); and The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005), which documents the current racial segregation in public schools.

Kozol’s most recent book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, was published in 2012. In it he follows the stories of impoverished children in America that he has worked with from their infancy to young adulthood. He is currently on the Editorial Board of Greater Good Magazine.

Isaac Stern
Violinist and Philanthropist

Isaac Stern (1920-2001) was an Ukranian born, internationally revered violinist, conductor, and philanthropist. His many honors include 6 Grammy Awards, Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society, and a street named after him in Tel Aviv.

Barely more than a year after he was born, Stern’s family moved to San Francisco. His musical career began when he enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1928, and his public debut took place at the young age of 15, with the San Francisco Symphony. During his long and illustrious musical career, he collaborated with many other musicians, such as Russian pianist Alexander Zakin, who he performed with from 1940 to 1977. In the 1960s and 1970s Stern also performed with Eugene Istomin and Leonard Rose in their award-winning chamber music trio.

His musical career spanned many countries and continents. Stern performed in Israel many times, including for troops during the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars. Investing in Israel’s future, he was a firm supporter of educational projects in Israel, including the America-Israel Foundation and the Jerusalem Music Center. Stern also received an unprecedented invitation to perform around the country by the People’s Republic of China in 1979, not long after the Cultural Revolution ended and the doors to the outside world were opened. Along with pianist and fellow American David Gollub, he collaborated with the China Central Symphony Society (which is now the China National Symphony). The Academy Award winning documentary, From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, was based on film taken during this historic visit.

Mr. Stern was also very active in supporting and encouraging new musical talent. He sought out and promoted young artists, such as the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman. Similarly, in 1960 he safeguarded many future musical performances and careers when he saved Carnegie Hall from being torn down. Stern organized the committee to save the landmark building and preserve its use as a musical venue. His efforts were successful, and New York City was allowed to purchase the hall and set up the Carnegie Hall Corporation, for which Mr. Stern served as president until his death. In recognition for his work, the main auditorium of Carnegie Hall was named in his honor.

For 43 years Isaac Stern was married to Vera Lindenblit, the mother of his three children. He died in 2001 of heart failure, survived by his third wife, Linda Reynolds.

Eugene M.  Lang
Eugene M. Lang
Businessman and Philanthropist

Eugene M. Lang is a prominent American businessman and philanthropist who has donated more than $150,000,000 to many worthy causes. Born to immigrant parents in New York City in 1919, he attended Swarthmore College as a scholarship student. He later went on to earn his MS business degree from Columbia University. In 1951 he founded REFAC Technology Development Corporation, where he helped create diverse manufacturing ventures in the United States and abroad, to great success and commendation. Since 1997 he has ceased all business ventures and focused on his charitable efforts.

One of Lang’s many philanthropic projects is the I Have a Dream Foundation, which he started in 1981. Like many of his efforts, this foundation focuses on education – a program to support and guide disadvantaged students academically from kindergarten through college. Through state and federal support for this project, Lang’s foundation now benefits thousands of American children. Another of his education related organizations is Project Pericles, which he founded in 2001 to encourage American college students to be politically active and engaged.

Mr. Lang’s interest in education has also led him to make large monetary contributions to different universities, such as The New School in New York City, whose undergraduate liberal arts college now bears the name Eugene Lang College. Similarly, he is Chair Emeritus of Swarthmore College and a board member of the Columbia University business school through his generous gifts to both those institutions. Lang’s dedication to education earned him a special recognition from President Bush, who designated him a “Point of Light.”

Mr. Lang’s other honors include the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged in 1986 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to him by President Clinton in 1996. However, he claims his greatest success was his marriage to his late wife, Theresa, and their family, which now comprises of three children, eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Mathilde Krim, Ph.D.
Scientist and Medical Researcher

Mathilde Krim, Ph.D. was one of the first scientists to realize the significance of the AIDS epidemic that began in the early 1980s. In 1983 she founded the first private organization devoted to researching AIDS, the AIDS Medical Foundation.

Born a non-Jew in Italy in 1926, Dr. Krim eventually converted to Judaism and was a member of Menachem Begin’s Israeli resistance movement, Irgun, before the 1948 war. She then earned her Ph.D from the University of Geneva, Switzerland in 1953, and returned to Israel to conduct cytogenetic and cancer research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel until 1959.While there, she worked as part of the team that developed the first method for prenatal sex determination.

Dr. Krim moved to New York and joined the staff of Cornell University Medical School, and in 1962 she became a research scientist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, where she was later director of the interferon laboratory. Though still working at Sloan-Kettering at the time, in 1981 Dr. Krim became concerned with raising the public’s awareness of AIDS and researching its cause and modes of transmission. The organization she founded in 1983 later merged with a similar California organization to become the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). This trailblazing organization became the most important bastion for AIDS research, prevention, and public policy in the country. She served as chairman of amfAR from 1990 – 2004.

Dr. Krim currently serves as an Adjunct Professor of Public Health and Management at Columbia University. In 2000 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton, and in 2003 she received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged. Her late husband, Arthur Krim, was finance chairman for the U.S. Democratic Party and an adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Louise Nevelson

“I am a woman’s liberation.”

Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), born Leah Berliawsky in Czarist Russia, was an American sculptor known for monumental wooden wall and outdoor sculptures. Her liberated and independent lifestyle, and her eventual success as an artist made her an essential figure in the feminist art movement. She was one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th Century.

Nevelson’s artistic career began in the 1930s. After separating from her then husband Charles Nevelson, she began to study under Hans Hofmann, first in Munich and then in art classes at the Art Students League of New York. At this early stage in her career Nevelson created art using found objects. She also worked as artist Diego Rivera’s assistant on his mural Man at the Crossroads at Rockefeller Plaza. At first exhibiting her work in group shows, in 1941 she held her first solo exhibition at Nierendorf Gallery.

For the next decade she made ends meet by teaching sculpture classes to adults, and visited Latin America for artistic inspiration. In 1955 she joined Colette Roberts’ Grand Central Modern Gallery, where she exhibited some of her most famous works: Bride of the Black Moon and Sky Cathedral. In 1958, she joined the Martha Jackson gallery, and was featured on the cover of Life magazine. In the same year, the Museum of Modern Art purchased one of her pieces, and then included Nevelson in their Sixteen Americans exhibition of 1959. During this time Nevelson also served as president of the New York City Chapter of Artists’ Equity.

Nevelson’s career flourished from this point on. In 1960 Nevelson made her mark on the international arts scene with a show at Galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris. Two years later, her art was featured in the 31st Venice Biennale, and the Whitney Museum of American Art purchased her piece Young Shadows. She then joined the Pace Gallery, where she continued to hold shows until the end of her career. In 1967 the Whitney Museum hosted a retrospective of her work, showing over one hundred pieces of her art from the 1930s – 1960s. In 1969, she was commissioned by Princeton University to create an outdoor sculpture – her first.

One of Nevelson’s last major works before the end of her career was the chapel of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, which she designed in 1975. Her many awards include the Brandeis University Creative Arts Award in Sculpture, National Medal of Arts, and the Skowhegan Medal of Sculpture. Many of her sculptures are currently in Louise Nevelson Plaza, a sculpture garden in lower Manhattan. She is survived by her son, Mike.

Norman Lear
Norman Lear
Television Writer and Political Activist

In 1999, President Bill Clinton said, “Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it.” Born in New Haven Connecticut in 1922, Norman Lear is a renowned film and television writer, producer, and political activist. The recipient of four Emmy awards, Norman Lear used his public position to advocate for American civil liberties and work towards a better democracy.

Lear began his career as a comedy writer in the 1950s, working with fellow writer Ed Simmons on sketches for famous comedians like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, among others. In 1959 Lear created his first television series called The Deputy, starring Henry Fonda. Lear’s first hit sitcom, All in the Family, premiered in 1971 and earned him two Emmy awards. This popular series about a blue-collar American family struggling to adapt to the changing times ran for 9 seasons and inspired several spin-off series. The show commented on many pressing and controversial issues of the time, including racism, abortion, rape, women’s liberation, and the Vietnam War. Lear’s other hit television shows include Sanford and Son, Maude, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, and Good Times.

Lear also forayed into film – in 1967 he wrote and produced Divorce American Style, starring Dick Van Dyke, which earned him an Academy Award nomination. In 1971 he directed the film Cold Turkey, again starring Dick Van Dyke.

Throughout his career, Lear was concerned with merging his interest of entertainment and political activism. In 1981 he founded People For the American Way, which campaigned against the mingling of religion with politics. He later founded an educational organization to spotlight innovation in business practices called Business Enterprise Trust. In 2000 the University of Southern California established the Norman Lear Center, and he gave an endowment for a multidisciplinary research center that explored the connection between entertainment, public policy, and society.

Among the many recognitions Lear received for entertainment and humanitarian endeavors are the National Medal of Arts, four Emmy awards, a Peabody award, a Woman in Film Lucy Award, and the Humanist Arts Award from the American Humanist Association. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984.
Before his career in television, Lear dropped out Emerson College in 1942 to join the United States Air Force. During World War II, he flew 52 combat missions, earning him an Air Medal.  He currently serves as a trustee emeritus at The Paley Center for Media. He has been married to Lyn Davis since 1987.

Jacob Javits
Former U.S. Senator

Jacob K. Javits (1904 – 1986) grew up in a Lower East Side tenement, and went on to become one of the country’s most important and well known politicians. A liberal Republican, he served as a United States Senator from New York from 1957 to 1981, adding a unique perspective to political discourse.  In 1983 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Javits began his career as a partner in a law firm with his brother, which ultimately became quite successful. In 1946 he was elected to Congress, where he served until 1954, when he became New York State Attorney General, where he promoted liberal measures such as health insurance programs for state employees.

Javits played a role in many key historical moments during his long career in the U.S. Senate. He was a supporter of Civil Rights Acts and President Johnson’s Great Society Programs. Although initially supportive of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, in 1967 he was one of the 23 Senators who called on President Johnson for a peaceful solution to the conflict. In 1973 he sponsored the War Powers Act, which limited a president’s ability to send armed forces into combat without approval from Congress. He also traveled to Israel and Egypt with President Carter, opening up discussions that ultimately led to the 1978 Camp David Accords.

Jacob Javits’ name has remained ubiquitous; the Javits Center named after his death in 1986 helps ensure that, as does the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in lower Manhattan. Due to his support for education, the Jacob Javits Grants for gifted individuals were established, as were the Javits Fellowships awarded by the United States Department of Education to graduate students studying humanities and social sciences.

In 1986 Javits died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was survived by his longtime wife Marian Ann Boris Javits and their three children, Joshua, Carla, and Joy.