The Road to Wellness
The nexus of cancer and the entertainment industry couldn't have been more resonant than on April 16. It was the day that Hollywood was saddened by the death of "Spenser for Hire" star Robert Urich, who succumbed to a rare sarcoma at age 55. It was also the day that celebrities shined to bring awareness to the Wellness Centers, an international nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of those battling cancer. The organization was founded in Santa Monica two decades ago by Dr. Harold Benjamin, whose wife Harriet had survived cancer.
At the Regent Beverly Wilshire, Diane Keaton and cancer survivor and comedienne Julia Sweeney hosted a Wellness Centers gala that honored actor Rob Lowe, psychotherapist Lynn Silbert, Farmers Insurance Group and the TV movie production of "It's Always Something: The Gilda Radner Story."
Benjamin joined forces last year with Herb Glaser, Tel Aviv-L.A. Partnership co-chair, to open a Wellness Center in Tel Aviv.
Benjamin's Wellness Centers exemplify what he called his "patient-active concept, when the patient is considered part of the recovery, along with his/her physician, rather than a passive victim of illness."
"I'm honored to be associated with films being made with people who have struggled from this terrible disease," said Jami Gertz, who portrayed comedienne Radner in the TV biopic that aired April 29 on ABC. Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989. Gertz said she admires Radner's "sense of humor and her sense of faith in humanity."
Gertz noted that her own father-in-law passed away from stomach cancer and her mother-in-law has now contracted multiple myeloma. Gertz also lost her grandmother to cancer.
John Wayne Cancer Institute's Dr. Myles Cabot, director of breast cancer research; his department colleague, Dr. Nora Hansen, and Steven O'Day, director of oncology research, were also in attendance.
No stranger to cancer's catastrophic consequences are Mel Keefer and his wife, Joyce Eisenberg Keefer. Keefer lost his first wife to breast cancer, while Eisenberg Keefer -- who has been a very generous supporter of the John Wayne Cancer Institute and has endowed the institute's Joyce Eisenberg Keefer Breast Center -- lost her first husband, Ben Eisenberg, to cancer.
"When a person lives with someone who has cancer, it's like they have it," said Eisenberg Keefer of experiencing her late husband's decade-long struggle.
Brian Cohen, who came with wife Randi Cohen, is president of the of financial services division of Farmers Insurance and is on the Wellness Centers board.
"I lost my father to bone marrow cancer," said the 42-year-old former attorney, who has been devoted to Wellness Centers for a decade. "It's not six degrees of separation; it's one degree."
Lowe's "The West Wing" co-star Kim Webster (Ginger) came to cheer her colleague on. Lowe himself lost a grandmother and great-grandmother to cancer, and his father also battled the disease.
Skin cancer has been found in Webster's family.
"As a fair-skinned redhead, I'm always wondering whether it could happen to me," Webster said. "Everybody has been touched by cancer," said Steve Guttenberg, the iconic comic actor. "It's like saying, who hasn't touched the ocean? Not many people."
Road Show Drives Work Force
Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) recently won a $5,000 grant from the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance's Incentive Regional Allocation (IRA). JVS, a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization and beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, helps people find work and redirect their careers.
Funds from the Valley IRA will be used to launch the Career Road Show program later this spring in synagogues throughout the San Fernando and Conejo valleys.
Career Road Show will teach Jewish synagogue and community members how to find employment, transfer their existing knowledge to new careers and update their skills and expertise to meet the needs of a changing marketplace. For more information on JVS, visit www.jvsla.org.
Spring Hits Newport Beach
Hannareta and Gordon Fishman will be honored at Irvine's University Synagogue Spring Gala Dinner Dance on April 13 at The Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach at 5:30 p.m. Gordon Fishman, a practicing ophthalmologist for 33 years, has served on various community boards, including the Jewish Federation of Orange County and Bureau of Jewish Education. Hannareta Fishman originated an Orange County Chanukah Concert that for the past seven years has involved 500 children at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. For more information, call Barbara Sloate at (714) 751-3555 or University Synagogue's office at (949) 553-3535.