Jewish Journal

Support Groups Spur On Hospital

"It's a product of our community."

by Michael Aushenker

Posted on Oct. 3, 2002 at 8:00 pm

At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, approximately 40 support groups raise millions of dollars for research, wards, departments, buildings and other medical and physical needs. These groups include the Women's Guild, Thalians, Teen Line and F.R.I.E.N.D.S. of Neurology. Some of the organizations, such as United Hostesses' Charities, are independent nonprofit entities.

Almost all of the funding that supports the medical institution comes from the Jewish community, said Irving Feintech, past chairman of Cedars-Sinai's board of directors. Many contributions come from individuals and foundations, with smaller amounts received from organizations like The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

"No question about it, it's a product of our community. The current structure really evolved from the mergers of [Cedars of Lebanon and Mt. Sinai] in 1961," said Feintech, who with Anne and Kirk Douglas and chair Donna Antebi, started C.O.A.C.H. for Kids, a medical-care outreach division that goes to schools and churches in Los Angeles' low-income areas.

At 73 years, Helping Hand of Los Angeles is the oldest support group, established in 1929. Helping Hand has 600 members, with about 150 volunteers working four-hour shifts in the gift shop. The shop, located on the plaza level of Cedars-Sinai's South Tower, is Helping Hand's primary fundraising source, along with an annual Mother's Day luncheon. Open seven days a week, the shop only closes on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Christmas.

"We're the best hospital gift shop," said Rozey Guersten, Helping Hand's president. She said the store sells many items including lingerie, toys, baby clothes, costume jewelry, books, flowers and candy.

Daisy Schott, Helping Hand's immediate past president, said the 21-department shop donates nearly $500,000 each year. "All the profits in our gift shop go to the hospital."

Marilyn Gilfenbain is currently on her eighth two-year term as president of United Hostesses' Charities (UHC), which for 60 years has supported the cardiology department.

"It began with six women who had lunch," Gilfenbain said. "That's how it evolved. One of the member's nieces was a blue baby [a child born with a heart problem], which led to the opening of a blue baby clinic at Cedars of Lebanon."

UHC has come a long way since those early years. The division averages about $400,000 annually from its dinner-dance event, which this year will be held on Nov. 2, featuring Tony Danza.

Gilfenbain said that the group recently completed a $2 million endowment of a floor in the Barbara and Marvin Davis cardiology building.

Cedars-Sinai's support groups help fund important research being done at the hospital. UHC's first chair was named after Miriam Jacobs, one of the division's founders. On Nov. 23, UHC will present its second chair to Dr. Prediman K. Shah, new chairman of the cardiology division.

Shah's research is focusing on a gene to counter arteriosclerosis. He has been studying the mutant gene found in the populace of Limone, Italy, who have defied heart disease. Shah is within three years of developing a vaccine, according to Gilfenbain.

Meanwhile, the Fashion Industries Guild (FIG), which raises an average of $700,000 a year, will support the neonatal unit with its annual Regent Beverly Wilshire gala Oct. 5. The guild will honor Richard Clareman, owner of Self Esteem clothing. The sold-out dinner, which will draw 1,000 people, is on track to raise $900,000 for its cause, according to Kenny Weinbaum, FIG past president.

Over the years, the 46-year-old fundraising arm has undertaken a wide array of projects, including construction of the Barry Morse Rehabilitation Center, the Harvey Morse Conference Center, Ruth Bregman Pediatric Aid Outpatient Clinic, the FIG Florence and Duke Becker Building. The division has also endowed a chair -- the Guess?/FIG Chair in Community Child Health -- thanks to a $1 million donation by Maurice Marciano, owner of Guess? clothing.

"It is a Jewish hospital," Weinbaum said. "But I don't look at it as so much a Jewish thing as being a Jewish need." However, he said that the marriage of the fashion industry with Cedars-Sinai was a natural one because "the garment industry is predominantly Jewish."

Overall, Cedars-Sinai's auxiliary groups have proven personally rewarding for division members and leaders.

"To me this is something a little out of the ordinary," said Weinbaum, who leads FIG's 45-member board. "It gives me a satisfaction other than working on a business deal. You can go into a hospital there and find a kid no bigger than the palm in your hand, and basically watch the kid with a rough start grow and become normal."

Feintech believes that the support divisions will always play an important role at Cedars-Sinai, even as the medical campus continues to broaden its sources of funding.

"We are reaching out to get the non-Jewish community more involved," Feintech said. "We want to diversify and get more board members from the non-Jewish community, too. But we also still want to keep the [Star of David] on the building."

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