Women Funding Science at Einstein

Einstein’s Women’s Division hosts the 68th Spirit of Achievement Luncheon in May at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center. (Photo by Jason Torres)

Spirit of Achievement Luncheon breaks record for supporting research

By Joe Levine

Women are leading a change in philanthropy. According to recent research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, they are harnessing their growing wealth and influence to create a more just, equitable, and healthy society. Women are giving to more philanthropies led by women, and they are treating recipient organizations as partners rather than as a means to an end.

“Now more than ever, women are influencing why and how research is funded,” says Trudy Schlachter, co-president of Einstein’s Women’s Division. “We’re marshaling our resources to create a community that reflects our unique perspectives and values.”   

A tradition of women funding science has deep roots at Einstein thanks to its Women’s Division, which was founded before the first class enrolled in 1955. It brought together a group of influential New Yorkers who were inspired to help create a new medical school that would eliminate quotas for Jewish students and welcome all students regardless of race, religion, gender, or creed. 

The Women’s Division spearheaded an initial fundraising campaign for the school. Since then, under the banner of “women funding science,” the group has raised more than $100 million for Einstein—benefiting patients in virtually every major area of medicine, from prenatal studies to treatments for women’s cancers to diabetes research.

“The Women’s Division has supported Einstein since those earliest days, and has, quite literally, been foundational to the success of the college,” said Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D., the College of Medicine’s outgoing Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean, in May at the 68th Spirit of Achievement Luncheon. The luncheon is the signature fundraiser in the Women’s Division’s yearlong calendar of events, and this year it raised more than $700,000—a record amount.

“We continue to support Einstein because we believe in its unique ability to translate discoveries in the lab into practice-changing treatments in the clinic,” said Women’s Division co-president Terri Goldberg at the event.  “Today we are proud to stand with the faculty, researchers, and students who work together to advance equitable access to healthcare, education, and research.”

Clockwise from top left: Einstein professor and Changemaker awardee Marla Keller, M.D.; Spirit honoree Karen Mandelbaum and her husband, David; and Women’s Division leaders, from left, luncheon co-chairs Andrea Stark and Betty Schwartz, co-president Trudy Schlachter, luncheon co-chair Carol Roaman, and co-president Terri Goldberg. (Photos by Jason Torres)

Promoting Novel Ideas

The Spirit of Achievement Luncheon has honored the groundbreaking work of women in various fields, from science to the silver screen to sports. Past honorees include Marlene Dietrich, Eleanor Roosevelt, Meryl Streep, Billie Jean King, Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Steinem, Diane von Furstenberg, and Leontyne Price. 

This year’s honorees included Einstein trustee and Women’s Division board member Karen Mandelbaum and Marla Keller, M.D., professor of medicine and of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health, vice chair for research in the department of medicine, and director of the Harold and Muriel Block Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Einstein and Montefiore. (See below for more on the other 2023 honorees.)

Mrs. Mandelbaum was recognized for what Ruth L. Gottesman, Ed.D., chair of Einstein’s Board of Trustees, termed “the remarkable breadth of [her] leadership in nurturing Einstein for more than 40 years.” The honoree and her husband, real estate developer David Mandelbaum, have generously funded research at Einstein and Einstein-Montefiore’s Center for Experimental Therapeutics. Mrs. Mandelbaum was the creator of and initial host for the Women’s Division’s Scientific Salon Series, at which leading Einstein and Montefiore researchers and clinicians discuss their work.

“I find it so special to be in the Women’s Division,” Mrs. Mandelbaum said. “I was there from the beginning and felt proud to be part of it. I love that we are women funding science.”

Source: Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Institute, 2019

Researcher Recognized

Dr. Keller received the Women’s Division’s prestigious Changemaker Award, given annually to a scientist.

As head of the Block Institute, Dr. Keller—a renowned infectious-disease specialist—helps accelerate scientific discoveries from the lab and the clinic so that they become effective new treatments. The Block Institute supports projects to combat opioid-use disorder, HIV, obesity, asthma, rare diseases, and more. Dr. Keller has also created strategies to protect women from sexually transmitted diseases and served as a member of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel. Under her leadership, the Block Institute was recently awarded a seven-year, $30 million renewal of its NIH funding.

Dr. Keller recalled attending the 54th Spirit of Achievement Luncheon in 2008, not long after she first arrived at Einstein. “Donny Deutsch was the host and Whoopi Goldberg was an honoree. But what I was truly most impressed with was the commitment by the Women’s Division to fund and inspire support for research that improves human health,” she said. “This dynamic group of women funding science has a goal similar to that of the Block Institute—to shorten the time it takes for scientific findings to improve and save lives.” She noted that the late Muriel Block, who, with her husband, Herbert, funded the creation of the Block Institute, was a member of the Women’s Division.

Singer-Songwriter, Producers Honored

Additional 2023 Spirit of Achievement honorees were singer-songwriter Judy Collins and Broadway producers Fran and Barry Weissler.

Ms. Collins came to prominence in the early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene along with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Tom Paxton. A longtime activist, she credited her social-justice roots to her father, a radio host who “advocated for the life one can have under all circumstances. Whether you’re a singer, a poet, or a scientist, if you pick a problem and do what you can do, you do achieve something,” Ms. Collins said at the luncheon, adding that “the role of women in research is very important because women actually know how to do things.” She closed with an a cappella rendition of her signature song “Both Sides Now.”

Dr. Keller said that only 5% of some 10,000 known human diseases have a treatment or cure, while nine out of 10 drugs in clinical trials fail. The successes, she said, take from 10 to 15 years to reach the bedside, at an average cost of more than $2 billion—numbers that underscore the continuing need for private philanthropy.

“What makes Einstein truly unique is its cutting-edge research, led by world-class investigators in an incredibly collaborative environment with supporters who believe in its mission to improve health in the Bronx and beyond,” Dr. Keller said. “With continued grant funding and philanthropic support, I’m confident Einstein researchers will be at the forefront of translating discoveries in the laboratory to clinical trials and approval of new drugs.”

Spirit of Achievement honorees and Broadway producers Fran Weissler, left, and Barry Weissler with singer-songwriter Judy Collins. (Photo by Jason Torres)

The Weisslers recounted their path in founding the National Artists Management Company and earning a reputation as visionaries for producing 34 Broadway hits, including Waitress, Finding Neverland, Pippin, Chicago, Gypsy, My Fair Lady, La Cage aux Folles, Fiddler on the Roof, and Seussical.

“It’s hard work and commitment, and that’s what you get at Einstein,” Barry Weissler said. “We have such respect for Einstein scientists and the women who support them,” Fran Weissler added, noting that the couple’s own success “pales in comparison to work being done at Einstein, where research is saving lives—the lives of our performers and the lives of our audience. Yours is really the true visionary work.”

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