Women of Achievement prove apt choices

Just when I thought I had pulled off a miracle feat by getting to work before 8:30 a.m., an email about the 2009 Women of Achievement arrived in my inbox. Talk about feeling insecure — I was exhausted after reading these women’s bios. Four of this year’s 10 honorees are Jewish and among their many accomplishments is service to a variety of Jewish organizations.

Joan Berkman is being honored for “Innovative Communication,” and after watching her work magic as co-chair of the Annual Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis Gala last month, I understand why she was chosen for this award. Her other volunteer efforts include Opera Theatre, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Clayton Chamber of Commerce, University of Missouri St. Louis Friends, Contemporary Art Museum and the March of Dimes.

Arlen Chaleff is this year’s “Mental Health” WOA honoree. She is active with the local chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness as well as Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Older Women’s League (of which I am expecting membership any day now).

Completing a two-year term as President of the St. Louis affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is “Women’s Health” honoree Susie Knopf, who also is a 17-year breast cancer survivor. She has helped the local race become No. 1 in the world with the most participants. Knopf also has been active with the St. Louis Jewish Federation and the Sponsors Auxiliary for Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the St. Louis Wellness Community and the St. Louis Breast Cancer Coalition.

Noemi Niedorff is this year’s “Art Champion” honoree. A Hungarian born classical pianist, she is chairperson of the KFUO-Classic 99 Radio Arts Board and will chair the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra gala this fall. Niedorff also sits on many local boards including Miriam School, Opera Theater Guild, St. Louis Symphony (and its Music School’s board), the St. Louis Women’s Club, Missouri Historical Society and St. Louis Holocaust Museum Council.

The 2009 Women of Achievement luncheon will take place at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, May 12 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, 100 Carondelet Plaza, in Clayton. The cost is $60 per person. For more information, call 314-421-2005.

Billy Joel and Elton John may have come and gone from St. Louis by May 17 (they’re scheduled to perform together at the Scottrade Center May 14), but their “Piano Men” spirits will live on at the gala to benefit the Saul Mirowitz Day School – Reform Jewish Academy at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Clayton, beginning at 5:30 p.m. on May 17. The event will feature a high-energy dueling piano tribute to the rock legends that is sure to have the crowd singing and dancing along to timeless hits such as “Captain Jack” and “Rocket Man.”

The celebration includes a cast of the school’s own celebrities. Ellen and Jack Deutsch, RJA founders, will be honored with The Melvin Dubinsky Visionary Award while Phyllis Cherrick will receive the I.E. Millstone Community Service Award. Tribute also will be paid to the memory of the school’s namesake, founder and benefactor Saul Mirowitz, who passed away in January. Teachers Paula Hertel and Yifat Shefts will be recognized for five years of teaching excellence.

Dozens of volunteers, under the leadership of co-chairs Betsy Dennis and Dave Sentnor, are involved in ensuring the gala’s success. The cost per person ranges from $150 to $350, with sponsorships starting at $1,000. For more information or to reserve your seat, call 314-569-2692.

Kudos to Central Reform Congregation Rabbi Susan Talve, who receives the Focus St. Louis “What’s Right with the Region! ” Award onThursday, May 7at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Avenue. Rabbi Talve’s award is in the category of Improving Racial Equality and Social Justice. Also, CRC members Carol Staenberg and Michael Staenberg recently received the inaugural Barbara Rose Memorial Award from Jazz St. Louis at its gala last month. Barbara Rose founded the Just Jazz series in 1995, which morphed into Jazz St. Louis.

Finally, if like me, you’re at a loss about what to get your mother or mother-in-law, then I have the gift for you. This Mother’s Day, through Safe Haven in the Holy Land, you can adopt a donkey in Israel in your mother’s (or mother-in-law’s) name. That’s right, a donkey.

Currently, there are 110 for adoption. If you’re interested, go to safehaven4donkeys.com to view your prospective donkey. The cost is $48 a year, or $4 a month. Apparently, donkeys are used as beasts of burden in Israel, especially among those living below the poverty line who cannot afford mechanized transportation. They are also used to bring in crops from the field and transport them to market. Their owners would be lost without them.

Now I realize that giving your mother — or worse, mother-in-law — the gift of donkey might not go over quite the same way as, say, a piece of significant jewelry, but impress upon her that Safe Haven also rescues donkeys and provides them with food and a sanctuary. If your mother is anything like mine, the idea that any of God’s creatures might go without a meal will instantly win her over.