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Leonard Zakim


1953 / Class of '94 / Died 12-2-99

Lenny's Story: Cancer and the Quality of Life

(From the PBS Documentary, "Body and Soul")

Lenny Zakim's 45th birthday in November 1998 was one he wasn't sure he would live to see, because three years earlier he was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, an incurable malignancy of the bone marrow. At the time Body & Soul began filming his journey, Zakim had undergone a harrowing stem cell transplant and full-body radiation, but still had cancer. He was certain, however, that the complementary therapies he had incorporated into his battle with the disease had improved the quality of his days. An activist by vocation, Zakim found the energy to wage his own public awareness campaign so that more people could know of the full range of choices they have when faced with a diagnosis of cancer.

"I had a really good life. And the diagnosis of cancer was the end of that life as I knew it. Being told you have cancer is still, I think, the three worst words you can hear in your entire life. When you're diagnosed with cancer, you are stripped of titles, you're stripped of previous power, ideas of power, illusions of control. Cancer is a disease that doesn't just affect your body, it affects your mind, it affects your soul, it affects your heart. It affects every relationship you have.

"I think the biggest key to combinant therapies is that it's something you can do to get back your life. You can't just rely on the doctors. You can't just rely on your caregivers. You can't operate like that.

"The problem was that I had not been given a menu of all the available choices. I had certain friends who said, you should try acupuncture or you should do this, and I wasn't close-minded to it. I just didn't do it. Then I went to see David Eisenberg at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. What David told me to do were very basic things. Exercise. Drink more water. Meditation. Acupuncture. Guided imagery. Massage therapy.

"Nutrition I knew nothing about. No one told me that there are certain foods you should eat when you're on chemotherapy that will help you, that will make you less sick or less nauseous. There are lots of things you can do nutritionally to help you deal with the effects of hyperactivity you get from steroids and other things.

"A support group. It's at least a critical part of what I call complementary therapy. The ability to talk to people who have been through what you have been through is a major boost. It doesn't alleviate your pain and it doesn't change your anxieties, but it makes you feel like you're not crazy.

"The tendency of people who are in pain is to lay there, take pain killers, drugs, and wait for it to go away, and the tendency of many doctors is to give you all those pills and tell you to go to bed. What you learn through complementary therapies is that's not the best thing to do, and I learned that in dealing with this terrible disease and the feelings of depression and exhaustion and pain that you have, that exercise and meditation and acupuncture makes a significant difference. It doesn't make the cancer go away. It doesn't cure you from the cancer, but it helps you deal with the other stuff you're going through.

"At all levels, I think the complementary therapy piece is your first real grab back at self-determination and empowerment. It gives you at least some sense that you can do stuff for yourself. You're not totally helpless. It doesn't change the emphasis or the reliance on your doctors and on the care, but it does improve and enhance your reliance on yourself.

"To be told you have an incurable cancer means you've got to pull whatever strings you have. Some of it's prayer and faith. Some of it's very practical things like exercise and meditation and acupuncture. Certainly some of it's in the chemotherapy and radiation. I really believe it's a failure of Western medicine not to integrate all of this. We patients are doing it on our own, and we're lost out there. I really do want the day to come where I'm going to walk in there [the hospital] and they're going to give me that book that says, 'Okay, here's the resources of this hospital, and it includes yoga, meditation, etcetera,' because that's what they owe us."

Lenny Zakim lived long enough to see one more birthday with his wife Joyce, and their three children, Josh, Deena and Shari. He died on December 2, 1999 at the age of 46.

Leonard Zakim was the Executive Director of the New England Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League. An activist and a published author, Mr. Zakim was awarded an honorary degree in humane letters from Brandeis University and has received the Urban League's Community Service Award, the Catholic Charities Medal, and the Wellness Community Gilda Radner Award.

New York, NY, November 5, 1999: The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Boston Regional Director has been named to the Papal Order Of Saint Gregory, one of several Orders conferred by the Vatican for "outstanding services rendered to the welfare of society and the church."

Leonard Zakim, who served ADL for more than two decades, was named a Knight of St. Gregory in recognition of his career commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry. The honor was presented in Rome at a ceremony with Pope John Paul II. The ceremony took place at the Vatican on November 3rd.

Myeloma research physician Ken Anderson:

"I would characterize Lenny as a profile in courage. He not only looked at this as a fight of Lenny versus the disease, but he turned this into an opportunity to help other patients; and he talked to countless other patients, making sure that they have exposure and awareness of traditional treatments that are available at various centers around the world, and especially at our center, that might help them. But more importantly, he used this as an opportunity to educate the world about complementary therapies."

The Leonard P. Zakim Freedom Bridge

In commemoration of Lenny's ability to build bridges between people of different faiths and cultures, Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci announced in June of 2000 his intention to name the new bridge across the Charles River, The Leonard P. Zakim Freedom Bridge. The majestic $100 million bridge is the centerpiece of the Big Dig, and will replace the upper and lower decks of Interstate 93 as it passes through downtown Boston. When the span is opened to traffic in 2002, it will be the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world. Governor Cellucci adds, "Just as this bridge will one day become a part of the daily rhythms of our community, we hope the lessons Lenny Zakim taught us, and the shining example he set, will one day become an inseparable part of the character of our community."

Help YourSelf
A Fitting Legacy

Five years ago, Leonard Zakim first envisioned a program that would combine traditional cancer therapies with alternative treatments. But for Zakim, dreams were not enough. Throughout his own illness, Zakim doggedly worked to lay the groundwork for such an institution. This year, The Dana Farber Cancer Institute is poised to open the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrated Therapies. The center will offer cancer patients acupuncture, massage therapy and nutritional guidance, among other forms of complementary medicine. In addition, the Center will conduct clinical studies to measure the safety and efficacy of such treatments.

At a fundraiser held last year at Boston's Wang Center, Zakim gave an impassioned speech about the value such treatments had held for him and his family during his battle with bone-marrow cancer. "This gives us at least a sense that we're not just going to lie there and wait for something to happen to us. Whether we use it during or after treatment, there will now be a place at Dana-Farber where we as patients can get the type of assistance necessary to help us through conventional therapy. This will give us each some of our life back."

Ten weeks after that evening, over 1,800 mourners attended Mr. Zakim's funeral. Among those in attendance were Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, and former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich. In addition, religious leaders from many denominations paid their tribute to Zakim. He was later recognized by the US Senate for his charity work and tireless crusade against bigotry and racism. He is also remembered by the Dana-Farber family as a champion for all patients. Dana-Farber President David G. Nathan, MD noted, "There is little doubt that at Dana-Farber and in our communities, Lenny had a real and lasting impact, and we are all the better for it."

The Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrated Therapies is scheduled to open in late fall, 2000. Dr. David Rosenthal, MD, past President of the American Cancer Society, has been appointed medical director.

From NPR's Weekend Edition for December 4, 1999

Leonard Zakim died this week, just before Hannukah. Hannukah has become regarded, in our times, as some kind of Jewish Christmas: a holiday for overindulgence and gift-giving. But Hannukah is the Festival of Lights. It commemorates the Jews who guarded the beleaguered Second Temple in Jerusalem, whose faith kept one night's small supply of oil burning for eight. Hannukah symbolizes survival against adversity -- the triumph of light.

In his 46 years, Lenny Zakim brought much light into this world. He was head of the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League, but that's like trying to put a title on a windstorm. For twenty years at the Anti-Defamtion League, Mr. Zakim was an inexhaustable schmoozer.

"I believe that relationships count for more than institutions," he said. "It's because you know someone that you begin to care about their issues." Mr. Zakim prowled Boston, the city he loved, in search of conversation. He went into Baptist churches and Jamaica Plain's barrios -- places, perhaps, which had never seen a bearded Jew outside of the confines of a television screen -- and listened, joked, and preached against prejudice. He organized annual black-Jewish seder dinners to revive and repair relations between two peoples who shared, he said, the historic burden of having been slaves. He brought Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law to Auschwitz in 1985, where they embraced and pledged to never permitt bigotry to divide people of different faiths.

Six years ago, Leonard Zakim started a project called Team Harmony. It brings many of Boston's best-known athletes into the schools of Massachusetts to speak with youngsters personally about what they know from their own experience -- that people of different backgrounds can be different and disagree, yet respect one another and work together to a great common purpose.

"You've got to give young people the support to work against peer pressure," he said just two weeks ago at Boston's New Garden basketball and hockey arena. "These kids have to know that if they stop a racial slur or a bigoted joke, when they stand up for the rights of anyone, they are being as heroic as any great athlete."

Part of what made Mr. Zakim's incessant urgings so easy to accept was the joy of his companionship. He was a joke-teller and a mimic who loved to mock himself, sing-along, and stay up late into the night. Once, at some event, he handed me his card. "Call me if I can ever help." he said, "Or call me just to schmooze."

This past summer, when Lenny Zakim was in his final stages of cancer, one of his schmoozing friends, Bruce Springsteen, played Boston and dedicated a song to his friend who burned with light for as long as he could.

For more information about the Big Dig and the Leonard P. Zakim Freedom Bridge, go to:

For more information on The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrated Therapies, go to:

For more information about the Anti-Defamation League, go to:

Passion spans divides

Leonard P. Zakim was a great friend of Brandeis - and the rest of the world. A new bridge commemorates his life.

By Rebecca Incledon
Justice Staff

Leonard Zakim, for whom the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge connecting Charlestown and Boston will be named, spent his life building bridges of his own among different racial and religious communities.

“Lenny was, in many ways, the most extraordinary figure in community relations that the Jewish community produced in several decades,” Professor Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) said.

Seven months after Zakim’s death in 1999, Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and others announced that the new bridge connecting Boston to Charlestown, the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill, would be named for Zakim.

“I think the idea is symbolically a wonderful idea,” President Jehuda Reinharz said. “I think Lenny was really a bridge builder. This is just a wonderful way to highlight him as a role model in the community.”

Many residents of Charlestown, however, were unhappy about naming the bridge after Zakim. Sarna attributes the backlash to two major factors: Residents of Charlestown had expected the bridge to be named for the Battle of Bunker Hill, or its monument. They argued that the bridge’s architect incorporated elements of the monument into the design of the bridge.

Sarna cited anti-Semitism as another cause for the dissent. Several Charlestown residents were quoted making anti-Semitic statements in a Boston Globe article this month. Sarna called it the “ugliest manifestations of prejudice in a major newspaper” that had occurred in a long time.

Some critics asked what the role of Jews had been in the Battle of Bunker Hill. That night, Sarna wrote a letter to the Globe and, to ensure its speedy arrival, e-mailed a copy to a Globe reporter. The following Monday, an article in the Globe publicized Sarna’s factual response to the ignorant statements.

“There probably wouldn’t have been a Bunker Hill monument had it not been for Jewish philanthropist Judah Tauro,” Sarna said.

In the late 1830s, Protestant philanthropist Amos Lawrence of Boston offered to contribute $10,000 to the monument’s construction if someone else would cover the balance. Since nobody in Boston volunteered, Judah Tauro, an original Bostonian who was living in New Orleans, donated the remaining amount.

At the monument’s dedication in 1843, a poem attributed to the poet and humorist Oliver Wendell Holmes was read that contained the following lines:

“Christian and Jew, they carry out one plan / For though of different faiths, each is in heart a man.”

While it seemed that legislators and leaders from Charlestown did not respond to their constituents’ hateful comments for days, a Jan. 19 article in the Boston Phoenix revealed that several officials did speak up, but were ignored.

The article reported that State Representative Eugene O’Flaherty of Charlestown e-mailed the Globe two days after the article appeared, and it charges that the message was ignored. O’Flahertyy did not return calls placed to his office.

After other attempts to condemn the prejudiced comments, additional community leaders held a news conference on Jan. 12 to officially denounce them.

O’Flaherty suggested that a compromise be reached by calling the bridge the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. Cellucci and Law originally opposed the idea, but gave in when Zakim’s family members urged them to accept it.

Steven Grossman, a long-time friend of Zakim’s who chairs the Brandeis Board of Trustees and is running for governor, said he found the response of Charlestown’s leadership to the Globe article to be disappointing.

“It did not appear that the community’s leadership was speaking out in as forthright a manner as they might,” he said. “It was disconcerting that the (leadership) hadn’t come forward more quickly.”

Grossman added that he did not believe the Globe article accurately reflected the views of Charlestown’s citizens.

“The real question now is what the bridge will really be called,” Sarna said. “Everybody knows that the decision will ultimately depend on the name that comes to stick.” Sarna’s history provides some clues to his interest in coexistence work. Childhood brushes with anti-Semitism, combined with growing up during the civil rights era, profoundly influenced Zakim’s decision to devote his life to combating bigotry.

“I got benched for not playing (football) on Yom Kippur,” Zakim told Boston Globe reporter Charles A. Radin before he died of bone cancer in December of 1999 at age 46. A 1973 trip to Israel after his sophomore year at American University cemented his connection with Judaism.

After graduating, he moved to Boston and attended the New England School of Law. In 1978, the law school graduate became the southeast Massachusetts coordinator for the re-election of Michael S. Dukakis as governor. With Dukakis’ loss, Zakim needed a new job. The father of Nancy Winship, Brandeis’ senior vice president for development and alumni relations, was the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New England at that time. Her father, Sol Kolack, worked for the ADL for over 40 years since the end of World War II. Kolack hired Zakim as the civil rights director for the New England region of the ADL. “(Kolack) knew from the moment he met Lenny that this was a very special human being,” Winship said. “He saw in Lenny such special qualities and charisma.”

Zakim became Kolack’s protégé, and they sustained a close friendship until Kolack’s death. He succeeded Kolack as director of the ADL’s New England chapter in 1984.

“He played a central role in transforming it from an organization that fought anti-Semitism to an organization that sought to promote a just society where people of different faiths and races interacted with one another,” Sarna explained. “He was remarkable in his ability to build bridges across racial and religious lines.”

During his tenure at the ADL, Zakim developed several innovative programs to link various ethnic communities and promote cultural understanding.

In the early 1980s, he began a black-Jewish Passover seder with then-Newton Mayor Theodore Mann and Rabbi Richard Yellin. In its first year, six people attended the event, but by 1999 it attracted a record 650 people. Zakim also organized a Catholic-Jewish seder. He also created Team Harmony, a program that promotes intercultural understanding among teens.

“Lenny understood that prejudice often began and was quite virulent at the teen years,” Sarna said.

Team Harmony began in 1994 when the Boston Celtics, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins joined over 6,000 middle and high school students at the first annual anti-racism rally for Greater Boston teens of its kind. More recent rallies have involved over 10,000 students each year and have drawn the likes of rock band U2, former Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and civil rights legend John Lewis.

“(Zakim) would start something in Boston and before you know it, it would be replicated all over the country,” Winship said. “He didn’t know about obstacles.” In fact, his determination to overcome challenges helped to keep him going when he was diagnosed with cancer six years ago. While friends wanted to establish a chair at Harvard University in his honor, he wanted his name to live on in a more tangible, grassroots way. The Lenny Fund was established to provide grants for rather small community organizations and projects. It distributed $50,000 in funds in its first year; the grants totaled $279,000 in 1999.

While Zakim was what Winship called “a tireless crusader against all forms of prejudice,” after being diagnosed, he also became an advocate for cancer patients. Zakim encouraged people to fund cancer research and explored the integration of alternative medicine into mainstream cancer treatments. He wrote to many (including Sarna) who were also battling cancer, offering to visit and help them.

“It was just a remarkable thing for a person who knew he didn’t have long to go to help someone else,” Sarna said.

“When my dad was dying of cancer,” Winship said, “there was never a day Lenny didn’t go to the hospital to see him …(Zakim) read “Tuesdays with Morrie” to him over and over again.”

The book chronicles the relationship of Mitch Albom ’79 to former Brandeis professor Morrie Schwartz.

Even though the bridge, which is part of the Big Dig construction project, will be completed in the next year, its access roads will not be finished for several more years. His friends reflected on the personal qualities that allowed Zakim to draw people together so effectively.

“He created transformational experiences,” Grossman said. “People were never quite the same after they collaborated with Lenny.”

“There was something at Lenny’s core that gave you this unshakable belief that if you did what Lenny was asking you to do, it would have a meaningful impact on the rest of your life,” Grossman added.

“When people encountered (Zakim), they saw one of the most dedicated people they’ve ever met,” Reinharz said. “That made a huge impression on people.”

Zakim received a Brandeis Honorary Degree in 1996 and was a friend of the University. Zakim’s widow, Joyce, graduated from the Hornstein Program in Jewish Community Service at Brandeis in 1982.

- David Dagan contributed to this article.

Crusader against bias, Zakim is dead at 46

By Charles A. Radin, Boston Globe Staff, 12/03/99

Leonard P. Zakim, who was widely respected for his lifelong battle against prejudice and deeply admired for his heroic struggle with cancer, died yesterday in Brigham and Women's Hospital. He was 46.

Best known for confronting ethnic and racial hatred during 20 years in the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League, Mr. Zakim increasingly led the agency into bias-prevention programs as his tenure lengthened.

With his friend, the Rev. Charles R. Stith, a black minister who became US ambassador to Tanzania, he started the biggest black-Jewish seder in the country.

With his friend Jon Jennings, a Celtics coach who became a White House Fellow, he founded one of the nation's largest anti-bias programs for teens.

With his friend Cardinal Bernard Law, who like Mr. Zakim became an abiding voice in Boston for ethnic and racial reconciliation, he made major advances in Catholic-Jewish relations.

''I am a firm believer that relationships count more than institutions,'' he once said. ''It's because you know someone that you start to care about their issues.''

Mr. Zakim lived that conviction in the last month of his life. Though his strength was flagging, he staged the sixth annual Team Harmony teen program, made the fourth round of awards to community-service groups from his foundation, the Lenny Fund, and traveled to Rome to participate in a Catholic-Jewish pilgrimage he and Law conceived.

In Rome, Pope John Paul II named Mr. Zakim a Knight of St. Gregory - one of the highest honors bestowed on lay people by the Catholic Church - and the new knight was photographed with the pontiff in front of St. Peter's Basilica.

''I've had my picture taken with the pope, Bruce Springsteen, and the Dalai Lama,'' he said afterward. ''Now I've got to get the three of them together.''

It sometimes seemed Mr. Zakim knew everyone. Storied networks of friends in politics, religion, entertainment, sports, and education enabled him to call on mega-celebrities and unsung, but highly effective, local heroes as occasion demanded.

He could get Hillary Rodham Clinton to headline the Team Harmony program one year and Red Sox star Mo Vaughn to do the honors the next. He could talk with local activists of the Nation of Islam despite an intense level of opposition to Louis Farrakhan.

Beneficiaries of the Lenny Fund, which Mr. Zakim set up with donations made in his honor during his struggle with cancer, ranged from the Young Graffiti Masters in Roxbury to the East Boston Adult Education Center to the Food Project in Lincoln.

Mr. Zakim grew up in New Jersey and earned a bachelor's degree at American University, in Washington, before coming to Boston to attend New England School of Law.

He had passionate interests in civil rights and politics from childhood, and a penchant for converting personal experiences into causes. Grief over the assassination of President Kennedy led him to study law. Insults to his Jewishness and a first trip to Israel, in 1973, paved the way to the Anti-Defamation League. Contracting cancer turned his attention to advocacy for patients.

His passion for justice also extended to gays and lesbians and he often made strong denunciations of homophobia.

Mr. Zakim laid the foundations of his career in 1978, when, after graduating law school, he worked as southeast Massachusetts field director for Michael S. Dukakis's 1978 gubernatorial campaign for the even-then-slim salary of $50 a week. Later that year, he signed on as civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League in New England.

It was, he recalled with characteristic humor, a disastrous year. The Blizzard of '78 buried the region in snow and ice. The Red Sox pulled their most ignominious collapse ever, and were finished off by the epic Bucky Dent home run. Dukakis blew the election.

But the campaign was the beginning of an association with Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, that would bring Mr. Zakim to the policy-making level of the national Democratic Party, a standing he retained after Dukakis's political career faded. And in 1983, he became New England director of the Anti-Defamation League, a post he retained until his death.

In the mid-1980s, he developed a deep relationship with Law, and was a member of the local delegation that traveled to Rome for Law's elevation from archbishop to cardinal.

The bond was further strengthened in 1985 when the new cardinal chose anti-Semitism as the subject of his first homily, and, the following year, when the two men traveled together to Poland, where they visited the Auschwitz death camp and spoke to Catholic leaders about confronting anti-Semitism.

The cardinal offered prayers for Mr. Zakim at Christian holy places throughout Israel during the portion of this autumn's Catholic-Jewish pilgrimage in which Mr. Zakim was too ill to participate.

Also in the 1980s, Mr. Zakim met Newton businessman Steven Grossman. As Dukakis emerged as a viable presidential candidate, Zakim and Grossman - who subsequently would serve as chairman of the Massachusetts and then the national Democratic Party organizations - became intimates.

''When I decided I wanted to become chairman of the state party, the first person I called was Lenny Zakim,'' Grossman said. ''When I decided I wanted to become chairman of the national party, the first person I called was Lenny Zakim....

''In rebuilding the party, Lenny was my go-to guy in so many ways,'' Grossman said. ''1:30, 2 o'clock in the morning, Lenny was always up, always thinking, always writing.''

Mr. Zakim's wife, Joyce, said yesterday that ''Lenny made an indelible impression on everyone he came in contact with. To me, he was a great life partner. To our children, he was an unbelievably caring father who taught them the compassion toward others that was a hallmark of his professional and personal life. We plan on making a great effort to ensure that his legacy will continue.''

Mr. Zakim also leaves a son, Josh; two daughters, Deena and Shari; his parents, Gerald and Phyllis, of Wayne, N.J.; a sister, Elayna R. Kirschtel of New City, N.Y.; and a brother, Stuart I., of Edison, N.J.

A funeral will be held at noon today at Temple Emanuel in Newton.

The family requests that donations be made to the Lenny Fund, care of The Philanthropic Initiative, 77 Franklin St., Boston 02110.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 12/03/99. © Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company. 


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