NORTH GLENDALE — A 30-year civic volunteer, a city employee who has helped raise more than $450,000 to fight cancer and a beloved former rabbi who inspired a community — these were the women honored at the fourth annual Jewels of Glendale luncheon Thursday, an event punctuated with as much tribute to the past as there was enthusiasm for the future.
Seda Khojayan, a longtime volunteer for the Armenian Relief Society; city executive secretary Linda Patrick, a breast cancer survivor who helped organize Glendale’s first Relay for Life; and former Rabbi Carole Meyers, who died last year of bone cancer, all took their places as “Women of Courage Award” recipients during the event put on by the Glendale Commission on the Status of Women at the Oakmont Country Club.
Burbank mayor and keynote speaker Marsha Ramos described the women as courageous leaders who have “greatly enhanced our community.”
Attendees praised the women for contributing to Glendale’s social fiber over the years in their own, distinct ways — an exercise that took on moments of rousing gratitude, tearful reflection and somber remembrance from the honorees and their peers.
“Thank you for trusting, respecting and, most of all, believing in me,” said Khojayan, who immigrated to Glendale from Iraq more than 30 years ago with her two young children. “This honor humbles me and obliges me to serve Glendale — which is a city I love — more and more.”
The enthusiasm emanating from Khojayan at the podium and that rushed through the crowd of more than 250 community and civic leaders was tempered with Patrick’s emotional acceptance speech, in which she briefly recalled her bout with breast cancer and tearfully thanked her three daughters.
“I’ve never thought of myself as courageous, but I’ve always tried to be brave,” she said, before touching on her successful battle with breast cancer in 1999. “Some people say cancer changes your life for the better. I won’t say that.”
A request from the American Cancer Society to then-Mayor Bob Yousefian in 2004 to be the honorary chairman of the city’s first Relay for Life pulled her into the fold, where she became the lead coordinator for the event despite her previous, exhausting battle with the disease.
“I didn’t want to even say the word ‘cancer,’ let alone dwell on it,” she said.
But she was certainly grateful to have survived, a fate that did not befall Meyers, former rabbi of Temple Sinai in Glendale and civic volunteer who served on numerous boards and commissions. The 50-year-old retired rabbi — who was the first woman to lead a synagogue in Southern California — died last year from bone cancer.
While Meyers could not be there in person to accept the honor, her famously eloquent words were replayed for the crowd through videotaped invocations and speeches.
“She had a special ability to inspire us as a group,” her friend Paige Gold said. “She taught not just from the pulpit, but by example.”
Video footage of Meyers giving the opening invocation for the U.S. House of Representatives a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks distilled the country club hall to a stiff silence.
“It takes courage to pray meaningfully in the wake of events shaping our lives,” Meyers told the lawmakers. “It is not that we do not turn to God — we do. We come with our praise and our entreaties, but we strain to hear an answer, to sense God’s presence radiating back to us . . . . Help us to know that we can apprehend your presence and use our lives to reflect it.”
JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.