It has been 26 years since the New York State Senate honored its first group of women with the “Women of Distinction” award. This is a senate-only event and does not include any honorees from the New York State Assembly.

This year’s group of 61 recipients includes several Jewish members. Not involved in selecting any honorees were Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D – Whitestone, Queens) and former Senator Tim Kennedy who won an open western New York congressional seat on May 6 of this year.



Kim Lichtenstein

Kim Lichtenstein, a resident of the North Shore communities of Port Washington and Sands Point in Nassau County.

One winner was Kim Lichtenstein, a resident of the North Shore communities of Port Washington and Sands Point in Nassau County. She was selected for the honor by Senator Jack Martins (R – Mineola, Nassau County).

“I have four children. We are not affiliated with a synagogue. I’m involved with the Chabad in our town,” Lichtenstein told The Jewish Press. “I owe it to the other distinguished women in my community who have lifted me up and encouraged me to speak up, stand up and to be a part of our special town. I thank them for encouraging me. It takes a village. One reason I feel I was chosen is because I have encouraged people to join and pitch in and feel welcome at events.”

Lichtenstein, 51, a CPA by profession, had a unique reaction to the October 7 massacre in Israel. “I was recognized recently for leading a group of women to put together an empty Shabbat table after October 7. I am an active member of my community, bringing people together, volunteering for different organizations, giving back where I can, promoting small business, and we wanted to reach out and show support in our community,” Lichtenstein said.

After 20 years of running an organic food distribution company with her husband, Lichtenstein retired, but says, “I couldn’t totally be retired so I started a small candy company with my daughter and my mother. Three generations. We did it coming out of the pandemic to help my mom find more things to do… We took a product that she made, which is candy sushi. It really took off. It’s a fun crafting project that made enough money to pay for the kids to go to a Jewish sleepaway camp, and I give back to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. My great-grandmother suffered from MS.”


Sue Ellen Dodell

Sue Ellen Dodell, a resident of the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Another Jewish recipient of the Women of Distinction award was Sue Ellen Dodell, who resides in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. She was selected by Senator Gustavo Rivera (D – Bedford Park, the Bronx), chairman of the Senate Health Committee. Dodell, 68, has been a lawyer for more than 45 years and a political activist her entire life. She received her law degree from Columbia University School of Law. From there it was on to a career in public service. She served as General Counsel of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, Deputy General Counsel to three New York City Comptrollers, and Assistant Corporation Counsel in the City’s Law Department.

“For many years I’ve lobbied to change New York’s sexual assault laws. In 1982 we were successful in removing the phrase ‘earnest resistance’ from the law,” Dodell told The Jewish Press. “It used to be that the prosecution had to show that the victim earnestly resisted the force that was made, and we got rid of [that] requirement.

“Most recently I’ve been lobbying to change something called the ‘victim’s voluntary intoxication’ exclusion. Right now, if someone becomes intoxicated because another person put a rufi in their drink, then the perpetrator can be prosecuted,” Dodell said. “However, if someone becomes voluntarily intoxicated and the same thing happens – they’re assaulted when they are incapacitated – the case can’t be prosecuted.” The pharmaceutical name for a rufi is Flunitrazepam. It is a powerful sedative drug that is illegal in the United States but is used elsewhere as a hypnotic and in anesthesia. It is popularly known as a “date rape” drug because it can cause semiconsciousness and memory blackouts, and it has been used in committing sexual assault.

Dodell’s strong Jewish identity, including her desire to fulfill the mandate set forth in Psalms 71:18 – “Do not forsake me when I am old and grey” – propelled her to volunteer virtually full time for the last two years with the New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees as political action director. She helped mobilize more than 50,000 New York City elderly and disabled retirees to fight the City’s attempt to move them from traditional Medicare to an inferior Medicare Advantage Plan.

“My devotion to public service and to activism comes from my Jewish values. Most recently, when I’ve been lobbying for retiree health care, it really comes from the value of not forsaking people as they get older,” Dodell said. “I was just so outraged that the City of New York was trying to take traditional Medicare from its retirees and trying to push us into an inferior plan until I stepped up and helped organize and write legislation, which is pending in Albany. I think my Jewish values of working for the underdog or for social justice has really motivated me.”

Dodell hopes to inspire others to “get involved in their community and make change. So many women and award recipients are activists and lead in their community. I would just encourage women and men to lobby their legislators and make their voice known… I really appreciated being chosen.”


Joan Grangenois-Thomas

Joan Grangenois-Thomas, a Port Chester, Westchester County resident and village trustee, was selected by Senator Shelley Mayer (D – Yonkers, Westchester County).

Another honoree, who is not Jewish but has ties to the Port Chester Jewish community in Westchester County, fights the battle against antisemitism.

“In 2007 or 2008 I became a contract facilitator with the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute. It was a separate program apart from the rest of the work the ADL does,” Joan Grangenois-Thomas told The Jewish Press. “It went into classrooms. It went into places of work on college campuses to provide anti-bias type of training. My focus was going into schools – elementary through high school – working with students, working with staff, working with teachers to bring an anti-bias, anti-bullying workshop.”

Grangenois-Thomas stopped working with the Anti-Defamation League around 2017, and went on to develop her own firm, JGT Public Relations.

“Port Chester is often portrayed as a ghetto-type of community. Some students in the town heard disparaging things about the community. Those things still do exist,” said Grangenois-Thomas. “I’ve started to speak at synagogues about bias but also about the historic connection between the Black and Jewish communities as well. There’s been this historic relationship. I’ve made a couple of presentations at local synagogues as well. I am incredibly humbled and grateful to be here and always happy to have the opportunity to engage in serious discussions and what we can do as individuals and groups to try to make this place a little better.”

Grangenois-Thomas, 63, is also a village trustee and considers herself a community activist. She was selected for this award by Senator Shelley Mayer (D – Yonkers, Westchester County). Mayer said she chose Grangenois-Thomas because she was able to bring people together as Port Chester changed from “an older Italian-American Catholic community to one that is now mostly Spanish-speaking.”

“It is a true example of a changing America, and Joan has navigated it and brought leadership to it,” Mayer, who is Jewish, told The Jewish Press. “She has brought a rationality to the government and getting people to work together for the common good. As an activist, Joan is willing to speak publicly about things that others don’t want to speak publicly about, such as racism, antisemitism, and how they intersect, the relationships between Jews and Blacks, and the relationship of our religious community to the movement of change and decency, which is what has happened in many of our communities.”


Leah Feldman

Leah Feldman was selected by Senator Michelle Hinchey (D – Saugerties, Ulster County).

One recipient who declined to be interviewed was Leah Feldman, a 37-year-old Poughkeepsie resident. Feldman, 37, was selected for the award by Senator Michelle Hinchey (D – Saugerties, Ulster County). The information here comes from the biography supplied by the New York State Senate.

Feldman serves as the chief executive officer of the Poughkeepsie-based Family Services. She started with the agency in 2009 as a domestic violence advocate. She currently leads more than 220 employees and directs the $25 million-plus organization which has 12 locations covering Dutchess, Ulster, and Orange counties, supporting the community through Behavioral Health, Victim Services, Youth Services, Family Programs, Prevention, Community Safety Programs, and the Family Partnership Center.

Feldman’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of leaders is evident in her co-founding of “The Brave Project.” This initiative empowers young girls, fostering discussions on pertinent issues and promotes crucial life skills such as self-defense techniques and building healthy relationships.

In her personal life, Feldman enjoys spending time with her family, including two young children. She loves the outdoors, particularly hiking in the Hudson Valley.

She hopes that her purpose-driven work focused on women’s empowerment and community-building continues to ignite hope and foster a more equitable society for generations to come.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].