It was a capacity crowd in the ballroom at Bruriah High School on Saturday night, December 6th as over 400 people gathered for the annual Mrs. Chaya Newman Memorial Gathering. The event, presented by the recently reinvigorated JEC Alumni Network, featured Charlie Harary, the internationally renowned motivational speaker, as keynote.
Attendees included faculty, representing all three divisions of the Jewish Educational Center, both past and present, as well as alumni spanning decades, JEC administrators, members of the Board of Trustees, current students, parents, community Rabbis and members, and JEC supporters. In addition, in a record breaking display of interest and solidarity with the school, over 1200 people from around the world viewed the livestream of the event thus far.
This year’s event was the third gathering in memory of Chaya Newman, Bruriah’s former principal, whose name is synonymous with the worldwide reputation of excellence that Bruriah enjoys.
An emotional video tribute to Newman was screened that included actual footage of the late principal commenting on her pride in the graduates of Bruriah, and was followed by material that took viewers through Bruriah’s illustrious over 50 year history.
Rabbi Joseph Oratz, the current principal of Bruriah, who assumed the helm following Newman’s retirement just a few short years before her passing, spoke on how humbling it is to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. He shared how her priority was reaching her students’ hearts and inspiring them.
Mrs. Shlomis Peikes, Bruriah’s Associate Principal and Newman’s daughter, shared her mother’s mission for the school – to teach knowledge and skills, but also to instill a sense of responsibility and commitment within all her students. Ten members of the extended Newman family were in attendance, including Newman’s widower, Dr. Victor Newman, who was smiling broadly throughout.
The evening’s keynote, Charlie Harary, exploded onto the stage with the energy and passion that he is famous for. He tied his presentation into Newman’s legacy of always believing in her students and working to have them reach their potential as well as with the upcoming Chanukah festival, likening the Jewish nation to the lights of fire on the menorahs we light. He said that like the element of fire, which displays anti-gravity behavior, our souls are also yearning to reach higher and are represented by fire, with an explanation that explains why a yortzeit is commemorated by lighting a candle.
“Charlie Harary was the perfect choice for this year’s event,” said Adina Abramov, the JEC’s chief marketing officer, who coordinated the program. “His unique combination of broad scholarship, honest sincerity, passion, energy and oratory skill made for an appropriate and impressive tribute to Mrs. Newman a”h’s legacy, which spans the globe and multiple generations in its own right.”
Harary delved deep into the story of Chanukah and claimed that the real miracle that we ought to commemorate is not just the oil that lasted an incredible eight days instead of just one, but is really the unlikely military victory of the ancient Jewish Maccabees against the most superior army in the world at that time, the ancient Greeks. He explained how the untrained Jews held their own for three years with miracle after miracle ensuing and finally assuring their ultimate victory and reclaim of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Harary characterized the attitude embraced by the Maccabbees at that time as “being all in”, to the point that every fiber of their beings believed in their mission and they put forth sustained and maximum effort. He said that in life, for anything that is important, any goal, any cause, our marriages, children, relationships, careers, etc., it is critical to be “all in” in order to maximize our potential and reveal the greatness that resides within every human being.
He clearly embodied his own advice as the passion that poured forth from him delivery was both wildly inspiring and infectious. Attendees waited upwards of an hour for a meet and greet, and many claimed that it was the best event that the Jewish Educational Center had ever hosted.
Representing the JEC Alumni Network at the podium were Springfield-based Dr. Aryeh Pirak, Chief of Anesthesiology at Trinitas Hospital and JEC alumnus, Class of 1971, and his daughter Dr. Sharon Konigsberg, a dentist, alumna of Bruriah, Class of 1998 and current JEC parent of three. Together, they represent a three-generation JEC family, which the institution is blessed to have several of. They spoke of efforts by the school to reach out and re-engage alumni , and encouraged graduates of the system to do the same and reconnect with each other as well.
“The launch of the JEC’s Alumni Network,” said Andy Schultz, the JEC’s recently hired Director of Institutional Advancement, “is a critical step in strengthening the personal and professional connections to and within the broad JEC alumni base. The Network seeks,” he continued, ” to offer value to its members, which represent almost seventy-five years of JEC graduates, and will include initiatives related to career development, mentorship, social programming, volunteer, social action and philanthropy, and JEC ambassadorship.”
The father-daughter team conveyed those goals and shared information on the challenge of day schools to maintain tuition at an affordable level, urging members of the audience to help support the school’s efforts. They added that the JEC has been offered a “Challenge Grant” by three generous families of up to $100,000 each and encouraged everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to extend the reach of their contributions by making a gift before the end of 2014, when the challenge culminates. They concluded with an invitation to all young alumni alumni to attend the upcoming Young Alumni Networking event in New York City on January 7. For more information, call 908-355-4850, ext. 6248, or email email@example.com .
The program was followed by a gala Melava Malka buffet, and an opportunity for alumni, faculty and guests to reconnect.
A full recording of the event may be viewed HERE.