First, a confession. I am not a frequent dinner attendee, especially not on Sunday afternoons after a hectic day of serving, cleaning and chaperoning. However, the Ohr V’Daas 25th anniversary dinner, which took place this past Sunday evening at the Valley Terrace Ballroom in Monsey, NY, was not just any dinner.
It was an experience to savor.
For Ohr V’Daas doesn’t just talk the talk. The renowned school for children with special needs, the only one of its kind in our community, represents what Klal Yisroel is all about.
As Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, a special guest from Los Angeles, movingly expressed at the dinner, “People are talking about the parents of special-needs children, but I want to tell you that we are the parents of these children. They are all our children, our responsibility.”
Seeing the glowing faces of the Ohr V’Daas talmidim, who turned out in their Shabbos attire, along with their loving families, was a powerful affirmation of what Ohr V’Daas stands for.
At the pre-dinner reception, I met Mrs. E., the dedicated guardian of four beautiful children with special needs, two of whom attend Ohr V’Daas. She expressed how much Ohr V’Daas has changed the lives of her precious children and the entire family, and how dedicated they are to every student’s growth. These heartfelt words meant more than any prepared speech.
One of the evening’s most moving scenes took place right at the start. The nine beloved boys of the eldest Ohr V’Daas class took their place on a special platform, where they sang a heartwarming rendition of “El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti,” composed by Mr. Rechnitz, singing together with the Zemiros Choir. There was nary a dry eye, on both sides of the mechitzah, as the sweet voices of these innocent young men, led by their dedicated rebbi, Rabbi Mendel Wettenstein, filled the ballroom.
The applause after their song was spontaneous and sustained, rippling across the hall. Suddenly, Reb Shlomo Yehuda got up and walked across the ballroom, heading to the platform where the boys were standing to personally greet them and thank them for their beautiful performance. It was one of those unforgettable moments in time that you want to freeze forever.
The dinner was chock-full of those unforgettable moments, such as when the guest of honor, Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, paused during his speech to invite Yekusiel and Shuey to the dais, putting his arm around them. What a powerful display of affection toward Hashem’s special neshamos.
Indeed, at the close of his speech, Reb Shlomo Yehuda announced that after participating in such a moving scene, and in honor of his dear friend, Rabbi Lipschutz, he would double his donation.
Other moving moments included hearing the parents of the Ohr V’Daas children shmoozing at the table about what the school has done for them, for their families, and for Klal Yisroel.
Hundreds came to the dinner simply to pay tribute to a school that belongs to all of us, for these children are ours.
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The event began at 5:30 p.m. as the guests began streaming into the ballroom. They were heartily greeted by Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, who has his finger on the pulse of the community. The supervisor attended the dinner to show his appreciation for Ohr V’Daas and to greet Mr. Rechnitz, the world-renowned philanthropist, who had come to pay tribute to a special guest of honor.
A private reception for Mr. Rechnitz, held in a room off the main ballroom, was graced by the attendance of Rav Ephraim Wachsman, who expressed his appreciation for Reb Shlomo Yehuda, whose heart and mind are with Klal Yisroel, and who follows the guidance of the gedolei Yisroel with every step. Rav Wachsman gave this renowned baal chessed a brachah that he continue to have the zechus of being mechayeh others.
Rav Yerucham Zeilberger, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Bais Binyomin of Stamford, then spoke as a parent of Ohr V’Daas, expressing his appreciation to Ohr V’Daas for its dedication to the needs of every talmid and talmidah, and the extreme sensitivity to the parents regarding their heavy financial burdens. What a zechus it is to help this unique school in any way we can, Rav Zeilberger said, also expressing his admiration for Mr. Rechnitz for making the effort to attend and join the Ohr V’Daas family.
While the private reception was taking place, the guests streamed into the large ballroom, where an array of hot refreshments were served to musical accompaniment. The Zemiros Choir regaled and inspired the guests throughout the evening.
The executive directors of Ohr V’Daas, Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Meisels and Mr. Yossi Weissman, personally greeted the guests and expressed their appreciation to the overflow crowd.
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After the Ohr V’Daas boys choir made its debut, the program began with heartfelt words by the emcee, Mr. Sruly Orzel, a renowned community askan and dedicated board member of Ohr V’Daas, whose efforts on behalf of these children knows no bounds.
Mr. Orzel extolled Ohr V’Daas, a place where miracles happen every day, and thanked the attendees for attending and paying homage to this community landmark, celebrating 25 years of miracles and amazing accomplishments.
He then introduced Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, who traveled to Monsey despite his hectic schedule to present the guest of honor award to his friend, Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz.
The audience was pin-drop silent, listening to a baal chessed who not only talks the talk, but actually walks the walk with his extraordinary support for all the worthy causes of Klal Yisroel.
Mr. Rechnitz, whose disarming sense of humor had the audience in stitches, then spoke about a very serious topic: the real challenges that parents of children with special needs face each day. He related a story of an eleven-year-old girl with a severe form of autism who never expressed any emotion and was difficult to care for. After years of struggling, the parents reluctantly decided to send her overseas. The night before the trip, the child cried bitter tears – the first sign of emotion in her life. She expressed her fervent wish to stay in the arms of her parents in the only way she could. Moved, her parents promised that they will never abandon her.
Reb Shlomo Yehuda addressed the rapt crowd and eloquently said, “People are talking about the parents of special-needs children, but I want to tell you that we are the parents of these children. They are all our children, the children of Klal Yisroel. Those of us blessed with so-called ‘normal’ and healthy children should express our gratitude by sharing the responsibility of their chinuch and well-being, helping them reach their maximum potential.”
Mr. Rechnitz expressed his admiration for Rabbi Lipschutz, a brave and dedicated leader, a loyal soldier who follows the guidance of our gedolei Yisroel every step of the way. It is Rabbi Lipschutz, said Mr. Rechnitz, who accepts responsibility and raises awareness for the needs of Klal Yisroel with mesirus nefesh.
Reb Shlomo Yehuda then presented Rabbi Lipschutz with a unique and beautiful plaque, shaped like the Choshen, containing the twelve avnei haChoshen. It was no coincidence that this award was chosen, as the stones of the Choshen represent the unity of Klal Yisroel. Rabbi Lipschutz, with the koach of his pen as the publisher of Yated Ne’eman and with his far-reaching vision, unites us all.
After accepting the award, Rabbi Lipschutz emotionally thanked his good friend, who is rosh verishon lechol dovor shebekedushah and made the supreme effort to attend this event, despite his other commitments.
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Rabbi Lipschutz’s speech was a masterpiece, one of the highlights of the evening. The crowd was held spellbound as he emotionally described his visit to the children of Ohr V’Daas and described their fervent desire to be like “everyone else.”
“People always say these children have higher neshamos,” said Rabbi Lipschutz. “I always believed it, but I never understood it until I went to the school and met Shayele and Mechele and Yekusiel and Shuey and so many others like them.
“We were introduced to Mechele and they told us that he is a baal korei in two shuls every Shabbos. You know what I was thinking to myself? Yeah, sure. He’s a baal korei my foot. What’s he doing here if he can lain well enough to be a baal korei in one shul, let alone two. They tell him that to make him feel good.
“Then they asked him to lain. He got a Chumash and he lained as nice as anyone can possibly lain.
“Do you know why?
“Because he has a hoiche neshamah. Just listen to him lain and you will see it and hear it and feel it.
“Do you know how?
“Mechele has been in Ohr V’Daas for 16 years. They taught him to read, to communicate, to daven, to lain. And he finally graduated last week.
“Do you know what it means for a boy like him to lain in front of a shul?
“And then there was Shayale, who a couple of months ago made a siyum on Mishnayos Shabbos. It took him much longer to learn it than it would take you, but he knows it as well as anyone. Ask him any question and he can answer it. With a smile. With joy. With pride that makes you weep. And do you know why?
“Because he has a hoiche neshamah.”
Rabbi Lipschutz continued: “When we enjoy our good fortune, when we have nachas from our children, there ought to be a place in our hearts for parents and children who have it more difficult. How can we be so happy when we know that there are people struggling for a small measure of the nachas we enjoy?
“By helping Ohr V’Daas, we show Hashem that we appreciate the gifts He has bestowed upon us.
“By helping Ohr V’Daas, we help those children realize their potential. We help them read, write, learn Torah, do mitzvos, be productive, and bring nachas to their families.”
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After a brief musical interlude, Rav Yisroel Gottlieb, the rov of Kehillas Bais Torah, delivered the tribute to Mr. Irving Malinowitz z”l, Yisroel ben Yaakov Tzvi Halevi, to whom this 25th Anniversary Dinner was dedicated. He was a close friend of Ohr V’Daas and a beloved grandparent of Binyomin Richman, an Ohr V’Daas talmid.
As Rabbi Gottlieb eloquently expressed, “I am here this evening to give voice to one whose voice has been stilled, but whose call still echoes and reverberates for us all.
“Irving Malinowitz, Yisroel ben Yaakov Tzvi Halevi, was a man of integrity, of passion, and of principle. He was a talented businessman and a quiet baal chessed and baal tzedakah. In most aspects of his life, he was happy to stay out of the spotlight. The one exception to that rule was always Ohr V’Daas. He had tremendous personal hakoras hatov to the school and would always tell me, ‘Look what they did for my Binyomin.’
“He would speak about the importance of the school and the importance of the community supporting such a wonderful institution, and he was filled with gratitude to the administration, the teachers, and the supporters of Ohr V’Daas. It is fitting and proper to dedicate this dinner in his memory.”
We all stood in honor of the departed, as the world-renowned chazzan Yanky Lemmer then delivered a warm and rousing rendition of Keil Molei Rachamim in memory of his neshamah.
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Mr. Yochi Herzog presented the Special Children Award to Mr. Naftoli Silberberg, one of the pillars of Ohr V’Daas, who keeps the needs of these special neshamos on his mind all the time. The renowned Monsey askan, the heart and soul behind the continued growth of Ohr V’Daas, was presented with the kappitel of “Lamnatzeiach,” a known segulah for shemirah, in the shape of a menorah, handwritten on klaf.
Mr. Silberberg, who shies away from accolades, turned the tables by thanking Ohr V’Daas for giving him the opportunity to help these precious children. He expressed gratitude to Hashem for granting him this zechus and showed his appreciation to the community for helping and supporting this school.
Mr. David Smith of the S.B. Foundation, a dear friend of Mr. Silberberg, then addressed the crowd, donating a significant sum in memory of the unforgettable S.B. of blessed memory. He expressed that he is privileged to continue his legacy of caring for the special education of this amazing Jewish institution.
After receiving his award, Mr. Silberberg introduced the next honoree, Mr. Uri Kirschner, recipient of the Keser Shem Tov Award. Reb Uri is a renowned baal chessed, one of the board members of Hatzolah, and a leading member of Tomchei Shabbos and Kupas Ezra. Mr. Kirschner, an ainikel of Rav Yosef Breuer zt”l of Washington Heights, is a lawyer by profession, yet spends most of his day on his “side jobs,” doing chessed and helping his fellow Jews discreetly, bederech kavod.
Reb Uri took this opportunity to describe Reb Naftoli as his role model and rebbi in chessed and askonus, and shared that it is a true zechus to help Ohr V’Daas.
Reb Yidel Tyrnauer, also known as “Yidele,” a man whose heart is as wide as the warm smile that graces his face, was given the Community Chesed Award. Reb Yidel is the kind of Yid who always draws a crowd. Indeed, there was a beautiful crowd of his extended family present at the dinner in his honor.
Reb Avrohom Wolf Stauber presented Reb Yidel with the award, noting that he is an “ish chessed,” who is eminently approachable, giving of himself, always with a warm word of praise and his trademark smile.
Reb Yidel spoke about his connection with Ohr V’Daas, the school that polishes and brings out the latent kochos of these precious children, many of whom he knows personally. Mr. Tyrnauer related that the gedolei Yisroel consider these children as holy and pure, which makes us fortunate to provide for them in every possible way.
The delectable main course was served as the evening’s program continued. The Parent of the Year, Mr. Yanky Weiss, was presented with a beautiful Ohr V’Daas clock by Mr. Sruly Orzel, who noted that he has “Ohr V’Daas on his heart and mind around the clock.” Reb Yanky, whose son Ari was at the dinner, expressed his gratitude to Ohr V’Daas on behalf of Ari and the other children.
Reb Yanky is not only Ari’s father, but has been dubbed the “father of the Ohr V’Daas children” for his constant dedication and involvement. Reb Yanky has personally overseen the continued renovations of the Ohr V’Daas building for the sake of these precious neshamos.
Mr. Silberberg then presented a plaque of appreciation to a dedicated friend of the school, Mr. Robert Borenstein of the AB design firm. Mr. Borenstein accepted the award on behalf of AB design, generous and dedicated supporters of Ohr V’Daas.
The final speech of the evening was delivered by the renowned Dr. David Lieberman. The audience was mesmerized by his pearls of wisdom and timely advice on the topic of “How to Raise Happy and Resilient Children.”
Judging from the smiling faces of the lichtige students at the dinner, Ohr V’Daas is succeeding in raising a generation of happy and resilient children, who are a credit to our nation.
All told, it was a moving and inspiring evening that galvanized the attendees to continue helping Ohr V’Daas in their mission to help every precious Jewish child reach their hidden strengths and continue to grow.
VIDEO 1 – Opening remarks, the Ohr V’Daas Choir, and R’ Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz:
VIDEO 2 – R’ Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz:
VIDEO 3 – Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz:
VIDEO 4 – Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz:
PHOTOS – Click on each photo to magnify: