Elizabeth, NJ – It was a night of celebration, reunion and networking for the over 450 parents, faculty, alumni and friends of the Jewish Educational Center who came together for the institution’s Annual Gala at the Venetian in Garfield, NJ on June 17.
In attendance were also community Rabbis and partner agency executives from across the demographic that JEC serves, representing the communities of Elizabeth, Hillside, West Orange, Linden, Springfield, Livingston, Lakewood, Edison, Highland Park, Passiac/Clifton, Teaneck, Bergenfield, Monsey and Staten Island, NY.
The gala commemorated sixty years of Torah and general excellence at JEC’s Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy, and recognized two Distinguished Alumni, who according to Rav Elazar Mayer Teitz, Dean of the JEC, truly embody the values of the institution with their successful and robust balance of both the world of Torah and within society at large – Rabbi Mordechai Tokarsky, RTMA class of 1988, who is the founder and national director of RAJE (Russian American Jewish Experience), a Brooklyn-based organization that helps soviet immigrants to the United States both acclimate to life in their new country and develop a strong Jewish identity, and Rabbi Chaim Strauchler, RTMA class of 1995, who is a Rhodes Scholar (one of only two from the yeshiva day-school world – the second is also a JEC alumna – Miriam Rosenbaum, Bruriah class of 2007) and current Rav of Congregation Sha’arei Shomayim in Toronto, Canada. Both expressed hakarat hatov to the JEC for laying the strong foundation for their future successes and for inculcating within them the rock solid dedication and sense of responsibility to allow them to excel and succeed both in Torah and within the world at large.
The evening’s program was energized by the inclusion of the live finale of RTMA’s Got Talent, an innovative talent competition held in the RTMA division over the past couple of months that was aimed at identifying the latent talent within the student body and which was modeled closely after the popular television series American Idol and America’s Got Talent.
“The competition brought out a broad variety of talents,” said Adina Abramov, JEC’s chief marketing officer, who conceived of and developed the program. “From singers and acrobats to dancers, musicians, a magician, poet, future pulpit Rabbi, and even a unicyclist – we were amazed by both the talent that came out of the woodwork as well as the level of seriousness that the students displayed towards the competition. They all worked hard and were exceptionally well prepared. We were very impressed. RTMA does have talent!”
The competition’s three semi-finalist acts were invited to attend and perform at the dinner – the singing trio from the RTMA Middle School division – Yair Cantor, Yonatan Swissa and Jake Goldberg led the national anthems, accompanied on piano by RTMA junior Uri Veit, also a semi-finalist for his musical acumen. The third semi-finalist was RTMA senior Jake Stern, whose delivery of divrei Torah and natural talent at the pulpit brought a substantive element to the competition that well reflected the school’s core Torah values. Jake was invited to recite the hadran as part of a community-wide siyum mishnayot done in celebration of RTMA’s 60th anniversary towards the conclusion of the dinner.
The live finale of the competition was held at the dinner with the final vote left up to the viewing audience, both at home and those watching the dinner via livestream. All had an opportunity to vote and weigh in on the final decision. The two finalists were outgoing RTMA senior SJ Tannenbaum, the impressionist, whose spot-on comedic impressions had the judges in stitches, and Isaiah Rappaport, the soft-spoken sophomore whose guitar precision and sweet melodious voice brought the audience to its feet. Both boys performed flawlessly – SJ impersonated notable celebrities like George W. Bush, Charles Barkley, Bill Clinton and the Jewish world’s superstar Charlie Harary, while Isaiah presented his rendition of the Beetles mega-hit Yesterday, which in the words of one of the judges, “he really made his own,” and was quite creative.
Over 150 people took advantage of the live voting opportunity and Isaiah Rappaport clinched the title as the ultimate winner of the competition. Andre Schultz, the JEC’s director of institutional advancement, made the announcement and said that both boys were very talented and both may be very proud of their accomplishments. “It was a very tough decision,” he said, “and the vote was extremely close.” The boys embraced and shook hands in a gentlemanly fashion, appropriately sealing off the competition that was marked by a sense of seriousness and mentchlechkeit from the very start.
The evening included a gala dinner reception catered by Menagerie’s Martin Mayer, the exclusive kosher caterer of The Venetian, and also paid tribute to: Howard and Charlotte Block of Springfield, NJ with the Lev Tov Award for their pioneering Legacy gift to the JEC, and Dr. Brian and Shoshana Allen of Edison, NJ as Parents of the Year for their generous support of the new cutting-edge Bruriah STEM laboratories, which were inaugurated recently.
The program culminated with the gala siyum mishnayot, beginning with divrei Torah and conclusion of the final mishnah by Hillside’s Dr. Yossi Pinsker, RTMA class of 1995 and JEC parent, followed by the hadran by Highland Park’s Jake Stern, and then the kaddish and new beginning of the seder mishnayos “me’aimasay korin” recited by Rav Teitz, because as he put it, “A Jew never finishes learning Torah”. Celebratory music by JEC parent and music veteran Moshe Antelis and his Rikud Orchestra burst forth as the program concluded and guests were invited to partake in the delectable dessert reception.
The mood was celebratory and the ambiance modern yet elegant, thanks to the mood and spot-lighting, digital surround-sound, Oscar-like awards segment with special musical and lighting effects, multi- camera video shoot with high quality projection with mega screens – all by Uri Abramov, who also produced all seven of the videos shown over the course of the evening as well as orchestrated the entire program and live switching with his Olam DJ & Production crew.
The entire program was livestreamed with close to 3,000 people having already viewed it online! It is available to view here: https://vimeo.com/131155169 and begins with a seven minute recap of the dinner and the Round 1 roundup of the RTMA’s Got Talent competition for those who want a taste of the dinner without watching the whole thing.
A photo album of the evening is also available on the school’s Facebook page: Facebook.com/theJEC.
Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, associate dean of the JEC, when asked about the dinner couldn’t have been happier. “The dinner was the best I can remember,” he said. “The videos were magnificent, the planning of the program was meticulous, we ran on time, and the JEC shone brightly.”
Next year’s Gala will mark the entire Jewish Educational Center’s 75th anniversary, and if this year was an indicator, next year promises to be spectacular indeed.
PHOTOS – Click on photos to magnify: