With a program that was both elegant and unique, the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates recently held its 44th Anniversary Dinner at Temple Beth Shalom in Roslyn. The synagogue at the center of the Jamaica Estates community used the occasion to highlight the talents of two couples who themselves have been integrally involved in the execution of the YIJE anniversary dinner for many years. Over the course of the last ten years, the YIJE dinner has gone from a typical shul fundraising event to an anticipated evening-out filled with good food, good friends, and engaging entertainment.
In an appropriate twist for the month of Adar, this year’s honorees, Fran & Yeeshai Gross and Sandy & Edit Shmuelly, actually planned and executed the evening’s program. In her opening remarks, Dinner Chairperson Yael Schreiber thanked the atypical honorees for all of the time, effort, and resources they put into the event, noting that “most honorees would take advantage of the fact that they are being honored and step back to let the committee and others do the work,” but as usual, the Grosses and the Shmuelys gave “their time, unique talent, and expertise to help produce and entertain us at the dinner [as they do] each year.”
Fran and Yeeshai Gross have lived in Jamaica Estates together since their marriage in 2005. Fran, a published author and entrepreneur who runs her own award-winning branding and marketing agency, has played an active role at YIJE from the time she moved in with her late husband David a”h in 1998. She works on the Purim Committee, 5K Run for Israel, and Chanukah Dinner, and a slew of other projects. Yeeshai, a Tony-Award-winning and Emmy-nominated film and theatre director/producer, is a past Vice President of YIJE and has been behind the planning and execution of most major YIJE events over the last ten years. Yeeshai has also produced numerous memorable films for YIJE, which can be found in the dinner section of the YIJE website.
Sandy and Edit Shmuely have lived and raised a wonderful family in Jamaica Estates since 1987. During their many years of active involvement at YIJE, Edit and Sandy have worked as a team to bring music, ruach, and joy to the community with Sandy on stage. While working in the jewelry industry for many years, Edit has worked quietly behind the scenes for many in need and to support Sandy with his community performances, even serving as his producer during virtual concerts to lift spirits during Covid. Sandy has composed and released ten albums and traveled the world performing for many Jewish communities and political leaders.
Both the Grosses and Shmuelys are also involved with countless schools and organizations, lending their time and talent throughout the greater Jewish Community.
Although quite elegant, with red carpet entry and formal photos being taken, the evening’s program was set in a relaxed atmosphere, furnished more like a lounge than a typical dinner venue. Guests enjoyed an endless buffet prepared by Colbeh, and sat at café tables and couches all centered on a center stage with a giant LED wall. The mood for the evening was set during the buffet with a performance by Jeb Guthrie and Rob Taube and their incredible cover of music favorites from decades gone by.
Following remarks from YIJE President Dror Rosenfeld, Rabbi Emeritus Shlomo Hochberg and Mara D’Asra Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner, the crowd was treated to popcorn during a screening debut of A Dinner Gone Wrong, a hilariously funny mockumentary about the making of a YIJE dinner. The film was produced and directed by Gross and featured a cast of more than 75 YIJE members, including the rabbis.
The honorees were then presented with beautiful gifts from the Shul, as well as proclamations from State Assemblymember David Weprin and New York City Councilmember Jim Gennaro.
The night concluded with a remarkable concert by Sandy Shmuely, where he entertained the audience with an array of Jewish music, including several of his popular hits. To everyone’s surprise, Sandy’s close friend, Yoel Sharabi, made an unexpected appearance on stage at one point. For over an hour, Sandy and the others had the audience singing along before the night reluctantly came to an end.
A video recap of the dinner and presentations can be found at www.yije.org.