On Sunday evening, June 24, the Congregation Shaare Tova ballroom filled with alumni, local rabbanim, and a large group of community supporters of the Jewish Heritage Center to celebrate 30 years of incredible accomplishments and ongoing work. The mission of the Jewish Heritage Center is to spread the beauty and lasting joy of Torah to all Jews, regardless of background, affiliation, or observance level. This organization has touched so many lives, and through the JHC 2,000 Jews have become fully Torah observant over the last three decades.
This was clearly not an event where the attendees came out of a sense of obligation, but one of appreciation, respect, and, for many, a feeling of coming home. One alumnus noted, “The Jewish Heritage Center changed our lives. A Jewish soul is never dark; we had sparks of light, but when we encounter the Jewish Heritage Center it lights up like Yankee Stadium.”
Another alumnus shared, “The Center is a good atmosphere with friendly people and inspirational speakers and rabbanim. I always leave the Jewish Heritage Center on a high when Shabbos exits.”
Mr. Daniel Ritz, Dinner Chairman, welcomed the crowd. He shared his own personal experience and said that the Jewish Heritage Center gave him a place in the Orthodox world. The staff has an amazing connection to each student. “We’re here tonight to say thank you and to celebrate the Jewish Heritage Center today and to look to the future.”
Reflecting on 30 years of achievements, Rabbi Naftali Portnoy, Co-Director of the Jewish Heritage Center, commented on “what a blessing it’s been to see the young generation of our staff take the Center to even greater levels.” Rabbi Moshe Turk, Co-Director, pointed out, “The center is busier now than ever. The JHC reflects how Jews at all levels, from all backgrounds, are so receptive to the message of Torah.” He shared, “The JHC is making its mark through its alumni in Jewish communities throughout the world.”
The Jewish Heritage Center honored three alumni couples who are models of a Torah way of life in their respective communities: Chana & Sherwin Lovi of Great Neck, Michelle & Yosef Mendelson of Passaic, and Karen & Nat Solomon of West Hempstead. There was also a tribute award presentation to JHC honoree instructors who volunteered their time and energy, contributing so much over the years to the growth and spreading of Torah: Rabbi Dr. Robert Bergida, Rabbi Chaim Chait, Rabbi Eliezer Szrolovits, and Rabbi Yehuda Winder.
An amazing video offered glimpses into the seven different divisions of the Jewish Heritage Center. One of the pillar programs of the JHC is the Jewish Family Initiative (JFI), an exciting hub of engaging programs and activities serving hundreds of families in the greater Nassau County area. There are holiday programs, a challah club, Torah study, Shabbos and holiday experiences, trips to Israel, and mega-Jewish-themed events.
The Brooklyn Inreach Division, “1225,” is a drop-in center in Boro Park, Brooklyn, that provides ongoing support and encouragement to a large underserved demographic of disenfranchised chasidic youth. It’s a safe place where young adults come for mentoring, spiritual guidance, and a boost in camaraderie and self-worth. Hot food is offered daily, and typically 30-80 young men or women show up every night. Educational resources (GED diploma classes), job preparation, entertainment programs, social support and life-skill groups, counseling, and rehabilitative referrals are available for them.
The JHC Collegiate Division is a strong presence at Long Island universities. Working with and through student boards and clubs on campus, the JHC staff reaches hundreds of Jewish students on campus, combining learning with rich Jewish experiences. There are study groups with the Rabbi, learning groups run by peers, and exciting retreats and other activities that strengthen Jewish identity.
The Stuart & Eileen Stone Hebrew School, in connection with the Jewish Family Initiative, provides public school children with an exciting spiritual education. It is located in Merrick, Long Island. There is a concurrent parent program with adult classes to help the whole family grow together in Judaism.
The Queens Outreach Center in Kew Gardens Hills is the original hub of all of the Center’s work. It continues to serve the needs of hundreds of students, alumni, and community members. Rabbi Naftali Portnoy and Rabbi Moshe Turk, senior directors, provide ongoing guidance and rabbinic counseling through all stages of students’ lives. There is year-round programming for Shabbos and High Holidays services at beginner and advanced levels, as well as a unique and welcoming teen minyan and an array of intermediate and advanced learning programs for men and women.
Two of the founding couples were in attendance at the dinner, Rabbi Dov & Marilyn Wolowitz and Edward & Phyllis Chernoff. Rabbi Wolowitz spoke about their roles in starting the Jewish Heritage Center. “Thirty years ago, I had a dream. I took Mr. Chernoff and two others along with me. We saw then that 50 percent of klal Yisrael were intermarrying. So many of our brothers and sisters were being lost.” He shared what a z’chus it is to be part of the Jewish Heritage Center’s work. “So much is being done. The next 30 years, let’s continue. Let’s bring many more thousands of n’shamos back to Torah.” He offered a blessing to the crowd: “Continue to have only Yiddishe nachas and bring our brothers and sisters closer to the fold.”
The program concluded with an alumni reunion gathering after dessert, and a slide show presentation of pictures representing 30 years of JHC students, staff, and activities. There was much excitement, laughter, cheering, and even tears throughout the presentation. Words do not do justice to the excitement that is sensed seeing pictures and video clips of this multifaceted Outreach and Inreach organization in action. I encourage you to go to JHCdinner.com to view the brief but engaging video clip, “30 Years of the JHC: Past Present, and Future.”
By Susie Garber