It was a night of recognition and celebration for the 520 parents, faculty, and friends of the Jewish Educational Center who came together for the institution’s annual dinner at the Venetian in Garfield, NJ on June 17.
The evening included a gala dinner reception and a program that paid tribute to Guests of Honor Marty and Miriam Knecht; Lev Tov Award recipients Harry and Mimi Stadler; Educator of the Year Madame Esther Captan; and two maintenance personnel who have been with the JEC for over 20 years each, Stella D’Onofrio and Dennis Van Ness.
Marty Knecht is a past president of the JEC’s board of trustees and their six children are graduates of the JEC’s respective girls’ and boys’ high school divisions. The Knechts moved to Elizabeth, NJ in 1975 when Marty accepted the position of director of social planning with the then Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. He was the first Federation representative to forge a strong relationship with Elizabeth’s Orthodox community and escorted Rabbi Pinchas M. Teitz, ob’m, the founder of the JEC, to his first General Assembly in Texas, which garnered the European-born leader a standing ovation from all in attendance.
The Lev Tov–literally meaning “good heart”–Award is designated for an individual or couple who have made meaningful contributions to the community and serve as role models. Harry Stadler is a longtime gabbai at the JEC’s Adath Israel (North Avenue) shul and Mimi, an artist, has been a longtime advocate for the broader development of creative opportunities for the school’s children, as well as the planner and hostess of many educational programs over the years. The Stadlers’ three children are graduates of the JEC’s high school divisions and are all very successful today.
Madame Esther Captan was honored as Educator of the Year “for her lifetime contribution,” rather than for any one year of teaching, as Rav Elazar Mayer Teitz, dean of the JEC, told the attendees. The Egyptian-born Captan immigrated to the United States in 1967 and began teaching at the JEC soon after her arrival in New Jersey. She started off in the boys’ high school division, teaching Arabic and French, and after a few years moved over to the Bruriah girls’ high school division.
Stella D’Onofrio and Dennis Van Ness, the beloved maintenance staff who have been with the Jewish Educational Center for over two decades apiece, received the most energetic ovation of the night as they took the stage to receive their awards. Most gratifying, shared D’Onofrio, is “seeing the mothers and fathers bringing in their children to school and they remember me from when they were children too.” Indeed, many people shared that both Stella and Dennis are especially cherished for their care and personal concern for each child who is a student at the JEC.
In attendance were also community rabbis from across the demographic that the 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.
The mood was celebratory and the ambiance modern yet elegant, thanks to the lighting, mega screens, and special effects by Uri Abramov and his Olam DJ and production crew. They also produced the video presentations made for each of the honorees, which are available for viewing, along with a photo album of the evening, at Facebook.com/theJEC.
Catering by Marty Mayer was delectable and featured an array of creative offerings which left all of the guests both awed and satiated.
Next year’s dinner will mark the Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy boys’ high school division’s 60th anniversary and 2016 will celebrate the Jewish Educational Center’s 75th anniversary. Last year marked Bruriah girls’ high school division’s 50th anniversary.
Adina Abramov, the institution’s chief marketing officer, remarked, “For what some have considered an ‘off’ year, raising $300,000 and generating such great interest and participation, both in attendance as well as those viewing the live stream as the dinner unfolded, from near, and in the case of many alumni, from as far away as Israel, one might say that the dinner was indeed a smashing success.”
For more information, please contact Adina Abramov at 908-355-4850, ext. 6205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. v