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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dr. Jeff Lichtman, international director and dean, IVDU School; Ari & Deena Katz, guests of honor; and Chani Herrmann, director, NJ Yachad.

Shlomo, Debbie and Avi Tsadok, Yachad Family Award; Marcel Cohen, director of vocational services, NJ Yachad; and Leora Verbit, vocational services coordinator, NJ Yachad.

(Courtesy of Yachad) The New Jersey Yachad Gala Melava Malka reception was held Saturday night, November 18, at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, honoring three extraordinary Yachad families from the Garden State.

Close to 500 people attended the event, which benefits the New Jersey chapter of Yachad, The National Jewish Council for Disabilities. This global organization is dedicated to addressing the needs of all Jewish individuals with disabilities and ensuring their inclusion in every aspect of Jewish life.

While most of the gala’s attendees hailed from Bergen county, relatives of honorees flew in from as far away as Israel and California. Moishe Bane, the president of Orthodox Union, attended as well.

The three families honored were Ari and Deena Katz, Bergenfield, guests of honor; Scott and Shira Sheps, Englewood, Young Leadership Award; and Shlomo, Debbie and Avi Tsadok, Englewood, Yachad Family Award.

Ari Katz is the owner and director of Camp Mesorah in Guilford, New York, where his wife, Deena, works as the camp’s administrator. Camp Mesorah partners with Yachad to offer camper integration and vocational programs. The integration program mainstreams campers with disabilities, allowing those from Yachad to participate in the full sleepaway experience. The camp’s vocational program allows young adults to work in culinary, fencing, sports and the day camp and camp office.

The Katzes are ambassadors of inclusion at NJ Yachad and their entire family is involved with the Yachad chapter: Daughter Talia did a bat mitzvah project with Yachad’s art program. Mr. Katz started working with Yachad as an assistant principal about 20 years ago.

Ari said he and his wife stay in touch with all the Yachad participants, and call them every erev Shabbos. “Yachad is everyone’s happy place, seeing what true friendships really are,” he said.

Shira Sheps participated in her first shabbaton with Yachad in 8th grade in Edison, New Jersey, and went on to study social work. She had one of her first internships with NJ Yachad, where she worked with Director Chani Herrmann. Shira and Scott are very much a team, and love to bring their own children to participate in Yachad events.

Shira started a photography business a year and a half ago and photographs various events for Yachad. She continues to stay involved with the group. “It’s not about chesed,” she stressed. “It’s about making true friendships and the joy of spending time together.”

For anyone who wants to become involved but isn’t sure where to start, Shira advises, “Just reach out to the amazing staff at Yachad. They have so many important, vital community programs. It’s as simple as making a phone call. It’s also great for families to come to events and learn about inclusion. I encourage people to come to events and bring their kids.”

Avi Tsadok has been involved with Yachad since age 8, and his parents, Shlomo and Debbie, have become role models for Yachad in the Englewood community from their son’s time at the Mendel Balk Center, to family shabbatons and Camp Mesorah. Avi is an active and lively member of Yachad. Avi currently attends Yachad’s vocational training program, and also works at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey and Camp Mesorah. He enjoys color war at the camp each year.

“The gala was a tremendous opportunity to honor these three special families. Every year the gala keeps getting better and better and turnout increases, which speaks volumes about how the community has embraced Yachad,” said Chani Herrmann, director of NJ Yachad.