On the 40th anniversary of its founding in Hillside, Bris Avrohom has so much to celebrate that it is a challenge to select from among its myriad activities. Rabbi Mordechai and Shterney Kanelsky have truly created a universe that has reached over 30,000 individuals and their families over four decades, impacting their Jewish lives and the lives of their children and even grandchildren in so many vital ways. Equally impressive is that over the course of these 40 years, Bris Avrohom has become the most visible representative of the huge Jewish presence in New Jersey through their proud display of Chanukah menorahs and marking highlights of the Jewish calendar with meaningful gatherings in significant public venues.
The 40th-anniversary dinner, to be held at the Sheraton Parsippany on Sunday, September 15, will be a three-fold celebration. Firstly, it will celebrate the September 4 opening of the brand new, state-of-the art preschool, Cheder Yaldei Menachem, at 1128 North Broad Street in Hillside. Housed in a totally refurbished facility with classrooms designed with the latest in innovative educational equipment for the young learner, Cheder Yaldei Menachem has already attracted new, young families to the neighborhood. The dinner will honor seven families whose generous funding resulted in the creation of Cheder Yaldei Menachem, which will be headed by Executive Director Shterney Kanelsky and Educational Director Dina Schwimmer. The honorees include the Garber family, Claire and Danny Kahane, Lina and Felix Kanchik, Yulia and Mikhail Kipnis, Helene and Charles Klein, Zhanna and Yuri Libson and Galina and Eduard Slinin. These major donors were joined by 30 additional families who contributed to the building of the cheder, which will open its doors with 32 children, representing the Hebrew equivalent of lev, heart.
The dinner will commence with one of Bris Avrohom’s signature events, the multiple marriage ceremonies of couples from the former Soviet Union who opt to ritually renew their marriages through the highest standards of Orthodox Jewish law. Seven couples from New York and New Jersey, ranging in age from 38 to 80, will be individually married by seven designated rabbis. They will be escorted to the chuppah by 14 pairs of designated escorts. Each of the seven chuppahs will be held aloft by four men, and two witnesses will participate in each ceremony. The bridal veils, bouquets and wedding rings were lovingly and tastefully arranged for by Shterney Kanelsky. The ceremonies will be attended by the children and very often grandchildren of the couples.
In reminiscing about the first of the multiple weddings, which took place 34 years ago, Rabbi Kanelsky shared, “I had gotten a message from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, that many Jewish couples in New Jersey were not married according to halacha and that I should become involved in rectifying the situation. I was honored with the charge and encouraged by a fortuitous meeting that took place between me and the late and great Jewish philanthropist Milton Gralla, a”h. While driving, I heard a news bulletin about a Jewish philanthropist who was donating $100,000 to combat terrorism. The names Milton and Shirley Gralla resonated with me, as Mr. Gralla had called me the week before but I did not have time to get back to him. When we finally got together at his penthouse in Fort Lee, he explained that his motivation for combatting terrorism at this time was as a reaction to the cold-hearted murder of wheelchair-bound Jewish victim Leon Klinghoffer, whose wife was Gralla’s secretary.”
Kanelsky continued, “As I explained my mission to him of properly marrying couples from the FSU, he excitedly admitted that he too dreamed of making proper Jewish weddings for couples initially married in the FSU. Within a short time after our meeting, Shterney and I located 20 such couples, and a date was arranged for a lavish 600-guest wedding to be held that June 6. The wedding expenses would be totally covered by the Grallas at the lovely venue of the Marriott at Glenpointe.” Thus began Bris Avrohom’s renowned wedding project, which to date has facilitated 960 marriages. Participating yearly in the marriage ceremonies as escorts to the brides and grooms are Dennis and Susan Gralla, children of Milton and Shirley, z”l.
After the weddings, the guests will be ushered into the main ballroom for dancing and a musical presentation by famed Jewish performer Avraham Fried. During the sumptuous dinner to follow, presentations will be made to three outstanding individuals whose exemplary backing and efforts on behalf of Bris Avrohom have propelled the organization forward.
Honored with the Man of the Year Award will be Maksim Sheyn, senior vice-president of Investors Bank. Sheyn is grateful to Bris Avrohom for the care, concern and most importantly Jewish education that it provided to his parents and grandparents who settled in Elizabeth after their move from the FSU.
The Community Service Award will be conferred upon Olga Krueger, who serves as the general manager of the Staten Island Crossings of the Port Authorities of New York and New Jersey. In this capacity, Krueger arranges for four giant Chanukah menorahs to be displayed on three bridges during the holiday. The eastbound Outerbridge Crossing, the east and westbound Goethals Bridge, and the eastbound Bayonne Bridge proudly display this Jewish symbol of heroism to over 250,000 travelers daily throughout the eight days of the Chanukah festival.
A second Community Service Award will be presented to James Tedesco III, county executive of Bergen County, who arranges for a Chanukah menorah to be displayed yearly in front of the county executive offices at One Bergen County Plaza and arranges for a Chanukah celebration at the government offices at which alternating choirs from the local yeshiva day schools perform. Tedesco also arranges for an annual, meaningful Yom HaShoah program at the executive offices. Prior to Passover, he and many elected officials come to the Bris Avrohom Chaya Esther Talmud Torah in Fair Lawn to assist in the distribution of hundreds of pounds of matzah to locals communities. Tedesco also attends the annual photo-op of the Fair Lawn Jewish Day Camp under the auspices of Bris Avrohom.
This year’s dinner journal has a special significance as well. The journal is dedicated to the memories of international Jewish philanthropists Harry and Joe Wilf, z”l, former neighbors of the Kanelskys in Hillside and great supporters of Bris Avrohom. Dedicating the journal to their memories are Cecil and Edward Mosberg, Holocaust survivors and Jewish philanthropists, who credit their success in America to the graciousness and generosity of the Wilf brothers.
To register for the upcoming Bris Avrohom dinner on September 15, at 4 p.m., at the Sheraton Parsippany Hotel, go to www.brisavrohom.org or email [email protected].
By Pearl Markovitz