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Bret Stephens to Headline Kukin Memorial Lecture at AABJ&D on Sunday

On Sunday, February 23, Congregation Ahavas Achim B’nai Jacob & David (AABJ&D) of West Orange will feature Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens as its first guest speaker sponsored by the Dr. Ira and Doris Kukin Adult Education Program. The program is endowed by the Kukin children, Marrick and Phyllis Kukin, Lori and Jeffrey Moskowitz and Jonathan and Leora Kukin, in memory of their parents who were instrumental in developing the community, both philanthropically and through active leadership roles.

In 2016, the shul celebrated its jubilee anniversary, recognizing the 20 founding members who, in 1966, committed themselves to developing the shul and growing the Modern Orthodox community. Ira and Doris believed it was the members who defined the essence of a shul, and together with their fellow founders they set forth to create an environment which represented Torah values and Jewish continuity in a warm and welcoming community.

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler has been the rabbi at AABJ&D for 15 years and saw first-hand the commitment and passion the Kukins demonstrated towards community growth and development. “Paying tribute to the Kukins is important to us as a community,” said Rabbi Zwickler. “As we continue to welcome the next generation of members to our shul we believe it is befitting to highlight the immense contributions of founding members like Ira and Doris, pioneers who helped establish a Modern Orthodox presence in West Orange.”

Jonathan Kukin, the youngest of the Kukin children, is a successful lawyer living in Teaneck where he and his family are extremely involved in the community and at Congregation Rinat Yisrael, where he served as president.

Growing up in West Orange in the 60s, Jonathan said the Jewish community was considerably under-represented. “I had two or three Jewish friends,” he recalled. He credits the support and commitment of his parents along with the 19 other founding members for creating a thriving Modern Orthodox community.

From an early age, Jonathan and his siblings recognized the dedication their parents exhibited towards developing West Orange. “My father was the frontman and my mother was the power behind the throne,” he said.

He remembers his father’s mantra well: supporting your shul or your organization with time and money must be a fundamental value. Today, their legacy lives on in each of their three children and their respective families, who have become immersed in supporting their communities and Jewish life.

The Kukins played a starring role in the history of AABJ&D, yet they always acted as humble participants. “My father walked the walk but in a very private way,” said Jonathan. The couple had a strong commitment to education and Jewish life, which they supported whenever possible, but it was more than just time and money. Those who knew the Kukins recognized it was their attitude and their quiet, unassuming approach that was so exceptional.

While the Kukin name is widely known and respected, Ira and Doris preferred to celebrate others with their generosity. When it came time to dedicate the new building for the shul, they named it in honor of Rabbi Alvin Marcus, the Rabbi Emeritus who instilled within the shul community a sense of connection and togetherness.

Gerg Zuckerman, chairman of the adult education committee, had the pleasure of living across the street from Ira and Doris for many years. Throughout that time, he remembers the Kukins generously supporting community endeavors in the most modest and humble way possible. He added that the Kukins valued education, giving of themselves and their money to various institutions, including Yeshiva University, where they were benefactors for many years.

Zuckerman is honored to chair the speaker series in their memory, and he plans to invite top speakers and intellectual leaders from across the globe, perpetuating the Kukins passion for education.

Bret Stephens, acclaimed New York Times columnist, will headline the inaugural lecture. Bret joined the Times in April 2017 after a long career with The Wall Street Journal, where he was deputy editorial page editor, and for 11 years, a foreign affairs columnist. Before that he was editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.

“Bret is a brilliant and stimulating speaker, and we are privileged to have him kick off this program,” said Zuckerman. Stephen’s topic is “On the U.S. and Israel; Reflections and Predictions.”

“I’m excited to come to West Orange. The Kukins were dedicated to education and I look forward to helping to keep their legacy alive,” said Stephens.

Endowing the adult education program for AABJ&D was an easy decision for the Kukin children. “The adult education program in a shul serves as a foundation for Jewish learning and education for the community, a principle my parents strongly supported and encouraged,” said Jonathan. “Putting something in a continuing legacy in West Orange was an ideal opportunity to memorialize them and continue the important work they started.”

The event is open to the West Orange community as well as the broader Jewish community and will be held at Congregation AABJ&D, 700 Pleasant Valley Way, at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Event sponsors are invited to a meet and greet with Stephens, which includes a light dinner starting at 6 p.m.. The cost is $360 per couple or $180 per single. To reserve a spot please email [email protected].

By Andrea Nissel

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