People spanning a wide spectrum of Passaic-Clifton community members, local officials and Jewish Family Services (JFS) staff members came together for the annual JFS breakfast of 2022. It was a celebration not just of the honorees, but also all the work that JFS does to make the local community a place of kindness, caring and helping others in need.
After attendees enjoyed the repast, the breakfast’s program began with a perek of Tehillim for the situation in the Ukraine.
The honorees of 2022 were Dovi and Nomi Lefkowitz, Yaacov and Becky Brisman and Bezalel and Yehudis Wagner. The event chairmen were Dovid Goder and Barry Lebovitz. There was also a special memorial tribute to Rabbi Heshie Hirth zt”l, the founder of Yeshiva Ktana of Passaic, who did so much to ensure the growth and success of JFS, even though it was not his own institution.
Dovi and Nomi Lefkowitz have only lived in the community for three years, but they are already so involved in the community that they received the “Somaich Achim” award. Dovi was specifically praised for helping with the Passaic-Clifton Hachnosas Kallah Fund.
Yaacov and Becky Brisman have lived in Passaic for over 20 years and are involved in many facets of community work. In a video tribute, the many rabbonim and communal leaders praised Yaacov’s listening ear, strong sense of responsibility and ability to get things done. The Brismans received the “Community Leadership Award.”
“My children know that if you put your kochos (strengths) into klal work, you can accomplish something great.” Yaacov Brisman said.
After the Brisman video presentation ended, Yaacov himself stole the microphone and went off-program to present an award from the board of directors: a gift to Ozer Herzog, the executive director of JFS, on the one-year anniversary of his joining the organization.
“Many people give up their time and their money to help an organization, but how many people make a personal sacrifice and change their whole lives around?” Yaacov said. “Ozer Herzog left a thriving career as regional chief of social work service for the Veterans Administration for New Jersey to take JFS to the next level.”
The next honorees were the guests of honor, Bezalel and Yehudis Wagner. They were praised for being tremendous baalei tzedakah who show their loyalty to Passaic-Clifton while also helping people from around the world. Bezalel was also praised for leading a Kinyan Mesechta Chabura every morning at 6 a.m. in the Adas. They give their money, time and emotional commitment to make Passaic-Clifton into the special community it is today.
Finally, the breakfast concluded with an emotional video presentation about Rabbi Heshie Hirth. Eight years ago, when the Federation in the area closed, JFS had to figure out how to stay open. Rabbi Hirth took on the responsibility to make sure it not just continued but thrived. He was the one who suggested the annual breakfast and became the first honoree. Although it’s highly unusual for the head of one organization to fundraise for, and even agree to be the honoree, at someone else’s dinner, Rabbi Hirth was not deterred, because he believed in the importance of JFS.
When it was time to buy the new building on Main Avenue in Passaic instead of the too-small temporary building on Allwood Road in Clifton, Rabbi Hirth led the way as well. He spearheaded the fundraising efforts and raised the first funds to buy the new building. Moshe Luchins, a JFS board member, called Rabbi Hirth a “weapon of mass construction.”
Rabbi Hirth believed that there should be a central address in the community to refer people in need of many different kinds of services, whether they’d lost a job or their kids needed therapy. One of the many advantages of having the diverse services of JFS under one roof is that it’s easy, for example, for a therapist who learns that a client is having trouble putting food on the table, to send them to the JFS food co-op and get them help right away.
Although Rabbi Hirth was quick to refer people in need to JFS, many of the speakers on the video spoke about the extraordinary lengths he’d personally go to to help individuals himself.
Rabbi Hirth once drove to Home Depot and bought an air conditioner for a family sitting shiva when he discovered that their home was overheated with no air conditioning units.
He also would personally pick up garbage while walking in the school hallways, and told others that no job was beneath him if it contributed to the well-being of his students. As Rebetzin Sarah Leah Weissman noted in the video, “Nothing was too small nor too large for Rabbi Hirth.”
Rabbi Hirth may be irreplaceable, but JFS honorees, staff and board members continue to implement the plans he laid out for them.
Link to videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBcymwxHwgW0324HRY7rUoQ
By Leah Gottheim