July 25, 2024
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Edison’s RPRY Plans Creative Virtual Gala for June 14

Stein family

Zellinger family

It’s not every day that an internationally recognized comedian sends you a personal invitation to watch him perform at your local yeshiva’s annual celebration.

Parents, alumni, teachers, staff and supporters of the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY) in Edison received the video greeting from Ashley Blaker (filmed in his home in London) via a link in an email on May 26, in which he encouraged them to attend the school’s virtual gala on June 14. This was one novel feature of many for an event that’s broken the mold of annual communal functions.

The RPRY Virtual Gala is the first yeshiva annual affair in Middlesex County to fully embrace the videoconferencing modality. The event is scheduled to last roughly one and a quarter hours, making it also possibly the briefest local Jewish communal fundraising function in recent memory. The virtual gala will include both traditional aspects of yeshiva dinners, such as remarks by the head of school, the president and the two honoree couples, along with interactive rounds of Kahoot quizzes on RPRY trivia, with prizes, and two separate comedy segments by Ashley Blaker.

The title of the virtual gala is “Bridges: Creating Connections” and, given RPRY’s experiences navigating unprecedented circumstances over the past three months, it is a very apt theme.

Gala Chairperson Dr. Rebecca Cypess stated: “So much of Jewish life is centered around community—around the ability to gather and be together. These past few months, we have been unable to live that principle in a literal sense. But this doesn’t mean that we are truly separate, and, in fact, RPRY is an institution that has always served to bind its community together. RPRY provides students with a bridge between school and their homes, a bridge between Jewish children and their tradition, a bridge to Israel, a bridge to Hashem and a bridge to the Jewish future. This event takes that idea of building bridges and runs with it! We will emphasize the bridges that connect us even in this time of physical distancing.”

Head of School Rabbi Daniel Loew remarked: “Through the hard work of our teachers, parents and many others, these past few months RPRY has extended itself into the homes of all of our students. We’ve created bridges from school to home, from classroom to living room. This year’s virtual gala has bridges as its theme, celebrating both the bridges that RPRY has always built for our students, and the new ones we are building every day.”

One of the key ingredients of the virtual gala was the selection of two honoree families with broad connections in the community.

Dr. Mark and Rachel Stein of Highland Park have three children who’ve attended the school, Batya (’13); Nechama (’16); and Avi, who is in seventh grade. The Steins have given countless hours over the years to volunteering for the school. Mark, a highly skilled amateur photographer, can often be seen with his camera in hand, capturing and documenting extraordinary moments in RPRY’s educational, social and religious life. Rachel has volunteered at RPRY in numerous capacities: She has served as class parent; coordinated the Box Tops campaign; and assisted with the Scholarship Breakfast, Scholastic book sale, Family Fun Run and Chanukah teachers’ gifts program. In the community, Rachel and Mark devote their time and energies to a wide array of volunteer projects at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, and their children have followed suit, serving as youth leaders and in other capacities.

David and Shifra Zelinger are the proud parents of three current RPRY students—fifth graders Joey and Sammy and preschooler Debbie. Shifra, who works as an accountant for eScribers, is such a consistent volunteer lunch-server on Wednesdays that she has earned the title “Most Reliable Server.” In his professional life, David works as business operations director for CIENA Communications. David served as JV basketball assistant coach at RPRY in early spring 2020. In addition, he developed the EduKit program, which lightens the burden of school-supply shopping for parents and serves as a fundraiser for RPRY PLUS, the school’s parent organization. Beyond the walls of RPRY, David and Shifra are active in Congregation Ohav Emeth as members of essential committees. David is also past president of Congregation Ahavas Yisrael of Edison, a current member of the Edison Township Ethics Board and a former dispatcher for Hatzolah of Middlesex County. Shifra is active in mentorship of adults, parents and children who have Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare condition that she has had since birth.

Discussing why they accepted this honor, Shifra and David Zelinger commented: “We typically do not accept recognition awards, as we try to teach our children that volunteerism is to be done free of recognition, acknowledgement etc. However, we were so truly touched at the admiration the school indicated they have for us and did not want to pass up an opportunity to help the school in another way: raising funds, especially during these tumultuous times. We told ourselves that accepting this award from RPRY can benefit those families who are struggling as we can help raise funds to offset some of their tuition expense and help the school in additional ways.”

“We love the inclusion RPRY provides for all types of families,” they continued. “Everyone is different, there is not a specific ‘type’ of family or student. The hashkafot at RPRY range the full spectrum of Judaism. We also love how nearly every event is all-inclusive…parents, grandparents, siblings, even family friends can attend.”

Discussing why they accepted this honor, Rachel and Mark Stein stated: “We are very proud parents of two graduates and one current student of Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva. RPRY exemplifies and promotes the core values that we hold so dear. It has bestowed more than just the gift of an excellent academic education. It taught our children to be citizens, friends, mentors and leaders. It is truly a privilege for us to be part of the RPRY family,” adding, “When RPRY President Tova Renna asked us to be the honorees, we were surprised, thinking, ‘Aren’t there others who are more worthy of being honored?’ Then, we quickly realized that this was an opportunity for us to recruit our friends and family to support the school that we love.”

For more information on the RPRY Virtual Gala, to register and/or make a donation, please see www.rprydinner.org.

By Harry Glazer

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