Some of our readers and most of my friends and family know that before I launched The Jewish Link, I worked in the fundraising and nonprofit world for almost 18 years. In that time, I worked for a number of special institutions and among the most special and closest to my heart was OHEL, probably the largest Orthodox-run social services agency outside of Israel and a truly unique organization with which our readership is likely familiar.
As part of OHEL’s development team in the early 2000s, I worked on OHEL’s biggest event of the year, the annual gala, which attracted well over 1,000 people and garnered more than $1 million annually. While I was there, I was fortunate to be able to help lead OHEL to some of the most successful galas the organization ever had. Working for OHEL was one of the highlights of my career. Although my daily commute from Teaneck to Boro Park was not easy, I still have very strong feelings for OHEL and the people who work there and support it.
One of our biggest challenges back then was managing the dinner’s lengthy program, which always included many speeches by key politicians who closely supported OHEL’s work and funding. Although every OHEL dinner was filled with inspirational moments, the evening was definitely not short and not everyone could handle it easily or enjoy the program, including the honorees.
What a pleasant surprise it was to attend OHEL’s 50th annual gala this past Sunday night at the Marriott Marquis! It was a lovely and inspirational evening with a lively program that ran just over an hour and was chock full of many “moments” that made it a joy to be there. I believe that virtually all who attended felt similarly.
The evening started with a seated buffet dinner that ran for an hour and a half, which gave many people a chance to mingle and socialize, with the program starting precisely at 6:30. No congressmen or senators or other dignitaries spoke; only a few NYC-based politicians such as NYC Councilman Kalman Yeger and NYS Assemblymen Simcha Eichenstein and David Weprin spoke briefly before the program began in earnest.
A major difference this year was the emcee of the evening: an award winning documentary filmmaker and social entrepreneur by the name of Brett Culp (www.brettculp.com) who was hired by OHEL’s marketing company, Cerbelli Creative. Although he struggled with some of the Hebrew words and names, he was funny and upbeat and passionate about being there. He gave a short TED-style talk about OHEL and instead of having OHEL’s distinguished board leadership introduce the honorees and speak for a few minutes each, he waded into the crowd with the spotlight on him and interviewed OHEL’s leadership, such Moishe Hellman, Mel Zachter and Jay Kestenbaum. These standing interviews were easy to listen to and provided a strong sense of why these leaders are part of the OHEL family.
As the evening progressed, a video about each honoree was presented, but no honorees were called up to the stage, something I have never seen before. Every honoree was presented with their award at their table and honoree pictures took place at each table, which kept the program moving quite nicely.
When the event got to the leadership awardees, OHEL’s CEO of 24 years and my former boss, David Mandel, and his wife, Susan, there were no speeches. Instead, two white couches were moved onto the stage and Brett had a short and uptempo dialogue with David about himself and the work of OHEL.
Near the program’s end, OHEL called up to the stage and recognized by name a broad range of employees, clients, parents, foster care graduates and volunteers, each of whom was distinct in some way. It was a powerful moment to see live and hear about just a few of the lives and personalities that OHEL has impacted.
Last but not least, the evening closed with a powerful and short video which you can view at https://bit.ly/2KVUHjv. I encourage you to do so. It was a memorable evening for OHEL and I was happy to be a part of it, and also proud to be a supporter of OHEL through the pages of this paper and in other ways. Kudos and yasher koach to my friends and former colleagues at OHEL, CDO Robert Katz and Director of Development Miriam Weiss! Great job and keep it up!
Mazal tov also to Guest of Honor Meridian Capital Group, Nediv Lev Awardees Tsippy and Stuart Nussbaum of Cedarhurst, and Camp Kaylie Family of the Year Judith Goldberg-Ness and Dr. Seth Ness from Teaneck. For more information about OHEL’s services, visit www.ohelfamily.org or call 718-972-9338.
By Moshe Kinderlehrer,
Jewish Link of NJ