May 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Mikvah Chana Holds 2022 Women’s Annual Gala

After two virtual years, Mikvah Chana’s Women’s Annual Gala returned in person on May 10. Over 500 women gathered at the Westminster Hotel in Livingston to support and celebrate the mikvah, also located in Livingston, and to reconnect with one another. Throughout the evening, women were hugging and catching up. “This event is a fabulous way to get the community together,” said Julie Applebaum of West Orange, who comes every year with her mother and mother-in-law. “To be able to do it again after two years and connect is a great thing.”

For Renee Spear of West Orange, supporting the mikvah is a no-brainer. “Having a beautiful mikvah in town is better than having a kosher restaurant,” she said. A realtor, Spear pointed out that it’s an asset when young couples come to buy a house. “They are often embarrassed to ask about the mikvah, so I talk about it. I always tell them we have a beautiful mikvah in town.”

Jamie Geller, kosher cookbook author and television producer, served as keynote speaker. She joined West Orange’s own Haley Kops, a pairs figure skater who competed in the 2022 Winter Olympics for Israel and Shelley Klein, who recently made her own spiritual connection to the mikvah, in addressing the crowd. Each reflected on how Yiddishkeit and spirituality infuse and inform critical moments in their lives.

Rebbetzin Miriam Moskovitz, a Chabad shlicha with her husband in Kharkov, Ukraine, led tehillim from Israel via Zoom, bringing the reality of world events and the potency of prayer into the room.

Geller did not disappoint. Charming, polished and charismatic, the Philadelphia native shared moments of transformation from her former self, a successful secular television producer who used her Manhattan oven for sweater storage, to her current role: religious Israeli kosher cookbook diva, media maven and chief media and marketing officer at Aish Global.

“I’ve made it my mission to leverage my media and food expertise to give people a reason to be Jewish,” she said.

But that wasn’t always her outlook. It was plenty of Torah study, a chance encounter with Aish, and the realization that “Judaism should not punctuate your life; it should permeate your life,” she said, that led to her decision to become religious.

Kitchen skills did not automatically follow. Sharing her failures and victories, she discovered an audience for kitchen bumbles, false starts and missteps. By the time her first cookbook came out, capturing the mistakes and the mastery, she had a few children and took a look at her dramatically altered life. Religious, married and with five kids, she quipped, “Quick and Kosher was not just the name of my first book, but a metaphor for my life!”

Widely considered the first modern Orthodox woman to compete in the Olympics, Haley Kops, 19, has often sensed hashgacha pratis, Divine providence, in her life, she said. Skating since she was three, she hung up her skates after high school and headed to Israel to spend a year in seminary. But she said, “It was God’s plan to create another opportunity.”

A two-time Olympian was looking for a new partner to skate for Israel, and called her. With just three months to practice before their first competition, she took her skates down and they hit the ice. At the event in Germany that would determine whether or not they would compete at the Olympics, she was worried. During practice, she could not land her triple toe loop. She had friends in New York and Israel visit the Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens and the Kotel in Jerusalem, she said. Her parents had packed a portable pop-up sukkah and a lulav and etrog so they could all celebrate Sukkot.

And then, “Just before stepping onto the ice, I felt peace and serenity,” she said. “I knew God put me in this place and time” for a reason. She landed the jump perfectly, and she and her partner placed third, high enough to earn their spot at the Olympics. “Observance of Torah and mitzvot do not hold you back,” she said. “They can catapult you” forward.

It was Shelley Klein who captured the meaning and purpose behind the event: “Any mitzvah brings blessings, and every mitzvah is a path to Hashem,” she said. Having gone to the mikvah herself for the first time at 53, she encouraged those who had never been to the mikvah to go. “Often we don’t know what will inspire or elevate meaning for us until we try something radically new,” she said.

Victoria Khavulya of Livingston, who has been coming to the gala for years, said, “It’s wonderful—the women, the conversation, and of course, the speakers.”

Dara Orbach of Livingston and Toba Grossbaum served as chairs of the event. As the evening began, they urged, “Let’s be inspired to learn and be transformed.”

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