June 17, 2024
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Ohel’s Annual Gala Celebrates 53 Years of Unstoppable Momentum

(Courtesy of Ohel) Ohel welcomed more than 700 members of the community as they celebrated their 53rd Annual Gala on its traditional date, the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

The theme was “Unstoppable.” The room where it happened? Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers, where Miguel Cervantes, actor, singer and star of Broadway’s “Hamilton” served as the gala’s MC. And everyone in attendance agreed that the evening was an electrifying celebration, unlike a typical gala event but instead, a profound and powerful demonstration of a mission-driven organization in action.

Ohel paid tribute to HaRav Dovid Cohen, morah d’asrah of Ohel; and recognized Yael and Ben Englander as Guests of Honor; Yocheved and Rabbi Chili Birnbaum as Young Leadership Awardees; and Carlo Drago of 3D Construction as the corporate honoree.

Mayor Eric Adams kicked off the evening in a surprise appearance where he spoke about the importance of Ohel’s social services for the community. Pier Sixty’s beautiful waterfront views lent the perfect backdrop to the masterful hosting by Cervantes, who openly shared his own family’s experience with trauma and how they benefited from organizations like Ohel that counsel families through their most challenging times. His personal testament was expressed through two songs written especially for the evening—perhaps the first time Ohel’s comprehensive services for the entire community were described so uniquely in a freestyle, spoken word song.

The evening included a special tribute to Rav Dovid Cohen, whose steady and careful guidance for half a century has helped thousands of Ohel clients navigate challenging life circumstances. Rav Cohen’s wisdom is imbued with Torah and always a profound level of empathy and compassion.

Ohel also announced a new initiative, thanks to the foresight and generosity of Chani and Jay Kestenbaum. The Kestenbaum Family International Children’s Services formalizes Ohel’s extensive services for schools and children, including resilience training for both students and educators, a teacher support hotline, and curriculum development.

Yael and Ben Englander, whose son Joshy lives in an Ohel residence, have been at the forefront of many of Ohel’s innovative programs and have given of their time and resources to ensure Ohel’s success. Their beautiful family credit their parents’ sense of hakarat hatov and dedication to Ohel as an inspiration which they aspire to in their own lives.

The Birnbaums are a dynamic couple who personify young leadership in their Houston Jewish community. Their commitment to communal work is exemplified through their dedication to Ohel. Carlo Drago was honored for his work building and renovating homes for Ohel clients to live in and acquire independent living skills and social connections. He is currently completing a home in Cedarhurst that will greatly enhance the lives of the eight women with disabilities who will reside there.

David Mandel, Ohel’s chief executive officer, said, “This year’s gala fused traditional and new elements for an event that encapsulates what Ohel is all about: building on its experience of helping those in need, while recognizing newly emerging challenges. We continually meet those new concerns with innovative programs and services. Cervantes said it—or sang it—best: It [Ohel] started with a need to bring hope to the community… In 50-plus years, Ohel has built the best.”

Planning for next year’s gala is already underway. Apple Bank, led by Steve Bush, president and CEO, have already agreed to be Corporate Honoree for the 54th Annual Gala. In the meantime, between Giving Tuesday and the end of the calendar year, these next few weeks present extraordinary opportunities to make a gift and have a big and lasting impact.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible gift to Ohel by December 31, 2022, to support their unstoppable reach and momentum, please do so at www.ohelfamily.org/donate.

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