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Ohr Torah Stone Holds Annual Dinner on Upper West Side

Dinner honorees (l-r): Arielle Frankston-Morris, Julia Frankston-Morris, Rabbi David Kalb, Jeremy and Ann Pava.

On February 21, Ohr Torah Stone (OTS), a Modern Orthodox movement with over 30 educational institutions, social projects, outreach programs and leadership development initiatives, held its annual dinner at Lincoln Square Synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

This year’s dinner was anything but ordinary, as OTS has not remained unscathed from the war, with many from the OTS family having fallen in battle. Yet while the evening’s program remembered and paid tribute to those who have been killed, it also emphasized hope for a better future.

According to Grant Silverstein, the organization’s executive director, North America: “After months of shifting and evaluating the date and tone for the dinner, we [honored] five spectacular leaders of the Jewish community, both locally and nationally, who represent the theme of the evening, ‘Steeped in Tradition, Relevant and Welcoming,’ and the mission and vision of Ohr Torah Stone.

“It was a beautiful opportunity for the Ohr Torah Stone North American community to come together in support of our students and faculty protecting Israel,” he continued, “and to remember the 14 alumni and 28 members of OTS’ extended family members who have been killed.”

Rabbinit Chamutal Shoval, a graduate of OTS’ Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership, stated in her introductory remarks: “Even though the war has not yet ended and we pray for a speedy victory and the return of all the hostages, we are here together to pay tribute to an organization that is dedicated to the future of the Jewish people, both in Israel and around the world.”

Memorial sign.

The dinner honored Ann and Jeremy Pava, president and chairman, respectively, of Micah Philanthropies, with the titles Chavera and Chaver for their outstanding community leadership; paid tribute to Jewish Leadership Center Director Rabbi David Kalb; and presented the Distinguished Alumnae Award to Midreshet Lindenbaum graduates Julia Frankston-Morris and Arielle Frankston-Morris.

The evening’s honorees champion OTS’ many programs, among them The Jewish Learning Center, Midreshet Lindenbaum and its Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership, and the Yad La’isha Legal Aid Center for Agunot, which address, respectively, conversion, empowerment of women’s Torah learning and Jewish leadership, and get-abuse.

U.S. Board Chair Laurence Schreiber offered an additional glimpse into the remarkable breadth of OTS’ programming, noting, “In my role at Ohr Torah Stone, I get to see close-up the impact we have on high school students, young men and women who are learning in our yeshivot and seminaries, including many during their military service.”

Schreiber also pointed out OTS’ critical programming for young people with special needs and for rabbis preparing for shlichut in communities around the world, as well as the highly advanced Center for Interfaith Relations.

Rabbi Avishai Milner, rosh yeshiva of Neveh Shmuel Yeshiva High School, which suffered a particularly heavy loss of nine alumni, spoke movingly of the tragedy that has befallen his school.

Recounting the heroism of Elchanan Kalmanson, HY”D, a graduate of Neveh Shmuel, and his brother Menachem, Rabbi Milner stated that even though the brothers were not called up, they got into their car on Simchat Torah and went on to ultimately save more than 100 residents of Kibbutz Be’eri. Tragically Elchanan was killed in battle, leaving behind a wife and five children.

Rabbi Milner said of the fallen Neveh Shmuel graduates: “Some of them walked our hallways only three or four years ago. Their faces, their personalities, are still present and felt by us all. Some of them, like Elchanan Kalmanson, were older and had families of their own. Many of them were fathers, brothers and relatives of our current students.

“Despite the pain of every funeral, we have a sense of hope inspired by the courage and spirit of family members, classmates and friends. We are amazed at the greatness of this generation. Just as Avraham heard Hashem call to him, ‘Lech lecha,’ ‘Go out,’ this generation has heard that same call and responded. These young men and women immediately understood what needed to be done; a generation that knows how to say, ‘Hineni,’ ‘Here I am,’ wherever I am needed.”

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president and rosh yeshiva of OTS, reflected upon the recent passing of Robert M. Beren, z”l, a true partner of OTS. “The Jewish world lost a giant, Robert M. Beren, whose generosity and vision left an indelible mark on the global Jewish community,” stated Rabbi Brander. “His legacy lives on and continues to shape our Jewish world far into the future.”

(l-r) Rabbis Ari Berman, Jacob J. Schacter, Kenneth Brander and Shaul Robinson.

Gratefully announcing a new center in Beren’s name, Rabbi Brander said that thanks to “a very magnanimous, generous gift from the Israel Henry Beren Charitable foundation,” the new Robert M. Beren Center for Educational Leadership will be established, which “will be a complex for those who seek to learn and delve deeper into Ohr Torah Stone’s unique vision and approach.”

The evening’s program also included a conversation between Julie Platt, the daughter of the late Robert M. Beren and board of trustees chair of Jewish Federations of North America, and Rabbi Brander.

Asked her opinion of the next generation of youth and college students and young adults, Platt unhesitatingly responded that she has tremendous optimism. “Every program that we try, every cohort that we put together of young Jews is over-subscribed,” she said. “I truly believe in the power of the younger generation to stand just like we have, to help us to rebuild Israel in just the same way that our generation has.”

Rabbi Brander unequivocally shared Platt’s positive view concerning young adults, referencing all of the young Israelis who were not called up on October 7 but demanded to serve, and those who performed tasks from taking down sukkot to cleaning schools. The rabbi movingly said: “They don’t stand on our shoulders. I actually believe that we stand on theirs.”

Julie Platt and Rabbi Brander.

Rabbi Brander concluded by citing Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, founder and rosh yeshiva of OTS, who used to tell him that when we bless our children, we stand up and lean on them. “Our continuity is guaranteed because of them,” said Rabbi Brander, “and I am so confident with this generation that the eternality and the immortality of the Jewish people is guaranteed.”

Judith Falk is the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook Group. You can follow her on Instagram @upperwestsideshtetl. She is a lawyer by day and a former legal reporter.

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