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UWS Ohab Zedek to Celebrate 150 Years at Annual Dinner

Ilana Katz

Congregation Ohab Zedek (OZ) is marking its 150th anniversary with a sesquicentennial celebration at its April 8 annual dinner.

Throughout its long history, OZ’s physical homes have moved from the Lower East Side to Harlem, and finally to the Upper West Side, where it has been in its current building on 95th Street for approximately 100 years.

To mark its long history, the shul is holding its “Return to Our Roots” dinner at the Lower East Side’s Angel Orensanz Center, the home of OZ from 1886-1921. The majestic building is the oldest surviving synagogue building in New York City, with an interior which resembles the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Guests of honor include Rabbi Allen and Rebbetzin Alisa Schwartz, who are also marking their 36th year of leadership of OZ. Honorees Drs. Joseph and Rachel Offenbacher are receiving the Nathan K. Gross Community Service Award; Ilana Katz, the Rosenbaum & Schauer Gemilut Chesed Award; and David and Elizabeth Schoen are Alumni of the Year.

Drs. Joseph and Rachel Offenbacher

Rabbi Schwartz holds the Raymond J. Greenwald Chair of Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University. He has a large following who listen to his shiurim on YUTorah.org, has taught both elementary and high school, and currently teaches at Manhattan Day School. He also serves on the board of Yeshivat Sha’alvim and the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, and served for over 10 years as the president of the West Side Council of Orthodox Jewish Organizations (COJO). Rabbi Schwartz has also authored many scholarly publications.

The rabbi is also known for being a tremendous baal chesed. While there are many quiet acts of chesed which he performs, many are more known to the community. For example, Rabbi Schwartz calls members and non-members alike on their birthdays, takes bar and bat mitzvah young adults on a chesed day, and calls seniors and visits Holocaust survivors on a regular basis. He also hands out gloves in the freezing cold of winter to the homeless.

Rebbetzin Schwartz, a leader of the community in her own right, gives kallah classes and maintains connections with her students long after classes are over. She has given many shiurim over the years and helps run the Women’s Emunah and Amen group. The Rebbetzin has also been active in Emunah Women of America, Manhattan Day School PTA, and Bikur Cholim of the West Side. During the summer, she and the rabbi have served on the educational staff of Camps Morasha and Mesorah.

Drs. Joseph and Rachel Offenbacher, recipients of the Nathan K. Gross Community Service Award, are each accomplished physicians. After Oct. 7, Joseph, who completed his residency in emergency medicine and is an associate director of NYU’s emergency medicine residency program, quickly obtained an emergency medical license in Israel and went there in October and January to support his fellow physicians.

David and Elizabeth Schoen

Joseph is also a founder of Milu-EM, a partnership between the Israeli Association of Emergency Medicine and emergency physicians across the world to bring experienced emergency doctors to Israel to meet current and projected clinical and academic needs. Rachel, who completed her residency in pediatrics and fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology, volunteers as a physician at Camp Simcha.

When asked by a close friend to raise money for his unit, Joe quickly agreed. Donations from the OZ community poured in, and Rachel and Joe delivered the equipment to the 669 unit in March.

Katz, the Rosenbaum & Schauer Gemilut Chesed awardee, is assistant director at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, where she oversees group homes tailored to individuals with developmental disabilities. Katz’s affiliation with OZ spans over two decades. She serves as a trustee on its board, has participated in the bikur cholim program, served as journal chair in support of the shul’s annual dinner, and is an enthusiastic participant in the various shiurim and gatherings held at the shul.

David and Elizabeth Schoen, Alumni of the Year, currently reside in Atlanta yet still maintain an extremely close connection to Rabbi Schwartz and OZ. In fact, David considers Rabbi Schwartz one of his closest friends, a true mentor and his religious advisor.

David is a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer. Elizabeth is a loan intake and accounts manager at Jewish Interest-Free Loan Association of Georgia and active in the local Jewish community. Notably, David and Elizabeth each joined OZ as new members in 1993 and met shortly afterward at the Schwartzes’ home at a Shabbat meal for new members.

It is virtually impossible to give 150 years the respect it is due absent a dissertation of sorts.

As one example, Yoselle Rosenblatt, perhaps the greatest chazans of the 20th century, was the chazan of Ohab Zedek for a number of years.

Perhaps most significant in the shul’s history, though, is its dedication to klal Yisrael. Speaking to The Jewish Link, Rabbi Schwartz noted of his and Alisa’s 36 years of leadership at the shul that “36 is twice chai. That means two lives, meaning that we live for ourselves as well as for klal Yisrael.”

Rabbi Allen and Rebbetzin Alisa Schwartz

Significantly, OZ has always been an extremely Zionistic shul, and of course it has been extremely active in supporting Israel since Oct. 7. Stated the rabbi: “We are just coming back from the shul mission to Israel. We must always have what’s going on in Israel in our minds at every moment.”

Rabbi Schwartz is confident about his community’s ability to continue helping klal Yisrael, noting that with his wife by his side they are just as excited now to continue building their community as they were when they started this journey 36 years ago.

To RSVP for the annual dinner or to donate, visit www.ozny.org/annualdinner.


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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