What do you do when you are faced with great sadness?
First, let’s start with some definitions. You, in this case, are not a person but an institution. You are Temple Emanu-El of Closter. And the great sadness is the sudden death of a much-beloved community member — a man who was so genuinely beloved that he was slated to be honored at the shul’s dinner dance, its gala annual fund-raiser, that year.
Ken Schindler of Englewood died during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 2016, just as 5777 began. He was just 56.
What could the community do? It would be insulting to confer the honor on someone else, someone sure to feel second-best. It would be grim to honor a memory rather than a person. The point of the evening, after all, is to celebrate the community, personified in the honoree.
That’s when the community had a brainstorm.
For its dinner dance, set for this Saturday night at the shul, the community will honor the community.
It’s not exactly like what Time magazine did in 2006, when its Person of the Year famously was “you.” Instead, the shul will honor six local institutions — Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, Jewish Children and Family Services of Northern New Jersey, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, the Jewish Home Family, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County.
“We’re reveling in what it is that we do as a community,” the shul’s Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner said. And although this was not the plan, it turns out that Emanu-El has ties to each of those institutions.
“The president of the Schechter School, Adi Rabinowitz, is a member,” Rabbi Kirshner said. “So is Shira Feuerstein, the president of JFS. And so is Stephanie Pittel, the incoming president of the federation, and the president of the JCC, JoJo Rubach, and the president and CEO of Englewood Hospital, Warren Geller.”
So what about the Jewish Home Family? Well, not quite a president of the whole organization, but Emanu-El member Dr. Sandra Gold is on the board, and she is a past president of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh (which is part of the Jewish Home Family) and still sits on its board. Another member, Wilson Aboudi, is a past president of another Jewish Home Family body, Jewish Home Assisted Living, and still sits on its board. And Arie Freilich, who has moved to Manhattan but is a former Emanu-El member and the son-in-law of the late Cantor Kurt Silberman, whose voice and goodness animated the shul for decades, is a former president of the Jewish Home Family. So yes, that’s well connected too.
The auction that traditionally accompanies the dinner will offer experiences as well as objects, according to Lisa Jesner of Demarest, who is working with Jeanine Corrubia of the synagogue’s staff, to put it together. (“She does magic,” Ms. Jesner said of Ms. Corrubia.)
The auction — which will be online, then silent, and then vocal on Saturday night — will include such seductive delights as eight tickets to see the Red Sox play in Fenway Park in Boston and dinner that evening. The trip there and back? Taken care of! By private plane, natch. Two tickets to next year’s Super Bowl, which include a three-night stay in a hotel in Minneapolis and two tickets to a Hall-of-Fame brunch, and to Game Two of the next World Series also are up for bid.
Other experiences for bid are more intimate. “The cantor will come to your house to sing your children a lullaby,” Rabbi Kirshner said. The shul’s other rabbi, Alex Friedman, lives across the street from it; another goodie to be auctioned off is the opportunity to park at his house on the High Holy Days rather than deal with the parking lot. Rabbi Friedman also will invite the highest bidder to a seder at his house.
Rabbi Kirshner is auctioning off his own services, not as a rabbi but as a chef. He loves to cook; present the winning bid (or maybe one of the winning bids, because Rabbi Kirshner loves presiding in the kitchen far more than he cares for turning people and their pledges away) and he will show up in your home and prepare dinner for up to 10 people.
Local business also are participating, including the ones that have just opened in the newly renovated Closter Plaza.
The range of items is by design. Yes, of course it’s exciting to have big ticket items, but they can be intimidating for people who cannot afford them. “It is important that everyone can access the auction and support it,” Ms. Jesner said. “I have invited some of the younger families, who are first-time attendees, and I want them to feel comfortable.”
There are drawbacks as well as benefits to not honoring someone, she said. “Much more effort has to go into bringing in attendees and journal ads. But on the flip side, it is an amazing opportunity, because there are no speeches.
“That’s a great opportunity to appeal to a younger crowd,” she said, overlooking the fact that impatience with hours of speeches seems to be truly intergenerational.
“I wish we hadn’t had to do it this way,” Ms. Jesner said. “I wish there was no reason to do this. But we honor Ken by honoring the community, and trying to bring some awareness of these incredible institutions to our members.”