Annual Yachad New Jersey gala celebrates inclusion and integration
It was an evening of support, appreciation, camaraderie, and inspiration as Yachad New Jersey held its annual gala, celebrating years of advocacy and opportunity for developmentally disabled people and their families.
A packed room of guests came to Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood on March 20 to celebrate the evening’s honorees and to show appreciation for the many people who give their time and their resources to benefit Yachad’s many participants.
This year’s gala marked the debut of Yachad New Jersey’s business leader award, presented to Jeffrey Wilder of Fort Lee and Sean Charnow of Woodcliff Lakes, both of Wilder Ventures Hotel Investments. Mr. Wilder and Mr. Charnow hired Yachad participant Micah Lippe as a member of their maintenance staff. They consider adding Yachad members to their team to be a smart business move, they said. In addition to being honored for their commitment to Yachad, Mr. Wilder and Mr. Charnow presented Mr. Lippe with an award of their own at the gala — they gave him a plaque proclaiming him employee of the year.
Rabbi David and Jacki Gorelik of Passaic and their son Eli Gorelik received this year’s Yachad Family award. Both Rabbi and Ms. Gorelik have been extremely involved with Yachad for years; they played a crucial role in launching Passaic’s Wednesday night programming. Eli is a beloved Yachad participant who works part time at both Seasons and the Jewish Link. Eli’s thoughtful original d’var Torah was one of the highlights of the gala, giving participants a glimpse of how Yachad participants shine, not only during program events, but also in the mainstream world.
Teaneck-Bergenfield photographer Abbie Sophia also was honored this year; she was presented with the Women’s Leadership award in recognition of her ongoing efforts in highlighting Yachad programming and capturing meaningful portraits of participants. As in previous years, a group of 10 twelfth-graders from local yeshivas were honored with the High School Seniors Leadership award in recognition of their involvement in Yachad, which ranges from volunteering with participants to heading up Yachad clubs in their schools. Those clubs discuss and promote inclusion, advocacy, and sensitivity training.
The gala also marked the fifth anniversary of the Mendel Balk Yachad Center, which has become part of the local culture and community, with daily programming and ongoing events. The center also houses a vocational training area and hands-on facilities where participants can learn shopping, daily life, and home skills.
The gala marked the kickoff of Yachad’s Circle of Giving, a national initiative providing special recognition to people who donate $1,800 and up. The program was announced by Lawrence Rein, senior director of development for Yachad New Jersey, who believes that visiting the Balk Center is the best way to appreciate the full spectrum of services offered to participants.
“Yachad is really here to support individuals with special needs at all levels, making their lives better and giving their families some much needed respite as well,” Mr. Rein said. “The center is really a place to be and a place to see, and we invite everyone to come visit, to see what goes on every day at Yachad New Jersey.”
Rocky Selevan, the director of Yachad New Jersey and executive director of JUF NJ, described the gala as an incredible vehicle to demonstrate how Yachad brings people together, ensuring that every participant finds their place within the community, regardless of their level of ability, while providing them with opportunities for inclusion and integration.
“It was amazing to see how so many people who came to the dinner to support Yachad, support honorees, their own children, or their friends’ children were inspired and wanted to hear about opportunities for involvement,” Ms. Selevan said. “We are so grateful to all the honorees for spreading their love and support for Yachad New Jersey within the greater community so that others can experience it as well. It is their leadership that will excite more involvement within the community.”
YACHAD NEW JERSEY