JCC youth wing memorializes actor David Benaroya
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JCC youth wing memorializes actor David Benaroya

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Linda Benaroya, Angelica Berrie, and Raphael Benaroya.

Joining his family in paying tribute to a young Englewood man who died four years ago, some 125 people gathered at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades last Wednesday to dedicate the David Benaroya Youth Wing.

Benaroya, an aspiring actor, was just beginning his professional career when his life was cut short at age 27.

Standing before guests, family members, and community leaders – including Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Ahavat Torah, Rabbi Zev Reichman of the East Hill Synagogue, Englewood Police Chief Arthur O’Keefe, and former Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes – Raphael Benaroya spoke about his son.

With his wife Linda by his side, Benaroya described his son as a young man who loved the JCC, participated in many of its activities, and brought many of his friends together under its roof, Benaroya remembered how David treated his friends to refreshments at the JCC coffee shop, running up a bill into the hundreds of dollars.

“Teach him not to be so generous,” the coffee shop manager told David’s father jokingly.

In telling this story, Benaroya noted, “It’s not so easy to change a person’s characteristics.”

In any case, he said, he was not inclined to change them, noting his son’s kindness, generosity, and joie de vivre. And while he died too young to accomplish great things, his father said, he nevertheless built a legacy of midot, character traits, that positively affected all those he met.

A one-time student of the Moriah day school in Englewood and a graduate of Barnstable Academy and Fairleigh Dickinson University, David began acting at age 5. He joined the JCC’s Teen Performing Arts Company and performed in more than 15 plays and musicals. As a professional, he was featured in an episode of “The Sopranos” and, in 2005, was in a Bollywood movie about 9/11 called “Hope and a Little Sugar,” which reached the Sundance movie festival. He was working on an independent film of his own, “Reformeo and Juliorth,” when he died.

According to his father, David said that when he became famous, he would build a school of performing arts in Englewood, “where the next child or teenager or adult can excel.” The school, he hoped, would offer classes in dancing, singing, and acting. Now that dream will become a reality for teens in the newly refurbished and renovated youth wing dedicated to his memory.

Avi Lewinson, executive director of the Kaplen JCC told the Standard that, “I was especially honored and excited about this dedication. With this new wing, we are able to bring together Jewish teens from all Jewish walks of life to work together on community service projects and tikkun olam. This wing will allow us to continue to fulfill our mission to deepen Jewish identity and nurture commitment to Jewish values and the enrichment of Jewish life.”

The David Benaroya Youth Wing encompasses new office space for youth services staff and an updated teen lounge. It will be open afternoons and evenings, as well as on Sundays. Teens will be able to watch movies, do homework, socialize, and participate in community service projects.

The Benjamin Bergen Youth Fitness Center, also part of the wing, will allow them to work out on the center’s fitness equipment and participate in circuit training, yoga, spin, and zumba classes. The wing also includes areas designated for drama and dance classes, as well as other theater programs.

Said Lewison, “The David Benaroya Youth Wing represents our commitment to providing opportunities to young people to learn new skills, discover new interests, improve their self-image, and find a nurturing and safe place to grow.”

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