Morphing of a silver simcha
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Morphing of a silver simcha

A 25th for JCC Rockland with a 'bar mitzvah' twist

It’s not everyday that you get to celebrate a bar mitzvah and a silver anniversary, but JCC Rockland will be rolling both simchas into one at its annual Founders Dinner Dance.

The organization will mark 25 years of serving the community, as well as note that Chief Executive Officer David Kirschtel has reached 13 years at the helm of the organization.

“Today I may be a little bit grayer and a little heavier, and more tired, but when I think back on what’s been accomplished, I’m very thankful,” said Kirschtel, who will receive the Founder’s Award, along with past President Joel Zbar and his wife, Anne.

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David Kirschtel, clockwise from upper left, Anne and Joel Zbar, Cliff Wood, and Ankie Spitzer

The dinner will be held at 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 17 at the Rockleigh Country Club, 26 Paris Ave., Rockleigh, N.J. The cost is $165 per person and ads can be placed in a tribute journal.

Along with Kirschtel and the Zbars, the JCC will also present Munich 11 widow Ankie Spitzer with the Eishet Chayil Award. Rockland Community College President Cliff Wood will receive the “J” Award given annually for work in the non-profit or public sector.

Kirschtel began his involvement at the JCC as a member of its board of directors, seeking local business connections. During the six years he served on the board, he became a passionate advocate for increased programming and professionalism, extending the organization’s reach into the community. By the time then-JCC Board President Paul Adler approached Kirschtel to take on the executive position, he knew what his answer would be.

Kirschtel is an unflagging booster of both his organization and the community. During his tenure at the JCC, he has seen the organization grow from 900 memberships to more than 2,500 today. He also oversaw the move to the Jewish Community Campus five years ago. The 135,000-square-foot building on West Nyack Road houses not only the JCC, but also several other Jewish organizations today call it home. In the five years since the move, the JCC’s budget has more than doubled, to $4.5 million, and it now offers more than 1,500 programs annually.

Never one to shy away from thinking big, Kirschtel also oversaw hosting the JCC Maccabi Games in August 2012, which attracted 1,200 teens from across North American and six other countries to compete in the large, Olympic-style competition that serves as a vehicle for teenage Jewish involvement.

Two years earlier, he had reached out to Spitzer. With her help, the JCC championed the cause of gaining a minute of silence at the 2012 London Olympics in memory of the 11 Israelis massacred at the Munich Olympics in 1972. That effort yielded worldwide media and political attention through an online petition and social media campaign. Kirschtel, Spitzer and JCC leaders even traveled to London in July, meeting with International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who once again refused to budge on the issue.

“I believe in Rockland County and I believe in the Jewish community,” Kirschtel said of these efforts. “Each of us has the opportunity to make a difference. I want to rededicate myself to the JCC’s efforts and I challenge the community to help write the next chapter of what the next 25 years will look like.”

Honoree Joel Zbar was one of those who had dedicated himself to the JCC, albeit mostly quietly and behind the scenes. As board member for seven years, he never sought the presidency. But when JCC President Steve Gold became gravely ill in 2008, Zbar stepped in to fill the leadership vacuum.

“I still remember Joel saying to me, ‘I have good news and bad news,'” Anne said of that time. “The bad news was that Steve was very sick, but the good news was that Joel could pitch in.”

Pitch in he did. Gold survived, but Zbar seved out the two-year term, plus a third year as co-president with current JCC President Pam Greenspan.

The Zbar’s came to the JCC through the children’s sports programs, realizing there was a place along with their synagogue, Orangetown Jewish Center, that could help provide a Jewish connection for their family.

“If you had asked me years ago if I would be involved at this level, I never would have said so,” said Anne. “Our involvement in the JCC has brought us together with people who are so incredible and opened our eyes to the Jewish community and Jewish world. I’m very grateful for that.”

Joel concurred, noting that the past five years, with the move into the new building and the hosting of the JCC Maccabi Games had been a very exciting time for the JCC. As one who is not much for honors or fanfare, he was more impressed with his fellow honorees than the honor itself.

“This is a new building and a new era,” said Zbar. “To share this with Ankie and David is very special.”

Spitzer will be in town from her home in Ramat Hasharon, Israel for the celebration. She also said that the award was not necessary. What should be in the spotlight, she said, is what the Rockland community had done for her and the other surviving family members by raising the world’s awareness about what took place in Munich in 1972.

“I was not expecting this,” she said. “I think all the awards should go to the Rockland community because they did the work and jumped on the bandwagon. They signed petitions and took this project upon themselves. I feel totally indebted to the entire community.”

Wood, the Rockland Community College president, rounds out the roster of honorees for his contribution to the JCC Maccabi Games during the summer. RCC served as the hub for the games, with many of the sports and social activities taking place on the college campus.

Wood said that seeing a non-profit like the JCC reach 25 years is significant because “it means the JCC is here to stay.” The honoring, he added, is really not about him, but about those at the college who contributed to the smooth running of the Games.

“They gave an incredible amount of time to make this happen,” said Wood, who is bringing 10 to 11 staff members with him to the event.

As for making the dinner dance a night to remember, Kirschtel said there should be “no presents for me for my bar mitzvah” other than having the community come celebrate with him and the other honorees.

“I make my living doing this,” he said. “But I’ve never really felt like this was just a job.”

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