Chabad of Western Monmouth County will mark its 25th anniversary with a gala on Sunday evening, May 19, at The Heldrich in New Brunswick.
The evening will look back at a quarter century of achievements by the Jewish outreach center, including the 1990 launch of Gan Israel Day Camp, the opening of a new Chabad house on Wickatunk Road in Manalapan in 1996, and the 2001 launch of The Friendship Circle, a program aimed at special-needs individuals.
Three area couples will be honored at the banquet — Susan and Eli Cohen of Manalapan, Cheryl and Scott Metzger of Marlboro, and Bella and Simon Zelingher of Morganville.
In addition, there will be a memorial tribute to Audrey Strumeier of Colts Neck, who succumbed to cancer in 2009 at the age of 45.
Strumeier’s husband, Jeff, and daughters Jaime, 23, and Shana, 19, now live in Manhattan, but continue to be active with the WMC Chabad. Jeff said the family is working with Rabbi Boruch and Tova Chazanow, Chabad’s husband-and-wife leaders, to create a retreat for teens and families who wish to participate in its programs.
The retreat, to be known as Audrey’s Place, will be located at a small guest house on the Wickatunk Road property.
“Over the four years we have known Rabbi Chazanow and Tova, our family and their family have become one family,” said Strumeier. “We feel truly blessed to be their friends.”
Marlboro resident Mitch Halpert recalled meeting the Chazanows in the late 1980s, shortly after their arrival in Manalapan.
“They began with nothing, no facility, no contacts, just a list of Jewish families. They literally knocked on doors, introducing themselves and encouraging those who would listen to seek the joy in Judaism,” he said.
Evelyn Medwed Fabrikant didn’t connect with Chabad until August 1992, shortly after her father died. “My Orthodox brother flew in from Israel, and he contacted Rabbi Chazanow,” she told NJJN in an e-mail. She marveled at how “a rabbi we had never met reached out to our mourning family and provided everything necessary for a kosher and halachic shiva period.”
All along, the Chabad team continued to grow, beginning with the addition of Rabbi Avrohom and Zisi Bermstein in 1994, Rabbi Levi and Sara Schapiro in 1998, Rabbi Moshe and Chanle Gourrarie in 2003, Rabbi Levi and Chanale Wolosow in 2007, Rabbi Shmaya and Rochie Galperin in 2008, and Rabbi Shmuly and Moushkle Volovik in 2012.
Some of these new staffers worked alongside the Chazanows in Manalapan, while others set up shop at branches in Freehold, Toms River, and Holmdel. The Chabad is affiliated with the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown.
“They do a fantastic job for our community, with programs for children, adults, and seniors,” said Eli Cohen, whose company, Melmed Construction of Holmdel, helped build the Chabad house in the 1990s.
Cohen’s wife Susan, now serving her second term as mayor of Manalapan, praised the WMC Chabad for being at the forefront of many community efforts, most notably for providing assistance to victims of Superstorm Sandy.
Meanwhile, a Chabad press release described the Cohens as “first responders” in the Jewish community. It called particular attention to Susan’s 15-year-long efforts on behalf of the Manalapan Domestic Violence Team.
The organization similarly lauded the Metzgers for their activities with the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, the JCC of Western Monmouth, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County, Marlboro Jewish Center, and Torah Links.
Now retired following long careers, the Zelinghers have been active members of Chabad for 20 years. Among the Chabad projects and campaigns Bella has contributed to are the Kiddush Club, the Purim Shalach Manos effort, the Bikkur Cholim program at CentraState Medical Center, and the Smile on Seniors program, where she designs and presents multi-media programs and teaches crafts projects to local seniors.