Chabad Rutgers dinner raises $1.5 million
Hanukka event honors ShopRite executive for kosher offerings
Rutgers Chabad honored a supermarket executive at a Hanukka-themed fund-raiser that brought in $1.5 million toward its expansion on College Avenue in New Brunswick.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno gamely recited the Shehecheyanu prayer over the Hanukka menora at the event, the annual National Founders Day dinner, held the first night of the holiday, Dec. 20, at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick.
“I’ve done a lot of interesting things, but this may be the most interesting thing I’ve ever done,” she said, addressing the crowd of 500.
Ronald Rak, president and CEO of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, said it would be donating an apartment at the Rutgers Chabad House on a permanent basis to be used by observant families of patients at nearby St. Peter’s Medical Center on Shabbat and holidays.
The evening’s honoree was Richard Saker, president and CEO of Saker ShopRites, who created “Kosher Experience” stores-within-a-store at many of his 30 supermarkets.
Chabad executive director Rabbi Yosef Carlebach credited Saker, who is not Jewish, with “creating the prototype” for a greatly expanded kosher market.
“Supermarket leaders had said no to kosher food,” said the evening’s master of ceremonies, Jerold Zaro. “They said it took up too much space, was unprofitable, and worse. There are now kosher food sections everywhere because of Rich Saker. Rich Saker is not Jewish; he is righteous.”
Carlebach said the relationship with the Saker family goes back 30 years, when he and Saker’s father, George, hatched the idea for “kosher week” at various Saker supermarkets.
“At the time, the kosher food was at the end of an aisle somewhere between the Mexican and Oriental products,” said Carlebach.
“We were really happy because we were asked to kasher eight to 10 homes each week; they were really happy because their volume of sales went up.”
State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Dist. 11), whose district covers Monmouth County, where Saker lives, presented a proclamation to the honoree, called him “one of the treasures of our county.” She noted that in the last year alone, more than 1,500 central New Jersey charities had benefitted from Saker ShopRites’ philanthropic donations.
In accepting the award, Saker announced he would add another $100,000 to his pledge to Rutgers Chabad.
“I personally found this ecumenical evening to be very meaningful,” he said, adding in reference to the lights on the menora, “I think we can all agree the world needs more candles like we have here.”
In delivering the keynote address, Guadagno said there was nothing more important than changing the lives of young people, “and that is what you do here [at Chabad] every day.”