Eight couples were married under the auspices of the Hillside-based Chabad Lubavitch organization Bris Avrohom, the latest among 1,000 couples who had previously received only civil wedding ceremonies in either their native Soviet Union or after coming to the United States.
First launched in 1986, this year’s event at the Sheraton Hotel in Parsippany, held Sept. 14, represented Bris Avrohom’s 35th Annual Dinner & 29th Year of Gala Weddings.
Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and former chief rabbi of the State of Israel, delivered the keynote address to the several hundred attendees.
“None of the great ancient empires such as Greece, Persia, and Rome exist today,” said Lau, a Holocaust survivor, “but despite exiles, inquisitions, pogroms, and Auschwitz, Jews have remained the same nation — the same Friday night lights, the same matza at Passover, the same Kaddish, and the same reason we’re here tonight, to celebrate the institution of marriage.”
Added Lau: “A nation that honors its heritage, keeps its traditions, and respects its past deserves a brilliant future full of long life and happiness.”
In addition to honoring Lau, who is also chair of Israel’s Yad Vashem, the event celebrated other achievers in Bris Avrohom’s network. Honorees included Berele Zaltzman, 80, a rabbi and cantor who founded the Bris Avrohom Center of Fair Lawn. He received the organization’s Kesser Shem Tov Award. Community Service Awards were also presented to Robert Durando and Stephen Napolitano, general managers of the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel, respectively, for their support in placing giant menoras at these locations during Hanukka.
“The motto of this year’s event is ‘lamplighters,’ and our goal is to provide knowledge to ignite the light of every single Jew,” Bris Avrohom executive director Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky told NJJN. “First, our wedding couples will be reigniting the light that the communists wanted to extinguish. Second, Rabbi Lau, our guest of honor and a dynamic speaker who flew in especially for our event to show his support, rose from the ashes of Buchenwald to prove that his light was not extinguished.”
The annual mass weddings, which the organization describes as a “Celebration of Religious Freedom,” were started by Fort Lee philanthropists Milton and Shirley Gralla together with Kanelsky and his wife, Shterney. “We provide the whole wedding free of charge for the couples — from the video, pictures, huppas, ketubas, reception, and more,” Rabbi Kanelsky said.
“I feel so excited, like the mom of so many brides since 1986,” said Shterney Kanelsky, associate director of Bris Avrohom. “I’m so proud to be a part of this event every year and to have helped spiritually prepare all of the women to be brides and mothers according to the Jewish Torah.”