Former Rutgers football hero Eric Legrand was a surprise guest at the 2012 Spring Fling, an annual fund-raiser for United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Paralyzed with a spinal cord injury in 2010 and more recently honored with a symbolic professional contract by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Legrand attended in honor of Michael Elchoness of Livingston, one of two recipients of the year’s Julius and Bessie Cohn Young Leadership Award.
The award, also presented to Robin Sysler of Short Hills, recognizes young men and women who have demonstrated growth and leadership in service to UJC and the MetroWest Jewish community.
Close to 270 people attended the event, sponsored by UJC’s Young Leadership Division and Young Women’s Campaign at the Crystal Plaza on May 15. Legrand and Elchoness met when Elchoness, an avid sports fan and Rutgers graduate, visited the injured player at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange after his accident, and the two hit it off.
Legrand has a book about his rehabilitation coming out in August. Asked if he has plenty of requests to attend such events, he said, “I try to get to as many as I can — I try my best to get out there, especially for people close to me.”
Sitting with his mother nearby, he acknowledged receiving plenty of attention during the extended Spring Fling cocktail party. “I have gotten a lot of recognition,” he said. “People keep coming up and saying kind things.
“I just take it all in.”
In his award acceptance speech, Elchoness hailed Legrand.
“Eric, you have taught us all a lesson about staying positive regardless of the obstacles that come our way — and to never take anything for granted. I am truly honored to count you among my friends,” he said.
Sysler is a member of the board and executive committee of the Holocaust Council of MetroWest. She coordinates its Lunch and Learn series, serves as a docent and captain for the “From Memory to History” exhibit, and moderates the Survivors Speak program.
A 2012 Seymour Epstein Leadership Mission fellow, Sysler is a graduate of the first A.M. Arthur Borinsky Young Leadership Development program in 2010.
Involved in UJC MetroWest for over 10 years, she currently serves as a campaign vice chair of Country Club Outreach for UJA MetroWest NJ. She is an active member of the Young Women’s Campaign and serves on the UJA Campaign Cabinet. Sysler is also a lifetime member of Hadassah and serves on the executive board of the Millburn Municipal Alliance Committee, the community’s drug and alcohol awareness and education committee.
She and her husband, Howard, have three children, Ben, Danny, and Mollie. The Syslers are members of Ahavat Torah in Short Hills.
Speaking to NJJN at the party, she said receiving the award that evening was “overwhelming.”
“I’ve been doing stuff for the community for years. I never thought about it. I just do what I love and what I feel passionate about. This award is a nice acknowledgement, but I like what I do and I’m proud of it,” she said.
Much of Elchoness’s volunteer activity revolves around Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, where he is vice president and has served as a member of its board since 2006.
Vice president of TD Wealth Management in Basking Ridge, he is cofounder and adviser for the Real Estate Executives group, known as REX. He is an alumnus of the Arthur Borinsky Young Leadership Development program and the YLD Council’s Borinsky chair. A member of the UJC MetroWest board of trustees, Elchoness has served on a number of event committees, including this year’s YLD Opening Event. He and his wife, Lauren, have one daughter, Gabi.
Former Borinsky fellows turned out to support the two alumni of the program, which trains selected leaders under age 45 in fund-raising and leadership in the Jewish community.
For Shari Brandt, who recently completed the Borinsky program, this is her first year being involved with UJC, and her first Spring Fling. “This is a year of spiritual health for me,” she said. “I really want to do things that are good for the community and things that are good for the spirit.”