Sen. Robert Menendez addressed the inaugural testimonial dinner at the Center for Jewish Life on Jan. 15, praising the Marlboro synagogue’s mission to its mainly Russian immigrant membership and stressing the need to eradicate religious intolerance.
“Tonight we are here to celebrate religious freedom, but we are not naive. We see anti-Semitism in our own backyard,” he said, referring to recent attacks on NJ synagogues, including the Jan. 11 firebomb attack on a Rutherford synagogue. “This vitriolic campaign of attack cannot continue. We look forward to the capture of those who committed these acts of hatred.”
CJL is a bilingual synagogue founded by Russian Jews to provide their American-born children with the religious education they were denied in Russia, said its religious leader, Rabbi Yossi Kanelsky. At the event, which drew more than 200 people, he and his wife, Dina, recognized 12 couples whose support enabled the center to open its 18,000-square-foot facility last May.
“These 12 families have helped create the Center for Jewish Life to help future generations understand their faith and incorporate it into their lives,” Kanelsky said, adding that the center welcomes Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations.
The senator voiced his support for Israel, saying it is unfairly vilified for defending itself.
“The U.S. is not just an ally of the Israeli people but an ally of its democratic ideals,” he said. “For as long as I am a U.S. senator, Israel will have my hand in friendship and the power of my office to ensure its purpose, security, and religious freedom for all those who call the Jewish faith their own,” he said, sparking a round of fervent applause.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6) also addressed the gathering. “I am very happy to see that the new Center for Jewish Life provides an opportunity for people to renew their roots and maintain their identity,” he said.
Marlboro Mayor Jonathan L. Hornik was presented with a Community Service Award. During his speech, he read a proclamation declaring Sunday, Jan. 15 “Center for Jewish Life Day” in Marlboro.
“Thank you for choosing Marlboro,” he said. “We are here for you and will continue to be here for you on the local level.” Councilman Scott Metzger was also in attendance.
Among the representatives of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County present were executive director Keith Krivitzky and chair of the Community Relations Committee Toby Shylit Mack. Mack was presented with a Woman of Valor Award for her efforts on behalf of the entire Jewish community.
“Fostering Jewish continuity, education, and identity is important to me personally and to the mission of the Jewish federation community,” she said. “I am very impressed with the center’s outreach to a unique targeted population of Russian-American Jews who have been able to return to their Jewish roots.”
Simon Garber of Colts Neck said being a founding member of the center gives him and his wife Lina the satisfaction of “paying it forward.” “I have known the Kanelsky family for 33 years. Rabbi Yossi’s father” — Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky of Bris Avrohom in Hillside — “got me involved with Judaism. He got me a scholarship to a Jewish high school in Jersey City since my parents couldn’t afford it,” Garber said. “It’s important to me to pay back these wonderful people.”
CJL founding member Igor Maller of Marlboro said the center is the first congregation where he, his wife Lilia, and their three daughters feel welcome. “We tried other synagogues and felt like strangers. No one paid attention to us, maybe because we were immigrants. Here we all feel like we belong to the same family,” he said.
Marlboro residents Marat and Simone Mesh received a Young Leadership Award for their active involvement in the center’s growth. “It is amazing to see so many family and friends getting together to celebrate the culture of the Russian-Jewish community,” Simone said.
Other founding members who were recognized were Vladimir and Liuba Belkin, Igor and Stella Fleyshmakher, David and Larisa Klots, Boris and Irina Kripitser, Leonid and Jenny Nagel, Igor and Irina Palatnik, Gregory Roman and Marina Kharaz, Mark and Alla Tsatskin, Sam and Nona Valler, and Rufat and Yafa Yusupov.