A woman once made a split-second decision to help a homeless, illiterate teen given up as hopeless by others. Eventually his life turned around, and he became a respected athlete and productive member of society. The experience taught her an important lesson, which she related to a room full of women who have dedicated themselves to supporting others.
“When you have a chance to take a risk, much like you at federation, we think people need to take the risk to help people,” Leigh Anne Tuohy said of her family whose story was featured in the movie, “The Blind Side.”
Tuohy was the featured speaker at the annual Main Event of the Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey on June 20, which raised $150,000 in contributions for the annual campaign. Four hundred people were in attendance at the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge, 100 of whom were participating in their first-ever Main Event. Mary Gross of Monmouth Beach, Laurie Landy of Monroe, and Gloria Landy of Rumson were honored for their contributions to both the Jewish and general communities.
Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Tuohy in “The Blind Side.” In 2003, Tuohy saw Michael Oher, then a teenager, walking on a cold night. She told the audience there was something about him that made her tell her husband, Sean, to turn their car around. Oher, who had been in and out of foster homes since being taken away from his drug-addicted mother at age 7, spent that night with the family. Eventually they became his legal guardians, hiring him a tutor, and offering him love, support, and encouragement with football.
Oher became a standout college football player and went on to a career in the National Football League, appearing in two Super Bowls with the Baltimore Ravens and his current team, the Carolina Panthers.
“We all need love and hope, which I think everyone in this rooms realizes,” said Tuohy, an interior designer. “You do that so you can make a difference in someone’s life.”
Tuohy, who answered questions posed by Women’s Philanthropy co-chair Debbie Friedman of East Brunswick and from the audience, said her own family’s philosophy is that, “You love people who don’t look like you.” Oher is African-American and the Tuohy family is white.
Federation Executive Vice President Susan Antman told the crowd that each of them have the power “to have a positive influence on our future.”
Her words were echoed by Wendy Friedman of East Brunswick, who cochaired the event with Michelle Fields of Manalapan. “Each one of us can help make a critical impact in the world.”
By donating and volunteering, Wendy Friedman said, the women in the room made a difference in people’s lives, with services that included providing kosher Meals on Wheels for seniors; assisting Holocaust survivors; strengthening the Jewish identities of children by sending them to day camps; and helping hundreds of local college students form bonds with Israel by funding Birthright trips.
Wendy Friedman said her Holocaust survivor father’s immigration to the United States at age 13 in 1949 was made possible through “support that people gave at events like this all those years ago” to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a federation partner.
“If not for people who gave before me…I would not be here talking with you right now,” she said. “That is why I am so passionate about the work of the Jewish federation, and why I believe we have to make a difference today.”
Gross, a retired Spanish teacher at Manalapan High School, was honored for her work with the Boy Scouts and the Special Olympics. Besides federation, she has supported the Jewish community through such organizations as AIPAC, Chabad of the Shore and its Hand in Hand program for special needs individuals, Chabad of Western Monmouth County and its Friendship Circle for those with special needs, Rutgers Hillel, World Jewish Congress, Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide at Brookdale Community College, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
Laurie Landy founded Special Strides, using horses to provide occupational therapy for children with special needs, is on the boards of federation and Neighbors Fundraising for Neighbors, is a member of Congregation Sons of Israel in Manalapan, and is active with Chabad of Western Monmouth County.
Gloria Landy served as the first woman president of Congregation B’nai Israel in Rumson, has been active with the New Jersey Region of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has served for the last 15 years as coordinator of the informal Jewish NGO Caucus at the United Nations, and represents the World Council of Conservative Synagogues — Masorti Olami — in the Department of Public Information in association with the UN. She was elected to the position of secretary of the World Jewish Congress-American section in 2014.