Celebrating Community Commitment: Honoring Unsung Heroes at Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine

A Gala Dinner Recognizing Dedication, Service, and Security in the Irvine Jewish Community
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Highlighting the Gala Dinner at Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine will be the awards presented to a group of highly deserving yet modest people. Scheduled for Sunday, February 12, at 5:30 p.m., at BJI, 3900 Michelson Drive, in Irvine, the elegant event will pay tribute to people whose love of the congregation and its members inspire them to give so much of themselves.

“There is a long tradition of wonderfulness in this community, and there are so many fantastic people here,” said Laura Weissman, recipient of the Adina Kaufman Eishet Chayil Award. “Adina was a dear friend, and this is to honor her momory more than to honor me.”

She added, “Living here has meant living with exceptional role models. When Lee and I moved to Irvine together, we chose to open our home, because others’ hospitality had meant so much to us both over the years and something in which our children always participated.  Our home was never without guests.  Like so many other choices we can make, hachnasat orchim is in itself, not exceptional, but it is a choice available to all of us:  a choice of which I am proud.”

Weissman is happy that she and Lee have had “a very open house” and could expand the walls to fir everybody, like the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem. She is also grateful that she has been able to see needs and fill them.

“Live in a community like this long enough and you get to choose to do all sorts of nice things for others:  house and feed Shabbat guests, prepare meals for families, deliver food to those in need, drive people to doctors and shopping, organize women’s classes and learning, provide for weddings and funerals …. so many opportunities to make good choices,” she said.

Shmoolie and Alitza Leventhal, recipients of the Community Service Award, said they were “embarrassed and surprised but grateful that the community thinks of what we do as much as they do.” Both do many things behind the scenes to make the shul and the mikveh run smoothly.

Alitza began working on the kiddush crew and on seudah shlishit 23 years ago, making sure that Shabbat meals were prepared and served to the congregants. She also worked with the congregation and the city to plan the mikveh. Now she is a “mikveh lady,” who coordinates music, electronics, towels and other aspects of the mikveh when Rebbitzen Natalie Ciner is away for the summer.

“I especially like working with brides and expectant moms to help them experience the mikveh and the new turn in their lives,” she said. “Some are scared of the whole thing. I’m pleased when I can help people see it for the blessing that it is.”

Shmoolie rolls the Torah scrolls each week and makes sure the lights are not burned out. He cleanss up after kiddush, works with the seudah shlishit crew and buys some of the food. He also works with Rabbi Yisroel Ciner to maintain the mikveh.

“I do a lot of little things, and it makes me happy that the shul benefits from them,” he said. “It’s cool that folks walk into the shul, things are running smoothly and people don’t know it took 15 hands to do it. For a volunteer, when everything looks automatic, it’s magic and it’s the way it should be.”

The members of the Beth Jacob Security Team agree on a number of things: they prefer not to be singled out, they choose to be anonymous and they wish their function were unnecessary. Still, according to one member of the team, there are “serious security concerns for our small but vibrant Orthodox Jewish community, even in Irvine, California.”

He related, “The simple fact of the matter is that the security team I work with deserves to be recognized for its professionalism, hard work and dedication.  None of them do this work for any recognition.  They simply want to make sure our community and the pre-school students are safe.

Each one of the team members spends many of personal hours each year ensuring the security of the synagogue (hundreds of hours in some cases).  The team members have good relationships with law enforcement agencies, coordinate with other synagogues, attend training sessions, personally stand guard on High Holy Days (for more than 12 hours each day) and provide security on Shabbos.

According to the source, who wishes to remain anonymous, “They are the first there and last to leave.  They sacrifice. These are truly honorable people who work tirelessly in the background but frankly do deserve our recognition.”

Another member of the group summarized, “We’re a tight, cohesive group with the same philosophy and excellent relationships with other security organizations and community groups. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to work with a great team of volunteers. We’re glad and not happy to be honored at the same time, but it’s nice to get the recognition and support. The shul is our spiritual home. That’s why we do what we do.”

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