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A Joyous Evening of Community Celebration

04/12/2022 03:47:04 PM

Apr12

Anna Marcus

A large room with lights hanging from a high ceiling is filled with well dressed people sitting at large round tables. Two metal staircases in the back lead to a balcony with sliding barn doors that are open to another room. People are standing on the balcony and everyone seems to be listening to a speaker off-camera at the front of the room.
BHA’s Centennial Gala at the Roundhouse, April 7, 2022. Photo by Frank Ritter, Frank Ritter Photography

 

Last Thursday on April 7, 2022, the Beacon Hebrew Alliance celebrated its centennial with an exhibition opening at the Beacon Historical Society, the launch of an interactive walking tour, and a festive gala benefit at the Roundhouse. Despite the torrential rains that evening, nothing was going to dampen the spirits of the almost two hundred people that came out to toast BHA. The attendees included 91 year old Dr. Harold Ginsberg, who is currently the longest-running member of BHA and third generation descendant of BHA founders; Rick Rosenthal and his cousin Jane Schwartzman who are the great great grandchildren of Beacon’s second mayor and BHA founder Samuel Beskin; all of the BHA staff and clergy; at least six former BHA board presidents; former Education director Julia Gross Alexander and her wife Wendy who got a babysitter for the first time as parents; and long-time BHA member Laurel Becker who has been confined to her home for the entire length of COVID, but was able to safely come out following her doctor’s orders. It was a joyous occasion for everyone to be able to dress up, socialize and feel part of this Jewish community again.

 

Three adults wearing face masks look at the camera. The man on the left is tall with dark hair, dark glasses, a white face mask, and a dark gray suit jacket with purple tie. A woman with white short hair, a black face mask, white blouse and black jacket stands next to another man with white short hair, black face mask, dark grey suit jacket and blue tie. A black panel is behind them with colorful photos.
Members of the Ritter family stand beside the panel on Memory Keeping at the Beacon Historical Society exhibition. From left: Todd Ritter, Joan Ritter, and Frank Ritter. Photo by Janette Ritter
A light drenched room illuminates a mantlepiece painted white that has a candelabra on it and a black and white framed picture of a group of people hanging above it. On the mantle is a tv monitor with three people’s heads. In front of the mantle is a wooden cabinet with old photos, letters and various old office desk paraphernalia on it. Two large pop up banners stand on either side. They have colorful pictures and text boxes on a black background.
Two panels, a display about Louis Ritter, and a video monitor playing oral history interviews in Gallery 1 from the exhibition at the Beacon Historical Society. Photo by Anna Brady Marcus
The photo shows a burnished bronze Seder plate standing up on its end, an old record with an illustration of a 50s family sitting at the seder table, two Passover Haggadah booklets sit on top of a white satin matzo cover that is square decorated with a blue embroidered star of David it and white fringe.
A display with objects related to  the celebration of Passover at the exhibition at Beacon Historical Society. Photo by Diane Lapis

Exhibition Opening

The festivities kicked off at the Beacon Historical Society’s new headquarters on 61 Leonard Street with an opening reception for the new month-long exhibition there entitled “Celebrating 100 Years of Jewish Culture in Beacon.” This exhibition, curated by Sara Pasti and Donna Mikkelson and produced in partnership with the Beacon Hebrew Alliance, will be up through the month of April, and can be accessed during BHS’s public hours on Thursdays 10am-12pm and Saturdays 12-4pm or by appointment.

At the opening, visitors were first greeted by a BHS volunteer, and then ushered into the exhibition via the back entrance. The first item on display at the exhibition was a large 4 x 7 ft wall hanging of kippot (the head coverings worn by Jews as a sign of respect to G-d) made by BHA member Ann Gross representing 61 milestone events at BHA over the past 50+ years. A legend naming the people and events the kippot came from was provided, and many BHA folks enjoyed guessing the source of each kippah before checking the legend.

The exhibition continued starting in the first gallery off to the left where a set of ten panels and seven display cases collectively told the story of Jewish history and culture in Beacon. There was also a permanent display on the indigenous Lenape people of Beacon and the Hudson Valley, which gave a nice context to the relatively recent timeline of Jewish settlement here. In the first gallery was a panel on Early Jewish Settlers; a display case on Samuel Beskin, an important Jewish entrepreneur and civic leader who was Beacon’s second mayor; a panel on the founding of BHA and construction of the BHA building; a monitor playing a variety of oral history interviews of BHA members past and present; a display of artifacts from the WWII military service and career of the late Louis Ritter, an important BHA member; and a panel on the history of Jewish education at BHA.

The second gallery adjacent the first, featured four panels covering the topics of Jewish WWII Veterans and the Jewish response in Beacon to the war; Jewish enterprise in Beacon - which is covered more extensively in the Jewish Beacon History Walk app; Jewish memory-keeping and the ways Jewish lives are memorialized both in objects and ritual at BHA; and community giving including tzedakah (charitable acts) and interfaith collaborations. In this gallery was also a vintage doll house made in Beacon that was decorated with miniature Judaica objects; a roll top desk displaying various Hebrew prayer books and cassettes of famous Jewish cantors; and three display cases with objects and ephemera from Jewish enterprises, the Hebrew school; and Jewish war veterans and the war effort in Beacon.

The third gallery was in the dining room at BHS consisting of three panels and several displays. The panels featured present and future Jewish life at BHA; Jewish religious practice at BHA; and women’s roles in the Beacon Jewish community as they’ve evolved over time. On display was the Ketubah (marriage contract) between George Pearson and Evelyn Wolf Pearson and a picture of Evelyn Wolf Pearson on her wedding day; a display case of various religious ritual objects such as kiddush cups, a menorah, a tallis, a seder plate, and a small Torah; and a cupboard filled with vintage kosher kitchenware and cookbooks. The dining room table was covered by a beautiful white tablecloth embroidered with the names of all of the BHA families in 1945-46 that was made by the Beacon Chapter of Hadassah (the American Women’s Zionist Organization). Two silver Shabbat candle holders sat on top. Also in this room BHA member Frank Ritter had copies of his book “9/11 Remembrance. Renewal. Hope.” on display which included coverage of the “One Beacon” event organized with BHA in 2018 after the Pittsburgh shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue.

Six adults, three men and three women, stand in a row in front of a wall of large windows with bare trees outside. The man on the right holds a large challah bread wrapped in a white napkin. There is a microphone in front of the second man.
Past BHA board presidents join current president Jesse Lunin Pack to say the blessing over the challah bread. From left: Peter Ullian, Jesse Lunin Pack, Joan Pirie, Deb Davidovitz, Bill Smith, Betsy Solomon. Photo Frank Ritter, Frank Ritter Photography

 

Honorees and featured speakers at the Gala

After the exhibition opening, everyone headed over to the Roundhouse, which was conveniently located just across the street from the Historical Society. The banners from the exhibition were also moved to the Roundhouse and put up in the main lobby of the event for attendees to look at. The check-in process was handled smoothly thanks to several young members of BHA who worked at the greeting and Covid-testing table, along with BHA’s wonderful Administrator, Faith Adams.

Two men face each other smiling and shaking hands. The man on the left is tall with short gray hair, he is wearing a grey suit. The man on the right is shorter, with balding gray hair, tortoise shell glasses and a gray pin-striped suit.
Honoree Stewart Cahn (on right) greets Israel Nitzan, Deputy Consul General of Israel (on left). Photo by Frank Ritter, Frank Ritter Photography
A woman with long wavy blonde hair and black rimmed glasses stands at a microphone and a podium. She is wearing a black dress with a black and gold floral jacket.
Honoree Cantor Ellen Pearson Gersh sings for peace. Photo by Frank Ritter, Frank Ritter Photography
A woman with short grey hair and a short-sleeved black dress is facing and smiling at an older couple standing to her right. The man is wearing a gray pin-striped suit with a black and red diagonal striped tie, the woman has short blonde hair and a black suit.
Centennial Program Committee Chair Anna Marcus (left) acknowledges honorees Stewart and Sandy Cahn (right) with a small token of appreciation. Photo by Frank Ritter, Frank Ritter Photography

For the first hour people got their drinks, which consisted of Israeli wines and an open bar, and schmoozed. It was thrilling just to see each other in a beautiful setting, looking our best and with a happy occasion to celebrate. Gradually the crowd drifted down stairs to the main event room that was set up with large round tables decorated with colorful pots of pansies arranged by Helen Crohn and Rebecca Ostrovsky. There were two delicious food stations to partake from; one was a Southwest taco bar and the other was a Mediterranean sampler, plus there were passed hors d'oeuvres and another open bar. At 7:15pm the M.C. of the evening Peter Ullian gave the warning that the program was about to start.

The program got underway at 7:30om led by BHA Board President Jesse Lunin-Pack who invited all of the former BHA board presidents in the room to come join him for the HaMotzi and Kiddush Toast. Following this, Cantor Ellen Pearson Gersh sang a beautiful Shehecheyanu and Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek shared an insightful D’var Torah about the crossing of the Red Sea as taught by a Hasidic sage, which shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of liberal and conservative communities. After this, Peter introduced the first honorees of the evening Stewart and Sandy Cahn.

Stewart Cahn gave an impassioned speech about his early memories of BHA and how these experiences have shaped him into the major supporter of Jewish culture and institutions that he is today. He shared how at five years old he remembered putting his money, a few coins, in the pushka (collection cup), every week to help Jewish refugees establish themselves in Israel. He challenged the current congregation to ask its young people to put their money in the pushka for today’s Jewish refugees fleeing Ukraine. Stewart also introduced his good friend and special guest of the evening Deputy Consul General of Israel Mr. Israel Nitzan, who was the first Israeli government official to visit the BHA congregation since the formation of the state of Israel 74 years ago.

Mr. Nitzan then spoke to the attendees about his favorable first impressions of Beacon and the Jewish community here, and how important the alliance between Israel and the United States is. He spoke about the major humanitarian efforts Israel is making to help Ukrainian refugees, and the very different reception Jewish people are having in Europe during this crisis than during the Second World War almost 80 years ago thanks to the support of a Jewish state and a strong Western alliance. He concluded by hoping that he would be invited back to Beacon by the Beacon Hebrew Alliance soon.

The second honoree was our beloved cantor Ellen Pearson Gersh. She began her speech by invoking a moment of silence for all the people who are suffering in the world, and she sang a beautiful prayer of peace while we meditated. Then Ellen recounted her experiences growing up in BHA, the incredible elders who guided her and influenced her, and her gratitude to be able to continue to serve this community. At the end of her speech the room gave her a standing ovation.

As chair of the BHA Centennial Committee, I presented both of the honorees with tokens of appreciation from the committee and handed out special citations from the office of New York State Assembly member Jonathan G. Jacobson. I tried to acknowledge everyone who had contributed to the centennial programs over the past five years, including from the collaborative Centennial committee consisting of BHA and BHS members, the Oral History subcommittee who recorded over 30 interviews, and the BHA board subcommittee chaired by Karen Mayer who organized the Gala event. Karen Mayer then came forward and presented Diane Lapis and me with gifts from the Board subcommittee. It was a very touching moment for me to see all of our efforts come to fruition and be so appreciated by the community.

Following this, Diane Lapis, president of the Beacon Historical Society, spoke about the historical context of the celebration, when suddenly she was cut off mid-sentence by a surprise guest from the past!

 

A man stands in front of a projection screen wearing a white collared shirt, a black vest jacket, black trousers and shoes. He has gray hair slicked back, a gray goatee, and brown rimmed glasses. He holds a black bowler hat in his hands and is staring out pensively.
Actor Dan Anderson portraying Samuel Beskin. Photo by Frank Ritter, Frank Ritter Photography

Surprise Guest brings down the house

Actor Dan Anderson, who had played Samuel Beskin previously in the Historical Society’s popular Ghost Walking Tours, embodied Beacon’s second mayor flawlessly. Starting from the balcony overlooking the dining hall, he came down the stairs and roved among the tables telling his rags to riches story. He addressed the crowd as his mishpocha (family), and indeed there were several people in the room who were direct descendants of Samuel Beskin. Then some strange coincidences occurred, such as when Beskin told of how he helped his brother-in-law Sam Cahn set up his Dry Goods store, and he was standing right behind Cahn’s grandson Stewart Cahn, while a picture of Sam Cahn’s name in the tiled entryway of the building at 172 Main Street came up on the slideshow screen adjacent to them. Then later, when Beskin was talking about how he lost his second term as mayor of Beacon by 700 votes, he was standing right behind another former mayor of Beacon, Steve Gold! Were these coincidences or the ghost of Sam Beskin himself? Anderson thinks he was guided by the latter.

In any event, the crowd was moved to their feet by the performance, and gave a long and hearty ovation to Anderson’s performance.

 

 

The Next Century Begins for BHA

A man in a black suit with a light collared shirt and a pastel tie stands behind a microphone and is speaking. His hands are clasped in front of him and the lights are reflecting off of the wall of windows behind him as yellow discs. One of these yellow disc reflections is right above the crown of the man’s head, and coincidentally looks like a halo.
Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek speaks about the future of BHA and thanks our children. Photo by Frank Ritter, Frank Ritter Photography

Concluding the event, BHA board president Jesse Lunin-Pack returned to the microphone to speak of BHA’s future. The reality is that BHA’s building, almost 100 years old now, is in need of major renovations. Jesse announced that BHA is starting a campaign for the second century with a goal of raising the funds necessary to improve and expand BHA’s facilities for future generations. Pledge cards were on each table for people to fill out and return. If you weren’t able to do so at the event, you can make your pledge online here. Expect to hear more about this ambitious campaign in the coming months and years ahead!

Finally, Rabbi Brent Spodek gave his closing remarks with gratitude to our children, who are the future of this community, and all the hope and inspiration they provide us with everyday. They will inherit the legacy of BHA that has been cultivated over a century now, and will allow it to continue to blossom and bear fruit for centuries to come.

With that, the Gala program concluded, but it wasn’t the end of the Centennial celebrations. Mark your calendars now for BHA’s 100 Year Birthday Bash Picnic on September 11, 2022 at Long Dock Park from 12-3pm! The exhibition is up at BHS until April 30th, and you can access the Jewish Beacon History Walk anytime by downloading it to your phone from the website.

La dor va dor and l’chaim!
 

The BHA Centennial Programs are made possible, in part, by the Irving and Gloria Schlossberg Family Fund and the Sadie Jane Effron Cahn Beacon Hebrew Alliance Endowment of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley.

Mon, November 28 2022 4 Kislev 5783