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Brooklyn Jewish Hall of Fame celebrates achievements of those who call borough home

Faith In Brooklyn

October 16, 2018 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Judge Rachel Freier receives her plaque from BJHI board member Sarina Roffe. Eagle photos by Francesca N. Tate
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The first Hasidic woman to be elected to public office in U.S. history, the chairman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the longest-serving chaplain in NYPD history were among the stars being honored at the Fourth Annual BJHI Brooklyn Jewish Hall of Fame that took place Monday night. The Brooklyn Historical Society, a charter member of the Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative, hosted the event.

The Brooklyn Jewish Hall of Fame, known familiarly as BJHI, has as its mission the chronicling of the lives of Jewish Brooklynites, including oral and video histories. The BJHI works closely with the Brooklyn Historical Society, and they have partnered since the formation of BJHI 10 years ago.

Longtime Brooklyn Heights resident Henry B. Gutman is chairman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the leading industrial park in New York City, housing more than 300 businesses and employing 7,000 people. He was instrumental in the Navy Yard’s revitalization. He was also involved in the creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park since his appointment to the original Brooklyn Bridge Park Local Development Corporation board in 1998. He has been a Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Board member and currently serves on the Board of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation.

Gutman said at the ceremony that he and his wife Karoly, who “fell in love with Brooklyn” and moved here in 1975, have raised their three children in the community. The Gutmans are long-time members of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue.

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During his 40-year legal career, Gutman litigated a wide range of high-profile intellectual property cases, including Lotus v Borland (which he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court).

Until his recent retirement, he was a partner at Simpson Thacher, where he headed the Intellectual Property Practice Group.

Judge Rachel Freier was the first Hasidic woman elected to Civil Court, although she was moved to Criminal Court. She told the gathering on Monday that her parents taught her that she could aim for any honorable goals that she wanted, and she thanked them, her husband and her children for their support.

Other honorees included David G. Greenfield, CEO of the Metropolitan Food Council and advocate on eliminating poverty. He is a former councilmember serving parts of Flatbush, Midwood and Kensington. Joining Greenfield were Rabbi Alvin Kass, the longest-serving NYPD chaplain; Brooklyn musician, songwriter, producer and writer Cecelia Margules; Gowanus resident and award-winning cinematographer, feature film editor and director Ferne Pearlstein; Tony-Award nominee Eleanor Reissa, a playwright, actor, director and singer; and Adam Richman, a self-educated food expert who was raised in Sheepshead Bay. Interviewing him was Sephardic chef, cookbook author and historian Sarina Roffé, who is a BJHI board member.

One of this year’s honorees, Abe Becker, passed away just before the event. A star basketball player, Becker had made all-city while at Abraham Lincoln High School, and then continued as an exceptional player for the New York University basketball team, becoming team captain in 1950-51 season. He chose accounting as a career. Several articles in the original Brooklyn Eagle during those years chronicle his wins. Becker died peacefully on Oct. 7. Charlie Rosen, a well-known basketball coach and author, paid Becker tribute at the BJHI Hall of Fame.

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Rabbi Alvin Kass comes across as a man of joy and peace. Introducing him was Brooklyn Borough Historian Ron Schweiger, who said he’s known Kass for 36 years—about the entire time he served as rabbi of the East Midwood Jewish Center. “Now you must be doing something right for them to keep a rabbi for 36 years,” Schweiger remarked.

Schweiger pointed out that longevity seems to be Kass’s gift, as he has also served as an NYPD chaplain since 1966—some 52 years — making him the longest-serving chaplain in NYPD history. Kass has served under seven mayors and 16 police commissioners.

“As a rabbi, I think I’m the luckiest person in the world, because I’m in a position to really enjoy people at their best. I can intensify their joy; I try to help them through sorrow. But the greatest pleasure of a rabbi—and the word rabbi means teacher—is to see your offspring achieve great things. And I’m on the bill here tonight with Adam Richman. He’s my student, my mitzvah boy.

“The career that I’ve had has had high points; it’s had very sad points,” Kass said, pointing out that he  had been at Madison Square Garden just that morning at a NYPD ceremony where attendees learned about and prayed for a firefighter who had fallen three stories from a building in the line of duty.

On an earlier occasion, on the same day that his son Danny was bar mitzvahed at the East Midwood Jewish Center, Kass got a call about a police officer who had been shot and killed—and spent the next several days helping the officer’s family through the grief. “That chance to intensify the life of people in good times, and also to help them in bad times, I think is the greatest privilege in the world,” he said. “It’s been my opportunity to be able to do that my entire adult life.”

Richman, a son of the East Midwood Jewish Center, was visibly moved by Kass’s tribute. Richman has enjoyed an acting career and has also become a self-educated food expert. He is the author of “America the Edible: A Hungry History from Sea to Dining Sea.”


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Workshop on Suicide Prevention Is Collaboration With VA and Borough President’s Offices

The Office of the Brooklyn Borough President’s Faith-Based Clergy Initiatives is joining forces with Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiative (CFOI) to prevent suicides.

They will present a collaborative workshop with the Veterans Administration National Center for Chaplains on Monday, November 5.

Operation S.A.V.E.: Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training and Training for Community Clergy will be offered at Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St., from noon to 3 p.m. on November 5.

Those wishing to register for this event should email [email protected] and/or [email protected]. Registration is free.

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‘Dating—What to Know Before You Go’ Is Topic of OASIS Christian Singles Dinner

OASIS SINGLES welcomes Christian single adults of all ages, from all walks of life, and from all denominations throughout the tri-state area to its annual fall celebration, taking place this Saturday, October 20, starting promptly at 6 p.m.

The evening begins with a buffet dinner and fellowship from 6 to 6:50 p.m.

The menu consists of three choices of six foot Super heroes: chicken cutlet with fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers, eggplant parmigiana or grilled vegetables.

The Singles Connection begins at 7 p.m., incorporating praise and worship, and a talk. OASIS leader Cindy Galdal-Ruperto will share a message and discussion titled “Dating—What You Need to Know Before You Go!”

Cindy’s husband Frank will join her after for Q &A. The couple met at an OASIS event several years ago. Dessert and more fellowship follow the discussion.

The Christian Singles dinner will be held at Lefferts Park Church (look for the OASIS sign), 7524 14th Avenue, Dyker Heights. Admission: $15 at the door. No need to RSVP. Attire is casual but neat.

Readers may visit for more information about the OASIS Singles Ministry.

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