When Jacob and Sharona Schulder were chosen to be this year’s honorees for our 21st Annual Celebration, we had no inkling that Jacob’s great-grandfather, Yaakov Kestenbaum, was chairman at the Frierdike Rebbe’s (Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe) dinner.
A week before our annual dinner, Jacob and Sharona, our honorees, sat around our Shabbos table. Jacob recalled a vivid childhood memory of receiving a dollar when he was seven years old from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
In his words, “I didn’t even know an aleph from a beis; the one thing I will remember for the rest of my life is the Rebbe shaking my hand, giving me a dollar bill, and looking at me with his powerful eyes. That warmth and that love for yiddishkeit clearly filtered down, and are not taken for granted as my kids come to the Chabad Early Learning Center every day.”
As Jacob was describing his powerful encounter with the Rebbe, he shared that his great-grandfather had been in regular correspondence with the Frierdike Rebbe. Upon hearing this, I rose from the table, amazed, and walked over to my bookshelf. I pulled out volumes containing letters that the Frieerdike Rebbe had composed to thousands of people.
After perusing the Index, I came across five letters that quickly revealed the special relationship between the Frieerdike Rebbe and Yaakov Kestenbaum, Jacob’s great-grandfather. In one particular letter, the one that appears below this article, the Frierdike Rebbe requests that Yaakov be the chairman for the Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim dinner.
The Rebbe begins his letter by asking Yaakov to accept the honor of being chairman for the Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim dinner, which is under his leadership. He goes on to express his hope that Yaakov will not refuse him, because it is a great honor ; the Yeshiva is described as being a “source of blessing.” The Rebbe ends the letter by expressing his heartfelt wish that Yaakov will fulfill his request, and offers brachos /blessings that all those who support the Yeshiva should be blessed by Hashem both physically and spiritually.
Jacob’s great-grandfather was indeed the chairman at the dinner (photo below), and years later, at our own annual dinner, I read out the Rebbe’s letter in front of the Schulders and a stunned room. The profound connection between the honorees and Chabad had already been cemented decades earlier.
A spectacular energy and warm camaraderie infused Chabad of Riverdale’s annual dinner this year. Over 300 friends and supporters, an unprecedented number, joined us to celebrate as Chabad of Riverdale enters its third decade.
Brenda and Steven Arenson, the Guests of Honors, were recognized for their commitment and devotion to Chabad, and their ongoing support and sacrifice for the greater Jewish community. During the dinner, Steven gave a heartfelt speech describing how Chabad of Riverdale’s leaders, Rabbi Levi and Sorah Shemtov, were there for his family during both times of happiness and sorrow.
“Rabbi Levi and Sorah Shemtov and Chabad of Riverdale exemplify the concept of being ‘lovers of Israel,’ lovers of the Jewish people. Without Chabad, hundreds of people would not be involved and connected in Judaism.”
Sharona and Jacob Schulder, mentioned at the beginning, were honored as Parents of the Year. Rebbetzin Sorah Shemtov, in her speech expressing appreciation to the Parents of the Year, described how Sharona and Jacob Schulder are role models to their children in every sense. “Children are very astute and they notice everything. Our children are watching when we least imagine, and way before they can read, they read between the lines and they ‘read’ us! When it says, ‘Your children will become what you are, so be what you want them to be,’ I think of both of you, Sharona and Jacob, and say, I hope your children will be exactly what you are!”
In Rabbi Levi Shemtov’s speech, he touched upon the theme of the dinner, “One People – One Heart.” “‘We are one’ is not a slogan; it represents our way of life. Sorah and I thank each and every one of you for supporting the work of Chabad. It is only because of you that we are here and only because of your support that we can continue.”
The evening included a video that recapped the history and activities of Chabad of Riverdale for the past 21 years, and featured live musical entertainment by the Pey Dalid band. The excitement and joy felt in the room erupted into lively dancing. The special warmth and love that are the trademark of Chabad of Riverdale made the evening one that we are certain never to forget.