Ten Years and Counting | Illini Chabad Celebration Event
October 20, 2013 • Bryn Mawr Country Club

We are honored and grateful to be given this award. Thank you to our friends, family, colleagues who have traveled from near and far to join this evening’s celebration.  We give a hearty mazel tov to our fellow honoree, Joel Holland, and to the student leadership board. We honor Greg Spero, for bringing our jazz worlds and Jewish worlds together so beautifully. We note our deep and special appreciation to Dr. Richard Herman for his tireless work to make the dinner a success, and to the hard-working committee of planners, do-ers, taste-testers, and organizers.
They say the secret to a happy marriage is that each partner should think that they have married “up.” The maxim for our shared Founders Award is the same: that each partner thinks they are honored, because the other person is the truly deserving and better one. David insisted this honor is for me, I insisted it is for him. For the hours of sukkah construction, (nearly 600 man hours, injury-free, should read our sign, like OSHA), for his generosity to support the needs of the building, for his willingness to always say ‘yes’ when the calls for support come, it is I who believe I have married up, happily, to a enormously kind, deeply generous, thoughtful and wonderful partner, who, in my mind, accounts, for why we are being honored today.
Stunned into silence by this debate, my husband has asked me to do the speaking for the two of us, this evening. That means, I get to do half as well what he does so beautifully in his speeches – tell jokes, make astute observations, and reference modern movies. I will get that done in one fell swoop – a joke, an observation, and a movie reference - by saying that David is my silent partner in the best possible ways. I offer a suggestion for what I believe we should do, for Chabad –subsidize this, support that, help purchase this - and he replies, like Westley to Princess Buttercup, “As you wish.” To my dear husband, thank you for always, so gently, and generously responding to the requests to give: “As you wish.”
I want to say how very grateful we are for this honor, of course, and even more how grateful to be standing before you today, in the role of parents, community members, and supporters, of an organization, which seems so right, so good, and so true in the ways it treats people, in its spiritual dimensions, and in its outlook.
That is a bold claim – to call an organization, right and good and true – especially for a dedicated University of Chicago alumna, and eternal student of philosophy and ethics.  Let me explain. For us, giving to Chabad, and supporting it, with time and treasure, ties together the ideals, and deeds, that matter most. These ideals are 1) The divine spark in each and every one of us; 2) The importance of creating a home for students, consecrated with Jewish warmth, beliefs, practices, and joy; and 3) The gift that each day gives us to ascend a ladder of spirituality – to be a better Jew, a better person, a better human being, a better citizen.
I have always felt keenly how much Chabad celebrates the importance of each and every individual soul, and of the divine spark in each of us.
The first Friday night service I went to at Chabad, I watched Rabbi Tiechtel welcome 120 students, warmly, heartily, individually by name – looking not at the externals of dress or style or anything, really, on the mere surface – and treating each and every individual as precious, important, and a part of a greater whole.
To learn to look beyond the surface appearances has been an essential part of the Socratic wisdom that I’ve pursued, and I am honored to be a part of an organization that treats every individual soul with dignity and respect.
We sing regularly at the Chabad services, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.” When you move to a new place, especially one in the middle of the cornfields, there is much to be fearful of. Will I be able to find kosher food? Will I be able to find other like-minded and serious Jews? What sort of community will I find – if any – in a place so different from Baltimore with its abundance of synagogues, kosher food, and rich Jewish life?
Chabad, from the day we landed in Champaign (L’chaim Urbana, as my dear rabbi in Baltimore termed it), took from us fear, and replaced it with joy (and I might add, a nice array of kosher options). The rabbi was there, to help my son become a bar mitzvah, to celebrate the simcha of our son’s wedding to our dear daughter-in-law Erica, to show up not with one mezuzah within a week of our moving, but a bag of mezuzot, and to be, within 12 hours of my phone call that my mother, of blessed memory,  had passed away, in Philadelphia to help lead the services for her.
We have been honored to help grow Chabad these last ten years into a place which any student, any community member, any Jew – no matter there origins, or affiliation – can find a home for their soul, and the kind-hearted Jewish support in times of challenge.
Thirdly, the spiritual ladder: I have always been keenly interested in Maimonides Eight Levels of Charity, and the belief that I see in this organization, that each soul moves higher on the ladder, day by day, step by step, in the level of our own giving, deeds, and observance.
This journey of our souls, on a ladder, strikes me as true, and deeply insightful. In our case, sometimes this is very literal – the ladder is is a real one, propped up against a sukkah wall, and my husband is shaking his head at the text from Rabbi Tiechtel, “David, do you think we can make the sukkah 8 feet longer. Tomorrow?” at just how he is in the next 12 hours going to manage to go higher with the ceiling, longer with the floor, and wider with the walls.  
We have loved being encouraged, challenged, and pushed ourselves to go up the ladder, and loved watching this organization nurture others to climb that ladder, at their own pace, in their own way.
It is we who are honored and grateful to be a part of an organization that does so much right with our students, so much good in our community, so much that strikes the heart as true.
Thank you all for being here to celebrate with us, for your support, and for your acknowledgement. We look at the past ten years, with joy and delight. May we look forward to another ten years, and more, together, of growing and ascending the ladders with Chabad, cherishing the divine spark in each of us, and nurturing this wonderful home for our students, and community members