Celebrating nearly three and a half decades as one of the premiere Jewish congregations in New York, and one of the most vibrant centers of Modern Orthodox life in America, Young Israel of Jamaica Estates held its 34th Annual Gala on Sunday night, Feb. 10.
The dinner, which took place at the elegant Sephardic Temple of Cedarhurst, was a veritable who’s who of Jewish leaders from near and far. Among the former were New York State Assembly Members Dov Hikind and David Weprin. Coming from a little further afield were senior Likud official (and advisor to the last five Israeli prime ministers including Benjamin Netanyahu) Gershom Stav, as well as Israeli millionaire philanthropist Sam Domb.
Honored at Sunday’s event were were Dr. Joseph and Karen Frager, alongside Michael and Robin Appel. Both being renowned for their leadership at Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, the Fragers are perhaps best known for their political activism and outspoken support of the State of Israel, whereas the Appels are more rooted in local Jewish causes, youth education in particular. Together, these two families exemplified the kind of dedication to both medinat Yisrael, and am Yisrael (the Jewish state and the Jewish people respectively), which are cornerstones upon which the nationwide organization of Young Israel is founded.
Prior to the evening’s presentation, Dr. Frager spoke of Sam Domb as “the one who started me on my path to activism for Israel and America.” Domb, a Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, came to the United States and, pulling himself up by his own proverbial bootstraps, started out as a humble dishwasher, eventually rising to prominence as a hotel developer. Using his professional clout in the service of numerous worthy causes, Mr. Domb helped build up, among others, the Jewish community of Jamaica Estates. Domb funded the construction of the synagogue building itself, as well as the youth center next door, the latter in memory of his wife, Sarah. As a token of his dedication to the continued growth of the community, Domb concluded his address to the gala by pledging $10,000 to the synagogue.
An English translation of Domb’s autobiography, entitled “He Hath Not Let Me Die” was recently released.
Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg, spiritual leader of Young Israel Jamaica Estates for the last 23 years and former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, offered divrei chizuk (words of inspiration) to those assembled, as well as some well-deserved accolades to the evening’s guests of honor. Speaking of the importance of unwavering dedication to one’s goals in life, he noted that “[The Fragers and the Appels] are fully engaged and energized in every facet of their lives, as Religious Zionists, Modern Orthodox Torah Jews.”
Addressing Robin and Michael Appel, Rabbi Hochberg spoke of their distinguished lineage, coming from families whose names “are synonymous with Torah, Zionism, chesed, community service, and leadership.” He commented on Michael’s tireless devotion to the community, having served in various capacities on the synagogue’s Board of Directors, and his pivotal assistance in planning the expansion of the synagogue, as well as running the youth minyan. Robin, he noted, is an active member of the YIJE sisterhood, organizing numerous fundraising activities and serving on the shalach manot committee.
In addition to the above activities, the Appels have earned the esteem of their peers by their endless dedication to community education programs. Dr. Jay Lisker, former synagogue president, tells of how he met Michael as a child, when Michael was a counselor at Camp Morasha. “We used to learn together,” says Lisker, recalling how, as a camper, he and his bunkmates would study Torah with the young Mr. Appel. Michael Schreiber, a longtime friend of the Appels, points out that one of Michael Appel’s most noteworthy accomplishments, not mentioned in the ceremony, was his setting up a weekly shiur for “working men” who couldn’t necessarily find a lot of time for intensive learning during the week. “[Michael] is responsible for a lot of Torah learning for a lot of people in this community,” says Schreiber. Both Lisker and Schreiber referred to Appel as a source of great inspiration in their lives. One of Appel’s most endearing qualities, Schreiber relates, is how, although “he is friends with everyone, he makes everyone feel like they’re his best friend. He’s that kind of guy.”
Similar sentiments were widely expressed regarding Dr. and Mrs. Frager. But whereas the Appels concentrated most of their energies locally, the Fragers lead the way in Israel advocacy. Dr. Ron Kahn, President of Young Israel of Jamaica Estates and a practicing pediatrician, recounted that when he first met Frager, a gastroentorologist, he thought the two of them would be able to discuss medicine. He drew an outburst of laughter from the audience when he recalled how a mutual friend warned him that, for Frager, “gastroentorology was really a sideline,” and that Israel was the doctor’s real passion.
Kahn went on to laud the Fragers’ multifaceted efforts on behalf of Israel. Thanking them for their many years of ongoing service of the shul, the local community, and the Jewish state, he noted in particular the Fragers’ impressive ability to persuade high-level dignitaries, including chief rabbis and prominent Israeli and American politicians, to visit the community, acknowledging Sam Domb as the latest example.
Dr. Paul Brody, who works closely with the Fragers on numerous causes, such as serving on the executive board of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim (of which Dr. Frager is president), and organizing the popular Israel Day Concert in Central Park every year, noted that Dr. Frager is a “very creative mind when it comes to doing things for Eretz Yisrael and Klal Yisrael,” and that his wife Karen, “though she prefers to stay out of the limelight, is nonetheless a driving force behind their work.”
New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind and his wife Shoshana also had a great deal to say about the Fragers. “Joe Frager is a hero to me,” said the Assemblyman. He added that he didn’t know when Frager finds the time for his medical practice, “because he is so busy being involved in so many causes, and making a difference.”
“He should be an example to all of us that you can do whatever you do in life – be a doctor, a lawyer, or whatever else, and you can still do remarkable things for the Jewish people.”
No less eloquent in her praise of the evening’s honorees, Mrs. Hikind tells reporters that “I wish we had more doctors like Dr. Joseph Frager and his aishes chayil Karen. I’ve known Joe and Karen since 1991 … and I consider them among my most precious friends. They are the greatest ohavei Yisrael and ohavei Yerushalayim.”
And it is perhaps for that love of Israel and Jerusalem that Dr. Frager couldn’t keep from discussing pressing political concerns during his acceptance speech.
Frager began by expressing his admiration of the Appels, with whom he was honored to share the evening’s accolades, and of longtime friend Sam Domb, whom he credited with introducing him to then-General Ariel Sharon, which in turn helped to, among other things, facilitate the purchase of St. John’s Hospice (now Neot David) in East Jerusalem on behalf of Ateret Cohanim.
Turning to more contemporary matters, Frager noted the many pro-Israel initiatives in which he is proud to play a role, including those mentioned above. Ultimately, he summed up his motivation by offering the audience a glimpse of his view of Israel-Diaspora relations. “Our work in America is never done. We are vital to the security and survival of the State of Israel,” he declared, looking to Likud representative Gershom Stav for confirmation.
Frager lamented how, in his view, the role of American Jewry in ensuring Israel’s welfare has, since the administrations of Prime Ministers Begin and Shamir, been largely downplayed, if not completely forgotten. “Our work is never done, fighting the BDS [the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions] movement,” said Frager, warning of their rising influence, as evidenced by the participation of pro-BDS (i.e. anti-Israel) groups in last year’s New York City Israel Day Parade. “It’s our job to fight them, and don’t worry, we’ll fight them – we’ll beat them, too.”
Indeed, many of the dinner’s guests expressed similar concerns to those raised by Dr. Frager – the recent nomination of anti-Israel bigots to key positions in the Obama administration, and the selling of F-16 fighter jets to a belligerent Egyptian regime, both mentioned during Frager’s speech, were also hot topics of discussion among the politically-savvy attendees.
Despite a laundry list of woes facing pro-Israel advocates, Dr. Frager inspired his audience, drawing on the great past accomplishments of the American Jewish community. “Remember, it was American Jewry that saved Russian Jewry; Bukharian Jewry too.”
“I look forward to continued success,” continued Frager, “health, smachot (joyous occasions), Torah and spiritual growth, nachat (parental pride) from all of our children, siyata dishmaya (heavenly assistance) [here at] Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, until Moshiach comes, may it be speedily and in our days.”