By: Lieba Nesis
It was a little over two years ago when I met Melissa Fishel at the Jewish Museum on the Upper West Side. Melissa’s gorgeous brother, Bradley, was being honored by Chabad North Haven and the Fishel family gathered to celebrate this milestone. Melissa was statuesque and lithe with long blond hair that grazed her shoulders and searing blue eyes that were mesmerizing. She was easy to talk to, full of fun and extremely humble-constantly working and studying to pursue her lifelong ambition of becoming a doctor. She headed to Grenada ready to embark on a grueling scholastic journey and was a month away from obtaining her medical degree when she encountered an untimely passing.
The weekends I spent with the Fishels at their magnificent 16-acre Bridgehampton Estate were noteworthy for one main reason-the cohesive love surrounding this four person family. The tragedy of losing a daughter is unimaginable and yet the Fishel’s soldier on bravely continuing to donate their time, efforts, and money to charity-undeterred by this devastating loss. This past Sunday September 1st, the fifth charity event they have held at their Bridgehampton Estate this summer, they welcomed 150 people to their sprawling home to celebrate Chabad and the inimitable Rabbi Beryl Lerman. Chabad North Haven, founded in 2013, was forced to move to myriad locations in its incipient stages: a family’s den one week, a kitchen the next-until it was given its permanent abode in July 2017 at 36 West Water Street in Sag Harbor. The 3,600 square foot space serves over 150 families; and as Sag Harbor continues to explode that number is sure to increase.
Tonight, the crowd was there to rejoice in the success of this relatively nascent edifice and to thank the Fishel’s for opening up their home for this momentous occasion. The buffet style food served contained carved meat, hot dogs, and chicken dishes along with salads, rice and delectable desserts. Rabbi Beryl Lerman began by noting the importance of this month as we greet G-d and ask him to bless us with a healthy year. He also blew the shofar to mark the beginning of this critical time period. He thanked Ken and Maria Fishel for opening up their “field” to hashem during this pivotal season and was hopeful all would attain their wishes.
Ken Fishel accepted his award with emotions that were clearly etched on his face as he spoke movingly about his daughter’s embrace of the Chabad house in Grenada and how the feeling of belongingness Chabad created gave Melissa a great sense of peace. Ken spoke of the burgeoning impact of the organization which has over 3,500 institutions in 85 countries, with a new Center opening every 10 days. This remarkable growth is attributable to the growing hunger of Jews from around the globe to connect with others who share common values and traditions. Ken stressed the importance of Jews supporting one another especially in uncertain times.
The Rabbi later presented Ken and Maria with a dollar bill that he received from the Lubavitcher Rebbe-a gift, they remarked, they will cherish forever. Other award recipients included Kimmy and Robby Morris who received the Chesed Award: Stephen Wald who got the Community Builder Award, Marc Goldman who was feted a Defender of Israel Award and Amanda Goldberg who accepted the Young Leadership Award. Goldberg expressed concern that college students weren’t adequately informed as to “all the great things Judaism was about.” Event chairs Denise and Arden Wohl, Jodi Schwalb, Sandy and Andrew Quentzel and Dennis and Erica D’ Antonio were similarly feted for their indefatigable efforts.
There was also a moving concert performed by Tania Eshagoff Friedberg on the piano and Eva Silverberg on the violin. Tania, a renowned pianist and composer, was born in Tehran in 1974 and started studying piano at the age of 7 with Mahdogh Monesabian. Tania gave a dramatic performance that was both moving and distinct-with a rhythmic configuration that left the audience excitedly engaged. As attendees went to wish Rabbi Lerman a “Happy Birthday” I joined the Fishel’s in their home to discuss the beauty we had just experienced as the Chabad movement continues expanding its global influence.