Five hundred friends and supporters of Chabad of the Conejo gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, California, for a gala Banquet event celebrating the organization's recent momentous opening of its new Center for Jewish Life in Agoura Hills, and its commitment to continued growth in the months and years ahead. The theme of the evening was "From Strength to Strength: Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow!"
"When a community joins together to strengthen Jewish life - and failure is not an option - there are no limits to what can be accomplished," said Rabbi Moshe Bryski, Executive Director of Chabad of the Conejo, in his seminal remarks expounding on the evening's theme. "We didn't just put up a building; we built a beautiful state-of-the-art facility that will stand as a beacon of light and inspiration for the ages... It was never a question of 'if' or 'whether' - only 'how' and 'when' - it would finally happen."
Rabbi Bryski then shared that no sooner than the doors to the new Center for Jewish Life were opened that the effort to build "Phase Two" of the Chabad of the Conejo Community Campus - a new Synagogue and Lecture Hall - was set in motion. "We look forward to completing Phase Two with the same spirit of resolve and determination that energized us throughout Phase One," he said.
Among other highlights of the evening were a short film chronicling the Grand Opening of the new CFJL, rousing musical interludes by singer Jimmer Bolden, and testimonials by two teenage girls - Hannah Laskow and Gabriella Block - who shared how their experiences at Chabad of the Conejo's summer camp and youth programs were the catalysts behind their efforts to now do for others.
Tribute was paid to all of the Shluchim and Shluchos of Chabad of the Conejo and their support-staff - including Rabbis and Rebbetzins Moshe and Matty Bryski, Yitzchak and Brocha Sapochkinsky, Yisroel and Leah and Levine, Shlomo and Tovi Bistritzky, Leibel and Chana Stery Kahanov, Eli and Talia Broner, Chaim and Shula Bryski, Schneur and Tzippy Schneerson, Eli and Shaina Friedman and the director of the Friendship Circle, Eli Laber.
The "Lifetime Achievement Award" was presented to Rabbi Eli Broner in recognition of his more than a decade of service as a beloved educator for the Conejo Jewish Day School and a bastion of inspiration for the Chabad community as a whole. Mrs. Debbie Winderman was honored with the "Aishes Chayil Award" for her devoted and sacrificial efforts on behalf of Chabad of the Conejo's social service programs, especially, its new "Food Bank" program.
"Debbie Winderman has internalized the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov which says that when you are confronted and are moved by a crisis, or situation of need, in your surroundings, it is a signal from above that you are meant to get involved and be an integral part of the solution to that crisis or need," said Rabbi Yisroel Levine, Director of Development for Chabad of the Conejo, in his introduction to the presentation. In her response, Mrs. Winderman expressed how her activism and volunteerism is her small way of giving back for all of the joy and meaning Chabad has brought into her and her family's lives.
The audience sat in spellbound silence as Chana Stery Kahanov, daughter of Rabbi Moshe & Matty Bryski, delivered a poignant tribute to her grandfather, the late Rabbi Mordechai Meir Bryski, of blessed memory, who passed away earlier this year. She shared some of his compelling life story, including his odyssey during the war-years as the only surviving member of his family. Referring to the fact that Rabbi Bryski senior was a beloved "Honorary Shliach" and spiritual mentor to the local community, Kahanov said, "As much as you were inspired by my grandfather - as much as you loved, admired and respected him and were moved by his sacrifice, faith and commitment - you should know that it was totally reciprocal. He felt the same about you - and yours."
Rabbi Moshe Bryski added to his daughter's remarks that when his father stood at the podium at the Grand Opening of the Center for Jewish Life in September of 2011 and recited the She-he-cheeyonu blessing, and when he momentously affixed the Mezuzah on the front doorpost of that edifice, it was as though his life's journeys had come full circle. So much of what been so violently and brutally destroyed in the Shtetl of Chmielnik of his youth had been brought back to life.
The evening's keynote address was delivered by renowned radio host, author and commentator Michael Medved, who shared that although not a Chabadnik himself, his spiritual travels toward a traditional Jewish lifestyle, and by extension all of his important achievements in life, would not have been possible had Chabad not been there - in the right place at the right time.
All in all, the evening served as an inspiring ode to Chabad's milestone accomplishments of yesterday, but moreover, how those must now translate into yet greater visions and successes for tomorrow.