By Karen Schwartz, Chabad.org
Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski, co-director of Chabad of the Upper East Side, said he got a call out of the blue, notifying him that he had won an OTTY award.
Given out by the weekly paper Our Town, with sister publications throughout Manhattan, the awards are presented to community leaders and vital contributors—in other words, people who stand out from the rest.
The rabbi and the Chabad House—the Schneerson Center for Jewish Life—were recognized for the role they play in “injecting spirituality” into the area, as with Chabad’s upcoming, second annual Friendship Circle Walk on Sunday, May 18, on behalf of children with special needs.
“Our Town—the local newspaper of the East Side—started the ‘Our Town Thanks You’ (OTTY) awards more than 10 years ago to recognize some of the people living, working and making a difference in the quality of life in the neighborhood,” said Jeanne Straus, president of Straus Media Manhattan, which in addition to the Manhattan-based papers runs other newspapers in New York state, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“This year, we were pleased to be able to honor and recognize the important contributions that Rabbi Krasnianski and the Schneerson Center have made to life on the Upper East Side with adult education, young professionals and the Friendship Circle program.”
Since its inception, said Krasnianski, “Chabad has served as an access point, where “people can check their labels at the door and just come in.” Chabad directly serves more than 1,000 people a week, he added.
On April 2, he was part of a reception and ceremony for honorees—this year numbering 16—and their guests. Held at the Leon and Norma Hess Center for Science and Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital with 100 or so people in attendance, the program recognized those who have made a difference in this particularly affluent sector of New York City. The winners ranged from a New York state senator to a second-grade schoolteacher.
“You get to meet a lot of key people in the community,” said Krasnianski, who received his 2014 OTTY framed and ready to hang.
The award in some ways reflects how the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory—envisioned the work of Chabad shluchim, or emissaries, explained Krasnianski. “It’s really from the bottom up. By being part of the community and knowing the needs of the community from within, you can have tremendous influence, just by being there.”
‘Yiddishkeit More Visible’
He and his wife, Chanie, moved to the Upper East Side in the fall of 1992; their current building was constructed in 2006. In fact, he recalled, they moved in at Passover time that year. “Yiddishkeit is much more visible, much more accessible,” today, he said.
The couple built the first mikvah on the Upper East Side eight years ago, and they run a popular preschool and Hebrew school. They have also become well-known for welcoming all to a Simchat Torah celebration marked by lively dancing in the streets.
Other regular events include a public Chanukah menorah-lighting, and a service for between 50 and 100 families who are part of the Friendship Circle. Last year, Chabad held its first Friendship Circle Walk in Manhattan, drawing some 1,000 people to join them.
“We’ve created a beautiful community of activities,” said the rabbi, including adult-education programs, events for those in their 20s and 30s, a Sunday-night cable show and a popular web site, as well as a Kollel where business people come to learn six days a week. “We’re busy from a quarter to 7 in the morning to 11 at night.”
The Krasnianskis recently welcomed a pair of hospital-focused emissaries to help them with their roster of services—a rabbi and his wife who visit patients and families in the nearby hospitals. Launched in December, “it’s a dream come true for us,” he said.
But they don’t plan to sit still. “We can’t rest until every single Jew on the Upper East Side has a chance to reclaim their heritage,” stressed the award-winning rabbi.
It’s a far cry from when they first arrived. Walking down the street on a Friday night that happened to coincide with Halloween, the rabbi and his wife were stopped by someone who wanted to compliment them on their “costumes.”
“Today,” he noted, “we walk down the street and every two blocks, someone stops us to say hello.”