Dr. Elianna Saidenberg
It is a bit unorthodox for an event’s honoree to write about the event- I can’t think of a time an Oscar winner covered the awards ceremony for People magazine!- but I can think of no better way to thank the Jewish Youth Library for recognizing my family than to tell our whole community about the amazing 30th anniversary gala that was held on May 4 at the Chateau Laurier and the force of nature that is the Jewish Youth Library.
Most people face such events with a smidge of trepidation; worried that the speeches will be dull, the chicken rubbery and the music middling at best. Anyone fortunate enough to attend this anniversary dinner would have quickly had such worries laid to rest. The event space was elegantly and beautifully decorated- a perfect size and decor to foster a comfortable cozy feeling among guests while maintaining the evening’s sophistication and grace. Evan Green was the pinch hitter MC when his wife, Alicia, was struck ill at the last moment. Evan brought to the role endless warmth and humor and introduced each speaker with abundant obvious respect and admiration. His easy and engaging manner set the tone for a relaxed and enjoyable evening. Early on in the program attendees were privileged to hear brachot from and recite tehillim with several of the area’s most learned and respected rabbis- Rabbis Burr, Hayes and Finkelstein. Though an anniversary is a time of celebration, this also offered an opportunity to recognize Yom Hazikaron and recite tehillim for the soldiers and civilians martyred in the creation and maintenance of our homeland. It is telling of the deep-rooted generosity and ahavat Israel that the JYL embodies, that a portion of the proceeds from the evening were donated to Chayal-Lechayal in support of the IDF’s lone soldiers.
The first musical treat of the evening was presented by Chazzan Dovid Caytak. His soulful singing style embodied his chosen piece’s plea for the rebuilding of the Temple speedily in our days. Dovid was the first of the Caytak children to honor his parents’ special accomplishments, but certainly not the only one. Mrs. Sara Lowenthal (nee Caytak) produced a video that highlighted only a small fraction of the JYL’s programs and services. The short film was incredibly professional and entertaining. It featured individuals who have benefitted from one or another of these programs giving honest and natural testimony, but heartfelt in their gratitude for how the programs have enriched their lives. Scurrying around behind the scenes was Rabbi Mendy Lowenthal who, with one hand occupied schlepping around his four month old son, kept the show running perfectly smoothly.
It is perhaps the awards portion of any evening that attendees dread most. It is very easy to be bored by lackluster addresses. Again- no worries that evening. First to take the microphone was the most poised and self-assured twelve year old I have ever seen. Miss Sabrina Silverstone is a preschool alumnus who shared with the audience her experiences at both the preschool and Camp Gan Israel and how these programs have strengthened her Jewish identity and enriched her educational experiences. Next to the microphone was Mrs. Devora Caytak looking so beautiful and elegant that my mother in law was forced to ask me about 30 times if Mrs. Caytak really is old enough to be the mother of twelve children.
Devora shared with the group the triumphs and struggles she and Dr. Yosef Caytak have encountered over the past thirty years. She also, with only slight trepidation, announced their bold new plans to expand the library’s physical space in order to enhance the current programs and offer additional new programming. Now, most people would not be planning a more than $2,000,000 capital campaign even before the end of a gala evening that took months to plan. But Devora Caytak is not most people. She is more courageous, more committed, more energetic than just about anyone I have ever met. I have learned so, so much from her; one of her pearls of wisdom that I repeat oft is “the worst they can say is no.” It is her approach to fundraising, seeking world class speakers and entertainers, and getting kids to eat spinach. It is a profound truth that emboldens me when my heart desires one thing and my mind is full of fears urging me not to go for it. Imagine what we, individually and collectively could accomplish if we embraced this attitude!
For the past thirty years the Jewish Youth Library has provided access to Jewish books to individuals of all ages. In addition, the library has housed courses, lecture series and study groups led by leading minds of the Ottawa community as well as world class visiting lecturers. The JYL’s commitment to Jewish learning and literacy extends even to the youngest members of the community. The building has housed preschool programs committed to providing not only excellence in Judaic studies, but also outstanding secular education to Ottawa’s littlest Jews. Currently, the Westboro Jewish Montessori Preschool (WJMP) has at its helm, Morah Erin Gailor. I am sure that there is someone our there, maybe a telemarketer, who calls her Mrs. Gailor, but if you know her, you call her Morah because, to her core, she is an educator.
Morah Erin was honored as the teacher of the year at the gala. Sadly, her mother passed on the day prior and Erin could not attend in person. However, her beloved husband Ben and children Ashira and Raviv were there and truly represented her spirit. Mr. Gailor delivered his wife’s acceptance address, channeling the humility, spiritedness and commitment that embody Morah Erin’s truest self. The award was introduced by Abby and Joey Shmorgun who have both been privileged to be her students. They presented seven reasons that Morah Erin deserves this special award, the final one being the best summary: “She makes learning fun and all the kids want to come to school.”
My husband, Doron Shmorgun, and I were touched to be selected as parents of the year. To be thusly recognized from among the hundreds of families whose children have participated in JYL programs over the decades was a greater honor than we ever imagined we’d receive. To be recognized alongside Morah Erin Gailor was truly humbling. On behalf of our family and also Morah Erin, I want to also extend thanks to artist Michoel Muchnik for creating beautiful original artworks to be presented to us. They will hang proudly in our homes to serve as reminders of the JYL values we have been selected to represent, values such as Jewish learning, tzeddakah, and community engagement.
The evening flowed seamlessly from the awards ceremony to a delicious dinner. Following the meal attendees were again treated to the cantorial song stylings of Chazzan Subir who led us in grace after the meal. I hope that by now you are thinking: “Wow, what an evening, I should have gone.”
Well, the best was saved for last, and after I tell you about the amazing performance, by the world-famous Maccabeats, you really will wish you were there. The young men of the Yeshiva University a cappella group the Maccabeats are a sharp looking bunch of boychiks in stylish clothing. But they are hardly all slick looks, they are a talented and energetic group of performers who truly brought the house down. Though it was late on a Sunday evening when they took the stage, the whole audience was brought to their feet to clap along and sing and boogie to their beat and soak up their moving message of Jewish pride.
On behalf of my family, all in attendance at the anniversary party and all those who have benefitted from the Jewish Youth Library, I thank the Caytak family for all they have given to our community, to the example of ongoing committed leadership and brave vision they have for Ottawa’s Jewish community. I pray that the Holy Blessed One will grant them the strength to attain their vision and enable them to go from strength to strength while enjoying naches from their beautiful family and from the extended family composed of those whose lives they have enriched.