New York – The clock is ticking down rapidly with only eight days left to vote for finalists in the Jewish Federation of North America’s second annual Jewish Community Heroes contest. Over 200,000 votes have already been cast and there are several members of the religious community topping the leaderboard. The contest is an effort to encourage volunteerism within the Jewish community and unlike similar contests is an opportunity to honor individuals, not groups, for their contributions to the Jewish community. The top twenty vote getters will be reviewed by a panel of eighteen judges who will select five finalists to attend November’s Jewish Federation’s General Assembly to be held in New Orleans. The winner will be declared at the General Assembly and will receive a $25,000 grant for their organization, with each of the four runners up receiving a $1000 grant for their organization as well.
Currently, the top vote getter, with over 20,000 votes is Rabbi Mordechai Tokarsky of Brooklyn, co-founder of RAJE (Russian American Jewish Experience), a division of Gateways dedicated to providing a Jewish education to Russian American Jews, many of whom know nothing about their traditions and culture. Recognizing that the future of Russian American Jewry is in the hands of those in their late teens and early twenties, RAJE targets those individuals by offering a six month educational and leadership training program, the highlight of which is a two week trip to Europe and Israel. Approximately 750 Russian American young adults complete the program every year and are rapidly changing the face of the Russian American Jewish community. RAJE hopes to expand to Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago within the next ten years.
Jay Feinberg of Boca Raton, the second place vote getter with over 19,000 votes is the founder and director of the Gift Of Life Bone Marrow Foundation a nationwide registry which facilitates transplants for sufferers of many life threatening diseases including leukemia and lymphoma. It was Feinberg’s own bout with leukemia in 1991 that was the catalyst for the Gift of Life Foundation, when Feinberg was told that he faced certain death because his chances of finding a genetic match for a life saving bone marrow transplant were slim to none since Jews of Eastern European descent were woefully underrepresented in the worldwide bone marrow registry. It took four years and 60,000 donors for Feinberg to finally find a suitable genetic match and today the Gift of Life Foundation is among the top international registries with over 170,000 donors and 2,100 bone marrow transplants facilitated to date.
Holding strong in ninth place is Queens resident Zvi Gluck, a unique individual whose mission in life is simple: to help those in need. A true inspiration to anyone he encounters, Gluck is available any time of day or night to offer his expertise in anything and everything including medical emergencies, conflict mediation, navigating bureaucratic red tape, crisis intervention, assisting rape victims and rescuing drug addicts. If selected as a finalist, Gluck’s grant will go to Our Place NY, an organization serving 800 to1000 troubled Jewish teens annually in Brooklyn and Israel , by offering counseling, rehabilitation and guidance to troubled Jewish youth.
Vicky Polin of Skokie, Illinois rounds out the top ten vote getters, nominated for her work with The Awareness Center, founded in 2001, with a mission to end sexual abuse in the Jewish community. Not only does Polin aim to shed light on a problem that tragically does affect the Jewish community but is so often kept hidden, she works tirelessly to support victims of sexual assault.
Also in the top twenty vote getters is Rabbi Pinny Lifshutz, editor of the Yated Neeman, who has come out strongly as an advocate for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. Rabbi Lifshutz has used his widely read weekly newspaper as a vehicle to publicize the Rubashkin case in an attempt to bring justice to Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin.
Other notable Heroes nominees are two women who have overcome personal adversity and used their experiences to have a major positive impact on the Jewish community. Sarri Singer of Lakewood, New Jersey survived a devastating bus bombing in Israel seven years ago and has dedicated herself to helping terror victims and advocating for Israel. Her organization, One Heart Global, is dedicated to assisting terror victims worldwide by helping them overcome the psychological and psychical trauma of a terror attack. Rochelle Shoretz of Teaneck, New Jersey, herself a breast cancer survivor, is the director of Sharsheret, a national organization dedicated to the concerns of young Jewish women facing the harsh realities of breast cancer.
To date, this year’s Heroes contest has received over 200,000 votes and Web Contact Manager for the Jewish Federation Andy Neusner is proud of the response the contest has generated, touting the ongoing benefits of building awareness of the Heroes nominees and their causes within the Jewish community.
“There are some really amazing and accomplished candidates on or near the leaderboard. That we have gotten such a stellar array of nominees and a sizeable vote tally for those nominees is a real testament to their interest in recognition and support from the Jewish community.”
While the contest was originally slated to end at midnight on October 8th, voting was extended until noon on October 15th. Neusner explains that the reason for the change was two-fold. Aside from not wanting to cut the contest short just when the votes have started to surge, the contest was inadvertently set to end on Shabbos, a mistake that had to be rectified.