More than 1,300 enthusiastic friends and supporters of Chabad of the Conejo attended the organization’s 40th Anniversary Gala-Concert on Wednesday, June 12, at the Civic Arts Plaza Theater in Thousand Oaks, California.
Billed as an “Evening of Music and Nostalgia,” Celebration 40 featured an elegant cocktail reception in the gardens of the picturesque Civic Arts Plaza; a rousing musical performance by the energetic pop-operatic Israel trio, Kol Esperanza; a comedic performance by Mark Schiff; and a video retrospective highlighting the Chabad of the Conejo’s evolution from a single storefront in 1979 into the network of nine regional centers it is today.
In his evening’s address, Chabad of the Conejo’s Executive Director, Rabbi Moshe Bryski, offered a brief verbal tour of some of the organization’s programs and milestones over four decades, including its wide array of outreach and social service programs; schools, youth programs and summer camp; Friendship Circle for children with special needs; Sunshine Club for seniors; premiere adult education institute; and construction of a multipurpose facility in Agoura Hills known as the Center for Jewish Life. From there, Bryski went on to make the case that Chabad of the Conejo’s influence extends far beyond the local community.
“Over the years, this organization has served as a breeding- and training-ground for many prominent Jewish leaders and educators,” he said. “Some of the most successful college-campus and community rabbis, army chaplains and directors of organizations ‘earned their outreach chops’ as camp counselors or rabbinic interns right here in the Conejo Valley.”
As a case in point, the concert audience got to hear from Ms. Talia Lewis, an alumnus of Chabad of the Conejo’s C-Teen and Hebrew High programs, who is currently very active in Chabad on Campus at Texas A & M University. In addition to inspiring her participation in Jewish study programs in New York, Florida and Israel, Lewis’s exposure to Chabad as a teenager led to her starting a C-Teen chapter in College Station, Texas, where one previously did not exist.
“True to the Rebbe’s vision and motif, Chabad of the Conejo has served as a global generator of kinetic energy, delivering spiritual light throughout the world via ambassadors who discovered their own ‘soul’s light-switches’ through the organization the folks in this room built together,” said Rabbi Bryski. He then went on to assure the assembled that the first 40 years was Chabad just getting started. “As Jews, our past informs our future,” he said. “We build upon our past and are emboldened by our past, so as to face the challenges of our future with renewed focus, resolve and determination.”
Other speakers at “Celebration 40” were Chabad of North Ranch’s Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, who opened the evening with welcoming remarks and introduced the night’s comedy segment with a comedic display of his own; Chabad of Oak Park’s Rabbi Yisroel Levine, who delivered a powerful message of strength and resilience in the wake of the recent uptick in anti-Semitism, including the tragic events in Israel, Pittsburgh and Poway; and Chabad of Westlake’s Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochkinsky, who hailed Chabad’s heroes and “hall of famers” – the Rabbis, Rebbetzins, teachers and office personnel who staff the organization, and those who were honored at Chabad’s galas over the past four decades.
Rabbi Sapochkinsky also spoke of the special nachas the senior Shluchim of Chabad of the Conejo derive from seeing their grown children follow in their parents’ footsteps, devoting themselves to a life of service to the Jewish community – especially the communities they grew up in. He cited Rabbi Eli and Rochel (Bryski) Laber, Rabbi Laibel and Chana Stery (Bryski) Kahanov and Rabbi Mendy and Mushka (Sapochkinsky) Friedman as examples of this phenomenon – with the Labers serving as directors of the Friendship Circle, the Kahanvos serving as spiritual leaders in Agoura Hills and directors of the Sunshine Club, and the Friedmans serving as directors of youth activities and the C-Teen program.
Even as the messages of nostalgia and inspiration established the theme and purpose of the evening, the speeches occupied a relatively small portion of the concert program, the bulk of which consisted of a masterful performance by the three giant voices and dynamic personalities of the Kol Esperanza trio – Nimrod Grinboim, Nadav Inbar and Omer Shaish – and their world-class producer, Tomer Addadi. With a repertoire that included Jewish and Israeli favorites, such as Gesher Tzar Meod, Yesh Tikvah, Shema Yisroel and Yerushalayim shel Zahav, stirring operatic pieces and showtune classics, the exhilarating music brought the audience to their feet several times throughout the night.
One thrilled audience member at the post-concert dessert reception summed up the evening as follows, “A powerful combination of Yiddishkeit… Jewish pride, unity and entertainment at its best… It was a real celebration!”