Posted by: Ralph Grunewald, Executive Vice President on 5/29/2007 3:24:00 PM
On May 21, at the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, we held the first Renaissance Award Gala. It was my first event of its kind since I came to Hillel, and I wanted to share with you the excitement from that evening, where we honored three of our leading philanthropists, Hillel International Board of Governors Co-Chairs Lynn Schusterman and Michael Steinhardt, and Board member Charles Bronfman.
The setting for the cocktail reception was fabulous, as the 700+ guests strolled from food station to food station under the watchful gaze of enormous dinosaur skeletons. A klezmer band played in one corner as we were able to meet and greet our many donors and supporters. Most of our senior leaders and Board members were in attendance, and it was clear that this was a very special evening. Between bites of sushi and vegetable dumplings, Tom Blumberg, chair of our New York Committee, came up to me and said that while there were at least two other major fund-raisers that evening in New York City, the “who’s who” decided to attend our Hillel event – and this, he said, spoke volumes about how well Hillel is regarded.
We then proceeded downstairs for dinner to the magnificent Millstein Hall of Ocean Life (the “whale room”), where dozens of tables were set up directly underneath the model of a gargantuan blue whale, the largest creature to have ever inhabited earth. It was a spectacular scene, dimly lit, beautifully decorated, and with lovely flower centerpieces. Wayne Firestone gave a terrific speech using the theme of two words – “what if” – and how those two words have inspired our honorees to envision the future of the Jewish people and Hillel. Edgar Bronfman also played a prominent role that evening, as chair of our International Board of Governors and of the event. The three honorees were introduced by members of their families. Lynn Schusterman presented “10 Reasons Why I Love Hillel,” and Charles Bronfman spoke about his involvement with Taglit-birthright israel and the special role Hillel has played in its success, and challenged us to increase the number of our students attending the number even higher. Michael Steinhardt challenged us in a different way, striking a more reflective tone about the difficulties and obstacles he sees in the future for the Jewish people, but acknowledged the special role Hillel must play.
The evening resulted in more than $2 million in donations for Hillel, as we met and slightly exceeded our fundraising goal for the night. This sort of event – with its many weeks of planning, the hard work of encouraging people to attend and to make sizable donations, and the production itself – takes many people to succeed. Wayne, Tim Cohen, Eran Gasko, and other members of the Development Department staff worked for months leading up to the event in terms of reaching our fundraising goal. Special mention needs to go to Joy Prevor, in our New York City office, who played the leading role in ensuring our financial success. She also worked tirelessly in many other aspects of the program, and it is wonderful to have a special colleague like Joy who sets such a high bar for herself and does so with perfection and professionalism. Jeff Rubin and his staff also played a leading role in terms of the production of the program and the script, and our own Shannon Sarna did a terrific job on stage as part of the evening’s presentation.
We can all take great pride in the results of this year’s gala – and the fact that there were so many colleagues who worked together in its success. It is no small achievement to raise $2 million, and sometimes it is good to take a moment to realize that our work, day in and day out, is meaningful to our financial supporters, and that they acknowledge its importance by providing us with the financial resources to continue our work.
RE: In the Whale Room for Hillel
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