Brooklyn Jewish Hall of Fame 2019
“BJHI was created to tell the extraordinary story of the Jewish community of Brooklyn, so the world would know’ said Howard Teich, BJHI Founder and Co-chair, “and the BJHI Brooklyn Jewish Hall of Fame will recognize the leading Brooklynites who have truly made a difference in the world, and there are many.”
“We wanted to be sure that the first class had a representative balance,” said Sarina Roffé, BJHI Co-chair. “So we have someone from the Russian community, the Syrian community, etc., as well as business leaders, social activists and entertainers.”
Born in Brooklyn, Ruthie Berman earned koved as a pioneer, a prominent educator, and longtime LGBTQ activist with life-long partner and fellow activist and Brooklyn native, Connie Kurtz, until Connie’s death in 2018. Ruthie and Connie lived in Sheepshead Bay’s Contello Towers in the late 1950s with their husbands and children. Their friendship formed over their love for grassroots politics until, after 16 years, they realized that they were in love. Bravely bucking the conventional mores of the time, they divorced their husbands and embarked on a life-long relationship. After 37 years together, they married in NYC in July 2011, only 2 days after gay marriage became legal in the state. [expand title="Read More"] Together, Ruthie and Connie became an indestructible force in the LGBTQ community. For 44 years they were inseparable, so much as that you never heard the name “Ruthie” without “and Connie” attached, and vice versa. While Ruthie was a guidance counselor at a Brooklyn high school in the 1980s, she and Connie successfully sued the New York City Board of Education along with two other couples, to gain domestic partner benefits, establishing a vital precedent which eventually extended health benefits to all domestic partners in New York City in 1994. In 2002 they were the stars of the award-winning documentary film "Ruthie and Connie: Every Room In The House," that celebrated their landmark struggle for equal rights and garnered many film awards worldwide including 10 Best Film and Audience Awards. The film was directed by Brooklyn’s own three-time Academy Award nominee Deborah Dickson and photographed by 2018 BJHOF inductee Ferne Pearlstein. As prominent advocates for LGBTQ rights, Ruthie and Connie formed or were part of numerous organizations in New York and Florida fighting justice and equal rights for that community. In 2016, when Ruthie and Connie received an award from the advocacy group SAGE, the Miami Herald called them “perhaps the nation’s best-known senior lesbian couple.” Among the many honors and accolades they have received from around the world including from public officials of New York City and State, various national organizations, and Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, a bill in Congress was proposed in their name: The Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elders Law, which will be added to the federal Elders Law that has been in place since 1965. Between them, Ruthie and Connie have 20 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren and counting. In their documentary, Connie tried to explain the leap that she and Ruthie took back in the 1970s. “Why the hell would we go and make such a tremendous change in our lives, and certainly in the lives of those that we loved?” she said. “It wasn’t going from bad to something good. What we went for — what I went for — was completion.”[/expand] Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses Dianne Cohler-Esses is the first woman from the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn to become a rabbi, ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1995. She currently serves as Scholar in Residence at UJA Federation in New York. After graduating, she received a year-long fellowship to study with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and to teach and design curriculum at CLAL, the Center for Leadership and Learning. [expand title="Read More"]Subsequently she did advanced academic work in Midrash at the JTS and served as educational director for Mishpacha, an online education and support program for alienated Jewish families across America. She was director of a feminist retreat for Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project of the JCC in Manhattan and on the faculty for the Hebrew Union College Kollel, the JTS Hevrutah program, the Skirball Institute and the Bronfman Youth Fellowship. From 1998 until 2002, she was the co-director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowship and subsequently served as their senior educator until the summer of 2005.[/expand]
Dianne Cohler-Esses is the first woman from the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn to become a rabbi, ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1995. She currently serves as Scholar in Residence at UJA Federation in New York. After graduating, she received a year-long fellowship to study with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and to teach and design curriculum at CLAL, the Center for Leadership and Learning. [expand title="Read More"]Subsequently she did advanced academic work in Midrash at the JTS and served as educational director for Mishpacha, an online education and support program for alienated Jewish families across America. She was director of a feminist retreat for Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project of the JCC in Manhattan and on the faculty for the Hebrew Union College Kollel, the JTS Hevrutah program, the Skirball Institute and the Bronfman Youth Fellowship. From 1998 until 2002, she was the co-director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowship and subsequently served as their senior educator until the summer of 2005.[/expand]
From the Brooklyn playgrounds to the gyms of Thomas Jefferson High School, Jerry Domershick. was an inspiring leader. As a ballplayer when basketball was Jewish, Jerry was an elusive ball handler, tough defender, and reliable outside shooter. Throughout high school, college, and the pros, Jerry was noted for his outstanding play, excellent teamwork, and exceptional scoring. He began his career at Thomas Jefferson High School, where he led his team to the PSAL Championship in 1950 and was elected to the All-Brooklyn team. The next year, Jerry joined Nat Holman’s Beavers at City College of New York (CCNY). [expand title="Read More"] When scandal rocked his school and others in NYC, Jerry became captain of the CCNY quintet, an honor he held for an unprecedented three years! He won many honors, capped by selection to the College East-West All-Star Game in Madison Square Garden. Playing an up-tempo, fast break pace, favored by CCNY, he averaged 18 points per game with hard drives to the basket and long-distance set shots. The Milwaukee Bucks drafted him in 1954. Two years later he starred in the Eastern League. When playing days ended, Jerry joined the coaching ranks with a thirteen-year stint at his Alma Mater, CCNY. For many years he taught at Brooklyn’s Samuel J. Tilden High School. He was subsequently elected to the CCNY Hall of Fame and the Brownsville [please note] Hall of Fame. He is listed in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Athletes. Domershick was a long time, devoted member of his synagogue, the Malverne Jewish Center, where he served both as Trustee and Vice-President. Jerry married his college sweetheart, Terri who gifted him with three children, who in turn produced four grandchildren. During his late wife’s lingering illness, Jerry offered tender, loving care. and vital support.[/expand]
Joseph Dorinson is a retired professor in the History Department at Long Island University (LIU), where he had taught since 1966. Dorinson has co-edited a prize-winning (SABR) book, Jackie Robinson: Race, Sports and the American Dream (1999) derived from a memorable conference at the Brooklyn Campus in 1997, and has written numerous articles on a variety of subjects spanning his beloved borough of Brooklyn, Jewish History, black heroes, sports, politics, humor, and ethnicity. [expand title="Read More"]He has organized conferences at LIU on Jackie Robinson (1997), Brooklyn (1998) and Paul Robeson (1998). In 2000, during baseball’s first “Subway Series” since 1956, Dorinson appeared on television (CNN, Fox News, New York One); was heard on the radio (NPR, CBS, and WOR); and was profiled in the New York Times discoursing on blacks, “reds,” baseball, and the American experience. His book, Kvetching and Shpritzing: Jewish Humor in American Popular Culture was published by McFarland in October 2015.[/expand]
Devorah Halberstam is an American political activist who rose to prominence following the murder of her eldest child, Ari, in 1994 on the ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge, a segment of which is named in his memory.[expand title="Read More"] That horrific act of terror spurred this Hasidic woman of valor to engage in the fight against bigotry and anti-Semitism. Consequently, the mother of five children was awarded the FBI’s New York Division’s Director’s Community Leadership Award in 2009. Halberstam is one of the founders of the Jewish Children’s Museum, which was also dedicated in the memory of her son. As the Museum’s director of External Affairs, Halberstam promoted tolerance by educating children about Jews and Jewish culture. She is also a strong advocate for gun control.[/expand]
Yavila McCoy is the CEO of the Diversity consulting group DIMENSIONS Inc. Through Dimensions, Yavilah services an international portfolio of clients in the areas of Education, Philanthropy, and Social Justice. As an anti-racism activist with an international platform, Yavilah provides training and consulting to numerous social justice projects that span multiple identities and communities. Yavilah serves on the steering committee of the national Women’s March and has been a core part of many large-scale national movement teams, bringing a uniquely intersectional perspective to the ongoing work of racial justice and collective liberation. [expand title="Read More"] Yavilah is a pioneer of the Jewish diversity and equity movement and is an advocate and mentor for the empowerment of a transglobal community of Jews of Color. Yavilah was an inaugural recipient of the Spielberg Foundation’s Joshua Venture Fellowship and directed the launch of the “Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project” for Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Ruderman Family Foundation. Yavilah also directed the Bronfman Philanthropy’s Curriculum Initiative in Boston, where she provided educational consultancy to 600 prep schools across the nation. Yavilah was voted one of “16 Faith Leaders to Watch” by the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, is a certified coach for the Auburn Theological Seminary's Pastoral Coach Training Program and an inaugural fellow of the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle. Yavilah is a renowned national speaker, educator, and spiritual practitioner. In celebration of the musical traditions passed down to her from three generations of her African-American Jewish family, she is also the writer, producer and performer of the Jewish Gospel theatrical production “The Colors of Water.”[/expand]
Bruce ‘Cousin Brucie’ Morrow
Bruce ‘Cousin Brucie’ Morrow was born and educated in Brooklyn, from elementary school, P.S. 206 to James Madison HS. After leaving Brooklyn College, he matriculated as a communications major at New York University, where he convinced a dean to initiate a radio station, WCAG and a media star was born. Morrow’s radio career spanned many stations from WINS (AM) in 1959 to WABC (AM) where he rode a rising wave of rock and roll to super stardom. [expand title="Read More"]After 13 years at WABC, our favorite cousin branched out to form a group of radio stations from NJ to NY, MASS to CT, garnering a multitude of fans along the way. He returned to WCBS radio, where he served as a celebrated disk jockey until 2005. In addition to radio, ‘Cousin Bruce’ appeared in film and on TV. Now situated on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, the “Cuz” continues to spin music with winning high energy verbal magic to millions of listeners. Not only has Bruce Morrow been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, he has excelled in a core value of the Jewish tradition, Tzedakah by raising funds for PBS and needy children. As a volunteer, he reads books for the blind and visually impaired. Bruce Morrow is a true mensch for all seasons.[/expand]
Michael Chaim Nelson
Michael Chaim Nelson is a former Councilman from the New York City Council’s 48th District, covering the Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Homecrest, and Brighton Beach sections of Brooklyn. He grew up in the Seagate section of Brooklyn attended local public schools, served in the military and became active in local politics. [expand title="Read More"]Elected to School Board District 21, he won friends and influenced people. He also served as an aide to then Congressman Charles Schumer. After Anthony Weiner moved up to Congress to replace Chuck Schumer in the House of Representatives, He won the seat in 1999. Due to term limits, he left office in December 2013 and was replaced by fellow Democrat Chaim Deutsch on January 1, 2014. He now manages a senior citizen facility. He offered financial support in the City Council to our BJHI during our fledgling period.[/expand]
Rabbi Hara Person
Rabbi Hara Person is the Chief Strategy Officer of Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). She works with CCAR leadership and members to produce books and other publications for rabbis, congregations, and the Jewish community. She also oversees the publication of the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly. Rabbi Person was ordained in 1998 from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, after graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College (1986) and receiving an MA in Fine Arts from New York University’s International Center of Photography (1992). [expand title="Read More"]Before coming to the CCAR, Rabbi Person was the Editor-in-Chief of URJ Books and Music, where she was responsible for the revision of The Torah: A Modern Commentary (2005) and the publication of many other significant projects. While at URJ, she was also the Managing Editor of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, named the National Jewish Book Award Book of the Year in 2008. Rabbi Person is the executive editor of Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe, editor of Machzor: Challenge and Change, Vol. 1, Mishkan T’filah for the House of Mourning, and Voices of Torah. She is also the executive editor of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate, named the 2016 winner of the National Jewish Book Awards in Women’s Studies. Rabbi Person is also the author of several books and her essays and poems have been published in various anthologies and journals. Since 1998, Rabbi Person has been the High Holy Days rabbi of Congregation B’nai Olam, Fire Island Pines, NY, and she has been named adjunct rabbi at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, where she teaches adult education classes. Rabbi Person lives in Brooklyn, NY, and is the mother of two young adults.[/expand]
Born in New York City, Andy Statman played the guitar and banjo at age 12. Attending Franconia College in New Hampshire, Andy opted for a career in music and dropped out of this highly innovative school. Rediscovering his Jewish roots, he studied klezmer music under the tutelage of the late, celebrated clarinetist, Dave Taras. Statman formed a trio and the rest is a history of wonderful concerts with Itzhak Perlman and Grammy nominated records coupled with enriching annual “gigs” at BJHI induction ceremonies. [expand title="Read More"]Married with four children and 14 grandchildren, Andy Statman named a National Heritage Fellow in 2012. Let us strike up the band, in the Gershwin groove, for this remarkable man of music.[/expand].
Judge Jack Weinstein
Born in Wichita on Aug. 10, 1921, Judge Jack Weinstein was raised and educated in Brooklyn at Abraham Lincoln High School and Brooklyn College. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy as Lieutenant on a submarine from 1943-45. Upon his return, he graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1948. Working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Weinstein contributed to the historic Brown vs Board of Education decision, which integrated public education throughout our nation.[expand title="Read More"] Appointed federal judge to the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, he served from 1980 to 1988 and continued in this capacity as a senior associate. He also served a Professor of Law at Columbia, his alma mater, from 1952 to 1998 and as an Adjunct Professor at the Brooklyn Law School since 1987. Author of books on articles and books on the rule of, frequently flouted across the globe, Judge Weinstein is no stranger to criticism from tobacco lobbyists and NRA extremists. Nevertheless, his salutary judgments, to echo the hopeful words of Dr. King, has bent the arc of history, in concert with core Jewish values, to social justice.[/expand]
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Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative (BJHI, Inc) is a 501c3 organization incorporated in New York State and located at 3603 Quentin Road, Brooklyn, NY 11234