By: Sara Nuta, Michelle Sabbagh, Jonathan Shabshaikhes
With esteemed dignitaries, communal leaders and artwork created by children presented as awards, the Annual Shema Kolainu Legislative Breakfast wrapped up as another wonderful success in 2015. Speakers from all over New York City delivered inspiring addresses pledging their support for the special needs community.
An elated Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Founder and President of Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices – a school and center for children with Autism, delivered opening remarks announcing, “Shema Kolainu has grown from a local institution to a global one […] The mission of Shema Kolainu is to allow children with autism to enjoy a better life and a better future […] We have seen such a tremendous amount of success stories from the kids.”
The breakfast was co-chaired by Abe Biderman, President of Met Council on Jewish Poverty and Abe Eisner, Chairman of HASC Center. Menachem Lubinsky andKalman Yeger were the masters of ceremony which featured a wide array of elected officials and community activists from across New York.
Shema Kolainu proudly honored Dr. Merryl H. Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, NYC Councilmember Andrew Cohen, and Zelig Friedman of The Tantzers.
Dr. Joshua Weinstein and Abe Biderman presented the award to Dr. Merryl H. Tisch who was honored for her commitment to children with autism. Dr. Weinstein described Tisch as a devoted, passionate leader, “It’s an honor for Shema Kolainu to have someone who understands education, who understands children, but more so understands children with disabilities and feels for their rights to become who they are and who they can be,” said Weinstein.
NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina celebrated Dr. Tisch’s profound dedication to serving disabled children. “Her [Dr. Tisch)] interest above all is children with special needs,” said Farina who previously worked alongside Dr. Tisch.
Upon receiving this award, Dr. Tisch discussed the frustration, anxiety, and uncertainty endured by parents of special needs children. She said, “We cannot fix what G-d has done, we must accept it. But what we can do is stand up to help every family and every child in these most challenging circumstances.” She closed with the Shema Kolainu blessing in Hebrew and explained how those words resonate with her daily.
NYC Councilmember Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Council’s Mental Health Committee, received the Appreciation Award presented by Councilmember David Greenfield. “Andrew Cohen singlehandedly saved millions of dollars for mental health services” said Greenfield.
Councilman Cohen is bestowed with this award in recognition of his leadership, ensuring that the Council continues to allocate funding for the Autism Awareness Initiative, as well as his tireless efforts to ensure that New Yorkers living with disabilities continue to be represented and guaranteed equal rights. Councilman Cohen said he was “very touched” by receiving this distinction.
Traditionally, the annual breakfast features a community based organization and this year was no different. Peter Rebenwurzel, Chairman of the Board of Shema Kolainu, presented this honor to Zelig Friedman, founder of The Tantzers. The Tantzers is a group of volunteers of over 150 men and 50 women, whose purpose is to bring joy, strength, hope, and a feeling of being cared about to all people with special needs.
A prominent board member, Milton Weinstock, introduced NYC Public Advocate Letitia James. She highlighted the esteemed work that Shema Kolainu does and how it “Allows the children to feel the sunshine.”
Councilmember Mark Levine commended Shema Kolainu for advancing, “The notion that every child is precious, every life has dignity, every young person can learn and grow if they are given the love and care and the support that they need.”
Tali Farhadian Weinstein, an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District NY, delivered warm greetings, and emphasized the importance of a quality education for all types of children.
Assemblyman David Weprin also stated his support for Shema Kolainu and congratulated Dr. Tisch. Other prominent elected officials in the audience included NYS Senator Simcha Felder and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz.
An atmosphere of warmth and collaborative effort permeated the hall. The breakfast was a true success and testimony to the spirit of keeping autism awareness and the education of autistic children alive.
L-R: NYS Assemblymember Dov Hikind, NYS Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, NYC Councilmember Mark Levine, Peter Rebenwurzel, Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Ezra Friedlander, NYC Councilmember David Greenfield, NYC Councilmember Andrew Cohen, Menachem Lubinksy, Milton Weinstock, Abe Eisner, NYS Assemblyman David Weprin