By ALAN SMASON
Amid hundreds of supporters and well wishers, the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana held its major annual event on Sunday evening, October 6, at the Grand Salon of the Hilton Hotel Riverside. The spotlight was on on the Cahns – a family of philanthropists, whose quiet and ongoing support of Jewish community institutions was hallowed. Also honored with special awards were three key Jewish community leaders – Rabbi Yehuda Schiller, Larry Lehmann and Alan Franco.
The inspirational keynote address was delivered by motivational speaker Loren Galler Rabinowitz, a 27-year -old medical school student, whose résumé includes poetess, classical pianist as well as titles earned as an international ice dancer and a pageant participant in the 2011 Miss America contest. She was the first Jewish participant vying for the title of Miss America since Bess Myerson had won it 65 years earlier.
Galler Rabinowitz’s talk titled “Surviving, Thriving and Making a Difference,” highlighted the story of her grandparents, Henry and Eva Galler of blessed memory. Both Gallers were Holocaust survivors, who were sweethearts living in Poland before the war. They were separated and, despite all the odds against it, found each other and were married shortly before immigrating to the United States and moving to New Orleans.
Galler Rabinowitz noted that the date for her grandfather’s headstone unveiling in New Orleans coincided with the same date as the JEF event. “For the first time since Katrina my aunts, my mom and I – the Galler girls – are back in New Orleans!” she beamed from the podium. “This is the best day ever,” she continued, “and I couldn’t have helped feeling my grandfather had something to do with it.”
Galler Rabinowitz spoke also of her grandparents’ story being the inspiration behind her involvement as a Holocaust activist and spokesperson for the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
After winning the title of Miss Massachusetts, she earned her scholarship money by meeting with schoolchildren throughout the state and informing them of the dangers and horrors of the Holocaust. “I realized I had an opportunity to educate,” she said.
“I made some very very good friends by telling my grandparents’ story,” she claimed.
Earlier in the evening, through a series of videos, JEF introduced honorees to the audience and their stories. The Cahn family’s involvement with giving began with acknowledgements to Jules and June Cahn of blessed memory, the parents of Richard and Jimmy Cahn, as well as their uncle, the late Emile “Sleepy” Cahn. Adele Cahn, his widow and aunt and great-aunt to others in attendance, could not join the event due to ill health.
Many Jewish community leaders including Sara Stone, Ned Goldberg of the Jewish Children’s Regional Service (JCRS) and Deena Gerber, the now-retired executive director of Jewish Family Service (JFS), spoke on the video about how the Cahns had given anonymously on several occasions.
“This is a remarkable family,” said Levy in presenting three large plaques to family members, “and we’re proud to call them our own.”
Rabbi Yonah Schiller received the Jewish Community Professional Award for his work as the executive director of the Tulane Hillel Center. Schiller was noted as having re-energized the Hillel House there and in particular was singled out for his work in realizing the $4 million capital campaign that resulted in the construction of the Goldie and Morris Mintz Center for Jewish Life on Broadway. That building is now used by Tulane University for regular academic classes in addition to housing a kosher kitchen and serving as a meeting place for Hillel activities.
Schiller’s efforts in bringing the center into fruition and engaging the students at Tulane has brought national attention to his leadership.
Larry Lehmann was presented the Young Family Award for Professional Excellence from his father, René Lehmann, also a previous recipient of the same award. When the elder Lehmann received his award over a decade ago, it was his son who made the presentation. This time the positions were reversed.
Larry Lehmann was singled out for his creation of Pilots for Patients, a group of local pilots who ferry injured and disabled patients to regional hospitals at no charge. According to Lehmann’s own estimates, the pilots have participated in over 1400 medical missions since they began.
Alan Franco, who recently retired as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, was presented with the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America) Endowment Achievement Award. Franco was cited for establishing a Jewish legacy and encouraging others to do so prior to, during and following his term of office at Federation. “It’s not a job for me,” he noted. “It’s truly a labor of love.”
Franco, a member of the JEF Board of Directors, noted he and his wife had set up a legacy fund for the future of the Jewish community in New Orleans. He urged audience members to consider doing the same. “I hope you will join us in this great endeavor,” he entreated.
Photos from the JEF’s 2013 Annual Event: