Debrah's Blog

Chai Lifeline Welcomes its First Companion Robot in Canada

Chai Lifeline Welcomes its First Companion Robot in Canada

We’ve seen therapy cats, dogs, horses and now — robots?

Earlier this year, Chai Lifeline announced that it would be launching Zenbo, a companion robot, to help Toronto-area children stay spirited in the face of illness and isolation. This cheerful bot was programmed by the Faculty of Business and Information Technology at Ontario Tech to provide specialized support, entertainment, and educational opportunities to sick children. According to a report from the Globe and Mail, the pilot project will last six months and connect several families with Zenbo tech. 

Organizers for Chai Lifeline have made no secret of their excitement for the innovative initiative, noting that given the severe impact that loneliness and isolation can have on a patient — and particularly a child — the day-to-day social support that Zenbo stands to offer is significant. 

“This is an opportunity for us to give a child a friend who can’t get that child sick,” Mordechai Rothman, Chai Lifeline Canada’s executive director, told a reporter for the Canadian Jewish News. “It doesn’t come with any germs, and it’s a companion to play with.”

The robot’s supportive capabilities align neatly with Chai Lifeline’s driving mission: to provide emotional, social, and financial support to families living with severe pediatric illness and loss. 

Over the past two-plus decades, the nonprofit has developed far beyond its roots as a summer-camp program to become one of the foremost international health support networks. Chai Lifeline reports that between 2017 and 2018 alone, it helped 5,552 children and families, delivered 79,271 meals, and offered 354 workshops in schools, camps, and communities. Now, the nonprofit hopes that Zenbo will empower the organization to provide a new level of meaningful support to families in their day-to-day lives. 

That hope seems well-positioned for success. While Zenbo wasn’t explicitly designed for Chai Lifeline, it was conceptualized as a companion. The Taiwanese technology giant Asus launched the AI-powered robot in 2016 with the intention of bringing an empathetic, supportive, and fully automated presence to mass-market consumers. 

“For decades, humans have dreamed of owning such a companion: one that is smart, dear to our hearts, and always at our disposal,” ASUS chairman Jonney Shih told reporters for the Guardian. “Our ambition is to enable robotic computing for every household.”

The project’s empathetic intentions make Zenbot an ideal prototype for Chai Lifeline. The robot is already approachable, with a pleasant oval face, round body, and large eyes. It is also capable of interacting with humans — it can recognize faces, navigate in-room obstacles, remember conversational details, and even engage in basic empathetic discussion. 

In fact, Miguel Martin, the leading professor for Ontario Tech’s partnership with Chai Lifeline, told Canadian Jewish News that the pursuit of empathy was a significant area of focus for his team. 

“One of the things we are working on is creating artificial empathy, so the robot gets to empathize with the human, learn their moods based on the vocals and body language,” Martin said. “Even by the choice of words, they should know how the human is feeling and then try and help the human in the best possible way.”

If the pilot program for Chai Lifeline’s friendly robot succeeds in providing support to the children and families who need it the most, Zenbos may just become a staple presence in hospitals and households. After all — for a family struggling to navigate pediatric illness, even a little help can go a long way.


How Debrah Lee Charatan Made Family History a Philanthropic Legacy

How Debrah Lee Charatan Made Family History a Philanthropic Legacy

This article, by Gillian Wood, was originally published on Medium.

Ask a philanthropist why they started giving, and you’ll usually find that they have a story to tell. In Debrah Lee Charatan’s case, that story isn’t hers, but her parents’.

Charatan, a real estate expert and NYC-based entrepreneur, is no stranger to nonprofit work. She is the founder of the Charatan Family Foundation, which provides support to art, cultural, medical, and other humanitarian causes in the greater New York City area. She also stands on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Real Estate Council. Over the years, Charatan’s generosity has extended to a plethora of causes, including the Rainforest Foundation, the Friendship Circle, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Park East Synagogue, Chabad of Southampton, and the Jewish Museum.

Debrah Lee Charatan’s philanthropic efforts are diverse — and yet, one cause stands above the rest in her giving history: remembering and supporting those impacted by the Holocaust.

While Charatan herself grew up in Queens, New York, her parents were born in Europe. Both managed to survive the horrors of the Holocaust, but ultimately lost their homes, family members, and sense of security. The pair met in Munich after the war ended; they married and immigrated to New York City in 1949. Though her parents rarely reflected on their experiences during the Holocaust, the genocide cast a shadow over Charatan’s family history. She came to be both acutely aware of her heritage and motivated to honor survivors like her parents.

In addition to providing financial support to the organizations mentioned above, Debrah Lee Charatan also serves as the vice-chair of the board of trustees for the Selfhelp Community Services Organization, a senior care nonprofit that provides care to Holocaust survivors and others in need. Currently, the organization cares for well over 4,500 elderly and frail individuals.

As Selfhelp describes its mission on its website, “Selfhelp’s services for Holocaust survivors honor the sacred pledge made by our founders: to serve as the last surviving relative to victims of Nazi persecution. This promise remains our imperative. Our overarching goal is to provide Holocaust survivors with the services they need so that they may live with the comfort and dignity they so richly deserve.”

Selfhelp’s directives matter to Charatan because she has seen firsthand how difficult it can be for seniors to navigate their sunset years without the support of long-established family networks. She has stood with the organization for years, offering business guidance and financial support.

Last September, Selfhelp honored Debrah Lee Charatan with the opportunity to name one of the organization’s newest buildings after her parents. The dedication was incredibly meaningful to her.

“Dedicating this building seemed like the perfect way to honor the memory of my parents,” Charatan shared during the opening ceremony for the building. “For these residents, this place is a castle, just as our small apartment was to my parents. It is a home — one where people who live together care about one another and can share the daily joys of life.”

Debrah Lee Charatan’s philanthropic legacy will have a profound positive impact not only on the Holocaust survivors that Selfhelp serves but our society as a whole. Her work with historical organizations such as the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum help preserve the harsh reality of the Holocaust for future generations.

“I have spent my life honoring the stories of those who lost their lives to the Holocaust,” Charatan reflected on her work in an article for Thrive Global. “I believe that sharing those experiences, accepting them, was the only way that we could avoid such tragedies in the future.”

As philanthropic legacies go, it’s certainly an honorable one.

The Lincoln Center Announces A New Cohort of Emerging Artists

The Lincoln Center Announces A New Cohort of Emerging Artists

On November 13th, the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts officially announced the members of its Emerging Artists cohort for 2020. The annual class sources its members from the Lincoln Center’s 11 resident organizations and recognizes the incredible talent and potential that the rising stars bring to New York City’s artistic community. Over the past several decades, the Emerging Artist award has highlighted over a hundred promising artists from a broad span of disciplines. This year’s cohort includes singers, composers, dancers, musicians, and filmmakers alike — all of whom were individually nominated by the Lincoln Center’s artistic leadership. 

The soon-to-be-awardees will receive their honors and an additional $7,500 in career development prize money at a gala, which will be held at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, February 26th. Many of the recipients will perform during the celebration, and all will be present during the festivities. 

The celebration is more than a party for the Lincoln Center’s leadership. As Henry Timms, President and CEO of the Lincoln Center for the Performance Arts, commented for an article published in Broadway World, “The arts are fundamental to our world, and it is Lincoln Center’s responsibility to support the voices of diverse, fearless, and extraordinary artists.”

This year’s gala will be co-hosted by the Lincoln Center Awards’ current presenting sponsor, the Movado Group Foundation. The Foundation is the charitable arm of the eponymous American watchmaking firm. The organization provides considerable financial support to the Lincoln Center’s artistic efforts and will additionally give each award recipient a Movado watch. 

The Emerging Artist awards won’t be the only accolades delivered at the gala. Two recipients will also accept the Martin E. Segal Award, which has spotlighted two exceptionally talented rising artists every year since 1986. Another artist will receive the Hunt Family Award, which is traditionally awarded to the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts’ Emerging Artist nominee. 

The upcoming gala has two intentions — first, to recognize the accomplishments of the Lincoln Center’s artistic community, and second, to celebrate the five decades that the organization has provided support to its 11 constituent organizations. The money raised from the event will go to support the emerging artists’ future productions, support new artistic programming, and allow the Lincoln Center to host free performances on its campus. 

Tickets and sponsorship opportunities for the February 26th event are currently available on the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund’s website. These funding slots are available at several price points. Levels include the Friend Ticket ($1,500), the Award Underwriter ($7,500), the Supporter ($15,000), the Benefactor ($25,000), and the Gold Sponsor ($50,000). According to the Fund’s website, over 450 corporate organizations currently enjoy the benefits of sponsorship. These include but are not limited to: “use of Lincoln Center’s premiere ticketing concierge service; invitations to donor events and open rehearsals; listing in the Annual Report, website, and all Lincoln Center Playbills.” 

The gala will undoubtedly be something to look forward to — both for the celebration itself, and what it represents for New York’s artistic community. 

Below, find a full list of the 2020 Award recipients and their nominating organizations.

Lileana Blain-Cruz 

Lincoln Center Theater

Stella Chen 

The Juilliard School

Tessa Clark 

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts 

Hunt Family Award

Emily D’Angelo 

The Metropolitan Opera

Ruby Lister 

School of American Ballet 

Martin E. Segal Award

Sebastian Manz 

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Riley Mulherkar 

Jazz at Lincoln Center 

Martin E. Segal Award

Akosua Adoma Owusu 

Film at Lincoln Center

Unity Phelan 

New York City Ballet

Ellen Reid 

New York Philharmonic

Jennifer Ashley Tepper 

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts


Americans and the Holocaust Exhibit Receives National Tour

Americans and the Holocaust Exhibit Receives National Tour

In the first week of October, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and the American Library Association (ALM) released a list of the fifty libraries selected to host a touring version of the USHMM’s Americans and the Holocaust exhibition, which will make its first stop in early 2020 and continue its travels for two years. 

The published list is the culmination of months of careful consideration from both organizations. During the program’s two-month application period, more than 250 libraries from across the country vied for the tour’s 50 available spots. The review process was thorough; all applicants underwent a competitive and peer-reviewed process which, according to a press release from the ALM, “considered community demographics, library outreach plans, and the availability of other Holocaust-related educational opportunities in the library’s region, among other factors.”

The interest in the touring program — and the care taken in determining its hosts — makes sense, given that the traveling exhibit is based on one of USHMM’s most compelling exhibitions. Also titled Americans and the Holocaust, the original display opened in 2018 and marked the museum’s 25th anniversary. As the name suggests, Americans and the Holocaust explores fears and factors that influenced Americans’ reactions to both Nazism and the oppression and murder of European Jews during the 1930s and ’40s. It also wholly dispels the myth that Americans were unaware of the persecution Jews faced during the time. 

The exhibition asked: “What did the US government and the American people know about the threats posed by Nazi Germany? What responses were possible? And when?”

“Visitors will be surprised at how much Americans knew about Nazism and the Holocaust and how early they knew it,” curator Daniel Greene shared in a press release about the original exhibition. “The exhibition also shows what else was on Americans’ minds as they learned about these threats, from great economic insecurity to the isolationist sentiment in the wake of World War I and national security fears during World War II.”

The goal, Green says, is to compel visitors to think about the events of the time without the benefit — or reassurance — of hindsight. The experience is often thought-provoking, if at times heart-wrenching. As museum director Sara J. Bloomfield describes, “Americans and the Holocaust will challenge visitors to think about both the missed opportunities to save lives and the impact of those few individuals who took action.”

Or, to quote the museum’s explanation of the exhibition’s research and message, “The United States alone could not have prevented the Holocaust, but more could have been done to save some of the six million Jews who were killed.”

It’s a brutally direct truth — and one that some libraries feel perfectly-oriented to share. 

“Libraries are vital centers for lifelong learning, convening, and conversation, and they are the perfect venues to host this important and powerful exhibition,” ALA president Wanda Brown asserted in a recent press release.

In this way, the ALA is helping further the exhibitions’ fundamental purpose — to make us think not only about what was or wasn’t done in the past, but what could be done when tragedy rears its head in the future. 

A full list of participating libraries can be found on the ALA’s website. 

Maintaining Awareness of Antisemitism Can Help Us Heal It

Maintaining Awareness of Antisemitism Can Help Us Heal It

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, many people across the world reacted in shock at the news and photographs documenting the brutality suffered by the Jewish people in concentration camps across Europe. As Jewish support groups and organizations cropped up in its aftermath, many seemed convinced that the world had learned an important lesson, and the ethnic-based violence and bigotry that caused the Holocaust would steadily decrease.

Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case. 

Across the globe, antisemitic attacks on the Jewish community continue to inflict major human rights violations. The Associated Press reported that across the world, antisemitic attacks had grown by 13 percent in 2018. In New York City alone, antisemitic hate crimes rose by 63 percent in 2019 compared to last year. What’s more, anti-Jewish rehtoric has been spewed by domestic and foreign leaders alike while a whopping one-third of Americans don’t believe that six million Jews perished in the Holocaust.

This violence and ignorance is truly staggering. I believe one of the most effective ways to fight back against this hatred and disbelief is through education and awareness. 

At the US Holocaust Memorial Luncheon earlier this year, my fellow industry colleagues and I sought to bridge the gap between ignorance and awareness by promoting the conversation surrounding antisemitism advocacy.  

The US Holocaust Memorial Luncheon 

In March, I hosted the eighth annual New York Real Estate luncheon at the US Holocaust Museum with real estate executives Jeffrey Feil (The Feil Organization), Lloyd Goldman (BLDG Management) and Alan Lazowski (LAZ Parking). The event was a wonderful opportunity for over 100 top real estate executives to learn how to help combat antisemitism in our communities. 

Jeffrey Feil, my colleague and fellow host, says, “With the global resurgence of antisemitic violence, rhetoric and vandalism, there is a dire need to bring the mission of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum outside of its walls in Washington, DC, to those who do not have the opportunity to visit the Museum firsthand.”

During the event, we were honored to hear from historian Deborah E. Lipstadt, who currently serves as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and chair of the Anti-semitism and Holocaust Denial committee. During her speech, Lipstadt discussed her most recent book, “Anti-semitism: Here and Now”. The book details the rise of enduring hatred and how antisemitism is a gateway toward other forms of bigotry, hatred and ethnic and racial violence. As the New York Times explains, the book is meant not to break new academic ground, but bring awareness to the scope of antisemitic threats across the globe.

Awareness Can Bring Us Out of the Dark

At any age, people have the ability to learn right from wrong. It’s important that throughout every industry and every educational system, we continue to spread awareness on antisemitic attacks. UNESCO cites raising awareness as a way governments can support the effort. By helping leaders, criminal justice officials and the general public understand the impact of antisemitism, we can make strides to challenge that hatred through capacity-building and education. This kind of awareness helps authorities recognize and investigate incidents, provide evidence of the security needs in Jewish communities, and reassure them by offering solidarity in times of attacks or threats.

It is my hope that by continuing to bring awareness of these attacks to our communities, small and large, we can reshape the systems that support antisemitism and help heal it from the inside out. No longer should anyone have to hide or live in fear of practicing their faith or representing their heritage. As we advocate for better ways to root out prejudice, our conversations of tolerance and love can set the tone for societal transformation, helping to safeguard and honor Jewish communities across the globe. 

While we still have much work to end antisemitism, I encourage executives, no matter their industry, to continue holding conversations of support and connection to Jewish and other minority communities so that we can create a more equal and tolerant world.

How the 1964 New York World’s Fair Helped Create the Lincoln Center

How the 1964 New York World’s Fair Helped Create the Lincoln Center

When the New York World’s Fair opened in 1964, its long-lasting influence would not only extend to the far reaches of the nation, but it would also leave a lasting impact on one of New York City’s most iconic landmarks: Lincoln Center

Although the World’s Fair was stationed in Flushing, Queens, Lincoln Center served as the official performing arts venue during the exposition’s run. Many may be surprised to learn that the arrangement itself was the impetus for creating Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater, later renamed the David H. Koch Theater in 2008. 

While Lincoln Center and the World’s Fair became an important alliance in the history of the city, the story of the center’s creation also begins with an equally important relationship.

A Valuable Partnership

The partnership between the Fair and Lincoln Center can be traced back to September 1959. 

Robert Moses, then Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Parks, suggested to John D. Rockefeller, the president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA), that the center’s campus would make a more convenient locale for some of the festival’s performances — more so than the temporary buildings at Queen’s Flushing Meadows. 

One reason to establish LCPA as a satellite site was to accommodate visitors while also offering theater-goers superior acoustics and the convenience of city nightlife. At first, Rockefeller seemed apprehensive about the proposal because Lincoln Center was only 113 days old with a campus that was still largely a field of turned dirt.

Fortunately, Rockefeller saw the mutual benefit in supporting supplemental programming for both the Fair and Lincoln Center. As a result, Reginald Allen was appointed Operations Director to oversee plans for the development project, which would eventually create Lincoln Center’s now-famous theaters that hosted the World’s Fair programming. While not completed until the late 1960s, the Metropolitan Opera House and The Juilliard School were constructed in anticipation of the event.

Funding a Future Cultural Center 

By 1960, the New York State Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, saw the advantages of constructing new performance buildings and started to seek state funding for the project. LCPA itself sought $15 million in grants, which New York state was ready to approve as long as the city matched its contribution. The investment would cover the cost of construction for the Theater for Dance, while the residual funds would be later applied to the Library Museum.

In 1961, the New York State Legislature passed a bill to provide funding for the Theater for Dance, now called the David H. Koch Theater, and by mid-April the World’s Fair Commission and the LCPA officially agreed that Lincoln Center would be the Fair’s main host for opera, symphonies, ensemble music, ballet and theater.

However, the project still had one more obstacle to overcome. During the announcement for the state legislation, General Maxwell D. Taylor, the LCPA’s president, lamented that New York City had not yet established the support to match the state’s contribution. Luckily, his hopeful speech fostered the diligence and patience needed to generate the City Council’s approval in August 1962.

A Landmark is Born

With this new funding, a cultural center was born that would help to advance New York as a theater city, differentiating it from the cabaret and Broadway shows it had so closely been admired for over the previous decades.

During the World’s Fair, the center hosted programs that marked William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday and featured an impressive lineup of international and domestic performances. 

After the event, the bulk of the programming between 1964 and 1965 was credited to the New York City Ballet, which opened with a performance of Stars and Stripes in the New York State Theater (Koch Theater) on April 23, 1964.

Today, the David H. Koch Theater has stood for over five and a half decades, bringing in 5 million visitors each year and hosting some of Lincoln Center’s main attractions that serve as a nexus for excellence in dance and performing arts. From traditional Chinese dances to jazz and gospel performances, the venue continues to showcase the global heritage originally promoted during the 1964 World’s Fair. Thanks to the advent of this major historic event, we have a permanent icon that offers a rich artistic heritage and identity for New Yorkers and a cultural touch point for audiences all around the world. 

A Journey into the Past and Reflections on the Future: The Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Auschwitz Exhibit

A Journey into the Past and Reflections on the Future: The Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Auschwitz Exhibit

In May, the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust opened up its much anticipated Auschwitz exhibit to the public. Titled “Auschwitz: Not long ago, Not far away,” the New York City exhibition is the most comprehensive showcase on Auschwitz that’s ever been shown in North America. It also marks the seventy-fourth anniversary of the Jewish liberation from the infamous concentration camp.

Exploring the camp’s dual identity as a historical preservation site and as a symbol of how hatred and human barbarity impact us today, the exhibit has already brought over 200,000 visitors through its doors within its first couple months of opening.

Taking a Journey through the Past

The exhibit offers visitors an in-depth look into the perils and tragedies that Jewish prisoners faced. Comprised of historical artifacts, it details Jewish life and culture in pre-war Europe up through the rise of Nazism in WWII. As visitors progress through the exhibition, each room chronologically recounts the transformation of Auschwitz from a Polish town known as Oswiecim to the largest documented mass-murder site in human history, where an estimated one million people were killed.

Before even stepping into the exhibit, visitors will catch a haunting glimpse of a German, Model 2 freight-train car which transferred Jews to ghettos and concentration camps in occupied Poland during the war. 

Inside the Auschwitz exhibit, visitors can explore twenty galleries filled with over 700 original objects on loan from over 20 institutions across the globe, including the Anne Frank House and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Hundreds of personal items like suitcases, shoes and eyeglasses from the era allow viewers to get an intimate glance into the life of the camp’s survivors and victims. Other artifacts on display include part of the original barracks for prisoners from the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp, gas masks and several possessions of S.S. officers. Over 400 photographs are also sourced, mainly from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. 

Unique to the NYC exhibition, The Museum of Jewish Heritage incorporates nearly 100 rare artifacts from its own collection that echo the experience of survivors and liberators who immigrated to the greater New York area after the war ended. Artifacts include: Alfred Kantor’s sketchbook and portfolio that contains over 150 original paintings and drawings from camps like Auschwitz and Theresienstadt; prisoner registration forms and IDs; personal letters; the trumpet that Louis Bannet (“the Dutch Louis Armstrong”) credited with saving his life while imprisoned in Auschwitz; and a Torah scroll rescued from the Bornplatz Synagogue in Hamburg, Germany.

The Exhibit’s Legacy and Impact

While the NYC exhibit continues to attract visitors, it has already left a lasting legacy for those who have experienced the exhibit’s message abroad. In a successful run at Madrid’s Arte Canal Exhibition Centre, it was expanded two times and attracted more than 600,000 attendees, making it one of the most visited exhibitions in Europe last year.

Bruce C. Ratner, the Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, says “As the title of the exhibit suggests, Auschwitz is not ancient history but living memory, warning us to be vigilant, haunting us with the admonition ‘Never Again.’ It is a prod to look around the world and mark the ongoing atrocities against vulnerable people.” 

As human rights violations increase across the globe today, the exhibit is more meaningful than ever. The Washington Post reported last year that two-thirds of Millennials don’t know about Auschwitz while one-third of Americans don’t believe 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust.

Ratner continues, “While we had all hoped after the Holocaust that the international community would come together to stop genocide, mass murder, and ethnic cleansing, these crimes continue. And there are more refugees today than at any time since the Second World War. So my hope for this exhibit is that it motivates all of us to make the connections between the world of the past and the world of the present, and to take a firm stand against hate, bigotry, ethnic violence, religious intolerance, and nationalist brutality of all kinds.”

My own parents were Holocaust survivors, and museums and exhibits like these help keep me beholden to my heritage — past, present and future. Even so, the extraordinary retelling of Jewish history is not just important for those with Jewish heritage, but for people of all backgrounds to learn, remember and experience these stories so that we might find the empathy and power to help end the unjust persecutions that occur today.

You can visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s website to buy tickets to the Auschwitz exhibit which runs through January 3, 2020.

The Central Park Conservancy’s Women’s Committee Celebrates 35th Anniversary with Forever Green Fundraiser

The Central Park Conservancy’s Women’s Committee Celebrates 35th Anniversary with Forever Green Fundraiser

The Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2018, an event which is also seeing positive ripple effects into 2019. In honor of the occasion, the committee and the Central Park Conservancy’s Campaign, Forever Green: Ensuring the Future of Central Park, combined forces to raise a minimum of $5 million which helps fund the $10 million redevelopment initiative for the Conservatory Garden.

Located off Fifth Avenue between 104th to 106th Streets, Central Park’s six-acre Conservatory Garden remains the only formal garden in the entire park. While the garden is known for its lilac trees, gorgeous perennials and reblooming roses, its last significant restoration was in 1983, the same year the Women’s Committee was established. Since then, decades of weather and other damages have demanded the need for upgrades and repairs.

The Forever Green Restoration Initiative

The restoration project largely focuses on the redesign of the Conservatory Garden’s renowned horticultural elements and hardscapes, nearly all of which are original to the Garden’s 1937 construction. A network of new paths and plazas and infrastructure upgrades including walkway improvements, the modernization of the Untermeyer and Burnett fountains and the refurbishment of the Wisteria pergola.

According to the Central Park Conservancy’s brochure, the garden is known as one of the world’s greatest masterworks of formal garden design due to the expert design of the original founders. The Garden is divided into three smaller sections with distinct styles including Italian, French and English patterns with an iconic wrought-iron Vanderbilt Gate at the main entrance. It’s no surprise that the likes of Martha Stewart and Michael Bloomberg include themselves as supporters of the Conservatory Garden, often attending the annual Frederick Law Almstead Awards Luncheon, which raises funds for the park’s management and projects.

The Garden is a particularly significant project for the Women’s Committee as the horticultural direction has long been in the hands of notable women including Lynden Miller who led the site’s 1983 restoration, and long-time Garden curator Diane Schaub.

The Women’s Committee Blooming Legacy

Founded by Norma Dana in 1983, The Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy is comprised of a dynamic group of four women who dedicate their time to the beautification and preservation of Central Park and its many projects.

Today, the committee boasts over 1,000 members who spearhead programs that allow anyone to invest in the betterment of the park and its gardens. Since the group’s founding, they have raised over $175 million and have spearheaded projects like the revitalization of the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, two renovation projects at the Safari Playground, and the recreation of the urns at Bow Bridge.

The committee is part of a larger vision served by the private, not-for-profit Central Park Conservancy to preserve, restore and enhance Central Park in partnership with the local community. Their goal is to raise awareness and encourage investment in the green space.

Each year, they raise about 15 percent of the Conservancy’s $67 million annual budget through numerous membership and charitable events. Through the passion and dedication of these incredible women, we may still have this green space for decades to come.

If you wish to support to the Conservancy Garden’s restoration project, please donate at the link.

Debrah Lee Charatan Reflects on Holocaust Survivors’ Resilience

Debrah Lee Charatan Reflects on Holocaust Survivors’ Resilience

This article, by Talia Feldberg, was published on

New York holds a long tradition of embracing diverse immigrant communities who come to America seeking better lives. After World War II ended, the metropolitan area saw a substantial increase in Jewish immigrants, sheltering thousands of persecuted and displaced refugees. Today, many NYC charities and organizations still honor that legacy.

Selfhelp Community Services, a nonprofit organization founded in 1936 to help those fleeing Nazi Germany build lives in America, now provides support for the rent-burdened elderly. The Joseph and Pauline Charatan residence, located at 333 Lenox Road in Brooklyn, began moving in residents of all backgrounds, including half a dozen Holocaust survivors, during the winter of 2018. With a ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled for later this year, all residents are now settled into its 57 apartments.

Debrah Lee Charatan, a real estate veteran and Selfhelp chair member, sponsors the organization through her charity, The Charatan Family Foundation. Charatan has always been attracted to philanthropist pursuits surrounding Jewish heritage and culture, but the mission proved especially important to her being the daughter of Holocaust survivors for whom the residence is named.

Drawn to the inspiring stories of these survivors, Charatan is thrilled with Selfhelp’s unique ability to provide them, and all of its 65 tenants, with a full-time social worker to ensure each resident gets the care they need.

“For survivors who have experienced so much anguish in their lifetimes, it’s an honor to help care for residents so they can live happily and comfortably in their golden years,” says Charatan.

One such resident and survivor, Mr. P, was referred by Selfhelp’s Holocaust Survivor Program. Having previously lived in an overcrowded apartment where he slept on a couch, Mr. P is now overjoyed and grateful to have his own apartment at the Lenox Road residences where he serves as a translator for those who speak Russian.

“A lot of times these residents have no living family members or friends in the area, but Selfhelp allows them to stay active members within their own community,” says Debrah Lee Charatan.

Another resident and survivor, 81-year-old Mr. S, speaks Russian as his first language and Hungarian as his second. He moved to the United States to be closer to his son after having lived in Israel for 27 years where his wife passed away. In NYC, he ended up sharing a bedroom in a bad housing situation, paying more than 50 percent of his income on rent. At first, it was a struggle for Mr. S to move because he wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood and it was his first time living independently. But as they do for other residents, the Selfhelp team helped him get acquainted with the area, and introduced him to the neighborhood’s local grocery store and post office.

Debrah Lee Charatan believes that Selfhelp’s dedication to these residents helps make an already resilient group of survivors feel stronger through the independent lifestyles they provide while also giving them emotional support through a strong social community.

Mrs. Z, 79-years-old, is another survivor who faced rent insecurity before moving into the Lenox Road property. She paid more rent than her income allowed which became burdensome on her family. Overwhelmed and concerned she was losing her independence, she qualified for affordable housing through a special government program and now rents an apartment at a lower rate. Mrs. Z is happy she can remain financially independent.

“I think their stories are a beautiful testimony to how far they’ve come since the dire experiences of the Holocaust,” says Charatan. “To watch them rebuild their lives even when they haven’t had the means to do so, is truly inspiring.”

One of Selfhelp’s research projects found that by 2020, there will be over 38,000 Holocaust survivors who are over 75 years old — the age at which the cohort begins to require special services. This last generation is expected to have complex needs, both health-related and economic. An estimated 52 percent of survivors who will be considered ‘poor’ at this time will have significant needs for home health care and financial assistance, highlighting the current usefulness of organizations like Selfhelp in years to come.

No matter these survivors’ personal stories, Charatan believes the messages we can learn from them inform our own personal relationship with our Jewish heritage and culture which can, in turn, build stronger bonds with our local communities.

“The more we shine a light on these survivors’ struggles,” says Charatan, “the more we can embrace their experiences and our own history in a more impactful way.”

A Walking Tour of The Lower East Side’s Jewish Landmarks

A Walking Tour of The Lower East Side’s Jewish Landmarks

Today, New York City’s Lower East Side (LES) neighborhood is known for its eclectic mix of bistros, bodegas and Buddhist temples that have overtaken now-defunct synagogues nestled in between many old shmatte shops; remnants which pay tribute to a bygone era.

Around the turn of the century, the Lower East Side was known largely for its international Jewish community. While the landscape may have dramatically transformed over time, many Jewish monuments and locations can still be found throughout the neighborhood.

A walking tour of LES’s Jewish monuments and landmarks offer insight into the community’s significant heritage within NYC’s historical, cultural melting pot. As you explore the working class neighborhood, check out some of these prominent, Jewish religious sites, local attractions and eateries:

Religious Sites

Eldridge Street Synagogue
12 Eldridge St. near Division Street

Amidst Chinese restaurants, hair salons and local fish markets, the Eldridge Street Synagogue stands out as a major Jewish-American landmark. Designed and built over a century ago, the temple became the first Eastern European Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the United States. In 2007, the building was renovated and is now preserved as the Museum at Eldridge Street reflecting a mix of Romanesque, Moorish and Gothic architecture. A feast for the eyes, the historic gem boasts 70-foot vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows, trompe l’oeil murals and intricate carvings. The congregation remains active and continues to celebrate the Sabbath, hosting religious services on the first-floor bes medrash. Visitors can take advantage of informal tours or enjoy exploring and photographing the synagogues well-known architecture.

Angel Orensanz Foundation
172 Norfolk Street near E. Houston Street  

Currently the site of the Angel Orensanz Foundation, the building was once the site of the oldest synagogue in NYC. Shut down for a decade, the building was vandalized until Orensanz purchased the property in 1986 and converted the landmark into an art studio. However, visitors can still admire the synagogue’s beauty, designed by Berlin architect, Alexander Saelzer, who took inspiration from the Cologne Cathedral. Founded in 1849, the synagogue became the largest one in the United States, holding up to 1,500 worshipers. Today, the foundation hosts occasional shabbas and offers a variety of cultural programs in addition to hosting weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Bialystoker Synagogue
7-11 Willett Street near Grand Street

Erected in 1826, the Bialystoker Synagogue holds an important presence in the crosscultural diaspora of America’s historic sites. The Federal-style building was originally used as a Methodist church — but also a stop on the Underground Railroad. History buffs and visitors can still spot a door and a 200-year-old ladder leading along the balcony to an attic where escaped slaves hid during the Civil War. In 1905, the building was converted into a synagogue after a congregation of Polish Jews purchased it and incorporated a stunning, three-story ark, complete with paintings of zodiac symbols corresponding to Jewish calendar across the sanctuary’s ceilings. Bialystoker still offers services for a 300-member congregation.

Neighborhood Sites

East Broadway Landmarks
East Broadway blocks between Jefferson and Montgomery Streets

Along a stretch of East Broadway, visitors can pay tribute to the site where a handful of turn-of-the-century Jewish landmarks and a small Orthodox community once thrived. This stretch is also home to the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy. You can find tours and events hosted by this educational and cultural organization online.

Forward Building
175 E. Broadway at Canal Street

The site was once the headquarters of The Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language paper promoting social reform and seeking to expose its readers to American culture and customs.

Shtiebel Row
East Broadway between Clinton and Montgomery Streets

Worshipers still gather at this site where a series of former tenement buildings, converted into shuls, once stood.

Jewish Eateries

Katz’s Delicatessen
205 Houston Street at Ludlow Street

What’s a trip to New York without a stop at the famous Katz’s Delicatessen? As the oldest deli in New York and the only diner where pastrami and corned beef are still hand-cut. Katz’s is an international and cultural treasure for both locals and tourists. Once you enter, take a ticket and either wait for a table or withstand the lines. Photos of celebrities and politicians decorate the walls and you’ll spot the table where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal ate in When Harry Met Sally.

Russ & Daughters
179 East Houston Street near First Avenue

Operating since 1914, the specialty grocery store has hardly changed since its early days. Run by the Russ family, the store sells everything from fresh fish and cheeses to chocolates and baked goods. Check out the historic photographs displayed above the counters. At this shop, you can still find some of the freshest traditional Jewish dietary staples from smoked salmon to a classic bagel and lox, homemade pickled herring and Caspian Sea caviar.

A visit to these sites may be nostalgic for some and enlightening for others. It’s always a treat for the opportunity to explore the sites of one’s cultural heritage, especially in a city that acknowledges the sacrifices and contributions of its immigrant communities. I often remember what the Jewish Heritage Mural in the Lower East Side once stated: “Our Strength Is Our Heritage, Our Heritage Is Our Life.”