The Young Israel of Morristown NJ recently created a scandal in the Modern Orthodox world when they honored a couple at their annual banquet who are not loaded. Sammy and Jennifer Steinbach are simply really nice and attend the synagogue regularly. Breaking with tradition, the board decided to honor them at their next banquet. While the vote was close, the couple received a narrow margin of support over one other couple who have significantly more cash and make larger donations to the synagogue, even though most board members acknowledge they are jerks. Marty Feldheim, President of the shul, acknowledged the controversy. “Bottom line is, everyone likes Sammy and Jennifer. I know he’s a teacher, and she works at the local JCC and we’re never really gonna get the big bucks from these two, but to tell you the truth, we were out of machers to honor.”
Other members of the board were not as supportive but certainly understood the move. Joe Melman, long time member, voted against honoring the Steinbachs. “Look, I’m not saying they aren’t nice people. I mean, they have two great kids, struggle to get by, and are always willing to help anyone in need, but a new wing for the shul ain’t coming any time soon from these two. Marty and Eileen… What?! Was I not supposed to mention the name of… Anyway, the ‘other couple’ have way more money and while not at the top of the donors list, bury these two by a mile, even though everyone knows Marty is a putz… I mean… the ‘other guy’. “
While it has been a time-honored tradition to honor various couples at banquets based simply on wealth, lines have often been blurred over the years because speeches have to be made, and sometimes the couples, while wealthy, may not be as… shall we say… “endearing” as some others in the synagogue. Rabbi Lev Moskowitz, Senior Rabbi at the Young Israel tried to bridge the gap between the two approaches of honoring someone who deserves it, as opposed to someone who just writes a large check. “I know in the past, your name on a plaque somewhere in the shul equaled honor at the dinner, but it’s gotten very difficult for me speech wise. What am I supposed to say about the couple from two years ago, who will remain nameless but everyone knows who I mean? He comes to shul four times a year tops, is a complete jerk, and his wife, probably the nastiest person in the state. I’m up there saying how devoted they are, and I can see fifty people rolling their eyes. Enough already. I wanted one year where I can speak honesty from that podium.”
While this year’s banquet will make the Rabbi’s speech a lot easier, many on the board feel that next year’s banquet, should be limited to couples in medicine, corporate real estate, and law. A vote on this resolution is scheduled for next month. Members who have made donations exceeding ten thousand dollars are allowed to vote online as often as they like as prescribed in the synagogue’s current bylaws.