Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy honored the philanthropic work of the Samson family at the school’s 66th annual banquet. The Feb. 11th event at the Beverly Hilton successfully highlighted the school’s path being so intrinsically linked to the Samson’s, what family patriarch Lee Samson called, “six decades of Samson family involvement in Hillel.”
Lee Samson’s son and daughter-in-law, Dani and Rivkie Samson, were the evening’s honorees. Dani is a 1982 Hillel graduate whose grandfather, Julius Samson, was a founding Hillel board member. “There is no limit to the success of an observant Jew,” said Dani, now a father of four.
A Hillel alumnus and former board vice president, Lee Samson told the Hilton audience that 58 years ago he watched his own parents being honored with the school’s scholarship award and 20 years ago Lee and his wife Anne (zt”l)received the same accolade. Standing next to his son Dani, at the ballroom dais, Lee continued, “And tonight I pass the baton to the fourth generation of Samsons.” On a lighter but poignant familial note, Lee Samson then handed to his son Dani his late mother’s personalized California license plate, which spelled out, “KVELLIN.”
The evening included a letter of praise for Dani and Rivkie from the Orthodox Union, where Rivkie sits on the national board of directors, as well as a Certificate of Commendation for them from the Beverly Hills City Council.
The banquet’s theme was, “Dare to Dream Big: Empowering Our Children to Reach.” Hillel Head of School Rabbi Boruch Sufrin told the Beverly Hilton audience that the 67-year-old school is, “a school where parent thinks they’re a president.” The audience included Hillel parents and alumni including current YULA Girls High School students and YULA Girls Head of School Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, plus community leaders such as Young Israel of Century City Senior Rabbi Elazar Muskin.
Parent Alissa Heller announced the start of the school’s new Gottesman scholarship in honor of Rabbi Menachem Gottesman (zt”l). Gottesman was the longtime Dean of Hillel Harkham and built the school for 42 years before retiring to Jerusalem, where he died in December at the age of 84. In recognizing the need for financial scholarships, Heller explained her own story. Despite her parents’ struggle to pay tuition for their four children, Heller was merited to attend Hillel along with her three older sisters because of tuition discounts awarded by Gottesman. “My life,” Heller told the audience, “was completely shaped by that kindness.”
The banquet opened with well-received welcoming remarks with Hillel Board president Harry Nelson. It also included a motivational speaker from New York who mixed football metaphors with stories about Esther. Then the entire Hillel eighth-grade class went on stage and sang and the boys formed Hora circles and danced with Dani and Lee Samson and Rabbi Sufrin joining them. The evening wound down around 9 p.m. with dessert arriving and the small orchestra on stage playing Scott Joplin ragtime tunes.