It was a gala evening at the Sephardic Temple in Westwood on June 18th, as West Coast OU held its annual banquet with a record turnout. Over 300 people came to celebrate and support the OU and the night’s three honorees.
Honorees included two couples in the community: Nati and Carmit Baram received the Community Leadership Award, while Rabbi Yitz and Stefanie Etshalom were honored with the Chinuch Leadership Award. The third honoree of the evening was given to an organization: Ralphs Grocery Company was presented with the Kashrut Leadership Award.
Ralphs has been a partner with the OU for a number of years. Beyond the wide number of kosher products that appear on its shelves, some Ralph’s stores now feature Kosher Experience counters, which offer a variety of prepared foods and a full deli. “We knew we wanted to bring the Kosher Experience to the Jewish community,” said Kendra Doyel, VP of Communications at Ralphs, “but we wanted to make sure of two things: One, that we did it right; and two, that we did it with a lot of respect. There’s no way we would have been able to do what we have done without the slow patience of everyone involved.”
And what they’ve done is pretty impressive. The first Kosher Experience was so popular it drew people from other cities. “We started the first store in the San Diego area, and we heard from people in the Los Angeles area who would say, ‘I’m driving down to your store in San Diego!’ So we said, ‘Let us help you with that.’” Ralphs now has three Kosher Experience counters in the LA area, as well as the original location in La Jolla.
That’s not all. “Ralphs’ philanthropic foundation has long supported many OU programs, and we feel fortunate that they have been such a great partner in our community,” said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, Director of OU West Coast. “They, through the OU, provide training to their store directors, and open the stores for training to community members, especially pre-Pesach,” added Rabbi Adir Posy, Assistant Director of OU West Coast.
“They’ve really gone out of their way to try to meet the needs of the kosher consumer. That’s what we’re recognizing tonight.” This is the first time that OU West Coast has given the Kashrut Leadership Award.
Ms. Doyel accepted the award. “On behalf of the 22,000 associates at Ralphs, and honestly, the 340,000 associates in the Kroger family, we are humbled and grateful for tonight’s honor.” After thanking Rabbi Kalinsky, his team, and others, she went on to say that she believed this was only the beginning of their journey together and then made a presentation of her own: a check to the OU for $30,000.
Next was the Community Leadership Award. Chazzan Baram is not only cantor at Beverly Hills Synagogue/Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, he and Carmit serve as an inspiration to many in the community. As Rabbi Kalinsky said, “They not only enhance the prayer and synagogue experience of their congregants through beautiful music, but they also make everyone around them feel joy in avodat Hashem.”
Of the regular musical events that the Barams organize for the LA Jewish community, Rabbi Posy said, “[Their] going around to different areas of the community and showcasing passion for avodas Hashem and tefilah… is something that we see as really great role modeling.”
“Beverly Hills Synagogue of North Beverly Hills, I’m proud of you,” said Nati, as he accepted the award. “I’m proud to be the shaliach tzibur. You deserve the honor.” This humble statement was followed by a beautiful concert, with Nati singing and Carmit playing several instruments. It received an enthusiastic standing ovation.
The Chinuch awardees inspired the audience as well. “Rabbi Etshalom is a consummate educator, with an innovative approach to educating across both formal and informal settings,” said Rabbi Posy. “He is a teacher at YULA, but also teaches daily Daf Yomi at Young Israel of Century City, and travels around the world as scholar in residence due to his masterful expertise in Tanach and a variety of subjects.” And he’s not the only educator in the family; Mrs. Etshalom is the renowned Youth Leader at Young Israel of Century City.
In his acceptance speech, Rabbi Etshalom demonstrated elegantly why he was receiving this award. “I learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues; from my students I’ve learned most of all,” he began. “The simple understanding of this passage in the Talmud is that the student teaches because the student challenges the teacher. But there may be another angle of understanding what that statement means: From my students I have understood more than anyone else how much I have learned from my teachers.” He went on to speak about his education, the teachers who impacted him, and to thank several people and organizations, including NCSY and the Muskins.
“Every one of us has to be a teacher. Because I’ll tell you a secret: Every one of us is always a teacher. … We have all benefited from great teachers. The best thing we can do to honor them is pay it forward.”