Gala celebrates the human spirit

Gil Hoffman speaking at Chabad North Shore’s Gala Dinner. Photo: Noel Kessel

IF North Shore Chabad was hoping to deeply inspire each of the 250 guests at its annual fundraising gala dinner at Curzon Hall on May 16 by their choice of guest speakers, it succeeded greatly.

Justice Richard Bernstein – the first blind Supreme Court judge to be elected in Michigan’s history and an accomplished marathon runner and Ironman triathlete – oozed positive spirit as he spoke about overcoming challenges and living a life of purpose.

Reflecting on his latest advocacy work, Bernstein told of his connection with an IDF pilot who is committed to giving more Israelis with disabilities the opportunity to serve in the military.

“We traveled to military bases to talk to as many commanders as possible.

I’m proud to say the IDF is now putting forward a major marketing campaign to indicate that if you have a disability, an opportunity will be created for you.”

That success led to more progress and change in other sectors, and finally “to the Knesset making a determination that Israel should have judges with disabilities”.

“This became a template for other nations, and created the chance for me to travel to Austria, where it was actually illegal for blind people to serve as judges. After working with Israel, Austria changed its policy.”

Bernstein also shared the trauma he went through after being knocked over by a speeding cyclist in New York, requiring emergency surgery and 10 weeks in hospital.

“I had the strength to make only one call, so I phoned my Chabad rabbi and, within five minutes the emergency room was flooded with rabbis lending their support.

Within weeks of recovering, and despite incredible pain, Bernstein ran his 18th marathon.

“Chabad teaches us we have to live our lives like a great novel – there’s always going to be chapters of pain, setbacks and frustration, but through those you’ll come to find hope.”

Fellow guest speaker, Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent Gil Hoffman, arrived only two days after commentating for CNN on the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

SHANE DESIATNIK