Colel Chabad welcomed throngs of guests who celebrated the organization's successes during its "Two Centuries" dinner, which also commemorated 200 years since the passing of Colel Chabad founder Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe.

Guests at Manhattan’s New York Hilton started the evening with a smorgasbord of hors d'oeuvres, sampling dumplings and sushi, stir-fry and carved meat as they mingled in a foyer adorned with posters explaining Colel Chabad’s diversity of projects.

Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad
Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad

The Israel-focused network of food-distribution centers, soup kitchens and subsidized stores spent more than $18 million in 2012 on its various programs, said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad, who addressed the applauding crowd later in the evening, as they were seated around candle-lit tables during its annual shareholder’s report.

In addition, the organization is taking on a new role, he said, as it leads a government initiative in Israel to eliminate hunger nationwide. “It was a year in which we made a quantum leap to a whole new level,” reported Duchman.

A video slideshow reviewed Colel Chabad’s impact during the past year, including on youngster Daniel Prosansky, who had his Bar Mitzvah as part of a Colel Chabad program and received musical training through funding provided by the organization. He wowed the crowd with several songs during the evening.

Taking the stage last night were mayor Corey Booker of Newark, N.J., who congratulated the organization on its work, and honorees Len and Alex Blavatnik, who received the Two Century Legacy award; Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who received the Global Impact award; Kenny Dichter, who received the Ahavat Israel Award; and Oren Alexander, Casey Klein, Aaron and Ilana Wallenstein, who received the Colel Chabad Young Leaders award. Wallenstein and her husband have been involved with Colel Chabad for eight years now, she said, adding that it’s an organization she is proud to be a part of because of its work.

“I really think they take the money and use it effectively and wisely,” she said. “It’s very informative to see how the money is distributed.”

Her husband, who took the podium to accept the award, spoke of meeting a Colel Chabad rabbi at his offices as a young lawyer, and being challenged to give and participate. Over time, his involvement has expanded, he said. “Tonight is the climax of another year of hard work and dedication,” he stated from the podium, adding that the organization is run “better than most private businesses.”

Eve Stieglitz, who got involved with a number of Chabad initiatives in the city this year, said she came to show her support for an organization she believes in. “I just love what it stands for, how it really unites Jewish people, and promotes mitzvot and chesed and good,” she said.

As for the event itself, she said she was impressed from the moment she entered the room. “The food, the drinks, the people, everyone’s dressed to the nines,” she said. “You can feel the warmth in the room.” A string quartet and piano played softly during hors d'oeuvres, followed by a symphony orchestra during the dinner event, which featured songs composed by the Alter Rebbe.

First-timer Andrew Zane attended because he’s related to honoree Casey Klein. “All of the family came, at least 12 on this side,” said Zane, who he was part of a larger familial contingent, including Klein’s grandmother, who came in from Florida to see him receive a young leadership award.

Zane said he liked the speeches, and more than that, was moved by the evening’s energy and messages. Commenting on Colel Chabad’s diversity and inclusiveness, he said “it sends a very positive message about helping each other, working together to make the world a better place.”

First-time attendee Cindy Glatt said she found the experience very uplifting. “They’re an amazing organization; they really help all the needy in Israel, and I’d like to support them,” she said. “I think it’s a very crucial organization.”