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City Hall honors Vaad Harabonin’s 50th anniversary

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Hundreds of Jewish leaders and elected officials celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens at City Hall this week, saluting the Fresh Meadows-based organization of rabbis as a key player in assuring the Orthodox community has access to kosher food and a wide range of services from help with funerals to legal aid.

“The Vaad is a labor of love,” said Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, president of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens. “The Vaad has been so much a part of growth, unity and beauty of Queens.”

The organization was founded 50 years ago by rabbis seeking to unite the growing Orthodox Jewish community in Queens. It is best known for its kashrut supervision program, as part of which officials will inspect various businesses to ensure they are kosher. Officials from the organization have worked to make funeral and burial services that meet the standards of Jewish law more accessible and affordable.

The Vaad also provides guidance to rabbis and consultation to members of the Orthodox community on such matters as divorce.

City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who led the Monday evening ceremony, said the Vaad plays a crucial role in Queens.

“Queens has become one of the greatest Orthodox Jewish communities, not just in the country, but the world,” Gennaro said.

Monday’s ceremony in City Hall’s Council chambers included performances by Michoel Pruzansky, who has performed all over the world and even for an audience of more than 20,0000 people at Madison Square Garden. Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Council members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) helped to sponsor the event.

Gennaro honored Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, the longest-serving rabbi at a single Orthodox congregation in the United States who was at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills for 60 years, and Rabbi Yitzchok Sladowsky, who served as the executive vice president of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens for more than 30 years.

Rabbi Schonfeld has become a national Jewish leader and served as president of the Rabbinical Council of America, chairman of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis and a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Under Rabbi Sladowsky’s leadership that began in the 1970s, the number of rabbis in the Vaad increased from 20 to more than 100 and the number of supervised kosher establishments increased from 12 to 100.

Both honorees said they were thrilled with the recognition and proclamations from the Council. Schonfeld heaped praise on Gennaro, saying he has worked diligently with the Jewish community and the Vaad.

Schonfeld also said he feared the relationship between Israel and the United States was not as strong as it once was.

“Those two flags behind us, the Israeli and the American, we have to do everything we can not to have them be ripped asunder,” Schonfeld said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:56 pm, October 10, 2011
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