Honoring valued members is a tried and true way for community organizations to add luster to their fund-raising galas, but sometimes, organizers admit, it can be tough to find worthy and willing honorees. Sometimes, however, it’s easy.
That’s the situation happily acknowledged by Bryan Fox, the executive vice president of the YM-YWHA of Union County, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. At the Y’s annual raffle fund-raiser on Saturday, Jan. 11 — a dessert buffet with entertainment provided by the comedy improv troupe Chicago City Limits — they will be presenting the Y’s Community Leadership Award to Gregg Rothstein, and its Young Leadership Award to Ari and Becky Romanoff.
Rothstein was an obvious choice, according to Fox. The Hillside resident is a familiar figure in the Central New Jersey community, with a long roster of leadership roles — including serving as president of the Y and after that on its executive committee, on the board of the Greater MetroWest federation — where he was a vice president of the historic Central federation — and on the board of Yeshiva Be’er Yitzchok Kollel of Elizabeth.
However, this is the first time the spotlight is falling on the Romanoffs.
“Usually, for the Young Leadership Award, we choose people with potential — as a way to encourage them to get more involved,” Fox said. “With Ari and Becky, they don’t need encouragement; they are already involved in so many ways.”
That didn’t mean they were eager to accept the honor. Fox said Becky in particular was reluctant to be the focus of attention. “She only agreed when we pointed out that it would help the Y.”
The couple lives in Elizabeth with their sons, ages eight and four. Becky grew up in the city; Ari came with his parents, David and Syndi, in 1996. Both attended the schools of the Jewish Educational Center, which their children now attend. When they got married in 2001, they moved to Highland Park, but six years later, they returned to Elizabeth and quickly got involved in various roles at the JEC and the Y.
Becky has served on the Y board for about three years, and is also on its executive committee and early childhood committee.
“The Y has always been a part of my life,” Becky said.
She attended summer camp there, and later became a counselor. So did David, and that is where they met. On Sundays David swims at the Y with his boys and plays paddleball. “He has been playing on Wednesday nights with the same guys for the past 15 years,” his wife said. “He likes to say that the Y is one of the last places around where you can get a quality paddleball game with world-class players.”
Their children attended day care and the Gan at the Y and continue to go to camp there each summer. “I am so grateful that we had such a safe, loving environment for our children to be when they were babies,” Becky said. “That made being a working mom so much easier.”
They are members of the JEC Elmora Avenue Synagogue, where Ari serves as treasurer and they have been deeply involved over the years. “The latest project we worked on, along with a number of other shul members,” Becky said, “was the creation of the Herb Hein Playroom, a beautiful space for mothers and their infants and toddlers.” Becky is also a member of the parent liaison committee at the JEC.
As for why they do so much, she wrote, “We believe that strong Jewish organizations are the backbones of our communities and are crucial for their continued success. In turn, it is only through the support and volunteer work of community members that organizations like the Y can continue the important work that they do.”
The couple also represents something treasured by the Y — multi-generational involvement. As Becky pointed out, Ari’s late father, David Romanoff, was a Y board member, and her father, David Cheslow, is a past president of their shul. “We love living in Elizabeth,” she said, “and enjoy doing whatever we can to help ensure the success of our community.”