It was an “Evening of Inspiration” as close to 200 community members gathered May 20 at the Greenacres Country Club in Lawrenceville for a gala dinner hosted by the Betty and Milton Katz JCC of Princeton Mercer Bucks.
At the event, Richard Kohn of Lawrenceville received the Community Leadership Award, and Ruth Fath of Princeton accepted the Campus Vision Award on behalf of her late husband, Joseph, who died in 2007.
Both honorees were recognized for their dedication of time, talent, and resources to support the construction of the new Matthew and Staci Wilson Jewish Community Campus in West Windsor. The 77,000-square-foot facility on the 60-acre site, scheduled to open next fall, will house the Katz JCC, the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer, and the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County.
Lewis Katz of Cherry Hill, who made the lead gift to the JCC in memory of his parents, Betty and Milton Katz, delivered the keynote address. Speakers included JCC CEO Lee Rosenfield and Lisa Smukler, immediate past president of the federation.
The dinner resulted in $1.1 million in new pledges to the campus project.
Presenting the award to Kohn, who has overseen all fund-raising for the effort and has served on the boards of numerous community agencies, was his friend and law partner Phil Griffin of Fox Rothschild, LLP. Campus Council cochair Howard Cohen made the presentation recognizing Joe Fath as the original visionary for the entire endeavor.
A tribute video produced by Alan Paley featured, in addition to Katz, community leaders Rabbi Adam Feldman of The Jewish Center in Princeton; Robin Persky, original cochair with Joe Fath for the campus project; Kim Pimley; and federation president Mark Merkovitz.
Katz said Kohn was “committed to this Princeton project from the start…. He wasn’t doing it for himself; he was just a man who really loves his dream…and gave the gift of helping other human beings.”
According to Persky, Joe Fath was the catalyst for the project and “an amazing individual” who had “genuine, truly heartfelt love…for the Jewish community.” Both honorees, she said, felt “the importance of giving back and helping the Jewish community thrive for the future.”
The campus’s namesake, Matthew Wilson, talked about the importance to him of growing up at the JCC in Ewing, describing it as the place that allowed him to feel connected to the Jewish community. The new campus, he added, will help draw new Jewish families to the region.
It will offer visitors, said Merkovitz, the “great opportunity to see a very big slice of our Jewish community,” a place “where they’ll be able to learn about the work” that is done in service to its members.
Pimley said she anticipates that “the JCC will have an incredible impact on new members and existing members, and will prove to be very enriching to all.”
The approaching opening of the campus, Rosenfield said, is “a truly transformational moment in the life of our community. We are going to have the opportunity to welcome Jews of all backgrounds…in search of something more meaningful, something greater than themselves.”
Feldman said the entire project is for “klal Yisrael.” He remembered discussing with Fath the gratification of feeling part of a larger cause. “For years and years, people are going to come and use this JCC and benefit from these services and feel this connection to the community,” the rabbi said, “and it’s because of people like Joe Fath and Richard Kohn.”