Jack and Sandy Gruenberg came to New Rochelle in July 1980 when Jack was chosen to be the director of Beth El’s Religious School
and Youth Departments. Soon after arriving, Jack created the Youth Community, incorporating formal and informal educational arms under one umbrella. Jack directed the Religious School, the Community Hebrew High School, Junior Congregation, and the Day Camp for eighteen years. After teaching for an additional fourteen years on the faculty of Solomon Schechter, he retired and continued on at Beth El as a volunteer, leading the Saturday Morning Discussion Group and the Thursday Weekly Torah Portion class Parashat HaShavua. Jack holds a bachelor’s degree from Albright College and masters’ degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, Westchester State University (PA), and the Jewish Theological Seminary in the fields of Education, Psychology, and Jewish Studies. Jack was a participant in Beth El’s recent Encounter Program in Israel.
Sandy was a teacher and Curriculum Coordinator at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester (now the Lefell School) for thirty-one years. She also taught at other Schechter Schools around the country for ten years before that. Sandy earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from Temple University and a Bachelors of Hebrew Literature from Gratz College. She did graduate work at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Sandy has held numerous positions on Beth El’s Executive Board, and continues to volunteer at Beth El as Sisterhood President, reading to Nursery School classes, and co-chair of the Special Needs Seder and the Chesed Community. Sandy also volunteers at Kidz’ Kloset for 914 Cares, drives for New Rochelle Cares, teaches classes to seniors through DOROT’s University Without Walls, and is a mentor to new teachers through the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Sandy and Jack are parents to four wonderful children and four wonderful children-in-law—Hana and Aaron, Joshua and Elissa, Yehuda and Orlee, and Hillel and Yael. They are also the proud grandparents of nine amazing grandkids from ages 2 to almost 20 – Barak, Zeke, Asher, Caleb, Kayla, Sam, Ilan, Zoe, and Sari.
Judaism has been at the core of their lives since they met at Camp Ramah in the Pocono’s over 55 years ago and solidified their relationship two years later while each was spending a year in Israel—Sandy in a Peace Corps-type program in an immigrant village and Jack continuing his Jewish studies at the Seminary’s Branch in Jerusalem. They hope to be able to continue their efforts on behalf of the Beth El community for many more years to come.
Darren Peister was born and raised in Suffern, N.Y., the youngest of three children. His family were members of a Conservative synagogue, and as a teen he was quite involved in USY. His first trip to Israel was after high school, where he stayed on Kibbutz Keturah. Darren then attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, focusing on Film and TV production. His senior project was a documentary on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. He got an “A” and gained 10 pounds. After college he went to Israel for a second time through a program called Livnot U’lehbanot in Tzfat. This program was formative as he experienced “living Judaism” through worship, education, volunteerism, and kashrut. Professionally, Darren freelances in television post-production. Over the past decade, he has become an editor-in-residence at WNET and edits musical performances, documentaries, and more. He has won three Emmy awards for his work. Beth El has been a worthy focus of Darren’s volunteerism. He produced and edited numerous videos for Purim, Rabbi Sirner’s send-off video, and Beth El’s Centennial Commemoration. Darren regularly attends services and has assumed the role of “Candy Man,” showering sweets each Shabbat on the Haftarah reader. He also enjoys being a Greeter/Usher during High Holiday services.
Jayne was born in Valley Stream, N.Y., and is also the youngest of three children. She and her family went regularly to Friday night services at Temple B’nai Israel, a Reform synagogue nearby. Jayne was very involved in the Reform NFTY teen movement, acting as President of LIFTY (Long Island Federation of Temple Youth) in her high school senior year. She graduated from Cornell University as a biology major/business minor and worked in pharmaceutical sales for Lilly USA for 30 years, accepting an early retirement in 2017. Now she works as Director of Commercialization for Retia Medical, a small medical device company in Valhalla. Grateful for the community she and her family have found in Beth El, she has held leadership roles on the Religious School Board, the Board of Trustees, as an Officer and has helped coordinate many events, including the Safrai Israeli Art Speakeasy and Best Family Shabbatot. Jayne is currently co-chair of The Green Team, which is guiding Beth El toward an even greener future.
Darren and Jayne met through a mutual friend (congregant Debbie Mayblum’s sister!) on Darren’s 25th birthday, and were married two years later in 1993. They have two wonderful daughters, Emma and Sophia, who are now 23 and 20 respectively. Sophia made aliyah in July 2019 and Emma aspires do so in the near future. The warmth, spirit, and sense of camaraderie the Peister family found at Beth El has cemented their place within this community. They are humbled to receive the President’s Ne’emanim Service Award, and are thrilled to be sharing recognition with the beloved and accomplished Gruenbergs and the multi-talented Keltz/Seidens.
The Keltz-Seiden family joined Beth El in 2015. Beth El is like a second home to Julia and Zach and their three children.
Julia Keltz grew up in New Rochelle and her family joined Beth El when she was two-years-old. She attended Beth El Nursery School, Religious School, and Community Hebrew High School. She had her Bat Mitzvah at Beth El and served as the Beth El USY chapter vice president. She went to the University of Rochester, followed by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine for medical school.
She completed her residency in OB/GYN at NYU and fellowship in Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery at Montefiore. She works at Westchester Medical Center/New York Medical College as a Minimally Invasive Gynecologist and Pelvic Pain Specialist. She will be the residency program director beginning July 2020.
Zach Seiden grew up in Queens, N.Y., and his family were members of the Forest Hills Jewish Center. He attended Solomon Schechter School Queens and Binghamton University. He also studied abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Zach received a master’s degree in Education from Bank Street College and has been a teacher at George M. Davis Elementary School in New Rochelle since 2009.
Julia and Zach met at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in 1996. They started dating in 2006 and were married by Rabbi Sirner at Glen Island Harbor Club in 2008. In 2010, their daughter Hannah was born, followed by son Jared in 2013, and daughter Zoe in 2018 in the midst of Julia’s Journey experience.
Julia is a member of the Religious School Parent Organization and serves on the Clergy Search Committee. Zach was the Beth El Camp Athletic Director from 2008-2010. He is most famous for his performance in the inaugural Beth El Comedy Night. He helped to organize the Young Parent Happy Hour, is currently a member of the Religious School Board, and is a member of Beth El’s Board of Trustees.
They are honored to be this year’s Lapid Award recipients.