(New York Jewish Week) – After 30 minutes of perusing the racks of formal dresses and trying on half a dozen of them, Raelynn finally finds the one she’ll wear to the prom: a long, royal blue gown covered in sequins.
Her personal shopper, a Jewish mom who is helping Raelynn pick out coordinating shoes and accessories, announces to the room: “Raelynn, do you say yes to the prom dress?”
Raelynn, a high school senior at Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem, nods with a huge smile on her face. The room — which is not a dress shop or a department store, but the basement social hall at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El — breaks out into cheers and a round of applause.
Raelynn, who declined to share her last name, is one of more than 350 high school girls from around New York City who will come to the Upper East Side Reform synagogue this week. Now in its eleventh year, Project Prom invites seniors from high schools serving low-income neighborhoods to pick out prom outfits for free.
In addition to serving as personal shoppers, volunteers decorate the social hall with festive streamers and banners, prepare a snack table and set up dress displays in the center of the room.
“This is one of many things we do. We work on food insecurity, we partner with many non-profit organizations, we do whatever we can to repair the world that we live in,” said Rabbi Amy Ehrlich of the work of the synagogue’s tikkun olam, or social action, committee. “But [Project Prom] is a particular joy, especially the women who have come to act as personal shoppers. They want these young women to feel transformed as they step into a gown, maybe for the first time.”
Raelynn was thrilled with her dress, especially as she didn’t think she’d find something she would like. “I’m very picky and dresses aren’t really my thing,” she told the New York Jewish Week while trying on a pair of sparkly silver heels. “I was surprised coming here, I won’t lie.”
The personal shoppers act as styling assistants for the hundreds of girls who will walk through the “boutique” to pick out their prom outfit, shoes and accessories. In addition to some 1,000 dresses to choose from — donated by brands such as BCBG, Steve Madden and Marc Fisher — there are nearly 2,000 pairs of heels in every color, and tables laden with jewelry and handbags.
“It’s my favorite thing to do in my life,” said volunteer Debbie Hailpern.
The girls don’t need to work with a shopper, but having access to one is “a big part of it,” said volunteer and shopper Dana Covey. “At first, the girls are sometimes shy or nervous. Some don’t know what they like or what will fit.” The shoppers and the students also make connections with someone outside of their community and demographic, which can be rare, she said.
“We bring about a better world when we work with people outside our community,” said Ehrlich. “We have to extend our hands to others and also take the hands that are extended to us.”
Throughout the day on Wednesday and Thursday, girls from 17 schools will arrive at Project Prom via school bus or subway. As Project Prom has grown in size, word of mouth has carried its impact across the city and a growing number of schools and nonprofits have reached out to be included.
Once inside, the students are given a brief orientation and assigned a personal shopper. The shoppers hustle around the room, discussing color, length, fit and cut, the volunteers treating their jobs with commitment you’d see from a Kleinfeld Bridal associate pulling wedding dress options on TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress.”
Planning the event begins just after Thanksgiving, said Hailpern, who has been volunteering with Project Prom since 2017. “I love just seeing the girls come out in their dresses and helping them with the accessories,” she said as she readjusted the shoe display. “They’re just really super sweet. Some of them know exactly what they want and they have a strong sense of fashion, others don’t. It’s a very joyful thing.”
“You’re making a girl feel beautiful,” she added. “What could be better than that?”
Initially, Temple Emanu-El sourced the dresses through drives and donations from community members. Eventually the committee shifted to reaching out directly to manufacturers — most of whom are happy to donate several dozen dresses in all sizes. Accessories companies get in on the action, too: This year Dessy, a bridal company, donated 400 pairs of ballet flats.
Wendy Bienstock, a science teacher at Young Women’s Leadership School, has been bringing her seniors to Project Prom for nearly a decade. “My favorite part is that I know how much fun it is,” she said. “They are very hesitant at first, but they always leave thanking me.”
Bienstock said her students look forward to Project Prom as much as a year in advance. “Some of them will wear these dresses to prom,” she said. “Some of them will wear them to graduation. And some of them will just take them and have a great dress in their closet for summer or college.”
As for Raelynn, she’s excited to wear her dress to her school’s prom on June 9. “They have so many sizes and options, there’s something for everyone here,” she said.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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