WEST ORANGE, NJ — More than 200 people attended Chabad of West Orange’s annual dinner on June 13 to honor Rachelle and Richard Press, Lina and Felix Kanchik, and Regina and Ruslan Dimarsky. The theme of the dinner was “6.13, Do A Mitzvah!” In the Bible, God gives 613 commandments, or mitzvot, to the Jewish people.
The Presses have a long history with Chabad; they were married by Kasowitz and had multiple grandchildren named there. Both the Kanchiks and Dimarskys came from the former Soviet Union and celebrated their sons’ b’nai mitzvah this past year at Chabad. They spoke about the importance of Jewish observance for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.
Event attendees got more than anticipated though, when Arline Schwechter showed up. Schwechter was not scheduled to speak, yet she and her husband, Mel, benefited from so many acts of kindness from community volunteers at the Kessler Rehabilitation Center that, when she showed up for the dinner that evening, Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz called her to the stage to tell their story.
Mel Schwechter was 69 years old, a successful attorney and an accomplished triathlete when he participated in a work-organized bicycle excursion in Virginia in 2018. A horrible accident occurred near George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate, leaving him in a coma. Trauma experts arranged for him to be transferred to the renowned Kessler Rehabilitation facility in West Orange, which is where the Schwechters met Kasowitz, and Chabad volunteers Barry Geiger and Avi Laub.
Arline Schwechter told event attendees that Geiger and Laub came to visit her husband at Kessler every day to lay on tefillin and learn. They brought a lulav and etrog during Sukkot, and every Shabbat there was a minyan because of the advance planning of the Zichron David Bikur Cholim, sponsored by Joseph and Lori Rozehzadeh.
Mel Schwechter steadily improved, although he is now wheelchair-bound and partially incapacitated due to his brain injury. After being discharged from Kessler, the Schwechters moved into the Wilshire Grand Hotel in West Orange to remain close to his therapy specialists. When Arline Schwechter asked what they were going to do on Shabbat, Geiger and Laub replied, “Chabad of course! It’s right across the street.”
The Schwechters took their advice the very next Shabbat.
“I walked in with Mel cold. He was in a wheelchair. Automatically, two men took Mel from me, put a tallis on him, sat with him and worked with him. It was an amazing thing to see; nobody knew us,” Arline Schwechter said June 13. “Barry showed so much patience and made sure Mel followed the davening. He showed so much dedication and commitment, coming to the Wilshire every day to bring Mel to shul. When Barry could not come see Mel, the rabbi himself came to put the tefillin on with Mel and help him pray.”
Photos Courtesy of Mendy Kasowitz