2017-11-08 / Voice at the Shore

Avoda celebrates 90 years of helping high school grads reach their potential

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Past Avoda award winners Molly Bennard, MBA, CPA (1999 awardee), Norman Klinger, J.D. (1955), Dr. Len Gildiner, M.D. (1977), and Dr. Jonathan Spanier, Ph.D (1986) attended Avoda’s 90th Anniversary Celebration on October 22. Past Avoda award winners Molly Bennard, MBA, CPA (1999 awardee), Norman Klinger, J.D. (1955), Dr. Len Gildiner, M.D. (1977), and Dr. Jonathan Spanier, Ph.D (1986) attended Avoda’s 90th Anniversary Celebration on October 22. When Alfred Engelberg was a student at Atlantic City High School in the mid-1950s, his mother, a German refugee, told him if he wanted to go to college, he would have to win the Avoda Award. That award, which offered financial assistance to promising high school students who might otherwise not be able to afford college, was created by five charity-minded Jewish men from Atlantic County, who formed the Avoda Club in 1928. (“Avoda” is the Hebrew word for “service.”)

Engelberg did win the Avoda Award. The $2,000 he received from Avoda covered 80 percent of his tuition at Drexel University. After earning his engineering degree there, he went on to law school and ultimately made his fortune representing the generic drug industry. He subsequently started a charitable foundation that has given away more than $50 million to help those in need in the U.S. and Israel.

“Since the early 1990s I have been giving back…something I understood to be important [in part] because of what Avoda taught me,” said Engelberg, in a letter to the Avoda Club that was published in booklets created for the club’s 90th anniversary celebration last month.

Avoda Club members reveled in the accomplishments of award winners like Engelberg and others at their 90th anniversary celebration dinner at the Mays Landing Country Club last month. “Don’t you think those original five men [who started Avoda] would be proud? We are!” said outgoing Avoda president Lee Roseman.

Since its humble beginnings, the Avoda Club has grown to more than 85 members and now gives out about $100,000 annually in award money to outstanding students with financial need in Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

Thanks to wise investments made throughout the club’s 90- year history, the club has grown its funds to the point it does not seek donations from its members or others. Nevertheless, Avoda members, who are predominantly seniors in their 70s and older, still give generously to the club, especially in honor of special occasions such as the 90th anniversary or the naming of new awardees.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be around for another 90 years,” said Arthur Sklar, Avoda’s new president, who described that purpose as tikkum olam—or improving the world—by helping so many young people achieve their dreams and make valuable contributions to society.

Sklar and other Avoda officers and board members were officially installed at the anniversary dinner. Officers installed included Vice President Jack Dubis, Treasurer Bruce Bogner, Assistant Treasurers Ed Snyder and Arthur Brown, and Secretary Mort Altschuler.

Club leaders spoke with special pride about the many awardees they have helped over the years that have since become leaders in academia, medicine, law and other fields. More than 30 of those awardees submitted letters and bios to the club for a commemorative booklet given out at the celebration. Although the majority of Avoda winners now live out of the area, several who attended the celebration were recognized during the course of the evening.

Among them was 1955 award winner Norman Klinger, a retired lawyer and arbitrator who lives in Ventnor. Klinger grew up in Egypt until the age of 13, and had to learn English when he began attending Atlantic City High School. He knew he wanted to go to college, but didn’t know how he would afford it.

“Avoda found me,” recalled Klinger, who said he became somewhat known in the Jewish community because he did a lot of singing at old age homes during high school. Getting the award was “truly magical,” he added. “In Egypt, no one ever gave you anything.”

Daniel Feinberg, a 1983 Avoda awardee who is now a neurology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, recalled what it was like to win the award in his bio in Avoda’s 90th anniversary commemorative booklet. “I can still vividly remember [Avoda member] Max Landsman ringing my doorbell to tell me that I won the prestigious award in 1983, really allowing me to attend Penn without the burden of tremendous debt.”

Dr. Jonathan Spanier, a 1986 awardee who is a physics professor and associate dean at Drexel, fondly remembered his Avoda mentor for “helping launch his educational odyssey and career of lifelong learning.”

Spanier, who was honored with a U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists at the White House in 2007, said he was inspired in part by Avoda to make mentorship an important part of his own professional life. He now mentors “a cadre of student and postdoctoral research scientists,” nine of whom are now faculty members who have joined him in “educating the next generations of scientists and engineers.”

Melissa Brown, a Cherry Hillarea lawyer who won the Avoda Award in 2000, expressed heartfelt thanks in a letter submitted for the organization’s 90th anniversary booklet. “Avoda made a profound difference in my life. I am the first person in my family to go to college and Avoda helped make that dream a reality,” said Brown, who is a graduate of Rutgers College and Law School.

Nicole Klein, a 2006 awardee and Haverford College graduate who now practices law in New York City, also expressed immense gratitude for all that Avoda had given her. “ I always knew that I had a group of people rooting for me, and wanting me to succeed in all of my endeavors,” she said in her submission to the Avoda booklet. 

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