Sharon Shapiro-Lacks, Founding Executive Director
Mrs. Sharon Shapiro-Lacks founded Yad HaChazakah-JDEC in 2006 with the support of ten other board members. A woman who typically zips around by motorized wheelchair, Mrs. Shapiro-Lacks envisions Jewish communities where people with obvious or hidden disabilities are sought and valued for the strengths they bring. In her vision, leaders and community members will want to improve physical, communication, and attitudinal access to shuls, yeshivas, batei midrash,
workplaces, shops, and family life – not only for the benefit to specific individuals, but also for the enrichment of entire communities.
Mrs. Shapiro-Lacks has worked in the disability policy and human services arenas for over 25 years, spending most of her tenure in executive and management positions. As Executive Director, she is a nonvoting member of the board of directors.
Yisroel Lacks, LCSW, Co-Executive/Program Director
Mr. Yisroel Lacks, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for over 30 years, joins his wife in executing the essential mission of Yad HaChazakah-JDEC and in overseeing program activities. A practicing psychotherapist with extensive clinical supervisory experience, Mr. Lacks has served in a variety of social service settings, including Tikvah at Ohel and Interborough Developmental and Consultation Center, and is valued for his creative insight and unique perspectives. Mr. Lacks supervises Yad HaChazakah-JDEC’s service staff and volunteers, works with individuals and families, and develops new programs. Lastly, he facilitates Yad HaChazakah-JDEC’s Men’s Support Group and coordinates our Shadchan
Leah Weinstein, Community Engagement Associate
Ms. Leah Weinstein is often the first person with whom you connect when you contact Yad HaChazakah-JDEC. She provides resource information and will work with you toward achieving your goals.
Raised in Rockland County, Ms. Leah Weinstein, came to Yad HaChazakah – JDEC after working in the Vocational Evaluation Unit at the International Center for the Disabled (ICD). There, she administered aptitude and interest examinations to people with disabilities seeking employment. Prior to ICD, she worked for the Fast Track to Employment program of the Mental Health Association of New York City as a vocational caseworker, job developer, and group facilitator.
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Elected Board Members
Rabbi Michael Levy, LMSW, President
A native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Michael Levy, who is blind, attributes his achievements to G-d’s beneficence and to his courageous parents. His parents supported him as he explored his small home town, visited Israel, journeyed towards Torah observance, received rabbinic ordination, and obtained a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. To this day, he lectures to wide audiences on Torah and disability-related topics.
As a devoted founding member and former vice president of Yad HaChazakah-JDEC, Rabbi Levy promotes access to Jewish life and texts to those with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition, boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons, boldly taking the plunge into leading purposeful lives, supported by Jewish communities that strive to be inclusive.”
Rabbi Levy is currently the director of Travel Training for MTA New York City Transit. He lives with his wife Chava Willig-Levy and enjoys his grown children and grandchild.
Aryeh Friedman, LMSW, Chair
Born in Hungary and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Mr. Aryeh Friedman is a clinical social worker. His career in clinical social work began after a significant history in business, marketing, and accounting. Impressed with the mission and work of Yad HaChazakah-JDEC, Mr. Friedman assumed lay leadership positions on the board in 2007. He has served as president since July 2009 and has a keen interest in the issues and barriers faced by those of us who acquire disabilities as we age. Those who meet and schmooze with Mr. Friedman are struck by his self-assured, personable, and caring nature.
Karen Halper, Vice President
Mrs. Karen Halper was a bookseller for Barnes & Noble, Inc. for over ten years and has had over 25 years experience in retail stores. She has also been a member and volunteer with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the Queensborough Public Library (QBPL). Through these various positions she has gained tremendous skill at dealing with all different kinds of people from all backgrounds, and she brings these people skills to help grow Yad HaChazakah’s financial base and extend the reach and services provided by the organization. Having friends who have disabilities and use wheelchairs has made her very aware of the need to make our public buildings and public transportation accessible for everyone. Through Yad HaChazakah she would like to work on making our synagogues, kosher stores and restaurants, and other Jewish institutions completely accessible.
Chaim Laufer, Secretary
Chaim Laufer has been working and volunteering for over a decade in organizations dedicated to serving people with disabilities. He has worked with individuals with various mental, physical and developmental issues while also working closely with their families, direct care staff, doctors and communities. Mr. Laufer has helped develop educational tools, social mediums, trainings and other methods of improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and those that assist them. Mr. Laufer grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community, spent two years in Israel after high school, and received a BA in psychology from Yeshiva University. He attended and worked at several Jewish summer camps, including those serving the disabled community.
As an alumnus and affiliate of those institutions, combined with his current community involvement, Mr. Laufer has amassed a large social network. Amongst his close friends are individuals who have thrived while living with a disability. Through Yad HaChazakah-JDEC, Mr. Laufer hopes to connect his friends within the disabled community with his friends that have not yet had the opportunity to experience that relationship.
Lynne Cassouto-Feinberg, Treasurer
Mrs. Lynne Cassouto-Feinberg works as an assistant controller at a large New York City real estate firm and is one of Yad HaChazakah-JDEC’s valued founding members. She has over 25 years of professional experience in bookkeeping and finance, and is pleased to be able to contribute those skills to Yad HaChazakah-JDEC. Having family members with both obvious and hidden disabilities, Mrs. Cassouto-Feinberg knows the isolation and marginalization that individuals with disabilities and their families often experience. Raising awareness about, improving access to, and expanding inclusiveness in yeshiva day schools are among Mrs. Cassouto-Feinberg’s primary concerns.
Al Fogel, Esq., Member at Large
Mr. Al Fogal, Esq. joined the Yad HaChazakah board of directors in 2013. As an attorney with a vision disability, Mr. Fogel has encountered and addressed issues related to people with disabilities in the areas of employment discrimination and basic everyday issues. As a board member of Yad HaChazakah, he hopes to help others with disabilities to make their lives more meaningful, enlightening, and fulfilling.
Chaya Wajngurt Levy, Member at Large
Mrs. Chaya Wajngurt Levy, a mathematics professor and administrator at Queens Community College, first became involved with Yad HaChazakah as a valued participant in the shadchan
network that Yad HaChazakah coordinates. Living with someone with ongoing health conditions and teaching students with disabilities at Queens Community College have sensitized Ms. Wajngurt Levy to the issues that affect people with disabilities and their families. Ms. Wajngurt Levy was elected to the board in 2013 and brings with her experience in workshop development, preparation, and presentation; grant proposal preparation; and strategic planning.
Shayna Malov, Member at Large
Mrs. Malov is totally blind due to retinitis pigmentoza. She was introduced to Yad HaChazakah several years ago when her guide dog, named Princess, and she were denied access to a private coach bus traveling from NYC to upstate New York. They feared that children would run off the bus in fear upon seeing the dog. Staff from Yad joined her to educate the bus company about guide dogs and how they can help other passengers feel comfortable. They were ready to work with her as a result of that meeting. “Had Yad existed earlier I would have had a much easier time advocating for myself in different areas as a disabled person,” says Mrs. Malov.
Mrs. Malov was invited to join Yad's Board of Directors in June 2012. She was very happy to accept the nomination and to be elected onto the board. “It gives me an opportunity not only to give back, but to be there helping build up this very worthwhile organization."
Tommy Stern, Member at Large
Passionate about innovation, and having known the frustrations and triumphs that go along with having a hidden disability Mr. Tommy Stern was elected to the governing board in 2013. As an entrepreneur, the founder of "Do the Right Thing America", and the inventor of the "Reflux Guard" and the "Stern Retractable Tzizit", Mr. Stern contributes his knowledge about entrepreneurship so that Yad HaChazakah can continue to think creatively and can connect with the business community.
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Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, Rabbinic Adviser
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, the founding director of NISHMA
, is Yad HaChazakah-JDEC’s primary Rabbinic Advisor and serves as a nonvoting member on our board of directors. Rabbi Hecht is recognized throughout North America and Israel for his study, insights and perspectives in the fields of Torah law and ethics; specifically as they impact contemporary issues and interact with the world political scene and the human condition. He is a member of the Rabbinic Advisory Board of Koshertube
and is a regular columnist in The Jewish Tribune
Ari Knoll, Esq.
Mr. Ari Knoll, a lawyer and adjunct associate professor, serves with several social justice organizations and academic committees. As one who uses a combination of vocal techniques to successfully counteract a speech impediment, Mr. Knoll is particularly sensitive to the concerns of and strengths in others.
Mr. Knoll joined our board of directors in 2008 to participate in Yad HaChazakah-JDEC's efforts to broaden access and opportunities for people with disabilities in our communities. He brought to the board gentility, warmth, and compassion in addition to his astute legal insights. Good changes in his life situation necessitated his resignation from the governing board in June 2012. Nevertheless, he wants to will maintain his connection to Yad HaChazakah-JDEC by serving as an adviser.
Mr. Jason Lieberman is a consultant to Yad HaChazakah on issues pertaining to strategic planning. Mr. Lieberman
his masters degree in public administration specializing in nonprofit management from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, and his BA from George Washington University in American studies. Most recently, Mr. Lieberman worked at Chartis Insurance as the disability program manager working to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Mr. Lieberman previously was the director of government and community affairs for Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, an agency of the Orthodox Union, which seeks to include all Jews in the Jewish community regardless of their disabilities. In addition to serving as a member of the UJA-Federation of New York Task Force on Disability, Mr. Lieberman continues to be a sought-after public speaker on issues relating to disability and Judaism, who has spoken in various venues throughout the United States and abroad. He draws from his extensive experience in growing up with and living with Cerebral Palsy. Mr. Lieberman lives in New York City with his wife Emily, son Ruby, and dog Isaac.
Mr. Yoel Bodek
Mr. Yoel Bodek is the CEO and president at Brokers Central LLC insurance company and owner at Bodek & Company Insurance & Financial Services. Raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mr. Bodek is a role model for many young people in chasidish and yeshivish communities as he zips along and effortlessly swings around in his sports designed wheelchair. He wants young people with disabilities to strive for more and not settle for living on benefits as they remain in their parents’ homes. His motto is, “You can do it!” Married to Rochel and raising 2 children in Monsey, Mr. Bodek finds time in his busy schedule to fly to distant places to provide encouragement to people who want to know what is possible for their lives when living with physical disabilities.
Mr. Bodek works with Yad staffers and others to find speakers for inspirational and informational gatherings. He has a specific interest in increasing access to yeshivas and raising the expectations that rebbes have towards students with disabilities. For example, he maintains that students with physical disabilities should be expected to wake up early to participate in morning minyan, and all shiurim (classes), just like their peers, and be afforded the access to do so.
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Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier
"I have had the zchus
to work with Yad HaChazakah, and I am very impressed with their work. They provide much needed chizuk
, direction and support. This organization is very much needed in Klal Yisrael.
grant them much hatzlacha
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