A flood of patrons of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center huddled beneath the tent as a tempest brewed above. But while the clouds forced the party at the Phipps Conservatory’s Outdoor Gardens indoors, the rain did not damper the excitement of the occasion.
Safely gathered inside the conservatory, the more than 200 guests paid tribute to the dedication and self-sacrifice of the institution’s founders, the Kagan family, whose leadership of the Kollel recently came to an end.
“The community owes an immeasurable debt to the Kagan family,” said Dr. Abby Mendelson, president of the Kollel’s board of directors. It would be “impossible” to imagine Jewish Pittsburgh without their involvement.
Nearly four decades ago, Rabbi Shaul Kagan founded the center. Shortly after his passing almost two decades ago, his son, Rabbi Aaron Kagan, assumed the mantle of leadership. During his tenure, he raised several million dollars in capital and oversaw construction of the Kollel’s current home on Beacon Street in Squirrel Hill.
The younger Kagan announced his departure from the organization last year. He was joined by his wife, Efrat, the Kollel’s business manager. At the beginning of this year, Kagan became the executive vice president of the Sh’or Yoshuv Institute in Lawrence, N.Y.
“This is a special opportunity to celebrate the legacy that the Kagans left at the Kollel and think about how we want to forge on and teach Torah to the community,” Rabbi Levi Langer, the Kollel’s dean, said at Sunday night’s event. “The mandate is placed on us to search for ways to continue the legacy of the Kagans.”
In separate presentations, both generations of the Kagan family were recognized. Past-president Dr. Bobby Lebovits and his wife, Dr. Jennifer Rudin, presented an award to Esther Kagan, wife of the late Shaul Kagan.
Langer then bestowed an award on their son and daughter-in-law.
In an entertaining address preceding his gift, Langer quipped that each of the couple warranted individual recognition.
“They each deserve to be honored,” he said, “but this is the Kollel; we save money.”
Following Langer’s comments, Kagan, who is known for his affability and communicative strengths, stated, “For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to say.”
Clearly humbled by the outpouring of support, Kagan turned toward his mother and said, “Everything I accomplished here was built on a foundation that you and Abba laid down.”
He then acknowledged his wife: “She’s my rock, my anchor,” he said, “and she doesn’t want me to say anything about her, so I’ll stop.”
While much was made over the Kagan family’s years of service to the Kollel, Efrat Kagan explained: “For me, it’s nice to see everybody supporting the Kollel, continuing to use the Kollel as a place to learn, to learn from.”
“It’s not the end,” she said. “It’s a new beginning.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.