Chai Society Virtual Community Mitzvah Awards

 Chai Society Virtual Community Mitzvah Awards

Points of Light
 Wednesday, May 25, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. via Zoom*

The Chai Society Virtual Community Mitzvah Awards recognize individuals who have enhanced and promoted Jewish life on campus and within the broader community. All proceeds raised through this virtual event will be used to advance the mission of the Chai Society to strengthen the ties between Wagner College and the Jewish Community through support of academic studies and co-curricular activities on Judaism, Israel and the Holocaust; to support a vibrant Holocaust Center, Hillel and other programs; and to educate continuing generations on the ramifications of prejudice, ant-Semitism and racism in order to promote openness to all. This serves as a true mitzvah opportunity.

Help us to celebrate the 18th anniversary of the Chai Society with your support, which is an act of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).

Register for the event here: 

2022 Award Honorees:

Shirley Gottesman M'98 /The P.S. 22 Chorus - Courage Award

Margot Capell - Courage Award

Hannah Steiner - Courage Award

Gregg Breinberg P.S. 22 Chorus - Spirit of Change Award

Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon - Allan Weissglass Civic Leadership Award

Kim and Victor Avis - Leadership Award

Elisabeth Pollicove '22 - Next Generation Award

DA Michael McMahon

District Attorney Michael E. McMahon took office in 2016, working to build a modern prosecutor’s office focused on precision prosecution, neighborhood-centered crime prevention, and bridge-building between law enforcement and the community. Utilizing his broad and deep experience in law and public service, DA McMahon has addressed the issues most affecting Staten Islanders: From the opioid epidemic to traditional street crime and gun violence; from domestic violence to economic crime; from crimes against our children to assaults on women and seniors, and creating a new unit to protect animals, DA McMahon continues to work with partners across law enforcement and the community to drive down crime numbers and keep Staten Islanders safer.

Elisabeth Pollicove

Elisabeth Pollicove is a psychology and biology student whose passion for learning has no limits. As a member Wagner College’s graduating 2022 class, her past four years have been filled with lessons of academics, friendship, and leadership. Her love of Judaism has led her to Wagner’s Hillel and Chai Society. She is currently planning on attending an accelerate nursing program post-graduation, and will miss Wagner greatly.

Gregg Breinberg

The PS22 Chorus of Staten Island, directed by Gregg Breinberg, is the Webby Award-winning internet choral sensation ft. 65 public school fifth graders. PS22 Chorus was formed in the year 2000 - an ever-changing group of 5th graders from a public elementary school in Staten Island, New York. PS22 is NOT a school for the arts,. and the chorus is not a magnet program. PS22 Chorus simply features ordinary children achieving extraordinary accomplishments. Indeed, the PS22 Chorus videos have garnered hundreds of millions of views across YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The group has been featured on Nightline, Oprah, The View, Sesame Street, The Today Show, and perhaps most notably the 2011 Academy Awards! The kids have sung with Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, Leslie Odom Jr., Tori Amos, and a host of other phenomenal artists. The mission of the multicultural group is to model harmony, both musically and otherwise, and to serve as a reminder that through hard work, anything is possible!


“My heart races back to you” (Faja Szivel Vissza].

Hannah (born 11/29/1925) grew up in the city of Oradea, Romania, where she helped her mother Helen with sewing and played the violin. In 1941, after the Hungarian police took away Helen’s license, they moved to Budapest, Hungary. There, Hannah fell in love at 15-years old with Abraham Steiner, whom she met at a dance. Abraham was taken to a labor camp when the Germans invaded Hungary in 1944. Hannah credits her mother’s love for her survival after their deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau. To distract from acute hunger, “we were cooking…verbally. We cooked! We said: my mother did this and you did this.” Tragically, they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where Helen died of typhus in Hannah’s arms after liberation. Weighing 62 pounds, Hannah was taken to Sweden to recuperate.
She was reunited in Israel with Abraham after seven years of separation. They got married August 22, 1950 and remained together for 60 years. Her first son Michael was born in Israel in 1951. Four years later, Jake was born 1955. After living in Israel (Holon), they sought better employment opportunities. They moved to San Paulo to be with her brother Julius Abraham, who was also an Auschwitz survivor and had moved to Brazil. After a few years, they moved to Brooklyn where their daughter Helene was born in 1963. Hannah continued to work as a seamstress and Abraham worked as a jeweler. They were among the early members of Young Israel of Canarsie. In 2000, they moved to Staten Island where she participated in Cafe Europa at the Alan and Joan Bernikow Staten Island Jewish Community Center.
Initially hesitant to share her story, Hannah took tremendous pride in speaking with the Wagner College Holocaust Center to students in public schools. She later spoke at several yeshivas as well. She developed meaningful relationships with Wagner College students who heard her tragic story. She received many meaningful notes from students of all ages. Her life was reenacted on the stage in the production of Rise Up: Young Holocaust Heroes (St. George Theater, 2019) and featured in the NY-Emmy winning series Where Life Leads You.
Hannah has seven grandchildren (Adam, Craig, Eric, Daniella, Rebecca, Natani and Mark) and nine great-grandchildren.

Kim & Victor Avis

Kim and Victor Avis were married in 1990 with a ten-year plan to move from Staten Island and to settle in North Carolina. Upon starting their family in 1992, and raising their three daughters on Staten Island, the vision changed. Kim and Victor fell in love with many people and causes on our Island and together they decided that this would be their home and their community.

Sharing a very close and loving relationship with their parents, Nancy and Ron Avis, who modeled community involvement, leadership, and philanthropy, Kim and Victor soon chose to become involved with our Staten Island community and make their mark.

While in their early marital years, Victor was preoccupied with learning and practicing his profession of dentistry, and some last vestiges of competitive golf, Kim was the first to become active in the Staten Island community. She joined the JCC’s woman’s division, rose to become the president of this group and soon joined the JCC board. Kim has remained a member of the JCC board for 25 years. 

When their three girls were in elementary school, Kim often volunteered as  the quintessential class mom who would serve as the liaison between the teachers and class parents. Victor meanwhile began a 10 year stretch as his girls’ basketball coach…at times coaching three teams for the JCC intramural league and girl’s travel CYO basketball. As a new JCC flagship building was being envisioned, Kim and Victor were selected to chair the Future Leaders Group for the JCC…an initiative to help identify and develop future leaders for the Staten Island JCC. 

Following  Kim’s leadership example, Victor joined the JCC board of directors as well. He also joined the board of Temple Israel and chaired the committee for membership for both the JCC, and Temple Israel.

In 2004, Kim and Victor joined their dad and Wagner provost, Devorah Lieberman, and other community leaders to create the Chai Society at Wagner College. The Chai Society initially was envisioned as a group that would help to build ties between the Staten Island Jewish community and Wagner College. Its humble early vision was to improve Jewish life for Wagner students, attract more Jewish applicants to Wagner, provide scholarships, and develop a new source of charitable giving. Elaine and Dennis Bloomfield succeeded Ron as the Chai Society’s next leaders. Then in 2009, Kim and Victor became the new chairpersons and served as such for the next 13 years.

During this time the Chai Society mission and vision has evolved and become increasingly transformative. With the Chai board, and full support from Wagner’s presidents, provosts, administrators, and professors the work of Chai has supported the development of a campus Hillel, Jewish speaker series, and events, the creation of scholarships, and the development of the Wagner College Holocaust Center. Celebrating the Chai Society’s 18th anniversary, Kim and Victor are proud of the new Holocaust Center exhibit space in the Wagner College Student Union that celebrates women heroines of the Holocaust and Staten Island survivors. This is a new milestone but behind it are years of developing a strong Wagner College-Jewish community  bond, building relationships with Staten Island Holocaust survivors, and programs with survivors, Wagner students, and Staten Island middle schools. In May, Wagner College and the WCHC will host a two-day Symposium, featuring national and international scholars, about women rescuers and resistors of the Holocaust.

During the last decade, Kim and Victor were also chairpersons of the JCC’s public phase of their  capital campaign; Victor was board chair at Staten Island Academy for three years and served on their board for 12 years.

Finally, in 2021, Kim  and Victor and their oldest daughter, Sydney, have founded the Airway Revolution Foundation. This Foundation has forged a partnership with Columbia University to transform the future education of dentists and physicians with respect to airway disorders; create prevention and treatment programs for underserved persons and build the first collaborative Center for the diagnosis and treatment of airway disorders. An important feature of the Airway Revolution Foundation, Airway: the Battle to Breathe is a documentary series that will be released in 2024, This series will create global awareness and education about the airway disorder epidemic and its impact on our foremost chronic health issues.

Through all their community work and involvement, the most rewarding aspect for Kim and Victor is to see how their three daughters are developing to become their own impactful leaders. In April 2022, Sydney, Samantha, and Morgan were honored by the JCC with the Nancy Avis L’dor v’ dor Legacy award for their acts of service and community engagement.

Kim and Victor are honored to receive the Wagner College Chai Legacy Award and thank the members of the Chai board over the 18-year history and Wagner college for their support. This community of people with a shared vision has enabled us to accomplish much and will see that the future is even greater.

Margot Capell

“I would say: keep your eyes open. And if you see something, no matter how small an incident, do something about it. Don’t say `It will pass.’ Antisemitism exists.”

In 1934, 14-year-old Margot Wolf (b. October 10, 1920) was denied the honor to be the valedictorian of her grade school in Rülzheim, Germany under the Nazi Regime. Despite laws that barred Jews from the movie theaters, one neighbor allowed Margot to sneak in to see films starring her favorite actress Shirley Temple. Margot became an eyewitness to Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, barely fleeing the local synagogue in time. Fearing for her safety, Margot’s mother sent her at age 18 to England. She spent a year there before coming to the United States as a refugee. Margot’s brother Paul built a new life in Sweden, but her parents were killed. As a refugee, she began a new life and married Eric Capell, a World War II U.S. veteran whose family had fled Germany too. In October 2021, Margot turned 101 years old.

In this photo, Margot holds the only photograph she has of her parents.

Photo Credit: Shira Stoll/Staten Island Advance.

Shirley Gottesman

Growing up in Záluz, Czechoslovakia, Shirley Gottesman (b.May 6, 1927) lived on a farm and enjoyed Purim and other holidays with her grandparents Malka and Zalman Berger, her parents Laizer and Blima and siblings. During the war, she moved to nearby Munkacs to train to be a seamstress like her mother. In April 1944, Shirley’s entire family was forced to move to the ghetto. Worse, they were then packed into a cattle car for three days to Auschwitz. Just 17 years old, Shirley was assigned to Kanada, an area near crematoria IV where clothing was sorted that belonged to those Jews who were killed. When she found her mother’s shoe among the belongings of those Jews sent to the gas chambers, she knew the Nazis had murdered her. She sometimes found extra bread or sardines. Shirley was an eyewitness to the October 1944 uprising in Auschwitz.

Shirley married and came to the U.S. in 1949. Lester born in 1952. Lori born in 1957.

Her experiences have been published as Red Polka-Dotted Dress: A Memoir of Kanada II. The photo Shirley holds shows her brother Moshe and two aunts who survived. Her other siblings Fiaga, Ester and Rifka were killed in Auschwitz.