ETTA’s 20th Annual Gala, held recently at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, attracted more than 400 members of the Los Angeles community in support of ETTA’s work on behalf of Jewish adults with special needs.
ETTA, which has merged with OHEL Children’s and Family Services, is the premier resource for residential services for Jewish individuals with disabilities on the West Coast. It also provides many other services supporting people with special needs, including: life-skills training; job coaching; social events; a day program; a summer program; and educational programs. ETTA envisages an inclusive, participatory community of people with and without special needs – succeeding and growing together.
This year’s banquet was particularly meaningful, as it marked ETTA’s 20th Anniversary. The organization was founded in 1993 as the realization of retired LAUSD special education teacher Etta Israel’s dream. Her modest estate was dedicated to founding ETTA, which over the past 20 years has become a beacon of hope for people with disabilities and the families that love them.
ETTA’s work was celebrated and appreciated by gala participants, including the ETTA-OHEL board and ETTA’s advisory board. Many OHEL board members and executive staff were in attendance, as were many elected officials. They included State Controller John Chiang, California Democratic Party Vice Chair Eric Bauman, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, and Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian. ETTA’s Government Relations Group chairman, attorney Sam Yebri, officially welcomed them.
Dr. Michael Held, ETTA’s executive director, explained the organization’s current focus: a plan called “200 by 2020.” He is authoring this effort with ETTA’s Visionary Award recipient, Michael Baruch. Due to great need ETTA’s goal is to house, or support in various housing arrangements, 200 individuals with disabilities by the year 2020. Toward that end, Held proudly announced the opening of Bedford House, ETTA’s fifth home – and first on the Westside. This house is not a group home but rather a privately run home for high-functioning women who still require some support.
Liebe and Ivor Geft received the ETTA Champions Award. Liebe Geft is the director of the Museum of Tolerance, the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Ivor Geft is a renowned cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and teaches many Torah classes in the Los Angeles area. “What is so meaningful about supporting ETTA,” noted Liebe Geft, “is that it enables and ennobles these individuals with special needs to give to others, which is our purpose in life.”
Michelle Wolf, co-founder of the HaMercaz Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and currently transitions project coordinator for Bet Tzedek Legal Services, received the Professional Leadership Award for her 25 years of advocacy and innovation in the field – helping her son Danny and countless others. Wolf was touched by the surprise appearance by and introduction from her daughter Rachel, whom ETTA flew in from New York.
An evening highlight was a speech by Moshe Bienenfeld, a young man with autism who was honored with ETTA’s Lazare, z”l, and Moselle Hendeles Young Leadership Award. Bienenfeld reminded everyone that people with challenges are not “disabled” but rather “differently abled.” He shared his pride in being a spokesperson for individuals with autism.
The evening concluded with the award presentation to Baruch, founder of Baruch Enterprises and tireless worker on behalf of ETTA. “What could be more important than giving a home to people who need a home?” Baruch asked the audience. “You all can help our vision to provide homes to all the people who are in need.”