Jewish Journal

Disco Rabbi, Colin Powell Among Caring Institute Honorees

by Danielle Berrin

Posted on Oct. 20, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Rabbi Yitzhak Dovid Grossman (above) and Colin Powell.

Rabbi Yitzhak Dovid Grossman (above) and Colin Powell.

A diverse group of do-gooders, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Israel’s “disco rabbi,” Yitzhak Dovid Grossman, were among those honored on Oct. 13 by the Caring Institute, the Mother Teresa-inspired nonprofit, which promotes the values of caring, integrity and large-scale public service.

During an event at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, 11 crystal angels were presented to youth and adult honorees, commending service projects benefiting people in Peru, the Sudan, the Middle East and the United States.

Grossman, the 63-year-old founder of Migdal Ohr (Tower of Light), a massive nonprofit venture in the northern Israeli town of Migdal Ha Emek, was the evening’s sole international honoree.

Migdal Ohr began in 1972 when Grossman brought 18 boys into his care to provide them with an education and social services. It has since become a full-scale operation with schools, day care centers and a wealth of other services, such as dorm housing, health care clinics, computer facilities, recreation areas, libraries, a seminary and programs aimed at prisoner rehabilitation and immigrant absorption. Today the organization is responsible for housing, feeding and educating more than 6,000 at-risk children.

Accepting his award, Grossman told the audience his goal in life is to fulfill God’s teaching, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“The whole idea of caring is the point of believing in God and believing in yourself,” he said. “It is understanding that you don’t live only for yourself.”

When he was in his mid-20s, Grossman earned the title “disco rabbi” after frequenting Israeli discothèques on his mission to connect with local youth. It was there that he sought out and cared for children from underprivileged and problem homes who might be prone to drugs, violence and crime.

Former Secretary of State Powell performs a similar mitzvah as the founder of America’s Promise Alliance, a foundation that provides umbrella support to more than 300 youth organizations, including numerous Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation. Powell was honored for his work raising more than $300 million to benefit an estimated 10 million children from disadvantaged, low-income backgrounds who might resort to drugs and crime without intervention.

Powell, who grew up in a low-income family, said he uses his military background to command children to stay off drugs, focus on their schooling and prepare for jobs. 

“All of us can reach out and touch someone in need,” Powell said. “We have an obligation to reach out, down, back and across, because all citizens of the world are our fellow citizens and we owe them everything we can do.”

Other honorees included youth recipient Ana Dodson, a 17-year-old from Colorado, who proclaimed herself “a young Mother Teresa, but a Jewish one” for her work helping Peruvian orphans as the founder of Peruvian Hearts, which has collected $150,000 in donations. Dodson was born in Peru and adopted by an American family.

Among the adult honorees, New Yorker Larry Selman, who is known as “the collector of Bedford Street,” was recognized for raising more than $400,000 for AIDS and muscular dystrophy over more than 20 years. Despite severe developmental disabilities and being confined to a wheelchair, Selman asks nearly every person he encounters for money, and accepts any sum.

At the end of the evening, Grossman promised to inaugurate an evening in Israel devoted to caring, although he had one precondition: “I hope our first guest speaker on this evening, who I know also speaks Yiddish, will be my friend Colin Powell.”

For more information about the Caring Institute, visit http://www.caring-institute.org.

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