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Jewish Journal

ETTA Surprises

by Michelle K. Wolf

December 20, 2013 | 6:17 pm

The recent 20th anniversary gala of ETTA at the Beverly Hilton Hotel included two big surprises, one very personal and one very public.  ETTA/OHEL is the only nonprofit provider of residential programs for Jewish adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities (known as I/DD) in Los Angeles County. They also offer a day camp for teens/adults, independent living skills and educational/social programs as well.

Let’s start first with the public surprise. Michael A. Baruch, the recipient of the ETTA Visionary Award, is a businessman and entrepreneur. As Founder of Baruch Enterprises, he has headed, launched or developed many consumer brands including Fred Segal Beauty, DeLeon Tequila and EDEN by Eden Sassoon. He announced that he and Dr. Michael Held, the Executive Director of ETTA, have an ambitious plan to create housing options for 200 Jewish adults with I/DD by the year 2020.

Since ETTA currently operates only four licensed group homes and one independent living home, housing some 30 adults altogether, getting to 200 in just six years will take a whole lot of money, a major time commitment by staff and volunteers and generous amounts of Jewish communal help outside of their primary support in the Orthodox community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles had purchased two tables at the gala (one from the Valley Alliance), and has been expanding their support of ETTA’s adult programs over the years. I hope that other Jewish organizations and philanthropists will step forward to join them.

Now for the personal surprise. I was also one of the honorees, for the Professional Leadership Award, and although I had many close friends and family members with me, I was really missing the presence of our daughter, Rachel, 22, who is graduating from NYU. She had told me that although she really wanted to be at the gala, it wasn’t going to work out with her final exam schedule. I was disappointed but what could I say?

As part of my award presentation, a short video was shown about my work and our family’s journey with our now 19-year-old son, Danny, who has cerebral palsy and other disabilities. At the end of that video, a pre-recorded video clip of Rachel was shown, saying how sorry she was that she couldn’t be there for my special night, and then the stage went from dark to light, and there she was in the flesh to introduce me! My sister and I shrieked together: WHAT??

Completely unbeknownst to my husband, and me, ETTA staff and Rachel had worked out this plan to fly her out for the gala two months ago, and everyone involved kept it a complete secret. Rachel had flown in the morning of the gala, and was whisked away to a hotel suite upstairs, and then snuck into the backstage area, awaiting her cue. Seeing her on the stage sure made my heart palpitate, and I was totally flummoxed.

All I can say is that if ETTA can pull off my personal surprise without a hitch, there’s nothing to stop them from even bigger and better surprises in 2020 and beyond.

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