EDWARD KONIGSBERG MEMORIAL AWARD
There are few who embody more eagerly than Les Mandel Shammai’s advice in Pirkei Avot to “speak little but do much.”
It is this principle that prompted Les to join the Hashkama minyan at CIS, offering his prayers with a pleasant countenance, along with a warm greeting to all. Every weekday, he feels privileged to lay Tefillin with other Jews in a Shul, reinvigorating the values and traditions of his late father, a lifelong Zionist who davened in a concentration camp, before surviving slave labor camps in which 97% of the Jewish population was exterminated. With a work ethic as prodigious as his modesty, Les emulates the example of his parents by placing his family’s needs before his own—and by defining the notion of family to include any person or community in need of support.
Les readily agreed to help when then-CIS President Len Bielory expressed concern about out-of-pocket expenditures related to a favorite pastime of many members: reciting brachot at CIS over food and beverages. For nearly two decades, Les has single-handedly bought and delivered nearly every non-catered, perishable and non-perishable item consumed or used by members of all ages, from paper goods and pretzels to soda and whitefish salad. Thanks to his personal oversight of these purchases—made on a weekly or bi-weekly basis—Les saves the Shul thousands of dollars annually, while enhancing our Kehillah’s Kiddushim, Seudot and social gatherings.
His labors of love on behalf of our Kehillah are something of a secret at CIS; not so his involvement in a host of other charitable endeavors. Shul members are invited weekly to collect unneeded clothing and other necessities for Yad Leah, which Les picks up from Shul and delivers to a New Jersey warehouse. These donations—including the 2000 bags of goods contributed to date by CIS members—soon reappear in 27 Yad Leah thrift shops across Israel, where impoverished families can shop with dignity. Les also supports the Jewish Relief Agency, which delivers staples to 700 local families suffering from food insecurity; and he ensures that any undeliverable donations are passed along to the Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey. For 10 years, Les was also instrumental in managing B’nai Brith’s annual Holocaust Remembrance programs at the former Temple Israel in Union, attracting Jewish and Christian speakers dedicated to honoring those who were lost as well as saved.
While Les has done much to stay out of the spotlight, the same cannot be said of Buddy, the spaniel-lab mix he adopted and trained as a certified therapy dog. Over the course of many years, Buddy was not only featured in the Star Ledger but on posters displayed in the hallways of UMDNJ and Daughters of Israel, where under Les’s benevolent gaze Buddy brought instant love and ease to thousands of patients recuperating in Pediatric, Pediatric Intensive Care, Oncology, and Psychiatric units.
Given his highly labor-intensive efforts to serve the community, it should come as no surprise that Les is equally devoted to his work and his family. A graduate of the University of Maryland with a degree in business administration, he partnered with his father for 20 years as a restaurateur in the heart of New York City’s garment district, before establishing another hospitality-related business: for the past 25 years, he has been a distributor of baked goods of every conceivable variety to restaurants, schools, colleges, hospitals and catering halls in the tri-state area.
But Les is most proud of having raised, along with his wife Rhoda, loving and accomplished children who share his dedication to chesed: Rachel, a dentist; and Steven, a partner at the international private equity firm TPG and a board member for the Chordoma Foundation, a non-profit organization working to improve the lives of those affected by chordoma—a very rare cancer that takes the lives of 70% of those diagnosed within a year. While Steven, a chordoma survivor, oversees the Foundation’s fundraising for research and development efforts that will lead to a cure, the entire Mandel family champions the foundation, which links patients, families, physicians, scientists and companies with a wealth of resources aimed at enhancing awareness, patient care and services, and outcomes.
Les is enormously grateful to Hashem for his son’s good health, and for his own: a survivor of numerous surgeries, including four performed at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, he seeks to serve Hashem with love and kavanah while performing the mitzvot of Tefillah and Chesed. Just as Avraham responded, “Hineni” when Hashem called to him before the Akeidah, Les is determined to answer, “Hineni” whenever Hashem calls to him.