Orthodox Rabbis Strut Their Stuff at Fashion Show Benefit

By Max Gross

Published June 20, 2003, issue of June 20, 2003.
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GREAT NECK, N.Y. — In many ways it resembled the typical fashion show: The lights were blinding, the music was loud, the cameras were flashing. And Steve Moskowitz, the model sashaying down the runway in a charcoal-colored wool crewneck and crepe flat-front pants, looked the part, too.

Yes, the rabbi was a hottie.

A few hours after the Sabbath ended last Saturday, 57 members of the Great Neck Synagogue’s Orthodox congregation — including two rabbis — strutted their stuff in the latest styles at the Great Neck Fashion Show.

The event — organized to raise money for the Save Our Soldiers fund, a charity that buys bulletproof vests for Israeli soldiers — looked like any fashion show one might see in New York, Milan or Paris. Sort of.

More than 200 Great Neck residents crammed into the synagogue’s ballroom, set up with gold upholstered chairs and a long runway. American, European and Israeli hip-hop music blared as the models showed off their outfits. Outside the ballroom, congregants huddled around the elegant bar — stocked with Abarbanel kosher wine — and buffet table, replete with elaborate floral arrangements and platters of egg salad and tuna fish.

For Ernie Gerstle, a senior citizen and member of the synagogue seated directly in front of the runway, this fashion show was his first. “It’ll be a little more modest than the ones on TV,” Gerstle predicted before the show began. “Things don’t hang out — or fall out.”

Estee Berman, one of the organizers of the event, explained how the fashion show came about: “We came up with this on the 8:04 a.m. train to Manhattan. We have a little coffee klatch. We talk about the State of Israel, and what we can do to help.”

Berman, a brand manager at Sara Lee Hosiery, seized on an idea: a fashion show to raise money for Israel. Another member of the synagogue had seen an advertisement for the Save Our Soldiers charity in the Five Towns Jewish Times, and Berman and others at the synagogue set to work getting local clothing manufacturers to donate their wares. Puntodue, Mirella, Raquel Couture, Lady Blue by Lady Vivienne, Tamara New York, Liz Lange Maternity, Orly’s, Weatherproof, Lonny’s, Uccelli’s, French Corner and 4 You all donated outfits. Through cover charges and auctions, the event raised more than $40,000 — enough to purchase 40 bulletproof vests.

Berman took to the runway boldly on Saturday night. She was dressed in a black Gianni Versace Versus top and a black and orange Christian Lacroix Bazaar dress, wearing a pair of sunglasses. When she reached the end of the runway, she tipped her sunglasses up on top of her forehead, and walked back up the runway with a mischievous grin across her face. Rabbi Sholom Jensen proudly modeled a short-sleeved ivory shirt and matching Bermuda shorts.

Others came out more modestly, doing slower walks down the runway. When a visibly pregnant woman walked down the runway in a pink tweed jacket and tan suede skirt she was greeted with tremendous applause.

At the end of the show — when the men’s clothes were auctioned off — the sophisticated, Euro-fashion feel of the evening dissipated somewhat.

“Do you have them in different sizes?” someone shouted as Gregory Rhine stepped onstage to model his safari jacket and long-sleeved V-neck shirt.

“No!” shouted Ben Greszes, one of the organizers, who donated the Puntodue line to the auction. “As is! As is!”

But even with this caveat, the clothing sold well.

“Do I have $200 for this… hard-to-pronounce Italian clothing line?” asked Rabbi Dale Polakoff, who led the auction.

“Look at these pants!” Polakoff said when another model stood on stage. “Where do you get pants like this? A hundred and seventy-five dollars for an outfit you can wear around the house!”

When Jensen stepped forward in his Bermuda shorts, Polakoff turned to the audience and said, “Is there anyone in the room who wants to pay money for this? A hundred and twenty dollars for these pajamas? They’re good pajamas.”

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