The Riverdale Y honored its founder with a gala on March 5, with a display of glitz and glamour in a nod to old Hollywood.
The annual gala, now in its fifth year, is typically a fundraiser for the Y’s children and teen arts programs. The Sunday night event included a dinner, a silent auction of items that ranged from autographs by the original Star Wars cast to tickets to astronaut training for two at the Kennedy Space Center, and a performance of the Broadway musical City of Angels.
But this year’s gala also aimed to honor the Y’s founder, Gerry Goldsmith, for his contributions over the past 50 years.
Goldsmith came to Riverdale in 1957 and realized that it lacked a community center that would be open to everyone, he said. With some help from like-minded allies, he established the nonprofit in his living room and gave the former Bronx Y on E. 167th Street and Grand Concourse a place in northern Riverdale.
When asked how he felt about being honored at this year’s gala, Goldsmith said it was a lot more than the event.
“My honor is not what’s going on here, it’s to see people using the gym, people going to the shows, children being taken care of all of the time,” he said. “That’s my honor. Seeing the use of the facility. That’s what I like. Open to all.”
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz presented Goldsmith with a proclamation from the New York State Assembly. Dinowitz, who has known Goldsmith for 43 years, wanted to show appreciation for the Y founder’s decades of dedication.
“I just wanted to stop by and congratulate Gerry because he is not only been an incredible support and leader for the Riverdale Y, but in so many other areas as well,” he told the gathering. “He has spent a lifetime doing good things, so when you chose to honor Gerry, you made a very wise decision.”
The Y’s present-day leaders expressed similar sentiments about Goldsmith’s influence on the organization’s work.
Without Goldsmith, “the Y might not even be in Riverdale at all,” CEO Deann Forman said.
“I don’t really know if you can quantify [his impact],” she said.
It certainly seems hard to quantify the impact the Y has had on generations of Riverdalians over the past 50 years. Sara Crowe, the Y’s board president, said that the organization is special to her because for her children, “this place is like their second home.”
“My kids have been involved in the Y since they were little,” she said. “They went to Kid Space here, the after school program, and then as members of Kid Space, they came upon the performing arts program and fell in love, and both of them have been in shows ever since.”
Aside from Goldsmith’s major honor, the other main event was City of Angels. The musical, which debuted on Broadway in December 1989, is set in the late 1940s. It is a story about a novelist who struggles to turn his book into a noir film. The Y’s one night production of the show featured Broadway performers. Although there were a few rehearsals prior to opening night, it was the cast’s first time performing the musical in its entirety at the Y, said Laurie Walton, the Y’s director of performing arts.
Walton has spent the last 17 years watching her department grow into a center that provides programs for both teens and adults. In her fifth year of organizing a show for the gala, Walton said she felt a succession of thoughts and concerns flashing through her head, but was excited to see how it would turn out, she said.
“We still learn as we go, so each year we learn something new and then we try to fix it for the next time,” she said. “[This year’s show] was a huge undertaking.”
Looking ahead to the next 50 years of the Y, people at its helm have high hopes. Crowe said her main goal this year is to figure out what people “want their Y to be,” and she welcomes suggestions.
“I think we’re the convener of certainly much about Jewish life in the community,” she said, “but we’re also very inclusive, so anybody who wants to be here can be here. And we’re just trying to infuse more passion.”
Goldsmith has only one word for what he wants the Y to become.
“Better,” he said.