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Cornwall artist is Chabad Man of Year

CORNWALL — Harvey Offenhartz has been named the Chabad Lubavitch Man of the Year. He is best known as an abstract artist and through his numerous exhibits in this area and New York City. Offenhartz has quietly supported the expansion of Chabad into all of Litchfield County. The Jewish, community-service oriented organization celebrated its 15 years here at its annual Community Awards Dinner held in Waterbury on Dec. 4.Offenhartz modestly told The Journal, in an interview the week before the ceremony, that he was surprised and not really sure why he won the award.“The thing about it is, usually you do something to win an award. I’m interested in finding out what I did.”A day after he was instated as Man of the Year, Offenhartz said it was as he suspected: He had unknowingly had a profound effect on the man charged with the Chabad expansion into the Northwest Corner, the Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach.Chabad Lubavitch, a worldwide organization founded in 1772, is described on its website as one that “embraces a philosophy of study, meditation and social outreach that combines rigorous academics with active community involvement. Chabad’s growing array of educational and social services programs has made it one of the most dynamic forces in modern life.”The rabbi and the artist first met in those capacities 15 years ago under rather ironic circumstances. Offenhartz was hanging an art exhibit at Wisdom House in Litchfield, a retreat center with its origins in Catholicism. The paintings were his interpretation of the 14 Stations of the Cross, a subject he found very moving.Although he meant the series as a tribute, he was anxious about how it would be received.“I was dealing with a major tenet in the Catholic religion. I had tremendous trepidation because it is not my faith, and some might not appreciate the abstract manner.”At the same time, Rabbi Eisenbach was having his own anxieties, finding difficulties in mounting his mission to nurture a Jewish culture here. He had gone to Wisdom House looking for connections. He was taken to the gallery to meet Offenhartz.“He was the first Jewish person I met in Litchfield County, and I may have been the first for him,” Offenhartz said. “Our meeting was very significant for him. I didn’t know that at the time.”He marvels at how a chance meeting could make such a difference. It spurred the rabbi to stay, and Offenhartz to embrace his faith. Does he believe in fate?“Looking back, so much I planned has gone well, but there are so many chance meetings and opportunities that have made a big difference in my life. There is a Jewish word for that, besharet; it means ‘meant to be.’”It might also be summed up in his artist’s statement, which reads in part, “Abstract works have a life of their own — they tell you what they need and want as they go along, and they are never finished with you.”Fellow award winners were Dr. Scott Kurtzman, chief of surgery at Waterbury Hospital. He was given the Maimonides Award for his support of Chabad’s children’s programs, and for his life-saving efforts at the 20-vehicle car crash in Avon in 2005.Richard Braverman, president of R & R Corrugated in Bristol, was given the Community Service Award for his involvement in Chabad’s activities for more than a decade.

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