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K.I.’s Grand Givers celebrates 40 years of success

Drs. Shari and Michael Sokol are once again chairing Kehilath Israel Synagogue’s annual Grand Givers event. Photo by Scott Fishman

Kehilath Israel Synagogue is celebrating an important milestone this month as its largest fundraising event turns 40.

The 40th Annual Grand Givers event will be held at K.I. on Saturday, Nov. 12. Honoring all the work that has been done over the past four decades by countless volunteers and donors, the gala will turn the spotlight on award-winning composer Neil Berg. Berg will perform his new production “Pianomen … an intimate tribute to Billy Joel & Elton John.” 

The Grand Givers fundraiser is a raffle that was thought up all those years ago by Sam Devinki, who joined K.I.’s board of directors in the early 1970s and was named honorary president for life in 2012. He says Grand Givers was born out of necessity and some outside the box thinking. 

“Back in 1976 a group of peers and I worked very hard on a fundraiser,” Devinki said. “There were about 20 people working for four to six months and we ended up netting about $5,000. I thought there had to a more efficient way.”

Devinki had an idea. However, when he told his mother about it she thought he was crazy.

“We had been selling the tickets for a dollar each. I thought what if we sell raffle tickets for $100 a ticket,” Devinki said. “We got the idea to have people commit to selling 10 of them and that would be $1,000. That’s how we got the name Grand Givers.”

Devinki began calling others to volunteer and once one would join more would follow. He says the project got off the ground in the early days because of the work of volunteers like Abbott Sher, Marty Brown, Isak Federman, Sam Gould, Harold Penner and Sherman Dreiseszun. 

“As time went on Sherman would commit to selling 50 tickets,” Devinki said of the real estate developer who passed away in 2007. “That’s how it grew, one guy would recruit 20 or 30 other guys to sell tickets and then they would get others. More and more people wanted to be a part of it. The dominoes fell into place and all of sudden we had a whole new group of people donating.”

For a raffle this big Devinki knew he needed a prize to match. He decided the perfect prize would be a Cadillac Eldorado. A dinner was planned to celebrate and was held at the historic Muehlebach Hotel. 

The idea paid off and in that first-year Grand Givers raised close to $45,000. Devinki believed they could do better and the next evolution was adding gold and silver tickets, first at a cost $200 and 100 respectively and today at $400 and $200.

“The only thing you got with those tickets was a better seat at the performance,” Devinki said. “But people wanted them because they wanted to help.”

Devinki chaired Grand Givers for the first five years before handing those duties off to others. Eventually Cadillacs and other cars became too expensive and $10,000 was chosen as the grand prize. The contributions peaked in 2007.

“It was the biggest year we ever had,” Devinki remembered. He says that Dreiseszun was often responsible for bringing in 50 percent of the contributions and many years would speak at the gala. That year was especially memorable. “Sherman gave a speech at the Grand Givers event, and he said that he was proud of the work we had done but that he was tired and that it was time for some other people to take the reins and guide this project into the future. He died 12 hours later.”

In Dreiseszun’s memory the Dreiseszun Grand Givers category ($10,000 or more) was created. Current Grand Givers co-chairs Drs. Michael and Shari Sokol, who have taken charge of the event for the past five years, also had a “thinking outside the box” moment, creating corporate Grand Givers. A company can give $10,000, $5,000 or $2,000 and receives the tickets for that amount as well as publicity from K.I. throughout the year and that evening. 

Pianomen and a 40th anniversary

A rocket man and a big shot will be featured at this year’s Grand Givers event at Neil Berg is the featured entertainment and he will tickle the ivories for the crowd with his show “Pianomen… an intimate tribute to Billy Joel & Elton John.” The production pays tribute to Billy Joel and Elton John’s crowd-pleasing popular hits as well as their forgotten songs of the last four decades. Berg will be on piano and perform with two Broadway and rock vocalists. 

Berg is an award-winning composer, lyricist and producer. He performed a production of “100 Years of Broadway” at two previous Grand Givers events a decade ago. 

The evening begins at 7 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres and wine; doors open for seating at 7:30 p.m., and the show will begin at 8 p.m. A dessert reception will follow the performance. This year features food is by Silver Catering.

Other highlights of the evening include prizes drawn throughout the night and the much anticipated $10,000 grand prize (The grand prize winner need not be present to win).  

Devinki said, “The Sokols do a wonderful job” heading up Grand Givers.

“There is always great entertainment and food.”

Tickets admit two people. To purchase tickets or for more information, contact K.I.’s executive director Elizabeth Peden at 913-642-1880 x203 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Devinki began his 60-year journey with K.I. when he attended Hebrew School. Out of all his time affiliated with the synagogue he is most proud of his participation with the Grand Givers programs. Grand Givers has raised $4 million for Kehilath Israel. 

“The project has lasted this long because the cause has always been worthy,” Devinki said. “And what keeps it going are the volunteers and the work of a lot of people. And their work will keep it going for many more years.”