Valerie & Leonard Preston to be honored BD’s Annual Dinner on 5/19

Beth David Synagogue’s Annual Dinner will take place on Sunday, May 19, at 3 pm, at Beth David Synagogue. Valerie and Leonard Preston will receive the Jack and Mary Ferber Award. This year’s catered event will begin with a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres hour, followed by a sit-down dinner. The cost per person is $60, with sponsorships available. Invitations will be sent out shortly, with a Wednesday, May 1, RSVP appreciated. Those wanting further information can contact the synagogue at 607-722-1793 or 

“Longtime members of Beth David Synagogue,” organizers said, “the Prestons have earned the love and respect of all of us – they are wonderful beyond words, and we are looking forward to celebrating them at this major shul event!”

The Prestons were born in the Soviet Union in Saint Petersburg, where they were trained and worked as engineers. Leonard was a company’s chief engineer and Valerie was a senior communications engineer. From their early years, they were both made aware that they were Jewish and were encouraged to be proud of their heritage. Openly practicing Judaism in Russia was dangerous. Valerie noted that “Josef Stalin, who was responsible for the deaths of countless Jews, ironically died on Purim in 1953.” Valerie’s mother, who was also an engineer, told Valerie how she had responded to a coworker who said he had been insulted by a man who said that he looked Jewish. “Don’t worry,” her Mom answered, “no Jew would want someone who looks like you!”

Leonard described the danger involved in learning about and practicing Judaism. “When my grandfather began to teach me Hebrew, Torah and prayers,” Leonard recalled, “my parents were so worried that we would be caught by the government that they did not allow the lessons to continue.” He has preserved his grandfather’s prayer book that is probably 150 years old. He still uses that book today. Following their marriage in Saint Petersburg, the Prestons’ son Ilya was born.

After years of waiting for permission from the Soviet government to leave Russia, the Prestons were finally able to emigrate in 1976. They moved to Omaha, NE, where they had distant relatives There they joined a synagogue and became part of the Jewish community. Their daughter, Anna, was born in Omaha, where both Leonard and Valerie worked as engineers. “Because women engineers were such a rarity at that time,” Valerie recalled, “men from other parts of the building would walk by and stare at me, as if I was a strange animal in a zoo!” The Prestons then moved to California, continuing their engineering careers, with Leonard as project manager at GTE and Valerie as a group leader for a consulting company.

“How did we have the good fortune of having you finally settle in Vestal?” organizers asked the Prestons. Leonard jokingly recollected that on a business trip to the Northeast, “I found myself considerably lost in a place called Vestal, NY, and the rest is history! We love the slower-paced lifestyle and the community. Our children and grandchildren are nearby, and we have lived here ever since 1991!” 

“Len and Valerie have been devoted members of Beth David for longer than many of us can recall, organizers say, “and have always graciously albeit quietly pitched in at the shul whenever they could.  It is our  distinct pleasure to honor them with the 2024 Jack and Mary Ferber Memorial Award!”