Each year the Jewish Ledger makes a list of “Movers & Shakers” people in the Jewish community who are making a difference. Here is the Ledger’s list of 2011 Movers & Shakers in Western Massachusetts:
Rabbi Amy Walk Katz
SPRINGFIELD – After arriving at Temple Beth El in Springfield in 2009 — becoming the first female rabbi of a Springfield synagogue — Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz got to work reinstituting the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School which had not operated since 2004. The adult education program completed its first two-year cycle and began a new first year class with a slew of new students. Not only is Rabbi Katz the director of the entire program, but she is one of the dedicated teachers bringing Judaism to life in class.
Now Rabbi Katz has been chosen to participate in Rabbis Without Borders (RWB), a National Fellowship program of Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. More than 90 applicants competed for 22 spots in the fellowship program which offers resources for rabbis to enhance their skills for addressing diverse audiences. From online learning to one-on-one dialogue, participants work with Clal faculty to develop methodologies that draw on the texts and tradition in new ways. The goal is for these “spiritual innovators” to see their congregations as more than just members of their school, community or institution. “The goal of the program is to convene 22 colleagues from all flavors of Judaism – so there are Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform,” Rabbi Katz explained. “So we are all colleagues who are reminding ourselves about our rabbinate. I think the best way I can say it is that we are all spending time thinking about why we fell in love with our Judaism and help others to access it and find what they can love about Judaism.”
Dr. Martin Lesser
More then three years ago, Dr. Martin Lesser was tending to his patients as a family practitioner in Holyoke when he learned of the need for medical doctors in Iraq. He decided to make the sacrifice and go to Iraq and serve as a medical doctor. It wasn’t easy. The application process took a full year, but he eventually enlisted, becoming a major in the Massachusetts National Guard. Before reporting for active duty, he contacted other doctors in the Holyoke area to cover his patients while he was gone. He then began his service at Fort Benning in Georgia, moving to San Antonio for pre-deployment training at the Army Medical Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston. In October of 2010, he served in Iraq for four months and provided medical care for American soldiers at the Troop Medical Clinic at Forward Operating Base Adder in Talil, Iraq. Dr. Lesser had been a college student during the Vietnam War and received a draft deferment at that time. He says he has always felt that it was unfair that he received the deferment. “So 40 years later, after becoming a physician and raising a family, when I was again asked, (not drafted) to make a limited commitment to provide medical care for troops, I couldn’t imagine saying no.”
Harold Grinspoon and Diane Troderman
The list of Movers & Shakers would not be complete without Harold Grinspoon. He is a perpetual Mover & Shaker, whose innovative programs like PJ Library and B’nai Tzedek Youth Foundation continue to make a difference in the Jewish community, both here, and nationally.
In March, Grinspoon was the recipient of the Impact Awards of the 60th Annual National Jewish Book Awards of the Jewish Book Council, the longest-running North American awards program of its kind in the field of Jewish literature. Given annually, the awards are designed to recognize outstanding books on Jewish topics each year. Grinspoon was honored for his commitment to Jewish literacy and growth through PJ Library, which he created to introduce children to Jewish literature and support them and their families on their Jewish journey. The PJ Library program sends nearly 70,000 Jewish children’s books free to families with young children each month in more than 100 communities in North America. In May, Grinspoon personally hand-delivered the 2 millionth free PJ Library book to a family in Brooklyn. N.Y.
Always standing right next to Harold is his wife, Diane Troderman, who also made our list of Movers & Shakers. In June, she was honored by JESNA, Jewish Education Service of North America, at the organization’s 30th anniversary gala for her “far-reaching influence in the Jewish philanthropic and educational world.” Troderman is chair of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), former chairman of JESNA, a board member of PELIE (Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education), a board member of the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary; and active with Hebrew At the Center. She sits on the boards of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), Hazon, and was a founding chairman of the Hadassah Brandeis Institute. She is a member of the HGF Board of Trustees.
Alissa and Steven Korn
Five years ago, Alissa and Steven Korn spearheaded the effort to develop a high-quality special needs program at the Springfield Jewish Community Center. Through grants from the Sadye Silver Endowment Fund (named for Steve’s grandmother) and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the program – now known as Kehillah or “community” in Hebrew – was founded in 2007. Since then, it has impacted more than 500 students, offering social, recreational, and enrichment programs to both children and young adults with special needs. In just five years, the Kehillah program has helped 327 children and teens learn to swim through adaptive aquatics. Nearly 200 children have learned to bike through Project RIDE and more than 100 have taken part in musical programming. Besides their work with the JCC’s special needs program, the Korns are also very involved in other Jewish agencies – they were sponsors of this summer’s Maccabi Games in Springfield and have both been highly involved with the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts and Jewish Family Services. Steve was co-chair of JFS’ strategic planning steering committee. This October, they were honored by the JCC for all that they have done for the Kehillah program. Around $100,000 was raised at the event, to be used to provide scholarships for students and to increase programming for young adults. Michael Paysnick, executive director of the JCC lauded the Korns for their generosity and commitment to the program. “A lot of people will give you their money and say, ‘You do it.’ But Steve and Alissa wanted to get involved,” Paysnick said. “They have continued to spearhead this and continue to fund us beyond what the initial grant was…Their vision, which is our vision, is to continue to service the needs, and the need exists.”
Rabbi Max Davis
When the three Orthodox synagogues in the Springfield area merged in 2009, members of each worked hard to come together as united members of the new Congregation B’nai Torah, in their new home, the former B’nai Jacob Synagogue. One of the most important factors in the success of the congregation was the addition of a spiritual leader who could work with the members of all three former congregations to form a unifying bond. That leader has been Rabbi Max Davis. “Since we combined our three synagogues, it has been a long time since we could all say, ‘This is my rabbi,’” said Kenneth Abrahams, president of B’nai Torah. “And I think everybody is very sincere about that. He is everybody’s rabbi. He understands the differences between the three congregations and how we are trying to be one.”
Rabbi Davis has big fans, and not just in the Springfield area. Noted rabbis Avi Weiss and Irving “Yitz” Greenberg were guests at Rabbi Davis’ installation in September and both spoke glowingly about the 29-year-old rabbi.
Davis graduated from Harvard with a degree in city planning, but during college he had taught and tutored at Hebrew schools and was active in Hillel. The rabbinate called to him and he began attending Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York – the yeshiva founded by Avi Weiss — where Davis received his semicha.
During his year at B’nai Torah, the only full-service Modern Orthodox congregation in Western Massachusetts – the energetic and youthful rabbi has instituted adult education courses and social action initiatives and has nurtured the congregation as it continues to bond. Whether leading services, teaching classes, cooking for homebound congregants, or skateboarding with teenaged members in the synagogue parking lot, Rabbi Davis has become everyone’s rabbi at B’nai Torah.
“In the space of one year, Rabbi Davis has shown himself to be a remarkable spiritual guide, a scholar…a leader with incredible energy, and in everyway, a mensch,” said Abrahams,
The 2011 Springfield Maccabi Games held this past August in Western Massachusetts went off without a hitch. That is thanks in large part to the scores of volunteers and community leaders who came through with time and money to make the athletic games such a success. But it also due to the hard work of Stuart Greene. As Games Director Greene “directed the ship” said Betsy Bertuzzi, one of the co-chairs of this years game (and a Jewish Ledger Mover & Shaker in 2008). Greene served as Games Director this year and in 2002 as well. “Neither would have occured without him and without his vision and without his drive and his absolute passion for the games and the JCC,” Bertuzzi added.
Greene has gained vast experience in working on the Maccabis since serving as game director at the Maccabi Games in 2002. After organizing those games in less than 15 months, he was asked to serve on the Continental Board of the Maccabi Games. As a member of the Continental Board, he travels to other communities to help them plan their own Maccabi games. This year he presided over 18 subcommittees and a steering committee with more than 40 representatives, and handled all of the logistics and coordination of the Games, which brought nearly 1,000 teen athletes to Springfield for several days of competition and bonding.
“He and I have worked closely together for 35 years at the JCC, from the time I was on the swim team with him. He has still led the swim team – my son swam for him. It is those kinds of relationships that he has cultivated over the years and his knowledge of the community that really helped make this such a success.”
As a member of the PJ Library’s book selection committee, Vivian Newman and her colleagues have always been on the lookout for books that will fit PJ Library’s mission – providing high quality Jewish children’s books for families across North America each month. “Our biggest need is books for from one-year-olds to three-year-olds. It can be hard to find good Jewish books for that age,” Newman said. So Newman decided to write one herself. Her very first foray into children’s books, “Ella’s Trip to Israel” illustrated by Akemi Gutierrez was published by noted publishing house KAR-BEN Publishing. It was published and mailed out to PJ Library families in April. Aimed at three-year-olds, the book tells the story of a young girl who travels to Israel with her parents and stuffed bear “Koofi.” During Ella’s adventures in Israel, Koofi has some adventures – and mishaps – of his own. With an abundance of experience as an early childhood educator, Newman’s foray into writing was a natural progression. A native of Springfield, she got her Masters degree in early childhood education from the Bank Street College of Education and trained at its family center. She worked at child care centers and ran “Mommy & Me” groups and for several years she served as the Judaic educator at the Springfield JCC while also consulting with the PJ Library. Three years ago Newman joined the PJ Library’s book selection committee. She also teaches on-line courses through PJ Library and Hebrew College to help train PJ professionals. Newman, who lives in Springfield with her husband Moses Pava and their three children, has finished her second children’s book, “Tikkun Olam Ted” which will be published by KAR-BEN.