Sharon Cohen and Adina Elfant
As co-chairs of the Heritage Academy Board of directors for the past two years, Sharon Cohen and Adina Elfant, work in perfect sync with each other. Cohen, owner of six Footbeats shoe stores concentrates on development and fundraising, while Elfant, an administrator at Western New England University, brings her educational background to her work at the school.
Cohen serves as co-chair despite the fact that her children graduated from Heritage several years ago — Gillian is now a sophomore at Barnard and the Jewish Theological Seminary and Alizah is a senior at the Williston
Northampton School. Cohen served as treasurer for six or seven years when her daughters attended Heritage Academy, and she came back years later as co-chair of the board to help out when her skills were needed. As a member of the Federation executive board three years ago when Heritage was going through some financial difficulties, Cohen was asked to be a liaison between Heritage and the Federation. “They needed more leadership, and no one was stepping up. So I said, ‘I will.’”
“She stepped up to the plate and at that time she said, ‘Let me see what I can do to help,’ And came back to us. As far as leadership goes, she is incredible,” said Lauren Life, lead administrator at Heritage.
Sharon does development and fundraising for the school and has been co-chair of the ad journal for the school’s scholarship dinner for several years. “My forte is the fundraising stuff and Adina is an educator so between the two of us we figured we could fill both sides of the presidency. And I think we have done a pretty good job of it. We have had a balanced budget for two straight years and we are in a good place.”
Elfant has three children attending Heritage Academy currently – Kayla, grade six, Aylee, a fourth grader, and Talya, a first grader. Before becoming co-chair of the board she served as secretary and as a general board member. As co-chair, Elfant has worked on the school’s curriculum enhancement and technology incentive.
“We spent a good bit of time last year trying to figure out how we can position Heritage as an educational leader in the community — not just a Jewish day school but an outstanding school – period – which also provides a great Judaics background and education…We also wanted to look at technology and how we could really position ourselves to educate students prepared for being contributing members to this society. And if you are going to do that, you have to involve technology.”
To that end, last year they initiated a “Fund a Dream” campaign at Heritage’s scholarship dinner.
“We were really overwhelmed with the response from the community so that we were able to start this technology initiative at our school. Every middle schooler now has an iPad. Their science text book is actually on the iPad, and other faculty and Judaics are also utilizing it in various ways,” Elfant said. They have updated computers and software in the lower grades.
“We are very different individuals and our skills complement one another,” Cohen added. “I like to think we have been a very successful leadership team. One, we are both really passionate about Heritage and want it be here for many generations to come, and two we recognize what our strengths and weaknesses are and rely on the other for the areas where we are not as strong.”
We doubt you will find a more involved person in the Jewish community than Steve Dane. A board member of the Springfield Jewish Federation and the Jewish Endowment Foundation, he currently serves as president of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. He is a past president of the Springfield Jewish Community Center and served on its board for 14 years. He was on the board of Jewish Family Service from 1982 through 1991. He is his 29th year as a board member of the Federation. “I’m the poster child for term limits,” Dane laughed.
For Dane, being involved was a family affair. “My parents and grandparents were always involved in charities,” Dane said.
His late father, Morris, was on the Federation board and also president of the JCC. His mother, Muriel, has always been very involved with the National Council of Jewish Women and Hadassah.
Dane, a native of Longmeadow, is a partner with CohnReznick LLP, the 11th largest accounting, tax and advisory firm in the United States, in its Springfield office. He first became actively involved in the Jewish community as a teenager in the early 70s during the first wave of Russian Jewish resettlement.
“I was a volunteer for Jewish Family Service helping to pick up furniture that had been donated by people and bring it to the apartments they were setting up for these immigrants. That is the first involvement I can remember,” Serving as president of the Federation this term, Dane’s goal has obviously been to raise more money during these challenging times.
“We have tried to take an approach to reach out to people that Federation had not reached out to before, to do more face to face solicitations, and to sponsor more community-building activities,” he said. “For example, we just did a community Shabbat dinner that we had 250 people attend, which in Springfield is a big deal. We have a whole bunch of other activities, from the “Try a Synagogue” program to getting the Federation working in concert with the synagogues, and also we have been trying to recruit new volunteers to both the Federation board and its committees.”
Dane’s work extends beyond the Jewish community. He is a member of the board of the Community Resources for Families of People with Autism and serves on the planned giving committee of the United Way of the Pioneer Valley.
“To me, whatever the organization name is it doesn’t matter, it is just helping the community,” he said.
While the peace process in the Middle East can look tenuous at best, many Israeli and Palestinian health professionals are forging cooperative efforts to help improve the health of both populations.
One such effort is Healing Across the Divides (HATD). Founded in 2004 by Norbert Goldfield, M.D. of Northampton, the U.S. 501 (c)(3) organization brings together Christian, Muslims, and Jewish professionals to assist Israeli and Palestinian healthcare organizations that serve marginalized Israelis and Palestinians within a community-based framework.
Goldfield, executive director of Healing Across the Divides, has more than 30 years of experience in restructuring healthcare systems, both at a national level and in community settings. He has been working on healthcare issues with Israelis since 1980 and with Palestinians in the West Bank since 1996.
“I believe that, as a Jew, my fate as a Jew is tied to the future of Israel,” Goldfield says. “I am not one of the 15 or so people who can make a difference from the top down on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, I created Healing Across the Divides to address the conflict from the bottom up – that is, work with community-based organizations to improve health.”
HATD does not provide direct services, but rather gets funds and technical assistance to these organizations that work to improve the health of their communities. HATD is assisted by a board of directors who represent nationally recognized Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, healthcare professionals, and Middle East experts. A technical advisory committee composed of researchers from throughout the world provides scientific input into the ongoing development and expansion of funded projects. With a current annual budget of approximately $300,000, HATD provides grants between $15,000 and $50,000. In Israel, Healing Across the Divides partners with the Cleveland Jewish Federation to form the Women’s Health Collaborative.
By improving the health of marginalized women, Goldfield sees several outcomes. “The women themselves have a stronger sense of a purpose in life and are more willing to demand their rights, as they pertain at a minimum to healthcare,” he says. “The community groups are strengthened and are better able to both serve the women and make their case for improved care for women, the most discriminated-against people in the world.”
In addition, the community groups have opportunities to learn from one another, Goldfield says. Leaders of HATD-affiliated community groups in Israel and the West Bank visit the U.S. every year to tell their stories to audiences that might not otherwise learn about such cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. Recently, Heidar Abu-Ghosh gave a presentation at the offices of Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, the second Palestinian to ever address the group.
Goldfield was in Israel and the West Bank last month, forced to cancel meetings and cut his visit short because of the latest fighting between Hamas and Israel. Some of the new efforts funded by HATD were in the direct line of fire, among them Friends by Nature, a program that works to improve the health of Ethiopian Jews by involving them in community gardens south of Tel Aviv.
But Goldfield is heartened by documented and anecdotal reports he receives from the initiatives supported by HATD. “We see documented status of improved health among populations, in the context of empowerment of individuals and communities,” he says. “We also help to increase awareness of policymakers and other interested parties across the entire political spectrum, about the obstacles to improving health of both populations. If these initiatives are successful, and receive attention both in and outside the Middle East, we feel that they can contribute to any serious commitment to peace.”
How do you get more than 100 people around Western Massachusetts to go to Israel? Make Mordi Kamel the chair of the mission.
So far, 120 people from around Western Massachusetts have signed up to go on the Community Trip to Israel set for April 15-24, 2013. This is the largest organized community trip to Israel in Western Massachusetts in many years, and the first time that so many from both the Upper and Lower Valley Jewish communities will be going to Israel together in one group.
When he began chairing this trip, Kamel’s goal was to inspire a large group to make the trip. He and Susan Weiss Firestone discussed the importance of such a trip after a campaign meeting months ago.
“I said, “We really need to bring people to Israel again. Five years ago was the last time we had any substantial number. The ones we have done since then have been little groups – 5, 6 or 8. Even the community mission that we did five years ago was only about 15 or 20 people.”
This time, Kamel thought bigger with a goal of signing up 100 participants. By the end of November, that number had been surpassed.
“The most important thing for getting the word out was getting the rabbis on board,” Kamel said. “and we did that very early in the process. We got in touch with all of the rabbis up and down the valley. In the lower valley, Rabbis Katz and Shapiro both said, “We’re going.” And that enthusiasm infected their congregations. And in the Upper Valley, even though the rabbis couldn’t go, they were really very enthusiastic about promoting the trip. So by the time the official launch took place after the High Holidays, we already had 50 people signed up. It was just a function of getting the word out, having the rabbis talk to people, having people talk to people, and making it exciting.”
A member of the Federation’s board of directors and executive board and a co-chair of major gifts, Kamel, a resident of Northampton, has become involved in the Federation world due to his own personal story. The son of two Holocaust survivors, he was born in a Lamperatheim, a displaced persons camp near Frankfurt, Germany in 1948. Young Mordechai benefitted from one of Federation’s overseas partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee while in the DP camp. “I was a JDC baby — diapers, food, formula, milk, for the first year and a half of my life.”
“That creates an attachment and sense of obligation to the JDC, which hooks the end of the Federation system. The Federation through the JDC is still doing the same kind of work everywhere,” he said.
Getting community members to Israel next year is one way of sharing what the Federation does and to bring the local community together.
“The community is fragmented and I think it is important for the Upper and Lower Valleys to realize that they are one and the same. Israel is a very strong bonding issue — if you go to Israel and you share an experience with someone else that touches both of you emotionally, then the two of you are bonded together in a very deep way. I think this mission is partly to get people to understand what the Federation’s overseas mission is, but also partly to build community here at home.”
Sue Polansky joined Hadassah more than 30 years ago while living in Albany, N.Y., but wasn’t as active in the organization until she moved to Longmeadow, serving as president of the greater Springfield chapter in the 1990s. In May, Polansky was installed as president of the Western New England region of Hadassah. In October, Polansky was one of 2,000 attending Hadassah’s Centennial Conference in Israel. Now she is looking toward the organization’s next century. “The beautiful thing about Hadassah is that at a time before American women had the vote, American women were building the infrastructure of health and education for the future state of Israel,” Polansky said. “So Hadassah has always been and always will be on top of issues having to
do with pluralism, with health, with women and children’s issues. It is all of the hot button issues that work for me personally and hopefully for many other women.”
While she says Hadassah will continue to concentrate on medical breakthroughs, Polansky said she also looks forward to doing more work with the Jewish National Fund, a partner with Hadassah in Israel.
“I think the energy and the stewardship of the planet is something that is a Jewish value and we are trying to incorporate “green” energy as a real education and outreach effort,” she said. “Clearly, the future of any organization is not resting on its laurels but moving into the future and you need to do that with a new young energetic membership. So we are hoping by doing the great things that we do and adding this extra emphasis on the environment in our own community, especially on the heels of this awful Hurricane Sandy, that we really will be able to reach out to younger women and move out in directions we have always been, which is building a health and education infrastructure in Israel and promoting peace and pluralism in the United States.”