Photos by Shana Sureck
HOLYOKE – “The gifts you’ve made and the legacy you are leaving are going to be felt 100 years from now in ways that you can’t possibly anticipate,” Jason Franklin, executive director of Bolder Giving, said to the more than 100 attendees of the Jewish Endowment Foundation’s (JEF) Legacy Book of Life event at Open Square in Holyoke on October 20th.
The event was organized to celebrate the donors to JEF’s and Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Create a Jewish Legacy program that has worked in partnership with 19 Jewish organizations and programs in Western Massachusetts to ensure their future financial stability. The Book of Life, a compilation of donors’ stories, was, also, unveiled at the event – a reminder that the donors to the Create a Jewish Legacy program have made a lasting contribution to the survival of the Jewish community in Western Mass.
The Jewish Endowment Foundation, a division of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., was established in 1972 with the mission of soliciting, administering and investing donor funds to establish a strong foundation for the continued growth of the Jewish institutions of Western MA. In 2008, in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, JEF formed the Create a Jewish Legacy program to secure legacy gifts in the form of bequests, or gifts established in donor’s wills, for its participating organizations. Since its creation, the program has secured over 800 commitments totaling an estimated $20 million in future gifts for Jewish organizations in Western MA that span the fields of education, religion and social services. Among the participating organizations are many of the Valley’s synagogues, Jewish Family Services of Western Mass., Jewish Geriatric Services, the Jewish Federations of Western Mass. and the Berkshires, the Lander-Grinspoon Academy, and the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy.
“Our lives have been enriched by Abraham and Sarah’s centuries-old legacy to us,” Rabbi Saul Perlmutter from UMASS Hillel and Congregation Sons of Zion said during the invocation to the event. “Tonight we celebrate our commitment to follow their example and pass on this legacy to future generations.” Marcy Eisenberg, the coordinator of the event, welcomed the crowd of donors and representatives from participating organizations. Scott Kaplan and Bruce Wintman, the Director and Chair of the Jewish Endowment Foundation, also spoke, in addition to donors Ben Falk and Evie Glickman.
Jason Franklin, the event’s keynote speaker, shared with the audience the journey that led him to his position as executive director of Bolder Giving. After preparing for a career as a community organizer, Franklin was introduced to the powerful role foundations play in promoting social change when he was asked to help administer his family’s foundation. Coming from a mixed Catholic-Jewish background, Franklin expressed to the Ledger the influence the idea of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, has had on his work in guiding donors to invest boldly in social causes. “The leading social justice groups, pick your issue and you see Jewish donors as a key part of the support network,” Franklin said. “There’s a values overlay to Jewish giving that I think is really important.” Recounting his own struggle over where to direct his charitable gifts, Jason Franklin discovered the power of stories. It was Bolder Giving’s collection and sharing of stories from donors to various causes that attracted the attention and support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bolder Giving is now a leading consultancy firm that is electrifying the field of philanthropy.
The Book of Life shares the stories of the donors that have ensured Jewish life in the Valley will continue for generations to come. It is hoped that these stories will inspire others to get involved. Mordi Kamel is a Create a Jewish Legacy program donor who participated in the Book of Life. When speaking about the motivation for his involvement, he told the Jewish Ledger how the birth of his son reintroduced him to the Jewish community. “Before that my affiliation with Judaism was the Holocaust, which is past tense and negative,” Kamel said. “But once a child is born you have positive reasons for getting involved. You want to pay it forward and if you’re committed to the Jewish community it shouldn’t stop just because you die.” The stories in the Book of Life are accented by the artwork of Amy Fagin, an artist, PhD candidate in Holocaust and Genocide studies, and a manuscript illuminator, a lost art form that died out in the 14th century. “Considering the goal of the book,” Fagin told the Jewish Ledger, “my idea was to create a sense of vibrancy, of regeneration, rejuvenation and joy of life for our Jewish community in Western Mass.”
The event ended with an award – the first Create a Jewish Legacy Stewardship prize which was presented to the Congregation Sons of Zion in Holyoke. The donors that have supported them through the Create a Jewish Legacy program, in addition to the Stewardship prize, will help to ensure that their doors will be open for the next generation of Holyoke’s Jewish residents.
When speaking during the event, Ben Falk, a Book of Life participant, mentioned an article The Week Magazine ran in October that asked if Judaism in America could survive assimilation. “We know as legacy donors,” Falk said proudly, “we’re going to allow people [in the Valley] to be as Jewish as they want to be.”
Photos by Shana Sureck