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Looking to the Future

Jewish Federation and Endowment Foundation of Western Mass. holds 2016 Annual Meeting

By Stacey Dresner

SPRINGFIELD – The theme of the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation & Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts, held Monday, Sept. 19 at the Springfield Jewish Community Center, was “Looking to the Future.”

And throughout the meeting, that future was what everyone came back to again and again.

“As we look to our future through different lenses this evening, it is equally important that we recognize our past,” said Federation President Susan Goldman. “We are fortunate to have a list of many people who have worked for decades, work in sustaining our Jewish life… they deserve recognition for their commitment, their hard work and their creativity.”

Ruth Weiss, Myra and Jerry Gold, Jan Nirenberg, Betsy and Dick Gaberman, Bea Hano, Jeff Mandell, Sue and Ed Kline, Bea and Jay Loevy, Seymour Frankel, Lynn and Bill Foggle, Naomi Schoenberg, Harold Grinspoon and Diane Troderman. “Please know that we have appreciated all you have done and continue to do,” Goldman said. “This evening entitled, ‘Looking to the Future’ is dedicated to you.”

After the invocation by Rabbi James Greene and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by Bill Squares and Hatikvah, led by the new Israeli Young Emissaries, Goldman began her President’s Report.

“As you are all aware, this year has not been just your average one,” Goldman began. “For nearly six months, we functioned without an executive director. And for several months we have been without a foundation exec. Despite this, we are alive, solvent and thriving,” Goldman said, to a round of applause and a few whoops and hollers from the crowd.

“During these last months our staff stepped up and infinitely sustained all of our functions,” Goldman said. “Many, many thanks to our staff. I can’t tell you how much they deserve it, each one of them. And it has been an honor and a privilege to work with them.”

Goldman praised the members of the executive committee for their hard work and dedication over the past year, and also thanked the search committee for interim executive director: “Sue Kline, Sue Firestone, and myself – the Susans…” she said, to more laughs.

Goldman used the evening to showcase the programs and events that the Federation has worked on over the past year, including the Major Gifts event with Dana Savel; the Women’s Philanthropy event “Ladies Night Out” with Jane Weitzman; 13 Extraordinary Women, and the upcoming 90th anniversary weekend set for November, and community service projects like the Pajama Drive for needy children and all of the work that Rachel’s Table does to alleviate hunger.

She noted that Rachel Berezin was named Annual Campaign director and introduced the two new PJ Library coordinators, Sonia Wilk in the Upper Valley and Kim Starkman in the Lower Valley.

Goldman also reported on the Jewish Endowment Foundation’s work in the past year, recounting that as of Aug. 31, the JEF had an endowment of $39.7 million under management; that in the past year six new endowment funds were established, totaling $452,500; and that the agency had shown returns on the portfolio over the past 12 months of 7.9 percent. The JEF maintains a 10 percent commitment to Israel Bonds. The JEF distributed over $2.8 million in restricted agency and donor advised funds to non-profit funds in Western Mass. and throughout the U.S. , $14,300 to aid people traveling to Israel and $57,500 to individuals pursuing education. Goldman thanked Michelle Lancto, donor relations foundation manager, and Steve Balicki, Chief Financial Officer for “holding down the fort.”

But she was realistic about the changes in the local Jewish community.

“Challenges, yes, we have challenges. Jewish demographics around our country are changing, particularly in suburban areas, and the Pioneer Valley has not escaped the trend. Our aging donors have either passed or moved away and we need to be creative to move ourselves forward.”

Goldman introduced Michelle Anfang and Amy Siege, who spoke about their experiences as Wexner Heritage Fellows. The Wexner program provides Jewish learning and leadership development skills to Jewish volunteers.

Anfang thanked the Federation and the community for nominating her and the six other local Wexner Fellows, and thanked Harold Grinspoon for underwriting the program.

The group – seven from Western Mass., seven from West Hartford and five from New Haven – studied together for four hours every other week for two years, attended leadership summits and went on a trip to Israel, with the goal of bringing all they learned home to their communities.

“Our group became a supportive family and modeled for us the best of what we hope for in our communities – to be inspired, to be curious, to find God in our every day and to always to be hopeful and grateful,” she said. “When we graduated in June, we were charged with the hope and expectation that we would return to our communities with high aspirations and the skills to make it happen. I am excited to pay it forward.”

Siege called the Wexner Fellowship “so comprehensive. We learned how to have the difficult conversations; how to navigate difficult situations we encounter in our own board rooms, communities, schools and synagogues, and to think outside the box and work together to solve problems. It was a great experience.”

Susan Weiss Firestone, immediate past president and Bruce Wintman, then gave the nominating report and presided over the election of the board of trustees and officers for 2016-2017. Firestone recognized several people leaving their board positions and thanked them for their service. She announced that Carin Savel, chair of the Federation Jewish Community Relations Committee, will be leaving to become CEO of the Jewish Federation in Raleigh, N.C.

Goldman “introduced and RE-introduced” new Interim Executive Director Robert Marmor who served as CEO of JFS of Western Mass. for 14 years before leaving last year for a position with HIAS, and subsequently returned to take over the important leadership position at the Federation.

“I am delighted he is on board with us to help shepherd our Federation into the future,” Goldman said. “He is seasoned and possesses an extraordinary knowledge of organizational structure and function. I am thrilled to have him as my professional partner.”

Marmor, in turn, thanked Goldman.

“I want to thank you for passing the torch because you were really the executive director for six months,” he said, presenting her with a plant, a token of thanks on behalf of the community.

“It is great to be back in Western Mass., and interesting to be in a job where you know many people here, so thank you for the warm welcome back.”

Marmor touted the wealth of Jewish life in Western Mass.

“There is really a wealth of Jewish life and after returning to the area, I really am recognizing all of the assets we have in the Jewish community,” Marmor said. “We have a really innate, inspiring Pioneer Valley Jewish community and I think through partnerships and shared resources we will continue to move forward.”

Marmor introduced Debbie Rubenstein, “who has done an amazing job for the past 10 years” as director of Rachel’s Table, the Federation’s hunger relief program. Rubenstein introduced Katherine Coyne and Rafi Rubenstein, teen board members of Rachel’s Table, who spoke of their work raising money through the annual Foodraiser event, gleaning produce from local farms, and raising funds for the Holyoke Backpack program, which provides 200 backpacks of food for needy public school students a week. “L’Dor v’dor. The Rachels’ Table teen board empowers our youth to learn about, act upon and embrace the Jewish value of tikkun olam,” Debbie Rubenstein said.

At the end of the evening Goldman continued to reflect on the future of the Jewish community. She quoted a Facebook post from Yehuda Kurtzer, who said that talking with members of the Jewish community around the U.S., he is constantly hearing that the Jewish community is “moribund and outdated.”

He noted a gap between that idea and “the truth” of what many in the Jewish community see – “the excitement and creativity.”

“Yehuda raises a timely and cogent point,” Goldman said. “Although I am certainly aware of the multiple challenges facing our Jewish community…I choose to be an optimist.

“Despite the changes and challenges,” she added, “I know there is great Jewish vitality in the Pioneer Valley.”

CAP: Distinguished members of the Jewish community were honored at the annual meeting for their hard work and service. PHOTO BY BERT KRASNER

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