By Stacey Dresner
SPRINGFIELD – Nora Gorenstein says that her background as a Jewish educator, including four years at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, fits perfectly with her new position as development officer at the Jewish Federation of Western Mass.
“In my time at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation I really saw this direct connection between Jewish education and the practices of Jewish programs in our community and really across the world,” she says. “I think really the ideas of education and specifically Jewish education inform the way that we can do business — especially non-profit work.
“For instance, thinking about how Jewish values and ethics inform our everyday lives. It’s really important for us to be respectful and kind and to build people up. Through the principle Tzedakah we are trying to provide services to our community in the ways that are helpful to the community… I think it all really comes back to those ideas of Jewish education and trying to educate people in the broader sense of the word, and be an educator to show people what our Jewish community already does and what we can do.”
Gorenstein began in her new position the last week of July and since then has been meeting with members of the community.
“It’s really about relationship building, so I’ve been starting out by just meeting people, getting to know the major players in the community who I didn’t already know,” she explained. “Part of that process is meeting people where they are, whatever’s convenient — in the office or out for coffee or lunch or at people’s homes because its really about building those relationships by meeting people’s needs. Its’s not about me, its about us.”
“Nora has worked with Harold Grinspoon Foundation for the past four years and therefore has been involved in not only philanthropic organizations but she has proved herself as far as engaging the community and young families and volunteers. Her level of organization, drive and determination are what made it an easy choice to offer her this position,” said Stew Bromberg, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass. “We are thrilled that she is here and welcome her.”
Gorenstein, 31, grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. Her family belonged to Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County in Bethesda, Maryland, a large Conservative synagogue.
She attended Hebrew school from kindergarten through Confirmation in the tenth grade. She was involved in USY and also worked in the temple’s religious school from the age of 13 through high school.
It’s not surprising that she decided to go into education.
“My grandparents on my mother’s side were both teachers…so education has always been a big part of my life,” she says. “I worked in Jewish education and then I got my bachelors degree in English and education with teaching certification. Then I got my masters in English literature from Brandeis.”
She ended up in the Springfield area thanks to Jdate, through which she met her husband, Eric, a Springfield native.
“My goal was to be a public school middle school English teacher,” Gorenstein says. “My first real teaching job was at LYA and I taught middle school science and math. Then I taught at Heritage Academy; I taught English and library science. I taught in the religious schools and in the day schools for about five years.”
She later joined the Harold Grinspoon Foundation working with PJ Library, and also HGF’s Western Mass. engagement programs and the North American Grinspoon Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education.
“With the current fiscal year the current programs I was working with had mostly concluded, and I really wanted to work with our local Jewish community a little bit more,” she explained. “I had been starting to get more involved in the local community and participating in a bunch of different committees.”
This community involvement included adult education, working on the day school committee, and “thinking about improvements we can make for our local Jewish community.”
Then she learned about the Federation’s search for a development officer.
“As I learned more about this role I really realized it was a great fit for what I wanted to do in terms of involvement in this community and being able to have an impact.”
“My primary goal is to work on sustaining relationships with existing donors and then to reach new potential donors but the bigger picture is to help our community realize the role that Jewish Federation of Western Mass. plays and how we can help on this larger scale for our whole Jewish community,” she says. “So it’s not as much about fundraising and its not as much about money in a direct sense, it’s really about showing people what their money does and what their time does and their energy does — so really the impact of their work in the community. What I am here to do is help connect people with opportunities for them to make a difference.”
The parents of two young daughters, Sofia, 2 ½ and Jackie, 9 months, Nora and her husband Eric are laying down roots in the Springfield area which his family has called home for generations.
“What amazes me about this Jewish community is how connected everything is,” she exclaimed. “You can go to a place like D.C. or Bethesda, Maryland where my parents live and you can have thousands of people who don’t know each other, but here I really feel like there is so much crossover.
“We have this amazing group of people – Jewish people, non-Jewish people and people who have more complicated ways to describe their identity — and they all really crossover. To my mind, there isn’t as much division between people. There are segments of population that attend programming and feel a sense of belonging in multiple locations…If this community were a Venn diagram it would be a very complicated one.”