By Stacey Dresner
CENTRAL MASS. — The annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts was held via Zoom on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 9.
There were a few of the technological hitches that we have all come to expect now on such virtual meeting platforms, but overall, the message about the Federation and it’s achievement this past year got through – much like the hitches and ultimate successes the Jewish community in Central Mass. has seen in 2020.
“Were there challenges and obstacles? Certainly there were, but the commitment of leadership and the resilience of this community is remarkable, and these qualities have done right by us,” began Steven Schimmel, the Federation’s executive director. “Important projects remain active – work to beautify our cemeteries, securing institutions and ongoing successes in Life & Legacy are just a few of the highlights of this past year. And we have of course also responded to the needs of the community during the pandemic.”
Federation President Jonathan Siegel, who announced that he would remain president for a third year, also remarked on the unusual past year.
“In the more than seven decades of Jewish Federation’s existence we haven’t seen a year like this; hopefully we won’t again. We’d love to be meeting in person with all of you if we could but I really appreciate you all being here tonight via zoom. It looks like a big Jewish Brady Bunch,” he joked.
“Despite the challenges and uncertainty that we all have experienced over the last several months, Federation was still able to accomplish quite a bit,” Siegel remarked. “In fact, we proved once again the Federation’s importance as both the central convening body of the Jewish community as and as the community’s safety net. Federation continues to operate as the center of Jewish life in central Massachusetts and we help to improve Jewish lives around the world. I’m really proud of that and I’m grateful that we have a strong organization we can count on through these difficult times. Federation is focused on the needs of our community today and into the future. And we strive to do more and more each year, both to lead our community and to respond during crises.”
Siegel mentioned several examples of the Federation’s work over the past year, including the PJ Library’s work to provide Jewishly-themed books to young families; scholorships for camp and other Jewish identity building experiences like Hillel and Birthright Israel; support to JCC programs like the Jewish Film Festival and Author’s Series; and the Life and legacy program which helps the community to build it’s institution’s endowments.
“To date that program has helped to bring in more than $10 million in promised future gifts,” Siegel continued.
“We work closely with leadership in the black and Latino communities to strengthen alliances and understanding. When our elected officials locally or in Washington DC, need to hear the voice of the Jewish community we’re there. We also communicate with the Israeli government to ensure that the voices of diaspora Jews are heard.”
Siegel also praised the Federation’s relationship with the city of Afula, Israel despite the fact that Israeli participants of the Young Emissary program were not able to come to the area due to Covid. “We will miss them this year but will remain connected through online programs,” Siegel said.
He also mentioned the increase of anti-Semitism and hate crimes that have occurred including in the Central Mass. area.
“Federation has regularly worked with local law enforcement to help prevent and when necessary respond to such incidents and address security concerns.”
Siegel also thanked the community for helping to raise $400,000 for a special campaign to refurbish and restore Worcester’s three Jewish cemeteries.
And he praised Rachel’s Table’s work to feed the hungry.
“When tragedy hits we make emergency allocations and this year, in the time of Covid when families and organizations faced severe hardships and suffering, we are the ones that get the call to help and that is just we have done.
“In fact, when Jews anywhere are in need, we’re always there to support and fund whatever is necessary. These efforts and many more are what enriches and sustain our Jewish community.”
This could not be accomplished without the generous generosity of all of you, our donors and volunteers. You are partner in all of these efforts. This year you again helped to make Jewish lives better, safer, healthier and more secure at home and around the world.”
After voting on the incoming members of the Federation board and announcing the slate of officers, Steven Schimmel thanked all of the members of the community that stepped up during this difficult time – donors and solicitors; the clergy; the Worcester JCC staff; his own hardworking staff at the Federation; and the Federation board.
Schimmel said that this year there were 102 new donors to the Federation’s annual campaign; and 150 new names on the Federation’s Young Adult Leadership (YAD) database, which bodes well in the cultivation of the next generation of philanthropic leaders.
The campaign is at $750,000, but if donors who have not sent in their pledges yet come through, Schimmel said the campaign for 2020 could close at $780,000, and he encouraged them to send in their donations.
The campaign for 2021, he added, is already at $212,000 “ahead of where we usually are in this stage of the year.”
This year Federation added 105 new PJ Library subscriptions bringing the number of PJ Library families to 465 active subscriptions.
“I want to stress – these are young families, with young children, receiving these books. It’s an important program,” Schimmel said.
Discussing Covid, Schimmel spoke about how the Federation and Mindy Hall, as well as the Worcester JCC, and the Torah Center, all came together to provide Passover boxes for community members. And more than $30,000 was distributed to community members in need through Federation’s partnership with Jewish Family & Children’s Services.
“The past 25 and as half weeks have been severe and difficult on all of us,” Schimmel said. “Some of us have lost loved ones and our institutions have suffered. Through that we gained a sense of community unlike anything we have seen before or since 9/11…This year together, collectively, let’s pledge to ensure that our community continued to live up to its potential. Let us insure that our community is ready, and Federation will lead the way forward.”