By Stacey Dresner
WESTERN MASS. – How much wisdom can be shared in three minutes?
Plenty, as was on display earlier this month at “13 Extraordinary Women Share their Secrets,” the third annual event of Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., honoring women from all corners of that community.
A crowd of 200 attended the event on the evening of Tuesday, May 3 at Mill 1 at Open Square, the hip event space located in a renovated paper mill in Holyoke.
After an introduction by Betsey Freedman, event chair and board member of National Women’s Philanthropy, came Carin Savel, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council, who introduced each participant – “ a cache of diverse talents” — with quotes from successful women with no doubt a few secrets of their own – Barbra Streisand, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Wendy Wasserstein, Joan Rivers and Clare Boothe Luce.
The speeches offered reminiscence, advice and a lot of humor.
Michelle Anfang, MD and psychiatrist tied her presentation to today’s modern technology, including the all-powerful “apps” that are available to answer any question. Listing her professional work, her leadership in the Jewish community, and her studies as a Wexner Heritage Fellow, said that she has not been afraid to ask for directions since an early age. Now when she needs direction, Anfang said, holding up her smart phone, she uses her “Jewish GPS.”
Linda Spitz, a retired teacher who taught at the JCC preschool for many years, talked about her volunteer service and shared a quote from author and poet Maya Angelou that she lives by, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
Lillian Edelman, rebbetzin and wife of Rabbi Dovid Edelman of blessed memory, talked about her family’s journey from Russia to Sweden before World War II, and her and her husband’s arrival in the U.S. “My secret? If I could bottle it and sell it I would. There is no quick fix…[you need] the ability to see the big picture, have faith in Hashem, and may we all be blessed.”
Injecting some levity into the evening, Amy Siege, LCSW and co-president of Congregation B’nai Israel, said that as a mental health professional she has to work with individuals with issues like addiction, depression and anxiety, adding that many work days are not “light and breezy.” Her tool, she said, is humor, to see humor in difficult situations and “not dwelling on the small stuff.”
She finished with a joke about a priest, a minister and a rabbi all given the task of converting a bear… which brought the house down.
“Today is the 11th day of Omer,” began Sue Polansky, chair of the Zionist Advocacy Task Force of Hadassah and a longtime community volunteer, referring to the counting of the Omer that takes place from the second night of Passover to Shavuot.
“It is a reminder that we have finite days,” she said, encouraging the audience to have the ability to “look at today and tomorrow, to realize what is, imagine what life can be and what we can be…It is important today and important tomorrow. There is no time to waste, it is already the 11th of Omer.”
Belle Rita Novak, introduced as “Goddess,” spoke of her longtime work operating the farmer’s market at Forest Park. “I am passionate about preserving local agriculture,” she said. “When you support local agriculture, you preserve open space.”
Andrea Goldstein, listed as “Retail Therapist” in the event’s program, said that that title was a misnomer. “I am not a therapist and I would never dream of paying retail,” she said, eliciting laughter from the audience. She spoke about her work with Rachel’s Table, helping to found the Bountiful Bowls and Foodraiser events, and her work “swapping” items on Facebook to raise much needed funds for the food collection and hunger prevention program of the Jewish Federation.
Robyn Newhouse, PhD, philanthropist and volunteer, explained how she has “changed directions” over the years. “I’ve never been afraid of change, I embrace it.”
Author and social justice advocate Leslea Newman talked about the three letters that are the secret to her success: B.I.C., which stands for the BIC pen she still uses to write her books, and Butt In Chair, her strategy for motivating herself to write every day.
After their speeches, event manager Gabrielle Goldman congratulated the women and Deb Krivoy, a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Committee, presented them with proclamations in honor of the evening.
Women’s Philanthropy offered a “huge thank you to our incredible, talented photographer, Bert Krasner, who photographed both this event and the Jane Weitzman event.”