By Stacey Dresner
LONGMEADOW – Bottles of sparkling cider graced each table at the annual meeting of the Western Massachusetts Jewish Federation and Jewish Endowment Foundation (JEF), the better to “Toast the New Year,” which was the theme of the event, held at JFG Lifecare on Monday, Sept. 18, just three nights before the beginning of Rosh Hashana.
After Susan Goldsmith, chair of the JGS board, welcomed everyone, the National Anthem was sung, led by Bill Squires.
Rabbi Devorah Jacobson, director of spiritual life at JGS, gave a d’var Torah that touched on the history of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.” But she stressed that she wasn’t there to give a history lesson or talk politics, but to talk about, “You, the members of the Jewish Federation and Endowment…and the incredibly important work you do day in and day out.”
In her President’s Report, Susan Goldman spoke about her two years leading the Jewish Federation.
“Thank you for your confidence in me as your community leader,” Goldman told the crowd. “Certainly my term began with challenges as our key staff moved on” – referencing the departure of Federation Executive Director Meredith Dragon to Buffalo, N.Y. – “but with the great commitment, hard work and strength of Steve Balicki, Rachel Berezin, Mary Mazza, Michelle Everett and Michelle Lancto we have moved from strength to strength. And I was sure happy when Bob [Marmor, interim executive director] joined us on board.”
An update of Sukkahfest, the community-wide celebration that took place on Oct. 8-9 was given by its founder Michelle Anfang, followed by a report about the Jewish Endowment Foundation by Ron Weiss.
Weiss relayed that the endowments funds have a current market value of $41.5 million, up from $39 million, and that in the first nine months of this fiscal year, the endowment grew by $1.5 million.
Susan Weiss Firestone, incoming chair of the JEF and Dr. Bruce Wintman, gave the nominating report and election of new officers, followed by remarks by Incoming Federation President Ronda Parish.
Parish thanked Susan Goldman for her work as president of the Federation, and Bob Marmor and the Federation staff and board for their “direction, vision and leadership.”
Parish said she has facilitated a task force to work on “imaging, critiquing our role…and recognizing certain strategic issues that do need reform, but also recognizing that we need to get back to some of the work that we have done in the past which has fallen by the wayside. Those include CRC, Israel Desk, outreach, community education and more. The Federation is a convenor of all and we need to rise up to that responsibility. Our community is not unlike others. We have a declining Jewish population and increased need…We need to reach out and embrace all with strong Jewish identity that is welcoming and tolerant.”
Marmor, interim executive director of the Federation and former executive director of JFS of Western Mass., thanked the Federation staff, asking them to stand up and be recognized. He also thanked lay leaders and highlighted the Federation’s two “premier” programs, Rachel’s Table and PJ Library.
Near the end of the evening, three members of the Jewish community shared their “impact stories” – explaining how the Federation and Endowment have made a difference in their lives and the lives of their organizations.
In keeping with the evening’s theme, Susan Goldman’s toast looked forward to continued impact from the Federation and Endowment Foundation.
“Let us raise our glasses and make a toast to the future,” she said. “To the sustained vibrancy and excitement of our Jewish Pioneer Valley …to caring for those in need and committing most importantly to our children.”