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Lara Curtis appointed new chair of Women’s Philanthropy Steering Committee

By Stacey Dresner

SPRINGFIELD — Betsey Freedman says she was influenced by two strong women in her life – her mother and grandmother.

Betsey Freedman

When Betsey was growing up in both Mexico and Boston, she watched as her grandmother Minnie Rosenfield gave money to the poor, including Holocaust survivors.

“People came to her…they just knew she would help them,” Betsey says. “She is the one that taught me about giving back. Giving back to your community was something I was raised to do. I’ve always been involved in helping women improve their lives throughout my life.”

Freedman’s mother was involved in several Jewish organizations like ORT and Brandeis, and was a Lion of Judah.

“Now I wear her pin,” says Betsey, also a Lion of Judah. “When she passed away I inherited her pin and I endowed it. I thought it was a wonderful tribute to her to keep it going.”

Freedman has been chair of the Women’s Philanthropy Steering Committee (WPSC) of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass.for the past six years. She is a member of the Jewish Federations of North America’s National Women’s Philanthropy Board.

Under Freedman’s leadership, the emphasis of Women’s Philanthropy has been to recognize and empower women. Programming undertaken during her tenure includes “13 Extraordinary Women,” a popular program honoring women from around the community, and “Home for the Holidays,” which raises funds by organizing a round robin celebration of five holidays (Sukkot through Passover). Five women open their homes, set their tables to reflect holiday traditions, and welcome visitors to enjoy food provided by local Jewish caterers.

Under Freedman Women’s Philanthropy has also sponsored books during the Jewish Book Festival and a movie day during the annual film festival, and adopted the “Step Up” program from the national board, making it possible for donors to reach specific levels of giving by pledging over a period of several years.

At the Jewish Federation annual meeting on Dec. 3, Freedman will pass the baton to vice chair, Lara R. Curtis of Longmeadow, who will become chair of the Women’s Philanthropy Steering Committee.

“Serving in this position is meaningful. I hold it near and dear to me,” Curtis said.

Lara R. Curtis

A native of Springfield, Curtis attended Heritage Academy, holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is a Five College affiliate. She specializes in Holocaust Studies and Women’s Studies and is a co-founder of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies (IHGMS) at UMass

Curtis calls her mother-in-law Brenda Curtis, a longtime supporter of Women’s Philanthropy and “Federation person at heart,” one of her biggest influences.

Lara went with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law Sarah Richmond on “Heart to Heart 6,” a five-day mission to Israel exclusively for women, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) in 2015, an experience that inspired her to become even more involved in Women’s Philanthropy.

“It was the first time I had travelled on a group mission for women under the auspices of the Federation,” Curtis said. “There were 100 participants from all over the country of all ages and backgrounds, 16 of whom were traveling to Israel for the first time…[It is a] remarkable mission for all women connected to the Federation, who long to know more about Jewish life in Israel, as well as in their own communities.”

Curtis said she looks forward to working “with other women in the community who are interested in education and in humanitarian issues.

“There is a mission that exists and the one aspect of the mission that I want to highlight in my capacity is diversity and also education,” Curtis said. “So there is going to be a strong focus on both of these aspects of Women’s Philanthropy, as well as continuing to do hands-on community service and to help the community in every possible way that we can.”

She explained the importance of diversity in recruiting members.

“I will welcome Jewish women of all backgrounds and denominations, as long as they are interested in supporting our Federation in relation to Jewish causes,” she said. “My focus on the moment is outreach. Identifying the women in the community who are interested in being part of this and who want to have a meaningful connection to the Federation.”

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