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JFCM leaders share challenges of past year, and optimism for the future at Annual Meeting 

By Stacey Dresner

CENTRAL MASS. – The Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts held its annual meeting on Tuesday, Oct 5 via Zoom.

“Federation has adapted and responded to Covid and through the evolving challenges and opportunities in these unusual times our priorities remain the same: committing to strengthening, securing and stabilizing our community and Jewish communities around the world,” said Executive Director Steven Schimmel in his opening statement. “Thank you to all of you who have supported and partnered with us. Todah Rabah.”

Schimmel also thanked outgoing president Jonathan Sigel for his leadership and for guiding the Federation’s board of directors through the pandemic. Sigel will be succeeded by Ben Lyons.

“Each year our highly committed and energetic leaders and volunteers face the challenges of sustaining this ever-changing community,” Sigel said. “With our mission to ensure Jewish survival and enhance the quality of Jewish life, we touch thousands of lives each year and together we mobilize our resources to make a difference,” Sigel said. “We are a vital link to Israel, our traditions, our past and our future. Together we are Federation.

“In a year marked by uncertainty and instability, rising antisemitism and an ongoing global pandemic, Jewish Federation again demonstrated our community’s exceptional organizational strength.

Calling the Federation’s annual fundraising campaign “the lifeblood that we need to continue to execute our mission,” he announced that since 2018, total campaign dollars have “increased year over year,” that the 

2020 campaign had 75 new donors; that 209 donors increased their gifts, and that the campaign is currently at $767,000 and is projected to close at $805,000 – the first time in several years the campaign has exceeded $800,000.

“My 3 years as Federation president were fulfilling and challenging, but they were also fun,” Sigel added. “I so enjoy working with our executive committee and board members and our terrific Federation staff, led by our ‘rock star’ executive director Steven Schimmel. Thanks to our board and our staff for all of your hard work and dedication to this organization and to our special community.”

Emily Rosenbaum, executive director of the Worcester JCC, spoke about some of the issues the JCC has had to deal with since the beginning of Covid, including the closure of the building for three months, a decline in membership and cuts in staff. 

“The fact is the JCC and the Federation are partners together…we know that Federation has been there as our partner, had always funded very important Jewish programming, our cultural arts and our senior adult programming. With your partnership, we know that we will continue to thrive.”

Sigel presided over the vote to approve the new governing board, and the new officers for 2021-2022: Ben Lyon, president; secretary, Carol goodman Kaufman; treasurer Jeremy Lurier, before introducing Lyons.

“Ben is the poster child for our Young Adult Division, which is where he began his Federation involvement,” Sigel said. 

Lyons also has served on various committees of the Federation board of governors and as the Federation representative on the Life and Legacy program. He has also served on Jewish Federations of North American’s national Young Leadership Cabinet.

He and his wife Cara and their children are a PJ Library family, and they have served as a host family for the Young Emissary program.

“I know he will do a fantastic job of leading and inspiring us,” Sigel said.

Lyons spoke of his excitement at being able to serve the Jewish community as president of the Jewish Federation and at following in the footsteps of his predecessors, including Sigel and the late Toby Richmond.

“I’ve been the recipient of so much incredible mentorship from so many across the community over the years and I am delighted to be able to be bringing in the next generation of Federation…I am elated to be able to represent the younger generation in the community.”

Lyons spoke about being a newcomer in the community in 2010 when he and his wife were introduced to YAD by Mindy Hall.

It was a Jewish Federations of North America Young Leadership mission to Israel in 2011 that really inspired the Lyons to serve the Federation.

“I never knew a trip to Israel would play such an impactful role in my life and truly be my introduction to everything that Federation does,” Lyons saud. “I returned home excited and energized with my cup overflowing.”

The next few years, Lyons says were filled with mentorship and participation in a variety of Federation committees, such as Life & Legacy, and the Israel Action Committee.

“My commitment to serving the Federation and the Jewish community is unwavering. As a young leader taking over the Federation, I want you to know that I am very enthusiastic and intend to bring a confident and fresh lens to our community.”

Current Israeli Shaliach – and past Young Emissary Aviv Jervbi, introduced himself via a video, talking about his time in the Israeli army and his excitement to be back in Central Mass.

Before the evening was over, Sigel spoke about Federation accomplishments, including the Life & Legacy program and its 450 pledged gifts in the amount of $11 million to 10 Jewish organizations; allocations including funding to the JCC (and emergency financial assistant to the JCC during the early days of the pandemic); to Hillel; to safety and security in the community and a strong relationship with law enforcement; and the final stages of the a Jewish cemetery improvement project, and much more.

“There are many who feel that our community’s best days are behind us, but I promise you that that is not the case,” Sigel said. “We are growing and adapting and have a bright future. In fact, as someone who has been involved in Federation for many years, I can say that I haven’t felt this optimistic about its future in a long time. 

“We managed difficulties of the pandemic and other problems with care and thoughtfulness, and we will continue to work tirelessly on the behalf of our community. Whether allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the strength and vitality of our local community or advocating in support of Israel, Jewish Federation is there, and we couldn’t do it without all of you.”

Main Photo: Communities members come together on Zoom for the JFCM annual meeting

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