By Susan Frisch Lehrer / Coordinator of Volunteers and PJ Library
Almost fifteen years ago, I came to the Jewish Federation as a part-time staff member on a two-year grant to help jump start the volunteer program and, a short while later, PJ Library in the Berkshires. I’m happy to report that both programs are thriving in our community and now, after so many meaningful years, the time has come for me to pass along the reins to others.
I’ve been involved in our Berkshire Jewish community since my first years here in the early 1970s – in Hevreh of Southern Berkshire as a founding member and as a board member of Berkshire Hills Hadassah, Knesset Israel, and the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. All this happened while I was working and raising a family. Following the examples of my parents and grandparents, I got involved in the community with both Jewish and secular organizations, which has always been the most natural thing for me to do.
I want to thank the many hundreds of volunteers who answered my calls, emails, and texts throughout the years. You all are the backbone of our Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. There is no way we could exist or operate without your generous support, both by participating and contributing financially.
At one time, I figured out that each year we logged about 3,500 volunteer hours. According to research by Independent Sector and the Do Good Institute, a volunteer hour is now worth $28.54. If my calculations are correct, by donating their time, volunteers in the past 14 years have contributed the equivalent of $1 million to our Federation! Wow! Now, that’s not chopped liver!
The extent of what our volunteers assist with is inspiring: delivering lunches to seniors for the meals on wheels collaboration with Elder Services of Berkshire County; setting tables and checking people in at our Connecting With Community program at Knesset Israel and our Knosh & Knowledge lunch programs at Hevreh; making Super Sunday calls; helping with numerous mailings; assisting at programs such as lectures, concerts, holiday celebrations, and family programs; delivering the Berkshire Jewish Voice to numerous venues throughout the county; organizing the Pajama Drive and Dignity Drive; collecting names, baking, decorating bags, and delivering packages for Joe’s Project twice a year before Rosh Hashanah and Purim, providing 300+ gift bags to seniors.
The list of volunteer support continues for the other programs we developed, as well – the Friendly Visitor Program of visiting seniors; Williams College Jewish Association students’ Caring Pals program of connecting with homebound adults; Shabbat and holiday programs in our senior facilities; volunteer projects with campers and b’nai mitzvah students for their mitzvah projects; PJ Library programs with generous assistance by parents, teachers, and clergy; and during COVID shopping and driving and – particularly important – both students and adults helping those who need it with navigating computer issues to stay connected.
All of this amazing volunteer support along with, without a doubt, the best group of board and staff members always at the ready. Essentially, I want to thank those who say “YES!” every time I ask!
Our PJ Library program began with a few families and has grown to over 100 families, with 141 children currently involved – 488 children have participated over the years. PJ Library started in Western Massachusetts in 2005 and has now grown to 30 countries with books published in 7 languages, and it has been inspiring to see it flourish. PJ Library is more than just receiving a monthly book. Our community and many others around the world now offer programs, often collaborating with other Jewish and secular organizations. We know that PJ Library is an entrée to Judaism for some families, and we are proud to support them along their Jewish journey. It’s been a thrill to work with so many families and I love it when a child points to me while tugging at a parent saying, “That’s the PJ Library lady…” We are grateful to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The Spitz-Tuchman Family Fund, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Berkshires, and the Irving Bashevkin Fund, and other generous donors for supporting PJ Library in the Berkshires.
I am honored to have been part of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and believe in its mission of improving lives, sustaining Jewish community, and promoting Jewish continuity in the Berkshires, in Israel, and around the world. We are guided by the principles of gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), tzedakah (justice and righteousness) and tikun olam (repairing the world).
I urge all of you to get involved and join in supporting these important Federation programs. I know that I will continue to be involved with Federation, and look forward to seeing you, too!
Todah Rabah – Thank you!
Susan Frisch Lehrer