On June 29, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires marked its 81st year with a virtual annual meeting.
In her Executive Director’s Report, Dara Kaufman said: “While the pandemic created a sudden and unexpected challenge last year, the Federation never wavered. if anything, the core of our work intensified and expanded. We were swift in pivoting, and focused on the needs of those most vulnerable first. From increasing social services, expanding kosher meal deliveries, creating a volunteer support corps, and offering virtual and outdoor programming for all ages to connect and learn – Federation continued to provide the leadership and safety net our community needed to move through the pandemic.”
Kaufman also cited Federation’s work combating anti-Semitism and partnering with the Jewish Agency For Israel to direct aid to the vulnerable in Israel during the recent conflict. On an upbeat note, she highlighted the work Federation is doing to re-establish our community bonds as life gets back to normal – in-person Connecting With Community programs and our kosher lunches, and families have flocked to such events as our outing at High Lawn Farm, which attracted hundreds of people.
Summing up, she added: “I offer my gratitude to each of you with us tonight. Your enthusiasm, participation, and generosity have always been, and will always be, the essential strength of our Jewish Berkshires.”
Our Strategic Plan
In late summer and early fall of 2019, the Federation’s strategic planning committee, advised by Eric Phelps and Rainmaker consulting, solicited community input and feedback through a series of town hall meetings, focus groups, individual interviews, and an online survey.
At the annual meeting, Phelps presented the key findings of the community feedback and the Federation’s plans to implement the recommendations of the strategic planning committee. Here is a high-level summary of the plan, which you can access in its entirety under the “About Us” tab on Federation’s website, jewishberkshires.org.
In developing a strategic plan, the Federation sought to:
- Affirm its mission and its core values.
- Understand the community’s needs, concerns, and ideas.
- Frankly and openly discuss challenges the Federation must address, including changing demographics and finding ways to sustain support for programs.
- Identify key opportunities for addressing organizational challenges affecting programming, development, internal operations, and community relations.
Federation affirmed its leadership in all of the urgently held organizational roles and will continue to be: a Convener for the local Jewish community; Funder of local Jewish organizations and Israel programs; Community Connector across all of Berkshire County; and a Direct Service Provider.
- Recommendation 1: Expand Community Outreach and Engagement
In keeping with the commitment to “meet people where they are” in their Jewish journey, the Federation will expand its outreach to all members of the community throughout the region and actively partner with local organizations to connect with the unaffiliated and under-engaged.
- Recommendation 2: Strengthen Existing Programming and Organizational Capacity
The Federation has a solid reputation for organizational excellence in the community, and the plan proposes building upon these strengths and increase the ability of the Federation to implement existing programs more effectively.
- Recommendation 3: Increase the Number of Donors and Total Dollars Raised to Support Federation’s Programs and Services
The Federation will reassess its fundraising strategies in view of changes in Jewish philanthropic giving nationally and in the Berkshires.
- Recommendation 4: Develop New Leaders, Expand the Number of Volunteers and Provide Leadership Training for the Federation and other Jewish Community Organizations
The Federation will identify, recruit, and train sufficient volunteers for their boards, committees, and programs, focusing on developing strong leaders and younger leaders to sustain community.
How Federation will implement these recommendations will be a focus of our engagement with the Berkshire Jewish community in the months and years ahead. We hope you’ll be a part of reimagining how Federation can best fulfill its vital mission.
Our New Board Members
At the meeting, Treasurer Judy Usow thanked outgoing board members and then introduced nominees to Federation’s Executive Board and Board of Directors. The slate of nominees was voted on and approved. The bios of our new board members appear below.
Executive Board Vice Presidents
Natalie Mendelsohn Matus
Natalie is a development professional who has worked primarily in the field of education, with stints working for the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston and Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Boston. She is currently the director of Alumnae & Family Engagement at Miss Hall's School, where she previously served as director of Leadership. Natalie and her husband, Roger, live in Pittsfield and are members of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams. Prior to joining CBI, Natalie was a long-time member with numerous leadership roles at Congregation Beth Elohim of Acton, MA. She is a lifetime member of Hadassah and, thanks to her parents, has deep roots in the Berkshires.
Elisa Spungen Bildner
Elisa is co-founder and co-chair of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Professionally, Elisa was president of FreshPro, a leading fresh-cut produce company serving the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic food industry. Prior to that, she was a journalism professor at Rutgers University and New York University, taught law at Seton Hall Law School, and was a reporter/editor at the Newark Star Ledger. She is a former attorney as well as a law clerk to Federal District Judge H. Lee Sarokin. In 2020, she co-authored The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook with her husband, Robert Bildner. They live in Becket and are members of Knesset Israel in Pittsfield.
Committed to furthering social causes, Elisa has chaired the boards of notable national and international non-profit organizations in the Jewish world and beyond. She is also an active alumna at her alma mater, Yale University. In 2013, President Obama appointed Elisa to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
Board of Directors
Arielle is a full-time Special Education teacher with the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. Prior to Joining BHRSD, Arielle lived in Namibia where she tutored students to pass their IGSCE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) exams. She also served as a full-time lecturer and professor with the International University of Management (IUM) Faculty of Education. Arielle grew up in the Berkshires and is a product of Hevreh, where she most recently served as a Hebrew school teacher. Arielle, along with her husband Paul and their three small children, are fixtures at Hevreh, attending all family programming including Shabbat services, Tiny Talmidim, the Hebrew School, and PJ Library, in addition to Eisner day camp. The entire family is active in racial and social justice work and has recently purchased a home in Pittsfield.
Dr. Jane F. Karlin
Jane has enjoyed a distinguished career as a fundraiser and leader of institutional advancement programs. Since her introduction to development at Pace University, she has held senior positions at New York University, The New School, Hadassah, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, HUC-JIR, and The Jewish Agency for Israel. In June, 2019 she retired from the Jewish Agency to teach and pursue research interests reflecting the intersection of philanthropy and American culture. She is an adjunct associate professor at the Center for Global Affairs at the NYU School of Professional Studies. For more than 50 years her family has called Stockbridge its second home.
Arlene D. Schiff
For the past 8 years, Arlene has served as the national director of the LIFE & LEGACY program (jewishlifelegacy.org) at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. In her role at HGF, she provides training and support to communities across North America on how to secure meaningful after-lifetime legacy gifts. Arlene is no stranger to most of you. Prior to joining HGF, Arlene served as our Federation’s executive director for 12 years, during which she provided visionary leadership while devising and executing strategic plans that centered on community-building and garnering support for philanthropic giving. Arlene and her husband, Gary (chair of Federation’s Investment Committee), are full-time residents of Lenox and are members of Knesset Israel.
Richard serves as chairman of the board of Hazon (hazon.org). He recently retired after 20 years at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and U.S Trust, most recently as Director of Institutional Sales. Prior to moving to the private sector, Richard was the executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest New Jersey for eight years, and also served as CEO of a $73 million endowment fund (now over $400 million). Richard and his wife Alyson (a retired social worker and volunteer with VIM) are members of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire and reside full-time in Egremont.
The Henry Simkin and Frances Simkin Schiller and Dr. Stanley and Faye Simkin Scholarship is awarded to Jewish high school seniors who demonstrated high academic achievement and leadership in the Jewish and broader communities. This year’s recipients are:
Daniel was a well-rounded student at Lenox Memorial High School, a National Honors Society member who also participated in sports (soccer, Nordic skiing, and baseball) and the arts (musicals, band, and chorus). In the Jewish community, Daniel was one of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire’s “Madrichim” who helped mentor younger students in the Religious School on their paths to becoming b’nai mitzvah. Thanks in part to Federation, he attended Crane Lake Camp for 3 years and went with NFTY to Israel, an experience, he writes, “that had an outsized positive impact on my life.”
This fall, Daniel will attend The George Washington University in Washington, DC, where he intends to major in International Affairs.
Yael was a National Honors Society member at Pittsfield High School who participated in concert and marching bands, as well as the Early Morning Orchestra. She also worked with local youth as an assistant coach for the YMCA swim team and shared her musical gift (she’s an accomplish flautist) with young students at the Berkshire Music School. A product of the Knesset Israel Hebrew school, she pivoted from her own bat mitzvah experience to tutoring and mentoring younger students in their own studies. “It has been an amazing and meaningful experience to be part of the journey a b’nai mitzvah student goes through as they study for their big day,” she writes.
In 2019/20, Yael spent a semester in Israel at Tichon Raman Yerushalayim, her experience funded in part by a Federation scholarship. Federation also helped fund her attendance at Camp Ramah. This fall, she’ll be attending Brandeis University in Waltham.