By Dara Kaufman / Executive Director, Jewish Federation of the Berkshires
I have been experiencing a plethora of emotions over the last few months since the terrorist attack on October 7. At times like these, when the push and pull of what is happening in our world can seem overwhelming, I return to something I once read about focusing on your most authentic truth. These days when the reading the news, looking at social media, or speaking with friends and neighbors, one can feel the despair, the anger, the fear, and occasionally a little hopelessness. However, I have also seen first-hand the amazing strength and resilience of Jews locally and in Israel that is reflected in the dedicated work that Federation, our partners in Israel, and our local congregations and organizations are doing every day.
Federation has taken many impactful actions on a local and national level, including our local Israel Solidarity Rally, the launch of a highly successful Israel Emergency Campaign, the mobilization of Federal support for Israel, and the organization and participation in the National March for Israel.
Dozens of Berkshire community members traveled to Washington, DC. The majority of them, myself included, traveled with our neighbors from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York. Standing amid approximately 290,000 Jews and non-Jews from across the US was an experience I will never forget. The full diversity of the Jewish people showed the US Congress and the world that, despite our many differences, we are united in our love for Israel and its right to exist, united in our demand of the release of hostages, and united in our right to worship and celebrate our culture without fear of persecution and hate. That was powerful.
Even the four- and five-deep crowds of people waiting for the train in the Metro (DC’s subway) was a surreal experience. The dense crowds erupted in songs and chants of ‘Oseh Shalom’ and ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ as hundreds of voices came together to recognize that even there, in the subway car and in the station, we were part of something much bigger that ourselves – something raw and real and deeply meaningful. It was exactly what I, and I suspect Jews everywhere, needed in that moment.
I know many people are very concerned with the security of our Jewish community amid rising antisemitism, including the flagrant hate and inciting of violence by the head of small fringe group spewing hate in the Southern Berkshires.
Sadly, this leader and his group have been on our radar for a number of years but his hateful rhetoric has clearly escalated in the past few months and he has garnered local and national press. As I shared with the Berkshires Eagle reporter, this person spews his hate to try and instill fear and intimidation but the Berkshire Jewish community will not hide.
Federation has been working closely with Jewish community leaders, local police, the FBI, the District Attorney, the ADL, and the Secure Community Network (SCN) to monitor this person and respond to concerns and incidents in the community.
The light and strength of our Jewish community was on full display with hundreds of community members joining with state legislators and our district attorney in public menorah lightings in North Adams, Williamstown, Lenox and at Federation’s Chanukah celebration at the Mount, which included a proclamation from Governor Healy that “the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will always stand firmly opposed to antisemitism and hate.”
Last month, Federation arranged for former Pittsfield police chief Mike Wynn to visit each of the congregations to review their security plans, walk through their buildings, and offer additional recommendations. We are deeply grateful to Mike Wynn for donating his time and expertise to support or community in this way.
Federation’s antisemitism taskforce, co-chaired by Amy Blumkin and Beryl Jolly, recently reviewed and updated our website, jewishberkshires.org, to provide direct access to report antisemitism, including reporting for students on campus, as well as culling a host of other resources. We are also in conversation with the ADL on upcoming programming for parents and teens as well as the broader community.
During this time of rising antisemitism throughout the country and our world, we encourage our community to be vigilant and aware. At the same time, we will not succumb to fear and intimidation. We will continue to practice our faith and celebrate our culture with joy and pride.
If we have learned anything in this moment, it is that American Jews must live in a secure, engaged, educated, compassionate, and supported Jewish community. We must be able to support the most fragile. We must have strong relationships with our elected officials and community partners. We must educate and support our young people. We must stand up for our right to be free from persecution. We must be visible and proud.
Your support of Federation supports all of this and so much more! As I write this, our 2023 Annual Campaign closed and we reached our goal of $1.2 million - and also raised more to support crisis relief efforts in Israel. Our community has responded so generously to ensure Federation’s continue work in creating and sustain a vibrant and secure Jewish community with the infrastructure in place to provide leadership and support when it is needed most. Thank you all!
I am remined of the wisdom of the Rabbi Tarfon, from the Pirkei Avot who said “… the day is short and the work is plentiful… it is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it…”
There is certainly more work to be done and with your support, Federation will continue to mobilize our community in the work needed to help repair our world and ensure the future of the Jewish people.
Dara Kaufman is executive director of Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.