Connecting with more individuals, nurturing a sense of unity, and helping those in need
By Dara Kaufman / Executive Director of Jewish Federation of the Berkshires
It’s hard to believe that the summer is flying by so quickly! Here at Federation, we have been in constant motion to provide creative and diverse opportunities for people of all ages to connect, learn, celebrate, and grow. And “grow” seems to be the operative word, as we are seeing some of our highest participation levels ever. More people are embracing our Jewish community as a place where they feel welcomed, supported, and connected to Jewish life in the Berkshires.
Most recently, with the support of event chairs, Irv and Carol Smokler and their terrific committee, Federation hosted its largest Major Donor Celebration ever. It was a wonderful morning highlighted by the inspiring remarks of Sadie Honig-Briggs, a rising 10th grader from Great Barrington and a member of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire.
Sadie shared her thoughts on the need to recognize injustice in our world, her commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world), and the impact of Federation’s support of her Jewish education and her recent trip to Israel. “I want to live authentically as a young person, as an active community member, and as a Jew,” said Sadie, “carrying the experiences that I have been privileged enough to have with me as a guide.”
Sadie finished by thanking the donors whose generosity supported her Jewish journey. “I can feel you walking with me on my path to living a beautiful Jewish life,” she said. “Your support helps carry me to becoming a better community member, and your actions model what it means to invest in the future of our Jewish community.”
Inspired by the vital work of Federation, our major donors have helped us put together an exciting $50,000 Tzedakah Challenge, as highlighted on this paper’s front page. Renew your gift or make an extra gift through the holidays, and you will help Federation receive $50,000 to accomplish even more good – supporting the vulnerable, empowering young people, and creating vibrant and meaningful Jewish life across the Berkshires, in Israel, and around the world in the New Year.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time when, in addition to the wonderful and inspiring work we do, Federation must also direct time and resources into confronting rising antisemitism and providing resources and training to keep our community safe.
One must only read the local headlines to know that the Berkshires are not immune. We have seen swastikas and racial slurs carved into the beach at Lake Mansfield. The targeting of Jewish students and a teacher in our local schools. White supremacist signs posted across the Berkshires. The hate we are seeing has many people feeling angry and vulnerable.
Federation has been working with school administrators across the region to help them address these incidents, support the victims and families impacted, and advocate for more education and training around identity-based hate in their school community.
Federation’s annual funding for the ADL’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Peer Training in Berkshire County public schools continues to play a vital role in supporting these efforts. Most recently. through our ongoing advocacy, multiple schools are taking on district-wide ADL training for administrators and faculty in addition to the peer training for students.
I am pleased to share that on November 7, hundreds of educators will participate in a countywide professional development day that will include a keynote and training session by noted expert Richard Cole., centered on recognizing and addressing identity-based hate in the school environment. These trainings are made possible, in part, by Federation funding through your support.
Federation is also working with legislators, community partners, law enforcement, and the Berkshire County District Attorney’s office to share our concerns, advocate for resources, and enlist partners in raising awareness. Our message is clear: Antisemitism is rising, and it is not just a threat to the Jewish community. Accepted hate, in any form, is a vital threat to our entire community and society.
In this BJV you will find resources on how you can confront Jew hatred.
Despite the need to focus on antisemitism, we cannot and will not let it define us. Our strength as a people and as a Jewish community is rooted in celebrating our rich traditions and expressing our shared values with pride and joy. The challenges we face only strengthened our resolve to ensure a vibrant and resilient Jewish future for generations to come. Federation’s work, in collaboration with the work of our congregations and Jewish organizations, is vital to that effort.
As summer winds down and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, approaches, we find ourselves in a time of self-reflection. This is an opportunity to review our actions during the past year and look for ways to improve ourselves, our community, and our world in the year to come. I know for me it provides moments to reflect on goals and aspirations, hopes and possibilities.
Just as the summer has passed in the blink of an eye, it occurred to me that 10 years have passed since I first started as the executive director of this Federation. It has been a wonderful journey. Through strategic planning and collaboration, we've witnessed tremendous growth in Federation’s impact and reach. The expansion of outreach initiatives has allowed us to connect with more individuals, nurturing a sense of belonging and unity while making sure that supports are in place for those who need them.
I am grateful to each and every person who has helped our community grow and flourish during this time. It is truly an honor to do this holy work with all of you.
I wish you a Happy New Year filled with the sweet blessings of family, community, good health, and prosperity. L’Shanah Tovah!