In My View - A Message from Federation President Judy Usow

Reflecting on an Eventful Year with Deep Gratitude for Our Jewish Community

By Judy Usow / President, Jewish Federation of the Berkshires

I often thought about the year 2020 because, long ago I calculated this would be the year my youngest daughter, Josie, would graduate from high school and leave for college. 

But this new decade came so much faster than I could have imagined. As I look toward the future, I can’t help but reflect on the past year with a deep gratitude for this community. My husband and I feel lucky to have raised proud, confident daughters in this caring Jewish community.  As Federation president, I am continually inspired by so many in this community who live by their Jewish values.

On behalf of the Federation board of directors, I want to thank all the generous donors and volunteers who helped us surpass our campaign goal to raise $918,000!   A special thank you to Elisa Schindler-Frankel and Larry Frankel, who kicked off the annual campaign on Super Sunday as campaign chairs and worked tirelessly to help us throughout the year. Also, thank you to David and Lorna Strassler, who continued that momentum by chairing our Major Donors Breakfast. 

We are deeply grateful to all the board members, host committee members, and volunteers who dedicated their time to reaching so many in our community and sharing the important role of our Federation.  I also want to express my sincere gratitude to the Federation staff for their dedication throughout the year. 

This past year, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires embarked on an important strategic planning initiative.  We set out to evaluate this community’s evolving needs and to examine how we can most effectively meet those needs to sustain a vibrant Jewish life here in the Berkshires. 

With the help of a professional consultant, we heard from a very wide sampling of the Jewish community by holding town hall meetings, focus groups, and stakeholder meetings, as well as through an emailed questionnaire.  We sought input from a broad range of voices including full-time and part-time residents, seniors and young adults, members of congregations, people who are unaffiliated with a synagogue, and those in interfaith relationships. 

We hope to present the findings and recommendations to the board of directors in the next few months.  Thank you to everyone who participated in the study! Your contribution will help shape the future of this community.

I also had the opportunity to attend FedLab in Washington, DC this past November with our executive director, Dara Kaufman, and Josh Bloom, a member of our executive board.  Instead of the annual General Assembly conference, this year the Jewish Federations of North America tried something very different. They invited representatives from Federations across the country to spend three days engaging in deep conversations and interactive problem solving focused around the Jewish world’s most critical issues. We were encouraged to share viewpoints and were exposed to exciting new ideas and approaches. 

It was apparent that those who attended FedLab were committed to having meaningful discussions to address the issues facing the Jewish world.

After facing the reality of horrific anti-Semitic events around the country and the world over the past couple of years, in 2019 the Berkshire Jewish community faced its own struggles with anti-Semitism.

This past October, Jewish students at Monument Valley Regional Middle School in Great Barrington were threatened by another student.   Supporting these kids and their families, and working with local schools through the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference program continues to be an important part of our Federation agenda. We must always stand up and speak out whenever and wherever we encounter hate and bias. 


Finally, as I write this column members of the Federation’s Allocations Committee are reviewing grant proposals in order to decide how to make a meaningful impact with our campaign dollars in 2020.

Our Allocations Committee will determine how we will use our campaign dollars to build a strong Jewish community, to share our values and traditions with our children and families, to strengthen the Jewish identities of teens, to ensure that our seniors can live with dignity, and to support people in need and those facing crisis in Israel and around the world.

See the print edition of our 2019 annual report, along with the thank you pages listing the names of all our generous donors.

Thank you to everyone who stepped up, giving of their time, talent, and resources to make our holy work together possible.