In My View: Dara Kaufman on "Navigating Uncharted Waters"

By Dara Kaufman / Executive Director, Jewish Federation of the Berkshires

Just weeks ago, as we sat at our Passover tables, we asked why this night is different from all other nights. I imagine that question set off some interesting conversations in Jewish homes across the world. So much has happened since the October 7 terror attack by Hamas militants, and the impact of that single significant day continues to unfold and evolve.

Over the last 7 months, the Federation has been working diligently to respond and support both locally and in Israel. Our Israel Emergency Campaign and recent Israel and Overseas allocation continue to provide much-needed relief to our brothers and sisters in Israel.

This past February, the Federation hosted a security briefing for our Jewish leaders with the FBI, the Berkshire District Attorney’s office, and local law enforcement to help us better understand the threats we are facing and how we can work together to mitigate those threats.

And unfortunately, the Federation continues to respond to local incidents of antisemitism targeting our community. Supporting those impacted, calling out the actions when possible, sharing resources for reporting, and engaging law enforcement and local officials when appropriate.

Recently, Federation responded to a resolution presented by a group of citizens to the Williamstown Select Board, calling for an unconditional and permanent ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas. Such resolutions have been presented to city councils and select boards around the country. In many cases, the resolutions are one-sided and contain highly inflammatory language that demonizes Israel. While these resolutions have no direct legislative impact, they influence the thinking of local elected officials and residents.

They also create deep division in local communities and exacerbate the rising antisemitism that Jewish communities are experiencing, including ours.

As a local municipal government with no jurisdiction or mandate to address foreign affairs, Williamstown’s singular focus on this specific international conflict was deeply concerning for many in the Jewish community and beyond.

We are grateful the to the many residents who responded to Federation’s action alert to engage in this public discourse and made their voices heard. I received many calls and emails from residents expressing concern and more than a few were reluctant to speak publicly for fear that they would be targeted.

With the permission of the Select Board chair, I was able share those concerns in my own remarks which I emailed to the Select Board members in advance and also presented publicly at the meeting. You can read my remarks at After a thoughtful and difficult discussion, the Select Board chose not to adopt the resolution.

All of us have been fundamentally transformed by the challenges Israel is facing as a nation and those we are facing as a people. This is deeply unsettling, but like our ancestors before us, we can find strength, resilience, and hope in the celebration of our faith, culture and traditions as a community.

Like the Hillel sandwich of marror and charoset that we eat at the Passover Seder, life is a continual mix of bitter and sweet and our Jewish traditions teach us that we can celebrate and mourn at the same time.

On May 19, Federation will launch its 2024 community fundraising campaign with our Super Tzedakah Week kickoff at Jewish Community Day, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at High Lawn Farm.

This wonderful day of celebration, enjoyed by more than 450 people last year, is a testament to the diversity, strength, and connection of our Jewish community and the collective impact we have through Federation. Read on in the paper to learn more about the fun and meaningful activities planned, including a special opportunity to send messages of hope and support to the families of the hostages. Volunteers are need to help with this special day, so contact Federation if you can help.

Throughout the month of May, we will also be partnering with Berkshire Bounty to help alleviate the food crisis that has gripped our community and we encourage you to join us in this special mitzvah.

We most are grateful to Josh Cutler our 2024 Super Tzedakah chair for his leadership and for sharing all the ways Federation has impacted his family over five generations! L’dor v’dor, from one generation to the next, Josh is sharing families Jewish values in action through Federation. See the article on page 1 for more about Josh and his Berkshire Jewish journey.

Please take a moment during Super Tzedakah week to make a meaningful gift or pledge to support Federation’s 2024 community campaign. Your gift will help bring dignity and care to our older adults, build and strengthen the Jewish identity of our youth and young adults, support vital community building programs, confront rising antisemitism, and create meaningful Jewish life across the Berkshires, in Israel, and around the world.

Over the last few years, we have seen how quickly our world can change. From a global pandemic, rising antisemitism, and the most recent attacks on Israel, the needs and priorities of the Jewish people are constantly evolving.

But through it all, Federation has steadfastly provided the leadership and support needed to navigate the challenges we face and ensure a strong and secure Jewish community.

We are deeply grateful for your support. Thank you!