Our Major Donors: Builders and Sustainers of Jewish Life in the Berkshires

Major Donors Celebration an opportunity to share ideas on making a difference in our Jewish community

PITTSFIELD – Jewish Federation of the Berkshires will host its annual Major Donors Celebration on Sunday, July 23 at 9:30 a.m., at a new, larger location – Berkshire Hills Country Club.

This year’s event will focus on the tremendous impact major donors have on building and sustaining Jewish life in the region, especially over these last few years marked by significant challenges related to the pandemic, antisemitism, and changing demographics.  

“We are thrilled that we have such a diverse group of supporters who understand the unique challenges a small community faces,” says Executive Director Dara Kaufman. “Our Federation could not possibly accomplish all that we do to meet essential needs across the Berkshires, in Israel, and beyond without the inspiring compassion, generosity, and leadership of our major donors. That’s why we are so grateful to Carol and Irving Smokler for stepping up as our major donor chairs.”

This event is a way to share experiences of how Federation impacts the lives of all the Jews in our community – both those who come for the summer season and those who live here year-round. Gathering together gives peers an opportunity to share ideas on how to make a difference in a Jewish community like we have the Berkshires – small in population, yet one where the need for essential services is as acute as it is anywhere else.

Donors will have the chance to see all that this small community accomplishes, and really understand the impact their support has on sustaining the vital programs Federation provides – care services and social engagement for area seniors, Jewish education for our children, camp and Israel experiences for teens and young adults, security enhancements and training for our congregations, advocacy and support to combat antisemitism, and engaging programming to enrich Jewish identity and connection for people of all ages.

Major Donor chairs Carol and Irving Smokler, having spent a lifetime in leadership positions in the Jewish community and at national Jewish organizations, recognize that the Berkshires is a unique model for how a Jewish community mobilizes itself in a rural environment.

“We have had a home here for over 16 years and have seen the Berkshire Jewish community develop and change,” says Carol. “When asked to step up as the chairs of this important event, we did not hesitate to say yes. We see the vitality of Jewish life here and know that does not happen by accident.”

She adds, “This federation is compassionate, creative, and strategic in supporting those in need, empowering and educating young people, and creating diverse and inclusive opportunities for every person to feel welcomed and supported in Jewish life. It has all the same needs as larger communities, but far fewer resources. We, as major donors, are its greatest resource in supporting these efforts.”

Indeed, Federation’s campaign has risen nearly 24 percent over the last 5 years and has allowed for many expanded services including increasing staff capacity, additional hours for the community social worker, expanded investment in Jewish education and camperships, and a greater focus on the safety of the community. Federation also significantly expanded its adult and family programming to create more diverse, inclusive, and collaborative opportunities to engage in “doing” and “being” Jewish, outside traditional spaces

“The pandemic changed our community in so many ways,” says Federation’s outgoing  president Elisa Schindler Frankel. “Older adults needed more support, families and young people needed opportunities to connect, and an influx of new people seeking a safe haven were looking to engage with this vibrant Jewish community. Despite our small size, we accomplish so much. People see this and want to be involved. We are so grateful for the support of our major donors in helping us grow our campaign to respond to the changing needs of our community.”

The involvement of our Major Donors has been instrumental in achieving these successes – not only in their

 generous support of our annual campaign but in their ever-increasing engagement with Jewish life in the Berkshires and awareness of what this Federation accomplishes year-round in the Berkshires.

Cindy Chazen, who along with her husband Jay Leipzig is a member of our Major Donors host committee, puts it this way: “I’ve been involved in and seen many federations in action and this Federation is remarkable. Once I went to the head of one of the largest federations in the Northeast and showed him what Jewish Federation of the Berkshires does with the dollars it raises. His reaction was to say that it was impossible to compare the two organizations. My response to him was to say, ‘Just the opposite. Look at what the Berkshires’ Federation accomplishes and see how much each dollar raised can mean to a community.’”

Cindy and Jay spend five months in the Berkshires each year, and she adds: “It’s important for me to be a part of a vital Jewish community wherever I live. Perhaps some people feel as if they give to their capacity in another place. But we should think of all the Jewish programming and engagement we take advantage of while we are here, and understand that Federation supports almost all of it in some way. Being able to give in both places you live in is a profound double mitzvah.”

Federation board member and host committee member Arlene Schiff and her husband Gary see Federation as providing the critical foundation upon which a strong and vibrant Berkshire Jewish community can exist. “It links us to the efforts of prior generations and provides our small community a connection to Israel and Jews around the world,” shares Arlene, a full-time resident of the Berkshires who raised her daughters here. “We are proud that Federation offers a pathway for everyone to participate in Jewish life and grateful that, through Federation, we can protect and enhance the well-being of Jews locally and around the world.”

Jane Glaser, a member of the host committee and Federation’s board of directors, is excited to acknowledge how important major donors are to our community. "I want donors to know just how valuable they are to our Berkshire Jewish community," says Jane. "Each of them has a vested interest in the Jewish life here. We look forward to honoring all those who have made that commitment. Federation is truly the pulse of a very diversified Jewish life in the Berkshires. How fortunate we are to be part of the annual campaign and have the opportunity to be part of the future of this Federation!"

Berkshire Hills Country Club is at 500 Benedict Road in Pittsfield. Please register by returning the invitation you have received or online at jewishberkshires.org/celebration. Open to Leadership Donors who make a gift of $1,000 or more to Federation’s 2023 annual campaign.

Thank You, Host Committee!

Federation is very grateful to the members of our Major Donors Celebration host committee:

Nancy and Mark Belsky

Marjorie and Barry Berg

Helene Berger

Cindy Chazen and Jay Leipzig

Mel and Terry Drucker

Jill and Harold Gaffin

Marion Gardner Saxe and Len Saxe

Jane Glaser

Liz and Alan Jaffe

Marilyn and Elihu Katzman

Pommy and Gerry Levy

Nancy and Norman Lipoff

Penny and Claudio Pincus

Elaine and Bernie Roberts

Arlene and Garry Schiff

Elisa Schindler Frankel and Larry Frankel

Anne Schnesel

Zelda Schwebel

Hope and Gene Silverman

Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner

Dianne Troderman and Harold Grinspoon

Audrey Weiner and Jeff Solomon


About Our Guest Performer – Annette Miller of Shakespeare & Company’s Golda’s Balcony

In 2000, Annette Miller originated the role of Golda Meir in Shakespeare & Company’s production of Golda’s Balcony. This August, she will reprise the role in the Lenox theater company’s revival of William Gibson’s play, which traces the trajectory of Meir’s life from Russian immigrant to American schoolteacher to a leader of international politics as the fourth prime minister of Israel.

Major donors will enjoy excerpts from Miller’s upcoming performances at our summer celebration. She will also speak about how her approach to the role has changed in the two decades since she first took it on – years in which attitudes toward Israel, and its history and leadership, have been reconsidered and reevaluated.

Annette has performed on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in regional theaters, and on film and television. She had been a leading actor at Shakespeare and Company for the past 25 seasons and was acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal as Best Actor of the Season in regional theater for her performance as Gladys Green in The Waverly Gallery and as Vera in 4000 Miles. She received the 2018 Berkshire Theater Critics Association Award for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Katherine in Mothers and Sons.

Annette’s latest film, You Will Not Play Wagner, was featured in the 2023 Berkshire International Film Festival, as well as the Miami, Sarasota, Chicago, and Vancouver Jewish film festivals. She played Mrs. Tanken in the Oscar-nominated 2022 Netflix film  Don’t Look Up  with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.

And, Annette adds, she is “proud to be an active member of the Berkshire Jewish community and its Federation.” Look for more about Annette Miller and her role as Golda Meir in the next issue of the Berkshire Jewish Voice.