By Albert Stern / BJV Editor
A few years back, Federation conducted a survey of our community asking respondents to identify the things they valued most about this organization’s work. What came in nearly at the top was the Berkshire Jewish Voice.
At the time, Margo Golos was our development director, the person who more than anyone else educated me on the ins and outs of philanthropy – the psychology of giving, the interpersonal dynamics of asking for donations, the cultivation of relationships, the communal importance of institutions, and, most meaningfully, the spiritual nature of tzedakah that underpins it all. And also, Margo was a confidante. When I had questions – about lots of stuff, work-related and well beyond work-related – Margo was someone I trusted to deliver the unvarnished truth.
So when this survey came out, I asked Margo what was going on. With all the things Federation does in this community, why did so many respondents single out the Berkshire Jewish Voice?
Margo didn’t call me a draykopf, but with the look she gave me, she didn’t have to.
“Albert,” she said, “people like the paper. That’s it. That’s the reason.”
I said, “There must be some other…”
“Albert,” she interrupted. “People like the paper.”
“But it can’t really…”
“Albert! PEOPLE LIKE THE PAPER!”
Mercifully, Margo didn’t end the exchange by exclaiming “Genug shoyn!” But with the look she gave me, she didn’t have to. Zol zein, people like the paper.
So before I get into all the reasons people had to like the paper over the last 12 months, here’s the spiel: Federation publishes this newspaper to enhance Jewish connection in a region that remains spread out geographically and diverse in its approach to Jewish life. We want you to know what members of the Jewish community are up to and share all the opportunities available to meet, to enjoy, and to do good works here in the Jewish Berkshires. And here’s the tachlis portion of the spiel:
This publication’s revenues do not cover all its costs. Your financial help as voluntary subscribers is essential in our efforts to bring you meaningful, positive, and entertaining stories both by and about your neighbors, as well as about Jews around the world. Your generosity as voluntary subscribers last year was phenomenal, and your support remains vital to sustaining this publication. Please see the insert in the paper for more on how you can support the Berkshire Jewish Voice - or click here for online options.
There will be a little more spiel before the wrap-up, but first, let me share what a productive 12 months this has been. I would first like to thank the Rabbis of Berkshire County, all of whom deliver meaty and meaningful Rabbi Reflections. They put so much work into their columns, display so much heart and erudition, and show the many different pathways there are to connect to Jewish faith, tradition, and belonging right here in the Berkshires. This year, we were also honored to publish an excerpt from Rabbi Michael Strassfeld’s new book, Judaism Disrupted: A Spiritual Manifesto for the 21st Century, which eloquently explored the holiness of building communities just as we launched our annual campaign. And it was great to talk in-depth with Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch, who this summer left the pulpit at Temple Anshe Amunim to lead the Women of Reform Judaism as its executive director. We wish her success in this prominent national position.
We told the story of our Super Tzedakah Week co-chairs, Lara and Jonathan Denmark, Berkshire natives whose lifelong Jewish journeys were nurtured in part by Federation and who are now raising two sons Jewishly in our community with Federation support. They spoke insightfully about the past, the present, and what the future could hold for our Jewish community – we are grateful for their vision and commitment. We also have, in this issue, the pleasure of sharing the photography of Carol Smokler, co-chair of Federation’s Major Donors Celebration along with her husband, Irving. We thank them and all the Host Committee members who, in the BJV, stated their reasons why supporting this Federation to the utmost is essential for all who recognize the importance of our outreach, activism, programming, and social services.
And here is a shout-out to all those who contributed original work to the paper. There is Sonia Beker, who twice drew on her family’s experiences and her own activism to write stories about Mark Ludwig and Daniel Levin, both presenters for Federation who are doing amazing work to preserve the legacy of Jewish musicians lost in the Holocaust. Ruth Kaplan contributed two engaging stories, one about trying to track down the ever-elusive editor of the BJV and the other about coping with a loved one’s end-of-life needs. Miriam Rubin wrote about growing a Pesach garden. (I apologize again, Miriam. Thank you.) Carolyn Newberger and Cheryl Sacks were kind enough to let us use their artwork (although it felt like we used fewer local artists this year – consider this an open call for more visual artists to get in touch). Alex Rosenblum dug deep into unsettling childhood memories to write about the importance of bread to his father, a concentration camp survivor, whose weekly Shabbat ritual included holding up a piece of challah and saying: “Vos ikh volt gehkent teayen in lahger mitt dos shtikl broyt!”(“What I could have done in the concentration camp with this little piece of bread!”) These stories need to be retold and remembered, and thank you, Alex, for being such a thoughtful scribe.
Tanya Fredman brought our faraway Israeli Partnership2Gether region Afula-Gilboa closer to us here in the Berkshires by writing about a joint art project undertaken by the Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Federation board member Arlene D. Schiff described her recent Israel and Afula-Gilboa experiences in a colorful recap of this year’s General Assembly. Jodi and Keith Graber shared highlights of their Holy Land tour with members of our community who traveled with Chabad of the Berkshires, and young Sadie Honig-Briggs wrote movingly about her visit to Yad Vashem with her Hevreh b’nai mitzvah class, and how she emerged from the sorrows that experience evoked through a festive Shabbat celebration. Sadie also wrote beautifully about her reaction to Barbara Newman’s young adult novel The Dreamcatcher Codes – mature beyond her years, Sadie presented an online program for us with Barbara, as well.
We were incredibly lucky to be able to publish BJV Interviews with some very distinguished Berkshire local yokels, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Linda Greenhouse (about the Supreme Court), pianist Ted Rosenthal (about his jazz opera), Rebecca Soffer of Modern Loss (kudos to Rabbi Seth Wax for the interview), folk singer Doug Mishkin, novelist Roberta Silman, cellist Yehuda Hanani (on the premiere of a new musical fusion piece Close Encounters With Music commissioned), shanda maven Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Margery Metzger (on her riveting Berkshire true crime saga). Other interviewees were sorta-local: memoirist and New Yorker cartoonist David Sipress (Russian history major at Williams College) and actress Lisa Edelstein (whose parents were longtime members of Knesset Israel), who charmed us with her paintings.
Not bad for a small community newspaper – but wait, there’s more. WaPo columnist Tamar Haspel gave a delightful interview to Federation board member Richard Slutzky. We spoke to Rabbi Kendell Pinkney about The Workshop Artist Salon, a dynamic exploration of identity by JOCISM (Jews of Color, Jewish-Indigenous, Sephardi & Mizrahi) – Federation brought them to the Berkshires in partnership with Shakespeare & Company, the first time The Workshop appeared outside New York City. And we talked to 60 Minutes producer Ira Rosen – let me say that when you interview a broadcast news legend who was Mike Wallace’s producer, you have to bring your A-game. (I’d rate the end result more of a B+ on my part, but Ira was incredibly gracious and fun to talk to.)
And then there was the excellent interview of novelist Maggie Anton by a true BJV stalwart and a soon-to-be-published novelist herself, Carol Goodman Kaufman. Working through a busy schedule and life’s sometimes daunting ups and downs, Carol comes through with entertaining and informative Traveling With Jewish Taste columns and actually apologizes if her column comes in after deadline. No one else does that. Carol, thank you so much for all you do for the BJV.
We are also grateful for the outstanding work of Linda Burghardt, who bang-bang-bang contributed well-researched and beautifully written articles about Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, Barrington Stage Company’s Alan Paul, and the “Organized Escape: Psychoanalysts in Exile” exhibit now at the Austen Riggs Center for our last three issues. Linda is the scholar-in-residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center in New York, whose work has appeared in many national publications. A longtime Berkshire second homeowner, she writes for the BJV because she wants to write for you – a fantastic, sophisticated, and Jewishly-engaged audience.
As I look back on the past 12 months, I am blown away by the talented writers I work with and the fascinating people I get to talk to. Sometimes I wonder, ‘How do I get so lucky?’ And I hear the voice of my confidante Margo Golos telling me: “People like the paper.” So here is part 2 of the spiel:
Please see the insert in this newspaper for the different funding levels available. An honorary publisher gift of $360 allows us to provide four pages of color. Due to popular demand, we are printing more copies of each issue and printing costs have escalated in recent years. Your support will allow us to reach more people wishing to connect with all our Jewish community offers to full-time residents, part-time residents, and the estimated 150,000 Jewish vacationers who visit the Berkshires each year.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my colleague Rabbi Daveen Litwin, Federation’s Director of Community Engagement and Programming. Federation programs have been top-notch since I started working here 8 years ago, and Daveen has taken our programming to the next level of excellence. Virtually all the interviewees whose names are bolded above were presenters at Federation-sponsored programs, and they represent only a fraction of the amazing speakers Federation hosted last year. Thanks in large part to Daveen, we’ve forged relationships with national and local organizations that enable us to deliver many more live and virtual programs with actually famous people. Exclusively for you. We get to talk to them and tell their stories in the BJV, again, exclusively for you, our loyal readers. And we have ambitious plans for the year ahead, with many more great programs and stories to come.
You like the paper. So please consider sponsoring the Berkshire Jewish Voice generously as a voluntary subscriber so we can continue to bring you stories that reflect the character of this special Jewish community and the good work this Federation accomplishes with your support.