President's Message: Confident in the Joy of Jewish Life in the Berkshires

By Elisa Schindler Frankel / President, Jewish Federation of the Berkshires

It is an exciting time to be part of the changing Jewish landscape in the Berkshires. Enhanced by all those who have moved here since the start of the pandemic, Jewish life is flourishing. Federation has greeted this influx of new residents with energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. We continue to be at the forefront of our vibrant and diverse Jewish community, providing the leadership and direction to ensure our people’s continuity for generations to come.

In 2022, we set the loftiest fundraising goal in our 82-year history – $1.1 million. And we achieved it thanks to so many members of our community! A huge thank you to the dedicated members of the board of directors for their hard work and leadership throughout the year. They serve as our moral compasses and always keep us on the right path. A special thank you to two dynamic duos – our remarkable Major Gifts Chairs, Elisa Spungen Bildner and Rob Bildner, and stellar Super Tzedakah Week Chairs, Tom and Suzanne Sawyer. Their events were smashing successes, each creating a strong sense of community and engaging so many others in our work. We thank them for their ongoing commitment, passion, and generosity.

A heartfelt thank you to our cadre of more than 200 amazing volunteers for their endless hours dedicated to our cause. They take great pride and find tremendous joy in coming together to help wherever help is needed most. We would be remiss in not acknowledging and thanking our extraordinary executive director, Dara Kaufman, without whom none of what we achieved would be possible. We thank her for guiding her fantastic team and thank each of them for their thoughtful planning and wide range of contributions, day in and day out. Most importantly – we thank YOU – our remarkable donors who believed in us and believed that we could do it. We appreciate your support, attendance at our programs and events, and generous financial contributions.

I am exceedingly proud of our collective accomplishments this past year. As the hub of Jewish life, Federation has worked to create a welcoming presence that improves lives and inspires Jewish engagement. Community is at the center of everything we do. Only by working together can we continue to nourish and sustain Jewish life, embrace challenges and opportunities, and plan for the future with optimism and hope.

As 2023 approaches, we have more work to do. This month, our Allocations Committee will meet to decide how to best allocate funds drawn from our annual campaign to support the work of organizations outside of the Federation’s direct program services. The Talmud teaches us that “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh - All of Israel is Responsible for One Another.” Through Federation’s allocation process, we accept our communal responsibility and commit to the larger efforts to care for those in need and sustain the Jewish community wherever Jews in the world need us.

The Allocations Committee will wrestle with how to balance support for deserving organizations within our Berkshire Jewish community against the needs of fragile Jewish communities around the world. They will consider how best to help thousands of Ukrainian Jews living under life-threatening winter conditions and support the escalating aliya of Russian Jews fleeing their country’s devastating political and economic conditions.  

Our youth represent our future, and the Allocations Committee will also decide on funding levels for supporting synagogue religious schools, summer camp, and travel-to-Israel scholarships. These experiences provide rich memories and instill a love of Judaism, tikkun olam, Jewish learning, and celebration – all the components of a meaningful and strong Jewish identity. This past year, our Education Taskforce developed an exciting new allocation process to fund youth education in a congregational setting. We hope this will provide more flexibility to the religious schools to create innovative and robust Jewish journeys for our young people moving forward.

And as we think about the future, we cannot stop our efforts to raise awareness about the dangerous widespread rise in antisemitism. Our “Shine A Light on Antisemitism” online campaign was very successful, engaging more than 7,500 viewers, with more than 700 individuals sharing and clicking through to the numerous resources, articles, and videos we presented.

It was so exciting to see hundreds of community members come together and share their light at our recent Chanukah celebration at The Mount, where State Representative Smitty Pignatelli noted the need to address antisemitism in our community and our state. “I’m so proud to see so many young people here,” Rep Pignatelli said. “It’s up to them because I don’t believe anybody is born with hate in their heart. They’re taught to hate. We need to change that narrative. And if we can’t start at a young age, we’re all in trouble.”

The challenges of antisemitism are significant. But as Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, recently noted at the Jewish Federation’s General Assembly, we must balance the OY of antisemitism with the JOY of being Jewish and celebrating our rich and meaningful heritage.

As you think about your resolutions for the secular New Year, I invite you to consider how you can get involved in our Jewish community and celebrate the Joy. One easy way is to join Federation and our local congregations and Jewish organizations at our upcoming community-wide musical Hootenanny Havdalah on February 4 at Knesset Israel.

The support and trust our community expressed through our work together gives me hope and focuses me on the joy of Jewish life in the Berkshires. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve Federation, and I am confident our community will continue to shine in 2023.

Photo: Elisa Schindler Frankel and friends at Federation's Jewish Community Day at High Lawn Farm on June 12. More than 350 happy revelers showed up to celebrate our Jewish community and enjoy being together with old and new friends.