By Albert Stern / BJV Editor
Among my essential memories of my Berkshires experience was the way a good friend responded when I told him I was relocating here from Brooklyn. “So you’re moving to The Land That Time Forgot,” he said.
That was 10 years ago, and until 2020, that moniker certainly seemed apt. For us year-rounders, predictable seasonal rhythms shape our lives – winters cold and snowy, springtime wet and muddy, and summers and autumns reliably glorious. Around Memorial Day, our snowbird friends come back to liven up our social lives and communal gatherings, and soon after that, comes the barrage of cultural programming. Repeat.
The pandemic changed a lot of things. As I reviewed the newspapers we published since we last reached out to our readers for voluntary subscriptions, I noticed how many articles, op-eds, reflections, and Berkshire Jewish Voices essays were marked by a wholly understandable anxiousness. When would things return to normal? What do we need to do, individually and communally, to move forward? Are we staying religiously connected in meaningful ways? How are our families and youth managing isolation? How would the larger Berkshires community fare economically with its traditional economic engines so disrupted?
In midwinter 2021, it was apparent that the Berkshires changed in ways few had foreseen. I remember brainstorming with Elisa Spungen Bildner about the BJV article she was working on that would tell the story of how local farmers and restaurateurs were coping. We both observed how, starting last summer, our favorite hiking trails were suddenly full of people. I shared how one of my recurring Berkshire experiences was standing atop Tyringham Cobble on a perfect fall or summer day, and wondering why I was the only person out there. Now, however, the parking lot is usually full, with an overflow of cars stretching along Jerusalem Road.
It’s undeniable – We have been discovered. In the pandemic year, what people discovered was not our renowned marquee attractions – they were closed. No, people were discovering the Berkshires that Elisa and her husband, Rob Bildner, portrayed so lovingly in their Berkshire Farm Table Cookbook – the backroads Berkshires and the backyard Berkshires.
As anyone who has lately looked at real estate prices or tried to find a parking spot in Great Barrington on the weekend can tell you, more people want to be in the Berkshires. Going forward, the challenge for the Berkshire Jewish Voice will be to cover changes to our Jewish community, and share stories that reflect and engage our expanding audience.
This publication’s revenues do not cover all its costs, and so 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. The pandemic again cut into advertising revenue and we were unable to publish Berkshire Jewish Summer for the second straight year. Your generosity as voluntary subscribers last year was unprecedented, but your support remains vital to sustain this publication and broaden our impact as we develop new ways to reach our readers.
This year, the BJV introduced new arrivals to our Jewish community such as Rabbi Shira Stern, a pioneering female rabbi and stalwart Red Cross chaplain, who moved here with her husband, Rabbi Donald Weber. Our Purim Rabbi Reflection column was penned by Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, a former president of Hebrew College in Newton, who relocated here with his wife, Lisa Soleymani Lehmann. We also welcomed Israel’s new Consul General to New England, Meron Reuben, who will be contributing regular updates to the paper on what his office is up to.
As always, we endeavor to give you something to read by local authors. This year, Roselle Kline Chartock shared excerpts from her latest book, Elvis and the Jews. We also published Miriam Udel%u2019s translations of Yiddish children’s literature from her anthology, Honey on the Page; Professor Udel, who teaches at Emory, has childhood family roots in the Berkshires. Plus, we featured a sampling from our Traveling With Jewish Taste columnist Carol Goodman Kaufman’s new children’s book, Once in a Full Moon – while Carol couldn’t travel during the pandemic, she was still able to stare up at the nighttime sky and also contribute fascinating articles about the Tribe’s adventures and misadventures around the world.
An author interview is always a pleasant challenge. Sometimes it takes a bit of cramming about a subject, like when I spoke to economists Ira Lieberman and Paul DiLeo (both Berkshire second-homeowners) about microfinance around the globe. Other times, it involves amusing an author enough so that he or she will contribute some interesting original material, as Great Barrington’s Daniel Klein, author of Schmegoogle, did about the pandemic and about life. Sometimes, it takes getting in touch with my inner nerd, as I did when interviewing former Marvel Comics editor and writer Danny Fingeroth who at this writing was spending time in South County.
We also try to bring you stories about the Jewish world you won’t easily find elsewhere, scouring the internet for offbeat material that may appear exclusively in print in the BJV. Over the last year, we developed relationships with bloggers in Europe and Israel, and with the National Library of Israel, whose Sharon Cohen contributed an enlightening story about the Star of David’s origins. Also, we obtained exclusive permission to excerpt a section of The Fabric of Civilization by the estimable culture journalist Virginia Postrel, that described the (disgusting) process used to make the purple dye used by ancient Hebrews to color the fringes of their prayer shawls. Our interview with Gabrielle Glaser about her important book, American Baby, detailed the problematic history of adoption in the United States, and the shocking practices of the Jewish agency in New York City that matched children and parents – it’s a story that has not received enough attention in the Jewish press.
Above all, the BJV is a community newspaper, a place where local writers can express their ideas. This year, our Berkshire Jewish Voices section featured musings by Barry Shapiro on putting on a show. Eminent psychologist Dr. Leo Goldberger wrote about coming to America as a refugee after World War II (and he plans to write about his relationship in the Berkshires with psychologist Erik Erikson). Our bronfin (whisky) correspondent Alex Rosenblum contributed stories about Israel’s emerging distillers, and also a charming book review of the anthology How Yiddish Changed America that drew on his love of the momaloshen. In this issue, longtime BJV contributor (and our Super Tzedakah Week co-chair) Avi Dresner shares a story he recently published in The Forward about his father’s contribution to the Civil Rights movement.
The BJV is also a forum where younger members of the community can develop their voices. Recent Yale graduate Alex Lederman shared his thoughts about Oman and the Middle East peace process, while Williams College students Sydney Pope and Gaby Ivanova wrote about their dialogue with two young men, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, who both lost siblings in the ongoing conflict. And Regina Fink, also of Williams, shared her experience creating Caring Pals, a Federation-sponsored program that connected her fellow students to elders in our local community.
Our cultural coverage remained robust. The Creative Beit Midrash at Hevreh shared their artwork, and we separately showcased the pandemic paintings of one of its members, Nina Lipkowitz. In this issue, we feature the work of painter Myla Blum. Musicians had it particularly rough during the pandemic – interviews with Federation’s winter concert headliner Neshama Carlebach, the Berkshires' own Sarah Aroeste, and Yidstock perennials Frank London and Polina Shepherd shed light on how these artists put together ambitious musical projects while unable to tour and play together in the studio.
And then there were my own musings about getting farblodjet in the woods and looking for my swing on the golf course while finding a special moment with my son.
Looking forward to the year ahead, we intend to cover the post-pandemic Jewish Berkshires to show how the community is moving on from the crisis. Our Jewish community shone in so many important ways during these months, and discovered new ways to connect. The Berkshire Jewish Voice will share the stories of our new normal.
Please see the insert in this newspaper for the different funding levels available. An honorary publisher gift of $360 allows us to provide 4 pages of color, while all voluntary subscriptions help us defray the cost of printing and mailing the thousands of copies of the newspaper we send out to you nine times each year.
What’s more, check out the weekly emails you receive from Federation – you’ll find that we’re adding a section of stories and links curated by the BJV staff. Given our publishing schedule and local focus, we are able to share only a small fraction of the fascinating stories from around the Jewish world that we come across. We’ll share selections of what we’ve enjoyed and also tell you a little bit about why we found the stories compelling.
As always, thank you for your support.