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By Albert Stern / BJV Editor

When someone tells me how much they admire this Federation’s work, most of the time that person will add how surprised they are by how much we accomplish given our size. This is especially true if that person lives or has lived in a large Jewish community.

Without a doubt, this Federation punches far above its weight. The annual report published each year in the Berkshire Jewish Voice provides the statistics about what this Federation achieves, but I’ve found that what really motivates our supporters is their proximity to what we do. They see, up close, the difference Federation makes in the lives of our community members by providing essential services to our elders; in funding opportunities for positive Jewish growth for our youth; and in forging connections among the diverse Jewish population of Berkshires, as well as with Jewish groups in other parts of the United States, Israel, and overseas.

What’s more, they recognize Federation’s meaningful outreach beyond the Jewish community, and its effective advocacy for local, national, and international Jewish interests and causes.

The Berkshire Jewish Voice is one of the key tools the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires has to communicate the breadth of its work to our community – which includes full-time residents, seasonal residents, and visitors seeking Jewish connection. Berkshire Jewish Summer is the definitive guide to Jewish programming taking place during the busy tourist season, an essential publicity resource not only for Federation, but for local congregations and Jewish groups. Copies of the paper are mailed to donors, and are also distributed throughout Berkshire County.

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 Jews around the world.

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.

Last year in my appeal for volunteer donors, I highlighted the paper’s visual appeal, original writing, and local focus. Over the past 12 months, we’ve continued to improve.

Visually, we’ve featured work by two fantastic artists we “discovered” – the gifted young Israeli graffiti art-influenced muralist Solomon Souza and the late William Papas, one of the most prominent illustrators of his day, whose drawings of a bygone Israel in the late 1960s we were given permission to republish. (It was the first time those images had appeared in print in nearly 50 years.) We were able to share new work by Berkshires artists Nina Lipkowitz and Susan Miller, as well as examples of “Tehillim B’Zug,” the Book of Psalms-inspired artwork created in collaboration by local artists and Israelis from the Afula-Gilboa region. We also featured Jewish-themed artwork on view the Turn Park Art Space and the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Rabbi Michael Strassfeld’s private collection of signs and memorabilia.

As for original writing, it all starts with regular contributors like Carol Goodman Kaufman, whose “Traveling With Jewish Taste” column never fails to provide offbeat insights into Jewish cuisine (plus recipes that work). In the past year, Avi Dresner has contributed personal essays and fascinating interviews with bestselling Jewish authors like Tova Mirvis, Angela Himsel, Barry Joseph, and Rabbi Leah Rachel Berkowitz. Additionally, Rabbi Seth Wax gave us a lively interview with Great Barrington-based novelist Aaron Thier.

Clergy and lay leaders of a scholarly bent are able to share their always interesting insights about Jewish faith and culture in Rabbi Reflections columns, while our Berkshire Jewish Voices section allows community members to share their experiences and interests – I especially enjoyed Alex Rosenblum’s musings on whiskey and Jodie Friedman’s essay on being young, single, and Jewish in the Berkshires that appeared in our last issue. This month, don’t miss Helene Berger’s moving and insightful story about how she dealt with her husband’s Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis – it’s excerpted from her memoir and conveys important coping strategies.

As a writer, I especially enjoyed telling the stories of Bob Waldheim’s emotional return to Vietnam, where he had served in the Marine Corps; of Yevgeny Kutik’s recording of new works he commissioned about the experience of family; and of Uri Regev’s efforts to foster Jewish religious pluralism in the State of Israel. I learned a great deal from all of them – from Bob, about the emotional scars combat veterans still carry with them decades after conflict; from Yevgeny, how a performing artist advances his career in the world of contemporary classical music; and from Uri, many things I didn’t know about the intersection of Israel’s secular and religious values, and why non-Israelis should care.

Also this year, I covered the way Berkshire County’s faith and civic communities came together in displays of unity to memorialize the victims of anti-Semitic shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway. These were melancholy assignments, yet ones I came away from feeling uplifted by the good will of our neighbors and their shared commitment to combating hate in our community. As is said, we should meet only at simchas in the future.

As I noted in the first paragraph, people often tell me they are surprised by how much Federation accomplishes given our size. After working for several years as editor of the Berkshire Jewish Voice, I am not surprised. As an editor, I am grateful to have access to so many individuals with interesting stories – authors, scholars, religious leaders, visual artists, dancers and choreographers, entrepreneurs, actors and directors, musicians, philanthropists, and so many more.

And I am especially grateful that the Berkshire Jewish Voice supports the Federation’s efforts to build community and grow Jewish life and identity in this part of the world.

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