What’s Coming Up for Our Jewish Community? A Peek Behind the Scenes

By Dara Kaufman / Executive Director, Jewish Federation of the Berkshires

As busy and crazy as life sometimes gets, I am extremely grateful that Judaism makes time for us to take a “break.” Whether it is the deep breath we take as we enter Shabbat or the deep dive of thoughtful reflection to which we commit during the High Holy Days, this time, set apart from the daily grind, helps us to recharge and replenish our souls for the work ahead.

Our recent Fed360 listening tour, focus groups, and community survey have been an unbelievable opportunity to take a moment out of our “doing” to breathe deep and really listen to what is most important to each of you in regard to Federation and our Jewish community. People were honest about their concerns, and people were thoughtful and constructive about ways we can do things better and be stronger together. Many themes began to emerge and we will report on them in future articles, but one thing is for sure – the Berkshires is a community in which people support one another and lift one another up in so many meaningful ways. We have great challenges ahead, but the new year fills me with hope.

Thank you to everyone who participated. Thank you for embracing what it means to be a community and for sharing your voices, your ideas, and your generosity with Federation. We have so much strength to build upon.

Over the fall and winter, our strategic planning task force will be reviewing the information we have gathered in order to create a meaningful path forward for the Federation. A path that will continue to strengthen us as a responsible and thriving Jewish community.

Federation is a busy place filled with passionate people including our hard-working board, staff, and volunteers, all of them pursuing important work for our community. As we embark upon this New Year of 5780 together, here is a "behind the scenes" update about what we are working on in the coming months.

Federation President Judy Usow, Vice President Josh Bloom, and I will be attending FedLab, a new initiative sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America. This 3-day laboratory will bring together leadership from Jewish communities across North America for a deep dive into some of the most important and complex issues facing the Jewish community through three main lenses: The Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism Agenda, #EngageJewish, and Action for Good in the 21st Century. 

On December 8,  Jewish teens and their parents will have a chance to hear a Holocaust survivor speak and tour the new Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away exhibit at the Jewish Heritage Museum: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. This bi-annual trip is sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Berkshire County with support for the Federation and local congregations.

Federation Vice President Josh Bloom, who is the Berkshires’ lay leader on the Partnership2Gether Committee, will be traveling to Israel in January with leaders from other Southern New England coalition (SNEC) communities to learn more about the initiatives we support through our Afula Gilboa partnership. There Josh will meet with local beneficiaries and the Israeli steering committee members as we plan our partnership opportunities for the future. He looks forward to sharing more about his trip when he returns.

Susan Frisch Lehrer, Federation’s volunteer coordinator, is looking for a few good men and women to help fill in as friendly visitors for a number of local residents whose current visitors are flying south for the winter. If you are reliable, compassionate, and a good listener with an hour to spare each week, you can bring some joy and connection to an isolated community member. 

In response to the numerous inquiries I have already received (and it is still only October as I write this), we will once again be lighting up the Berkshires with a community Chanukah celebration at Naumkaeg’s Winterlights Festival. Hundreds of people, young and old, joined us last year for this bright and joyous evening of singing and celebration. The final date and details will be shared in our next Berkshire Jewish Voice.

And finally, as part of the Federation’s ongoing efforts to support and enhance Jewish communal security in the Berkshires, we will be offering a free STOP THE BLEED® training next spring with specialists from Berkshire Medical Center’s trauma program STOP THE BLEED is a national awareness campaign and call-to-action intended to encourage bystanders, like you and me, to become trained and empowered to help in a bleeding emergency before professional help arrives. This free training can save lives and I encourage you to participate.

Of course, It is all of you who make the Federation’s work possible. Thank you for showing up with such energy, passion, and commitment. We are off to an excellent start this year and we are so excited about the work ahead.

Dara Kaufman is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.