|Inaugural meeting of Alliance includes speeches, awards and installations|
|By Nancy Kirsch|
|Friday, 08 June 2012 00:22|
|Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, delivers thought-provoking comments|
PROVIDENCE – The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island (the Alliance) held its inaugural annual meeting on the evening of Monday, June 4, in the Alliance JCC Social Hall.
High school senior Dylan Abrams (read more about Abrams in the page 3 story) gave the d’var Torah. Referencing the upcoming parashah (B’ha’alot’kha) Abrams exhorted the audience – some 170 Jewish community members – to recall and adopt “our ancestors’ zeal and enthusiasm for holidays.” And by sustaining personal relationships, we do God’s holy work, he said.
Jeffrey Savit, the Alliance’s chief executive officer and president, recalled waiting anxiously exactly one year ago to learn if he would be offered the position. Eleven months later, after joining the Alliance, he has embraced the greater Rhode Island Jewish community.
To prosper, Savit said, the community must act as a unified whole; we are too small to act otherwise. “We must honor our past, but not be imprisoned by it,” he said, urging community members to be open-minded, realistic and proactive. “We must …attend our lectures, Zimriyahs, cabarets, Shabbatons, graduations and fundraising events, whether in Westerly or Providence, Newport or Attleboro.”
Community members are invited to participate in an upcoming mission to Israel, tentatively scheduled for January 2013.
Alliance Chair Richard Licht introduced keynote speaker Rabbi Elie Kaunfer. Co-founder and executive director of Mechon Hadar, an institute empowering Jews to build vibrant Jewish communities, he graduated from Harvard College and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. A Dorot Fellow and Wexner Graduate Fellow, Kaunfer was selected as an inaugural Avi Chai Fellow.
The nationally known rabbi, a graduate of the Alperin Schecter Day School, Classical and the Harry Elkin Midrasha, is the son of Rabbi Alvan and Marcia Kaunfer.
Rabbi Kaunfer gave the keynote address, “From Survival to Purpose: A New Direction for Jewish Life.”
A vibrant Jewish future requires challenging certain assumptions, including that “Jewish continuity is the end goal, and everything is in service of that goal.” With everything in service of Jewish identity – Birthright, day schools, camp – we’ve come to believe, he said, that by strengthening Jewish identity, Judaism will continue.
But, said Rabbi Kaunfer, “We forget to articulate why it matters for Judaism to continue.”
As we search for meaning, substance and connection, Rabbi Kaunfer said, “Our souls are calling out for engagement; our hearts are crying out to be opened.”
How do we respond to that need?
“We Jews have a … pathway to meaning, substance and connection, he said. “It is… Torah. I don’t just mean the Torah scroll… I mean … the wisdom stored up in our textual heritage.”
Describing lessons learned from Torah study, including 15 years of weekly study sessions with his father, the young rabbi said that Torah, not continuity for its own sake, should be the focus.
Our task today is two-fold, he said. First, “abandon the old paradigm of Jewish continuity as an end in itself. Instead, continuity must be in the service of Torah.” Only when we can articulate why Judaism matters, then continuity will be the obvious result, he said.
Second, we must “make Torah accessible to all. We have to stop imagining Torah as only for the clergy and the elite,” urged Rabbi Kaunfer. “We suffer and Torah suffers when we short-sell its relevance.”
Saying that Torah has always been “the big idea,” he urged attendees to bring it back to its place of glory.
Awards and recognition
• Joseph W. Ress Community Service Award was presented to Barbara Sokoloff by Joan Ress Reeves, daughter of the late Joseph Ress. The award recognizes those who have fulfilled leadership roles in the Alliance, local or national Jewish agencies, and the general Rhode Island community.
Currently the Alliance vice chair of governance, Sokoloff is highly respected for her myriad roles in the Jewish and Rhode Island community, said Ress Reeves. A past president of the URI Hillel, Jewish Seniors Agency and the Jewish Home for the Aged, Sokoloff serves on the boards of Classical High School Alumni Association and The Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence.
Calling Joe Ress “her gold standard” for philanthropic endeavors, she said, “My core social value is tzedakah,” a value she said she received from her parents and one that she hopes she has instilled in her children.
• Bethany and Richard Sutton received The Riesman Leadership Development Award, created by Robert (now deceased) and Marcia Riesman to inspire and encourage emerging leadership. Riesman presented the Suttons with the award, noting their extensive involvement in the Jewish community.
Bethany serves on the Alliance Community Development Committee, and served on the board of the Women’s Alliance, participated in the Women’s Mentorship Program and co-chaired the Chili Cook-Off. Richard, a member of the Alliance board and its budget and finance committee, is the incoming assistant treasurer/secretary.
Bethany spoke briefly of being “humbled and honored” by the award that enables them to attend the next “GA,” or General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. She expressed hope that their two young sons will grow to experience meaningful Jewish communal life, as well.
• Lynn Jakubowicz, a master teacher at Providence Hebrew Day School for more than 30 years, received The Lea Eliash Memorial Teacher Award. The Rhode Island affiliate of the national Grinspoon-Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, the award honors outstanding classroom-based teachers in formal Jewish educational settings.
Interviewed later, Jakubowicz expressed gratitude to both Miriam Esther Weiner, PHDS principal, for nominating her and the former Bureau of Jewish Education for providing support to her during her early teaching years.
• David Wasser, Torat Yisrael Religious School teacher, received The Jenny Klein Memorial Teacher Award. The award was established by the Alperin-Hirsch Family Foundation to recognize outstanding teachers who have demonstrated a commitment to Jewish education.
Contacted by phone the next day, Wasser said he appreciates that the award allows him to further his professional development.
Governance and reports
Sokoloff announced the uncontested slate of officers – with notice having been given in accordance with bylaws – and called for a vote.
After the board and officers were unanimously approved, Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer installed them all.
Licht commended his fellow lay leaders and Alliance professional staff. Savit, he said, “is far better than we even imagined.”
Although the Alliance has much to be proud of, “we have more to do,” said Licht. Ticking off next year’s goals – reinvigorate and change fundraising opportunities (with new development staff), embrace new methods of philanthropic giving, nurture young leaders, evaluate and measure programs’ performance and revitalize the Alliance JCC J-Fitness – Licht said, “This is the central address for the secular Jewish community.”
We will see a “bigger, better, more prosperous Alliance next year.”