Monday, June 23, 2014

The depth of commitment

I was glad to be in Rhode Island the other day with my colleague, JDC's CEO Alan Gill, for their Annual Board meeting. The "Jewish Voice" published a nice piece on our visit ....

Alliance annual meeting recognizes progress, honors JDC partnership

By Fran Ostendorf   
Thursday, 19 June 2014 18:36

Sharon Gaines welcomed the crowd June 16 to the third annual meeting of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island by taking a moment to recognize the plight of the three kidnapped teenagers in Israel. At the entrance to the Dwares JCC Social Hall was a table with iPads so that the audience could sign a virtual message to the families of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). “We hope this will offer some comfort that we are supporting these efforts,” Gaines said.
As a prelude to the annual awards presentation, members of Pastrami on RI blended their voices for “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Hatikvah” as well as “Bilvavi.”  Pastrami on RI, a post-collegiate coed Jewish a capella group, is a (401)j cluster that performs locally.
Awards presented      
The Jenny Klein Memorial Teacher Award, established by the Alperin-Hirsch Family Foundation to recognize outstanding teachers who have excelled in teaching and demonstrated a commitment to Jewish education in a synagogue religious school was presented to Nitza Attali. Attali, who teaches second-, third-, fifth- and sixth-grade students at Temple Beth-El in Providence, transmits her love of her homeland of Israel to her students. “In Israel, our national treasure is our children. Keep on loving our nation,” she said.
The Riesman Leadership Development Award, created by Robert and Marcia Reisman to inspire and encourage emerging leadership, is awarded to individuals who have demonstrated leadership and commitment through significant service with the Alliance. Recipients attend the General Assembly of the JFNA. Rabbi Barry Dolinger, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom, is this year’s recipient. A member of the board of directors of the Alliance, he served as lead educator for the New England Region of the March of the Living and is a founding member of (401)j. “Outside of your congregation,” presenter Doris Feinberg said, “you have embraced our community. You are already on a path that will cement your leadership in our community.”
Dolinger had particularly kind words for the Rhode Island community where, he said, “Everyone gets along and cooperates … more than anywhere.”
The Norma D. & Flo Tilles Community Relations Council Award was established to stimulate and encourage leaders and emerging leaders who have performed significant service to the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Alliance. Sharon Gaines, a previous recipient, presented this award to Richard Glucksman, chair of the Government Relations Council of the CRC and a senior staff attorney at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. As the Government Relations Council chair, Glucksman reaches out to government officials at the federal, state and local levels to raise awareness of Alliance priorities and goals.
Glucksman thanked his high school teacher for inspiring him and his mentors at the CRC for providing an unparalleled model of service.
The final award of the evening, the Joseph W. Ress Community Service Award, recognized an individual who has demonstrated exemplary leadership at the Alliance, local or national Jewish agencies and the general Rhode Island community. Joan Ress Reeves presented the award to Alan Litwin, whom she deemed “a regular Joe Ress Junior,” referring to her father, after whom the award was named. As she listed Litwin’s many contributions to the community at large, she mentioned the similarities to her father’s activities.
Litwin, managing partner of Kahn, Litwin, Renza & Co. Ltd., has served on the boards of the Jewish Seniors Agency, Jewish Home Corp., Jewish Family Service, Brown RISD Hillel, Temple Emanu-El, Miriam Hospital and The Miriam Hospital Foundation. He is a past president of the JCC and served on the board of the Alliance.
In accepting the award, Litwin said, “It’s such an honor to be named in the same sentence as Joe Ress, let alone get this award.” He said that the real reward is to be able to instill the same values of service in his children.
Alliance report
Jeffrey Savit, president and CEO of the Alliance, offered an encouraging report of growth and renewal at the Alliance, highlighting several initiatives underway.
“I hope, a year from now, we’ll be sitting in our renovated social hall,” he said, referring to the ongoing renovations to the Dwares JCC. He said that fundraising has resulted in more than $2 million so far, and that the result will be a “lovely inclusive user-friendly community center.”
Savit also told the meeting about the Living on the Edge Initiative, explaining that almost one-half of our community is living on the edge of financial insecurity. “We are committed to helping those in need in our community, “he said.
Fundraising has reached $1.4 million of the initial goal of $1.8 million for this initiative. “We are beginning to raise an army of people to help,” he said.
Commitment to community was the theme of the evening as the meeting celebrated the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s 100 years of service and its impact around the world.
“It’s wonderful to share in this anniversary with Alan Gill and Dov Ben-Shimon,” Savit said. “For 100 years, there’s been one worldwide address for Jews in need. We cherish our relationship.”
“I’ve seen the depth of commitment you have in this community,” the JDC’s Ben-Shimon responded. “I’m proud of the partnership we have.”
In an earlier conversation, Ben-Shimon said that he and Gill value the deep and meaningful tie that the JDC has with the Jewish community of Rhode Island. “We see the impact that Jewish philanthropy has around the world.”
Gill, CEO of the JDC, and Ben-Shimon, executive director-Strategic Partnerships, are well-known to members of the Rhode Island Jewish community, where support has been high for the work of the JDC around the world. Ben-Shimon has accompanied many Rhode Islanders on missions around the world.
From the JDC
Gill delivered a brief history of the JDC, from its beginnings in 1914, and a “brief snapshot of the Jewish world through the JDC lens. “Here we sit as brother and sister. We, as a Jewish people, will be there to help. The 100th anniversary is a time to consider where every dollar you give us is spent,” he said.
He explained that the JDC’s mission hasn’t changed though the years.
He stressed that all Jews are responsible for one another. “We are the only Jewish organization that holds itself accountable.” The JDC is active throughout the world – in Russia, in Hungary and Ukraine, in Greece, in Germany, and in Israel and in many other countries. Wherever there are Jews who need food, medicine, financial help or help staying safe, the JDC is there.
Israel is one example. Gill said that 36.5 percent of Israeli children are living below the poverty line. “We’re fighting poverty. We can’t afford a social fabric that’s frayed.”
Ukraine is another example. Gill mentioned the work that the JDC is doing there to make sure that Ukraine’s Jewish population, which numbers more than 300,000, is getting the help it needs.
“I talk about the history to remind us of what happens when we stay focused on our mission,” Gill said. “Our mission is our business plan.”
His compelling stories of housebound elderly in communities under stress, worldwide, held the attention of the crowd. They were meant to illustrate the work done by the JDC, said Gill, so “am Israel chai” … the Jewish people shall live.
Following Gill’s speech, Edward Feldstein installed the newly elected boards of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, the Federation Foundation and the Alliance Realty.
Gaines ended the evening with remarks echoing those of Savit. “Change is never easy,” she said. But, showing what Feldstein had termed her positive outlook, she said, “We will continue to move forward.” She cited the Living on the Edge Initiative as a defining moment and said that the Alliance is positioning itself for a great future.

FRAN OSTENDORF is the Editor of The Jewish Voice.

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