PROVIDENCE – Embrace change, yet hold fast to our Jewish traditions of treating all with kavod (respect) and hesed (kindness).
The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s second annual meeting’s speakers expressed the need to simultaneously adhere to ancient values and deftly navigate a new world of philanthropy and community-building.
Although our values – to provide our constituents with excellent Jewish life and learning programs – endure, said Sharon Gaines, newly installed as the Alliance board chair, we can’t stay static.
“We must remain nimble in this changing world,” said Gaines. “We must adapt our vision accordingly because we cannot stand still in a world of change.”
Acknowledging that neither she nor Jeffrey Savit, CEO and president of the Alliance, hold the solutions to the community’s most demanding challenges, Gaines promised to “convene the conversations that will allow us to shape our future.”
Gaines identified several key elements that, if embraced, will position our Jewish community for an extraordinary future. Among those elements are: fostering a climate of transparency, debate and mutual respect; engaging old and young members of the community; creating and stimulating a new generation of leaders; pursuing collective objectives and accomplishments; and embracing a new clear vision and well-defined strategies that will determine community and organizational priorities.
Awards and recognition
In his d’var Torah, Rabbi Wayne Franklin of Temple Emanu-El, urged the audience of more than 150 people to consider their role in fashioning a stronger, healthier Jewish Rhode Island. What, he asked, will each of us do to support, encourage and bolster our community members?
Susan Froehlich chaired the program, which was held on the evening of June 10, in the Alliance JCC Social Hall. Officers and board members for the Alliance, the Jewish Federation Foundation and Alliance Realty, Inc., were installed and recognized. Amy Olson, of URI Hillel, led the audience in singing both “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
Lawrence Hershoff received the Joseph W. Ress Community Service Award from Joan Ress Reeve, daughter of the late Joseph Ress, After citing his leadership roles with the Alliance, San Miguel School, Tech Access RI and Clark University, she added, “Larry is smart, loyal, dedicated, a perfectionist, he is all goodness.”
Hershoff learned from his zayde (grandfather), “who taught my father the obligation to share with others. Kindness has a way of multiplying,” the visibly moved Hershoff said. “We all have an obligation to do something; don’t just give, but give back.”
Alliance board member James (Jamie) Pious presented the Norman D. & Flo Tilles Community Relations Council Award to Rabbi Peter Stein, of Temple Sinai.
As a teacher, a role model and chair of the CRC’s Social Justice Task Force, Rabbi Stein applies his compassion and justice to problems, Pious said.
Recently recognized by Sinai for his decade of service to the Reform synagogue in Cranston, Rabbi Stein thanked congregational and community leaders for their support. He reminded the audience that studying Torah leads one to act and then to study yet again.
“Each day we should be so fortunate as to recite 100 blessings,” said the rabbi, noting that many of those blessings give us the opportunity to repair the world.
Gloria Feibish presented the Lea Eliash Memorial – Grinspoon/Steinhardt Award to Ilana Kapoch, a native Israeli who teaches Hebrew and Judaic studies at both the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island and Temple Emanu-El. Nominated for the award by JCDS Head of School Renee Rudnick, Kapoch was greeted with cheers and applause by a group of her young students.
Thanking Richard Licht
Doris Feinberg, the first Alliance president, commended Richard Licht, the Alliance’s outgoing chair. Not only did he nurture his four children – whose names all begin with the letter “J” – but he also took his “fifth child,” the Jewish Alliance, through toddlerhood. “We’re now walking steadily,” Feinberg said. “You joined disparate cultures and created a sense of harmony.” Licht’s sixth “J” is Jeffrey Savit, a remarkable colleague, said Feinberg, who identified two more “Js” for the evening – juggling commitments of family, Alliance and the State of Rhode Island – and joining together to celebrate joy.
When Licht took over as the Alliance’s chairman, he never expected to be serving as Governor Lincoln Chafee’s director of administration, yet that’s precisely what happened. When professional conflicts interfered with Alliance commitments, Sharon Gaines ably fulfilled those commitments, he said. With an eye on the present – as he thanked his family, board colleagues, past presidents of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Jewish Community Center (agencies that merged into the Alliance), Rabbi Franklin and several Alliance key staff members – he also gave a nod to the past – as he identified leaders who did so much to make a great Jewish community. “I can never be involved without thinking of the giants who aren’t here … I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t learned from them – my uncle, Frank Licht; Max Alperin, Bob Riesman and Joe Ress.”
Alliance CEO Jeffrey Savit issues calls to action
“Change is easy, transition is hard,” said Savit, who noted both the Alliance’s progress in transitioning into one central, unified organization and the challenges that we, like many Jewish communities, face: limited financial resources, an aging demographic, extreme competition and an inability to achieve traction with our next generation.
“We are trapped in old ways of thinking, reacting and behaving,” said Savit, “but … current times dictate that the Alliance must continue to be bold, refocus our mission, challenge the wisdom of conventional institutionalized Judaism and anchor transformative change.”
Declaring that perpetuating the “same-old, same-old is now foolhardy,” Savit announced key plans, including promoting and redeploying Alliance staff members (see “Alliance announces key staff changes,” page 2), creating a new Parenting Resource Center, a new preschool classroom and a new Creativity Center in a reorganization of our physical space; eradicating financial waste and operational inefficiencies; and refocusing and clarifying our Alliance strategic mission.
Savit continued, “I shall work to ensure that the Alliance will be the community catalyst to cultivate, create and support Jewish identities and trajectories across the lifespan, as well as [be] the community think tank, convener and partner to provide compelling reasons to be Jewish.”
How will we get there? According to Savit, the Alliance will: be strategic and multi-dimensional, be characterized by excellence, transparency and sterling customer service; create philanthropic opportunities and program choices based on constituent wants and community priorities; partner with our community members with immediacy, great empathy and outstanding, value-added programming.
Recognizing that we must all take ownership of this new vision, Savit encouraged members of the Jewish community to be open-minded and stay positive.
“Everything is possible to create our Rhode Island Jewish community renaissance, as long as we remain bold, optimistic, relationship-focused and strategically centered.”
SAVIT’S FULL SPEECH, online at jvhri.org. Search “Jeffrey Savit delivers.”