To Harris Chorney, being active in the Jewish community is a priority.
“I believe in a thriving and flourishing Jewish community,” he said in a recent interview. “If I can help build that, sustain it, then I want to be a part of it.”
Now, after serving as vice chair of community development for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, Chorney takes over on June 16 as chair of the board.
This isn’t Chorney’s first go-round as a volunteer in the Jewish community. The Providence native and his wife, Sally, lived in West Hartford, Connecticut, for a number of years, and he was an active member of the Beth El Temple community there, eventually serving on the board of the congregation.
When they returned to Rhode Island a dozen years ago, the Chorneys found a welcoming community in Narragansett, a place they were familiar with from spending summers there years ago. “It’s a wonderful place,” Chorney said.
Chorney became active in Narragansett’s Congregation Beth David, a year-round synagogue with about 135 member families. Eventually, he became president.
When former Alliance CEO Jeffrey Savit suggested he get involved with the Alliance, Chorney did. He brought a background in finance to the board under former chair Mitzi Berkelhammer, serving as a board appointee and then as treasurer.
His involvement has continued under board chair James Pious and Alliance president and CEO Adam Greenman.
“Harris is incredibly thoughtful and passionate about how the Alliance serves our entire community. He brings a wealth of experience to the role, and will build on the great work that Jamie Pious has done these last three years. I’m excited to partner with him to further grow our strong, vibrant Jewish community,” Greenman said.
Chorney said he’s looking forward to helping to continue to build a thriving Jewish community and to mentoring the next generation.
“I’ll be the first board chair of the Alliance that has no relationship to the three organizations that merged, because I wasn’t involved with them,” he said, referring to the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, the Jewish Community Center and the Bureau of Jewish Education. This annual meeting marks the 11th year for the combined organization
“I have great respect for Adam [Greenman] and the team he’s put together,” Chorney said. “I have a strong belief that the team will get it done.”
He spoke highly of the board’s make up, which has geographic diversity, youth and members with history in the organization.
The challenge, he said, is to get the next generation involved with the Alliance.
“We have a tremendous opportunity” to engage the Jewish community, he said.
“We have to take what we do and bring it to Narragansett, Middletown, East Greenwich, Barrington. Bring those programs and events and share them outside of Providence. The building [the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center] will obviously be the center point for speakers and events like Bret Stephens [who spoke at the JCC in May].”
Chorney said he looks forward to engaging more Jews in celebrating Judaism.
“Jews are looking to be Jewish in other ways. This gives us an opportunity to be the place where Jews are engaged,” he said.
“I look forward to getting to know people. I’m totally committed to being chair of the board.”
FRAN OSTENDORF (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.