Looking back on three years during COVID


This speech was given June 16 at the annual meeting of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and has been lightly edited.

It is great to see you all and be able to have an in-person annual meeting for the first time in three years.

Let me start by saying that, for the last three years, every good thing that has happened for our community is because of WE – not me.  It has been wonderful to witness the positive collaboration between the professional staff and the board … as evidenced by the quality and effectiveness of the Alliance committees. These efforts have helped make our board meetings more strategic and constructive.

And for that, I am very grateful to the board, the staff, and all the volunteers for their hard work.

I would like to acknowledge the board members whose terms are ending tonight.

Susan Leach DeBlasio, Michael Eides, Rabbi Barry Dolinger, Miriam Esther Weiner, Tiferet Rose and Oswald Schwartz.

Thank you all so much for your service and support. As your time on the board is ending – at least temporarily – I am happy to report that all of you have agreed to continue to contribute your knowledge and experience on Alliance committees.  This retention of talent is a great example of an outcome resulting from one of our board meeting strategic discussions this past year.

Tonight also marks the end of Mitzi Berkelhammer’s role as past chair of the Alliance, and chair of the Jewish Federation Foundation.

As I prepare to take on these same duties, I want to thank Mitzi for all that she has done. This past year, Temple Beth El has moved $10 million of their endowment to JFF. In addition, Temple Sinai and United Brothers have also agreed to move their endowments over.  Congratulations Mitzi, on these successes. I look forward to working with you to continue to grow our endowment.

My thank yous would not be complete without expressing my gratitude to three very special people.

Gail  Putnam: The constant, caring, incredibly capable, and efficient “super professional.” Thank you for always being there for me and our whole community. Your warmth and friendship make you such an integral part of the Alliance.

Adam Greenman: For the last three years, we have met nearly every Friday, virtually or in person.  Add to that, phone calls, texts, emails, meetings and events, and I can safely say that I have had a front-row seat to your role as our CEO.  You lead by example, and continue to make cultivating relationships with donors, volunteers and agencies, a priority. We are truly fortunate to have someone with your energy, passion, vision and commitment to lead us.  Thank you for all you do.

My wife, Lezli: Where do I begin? Thank you for your unwavering support and your understanding of how important this work is to me. All this – and finding your own way to be involved in the Alliance and share this commitment. I simply could not have done this without you.

One cannot look back on these last three years without talking about the challenges resulting from COVID-19. There were many times when I felt like a “Virtual Chair,” with so many meetings and programs handled through Zoom.  All of us got a crash course in Zoom, and I want to especially thank Sara Miller-Paul for teaching this dinosaur how to navigate.

But with challenges come opportunities – and we can all take pride in how the Alliance operated through the pandemic.

During this time, we have raised $270,000 for our Relief and Recovery Fund,  $260,000 for Ukraine Relief and $125,000 for PJ Library.

The successes of these supplemental campaigns clearly speak to the caring and commitment of our entire Jewish community.

While we are talking about dollars, we need to acknowledge the incredible work of our finance committee staffed by Dan Hamel.  This committee has met monthly for over two years, securing the PPP Loans, managing our finances, and ensuring that we stay on budget, all while navigating these unchartered waters.  This financial stability has allowed us to move forward on the J-Plan – our path for future success. This has also allowed the Alliance to INCREASE allocations to our local agencies for two consecutive years, something that has not happened for over 15 years.

COVID has not been our only challenge. To respond to the rise in antisemitism, we have helped upgrade security throughout our community, including synagogues and agencies. In addition, our Community Relations Council continues its work with the larger Rhode Island community to combat the rising tide of hate.

Now, I would like to take a moment to talk about Harris Chorney, our incoming board chair, and the first board chair from South County.

Harris, from the moment you agreed to take on this responsibility, you have done everything you could to be ready. For the past year, you have been involved in the annual campaign, chaired our allocations committee and been a regular participant in the Friday morning meetings with Adam and me.

We are so fortunate to have someone with your combination of caring, leadership and dedication at the helm. Harris, I have always appreciated your loyalty and support – please know, you can count on mine.

In closing, I want to say that it has truly been an honor and a privilege to be your board chair.  Thank you – all of you – together we make our community the special place it is.

JAMES PIOUS is the chair of the Jewish Federation Foundation following three years as chair of the board of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.