New Alliance chair started her career in the JCC nursery school

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Mitzi Berkelhammer has deep roots in the Rhode Island community, and her commitment to the Jewish community runs just as deep.

She believes strongly in the importance of philanthropy.

A Providence native and a lifelong member of Temple Beth-El in Providence, Berkelhammer has been an active volunteer in the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island’s women’s division since 1977, when she became involved with a then-active young women’s division.

“I think it’s important to find your volunteer or philanthropic passion,” she said.

As the divisions combined, she took on active leadership roles. Most recently, she was vice president of philanthropy for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.

Berkelhammer and her husband, Bob, a Providence attorney, have three grown children and three grandchildren. The family is scattered now, but one daughter is moving back to Providence with her family. Berkelhammer beams as she says that her youngest grandchild will start at the David C. Isenberg Early Childhood Center this fall. She attended nursery school at the Jewish Community Center, too. And so did her children. “That makes three generations,” she said.

With a passion for involvement, it’s no surprise that Berkelhammer is now taking over as chair of the board of the Alliance.

And it’s also not a surprise that she wants to focus on getting “the young and the in-between” involved, and on the endowment. The two issues dovetail.

“We are an aging population in Rhode Island,” she said. “It is important that we continue to have a strong Jewish community.”

She said she hopes to help teach the younger generation that “there are ways to endow [donations] at a younger age that are less expensive than at an older age.”

She said she believes that when people see the work that’s done locally and where the dollars go overseas, they will be inspired to get involved.

One of the ways to do this is to encourage more participation in missions. Berkelhammer, who has been on a number of missions, says “It’s important to see the work we do all over the world.”

Even if you go on a Jewish tour overseas, you don’t see the kind of behind-the-scenes work that you see on a mission. She mentioned the recent mission to Budapest and Berlin, where the group learned about dissension in the Jewish community of Berlin. 

Her immediate goal, though, “is to get the new boards and executive committee up and running. And help the campaign get off to a good start.”

“I think we have the most wonderful staff and professionals we could ever ask for. I know the staff so well, I don’t have that learning curve. We have tons of very dedicated volunteers here.”

And she’s excited about the renovations of the building she has known for so long.

“I’m looking forward to a beautiful new building,” she said. “I’m hoping it reenergizes Jewish activity and life here.”

FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of The Jewish Voice.