Outgoing Alliance chair reflects on three years


This speech was presented June 15 to the annual meeting of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. The remarks have been slightly edited for publication.

As I come to the end of this experience I am filled with a mixture of emotions. Three years ago, I made a promise to work tirelessly to champion the cause of the Alliance, to steward its mission, and to strengthen and secure its future, and I hope I have met the challenge.

It’s hard to believe how much we have grown and achieved in the five years since integration. I can proudly reflect on the successes we have accomplished together during my tenure.

As the community fundraisers, we have continued to raise needed resources through our annual campaign to provide programs and services at the Alliance, throughout the Rhode Island Jewish community and worldwide.  In addition, over the past three years we have raised much needed dollars to continue our Living on the Edge Initiative through which this year alone we have touched hundreds of lives. We have built a beautiful Holocaust memorial in downtown Providence and began major renovations to the Dwares JCC.

I am proud of the good work we do in providing our constituents with excellent programs and services. We have worked hard to remain relevant to the whole community, and I know we will continue to do so moving forward.

This past year was marked by two significant achievements for me. First, the board, the professional staff and I embarked on a strategic visioning process for the Alliance as an organization and a community leader as well as establishing new priorities and guidelines for our CDC [allocations] process.

During our meetings from September through April, the board had impactful, strategic conversations, as we began to answer the questions about who we are, what we are good at and how we can best operate to meet our goals while exploring ways to strengthen our Jewish identity, build our Jewish community and grow our Jewish philanthropy. I know the answers will help guide the Alliance in the years ahead.

Second, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with a dynamic group of influential Rhode Island leaders. It was the first time in 10 years that we had a Community Relations Council (CRC) mission to Israel, and it was a resounding success.

The 15 members of the community who traveled with us, including Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello; Senate President M. Teresa Pavia Weed; Central Falls Mayor James Diossa; and Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital President Margaret Van Bree bonded in incredible ways. Bridges were created between Israel and the participants as well as among the participants and the Alliance that will reap benefits long into the future.

I want to thank my fellow officers and board members for all they did to help me – we have had a terrific time this past year due in large part to the amazing skill set each brought to the table. And I appreciate all the good work we did together.

I am grateful for the numerous legacies and achievements forged by my predecessors, past presidents of the Federation, the Bureau and the JCC as well as Richard Licht, the first past chair of the Alliance. I thank them for all their unwavering support and guidance, and I am proud to join the ranks of past chair.

As an Alliance, we must continue to foster an environment that attracts the most talented staff, and we must ensure that we allow them to achieve their promise. I am secure in the knowledge that we are doing just that and I am grateful for the professionals I have had the privilege and honor of working with here.

Jeffrey [Savit], having you as my professional partner these past three years has been incredible – I cannot thank you enough for all that you do for our community. You are a remarkable leader, a tireless fundraiser, a wonderful travel companion and a great friend – thank you for always having my back and for always making sure I left the office with a smile on my face.

Passing the baton to Mitzi Berkelhammer is one of the easiest things I have been asked to do as chair. Your dedication to this Jewish community is evident in everything you have done and will continue to do, and I know you will have many great successes as the next chair. I wish you only the very best.

Finally, I especially want to thank my husband Alan who has always been by my side, serving as my personal and emotional compass. And to my three sons, Ben, Alex and Zach thank you for always standing by my side, never wavering in your love and never complaining about one more meeting. I am ever so grateful to all of you.

Thank you all again for allowing me to help write this next chapter in Alliance history and for allowing me to participate in this great cause. It’s been the journey of a lifetime.

SHARON GAINES served as chair of the board of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island from 2013 to 2016. She now serves as chair of the Jewish Federation Foundation Board.