From the president

Transitions: Looking back and looking forward

Posted

The following remarks were delivered June 16 at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s 11th Annual Meeting and have been lightly edited.

Annual meetings provide an opportunity to look back and to look forward, and that is especially true when there is a transition in board leadership as we have tonight. So I want to begin, if you’ll indulge me, with a tribute to my colleague, my partner these last three years, and most importantly, my dear friend, Jamie Pious.

Over the last year, Jamie has taken to calling himself the virtual chair, and because over the last few years I’ve gotten to know him so well, I can hear the slight disappointment behind it. But Jamie, I think you should wear that title with honor. These three years have been some of the most important and consequential in our community’s history, and that doesn’t even include managing through a global pandemic. You took on this role wanting to lift up the community’s voice, strengthen relationships with agencies and synagogues, and put the Alliance and the community on a firmer financial footing. You’ve accomplished all three, and so much more. Our strategic plan has set a clear direction for our community. We’ve launched Jewish Rhody Media with podcasts and videos to complement the newspaper and set us apart and ahead of so many communities. We’ve raised over half a million dollars in supplemental campaigns over the last few years, first for COVID relief, then for Ukraine relief, and most recently, our Live Secure Campaign. And this year we were able to give increased allocations to each of our partners, something we haven’t achieved in years. These examples are just scratching the surface.

But it’s the intangibles that have meant the most to me. When I was offered this job, my boss and mentor at United Way took me to lunch and shared with me the CEO secret. He said that every CEO lives in fear that everyone around them will wake up one day and realize that they really don’t know what they are doing. That’s been true for me on more than one occasion throughout the pandemic. But I had a secret weapon. I had Jamie. Anytime I called, he provided support and counsel, and a place where I could just say, I’m not sure. I’ve learned so much from him, and I’ll truly miss our Friday morning meetings. Jamie, thank you for your leadership, thank you for your counsel, thank you for your generosity and all you have done for this community, and thank you for your friendship.

I also want to thank all of our board members whose terms are ending. Thank you to Mitzi Berkelhammer for your dedication and commitment to our community as the chair of our Endowment Board these last three years. And thank you to Susan Leach DeBlasio, Rabbi Barry Dolinger, Michael Eides, Tiferet Rose, Oswald Schwartz and Miriam Esther Weiner for your steadfast commitment to our community and to the Alliance.

And I’m thankful to our partners in this work. The agencies and synagogues that are part of the important fabric of our community. Thank you all for your partnership, and a special thank you to Erin Minior, the CEO of Jewish Collaborative Services, who will be retiring later this year after a long career dedicated to our Jewish community.

The last three years have fortified our already solid foundation. Today we are a stronger, more vibrant organization and a stronger, more vibrant community. That is because of our wonderful board and board leadership, and it’s also because of our incredibly dedicated staff. Every day our staff finds new ways to inspire me and remind me why I love this work so much. The last few years have been incredibly difficult, and yet each day our staff comes in ready to make our community even better. Whether it’s caring for our youngest community members in the early childhood center, working with agencies and synagogues on collaborations that bring innovation to our community, cutting the checks to make that work happen, writing the donor thank you notes, keeping people safe in the pool or advocating at the State House, our team represents the best of our community, and I am so grateful for your service and so proud to work beside each of you.

As tonight is a night for transitions, it is helpful to look to some of our sacred texts for inspiration on how to manage these effectively. Fortunately, there are many examples of transitions from one leader to the next. But the one that probably fits best is one of the earliest. Abraham is arguably the father of the Jewish people. That legacy had to be built upon for our people to survive and thrive. And the Torah tells us that Isaac dug the same wells as his father and kept the course steady, but did so in his own way. He kept things moving forward. Harris, as you begin your term as chair, I think it’s an apt analogy. What our board has built since the Alliance was founded 11 years ago is now our responsibility to continue to grow. To utilize the strong organization we have been gifted, but to chart a path forward that takes us even further and continues to meet the needs of our dynamic Jewish community.

I’m confident that we have all of the pieces in place to do just that. In the last five years, we’ve launched successful security campaigns that have supported synagogues and Jewish agencies across our state in purchasing cameras and other equipment that have helped them make their facilities safer. And we’re poised to now lead not just the Jewish community, but the state, in going on the offensive against violent hatred in all forms. For the last year, we’ve been working with other marginalized communities on an anti-hate agenda, and this next year we plan to implement that agenda. Working with schools to implement anti-hate curricula, working to hold lawmakers and other elected officials accountable to an anti-hate agenda, connecting with others in the faith community to share our story of what it feels like to be targeted. And training our community on a regular basis to make sure we are prepared should the unthinkable happen.

In the last five years, we’ve worked to build stronger, more collaborative relationships with synagogues and agencies throughout Rhode Island. Because I believe, as so many of our community leaders do, that we all benefit from more engagement in our community, wherever it happens. Last year we increased allocations to all of our local agencies, and we launched a collaborative microgrant initiative to encourage all parts of our community to work together more closely. In all, the Alliance funded 11 microgrants that, among other things, brought a renowned Jewish musician to Rhode Island for workshops and a concert, helped communities to prepare to support Afghan refugees, and educated the Providence Jewish community on Providence’s Truth and Reconciliation Project to support the Black community. Given the success of the program, this year we’ll be doubling the amount of funding available to further spur collaboration and innovation within our community.

Innovation is not just happening locally, but overseas as well. Because, by definition, our overseas partners are further away, it often feels like we have a weaker connection to them. This past year we sought to change that. Working with our partners at the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency and World ORT, we’ve focused on building partnerships between our local agencies and partners in three regions: Afula-Gilboa in Israel; Warsaw, Poland; and Rosario, Argentina. We’re building people-to-people connections between our Rhode Island community and these communities. The Jewish Community Day School is partnering with a day school in Rosario to develop connections between their students. Our JCC and Jewish Collaborative Services are partnering with the Warsaw JCC. These relationships are just beginning, and in the next year, we expect them to grow and blossom, creating stronger connections between Jewish communities, and helping us to really feel our value of K’lal Yisrael. When I share this work with colleagues across the country, they see this as a new paradigm, and are excited to try and replicate our model.

We’re also leading nationally on how we communicate and how we tell the story of our Rhode Island Jewish community. We know that newspapers play a critical role in sharing information with our community. It’s why we continue to invest in putting out a great newspaper each month. And over the next few months, you’ll begin to see new features and stories that will make the paper even more local, and even more relevant to the needs of our community. But we know that today people consume media in a variety of ways, and if we want to tell the story of our community to the entire community, we must embrace these new methods. It’s why last year we launched our first podcast series, Chutzpah and Breakout Sessions. And I’m excited that in just a few weeks, we’ll be launching our third podcast, Breaking the Glass, a podcast focused on the lived experience of multi-faith couples as they navigate the space where faith and relationships meet. So many in our community have connections to multifaith couples, or are a part of multifaith couples, but these stories have not traditionally been lifted up. Now they are, and that’s the power of storytelling in multiple formats. And this coming year you can expect more podcasts and expanded video content as well.

These examples aren’t just innovation for innovation’s sake. In each case, we’re responding to what our community has told us they are looking for. Our strategic plan focuses on building connections, collaboration, and social action and security because the community set those priorities. And we are finding new ways to address old challenges. We are finding ways to be bold, to innovate, to build our 21st-century Jewish community together. Doing so takes resources though, in the form of dedicated volunteers, great staff and financial resources. Thank you to everyone here. You’ve contributed to our annual campaign, you’ve contributed to our supplemental campaigns and you’ve made all of this work possible.

Tonight was for looking back and celebrating. But it’s also about Kadima, about moving forward. It’s about dreaming about a future where our Jewish community is strong, vibrant, and thriving. As I complete my fifth year as CEO of the Alliance, I could not be more proud of all we have done together, and I could not be more excited for what comes next. I know that everything I’ve spoken about tonight about where we are going is not a dream. It’s possible. It’s possible because of all of you, because together there is nothing we cannot accomplish. Kadima B’Yachad. Forward together. Thank you.

ADAM GREENMAN  is president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.