Women celebrate the power of Jewish philanthropy



Women’s Alliance speaker, Pam Jenoff,
draws a crowd at Ledgemont
Women’s Alliance speaker, Pam Jenoff, draws a crowd at Ledgemont


Speaker Pam Jenoff /Alisa Kotler-BerkowitzThere was palpable energy in the room when international best-selling author, Pam Jenoff, spoke to more than 100 women at the Women’s Alliance Campaign Celebration on November 20 at Ledgemont Country Club. Lezli Pious, event chair, said, “the Women’s Alliance is a place for women of all ages and all walks of life to come together through the bond of philanthropy. It is exciting to socialize with people who share the same values. Tonight we celebrate the power of women in our community.”

Before the main presentation, Wendy Joering, Community Concierge for the Jewish Alliance, spoke about her experience helping Jews in the community who have nowhere else to turn. She read a letter from a 70-year-old woman who is a child of Holocaust survivors, has health issues and is out of work. She is behind on her bills and writes how her situation is new for her. She receives food from the Kosher food pantry but feels disconnected from the Jewish community and looks to the Jewish Alliance for  help.

Joering explained that since receiving this plea for help, she has connected Sylvia to a case worker at Jewish Family Service, arranged to have her home cleaned free of charge and invited her to several Alliance events. She has also found a financial planner who is helping her pro bono. A recent thank you note from Sylvia showed her to be in better spirits. She said she feels better, knowing that the Jewish community is supportive of her during her difficult time. Joering noted that “this is just one story that illustrates how it takes a village to make a difference, and the partnerships of all our agencies is critical to our success.”

Alliance Board Chair Sharon Gaines told the audience, “We are here because we have a shared commitment to tikkun olam – to repairing the world, in large ways and small, every day. And through the Alliance, we can all find something to be passionate about”.

Pam Jenoff spoke about how her experience as a junior diplomat in the mid-1990s in Krakow, Poland, shaped her writing. This was a time when Poland had just emerged from years of communism and was trying to come to terms with WW II issues that had remained unresolved for decades. As a young single woman in a foreign country, Jenoff sought out the rabbi of the Jewish community and soon became a fixture in synagogue and at Friday night dinners. It was not a surprise when Jenoff was asked to oversee “Jewish Relations” as part of her job. One of her memorable experiences in Poland was participating in efforts that lead to the Restitution Act, which returned lost property to the Jews of Poland.

However, it was also a challenge to live in such close proximity to the ashes of the Holocaust. Although she did not personally experience anti-Semitism, Jenoff passed several concentration camps during her daily commute, and met survivors on a regular basis. Seeing the remnants of a vibrant population of 3 million Jews, now numbering only about 8,000, had a profound impact on her life and her books.

Jenoff was amazed to learn of a strong uprising in Krakow, very close to her home. Through diligent research and five years of rejections from publishers, she finally published “The Kommandant’s Girl,” the story of a Jewish woman who escapes from the Krakow Ghetto and joins the resistance. Jenoff explained that, as a historical writer, she struggled with the balance between history and fiction. There were times when she took liberties with history in order to move the plot forward. For example, she shortened the Krakow book version of the ghetto experience from 18 months to only six weeks.

The audience was fascinated by Jenoff’s experience in Poland and her proficiency as an author and mother of three young children. Jenoff called herself a “short-burst” writer who only needs 30 minutes to make progress on a book.

Prior to the main event, 45 women gathered for the Lion of Judah Dinner, for donors who contribute at least $5,000 per year to the Jewish Alliance Annual Campaign. LOJ Chair Mitzi Berkelhammer thanked the past presidents and campaign chairs of the Women’s Alliance, Women’s Division, and the Business and Professional Women’s Affiliate for sponsoring the dinner and invited them to join her for hamotzi. Berkelhammer noted “The Lion of Judah program is the most successful development vehicle of all time. It is a symbol of today’s Jewish woman’s strength, a symbol of our caring about the organized Jewish world and a symbol of our financial power.” Lion of Judah Campaign Chair Susan Froehlich recognized nine new Lion of Judah level donors since the event last year and thanked the women for their commitment to a vibrant Jewish community

Vice Chair of Financial Resource Development Susan Leach DeBlasio said about the evening, “The women here tonight come from all over the state of Rhode Island and participate at all different stages of our lives, but we are connected by the thread that runs through all we do: Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh L’Zeh – all Jews are responsible for each other – and for the world in which we live.”

For more information about the Women’s Alliance, contact Trine Lustig, Senior Development Officer, at trinelustig@comcast.net or 421-4111, ext 223.