Community’s accomplishments are highlight of annual meeting

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PROVIDENCE – More than 120 people attended the eighth annual meeting of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, on June 12. They gathered to honor members of the Jewish community with awards, recognize the accomplishments of the past year and transfer the leadership of the board of directors.

After a three-year term as chairwoman of the Alliance’s board, Mitzi Berkelhammer passed the gavel to James Pious, who has served the community in many volunteer leadership roles.

Berkelhammer was honored by her friend and past board chair Sharon Gaines, who spoke of her “warm and generous philanthropy.”

“You taught us how one gives from the heart to help Jews here and worldwide,” Gaines said.

“Your strength and leadership have moved this community through good times and trying times,” she continued, “you are leaving the Jewish Alliance stronger, healthier and more dynamic than when you arrived.”

Berkelhammer reflected on her term as chair, saying, “This has been a time of change personally and for the Alliance.” (Read Berkelhammer’s full statement on page 9.)

In his remarks while installing Pious as chair, Rabbi Andrew Klein of Temple Habonim in Barrington said, “I’m here to tell everyone present that at the start of this new chapter in the life of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, you have chosen a leader who will make a great trumpeting sound with his voice, with his clear thinking and with his courageous and visionary leadership.”

In his remarks, Pious said, “Today we face a lot of challenges, but those challenges are also opportunities.” He said he is looking forward to working with the professional staff and lay leadership.

Klein also installed new members of the boards of the Alliance, the Jewish Federation Foundation and Alliance Realty, Inc.

During the event, held at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, several community members were honored.

The Reisman Leadership Development Award was presented to Mara Ostro, who serves on the boards of the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island and the Alliance. In presenting the award, Berkelhammer spoke of Ostro’s willingness to take on leadership roles in the community. Berkelhammer also pointed out that a number of current community leaders are past recipients of the award, which includes a trip to the annual Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly.

The Norman D. and Flo Tilles Community Relations Council Award was presented to Cara Mitnick. In presenting the award, Richard Glucksman, chair of the Community Relations Council, said “we at the Alliance have benefited from your work.”

Mitnick, an attorney, served on the Alliance board, serves on the board of the University of Rhode Island Hillel, and is on the executive committee of the Community Relations Council. Glucksman cited her work in helping to bring a national environmental sustainability program to the community.

The Lea Eliash/Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Education went to Marsha Gibber. Gibber, a teacher at the New England Academy of Torah and the Providence Hebrew Day School since the mid-1980s, was recognized by presenter Sharon Gaines for outstanding teaching and opening her home to students over the years.

A special Community Recognition Award went to Marisa Garber and Jeffrey Padwa of Jewish Collaborative Services.

“To succeed where others have failed is truly an accomplishment,” said Richard Licht, a member of the JCS board and former chair of the Alliance board when presenting them with the award. “It takes persuasion and perseverance.”

Garber had been chairwoman of the Jewish Family Service board and Padwa was chairman of the Jewish Seniors Agency board. They worked together to merge the two agencies into one.

 Licht, who served on the merger partnership committee of six, pointed out that both had shown great leadership in keeping the committee moving and on target. Padwa is now chair of the JCS board and Garber serves as vice chair.

Also honored was Gail Putnam, chief administrative officer at the Alliance, for her 40 years of service to the community in a variety of professional staff positions at the Alliance, and, previously, at the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island. Putnam arrived at the then-JFRI in 1979.

“Gail knows everything about the Alliance. Gail is our Alliance Google,” said Berkelhammer. “If you have a question, you ask Gail.”

She said to Putnam, “You help us to be better people and better volunteers.”   

Gaines announced the establishment of an endowment for professional development in Putnam’s honor. Created by the past presidents, chairs and presidents, “the Gail A. Putnam Endowment for Professional Development will be awarded annually so that she and her coworkers can grow in their positions,” said Gaines.

At the beginning of the program, Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman, of Providence’s Temple Beth-El, offered an engaging d’var Torah. He told the audience that “in a time when we have minimal contact with our neighbors … our home here serves as Rhode Island’s Jewish living room. … The Alliance lifts us up as no other Jewish agency can.”

Adam Greenman, president and CEO of the Alliance, spoke toward the end of the evening. He outlined the highlights of the past year, including the relaunch of the Community Relations Council.

“Together as an agency we’ve raised more than $3 million,” he said.

He said that the Alliance will continue to act with decency, kindness and respect in engaging the community and working toward a thriving Jewish life.  

“The Alliance recognizes that communities are constantly evolving, which makes the work of building a strong, vibrant community an ongoing effort. This is our challenge and our charge,”  he said.

FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.