Stephne and Kerrin Behrend
Perhaps it’s appropriate that, at press time, Stephne and Kerrin Behrend were in China as volunteer English teachers.
The couple has been involved in their community since settling in Stamford in the late ‘80s, emigrating from their native South Africa a decade earlier and first making their way from Canada to Brooklyn to Westchester. They took part in a lay leadership program run by United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien (UJF) and have never stopped contributing.
Since then, the Behrends have dedicated themselves to identifying and filling needs in the Jewish community. To address a lack of Jewish teen programming, they funded activities at Temple Beth El in Stamford after their son’s bar mitzvah in the late ‘90s. They established two funds at Bi-Cultural Day School (BCDS) in Stamford. They helped re-ignite a JCC-based, community-wide teen program with a group of local Jewish philanthropists.
Both Kerrin and Stephne have served in lay leadership roles at BCDS and UJF; Kerrin has been on many executive boards, including UJF and the 2006 JCC Maccabi Games. That same year, with the help of UJF, the couple established the Behrend Institute for Leadership. In a 2006 interview with the Ledger, Stephne summed up the motivation behind the couple’s philanthropy: “I’ve always loved the notion, ‘My father planted a tree for his children, so I will plant a tree for mine.’”
Dr. Peter Buch
When a member of the Jewish community is commended by the rabbi of his or her congregation, it is impressive enough. But to be praised by rabbis of two different congregations is especially noteworthy. Such is the case with Dr. Peter Buch.
“Peter has been a strong supporter of our synagogue since he and [his wife] Emily first moved to Manchester nearly 30 years ago,” says Rabbi Richard Plavin of Beth Sholom B’nai Israel. “His children both celebrated their b’nai mitzvah on our bimah and Peter and Emily have been generous supporters. The Buch family traveled to Israel twice on congregational trips, and then went on their own several more times. I consider Peter not only a good member, but more importantly, a good friend. “
Over the last 10 years, Buch has expanded his Jewish involvement south, as part of the Chabad Jewish Center in Glastonbury. With the help of Chabad’s Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky, he has hosted a Tuesday-afternoon Torah-study class in his home for the last 10 years, open to all comers.
“Dr. Buch is a uniter who brings together different groups of people,” says Wolvovsky. “In his personal life, he is always ready to take on something new and do another mitzvah – acts of kindness, tzedakah, putting on tefillin, or learning Torah. New people come to the study group, some drop out, but he is always there to host, which is a testament to his personality and his dedication to keep things going.”
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
The spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Rabbi Daniel Cohen has “transformed the synagogue over the last seven years,” says current congregant Anat Chavkin, associate vice president at United Jewish Federation (UJF) of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien.
Prior to arriving in Stamford in 2005, Cohen served as spiritual leader at a Colorado synagogue and, before that, as rabbi at the Young Israel of West Hartford. Since beginning his tenure at Agudath Sholom, Cohen has enhanced his vibrant, community-minded congregation. A champion of outreach and social action, he regularly invites his congregants to “Open up and do a mitzvah” – whether at a homeless shelter in Stamford or in a New York community hit by superstorm Sandy.
Two years ago, Cohen spearheaded the campaign to build a new communal mikvah on the synagogue’s property. An educator at United Jewish Federation’s Institute for Adult Jewish Learning, Cohen also teaches at his synagogue and in the annual Yeshiva University Stamford Community Kollel. Together with his colleagues on the Vaad HaKashrus of Fairfield County, he helped bring kosher offerings to the Stamford community, including designated departments at Fairway Market, and two restaurants.
His writings reflect a spiritual take on making the most of life: a Huffington Post blog, “Currents: Ripple Effects for Your Life,” a book, “What Will They Say about You? 7 Principles for Reverse Engineering Your Life,” and a website, “40 Days to a Better You.”
Cohen serves as a national officer of the Rabbinical Council of America, a regional board member of the Anti-Defamation League, a member of American Israel Public Affairs Committee National Council and the past current chairman of the Stamford Rabbinical Council.
Relly Coleman creates community. A decade ago, Coleman learned of the Lemba, a tribe in Zimbabwe descended from Jewish traders, from a book by scholar and “British Indiana Jones,” Tudor Parfitt. Five years later, she and her husband Andrew, a Zimbabwe native, and their children visited the Lemba village of Mapakomhere, where they found a community struggling to provide adequate education for its youth and in desperate need of books. “For me, it was an ‘aha’ moment of ‘I can do this,’” she wrote. “The education of the children of Mapakomhere became my mission and the beginning of an incredible journey.”
Since then, Coleman has shipped thousands of donated textbooks and reference materials, collected from area schools and library sales, as well as interested publishers, authors, and private donors. “Books-for-Zim” has created a community library and allowed the Lemba to expand their village school system through the high-school level. As a result, 16- and 17-year-old Lemba children are no longer forced to attend boarding schools far from home, where their dietary laws are difficult to follow. Instead, they can remain in their villages, thereby maintaining the tribe’s Jewish lifestyle. To help defray shipping costs, the Colemans sell honey produced by their own free-ranging bees.
An Israeli native, Coleman is also the founder of Israelis-in-CT, a social and cultural group that brings together Israelis from throughout the state and Westchester County, N.Y. A regular Hebrew conversation group organized by Coleman and fellow Israelis-in-CT members, is the best-attended foreign-language interest group among those hosted by the Westport Library.
Tracy Daniels is “a communal magnet,” says Pam Ehrenkranz, executive director of UJA Federation of Greenwich. Coordinator of UJA Federation’s local PJ Library, she has built the program from nothing to more than 400 participant families. She was one of the first PJ Library directors in the country to implement related programming for children and families, partnering with synagogues and Jewish organizations throughout the community. Daniels runs the JCC Greenwich programs for ‘tweens and young families, many of which sell out. The recent JCC-PJ Library Chanukah event drew more than 200 participants. She also helps to run Interfaith Conversations, a program created by Jewish Family Services of Greenwich.
“Tracy is an absolute delight to work with,” says JFS executive director Lisa-Loraine Smith. “She is passionate, creative, and gives her all to every project she is associated with. Her work with the families in our shared Interfaith Conversations program is heartfelt and knowledge-based. Whenever Tracy is involved, the program always turns out to be imaginative and worthwhile. She engages everyone.”
Eliane Freund grew up in Rio de Janeiro, where she attended Jewish day school and inherited her father’s passion for classical music. When she settled in West Hartford with her husband, scholar Richard Freund, in 1999, she brought along her love of Judaism and the arts. Long involved in the Beth El Music and Arts Committee (BEMA), whose mission is to educate and entertain the community with Jewish cultural programming, she currently serves as the Committee’s co-chair.
“She is truly fantastic and her passion is poetic in terms of what she loves,” says Beth El’s Cantor Joseph Ness, director of BEMA. “She is so profoundly involved in the arts that it is inspiring to me as a musician. She takes everything to the utmost in terms of the care she gives to every project she engages in, which allows us artists and musicians to concentrate on what we need to do.”
Until last year, Freund taught at the United Synagogues of Greater Hartford religious school. A voracious reader, she has served as co-chair of the Mandell JCC Jewish Book Festival.
At Beth El, Eliane is also involved in programming and publicity for the Chai Society for seniors, the Men’s Club, and Sisterhood – “another way she helps promote Jewish culture,” Ness says.
“Eliane is a community person who believes in the importance of all Jewish cultural events for the community,” says Roz Rachlin, programming chair of the Chai Society. “She is a resource person for any of us who are doing programming. I can turn to her and say, ‘What do you think?’ She believes that cultural and social aspects of a Jewish organization are just as important as the spiritual.”
Shaindel Hecht, co-director of Chabad at UConn, is known on campus among Jewish and non-Jewish students alike. In the weekly Loaves of Love project, members of the Alpha Epsilon Phi Jewish sorority bake challah to distribute to the community, fulfilling both the mitzvah of challah and Shabbat, and of giving. “Shaindel is an amazing resource for us, as a historically Jewish sorority,” says AEPhi president Kristina Barsczewski, ‘14. “There are many of us in the chapter who are not of Jewish descent. We truly benefit from Shaindel teaching us about the values that our founders built our sorority on. Shaindel embodies all Jewish values and constantly teaches us how Jewish values can be seen in everyday life.”
Hecht and her husband, Rabbi Shlomo Hecht, host a weekly Friday-night dinner at their home and offers ongoing classes and Jewish programming, even during the summer. She is also on the Ganeinu preschool faculty of the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy in Bloomfield.
Hecht involves many Jewish students who might not be Jewishly affiliated on campus, says colleague Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky of the Chabad Jewish Center in Glastonbury. “In the context of a university, where sometimes students lose their connection to Yiddishkeit, she helps them strengthen that connection.”
Rabbi Mendy Hecht
Mendy Hecht has “taken the bull by the horns” at Congregation Beth Israel in New Haven, according to Andy Hodes, congregant and coordinator of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater New Haven.
Hecht is third-generation rabbi at the national-landmark traditional Orthodox synagogue known as “the Orchard Street Shul,” which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2013. Grandson of New Haven Chabad pioneer Rabbi Moshe Hecht, and son of Rabbi Sheya Hecht, he is also fulltime director of development and educator at Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy in Orange. Hecht has shepherded the dwindling congregation back to a vibrant presence in the community over the last three years. Under his watch, the shul was the subject of an international photography exhibition in New Haven and a reunion of b’nai mitzvah, and has reopened its doors for weekly Shabbat and annual High Holiday services.
Hecht has been an all-purpose construction manager on the synagogue’s ongoing renovation, Hodes says, supervising both physical and halachic aspects of the project, and serving on the 100th anniversary planning committee.
“For me, there is a body and a soul” even in a building Hecht says, and in this case, the once-thriving community that surrounded the building in the old Oak Street-Legion Avenue Jewish neighborhood. You feel the Jews who davened here before you.”
Shelley Kreiger’s volunteer life reads like a how-to for community involvement. Since retiring in 2008 after 13 years as head of school at Ezra Academy in Woodbridge, she has been part of the Thriving Jewish Community (TJC) Initiative, the Congregation Rodeph Sholom (Bridgeport) board, the membership and accreditation commission of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools, and the national board of the Jewish Educational Service of North America (JESNA).
But that was all after her professional career as an educator and specialist in speech pathology and learning disabilities. While working and raising a family, Kreiger served on the UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County board and Bureau of Jewish Education, and as chair of the Bridgeport-based Merkaz Community High School for Judaic Studies. In the community at large, she was a board member of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools, the Friends of the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital and We’re Special Too! for siblings of chronically and terminally ill children. After leaving public-school education, she became director of both Merkaz Community High School for Jewish Studies and of the Bureau for Jewish Education. She is a recipient of the UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County A.O. Samuels Young Leadership Award.
A life member of Hadassah, she currently serves as trustee of the Adam Kreiger Fund, established in memory of her son (1973-1993) to provide special programs and opportunities that enable young people to realize Adam’s zest for life and determination to overcome any challenge. Kreiger is the current and outgoing chair of the Jewish Center for Community Services board (Eastern Fairfield County).
Saskia Swenson Moss
Saskia Swenson Moss is director of youth and family education at the JCC of Greater New Haven – and “my idea of a true community educator,” says Sydney Perry, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven. In addition to running the PJ Library for the area and the organization’s national Hebrew-language component, Swenson Moss has twice been commended by PJ Library’s parent organization, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, for her creativity in programming. She has increased New Haven-area PJ Library member families to 600 and designed parallel Jewish holiday-related programming for parents and children. “No one can touch her for energy and dedication,” Perry says. “She literally never stops…until Shabbat. She is an alchemist: everything she touches turns to gold.”
Swenson Moss was part of the steering committee of Reading Together, a recent community-wide literacy program pioneered by San Francisco-based educator Diane Frankenstein, who was brought to New Haven by local PJ Library funder Andy Eder. “Saskia is warm, wonderful, caring, and loves kids,” Eder says.
In addition to her work, “which is more like a mission for her,” Perry says, Swenson Moss is an active member of Minyan Urim at the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, an egalitarian Orthodox community of Yale students and others from the New Haven area.
Rabbi Yossi Pollak
Rabbi Yossi Pollak has led Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk since 2008.
“Rabbi Pollak is an amazing asset to Beit Chaverim, and to the community at large,” says Brett Cohen, vice president of the synagogue. “He is kind, and he shows how traditional Judaism can be welcoming. Whether it is leading services, teaching congregants, or tutoring b’nai mitzvah kids, Rabbi Pollak acts with an unmistakable warmth. He has genuinely made Beit Chaverim a place which, like our tag line says, is a synagogue where everyone is welcome.”
An avid cook, Pollak is current member of the Vaad HaKashrus of Fairfield County, enhancing kosher resources to the local community. He would make regular buying trips to Costco in Westchester for members of his congregation, until he helped bring about the advent of kosher outlets in Stamford – Fairway Market, Navaratha Indian restaurant, and Kosh Bistro.
Pollak is a Modern Orthodox rabbi who makes halachic Judaism accessible and inclusive. He is a member of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), founded in 2008 and representing a broad coalition of more than 150 rabbis across the spectrum of the world Modern Orthodox community.
Last year, Pollak welcomed Beit Chaverim’s first-ever female congregational intern, Rori Picker Neiss, a student at Yeshivat Maharat in Riverdale, N.Y. When approached by colleague Rabbi Jeffrey Fox, head of the yeshiva, Pollak responded immediately. “The reason I said ‘Sure’ without thinking twice is because our congregation and the Westport community in general can always benefit from another person coming in to teach,” Pollak says. “As with a ‘Taste of Torah’ program, it’s good to give the community a chance to learn from a range of scholars. It brings another perspective, another voice to the table.”
The Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford (JFS) Jewish Employment Transitions Service (JETS) was launched in 2008 as a response to the economic crisis and growing unemployment rate in the local community. A collaborative effort between JFS, the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, and several area synagogues, JETS has helped more than 600 people find jobs and boasts nearly 2,000 participants – now the most extensive employment network in Connecticut.
At the start and at the heart of JETS is Judy Rosenthal, a West Hartford-based human resources professional who was one of the founders and now serves as program coordinator – on a volunteer basis. Led by her mantra, “Network, network, network,” Rosenthal created the Schmoozer’s Job Network, a bi-monthly JETS program that brings together more than 100 people at Beth El Temple in West Hartford for presentations by renowned speakers on the nuts and bolts of the job search – personal branding, social media, keeping up skills, salary negotiations. The two JETS emotional support groups offered yearly fill up as soon as they are announced, and a motivational presentation by humorist and UConn professor Gina Barecca last year drew 500 people.
Rosenthal says that she has two personal goals. “When somebody tells me that they’ve landed a new job, I call that my million-dollar bonus,” she says. The second wish is to enter a Schmoozer’s Job Network meeting and find the room empty.
Judy and her husband David, who have both been long active in Jewish organizations throughout greater Hartford, were honored at the JFS 100th anniversary celebration in June.
“Judy is truly an amazing example of the power of volunteerism and the true meaning of tikkun olam,” says JFS Executive Director Anne Danaher.
Anita Ron Schorr
For 30 years after liberation, Holocaust survivor Anita Ron Schorr didn’t talk about her wartime experiences. But for the last 10 years, since becoming part of the Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut, she hasn’t stopped. Schorr has reached thousands of youth and adults in schools and universities, synagogues and churches, and Holocaust commemorations throughout Connecticut, rarely turning down an invitation to speak. In April, she was the keynote speaker at the annual State Holocaust commemoration at the Hartford Capitol.
Anita Pollak was born into a middle-class family in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1931. Eight years later, the family was arrested by the Nazis. Schorr would endure the concentration camps of Terezin and Auschwitz, then in a slave-labor unit in Hamburg before ending up in Bergen-Belsen, the only member of her family to survive.
After liberation, Schorr joined the Haganah and fought in the Israeli War of Independence. She married a fellow Czech and lived on a kibbutz until 1959, when the couple came to the U.S. Trained as a commercial artist, Schorr began telling her story after retiring from a long and successful professional career.
“She has to keep doing this, but I don’t know how she does,” says Westport poet Stephen Herz, who has written a book of poetry based on Schorr’s stories and has read them as part of Schorr’s presentations. Herz says that he sees students swarm Schorr after a presentation to touch her, hug her, lay a finger delicately on her tattooed forearm.
“Anita is a very enthusiastic speaker and is always ready to go out to talk to schools or any kind of organization,” says Agnes Vertes of Weston, president of Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut Inc.
Now in her 80s, Schorr brings a new urgency to her presentations, a sentiment she summarizes as “Step in. Be a Hero!”
“I tell people that we have to act now, today,” she says. “I tell them, especially younger listeners, that they have to be heroes. They are the only ones who can make the future better, stand up against bullies, and prevent atrocities like the Holocaust from happening again.”
ADL Teen Trainers
Cantor Sharon Citrin, Program Director; Adam Dimanshteyn, Farmington; Ellie Cooper, Middlefield; Bethany Hecht, Woodbridge; Dan Hecht, Woodbridge; Adam Johnson, Oxford; Ariana Keigan, Simsbury; Jane Levy, Westport; Jenny Lowell, New Milford; Darby Malkin, Hamden; Jenna Malkin, Hamden; Jordan Malkin, Hamden; Melanie Roloff, Stamford; Jake Teplitzky, Woodbridge; Julia Weisman, Weston
Telling your own story can help heal and strengthen others. That sentiment is at the foundation of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) anti- bullying and bias educational programming. “Confronting Anti-Semitism,” “Words Can Hurt Us” and “A World of Difference” have reached thousands of students and educators throughout Connecticut over the last 25 years, giving voice to victims and tools to bystanders.
In the late ’80s, the ADL Connecticut Regional Office realized that teens would be effective peer-to-peer mentors and advocates. Confronting Anti-Semitism Director Cantor Sharon Citrin launched the Teen Trainer program, recruiting teens from 7th grade up who had experienced bullying and antisemitism to write their stories, then tell them to fellow teens as part of CAS workshops. Courage begets courage, and just hearing how a victim rises from a negative experience is enough to inspire other teens to speak out.
Today, the ADL Teen Trainers number 14 caring, compassionate and articulate teens throughout the entire state. ADL Connecticut Regional Director Gary Jones calls these Teen Trainers “truly special kids who are doing very important work very well.”
Former Teen Trainer Nikki Allinson of Fairfield credits Citrin and Marji Lipshez-Shapiro, director of education at ADL Connecticut, for the person she is today. A UConn graduate, she now lives and works in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve truly learned from each of [them] how the power of my voice can have an impact on a community, which has propelled me into a promising career as a front-line youth worker in a city I can’t get enough of,” she writes. “I hope to one day be able to truly thank [them] and show how I appreciate [their] mentorship and guidance. Everyone, especially from the Connecticut team, is the reason why I love this work so much. [Their] dedication is inspiring and I’m proud to say I’m connected to the Anti-Defamation League family on such a large scale.”