The Ledger’s annual list of Connecticut residents who are making a difference in our Jewish communities today.
Karen Ferleger is as deeply rooted in the Jewish community of Eastern Fairfield County as the JCCS on Park Avenue in Bridgeport, one of its beloved and longtime institutions. The building – which housed both the JCC and UJA/Federation – and the community it serves are on the threshold of change, and Ferleger has helped shepherd the process.
A Trumbull native, Ferleger (nee Pressman) was involved in the JCC of Eastern Fairfield County starting in the preschool program and Camp JCC in Stepney, with a brief absence from the community during her university years. She returned to Fairfield to raise her own family with husband Ken.
Her children were just entering the JCC preschool program in the late ‘90s when she was asked by fellow preschool mom Andrea Gottschall to fill the presidency of the Early Childhood Development board. “I said no but she sucked me in,” recalls Ferleger with a laugh, who went on to serve (together with Gottschall) on the UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County executive committee and to help out on many JCC endeavors.
When her kids graduated from the JCC preschool program, Ferleger took a hiatus to serve as PTA president of the Fairfield Public Schools. In 2009, she was invited back to the JCCS to help plan the budding Thriving Jewish Community Initiative, which led her back to the UJA/Federation executive committee. The “visioning” project engaged the entire Eastern Fairfield County Jewish community in a planning process to bolster and rejuvenate a changing Jewish demographic. Ferleger chaired the JCCS Long Range Planning Committee, whose work led to the sale of the JCC property to Jewish Senior Services (formerly, and still incorporating, the Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County) and the longterm lease within the new facility for the UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County.
This year, as the JCC property on Park Avenue began its transformation into a new Jewish communal campus, the UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County board has been hammering out logistics of a merger with UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk. As chair of the former, Ferleger has shepherded the challenging and sometimes emotional process, together with Linda Russ, board president of the latter (and a 2010 Jewish Ledger Mover and Shaker). At its completion early this year, the endeavor will create one of the largest Jewish communities in the state, spanning from Stratford to Norwalk.
As CEO and president of the UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County from 2010 to 2014, Steve Wendell worked closely with Ferleger. “During a time when some communities struggle to find a new, younger generation of leadership willing to take on the challenges of the institutional legacies built by their parents and grandparents, Karen has demonstrated outstanding commitment, leadership, and vision in helping guide the Jewish community of greater Fairfield and Bridgeport towards a most promising future,” he says.
A former board member of Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford (SSDS), Gerry Goldberg serves on the executive board of the Aim Chai, the community endowment campaign of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, and more than 25 partner organizations.
Together with his wife, Karen, he is an integral part of Hebrew High School of New England (HHNE) in West Hartford, serving on the board and volunteering on various committees. The three Goldberg children are all day school grads: two from SSDS, one from the Bess & Paul SIgel Hebrew Academy. Two are also graduates of HHNE, where the third is currently a student. Goldberg assumed the board presidency in September. It’s no wonder then that Goldberg’s work on the Aim Chai campaign is focused on the communal day school initiative.
“The key thing Gerry brings is a real sense of strategic planning and perspective,” says Rabbi Jeremy Bruce, HHNE head of school. “He sets for himself and others very ambitious goals and charts a path toward achieving them. He and Karen are extremely generous in their financial and volunteer support of the school and other community institutions. He is extremely good at selling our vision and, through that, inspiring others to be supportive and philanthropic as well. We have seen an increase in fundraising and endowment because of his efforts.”
Goldberg is also an active member of Congregation Agudas Achim and The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford and, since 2013, has served on the board of trustees of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford. Professionally, he is managing principal of Goldberg, Yolles & Lepore LLC in West Hartford.
“The Goldbergs are generous and valued members of the Emanuel Synagogue family by being a part of us – sharing key life passages including the b’nai mitzvah of their wonderful children,” says Rabbi David Small. “Gerry has been instrumental in widening the circle of support for HHNE and has helped the school engage the Jewish community in terms of supporters and students. This work benefits all of us, including Emanuel: Gerry also brings credit to the congregation as one of our members who leads and contributes in the wider community. This is a defining value of Emanuel and we appreciate all our members who are out there making the Jewish community and the broader Hartford community stronger.”
JUDITH ALTER KALLMAN
Judith Alter Kallman (nee Mannheimer) was the youngest of six children born into a Jewish family in Czechoslovakia in 1938, four years before the Nazis invaded. When her parents and two of her siblings were deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered, Kallman survived the war as a hidden child and then in London, a passenger on the last Kindertransport. After reuniting with her surviving siblings in Israel, Kallman would eventually make her way to Greenwich, where she currently resides with her second husband, Irwin.
Kallman’s memoir of survival, A Candle in the Heart, has been showcased by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and at teacher-training workshops and in libraries across North America, Israel, and Europe.
Kallman is an active member of the Jewish community in Greenwich and beyond. She serves on several boards, including UJA Greenwich Women’s Philanthropy and the Jewish Broadcasting Service. A dedicated supporter of Temple Sholom in Greenwich, Chabad of Greenwich, AIPAC, and the Anti-Defamation League, among other organizations, Kallman has been keynote speaker for the annual community-wide Yom Hashoah commemoration.
Kallman’s involvement has led Rabbi Yossi Deren of Chabad of Greenwich to describe her as “a very strong matriarchal figure for our community,” attributing her significant impact to three factors. “Judith has an incredibly compelling life story that highlights so much of what makes being Jewish today such an invigorating experience: courage, pride and tenacity,” he says. “She is extremely compassionate as an individual and therefore establishes very meaningful bonds with young and old members of our community. Her deep traditional values are an anchor for herself and for those who know her: she lives with her Jewish essence, not just through meaningless platitudes, but through a proud Jewish home and lifestyle. She carries a real ‘aristocratic’ aura in her demeanor.”
Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz, senior rabbi of Temple Sholom, echoes the sentiment. “Judith is a tremendous lay leader within our community,” he says. “As a Holocaust survivor, she has dedicated her life to sharing her story so that we shall never forget what happened to our People. She embraces the joy that is found within Judaism while remaining vigilant in her work to defend our People.”
UJA Greenwich CEO Pam Ehrenkranz hails Kallman as “a powerful force in the arena of safekeeping Jewish memory and fighting antisemitism, prejudice, and hatred worldwide.”
“Her grace, honesty, and commitment in telling her story have moved thousands of people who have heard her speak or read her book. Judith is committed to bettering the Jewish community of Greenwich as well as supporting Jews wherever they are in need.”
Mark Oppenheimer is best known nationally as the New York Times “Beliefs” columnist and as Tablet magazine contributing editor. The scholar of religion has taught at Yale, Stanford, and New York University and presently holds the Corcoran Visiting Chair in Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston University.
To the Jewish community of Greater New Haven, however, Oppenheimer is also known as a convener.
“Mark’s magnetic personality and strong commitment to building a close-knit community find him a constant presence in Westville events and local cafes, often accompanied by one or more of his four daughters,” says Sydney Perry, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven.
That dedication to community is evident at Beth El-Keser Israel (BEKI), where Oppenheimer and his family are active members. There, he serves in several capacities. As membership chair, he has helped recruit 51 new member households over the past two-and-a-half years. He is occasional Shabbat morning darshan (interpreter of the Torah portion) and a persuasive “minyan captain’ for Monday evening mincha-maariv services, insuring a minyan 100 percent of the time this year, and 98 percent of the time in the prior two years.
“Mark asks friends and acquaintances to attend and they do – including people who do not typically attend daily services,” reports Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen. At those services, Oppenheimer sometimes serves as shaliach tsibur (prayer leader) as well.
“Mark has had a tremendous impact on our local community,” says Tilsen. “He is sociable and makes a point of introducing visitors, and makes an effort to welcome everyone who enters our building, whatever their origin or outlook.”
Oppenheimer organizes regular adult-education programs featuring renowned authors and speakers; his own published writings are frequent topics of discussion among the congregation. He has also guest-lectured at Jewish institutions and programs throughout Connecticut.
“Mark definitely is a leading candidate for MVP among a community of extraordinary volunteers,” says Tilsen. “He is pretty well-loved and respected, which is probably the most important measure of his significance to our community.”
RABBI LEVI & CHANIE SCHECTMAN
Chabad at Wesleyan
“This couple simply made Wesleyan greater – or more aptly put, they nourish and fan the flames of Jewish spirituality in a way that transforms the meaning of liberal learning,” says Vera Schwarcz, Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan. “Critical thinking never meant that one could not dig deeply and profitably and respectfully into Jewish texts. Now, students can do so with expert guidance combined with keen attention to individual needs. Rabbi Levi and Chanie, and their three sweet boys, have deepened the life and learning of Wesleyan students, faculty, and alumni by being warm, caring role models of Jewish commitment on a secular campus. I kid you not: I sense the difference in Wesleyan’s ‘aura’ as I pull off Route 9 onto Washington Street these days. There is a depth of engagement with tradition and truth that I have not sensed in my previous four decades of teaching.”
Sarah Cassel (’13) says that the Schectmans succeed at engaging students who have never been connected to Judaism, thanks to the couple’s “true warmth, authenticity, and passion.”
“They are unafraid to dive into personal, challenging conversations with students that others might shy away from,” she says. “They are undoubtedly committed to both their own learning and growth, as well as to that of their students. They made such a positive impact on me while I was a student at Wesleyan, even keeping in touch post-graduation, that I was privileged to join them for the brit mila of one of their sons.”
Aaron Josephs (’18) has engaged in other Jewish groups on campus and has made many Jewish friends at Wesleyan. “But visiting the Schectmans’ house feels like being a part of their Jewish family,” he says. “In addition, they are incredibly generous, doing things like teaching people how to make challah or delivering bagels to our dorms during finals week.”
Abaye Steinmetz-Silber (’12) found that the Schectmans added much to both the Jewish and general Wesleyan communities. “For a campus touted for its diversity, all that was lacking was a Chabad family to complete the mix,” she says. “From hosting Shabbat meals to sponsoring learning programs and workshops, to just being around in the Usdan University Center, the Schectmans have made their presence felt, and I hope they will continue doing this great work.”
For a parent of a child with a rare genetic disease, it would be admirable enough to adhere to the procedures required to keep the child alive. But Gayle Temkin has taken the challenges presented to her family to help and inspire others.
Born in 2005 with the metabolic disorder Glycogen Storage Disease Type 1a (GSD), Alyssa Temkin has had to follow a strict feeding schedule and method. With treatment from Dr. David Weinstein at the University of Florida and the commitment of Gayle and her husband, Steven, Alyssa has led a pretty normal life nonetheless, attending the Mandell JCC early childhood programs and Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford (SSDS).
In 2008, the Temkins established Alyssa’s Angel Fund to provide financial assistance to GSD-afflicted children and their families to travel to the University of Florida for life-saving medical care. They have organized and sponsored several fundraisers in West Hartford to advance a cure for the disease.
But Gayle Temkin hasn’t stopped there. With a seemingly inexhaustible passion for building a Jewish communal legacy, she serves in lay leadership positions at several organizations and agencies. As a vice president of the Mandell JCC Board of Directors, she was honored (along with fellow member Michalee Merritt) at the JCCs of North America 2012 Biennial with the Esther Leah Ritz Emerging JCC Leadership Award. “Gayle is one of those people who truly defines ‘Jewish communal leadership,’” says David Jacobs, executive director of the Mandell JCC. “She gives unselfishly of her time and resources to many endeavors throughout the community.”
A trustee of SSDS, where both Alyssa and her sister Lily are students, and a community trustee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, Temkin is also on the boards of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, Connecticut Voices of Hope, and Hebrew High School of New England.
“Gayle is a true young Jewish woman of valor,” says Robert Fishman, executive director of JFACT. “She dives in and assists in so many meaningful ways to make our Jewish community welcoming and significant. Her special devotion to JFACT and Voices of Hope is amazing. I watch her with her survivor dad, Abby Weiner and the apple does not fall far from the tree. Not only has the Temkin family made a huge impact on the Jewish community but they have gone the extra mile to teach about the Holocaust to thousands of students and many teachers. Our community is most fortunate to have Gayle.”
In October 2014, Temkin was appointed to the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford Board of Trustees, where she is also a core member of the Aim Chai Endowment Campaign executive committee, the Partner’s Council, and co-chair of the Building STEAM Day School Transformation Fund.
“There is no one I know with more passion and commitment to the Jewish community than Gayle,” says Michael Johnston, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford. “But what really distinguishes her is her strategic vision. She not only understands the issues of our community at a deep level, but has the ability to see pathways to strength and sustainability that others often don’t see.”
It may only look like an early childhood institution, but the Stamford JCC’s Sara Walker Nursery School has proven to be a significant anchor of the Jewish community. At the curricular helm is Sandi Waldstreicher, who has served as educational coordinator since 2007, and as a teacher for 15 years before that. She is also a sort of guide to the spectrum of Jewish life in Stamford.
“From my perspective, the JCC is the gateway into the Jewish community, a place you get involved in before you join a synagogue,” says Rabbi Danny Cohen of Congregation Agudath Sholom, where Waldstreicher and her husband, Stuart, are active members and Stuart is current president. “Especially for young families, the JCC has been the first address and a nurturing place. Sandi is very highly regarded and very community-minded, and is constantly looking to help people move along the local Jewish continuum.”
This holistic approach is especially crucial in the face of challenges around assimilation and connection. “Sandi’s on the front line trying to bring families into the community,” Cohen says. “I’ve gotten calls from her about a family who needs a little outreach. She’s always thinking about how she can get a family involved in Jewish life for the longterm – not just a kid going in and out of the nursery school, but from a family perspective, to get them integrated into the Jewish community and future.”
Waldstreicher is responsible for curriculum development, special events, and the school’s parenting program. “Sandi gives 500 percent,” says Anne Liss Johnson, managing director of the nursery school. “She never, ever stops looking to make things better for families, teachers, everyone. She cares so much about us all being the best we can.”
The Sara Walker program is known for its Jewish values curriculum, which Waldstreicher and Johnson co-lead. The two receive constant reports from nursery-school parents about how the annual curricular theme of love or family or respect has wended its way from the classroom into home life, Johnson says.
Waldstreicher’s relationship with the JCC goes back to 1987, when she and her husband became members. She was active with The Center Women, where she served as vice president of fundraising and received the President’s Award. She was also a member of several JCC annual gala-planning committees and co-chaired the JCC Tzahal Shalom Program, which annually hosts active-duty officers from the Israel Defense Forces in the Stamford community.
Waldstreicher is past president of the Parents’ Association at Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford, where her four children graduated. “Sandi’s enthusiasm for projects was so warm and genuine that it was immediately captured and even multiplied by all who worked with her,” says Walter Shuchatowitz, founder and first principal of the school. “Her goals became their goals. The passion she aroused in others was why she was so successful.”
RABBI GREG WALL
Framingham, Mass. native Greg Wall began his professional career as a jazz saxophonist in New York City in the mid-‘80s, after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. And it was exposure to the Chasidic community, through musical gigs, that led him on “a long, strange journey” to the rabbinate, he says.
Fast-forward through a couple of decades of Jewish study, and Wall was ordained by the Chief Rabbi of Haifa in 2006, the Beit Din of Jerusalem in 2007, and Yeshivat Pirchei Shoshanim in Jerusalem in 2009. He spent the next three years leading the Sixth Street Synagogue in Manhattan’s East Village, where he also founded the Center for Jewish Life and Literacy, a “laboratory” for the model of bringing arts and Judaism together.
In August 2013, the “Jazz Rabbi” came to lead Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk, relocating to Westport with his wife, Rona, and their youngest child, Abie. He brought with him the unique, creative approach to Jewish life cultivated in both his home and work lives.
Beyond Wall’s professional pedigree, “we got somebody who has a real strong, unfiltered love for Judaism,” says Beit Chaverim co-president Louis Parks. “His mission is to share his love of Judaism with anybody and everybody he can, using whatever mechanisms possible. He doesn’t miss a beat to reach out and engage somebody.”
Wall’s holistic approach has bolstered other aspects of the synagogue, Parks says, from a successful one-on-one Hebrew school model (organized by his daughter, Martha) to enhanced women’s programming and participation (spearheaded by Rona).
“The rabbi has maintained an energy level and seems to be everywhere,” says Parks. “It’s as though we got the maturity of a well-seasoned rabbi with the energy level of a guy coming right out of yeshiva. A lot of things we knew when we hired him but it’s all that and more – on kosher steroids.”
With its open-to-the-community reputation, the small-but-growing congregation of some 70 families often attracts non-members to its services and events. “In the short time that Rabbi Wall has been in our community, he has given us a jolt of ruach,” says Beit Chaverim co-president Andrew Marcus. “From enriching our Shabbos lives and providing outreach to those who want to grow and learn spiritually, to a new synagogue building on the way, to an eruv in place and some kosher food establishment options also on the horizon, I believe our Westport community will become a new destination on the modern Orthodox Jewish map.”
Wall’s presence is felt outside the synagogue walls as well, from Jewish musical events he organizes in the community to frequent participation at Congregation Agudath Sholom minyanim in Stamford.
“Rabbi Greg Wall came to our community specifically for the purpose of assuming the role of spiritual leader of Beit Chaverim, but his passion and spirit, expressed through his willingness to give of himself and his great, soulful musical talent, has infused everyone with whom he has come into contact with renewed Jewish ruach,” says Steve Friedlander, executive director of UJA/Federation Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk, and president and CEO of UJA/Federation of Eastern Fairfield County. “In that sense, our entire Jewish community has become part of his virtual congregation.”
‘‘Dr. Melanie Waynik is proof positive that when you have the right person as leader, you can effect change,” says Sydney Perry, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven and an honorary board member of Ezra Academy in Woodbridge. The parent of three Ezra Academy graduates and past member of the school’s education committee, Waynik had just earned her doctorate in education from the Teachers College at Columbia University when she became head of school in 2012.
Waynik was also actively involved in the establishment of the Jewish High School of Connecticut, helping to develop curricula and recruit and hire faculty. The school opened in 2010 and was housed at Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport until 2012, when it relocated to the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven (JCC). This year, the school put down new roots in Stamford.
When the high school moved to the JCC, Ezra was about to follow suit, but stayed put at Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge.
“When Melanie took the position, it was a challenging time for us,” says Evan Wyner, current board president. “Within a three-year period, Melanie has led a turnaround for the school – an increase in enrollment, happy teachers and students, and good community buzz.”
During her brief tenure, the Fairfield native and Woodbridge resident has righted the Ezra ship. She has worked to strengthen the school’s relationship with host synagogue Congregation B’nai Jacob, securing a long-term lease and negotiating resource- and cost-sharing measures, and has steadied enrollment. Waynik has also bolstered flagging faculty morale and created a supportive environment for professional staff that is palpable to students and parents, according to Wyner.
“Melanie is always out in the community and, by default of her presence, promotes the school,” he says. “People now associate her with Ezra and its strengths.”
“Ezra always had a culture of warmth and camaraderie between parents and collaboration among staff,” says Perry. “Melanie’s holistic approach allows parents, teachers, the Board and students to be part of this innovative learning environment.”
TEEN MOVER & SHAKER
Not long ago, 13-year old Alexandra Schwartz of Stamford had never even heard of Women of the Wall. But late last year, her mother, Elizabeth Ortiz-Schwartz, received an email describing the “One Moon, One Wall, One People” contest sponsored by Moving Traditions, a national organization that advocates for a more expansive view of gender in Jewish learning and practice. Schwartz, a member of Tichon Sinai, the synagogue’s Sunday-school program for eighth and ninth graders, decided to enter the contest and was one of three young girls chosen to win a trip to Israel to celebrate Rosh Chodesh with Women of the Wall in Jerusalem on Jan. 2.
The contest was inspired by Women of the Wall, the multi-denominational women’s prayer group whose mission is to achieve the right for women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Kotel.
In the first round of the contest, Jewish teen girls and boys who participate in Moving Traditions’ programs showed their support for gender equality at the Western Wall through a creative Tweet-sized slogan. Of those, 20 semi-finalists were selected to submit personal videos about women’s rights to pray at the holy site. Schwartz and the other two teens chosen for the trip — Eliza Moss-Horwitz, 16, from Congregation B’nai Israel in Florence, Mass.; and Lucy Sattler, 15, from Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston, Ill. – were among the 3,000 girls who participate in Moving Traditions’ flagship program for middle school and high school girls, Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!
“I thought it would be interesting to spread the idea and awareness about Women of the Wall,” said Alexandra, who came up with the slogan, “Eq-wall-ity.”
Schwartz saw the trip “not simply as a vacation, but as an opportunity to make a change and stand up for what is right. “Being in a Reform congregation, I had taken for granted my opportunity to pray with my brother and my father and to become a bat mitzvah,” she says. “However, at a holy site having such meaning for all Jews, I find it really hard to believe that women are excluded. As this old proverb from India says, ‘Women hold up half the sky.’ Praying alongside each other should not be a threat; on the contrary, it enhances Judaism.”
For this first-ever family trip to Israel, Schwartz was joined by her parents, younger brother, and paternal grandmother. They visited Tel Aviv and a kibbutz near the Golan Heights before arriving in Jerusalem on New Year’s Day.
On Jan. 2, the contest-winners met up with Moving Traditions’ board chair Sally Gottesman and executive director Deborah Meyer at the Kotel for the Rosh Chodesh service with Women of the Wall.
Entering the Kotel plazas, Schwartz was handed a Torah cover and allowed through the security checkpoint, and the group was let in with prayer-books. Since May 2013, women have been legally permitted to wear tallitot at the Kotel, previously an arrestable offense. Schwartz and others wore tallitot and met a now-18-year-old girl who had been arrested for doing so before the legalization (along with Bloomfield Rabbi Debra Cantor).
“I wondered, if the Kotel is the most important Jewish site, why aren’t women allowed to use a Torah in our holiest place?” Schwartz says.
The Rosh Chodesh service was a new experience for Schwartz: worshippers recited the prayers quickly and sang different melodies, and the prayer-book had no vowels. The contest-winners put notes into the Kotel and received a blessing from a woman praying there.
“I felt really lucky and grateful to be picked by the judges and to have the opportunity to make a change because I think a lot of kids had great ideas,” Schwartz says of her trip.
“I think the experience will change my participation in the Rosh Hodesh group. I’m going to be more active and now I am more knowledgeable about women’s rights. I think it’s really good to spread that awareness and Rosh Hodesh is a good place to start.”