Capping a year of changes, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh provided an overview of past accomplishments and a continued vision for the future at its annual meeting last week.
“This year, our Annual Campaign of $13.7 million leveraged our ability to give away over $26 million,” Cindy Shapira, chair of the board, announced to the more than 200 guests at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Levinson Hall in Squirrel Hill. “The presence of Federation as a convener assists and supports our agencies to move toward greater collaboration and synergy, and when appropriate, even toward merger, to better serve our community.”
The topic of aging was addressed at the nearly 90-minute meeting, with several speakers mentioning AgeWell Pittsburgh’s ability to assist area seniors and its recent receipt of a $150,000 grant, known as the Collaboration Prize, from the Lodestar Foundation. Other communal activities had their share of the spotlight as well.
“Our relatively new Jewish life and learning department is working to make Jewish learning a part of our everyday lives,” noted Shapira. Each day, the Federation helps “create and sustain high-quality Jewish educational programs and experiences so that every Jewish Pittsburgher can be meaningfully engaged in Jewish life and learning.”
In his speech, Federation president and CEO Jeff Finkelstein pointed to strides made in the effort to better secure communal institutions. Just this year, Brad Orsini was hired as the Federation’s first-ever community security director. This staffing demonstrates a new reality, said Finkelstein. “This is certainly not the type of need we want to fund, but one we have to fund.”
“A profound paradigm shift” is underway and the Jewish community is changing, said Shapira. “The Federation system must remain relevant by understanding and keeping ahead of these trends, and by shifting its own way of doing business.”
A slight distraction took place at the beginning of the event. Some representatives from IfNotNow, which has targeted Jewish federations across the country, attempted to disrupt the annual get-together. Their efforts were swiftly met with a dismissal from the building, and a group of roughly 15 protesters positioned themselves on the corner of Murray Avenue and Darlington Road.
Many attendees didn’t even notice the disruption.
Inside, Shapira had the honor of introducing the night’s awardees. Given its more than 100 years of existence, the Federation, she said, has learned that its “achievements are possible only because we have dedicated community members, passionate leaders and generous donors.”
Within this group, several notable volunteers were singled out for recognition through the Federation’s Volunteer of the Year program. Nominated by local Jewish nonprofits, these individuals have “devoted significant time and energy to the nominating organization, served in a variety of capacities within the organization and demonstrated dedication to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community as a whole,” according to the Federation.
“Volunteering is something that makes me feel good,” said Alex Speck, who was nominated by the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh. There is a realization that occurs through volunteering by seeing how much “the people and the organizations we work with” get out of it.
Joining Speck, nearly 40 other volunteers were celebrated for their dedication to the community. A booklet providing photos and bios of volunteers was available at the Aug. 31 evening meeting.
In addition to the volunteers, Chuck Perlow and Alexis Winsten Mancuso were feted with Federation awards. For his “exemplary service to the community,” Perlow, a local philanthropist and business leader, was given the Emanuel Spector Memorial Award.
“This is our Federation’s most prestigious volunteer-leadership award, and there couldn’t be a more deserving recipient than Chuck Perlow,” said Shapira. “Chuck’s many years of service to the Federation and the Jewish community reflect two of his biggest passions: Jewish continuity and Jewish learning.”
“I am so blessed,” said Perlow, before adding that no matter what he returns to Federation and the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, it “could never repay what I’ve been given.”
Mancuso, who received the Doris & Leonard H. Rudolph Jewish Communal Professional Award, described her journey from teenage user of the JCC to eventual adult employee.
“The JCC was a place that was really important in my life, and I found my way back when I needed them most,” she said.
Mancuso is responsible for the JCC’s human resource management as well as oversight of services to older adults, including the AgeWell Pittsburgh program.
Receiving such recognition is “incredibly humbling,” she said. “I have watched as professionals in the community have received this award.” Those people were “icons. This is the most humbling honor I can think of in my 20 years as a professional.”
In an interview prior to the annual meeting, Meryl Ainsman, incoming chair of Federation’s board, spoke of challenges that lie ahead.
“As the central address for the local Jewish community, I think it’s very important that we respond to and deal with the ramification of negative events that may occur both locally as well as around the world,” said Ainsman.
Shapira, likewise, kept an eye on the future in her departing charge to the organization and its supporters.
“We need to recognize that seismic changes have taken place,” Shapira said. “Young Jews affiliate less with legacy organizations and synagogues; they exhibit, in general, weaker loyalties to Israel and organized religion.
“Although I believe more has to be done — and we need to move faster — I applaud the efforts we’ve started in focusing on how we’re approaching young adult engagement on a grand scale,” she added. “Let’s move this initiative forward, as well as the work begun last year to really examine our business model and bring it into the 21st century, so that our niche remains relevant and our promise for our community fulfilled.”
While that charge will now largely rest on Ainsman’s shoulders, it is a task that she has been prepping for nearly three decades.
Accepting the two-year position of chair of the board is “a culmination of about 30 years of volunteer work at the Federation,” said Ainsman, who has previously served as a campaign chair, community building chair, planning and funding chair and Partnership2Gether co-chair at Federation. Accepting the new role represents a “culmination of many, many years of doing many different roles both in the planning and the fundraising arm of the Federation, and I feel really poised in this point of my volunteering career to take on this major responsibility.” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.