Jewish community celebrates year of accomplishments

Jewish community celebrates year of accomplishments

Cindy Shapira, chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, presents Stephen Halpern with the Emanuel Spector Memorial Award. The award recognizes outstanding service to the community in a single year or over many years.Photo by Joshua Franzos
Cindy Shapira, chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, presents Stephen Halpern with the Emanuel Spector Memorial Award. The award recognizes outstanding service to the community in a single year or over many years.Photo by Joshua Franzos

Community members from all corners of Jewish Pittsburgh gathered last week for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s annual meeting to celebrate its accomplishments, honor some of its most outstanding volunteers and pay tribute to three longtime organizational leaders who are retiring.

The meeting was held at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill, where Leon Zionts got things started by leading the packed house in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by “Hatikva.”

After a d’var Torah on the importance of fostering unity among all Jews delivered by Cantor Michal Gray-Schaffer of Congregation B’nai Abraham, Cindy Shapira, chair of the Federation’s board, opened the 2016 meeting with a review of the local Jewish community’s triumphs this past year in Israel and in the fields of community relations, outreach efforts, fundraising and planning.

Shapira highlighted several specific Federation achievements in Israel, including its funding of the NA’AMAT/Weiner Center for Women’s Health and Education in Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether sister city of Karmiel, which helps provide services, classes and programs focusing on women’s exercise, nutrition and empowerment.

“This center is the first of its kind in the region, designed to enhance the status of women in the family, the workforce and society,” Shapira explained.

Turning to local volunteerism, Shapira noted that almost 2,000 individuals were engaged this year through the Federation’s Volunteer Center. Good Deeds Day, she said, drew more than 250 volunteers to six different sites, and Mitzvah Day for the first time involved more than 1,000 participants over a two-day period.

“I want you to think about that statistic for a moment,” Shapira said. “Our Jewish community has about 40,000 Jews, so that means … of every Jewish man, woman and child in the entire Greater Pittsburgh area, about one in 40 came out to volunteer over those two days.”

Shapira praised the work of the Community Relations Council, including its Delegate Assembly, which boasts representatives from 75 Jewish organizations from throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. The council, she said, “enables our community to reach consensus about important issues and speak with one voice. This year the Delegate Assembly passed policies opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, stereotyping and discrimination.”

The CRC also worked with the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center, she noted, to create Israel Campus Ambassadors, developing student leaders “to create a pro-Israel climate on local campuses. The college students whom CRC trained came back to campus to run a record number of pro-Israel education and activism events.”

Other Federation accomplishments from the past year, Shapira said, included the work of its South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh initiative, whose 20-member Community Council “approved 22 grants and awarded more than $40,000 for new and enhanced programs and services in the South Hills.”

The Federation is also focusing efforts on Jewish education, she said, citing as an example the Pittsburgh Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, which currently involves 10 Jewish early childhood programs sharing “goals for excellence in Jewish early childhood education and the rubrics for measuring goal achievement.”

Shapira acknowledged new staff hires Rabbi Amy Bardack, who is tasked with helping “to foster sharing and learning best practices among all of our educational programs — synagogues, JCC, Hillel JUC, day schools, preschools, everyone together” — and Rabbi Danny Schiff, the new Federation Scholar bringing “Jewish content and some real ruach to a series of learning events, including medical and legal education and the continuing, communitywide Tikkun Leil Shavuot that the Agency for Jewish Learning started.”

Stephen Halpern, who currently co-chairs the Jewish Association on Aging’s first-ever capital campaign, received the Emanuel Spector Memorial Award in recognition of his long history of service in and beyond Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. The award, said Shapira is “our Federation’s most prestigious volunteer-leadership award.”

“There couldn’t be a recipient more deserving than Stephen Halpern,” Shapira added. “Steve has been involved in both the development and community-building spheres at the Jewish Federation.”

Deborah Winn-Horvitz, president and CEO of the JAA, received the Doris and Leonard H. Rudolph Jewish Communal Professional Award.

Winn-Horvitz has “brought broad cultural change” to the JAA, said Jeff Finkelstein, the Federation’s president and CEO, citing the new residential dining area of the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center as an example and praising the JAA for being “an industry leader in memory care” while on Winn-Horvitz’s watch.

Video tributes recognized the contributions of retiring Jewish agency executives Debbie Friedman, executive director of Jewish Residential Services; Rachel Marcus, chief operating officer of the JCC; and Aryeh Sherman, executive director of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh.

“I am humbled and deeply, deeply appreciative of these three individuals,” said Finkelstein.

Finkelstein also congratulated and praised the 37 individuals nominated by various Jewish agencies, organizations and synagogues throughout the region as “volunteers of the year.”

Turning to fiscal matters, the annual campaign, he reported, came in at “an all time high,” with the Federation reaching its goal of raising $13.65 million. The Jewish Community Foundation, which helps donors establish philanthropic funds, endowments, trusts and bequests to strengthen the community, added more than $18.8 million, he said, and almost 100 new funds.

The Foundation distributed $16.8 million dollars in 2016 to “diverse initiatives,” including the hiring of Schiff as a scholar in residence and a grant to The Jewish Chronicle.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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