Smooth sounds of jazz and the savory taste of sliders facilitated an evening of celebration for Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh supporters last week. The May 30 event was a chance to honor communal leaders Meryl and David Ainsman, fraternize and thank the Federation’s many donors, explained Jeff Finkelstein, Federation’s president and CEO.
“This is an amazing celebration of community, and we just have an incredible group of supporters and leaders,” echoed Emily Richman, Federation’s director of development operations.
For their continued stewardship of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, the Ainsmans were honored with the 2019 PNC Community Builders Award. Since its inception 15 years ago, the award has come with a $25,000 gift, made in the honorees’ name, to the Federation’s annual campaign.
Giving this gift to Federation is important “now more than ever,” said Nicholas Besh, investment director and senior vice president, PNC Wealth Management. Meryl serves as Federation’s board chair, and while it is unusual to present this award to someone currently holding that position, “this has been an unusual year,” Besh added.
In a precursor to receiving the award, Meryl and David’s numerous communal posts were mentioned. Meryl previously chaired Federation’s planning and funding committee, community campaign and women’s division. David previously chaired the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle board, served on the boards of Community Day School and Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh and currently chairs Federation’s security committee. The Ainsmans referenced their decades of involvement in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and described the impact of recent events.
Serving as board chair both during and in the aftermath of Oct. 27 was the “toughest challenge,” said Meryl. “All of us felt the pain. What helped me through was having an opportunity to get involved.”
Immediately following the Tree of Life attack, Meryl worked with Federation staff to organize the community vigil at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland. Held one day following the killings, the event attracted thousands of attendees, hundreds of whom stood outside in the rain after indoor capacity had been reached.
Since then, in an effort to prepare and aid other Jewish communities, Meryl has traveled around the country sharing Pittsburgh’s story of organizational partnership and communal resilience.
This is a unique moment, David said, and to observe the diversity of Jewish educational experiences available locally is truly remarkable. “If our ancestors could see what we’ve crafted in this community, they would be really proud.”
As Jews, “we have survived and flourished,” he continued. “This community is amazing.”
About 400 people attended the May 30 event held in the Grand Hall at the Pennsylvanian.
“David and Meryl have been such tremendous assets for this community. It’s such an honor to see them honored in this crowd,” said Skip Grinberg. “They are two of the best people. Their hearts are in the right place.”
“I came up through the ranks with Meryl leading the way,” said Linda Joshowitz, Federation’s community campaign chair. “She is like an older sister and wise mother with cool clothes. She really combined the two for me and it’s been a real honor to work under her.”
Rachel Marcus, former associate executive director at Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, recalled Meryl beginning her volunteer career decades earlier. After Meryl publicly thanked Marcus, as well as Finkelstein, Brian Schreiber and Brian Eglash for years of mentorship, Marcus noted, it was meaningful “for me to see it made a difference because of my work at the center.”
Meryl and David’s family members joined in honoring the couple.
“So much of this has taken me away from my family,” Meryl said. “There were times when I would say, ‘Mommy has to go to a meeting so all we’re having for dinner is mac and cheese.’ Part of that was teaching them what’s really important.”
The lessons were well-received, explained Laura Sohinki and Molly Fisher, the Ainsmans’ daughters.
“They are incredible people, incredible leaders and incredible parents. The community is as fortunate as we are,” said Sohinki.
“And we are incredibly proud of them,” added Fisher.
Philanthropy and community are very much rooted in family, explained Peter Gordon, son of the late Ira and Nanette Gordon (last week’s event was underwritten by the Ira and Nanette Gordon Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Pittsburgh). “It chokes me up because my parents were so dedicated to it … and I’m so proud of their memory,” he added.
Gordon and his wife, Robin, referenced the presence of their daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Jesse Coslov, at last week’s event.
“To have something continue that’s so good, that’s what it’s about,” said Robin Gordon.
After praising the Ainsmans and thanking donors (those present included supporters who committed at least $1,000 to the Federation’s 2019 Community Campaign, Jewish Community Foundation Legacy Fund holders and their adult children), Finkelstein encouraged the community to come together again.
“Next weekend is my favorite holiday of the year,” he said, noting that on the evening of Shavuot in Pittsburgh people from all walks of Jewish life will venture to the JCC in Squirrel Hill and spend hours studying together with diverse teachers. “Ever since Oct. 27, we have said we need to find ways to continue coming together as a community. Tikkun Leil Shavuot highlights not our uniformity but our strong unity. Make this your Saturday-night activity.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.