I’ve just returned from Cleveland and the national meeting of the network of JCRCs from around the country. Representing our Boston Jewish community in this space, I was mindful of how fortunate and grateful I am to be part of a vibrant community filled with volunteers and professionals alike, working side-by-side to make our Commonwealth and our world a better place. The yin and yang of a true volunteer and professional partnership is such that in each there is a bit of the other, creating a duality that is most effective in a joint relationship in pursuit of an audacious vision. At JCRC, we are inspired every day by our purpose-driven professionals and those at our partner Jewish agencies. We stand in awe of the time, energy, wisdom, and resources our volunteer leaders lend to supporting the missions of these agencies and our community.
It feels right and timely that I return home to celebrate two of these outstanding leaders – both a volunteer and a professional – at our annual With Gratitude event this coming Monday night, May 23rd.
The Warren B. Kohn Award for Excellence in Jewish Communal Service is awarded to a professional, and is named in honor of one of JCRC’s distinguished past board Presidents. It will be presented this year, for the first time, to a congregational rabbi – our longtime JCRC Council member, Rabbi Barbara Penzner.
Rabbi Penzner has had a profound impact in Boston and beyond. Her dynamic rabbinic leadership has enhanced every aspect of congregational life at Hillel Bnai Torah in West Roxbury where she has served since 1995. But her influence extends way beyond the walls of her own shul. A passionate advocate for worker rights, Rabbi Penzner serves as co-chair of the New England Jewish Labor Committee, where she draws on our history and tradition to engage Jews in the fight for equality and justice. Her leadership role in the successful campaign on behalf of the Hyatt 98 (workers fired and replaced with cheap outsourced labor) earned her public recognition by the Boston Globe Editorial Board and the Human Rights Hero Award from Rabbi for Human Rights North America. She has played an essential role in connecting the labor movement and Jewish communities in Boston in solidarity on a range of shared concerns and has inspired labor leaders to stand with us as allies in support of Israel.
The Nancy K. Kaufman Award for Excellence in Volunteer Leadership, established in 2013, is presented in honor of JCRC’s immediate past Executive Director. Recipients are community members whose leadership exemplifies the values of the Jewish community, and who lead by example – which is a perfect description of JCRC’s Past-President Stuart Rossman.
Stuart’s commitment to JCRC and the greater community has never faltered. He has served as our President, and has also led the Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations (housed at JCRC), the Bureau of Jewish Education, and the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet. In his ‘spare’ time, he served on the Executive Committee and Board of CJP. A passionate and tireless advocate for Israel, he has chaired the Boston-Haifa Connection, led solidarity missions, and participated in the Ethiopian airlift to Israel. It was there, in Tel Aviv, that Stuart represented our Jewish community in welcoming 14,000 Jews arriving from Ethiopia in the early 1990s. At that time – reflecting on the ability of our community to mobilize and take action – he said: “You have a community that was…in a great deal of danger on Friday, and by Sunday we were able to bring them home. No one stopped to say, ‘Can we afford to do this?’ And now it’s our responsibility.”
Throughout Stuart’s tenure at JCRC, he has worked in partnership with professionals, allowing us to learn from his grace under pressure, his deep commitment to excellence, and his unstoppable can-do nature. When not being volunteer extraordinaire, Stuart is one of our nation’s foremost experts on consumer law, Stuart is Director of Litigation at the National Consumer Law Center, where he dedicates himself to protecting the rights of low income and elderly consumers.
We are thrilled to highlight the accomplishments of these two heroes in our community and we are extraordinarily grateful for their contribution not only to JCRC and Boston’s Jewish community, but nationally, as they’ve championed the work of justice and human rights. If you would like to join us in expressing your gratitude to Stuart and Rabbi Penzner on Monday evening, you may register here. To make a gift in honor of their tireless work and exemplary service, please do so here.