By Albert Stern / BJV Editor
We had just about put the March/April edition of the Berkshire Jewish Voice to bed – an issue filled with Passover news and advertising and a front page “save the date” for Federation’s Super Sunday on May 17 – when the pandemic hit. With everything up in the air, we made some space on the front page for an important notice warning that “due to the evolving response to coronavirus, some programs listed in this paper may have been canceled or postponed after our press deadline.”
As it turned out, all the programs listed in that paper were canceled. So was Super Sunday. And so too, sorta/kinda, was Passover, at least the kind of Pesach celebrations most of us are accustomed to.
Confronted with crisis, Federation leadership turned on a dime, and did a bang-up job of raising emergency funds and reassigning resources so that necessary services reached those most in need. We marshaled volunteers from the community to deliver meals, developed programming for adults and our PJ Library families, connected with our local congregations, reached out to the wider community, kept the office running smoothly, made sure our social worker reached the folks who need her services, and tackled the daunting task of sustaining our annual campaign in a time of great uncertainty.
As for the Berkshire Jewish Voice, it is one of the tools the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires has to communicate, in good times and bad, the breadth of its work to our community – which includes full-time residents, seasonal residents, and visitors seeking Jewish connection.
This publication’s revenues do not cover all its costs, and so your financial help as voluntary subscribers is essential in our efforts to bring you meaningful, positive, and entertaining stories both by and about your neighbors, as well as Jews around the world. Since the start of the pandemic, advertising revenue has dropped and we were unable to publish Berkshire Jewish Summer. This year, more than ever, your support is vital to sustain this publication.
As editor of this newspaper, I had two goals after the coronavirus crisis began: the first was writing about what people in this community are doing in response to the pandemic and the second, publishing stories that reflect how people in the Jewish Berkshires are thinking about this strange time we are all living through.
Even under normal circumstances, we are spread out geographically and can feel separated and siloed. Now, in these months when communal activities have been canceled, those physical and psychological distances can seem extreme. The BJV is one way Federation brings this community together.
In our first issue following the imposition of coronavirus restrictions, the BJV covered the Federation's response to the crisis, as well that of the Jewish Women Foundation of Berkshire County and Partnership2gether program that connects us with the Afula-Gilboa region of Israel.
Also in that issue, we heard the voice of Williams College student Gaia Steinfeld DeNisi, who shared the devastating feeling of having to leave campus in a hurry before the end of her senior year. We covered the way Berkshire Bounty’s leaders Mark Lefenfeld and Jay Weintraub are working with a coalition of local organizations to battle the food insecurity facing many students who cannot attend school. We shared some of the nachas Carrie and David Schulman experienced through the Zoom bar mitzvah of their grandson, a virtual simcha that then seemed novel but that is now a too-common alternative to in-person celebration.
In the spirit of Passover, readers answered 4 questions we posed about how their lives had changed during the pandemic. Jodie Friedman of Hevreh wrote about the letdown that followed her virtual Seder, and how she found solace in Shabbat and the cycle of Jewish holidays. And Jordana Kozupsky Bel, palliative care nurse with Berkshire roots now at a busy New York hospital, wrote a raw and honest essay about the emotional and practical obstacles she faced as a frontline worker during the early stages of COVID-19.
In our subsequent issues, rabbis from all our congregations weighed in on the novel clerical challenges posed by the pandemic, and eloquently expressed the pain of being unable to join together in traditional, meaningful Jewish ways in worship and at life-cycle rituals. Together, their essays created a portrait of how, from different points of view, the leaders of our Jewish community are coping spiritually during this crisis.
Suzanne Sawyer wrote about finding meaning in staying home, and a story about Robert Bildner and Elisa Spungen Bildner's acclaimed The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook suggested culinary ideas about how to explore the region and feast on its bounty in a summer without the cultural nourishment we are accustomed to.
Pioneering Jewish environmentalist and civil rights activist Rabbi Everett Gendler shared his thoughts about life in a time of pandemic and unrest in a substantial and fascinating interview. And as an editor, I was particularly grateful to Shakespeare & Company's Jonathan Epstein, who contributed a truly thought-provoking meditation on “the summer of our discontent,” a season without live performance that may change the way theatre is conceived and presented well into the future. I’ve read similar-themed articles in other publications, and have to say that Jonny’s is the very best.
And no issue of the BJV would be complete without the work of our Traveling With Jewish Taste correspondent, Carol Goodman Kaufman, who last autumn also contributed an interview with novelist Alice Hoffman, a presenter at Federation’s Knosh & Knowledge program in Great Barrington. I also had the pleasure of interviewing another Knosh presenter, economist Ira Lieberman, about his book In Good Times, Prepare for Crisis – I hope everyone was paying attention to that one. Our pages were also graced with original writing from established authors like novelist Roberta Silman and memoirist/historian Tela Zasloff, and we’ve also provided a platform for young writers from our community to publish their work as they discover their voices – Talia Caine of Monument Mountain High School, for example, contributed a lyrical short story about Hannah Senesh (originally published in jGirls Magazine).
Bottom line – we put out a good paper that reflects the spirit of this Jewish community. Over the year ahead, I look forward to covering the ways our Jewish community might change due to COVID-19, as we experience an influx of new members, many of them young families, who are relocating from urban centers. Many readers, particularly snowbird second homeowners, have also expressed how much they appreciated receiving the BJV since the pandemic began, so as to stay better informed about news from the Berkshires.
This year, however, the Berkshire Jewish Voice faces a significant shortfall of advertising revenue that threatens to affect how we might be able to publish in the year ahead.
Please use this link to make a voluntary subscription online, or refer to the insert that appears in the current print edition of the paper if you would prefer to mail in your contribution. An honorary publisher gift of $360 allows us to provide 4 pages of color, while all voluntary subscriptions help us defray the cost of printing and mailing the thousands of copies of the newspaper we send out to you nine times each year.
As always, thank you for your support.