Officials at the Connecticut Jewish Ledger newspaper today announced the list of Connecticut’s “Jewish Movers & Shakers for 2009”. Selected by the newspaper’s editors, this year’s group of 18 accomplished and dedicated business professionals and community leaders are being recognized for their leadership roles and the impact they made in the Jewish community in Connecticut during the past year.
“As the Connecticut Jewish Ledger celebrates its 80th Anniversary, I am honored to announce this year’s important list of top Jewish ‘Movers & Shakers’ in Connecticut. During this tough economic climate, community, business leaders and individuals involved in bettering our region need to be even more resourceful these days in order to initiate and maintain programs. That’s why it’s a true honor to recognize this group. These are some of the hardest working, dedicated and generous professionals in our state.” said N. Richard Greenfield, publisher, Connecticut Jewish Ledger. “Our editors focused on what has taken place in our corner of the world during the past 12 months and selected 18 people who stood out in 2009. We are very much aware that they also represent many more people who help others and give of themselves through our Jewish organizations and institutions to make Connecticut a better place. So, we also express our appreciation to the many others who also make our synagogues, federations and other Jewish organizations and institutions work as they do every day of the year.”
“I am honored to be chosen as a Jewish Ledger Mover & Shaker for 2009. With the position of the Crown Market as an institution within the community, I am looking forward to bringing additional enhancements to the Crown that will make kosher shopping a better value with the same attention to high quality and service for which we have been known for the last 70 years,” said Marc Bokoff, president, The Crown Market.
“I am grateful for the recognition of the Claims Conference‘s role in assisting Holocaust survivors. We only have a few years left to help them and the needs are tremendous. My passion for social justice has its roots in the education I received at Solomon Schechter in West Hartford,” said Greg Schneider, director, Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
In alphabetical order, the 18 people named as Connecticut’s Jewish Movers & Shakers for 2009 are:
Rabbi Yitzchok Adler, West Hartford
A lot has changed in the nearly 15 years since Rabbi Yitzchok Adler arrived from Jacksonville, FL to become spiritual leader of Beth David Synagogue, West Hartford thanks in large part to its forward- thinking rabbi. Adler founded a women’s tefillah group, a women’s Megillah reading and encourages girls to celebrate their bat mitzvahs at services on Shabbat. Adler also stands out as a pulpit rabbi who administers to the needs of his congregation, but also sees beyond it to the broader Jewish community as well. He serves the community as a mohel and administrator of the Hartford Kashrut Commission.
Mark Bokoff, Norwich
No one in the Jewish communities surrounding greater Hartford likes to think about what life would be like without West Hartford’s legendary Crown Supermarket, a neighborhood fixture for 70 years. The supermarket continues to thrive, thanks to Mark Bokoff. The Norwich businessman bought the store this year and immediately instituted a slew of changes that have customers smiling from the kosher hotdog stand, overflowing display of fresh, Connecticut grown produce, hanging plants and bouquets of bright colored flowers to the expanded product line. He is also president of Solomon Schechter Academy, New London where both his children attended school.
Rabbi Yehuda Brecher, Waterbury
In September 2000, Brecher and his wife,Yocheved, were among the nine Orthodox families and 35 young men who left their New York City homes to settle in Waterbury. Today, the Waterbury community has well over 100 families, the supermarket shelves are loaded with kosher products, there are a couple of kosher eateries and a second ritual bath recently opened. When Brecher first arrived, he took a job teaching at the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy, Bloomfield. The daily trek proved worthwhile. A natural born leader, Brecher quickly won the hearts and minds of his students and, more than that, instituted programs that created a bridge between the Waterbury and Hartford area communities, such as the joint weekly study of Talmud and Torah with Jewish youth in Bloomfield, West Hartford and Fairfield.
Ari Disraelly, Stamford
Ari Disraelly is out to change the Fairfield County & Westchester Jewish singles’ scene. The 30-something entrepreneur and IT consultant sees partnering among organizations as the way to build a vibrant social and networking landscape for the many young professionals. His new endeavor, JMIX.org, joined with NextGen at UJF of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien for an Israeli self-defense class and happy hour in Stamford. He teamed up with Beit Chaverim Synagogue, Westport/Norwalk to create a community Passover Seder and with Temple Beth El’s young professionals group. Disraelly is now part of a Jewish organizational committee to create a new singles’ and young professionals’ network.
Rhea Farbman, Stratford
Musician and music teacher Rhea Farbman can be found leading preschoolers in a Mexican Hat Dance at The Conservative Synagogue of Westport or little ones in musical prayer at a Tot Shabbat at Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk or students at Congregation B’nai Israel religious school in Bridgeport, as easily as she may be found performing at a convalescent home in the community with fellow members of the Schubert Club of Fairfield County, where she serves as president. Farbman also directs The Kesher Project, the longest-running Jewish program in Connecticut for developmentally challenged adults. Created in the 1990s, the monthly programs at Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport celebrate Jewish ritual and tradition and are often the only contact residents of group homes have with their Jewish heritage or the Jewish community.
Joanne Goldblum, New Haven
Just five years after founding a charity that meets a baby’s basic need, Joanne Goldblum has already been named ABC News “Person of the Week,” one of People Magazine‘s “Heroes Among Us,” New Haven Register’s “Person of the Year, ” and has been featured in Time Magazine’s “Power of One” column and “Good Morning America’s” “AmeriCAN” series. She has received several honors for her work, including the Citizens Bank “Champion in Action” program and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders award. The social worker started The Diaper Bank when she saw some of her low-income clients reusing disposable diapers on their children and learned that hygiene products like diapers and toilet paper are not covered by food stamps or WIC federal funds.
Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray, Ridgefield
Trail-blazer best describes Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray of Temple Shearith Israel, Ridgefield. A fourth-generation cantor, she is only the second woman to become a cantor in the Conservative movement, the first woman cantor at Congregation Beth El, Norwalk and founder of the Women Cantors’ Network, a 300-member international organization established in 1982. This year, Katcko-Gray added to her achievements the publication of a songbook and CD called “Katchko: Three Generations of Cantorial Art,” that bring together three generations of cantors in her family. The project represents two firsts: It shows modern cantors how they can use guitar in a new way with traditional music, something never done before in a classical cantorial tradition; and it is the first female-friendly’ cantorial book, written in keys with which women cantors can be comfortable.
David Jacobs, Hartford
When David Jacobs arrived in West Hartford to take over as executive director of the Greater Hartford Jewish Community Center, he was returning to his roots. He got his start in the Jewish communal world while working at the JCC serving as teen director, camp director and associate executive director at the JCC from 1978-1988. After stints as executive director of JCCs in California and Rochester, NY, Jacobs took the reins at the Mandell JCC in 2002. Since then, the center has seen unprecedented membership growth. But more importantly, besides helping increase membership, implementing strategic planning and benchmarking efforts and spearheading the JCC’s multi-million dollar capital campaign, Jacobs, a recipient of the Lewis Kraft Award for Jewish Communal Service, has brought Jewish programming back to life at the Jewish Center. Harkening back to his days at Camp Shalom, he has worked on strengthening summer camping and emphasizing the value of Jewish camping locally. He brought Jewish family summer programming to the increasingly popular JCC Swim & Tennis Club.
Joel Karp, Greater New Haven
Joel Karp was president of Camp Laurelwood when it became a member of the Jewish Federation in 1976 and when it koshered its kitchen. Karp also served as the former vice-p
resident of Ezra Academy in the 1980s. As chairman of the Ezra Building Committee, he spearheaded the effort to develop the addition to Congregation B’nai Jacob, Woodbridge. Karp also worked with Andy Eder and others on the JCC Ad Hoc Committee in 1995 to successfully keep the JCC alive and later was an integral committee member that merged the JCC into the Federation.
U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, Stamford
Those inclined to speak their mind and stick to their principles, ought to consider the wisdom of wearing a flak jacket. So might go the advice of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who took more than his fair share of low blows in recent months as a result of his decision to hold fast to his views on the proposed health care reform bill then before the Senate. Lieberman continued to brave the barrage of attacks with grace and good humor. Meanwhile, the senator continues to go about tending to the affairs of state. In recent days, Lieberman, together with Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham, released a framework for comprehensive climate change and energy independence legislation and together with Senator Chris Dodd, he helped secure over $75 million for transportation, housing, environmental, defense, and other projects across the state.
Audrey Lichter, West Hartford
If you look up “visionary” in the dictionary, the definition won’t include the name Audrey Lichter. But it should. Considered by many to be one of the foremost Jewish educators and advocates for Jewish education in the greater Hartford area, Lichter continues to keep a sharp on Jewish continuity as she builds and strengthens Jewish institutions, bringing national attention to the innovative and energetic programs she has created. As a founding board member and past president of the Hebrew High School of New England, she has helped the school grow from 18 pioneer students in 1996 to 75 this year. She founded The Jewish Day School Consortium of Southern New England, which enabled the area’s three day schools – HHNE, Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy and the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford – to engage in collaborative programming. At the end of the 2009 academic year, Lichter left Yachad to become executive director of a new national effort called “Chai Mitzvah.” Founded by New York business and philanthropist Scott Shays, Hartford has been chosen as the launching pad for this innovative Jewish renewal program that encourages adults to reconnect with or deepen their Judaism every 18 years post bar- or bat-mitzvah.
Jeremy Linder, Cheshire
When Jeremy Linder turned 17 last year, the Cheshire High School senior donated blood for the first time. Which isn’t surprising, given that as soon as he was old enough he joined the Cheshire Fire Department. Last January, he was planning to apply to the construction management program at Central Connecticut State University after starting Nutmeg Lawn Care. Last year, Jeremy donated Nutmeg’s services to the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” auction in Cheshire.
Dr. Joseph Olzacki, Bloomfield
Dr. Joseph Olzacki can name an upside to the hate mail he regularly receives. As founder of The Identity Project, a program he founded three years ago to teach students about genocide, Olzacki is also the director of visual and performing arts for the Bloomfield public schools. Olzacki, who is not Jewish, holds a degree in political science with a focus in Holocaust studies. He designed The Identity Project to make the idea personal for his students, most of them of Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. This past fall, Olzacki led the program’s third day trip since 2007 to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Earlier this month, Olzacki was selected to take part in the Global International Leadership Training Programme to be held in Kigali, Rwanda in January 2010. Olzacki is one of 100 young leaders in the field of human rights worldwide who will take part in the regional forum, hosted by the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights, in collaboration with the National Commission for Human Rights in Rwanda.
Ellen Schapps Richman, Greenwich
In addition to being in her third year as president of the board of UJA Federation of Greenwich, Ellen has kept several other plates spinning in the air. Before becoming UJA Federation president, she was active in the Women’s Division, founding its Business & Professionals group. Ellen and her husband were co-chairs of the finance committee of the 2000 and 2004 Democratic Presidential campaigns in Connecticut and Ellen was one of the first people in the country to join the national finance committee for Obama’s presidential run. She has served on the board of Planned Parenthood of Connecticut and is currently on the board of United Way of Greenwich. She is active in the Breast Cancer Alliance in Greenwich and the Greenwich Hospital. Ellen was on the regional board of AIPAC and, together with Richard, is a supporter of ADL and recipient of the ADL’s Daniel Ginsburg Humanitarian Award. She received the YWCA’s 2008 Spirit of Greenwich award.
Deborah Salomon, Greenwich
Deborah Tarasow Salomon is a wizard. Using the magic of Jewish summer camp experiences, the warmth of her own childhood memories as the daughter of a rabbi and a Jewish educator and her years of teaching Hebrew and Judaica to children and adults, she works to turn Jewish children into lovers of their heritage. So it is not surprising that she is founder, director and spiritual leader of the innovative Hebrew Wizards School and the Wizards Congregation in Greenwich, which first opened in 2005. When Salomon’s brother died of a brain tumor in 2002, she vowed to make her life extraordinary by creating a school that combined her passion for Judaism and her memorable Jewish experiences: a pilgrimage to Israel, the feeling of Shabbat, the excitement of “color war” at Jewish summer camp all combining a hunger for Jewish knowledge and a love of being Jewish. Hebrew Wizards counts 125 students and 75 families, some who are simultaneously affiliated with area synagogues. At its annual gala, UJA Federation of Greenwich presented the Weitzman Youth Award for Jewish Philanthropy to 11 teens, all Hebrew Wizards and also affiliated with various area congregations.
Gregory Schneider, Riverdale
Following an extensive national search, Bozrah, CT native Gregory Schneider was selected to head the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The Claims Conference represents world Jewry in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs. It administers compensation funds, recovers unclaimed Jewish property and allocates funds to institutions that provide social welfare services to Holocaust survivors and preserve the memory and lessons of the Shoah. In accepting the post, Schneider noted that there are still Holocaust victims who have yet to be acknowledged with compensation payments and tens of thousands who are increasingly in need of homecare and medical care.
Connecticut State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, Milford
Serving as the Assistant Majority Leader and chair of the Government Administration & Elections Committee, Slossberg is vice-chair of the Select Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. First elected in 2004, Slossberg almost immediately set out to fill the empty space in the State Capitol concourse which houses memorials to Connecticut’s war veterans except those who serve
d in the Korean War. Several years later with Slossberg’s effort, the Korean War Memorial Sculpture was unveiled.
Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring, Westport
Clinical psychologist Janis Spring helps her clients navigate the choppy waters of adult life — marital infidelity, forgiveness, intimacy, trust, caring for an aging parent. The difference is that she’s usually in the boat with them, as passenger and crew all at once. Spring writes lucid, honest books about life’s big issues, simultaneously wearing the two hats of seasoned therapist and uncertain client and mining her own life experiences to help normalize difficult times for others. Writing with her husband, Michael Spring, she first came to the public’s attention in 1997 with “After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful” and “How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To,” both selected as a “Books for a Better Life Award” finalist in three categories Best First Book, Best Relationship Book, Best Psychology Book, and have sold more than 450,000 copies.