Earlier this year, Jeffrey Savit announced his resignation as president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. This speech was presented at the June 8 annual meeting of the Alliance.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. …” It’s as if Charles Dickens was foreshadowing the Rhode Island Jewish community in 2011. When I arrived, we were a proud yet “siloed” community wrought asunder by severe financial challenges and divided loyalties. In the intervening six years, territorial duality is being increasingly replaced by compassionate UNITY, which I believe to be the five most important letters of the word community.
My friends, I have had the heaven-sent honor to have led our Jewish Alliance through its first six years of infancy and toddlerhood. William Shakespeare famously asked “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose ... By any other name would smell as sweet.” So what exactly is the meaning of our Alliance? Merriam Webster defines Alliance to be “the state of being allied,” “the bond or connection between parties or individuals,” and “an association to further the common interests of members.”
So by definition, has our RI Jewish community alliance succeeded in the last six years? In my humble and unbiased mind, you bet we have. In 2011, who would have ever thought that 50 percent of our local Jewish community suffered from economic and emotional vulnerability, and that 18 percent was impoverished? To date, and through your help, our Living on the Edge Initiative has generated more than $1.5 million and benefited more than 2,000 Jewish community members.
In addition, who would have imagined that we could have constructed a world-class Holocaust Memorial in downtown Providence? And, most audaciously, who would have believed that our community would have had the wherewithal and bandwidth to renovate our stunning Dwares JCC. And throughout, despite increasingly tight resources and a diminishing donor and volunteer base, we have been able to keep our Alliance annual campaign stable and steady, and launched an innovation grant program that benefited six of our synagogues and other local Jewish organizations.
Yes, my friends, we are in the process of achieving a community Alliance. Please look no further than the pending merger of our Jewish Family Services and Jewish Seniors Agency. With that said, however, life has not always been a bowl of cherries during these last six years. From the wars being waged in Gaza to the contentiousness in Washington D.C.; from the civil, political and religious challenges that beset Israel to the hostility and anti-Semitism that have been unleashed locally and across our nation; and from worldwide terrorist attacks to domestic bomb and armed shooter threats; we have all had our shares of sleepless nights. But no one has ever, ever said it was supposed to be easy.
Six years later, I professionally depart a proud, caring and much more cohesive community, and so many of you deserve to take bows for what together we have accomplished. There are just too, too many of you to thank individually, but you all know what you mean to me and who you are, those who have partnered with me, advised me, taught me, grounded me, and of course fed me. I will never forget what so many of you did for me personally, for my family, and most importantly, for our community.
First of all, thank you to my magnificently selfless, loyal and hard-working Alliance senior managers and professional staff. You have provided me with a lifetime of appreciation these past six years. And to Gail, I simply do not know what to say, and perhaps never will, except that you are a treasure who epitomizes all that is wonderful about the Alliance. Next, I want to thank my superb and supportive Boards of Directors and Chairs, our magnificent Alliance fiduciaries past and present; and finally our remarkable community donors, volunteers, professional colleagues and rabbis. I will miss you all enormously.
Change is not only good for individuals, it also healthy for organizations. And indeed it is time for a change at the Alliance and in the Savit household. With my impending departure, I ask you not to stop supporting our glorious Jewish community of greater Rhode Island. Please maintain, if not increase, your gifts and your volunteer efforts to our Alliance annual and targeted campaigns; please become members of our Dwares JCC; please support and affiliate with our agencies and synagogues, and continue learning from our rabbis; and please never forget that if we do not support one another and our local community, then who exactly will? You will be in the finest of hands with my successor and I know you will extend the same courtesy, respect and friendship you have always provided me.
So in a few weeks’ time, I shall return to Lori, Mollie and Chloe and leave the Alliance fulfilled, proud, and yes, ready to take a deep breath. “Regrets…(yes) I’ve had a few but then again, too few to mention. I did what …(we) had to do and saw it through without exemption. I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway.” And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for allowing me to do so the Alliance way, so that together, we could navigate our community’s ship out of dry dock and into the majestic seas.