In welcoming people to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s annual meeting, President and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein doubled down on the importance of seeing so many people “in person.”
“Part of what makes a strong community is being with one another,” he said.
Along with thanking the more than 150 people who came downtown to the Senator John Heinz History Center for the Sept. 22 event, Finkelstein stressed the value of not only congregating but recognizing the dedicated individuals who serve Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
“Community is about relationships,” he said. “And while we've been able to do an OK job maintaining relationships over Zoom, it just isn't the same as being able to see each other, to shake hands with each other, to hug each other, to see each other eye-to-eye and be back together.”
Throughout the evening, community members embraced, laughed and celebrated several honorees.
Carol L. Robinson, secretary of the Jewish Family and Community Services board and a life trustee of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, received the Emanuel Spector Memorial Award.
Given for “exemplary service to the community in a single year or over the course of many years,” the award is the highest honor presented by the Federation, according to Federation representatives.
Robinson’s dedication has benefited countless individuals throughout the community, David D. Sufrin, Federation’s board chair, said.
Robinson has served on numerous Federation committees, the boards of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh Foundation and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, and is a past president of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. She also directs and co-chairs the Donald and Sylvia Robinson Family Foundation and upholds a philanthropic legacy established by her parents, Sufrin noted.
“We’re often asking ourselves, ‘What would Mom and Dad do?’” Robinson said during her acceptance speech. “Their principles inform our charitable decisions as we script the Foundation's future.”
Robinson credited her family, as well as the community at large, for facilitating numerous organizational and institutional successes throughout Pittsburgh.
“I feel like I just won an award for supporting actress in a movie about a small town with a big heart,” she said. “And like the movies, everything that happens is collaborative effort. And I'm just one player, surrounded by lots of talent.”
Finkelstein congratulated Robinson and said he only wished Robinson’s parents were able to see her receive such recognition.
In a similar nod to heritage, legacy and impact, Finkelstein then presented the Doris & Leonard H. Rudolph Jewish Communal Professional Award to Rivkee and Rabbi Mordy Rudolph.
“Awardees are selected for their contribution to improving the quality of services offered in the community and to the enhancement of Jewish life,” Finkelstein said. “I know, and trust me I know, Doris and Leonard of blessed memory would be so proud of their grandchildren and this year's awardees Rivkee and Mordy Rudolph, respectively director and executive director, of Friendship Circle Pittsburgh.”
With a dedicated focus on inclusivity, Rivkee and Mordy Rudolph have made Friendship Circle a “recognizable and irreplaceable part of our community, strengthening both Jewish life and secular life around Greater Pittsburgh,” Finkelstein added.
Since 2006, Friendship Circle has grown to offer more than 150 programs per year while engaging nearly 500 people from around the region. The organization, Finkelstein said, “serves as a catalyst for community inclusion and social change.”
Within her acceptance speech, Rivkee Rudolph described the organization’s beginnings and the couple’s initial hesitation toward bringing Friendship Circle to Pittsburgh.
Despite growing up attending Pittsburgh’s Jewish day schools, and having a strong foundation of doing chesed, acts of kindness, “we still didn't feel like this was our thing,” she said. “I didn't know anyone with disabilities. Why did our friends look more or less just like us? Starting Friendship Circle gave us an opportunity to be the agent of change for the youth in our community we grew up in — to create a place to make friendships they never would have made.”
As the organization grew, however, it wasn’t only engagements that increased but an understanding of inclusion, she explained: “We quickly learned that it wasn't about bringing people together to put aside our differences and focus on what we have in common. Rather, it's about bringing those differences to the center, making space, understanding each other, so that as individuals we can all be stronger, closer, safer together. This is how true friendships are formed.”
Receiving this award, Mordy Rudolph said, is a testament to Friendship Circle’s many supporters, including family members who demonstrated and continue to represent the ideals of communal betterment.
“It takes a village and then some,” he said. “So many who have guided and helped us to grow our organization and mission. We do hope that this is a moment that makes our grandparents proud.”
The work of the evening’s honorees is part of a larger communal commitment, Finkelstein explained.
Thanks to volunteers, Jewish communal professionals and donors, “the community campaign raised $14 million this past year, but our total fundraising,” he said, “including additions to the Foundation, reached $42.8 million. That enabled us to distribute over $40 million in support to our community.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.