CJP formally welcomed the organization’s new president and CEO, Rabbi Marc Baker, at its annual “From Strength to Strength” event earlier this month.
Baker marked one of his first formal appearances as CJP’s president and CEO with a speech that paid homage to CJP’s history while laying the groundwork for the organization’s future. “We’re expressing gratitude for the foundation upon which we stand right now and dreaming boldly about the new heights for which we reach,” he said.
Baker, a North Shore native, was the head of school at Gann Academy for 11 years. A fourth-generation Bostonian, he said his ancestors “would not have imagined me standing up here tonight. This is an awesome moment for me and my family.”
Baker described the timing of his installation as the beginning of a covenantal relationship. He noted that synagogues around the world had just read the Torah’s final chapter on Simchat Torah. The image that stayed with Baker was that of Israelites “standing on the banks of the Jordan River preparing to enter the land of Israel and beginning the next stage of history. … They looked forward to a bright future with great expectations and with anxiety about how the next generation would stay connected to their story, and their way of life.”
Baker went on to delineate three significant themes that he said were “as true on the banks of the Jordan River thousands of years ago and are still true for us today.” The first theme was “engagement and inclusivity.” Baker noted that in the last chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses listed categories of people despite declaring that all the Israelites were present.
“Torah is telling you no matter how inclusive you are, stay vigilant about those who may be on the margins of your community,” Baker said. To that end, he announced that he is embarking on a year-long listening tour called 360 Five—a 360-degree look at five key questions. He views it as an opportunity to hear from voices not commonly heard.
Baker’s second theme was “unity.” He described the Jewish community as an “eco-system of interconnected people and institutions. CJP has an important role to claim in cultivating our collective consciousness and responsibility in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The third theme was “purpose.” Said Baker: “In order to discern how best to live out that vision of value, we need to cast aside narrow perspectives, easy answers and simple solutions to our most complex debates. We need robust debate about what matters most to our community and how best to act upon our most sacred commitments to Jewish life.”
Along with Baker’s keynote, CJP recognized the contributions of five volunteers and one CJP staffer with Circle of Excellence awards, which embodied the evening’s theme. Outgoing board chair Neil Wallack and incoming board chair Cindy Janower also participated in the evening’s festivities.
The Circle of Excellence winners included Allison Hirsch, who received the Growth Award. Hirsch has most recently brought her expertise and insights to CJP as the co-chair of the Commission on Jewish Learning and Engagement. Accepting her award, she said, “I see so many possibilities for our Greater Boston community.”
Shira Goodman was the recipient of the Leadership Award. Goodman has been active in various committees and commissions throughout the years. She most recently co-chaired the President Search Committee and the 2017 strategic plan process. In her remarks, Goodman cited the Torah passage about the Ark of the Covenant. She observed that the Ark, which housed the original Ten Commandments, was made of wood and covered in gold. The Levites carried it, and despite its heaviness, the ark lifted them up. “What’s true for the Ark of the Covenant is true for CJP today. CJP lifts up those who carry it,” she said.
Karen Kuwayti, CJP’s associate vice president of marketing, received the Commitment Award. One of Kuwayti’s responsibilities is to oversee JewishBoston.com. Upon accepting her award, Kuwayti said, “When I reflect on my 15 years with CJP, I think about the people and the important work we do here together. … After all these years, it’s about a team of dedicated people working together to help make the world a better place.”
The Young Leadership Award went to Lara Freishtat and Ari Freisinger. A Boston native, Freishtat said CJP has given her “a great sense of purpose.” At CJP she has co-chaired the Executive Committee on Young Adults and was a key participant in the President Search Committee. Ari Freisinger has been key in developing CJP’s Young Financial Services network. He also served on the President Search Committee, bringing a young adult perspective to the process.
Rabbi Michelle Robinson of Temple Emanuel received the Rabbinic Award. She lauded CJP for creating “connections between us and Israel, and the connection right here at home. Visionary Jewish engagement and social needs are happening in our world, and CJP is there to give us the resources and the tools we need.”