Our History (continued)
In 1987, each of the three UJA campaigns were struggling to raise monies in their respective communities. The impetus for the collaborative effort came from Larry Ansin, owner of Joan Fabrics of Lowell. He approached his friends, Norris Bendetson, Haverhill, and Richard Kapelson, Andover. It was their task to convince their respective chapter leaders to embrace the merger.
There was a good response from people who had roots in the Valley, Milton Issenberg, and the Solomont family to name a few. One-to-One solicitations of major givers from UJA national personnel helped to raise monies, and convinced leaders that combining the organizations was the right thing to do.
The next year, the Merrimack Valley Jewish Federation was officially established with the hiring of Howard Flagler as the Executive Director. Larry Ansin, personally funded the infrastructure, and the organization boasted a successful first year. Record numbers of contributions help fund allocations to two day schools, Jewish Family Services, programs at area synagogues and social services in Israel.
The successive five years proved a challenge as economic recession put a strain on the organization at its critical point of development. Larry Ansin passed away in 1993, Howard Flagler left and the volunteer leadership was in flux.
A part-time Executive Director Edward Finkel was brought in from the region to work with the MVJF President and redefine the Federation’s mission. First Light, a multi-community Chanukah celebration that still continues today, was first held at Temple Beth El in Lowell at the end of 1993, and for the next five years, the Federation worked hard in establishing a tie to their communities throughout the Merrimack Valley.
The JCC Summer Camp that had closed was reborn as Camp Hadar in 1995, with the MVJF funding renovations and new programming.
But the Federation was still having growing pains and needed to make a connection to its diverse and geographically spread-out communities.
Jan Brodie was hired in 1998 and it was during his tenure, that many community programs were developed. The Women’s Seder (Miriam’s Seder), an intergenerational program became an annual event for 13 years. Other programs which made their debut during the 10 years were the Jewish Free Loan, the Merrimack Valley Jewish Youth Group, a Taste of Jewish Learning, Salute to Israel, Me’ah, Paper Clips, Rekindle Shabbat, Merrimack Valley Jewish Coalition for Literacy, a revised Federation website and more.
Annual Campaigns with the exception of 2001 saw increased monies, and MVJF leaders found that the key to the turnaround was being active in the community. Jan left in 2007, and Laurie Tishler Mindlin was hired as the current Executive Director.
Laurie’s energy and working relationship with the volunteer leadership has taken the Federation to a new level in developing programs that meet the needs of the Jewish Community, while at the same time providing ongoing support and responding to crises in Israel and throughout the world.
Monies raised from an emergency campaign and allocations from the Annual fund in 2012 and 2013 were sent to the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, after fires in the area caused severe damage to the village.
Laurie led a Mission to Jewish Cuba in 2014 that visited many Jewish sites and delivered over 200 pounds of medicines and supplies from Merrimack Valley donors to the very needy Jewish community in Cuba.
Programs developed in the past 8 years include the PJ Library, a cutting-edge outreach program to deepen the identities of Jewish families and strengthen their relationship to the Jewish community, Miriam’s Leadership Award for women who make a difference in the Jewish community, an annual Jewish Film Festival, Lech Lecha – a leadership development program for synagogue Board members, Tzedakah Box gifts to all B’nai Mitzvah in the Merrimack Valley, and a new Young Family Outreach and Engagement Program.
The mission to build community and foster Jewish identity locally and globally, and to help people in need in Israel and throughout the world remains constant and will fuel the Merrimack Valley Jewish Federation for the next 25 years.