AUGUST 2, 2018 – Growing up in Newton, Amy Farber immersed herself in Judaism at a young age. After graduating from UMass Amherst, she married Mark Farber and moved to the North Shore. Over the years, she has served as president and vice president of Temple Ahavat Achim; chair of its membership committee, and co-president of the temple’s Sisterhood-Hadassah. She’s also been a board member of the women’s division of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore, the first director of admissions of Cohen Hillel Academy [now Epstein Hillel School], as well as co-president of Hillel’s PTA.
Amy, can you tell us about your family, and your children – and their spouses and children?
Mark and I were married in 1977 and have lived on the North Shore since 1978. We have owned and operated Mark Adrian Shoes on Main Street in Gloucester for over 40 years. We recently transitioned the ownership to our son Adam, who is married to Sara and living in Beverly with their two little boys, Rohin and Kai. Our daughter Shira lives in St. Louis where she is the director of “Nishmah,” the St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project. She is married to Jeff and they have two little boys, Leo and Micah. Our daughter Robin lives in D.C. and is operations and private event manager at an historic, nondenominational synagogue, “Sixth & I” … google it to see why it’s so special! Having started in Gloucester, then living in Beverly and Swampscott for 25 years, we are back in Cape Ann living near Good Harbor Beach.
Can you tell us about your upbringing and your parents and siblings?
I am the oldest of three and we grew up in Newton. My dad was a CPA and active in local and national accounting organizations. My bookkeeping skills come from him! My mom was a homemaker extraordinaire and everything I know about hostessing and entertaining I learned with her and from her. They were always active at our temple, Temple Shalom of Newton. My dad was treasurer and involved in the Brotherhood, while my mom was festival chairperson for the Sisterhood and participated in many of their activities and programs. My parents were remarkably kind and welcoming and our friends felt very comfortable spending time at our house.
Following in my parents’ footsteps, I was involved in a variety of roles in our temple youth group for many years and sang with the temple choir on a number of special occasions.
I attended UMass-Amherst and majored in elementary education. I taught kindergarten in the very same kindergarten classroom where I had attended as a student in Newton. Later, after teaching in Rockport, I retired to take over the bookkeeping for our retail business and to raise our children.
How did you meet your husband, Mark, and why did you decide to settle on the North Shore?
Mark and I had friends in common in high school and started dating in our second year at UMass. Having grown up in the shoe business, Mark chose to become a fourth generation retailer. Partial to living on the coast, he began to look for opportunities to open his own business in seaside communities. Finding it in Gloucester, and becoming engaged shortly after, is what brought us to the North Shore. Having grown up going south to Nantasket Beach and Cape Cod, we had no idea what the North Shore had to offer … we love it!
Have you always been interested in Judaism and Israel, and why?
I have always had a very strong Jewish identity. The temple was at the center of our lives. My bat mitzvah was a significant event in my life and I think I sensed, even at that young age, the incredible chain of history and peoplehood that I was a part of.
I felt connected to Israel through what I learned at religious school and through bringing coins for the Jewish National Fund “pushkie” cans. I knew we were helping to plant trees and make the desert green. My first trip to Israel was at age 40 when Mark and I went on a guided group tour of the country. Since that time, we have both traveled to Israel multiple times, including a family trip when our kids were in their late teens. That was a dream come true for me – to be in Israel with my family.
While living in Swampscott, we hosted Israeli teens who came to work at the JCC’s Camp Simchah, where our older kids worked as well. We became very close to two of our “girls’” families and they have remained dear friends. In addition, our son-in-law’s and daughter-in-law’s aunts live in Tel Aviv within a couple of blocks of one another. We have one family of cousins on Mark’s side living there. When we are in Israel, these are the people we visit and enjoy.
Why do you like to volunteer to help Jewish organizations?
We’ve been members at Temple Ahavat Achim as long as we have lived on the North Shore. Certainly my parents’ dedication to their temple and my in-laws’ strong Jewish identity impacted our desire to belong to a synagogue … there was never a question that we would. When we joined TAA, we were the youngest couple in the congregation and I was blessed to become part of a community of incredible Jewish women, many of whom served as my role models and mentors.
Can you talk about your involvement at Hillel?
When our oldest, Adam, was nearing kindergarten age, we were very moved by our rabbi, Myron Geller, who spoke about giving our children every possible advantage to help them identify and stay connected to their Judaism. Although [Mark and I] had both attended public school, I had taught in public school, and we had every expectation that our children would follow suit, we decided to take a look at Hillel Academy. Our attendance at an open house where Head of School Bennett Solomon spoke with passion and excitement changed our lives forever. The decision was made, we never looked back, and the school surpassed our expectations.
In 1996, after having done much volunteer work at the school, including as co-president of the PTA and member of the board, I became the first director of admissions. My teaching experience, and the fact that I was a very satisfied parent and cheerleader for the school, gave me a strong foundation. The administrative and outreach components were learned on the job. Working with an independent school consultant, I formalized systems and protocols of the admission process. I visited many private schools on the North Shore, as well as Jewish day schools in the Boston area to learn about best practices and to form relationships. It was an honor and delight to share the school with prospective parents. That was my favorite part of the job.
Mark and I have maintained a close connection to the Epstein Hillel School and have continued to support it. It remains on the cutting edge of innovations in education, is a shining light among Jewish day schools nationally, and stands out as the finest K-8 educational institution north of Boston.
What led you to become president of the temple?
I am not a political person, I don’t like to make people unhappy, and I hate conflict. I assumed that that would all be part of the job. In the middle of my second year as vice president [for the second time], I had an epiphany. It was not anything I had been thinking about. I suddenly realized that I needed to be president, not just for the community, but also for myself. After more than 50 years of involvement and volunteerism in the Jewish world, I realized that I could challenge myself to take on this role.
What do you love about your temple in Gloucester?
Serving as president has been an exhilarating experience. Working and planning with Rabbi Steven Lewis and our director of family learning, Phoebe Potts, is a joy. I have learned so much from both of them. Our small staff, which includes our office administrator Natalia, makes our work so much easier. Our board of directors is made up of thoughtful, enthusiastic, and talented individuals and reflects our eclectic community. The dedication and wisdom of the executive team has been an invaluable source of support for me. Every member of the synagogue is integral to the important and sacred work we are charged with.
Having been the center of Jewish life on Cape Ann and surrounding towns for more than 100 years, we attract a mix of creative, thoughtful, and engaging people. We reflect diversity in our backgrounds and the ways in which we express our commitment to Judaism. There is something about being located on what is virtually an island, surrounded by natural beauty and resources, that helps to create a cohesive and caring kehillah – community. I feel lucky and blessed to have been part of this synagogue family for so many years, and now to be serving as its president.