PEABODY – “Having the power to choose is an incredible gift and responsibility,” Wendy Polins, winner of the Edith Bloch Leadership Award, told a crowd of 120 at the 2019 Choose to Connect night out, an annual event hosted by Combined Jewish Philanthropies Women’s Philanthropy. “We all know that through our choices, we can change things. Fate, our future, and of course, the lives of others.”
Polins, a Swampscott resident, is an architect, interior designer, and novelist. She serves on the executive and North Shore advisory boards of CJP, and also serves on the board of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.
CJP leaders praised Polins and her work for the community. “Wendy Polins is a star,” said CJP President Rabbi Marc Baker, who met Polins when he was head of school at Gann Academy. At the time, Polins was sending her two daughters there. “Her passion for Judaism and Jewish identity, her commitment to our community, and her leadership are just extraordinary.”
“She’s one of these special women who really is so diplomatic and thoughtful about the work that she does, cares deeply and passionately, and it’s infectious because she brings people in so the opportunity to be able to stretch themselves more and to think deeper and to ask the hard questions,” said Judith Sydney, president of CJP Women’s Philanthropy.
The July 17 event, at Olio’s in Peabody, also highlighted the initiatives of CJP and its Women’s Philanthropy branch, with a particular focus on CJP’s ongoing partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation to create a more inclusive Jewish community.
Ruderman Foundation Chief Inclusion Officer Miriam Heyman spoke about the necessity of improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities, who currently suffer from a 70 percent unemployment rate. “When our organizations are truly welcoming and inclusive, people with disabilities contribute to their diversity, vitality, and strength,” said Heyman, who described CJP and Ruderman collaborations like Transitions to Work and the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RSIP) that are working to further this vision.
That vision hits home for speakers Elyssa Kaplan and Amanda Clayman. Kaplan, of Peabody, described how both of her sons with developmental disabilities were often excluded from programs that did not have the resources necessary to include them, but have been able to flourish at the JCC of the North Shore because of its investments in the necessary accommodations and expertise.
“My husband and I both work full-time, and I can honestly say if it weren’t for the JCC’s inclusive summer programs, I don’t know what we would do. Where other organizations have had to tell us no, the JCC has told us yes, and that’s thanks in part to your support,” said Kaplan. “With leadership from CJP and the Ruderman Family Foundation, inclusion is being built into our community.”
Clayman, a Swampscott resident who sits on the CJP North Shore Planning Committee and the inclusion committee at Congregation Shirat Hayam, spoke about how RSIP and Gateways (an organization providing Jewish education resources to students with special needs) helped her son celebrate his bar mitzvah in Jerusalem.
“Yes, I asked for help,” said Clayman, to applause. “I needed it, and this community gave it to me. Needing a community and support is the reason we’re all here tonight.”