Jerry and Margie Somers.

Honorable Menschion: Jerry Somers

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Honorable Menschion: Jerry Somers

Jerry and Margie Somers.

Jerry Somers spent his formative years in Brookline involved in a variety of Jewish organizations that later led to his passion for social justice. His law career at Goodwin Procter was instrumental for the many leadership roles he later assumed at Temple Emanu-El, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the Jim Joseph Foundation and at Epstein Hillel School. Jerry and his late wife Margie are the proud parents of two daughters and four grandchildren.

I know you have been active in national and local Jewish organizations since you settled on the North Shore in the ’60s. Can you attribute anything from your early years in Brookline and in college to your later activity?

I grew up in a family that was active at Temple Israel in Boston. Both my mother and father were involved there. My brother and I were bar mitzvahed there and I was later confirmed there, along with over 80 classmates. I was active in the temple youth group and the New England Federation of Temple Youth (NEFTY). I also attended Camp Tevya and Camp Wingo.

My home was a bastion of liberal politics, and social justice became a passion of mine into my college years at Colgate, where, as editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, I railed against the discriminatory practices of the fraternity system. I was fortunate enough to be an intern for a brief period in JFK’s Washington office at the time he began his presidential campaign. I spent much time at the Congressional Library seeking material for JFK’s early campaign speeches. All of these early experiences indicated to me that I had to be part of something greater than myself in order to make a difference in this world.

Tell us a little about your law career at Goodwin Procter and how that’s prepared you to take on the many leadership roles you assumed over the years.

As a partner at Goodwin Procter, one of my responsibilities was to chair the Labor and Employment Law Department. I have been involved in a number of labor arbitration and mediations that honed my listening skills, taught me to respect other people with different opinions, and to always be respectful of others. Practicing law also helped me develop critical thinking skills and fostered a team approach to solving problems.

So how did you come to settle on the North Shore?

I was invited by a close high school friend to be an usher at his wedding at the New Ocean House in Swampscott. While waiting for the ceremony to start, I spotted a beautiful young lady named Margie. I was smitten! We were married 14 months later (the smartest decision I ever made) while I was in my third year at BC Law School and Margie was teaching in Marblehead. After a two-year stint as a trial lawyer with the National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles, we returned to the North Shore and the rest is history. I must say, it was the best thing that we settled here. This community has become part of our family and vice versa. It is a warm, caring community that is so unique in many ways. And Margie’s family is the best!

You have been active at Temple Emanu-El since the 1970s, having been its president from 1977-1980 and chairing the Search Committee that hired Rabbi David Meyer. How has that experience impacted your life?

First and foremost, Temple Emanu-El became and still is so much a part of my life. It is family! Our daughters Julie and Amy each were educated, bat mitzvahed and married there. Sadly, Margie’s funeral this past May was held there, and our family was surrounded and supported by our Temple community and so many wonderful friends from the North Shore community and beyond. Margie was very lovingly involved with our temple, its sisterhood, and its membership recruitment – as well as its baking efforts.

Chairing the Search Committee that selected Rabbi Meyer was truly a privilege. Were we ever right when we made that recommendation. Thanks to David for validating our efforts – and exceeding our expectations – and for 31 years of outstanding service to our Temple community and the community-at-large!

The Somers family.

How did your role at Temple Emanu-El affect your future participation in the “Jewish world?”

As president, I became aware of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the organization to which over 900 Reform Congregations in North America belong and which helped foster these congregations, while at the same time growing a large network of summer camps and youth organizations and supporting the Religious Action Center in Washington. I chose to become deeply involved in its work and became Chairman of its Board from 1995-99. My efforts there exposed me to the Jim Joseph Foundation (JJF), a major Jewish foundation based in San Francisco, which focused its efforts on enriching Jewish education for young Jews and making the experience of learning a joyful one. I joined the board of JJF in 1998.

How did your membership on the JJF Board directly impact our community?

I was one of eight board members and the only one who “campaigned” for aid to smaller Jewish communities – for me, that meant distinguishing the North Shore from Boston. Knowing that grants to smaller Jewish communities would be highly impactful, especially during a period of economic stress, I was able to convince the Board to “invest” in our Jewish community through grants for youth education, day school, camping and youth programming.

How did you convince JJF to support the founding of the North Shore Teen Initiative (NSTI)?

With help from professional strategic planners and the support of a carefully selected group of laypeople, we submitted a plan for a unique teen program and asked for funding. JJF had not addressed local teen programming prior to this effort and was curious as to what we envisioned. Over the course of a few years, and with the help of Adam Smith, our then newly hired NSTI executive director, we succeeded in securing over $1 million in support for what has become one of the leading teen programs in the country – one which now is a highlight of Combined Jewish Philanthropy’s programming. JJF has now pioneered a consortium of funders supporting teen programming.

You have been involved with Epstein Hillel School (formerly Cohen Hillel Academy) and its turnaround. Can you tell us about that?

CJP asked me to assist the school, which was in a serious decline at the time. I chaired the Committee on Excellence, an outstanding group of lay leaders who, with the help of CJP, enlisted outside experts in analyzing the school’s situation from numerous perspectives, resulting in many suggestions and recommendations. At the same time we were tasked with finding a new Head of School. At the time I was aware that Amy Gold, then Assistant Head of School at the Rashi School in Dedham, might be looking for a new opportunity (I knew her from the time I was on the Rashi Board).

When Amy interviewed with the Committee, she impressed us with her understanding of the role of a Jewish day school and what it would take to once again become a school of excellence. She spoke of building and nurturing an educational institution with an excellent faculty and administration, with each student’s personal growth being the focus. When walking Amy out following the interview, I suggested she could remake the school to be “the Gold Standard” (I know that‘s corny). The Committee was so impressed with her that when I came back to the room, they were angry that I didn’t “sign her.” Fortunately, we did “sign her” and now eight years later, she has validated our choice by demonstrating the value of a strong Jewish day school, not only for the children, but also for their parents and the community at large. Epstein Hillel is now on a strong positive trajectory.

So now what are you doing to stay busy?

I am fortunate to have a loving family – two great daughters, two terrific sons-in-law and four “out of this world” grandchildren – with whom I am always engaged.

I enjoy working with young leadership and assisting where they believe my experience can be helpful to them and to the organizations they lead. I am still involved to varying degrees with many of the organizations that I have served in the past, such as Temple Emanu-El and Epstein Hillel. Currently, I am the president of the One Salem Street Swampscott homeowners association, I stay active physically and I love to travel. It keeps me off the street! Θ

 

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