Shoshana Pakciarz

Shoshana Pakciarz leaves Greater Boston Jewish community with a legacy of reaching for the sky

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Shoshana Pakciarz leaves Greater Boston Jewish community with a legacy of reaching for the sky

Shoshana Pakciarz

Decades ago, when Shoshana Pakciarz helmed a variety of local community groups, she broadened their reach and presence across Greater Boston.

Among the organizations where she left her mark were the United Way of Massachusetts, Project Bread, the New Center for Arts & Culture (now the Jewish Arts Collaborative,) and the Boston Jewish Film Festival.

In the early 2000s, when Norman Leventhal, Ed Sidman, and later Ron Druker – some of Boston’s most influential Jewish business leaders and philanthropists – launched the New Center in partnership with the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, they tapped Pakciarz, as the founding director.

Pakciarz was a transformational leader, according to Mark Sokoll, who at the time, was JCCGB’s chief executive officer.

New Center was a bold initiative to establish a Jewish arts and cultural organization that would attract audiences from in and out of the Jewish community.

“Shoshana was masterful about putting the right people in place and translating vision into reality,” Sokoll wrote in an email. “She was a passionate consumer of the arts.”

For more than two decades, Pakciarz set the stage for organizations that are now part of the fabric of life in Greater Boston.

Pakciarz, the Argentinian-born daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland, died on May 19. She was 81 and lived in Cambridge with her husband, Leonard W. Gruenberg, to whom she was married just weeks shy of a half-century.

She lived in Israel in the 1960s, where she had moved from Argentina as a young woman, at about the same time as her parents, a twin brother, an older sister, and a younger brother, according to Aaron Gruenberg, Leonard’s son. Those years in Israel, where family members lived on Kibbutz Mefalsim, were foundational in her lifelong bond with the nation, he explained.

His stepmother played a pivotal role in Gruenberg’s life, beginning in his teen years, when she was the one adult who recognized his strengths and talents, he said in a phone conversation.

“Shoshana was on my side,” he said in remarks at a gathering during the shiva mourning that he shared with the Journal.

With a master’s degree in education from Harvard, Pakciarz “had a feeling for how people learn,” Gruenberg said by phone. “She was insightful,” and didn’t settle for the status quo, he added.

Pakciarz was widely admired for her warmth and her masterful, but humble, sense of leadership.

“She was an amazing person,” said Francine Achbar, who Pakciarz hired as director of marketing and development at the nascent New Center.

“As an immigrant with Jewish roots in Poland, Argentina, and Israel, she could see how arts and culture could bring people together across cultures,” Achbar wrote in an email to the Journal. “She dreamed big and had the intelligence, determination, and chutzpah to set us on a path to make her dreams reality,” Achbar wrote.

As Project Bread’s executive director from the mid-80s to mid-90s, Pakciarz’s “leadership helped move our mission forward by leaps and bounds. She was always thinking big,” Erin McAleer, its current CEO, wrote in an email to the Journal.

“It’s almost like each person here is bringing a meal in their own hands to a hungry person,” Pakciarz told the Boston Globe in May 1994, on the 25th anniversary of the Walk for Hunger, when 46,000 walkers raised $3 million.

Under her guidance, the annual walkathon blossomed during its grass-roots years to become a popular, multimillion-dollar fund-raising effort that supports programs statewide, McAleer said. She noted the impact Pakciarz had on public policy that led to the establishment of the state’s WIC nutrition program for mothers and children.

“She was a legend and a gift to Jewish film,” recalled Susan Adler, executive director of the Boston Jewish Film Festival. Pakciarz served on the festival board before Adler was director.

She loved exploring Jewish culture through film and community, Adler reflected in a phone conversation. She was a generous mentor and ever-present at the annual festival, long after she left her formal role on the board, she said.

Pakciarz grew up in Salta, a provincial capital without a large Jewish population, where her father was a shopkeeper, Gruenberg said. While both parents were from Orthodox families in Poland, they were secular Jews. But they were ardent Zionists, he emphasized.

While Pakciarz and her husband were not religious, their home became a focus for friends for Shabbat dinners and Passover Seders, when she hosted upwards of 30 people, Aaron Gruenberg recalled. Over the years, she created her own Haggadah, an overflowing binder of material that she updated often.

“Every person would speak about the relevance of the Exodus story. It was an absolutely authentic Seder,” Gruenberg said. It’s a fond memory that stays with him. Θ

Some of the material here was first published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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