Carin Savel, the new executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, in the federation's New London office Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
(Dana Jensen/The Day)
Published September 22. 2019 8:13PM | Updated September 22. 2019 10:12PM Taken from THE DAY
By Mary Biekert
New London — For the past 35 years, the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, while it was run by former executive director Jerry Fischer, transformed itself into a community pillar for promoting Holocaust remembrance, civic missions and the overall strength of the surrounding Jewish community.
But with Fisher’s retirement in June, newly named Executive Director Carin Savel, who brings with her a wealth of life experience and an abundant network of contacts, is hoping to also bring her own form of significant change to the surrounding Jewish community.
For Savel, that means connecting the Jewish community in ways it never has before, she said.
Besides being the spokesperson for the organization, where she will both promote and defend the federation as well as the greater Jewish community, Savel said she has been working over her first 100 days as executive director to meet and learn about the people who make up her new community and what they want from their federation.
"They want a lot," she said. "People want the local getups, the local meetups, the local get-on-the-bus programs. People want that, they want to feel connected," Savel said during an interview with The Day last week. "So I will be the one to give that to them."
“I’m new and I don’t care what divides in the community might exist here,” she continued. “My goal is to bring everyone together, to tear down the silos of our synagogues, and to be that community convener. And now that I’m new, I get to just add.”
Describing her vision to connect the community, Savel said that, besides recently hosting a women's event with the executive vice president of shoe company Stuart Weitzman and taking a bus trip to New York City as part of her new "Get on the Bus" program, Savel has been organizing women’s philanthropy events, talks and lectures — which on Sunday included a visit from sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer at the Garde Arts Center — and soon hopes to collaborate with both local Jewish and secular organizations, while also keeping the federation’s already-existing programs in place.
“Part of my responsibility is to show the greater New London community who we are as people,” Savel said. “I think that our responsibility to our community is also much greater than just the Jewish community.”
On Sunday, as Savel stood center stage at the Garde before a crowd of more than a hundred to introduce Westheimer as part of one of her rst federation-sponsored events, Savel demonstrated that vision.
Attracting both young adults and old to the event, the notoriously open and blunt Dr. Ruth spoke on stage with Savel about everything from modern-day communication issues about sexuality to Westheimer’s Holocaust experience, much to the audience's enjoyment.
Also part of Sunday's show, audience members were given the chance to write questions on memo cards to the therapist pondering thoughts like, “What is pansexuality, and does it have something to do with cooking?” and “Should we still be inspired to use cucumbers and zucchini to spice up our sex lives despite recent outbreaks of E. Coli?” spurring bouts of laughter.
“These are the opportunities to mobilize, to have Jews the opportunity to connect with each other, to see each other,” Savel said last week. “We become so siloed by our synagogues, but it is the federation’s job, my job, to make sure that we are connecting as a community.”
Getting to New London
Before arriving in New London for her new job in May, Savel lived a life of adventure and intrigue, taking on several high-prole positions with organizations such as the United Way and the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary as its chief executive officer from 2014 through 2018 and, among other various roles, has also pursued a riveting career as the president of her own campaign management company, where she managed the campaigns for judicial, state, congressional and presidential candidates alike — both Democrat and Republican — for more than a decade.
But because of her Jewish family history and Jewish upbringing in Long Island and the Upper West Side — where her parents would funnel Russian-Jewish immigrants through her childhood home after much of her family was killed in the Holocaust — Savel said there had always been a stirring in her heart to serve her Jewish community.
“This had been calling me internally for years. I just didn’t really know how to do it, I didn’t know how to make the leap into a being a Jewish professional.” After she was asked, then, by the Jewish Council for Policy Affairs to represent Massachusetts for a leadership mission in Israel in 2013, and after having met Israel’s former Prime Minister Shimon Peres on that trip, Savel said she knew she needed to fulfill that calling.
“Peres asked me what I did for a living back home,” Savel said, explaining that, at the time, she was working as the senior vice president for the Springfield, Mass., United Way. “In his imitable way he then said to me, ‘A smart woman would go back home and work for the Jews.’” “
And that’s what I did,” Savel said. “It was like when you fall in love. You meet someone and you have no idea, but you’re just like, ‘Oh my God, that’s it.’ I didn’t know how (that trip) was going to affect me and I definitely didn’t know that I was going to go home and do that, and just change.”
Since that realization, Savel has served, before coming to New London, as the chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary in Raleigh, N.C., while also volunteering on several national and state Jewish councils including the Jewish Council for Policy Affairs — “The big daddy of all Jewish legislation and social policy of the globe,” she explained — of which she sat on its board of directors from 2014 to 2018 and is still on its national delegates assembly.
During her tenure at the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary, Savel led fundraising efforts, raising $2.6 million while growing her surrounding Jewish community.
It was there, Savel said, that she was also on the front lines of her Jewish community, fighting against various hate crimes, including everything from cross burnings at the local synagogue, bomb threats at her own federation, as well as hate speech and LGBTQ parades planned on Yom Kippur, she said, “so as to exclude gay Jews from participating.”
“Raleigh was tough. I had a lot of difficulties in Raleigh as far as anti-Semitism and bomb scares. It was very difficult,” she said. “Unfortunately, none of us federation leaders could have predicted two-and-a-half years ago the amount of hate crimes that were about to happen.”
“It was a lot to deal with,” she continued. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have the FBI on my speed-dial on my phone, and I do. Never did I think that the FBI would call me and say, ‘We have at least six notifications of a credible threat where bombs have been placed in the cars. Get the directors, do your drill and get the children out.'"
Asked, then, what made her take her position in New London and not, say, a different location, such as New Mexico — which Savel said she had also been considering — Savel said that she was enticed by the opportunity to come into a community where she could “truly move the needle, truly make a difference and see that effect within the community.”
That, and plus, “the board here is really smart. For every meeting I came to, they made sure it was by the water,” she said, laughing.
Turning her focus back to her new role as part of the federation, Savel said that besides her core mission of connecting her Jewish community, her main priority as the federation’s director is three-fold: to depoliticize the federation; to promote Israel; and to “provide a safe and protective community” — efforts, Savel said, that are particularly important in light of rising anti-Semitic hate crimes around the U.S.
In an Aug. 26 op-ed in The Day, Savel wrote that “according to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitism rose 57% in 2017 across the United States and Europe. Close to 2,000 cases of harassment, vandalism and physical assault were recorded, the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents since 1994.”
“I am acutely aware that Jews will be politicized and weaponized in this next election and so we need to stand fast. It’s now, more than ever, that our federation needs to act as a tent that protects people's needs, while also being open to everybody. We are not red, and we are not blue,” she said. “We are there for everyone.”
“My predecessor was all about acts of kindness, which I believe are necessary in this world,” Savel said. “But when it comes to the survival of Jews in a community, their safety, security, vibrancy — that’s my job. So that for generations to come, we have something here.”
The Jewish Federation of Eastern Connect (JFEC) is pleased to welcome its new Executive Director, Carin Savel.
A native of New York City, Carin recently completed service as the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary, where she led the organization’s fundraising, marketing, communications, community relations, and program initiatives for the Jewish Federation, JCC, Jewish Family Services, David R. Kahn Campus, Endowment and the JCRC. Carin created and mentored a dedicated team that highlighted Federation’s relevancy and visibility, increased revenue, improved outreach efforts, and created meaningful collaborations.
Gabe Stern lead a nine-member search committee that recommended Carin’s selection to JFEC’s Board of Directors. Gabe notes that “in recommending Carin the committee recognized the wealth of relevant knowledge, creativity, and administrative and leadership experience she brings to the position. Her charisma and energy also impressed the committee and helped us further coalesce around her selection among the several qualified candidates. Carin understands the need to carry on JFEC programing in concert with maintaining support of Jewish institutions and interests in the community. As incoming Executive Director, Carin both appreciates JFEC’s challenges and sees new approaches to help insure our continuing success.”
In Raleigh, Carin sought numerous opportunities to identify and position the Federation as the hub of Jewish activity. She spearheaded the statewide collaborative pro-Israel effort to make North Carolina the 22nd state to enact anti-BDS legislation that protects Israel. Carin brought the PJ Library Program to the community and created affinity groups for Jewish artists, doctors, lawyers and realtors. A strong advocate for women’s philanthropy and impact, Carin positioned the Lions of Judah, synagogue Sisterhoods, Hadassah and the Jewish Women’s Foundation as collective, influential leaders in the community. Last year, Carin managed bomb scares, addressed unprecedented acts of anti-Semitism, and was appointed by the Jewish Federations of North America to lead the national response to the ravages of Hurricane Florence.
“I couldn’t be more excited to assume the JFEC Executive Director position,” said Savel. “I know what a great community this is-- it has a rich history of meeting vital social service needs and creating engagement within the Jewish community. Shimon Peres said, ‘As Jews, we must take advantage of the resources we have to safeguard our Jewish future for our children, grandchildren and generations to come’, and with the encouragement and guidance of outstanding leaders, a very talented staff and community support, I’m confident that the Federation and our local programs will continue to grow and thrive.
In my first week, I have been impressed with the volunteers and professionals who have dedicated themselves to this community, and I look forward to meaningful conversations with all of you. Every morning as I drive to work, I am grateful for the opportunity to work on behalf of this Jewish community, continuing to help people in need and creating vibrant Jewish life. And, it is an honor for me to follow Jerry Fisher--mentor, colleague and friend--who skillfully led this Federation for 35 years.”
Carin is the former Senior Vice President of Resource Development & Strategic Communications for the United Way of Pioneer Valley, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Leading a $7million community campaign, she stewarded the growth of the annual appeal, major gifts, planned gifts & endowment, corporate relationships, Women’s Leadership Council, and online branding efforts.
Carin was president and senior managing partner of CSpotRun, LLC, a national consulting firm, where she oversaw fundraising and branding strategies for state and national political campaigns and non-profits. She also spent 8 years as Senior Staff and Policy Advisor in the NC House of Representatives.
Carin has served on the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts Executive Board of Trustees and chaired their Jewish Community Relations Council. Carin has also served on the national board of the Jewish Council for Policy Affairs (JCPA), and as a member of the JCPA Committee for Resource Development, Education and Advocacy Strategy. She is a Lion of Judah and a lifetime member of Hadassah. Carin graduated from Syracuse University with a BS in Drama. She thoroughly enjoys movies, travelling, and is an avid collector of Mid-Century Modern art and furniture. She is the exceedingly proud mother of Oliver, a Mass Mutual financial planner in Florida.
“I am delighted that Carin is our new Executive Director!”, said JFEC President Romana Strochlitz Primus. “She has the experience, enthusiasm, drive and openness that the Search Committee was seeking. She is eager to meet the members of our community, and I am eager to introduce her at our annual meeting on June 20. Come meet her. You will be glad you did!"
Fischer Ends an Era
The Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut (JFEC) announces the retirement of its long-time Executive Director Jerry Fischer, effective June 30, 2019.
Jerry has held the Executive Director position since 1984 and over 35 years has grown JFEC from a limited role of charitable fund distribution to a strong, widely-known program-driven presence in both the secular and Jewish communities.
He helped the JFEC resettle more than 350 refugees from the former Soviet Union. Under Jerry's leadership, JFEC has become a host of a community food bank and a member of the United Way; aided in resettlement of people displaced by disasters; began a Holocaust Resource Center; sponsored an annual International Film Festival, now celebrating its 25th year; led many educational and interfaith missions to Israel; and developed a Senior Lunch program in cooperation with TVCCA.
His work with the Jewish students at Connect College, Mitchell College, and the Coast Guard Academy, and their administrations, led to the establishment of strong Hillel programs on those campuses, and the constructions of Zachs Hillel House at Connecticut College, and the hiring of a full-time Hillel Director.
Jerry runs "Encountering Survivors," a program in the public high schools offering students a chance to deepen their knowledge of the Holocaust through meeting with Survivors or children of Survivors. Jerry led a trip to eastern Europe with Waterford High School.
For the past two years, JFEC has run "Encountering Differences," a program that offers students the chance to deepen their understanding of race relations by meeting with African-American community members. He has promoted outreach to civic organization to faith communities of all denominations.
Jerry has helped foster programs with area colleges, including a Military Academies exchange program with the Coast Guard Academy. JFEC also participates in a national program that pairs Jewish communities with communities in Israel; in our case, the city of Afula and the region of Gilboa, fostering cultural exchanges and sponsoring two Israel high school graduates working in our community each year. These emissaries work at the JFEC, the area congregations, and in publich schools, helping with programs, youth groups, schools and the community at large before returning to Israel for their mandatory military service.
The 30-plus Missions Jerry has led to Israel always include home hospitality as well as visits to special programs we sponsor in Afula and Gilboa.
Jerry produced the much-lauded documentary, "Harvesting Stones: The Jewish Farmers of Eastern Connecticut." It was broadcast twice on CPTV and receive three New England Emmy nominations.
In addition to his work at JFEC, Jerry taught Hebrew at the Solomon Schecter Academy, a local Jewish day school, led services for many years at Sharah Zedek, the Westerly, RI synagogue, and lectured at all the area institutions of higher educations. He is an active member and past President of the New London Rotary club since 1986.
"Jerry has brought energy and enthusiasm to all his endeavors," said JFEC President Romana Strochlitz Primus. "He has transformed JFEC into a successful, multifaceted organization. It provides social services for the entire local community and serves as the vibrant center of Jewish life in eastern Connecticut. We are incredibly fortunate that Jerry made New London his permanent home. I know he had many offers over the years to lead larger Federations."
Jerry added, "I have enjoyed my work so much time has flown by. When I started, my two children 4 and 2 years old. My daughter is now a mother and CEO, my son a doctor. New London was a wonderful place for them to grow up."
Jerry's retirement plans include traveling with wife Chris, visiting family, enjoying their new home in Waterford, and continuing in a volunteer role for JFEC and many other community organizations. He also plans to continue to lead Missions to Israel, and perhaps Jewish-themed trips to eastern Europe and Iberia. There will be a gala retirement dinner for Jerry on Tuesday, August, 13 at Connecticut College. Look for invitation in the mail.
Operation Cool Down:
Providing Air Conditioners for Those at Risk
Every summer for the past 16 years, the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut has distributed through its Operation Cool Down program, between 25-30 air conditioners to low income, frail seniors, and disabled residents of New London County.
Summer heat affects sick people, very young children, and seniors who cannot bear the temperatures. These individuals have health that require an air condition to enable them to endure the summer. These are often people who cannot get out of their homes and cannot afford an air conditioner. All clients' health conditions are medically verified as having chronic at-risk health problems or disabilities needing "Cool Down" for maintaining comfort and safety.
"We should never risk the lives of seniors and children who are most at risk for health-related complications in New London County's summer heat," said Beth Hubbert, JFEC Case Manager. Operation Cool Down has helped individuals and families in New London, Waterford, Groton, Jewett City, Norwich, and Pawcatuck over the years, from a 4-year old with severe asthma to a 79-year old with congestive heart failure and COPD. The air conditioners we provide (5,000 BTU) are big enough to cool a 150-square foot room, typically a bedroom.
Operation Cool Down referrals are usually received from mid-May through late June, from discharge nurse at L+M, the VNA, community health clinics, private physicians, housing authorities, and from clients directly. We purchase the air conditioners and distribute them beginning in early June. In a few instances, we have even helped to pay the utility bill for the months of July and August to ensure the unit is utilized by clients who are in extreme financial distress.
For the last several years, LOWE's in Waterford, has worked with Beth to offer a significant discount on their 5,000 BTU air conditioners and deliver the units at no charge to the Federation office. We are grateful for the financial support form the area service clubs, banks, hospitals, and private individuals.
Operation Cool Down is a critical program to beat the heat! For more information, please contact Beth at (860) 444-6333.