People will say nice things about Rabbi Donna Berman on Thursday at Charter Oak Cultural Center's gala.
The rabbi has led the center for 10 years; I don't remember what it was like before her.
I will not be saying nice things. For one, I'm already committed to Immaculate Conception Shelter and Housing's Come Home to Immaculate fundraiser that night.
But if I was attending the gala, I'd at least tell the truth. I would say that Rabbi Berman is a big ol' pain in the butt. She brings unflagging energy to every project she undertakes —- and there are many —- and although she doesn't nag, there is something about her enthusiasm that brings in volunteers. You find yourself (or I do) saying yes to her latest idea because, well, it's cool. And if it means you go hungry for a week or a month (SNAP Into Action Against Hunger), or you find yourself sitting and talking shop with a would-be reporter who also happens to be homeless (Beat of the Street), well, just try saying no to Rabbi Berman. And good luck to you.
In her decade at Charter Oak, Rabbi Berman has created an annual Kristallnacht commemoration, brought art great and small to the masses, and served as surrogate mother to countless children who pass through her doors and experience creativity and holiness —- although maybe they're the same thing. She's put kids' hands into dirt at the community garden, held feminist seders, and thrown open her organization's historic former synagogue for African and Spanish film series, for jazz, for reading, for, well, you name it.
Meanwhile, she's won too many awards for the wall space she has, partnered with countless community leaders and generally made herself available to new ideas.
I have several stories about Rabbi Berman, but here's just one: Last fall, I mentioned in passing that I wanted to host a community sing-along, and boom! Berman threw open her doors. I have a confession to make about that initial conversation: I knew that if I mentioned a sing-along, Rabbi Berman would get involved, and that November night, 150 people filled the old synagogue with song and cookies. That might be the center's busiest time of year, but you know what? She made space.
In short, Rabbi Berman is precisely the kind of person Hartford needs: In your face —- but gently so —- and always, always urging you forward. So if you answer your phone and it's Rabbi Berman? Take a deep breath. And say yes.
But consider yourself warned.
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Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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