Honoring the Best in Community Engagement

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 10:16am -- Synagogue Counc...

The Synagogue Council of Massachusetts Chooses Leonard Davidson, Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow & Benjamin Sigel for Tribute Celebration 2014

For more than 30 years, the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts (SCM) has been, remarkably, the only organization in North America to have a uniquely singular mission: to endeavor to strengthen synagogues and bring all Jews together - with respect for the differences that often divide us - for friendship, dialogue and learning. In a world that strives to be more inclusive, SCM’s efforts have been at the forefront to create avenues of action and acceptance for two generations.

With this in mind, we proudly announce our very deserving honorees for this year’s Synagogue Council 2014 Annual Tribute Celebration, to be held on Wednesday, June 11th at Temple Aliyah, Needham, at 6:00 pm.

Leonard Davidson and Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, both of Newton, and Benjamin Sigel of Brookline have created dynamic avenues of engagement throughout their lives. Each has found strength from his or her spiritual community, forging new initiatives and purpose that benefit our diverse Massachusetts Jewish landscape. Len, Sara and Ben are models of pluralistic and inclusive leaders. They are our family and friends, too, and we are delighted to offer them the kavod of being honored for their commitment to making the world we live in a better place for all.

SCM spoke with each of our honoree-designates to garner reaction to being chosen:

A partner at the law firm of Schlesinger and Buchbinder in Newton, we wondered what Len Davidson’s feelings were looking back over his 35+ years of advocacy on behalf of our community, and his commitment to Jewish education and Israel programs for young people. He was stunned, once he compiled the list, to realize just how active he had been, and how much was accomplished during those years. His involvement began first at Temple Aliyah, Needham, where he grew up; then, as a young adult, during college at Brandeis and law school at Boston University, he participated in initiatives at CJP and ADL, and taught religious school at Temple Beth Elohim, Wellesley. In more recent years, Len’s leadership at Temple Ohabei Shalom, Brookline, where he and his family now belong, has included the creation of a thriving preschool and seamless rabbinic succession.  Invited to serve on the North American Board for the Union for Reform Judaism, he continues to be involved in both local and national work. Len has received recognition along the way, of course, including one of the first Bureau of Jewish Education’s Keter Torah awards, ADL’s Krupp Young Leadership Award, and the Temple Ohabei Shalom Brotherhood’s Man of the Year. Len is married to Dr. Laurie Katzman and they are the proud parents of two daughters. SCM is proud to honor Len Davidson, who just keeps saying “Hineini, Here I Am” to what needs to be done to make the collective Jewish community strong and inclusive. He has a mission, not an agenda. Selfless and a good heart – the best of the best.

Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow may have the largest congregation we know in that she shares her work, as the Director of the Department of Spiritual Care, with the residents of Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL), their families, and all who care for, support and love them. Rabbi Sara, as she is affectionately known, finds meaning in lifelong Jewish engagement, one elder at a time. It’s an imperative for her, and her creative approach has changed the face of what being a Jew means across generations. Her belief that grandparents and other elders are an essential part of identity formation for children is at the center of everything she does. The seeds of this outlook were planted, literally and figuratively, in her upbringing in Toronto as a member of a large, extended interfaith family. Hers is a lifetime of out of the ordinary stories, including non Jewish relatives who were prominent leaders of the resistance in WWII Germany and summers spent on a family farm in upstate New York, then immersion in public policy and Jewish life at Oberlin College. Intense Jewish learning followed, as a student in Berlin, and then a Wallenberg Fellow and Pardes student in Jerusalem . Returning to the US to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary, she was chosen as a Wexner Graduate Fellow, served as a CLAL Fellow, and worked for Rabbi Yitz Greenberg at the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Her focus has included a wide array of projects, from a “farm havura” to a Jewish service learning organization for young adults. In recent years, Rabbi Sara  has been a prominant leader at HSL as she envisioned and worked with other lead staff  to create  the HSL  Chaplaincy Institute (the first and only ACPE accredited Jewish Geriatric CPE program), a palliative care team, and  the first singularly Jewish Hospice in Massachusetts. Sara is also concluding a term as  co-president of the New England Rabbinical Assembly. She and her husband, Dr. Michael Paasche-Orlow, have three children who attend The Jewish Community Day School (JCDS) and Gann Academy, and are members of the Newton Center Minyan.  Sara is grateful to be honored by SCM and hopes it brings continued conversations about spiritual care as an integrated part of elder health care and ensuring vital Jewish life for elders of all ages, backgrounds, and denominations.  SCM applauds Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow’s vision, leadership and philanthropic energy in making a difference for our parents and grandparents.

What first came to mind, when speaking with Benjamin Sigel, was to ask why he works, and work it is, on so many organizational boards. His was a quick and meaningful response, for he feels deeply about K’lal Yisrael, yet: “…Each (organization) wants the voice of my generation, but few sign on to give it.” So while involved in raising a family of three youngsters and living the busy life of a rising attorney at the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin, he “shows up,” as one friend said, in the hopes of inspiring others his age to lend their voice and energy to creating their future. He believes that young adults have an obligation to strengthen their Jewish identity, and if the community can get them involved, they will become wonderful participants in the conversation. Ben has chosen a myriad of missions to support including the American Friends of the University of Haifa, American Jewish Committee (AJC), Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Gann Academy, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. And on the seventh day, he rests, forging new paths of worship and community with his family and fellow members, including other young families, at the Washington Square Minyan. He credits his lifelong passion for the Jewish community to summers spent at Camp Ramah, and colleagues of all ages on the boards he represents appreciate his measured, thoughtful and dynamic approach.  A graduate of Middlebury College, Ben spent a year at Hebrew University where he met his wife, Gabrielle, also an attorney. He received both his JD and MBA from American University. Ben was recently chosen as one of CJP’s 18 under 40 “Chai in the Hub Award” recipients. It is with pleasure that SCM acknowledges the devotion to community Benjamin Sigel displays in all aspects of his life and work.


Three extraordinary individuals: humble; doing good; and agreeing to be honored by the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts. And we, in turn, are honored by their lifelong commitment to Judaism, diversity and respect.