Meet Westport’s Mitzvah Heroes

Our cup runneth over.

On Sunday, December 12 (4 p.m., virtual), the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County honors 14 men and women as “Mitzvah Heroes.” Four are from Westport.

The literal meaning of the Hebrew word mitzvah is “commandment.” But it has come to mean “doing a good deed, with empathy and kindness.” Here’s what our mitzvah heroes have done, to make enormous differences in the lives of many.

Alan Benjamin (nominated by Beit Chaverim Synagogue) is a past president of both the Federation and his congregation (where he serves on the board, building committee and more).

Alan Benjamin

When Beit Chaverim started hosting the Westport community minyan in 2017, Alan was a 2-day-a-week regular. By 2020 he was at minyan all 7 days, including a 3-mile walk on Shabbat.

He started leading parts of the service. He is a serious Torah student, taking regular classes and engaging in one-on-one sessions.

When COVID struck, Beit Chaverim shut for a while. When it reopened as a parking lot minyan, Alan ensured there were volunteers to lead. He’s still at it.

Alan is always one of the first to offer funds to help someone in need, or sponsor an event. He and his wife Amy have been strong supporters of Beit Chaverim for years. He is a prime force behind both the dedicated congregation, and the new building rapidly taking shape.

Nancy Cohen (The Conservative Synagogue) died in August. she is being honored posthumously.

Nancy Cohen

For years, Nancy cooked meals for people needing lifts. She set up tables for Shabbat dinner and break-fasts on Yom Kippur. She made sure shivas went smoothly, and helped make minyans.

She contributed to and raised money for charity and other projects — including lung cancer research — and helped strategize ways to make funds even more impactful.

A longtime champion of the underdog — even during her illness — Nancy lived the saying “say little, do much, greet every person with a cheerful face.”

Rochelle Green (Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Fairfield County) helps people find meaning through connections with Jewish values, traditions and heritage.

Rochelle Green

As Ritual Committee chair, she oversees the content and co-leads High Holiday services. During the pandemic, she moved those services online. Members and guests joined in, observing the holidays from across the US.

As coordinator helping boys and girls prepare for bar and bat mitzvahs, Rochelle has helped younger members understand Jewish values, traditions and heritage. She reached an even younger audience as co-coordinator of CHJ’s Sunday school.

Rochelle’s many years as a board member has been marked by steady, thoughtful leadership and wise counsel. She provides support and helps with new initiatives, such as a recent oral history project.

Jennifer Rubin (Temple Israel) chairs the synagogue’s Caring Committee. She provides care and outreach to members who are sick or in mourning, with calls and visits.

Jennifer Rubin

She makes sure the clergy knows who needs particular attention and care, carrying out her role with diligence, dedication, compassion, sensitivity, insight and partnership.

Jennifer’s commitment has not wavered during COVID. She constantly seeks new ways to support members of her congregation.

The December 12 ceremony will be livestreamed, and is open to the entire community. Click here to register.

6 responses to “Meet Westport’s Mitzvah Heroes

  1. Stephanie Gordon ,a Westport resident, is being honored from Congregation Beth El in Norwalk. She is a social activist at Beth El who works feeding homeless at the Norwalk soup kitchen

    • Cynthia Mindell

      An oversight on my part! We are so proud that Stephanie is one of our Westport Mitzvah Heroes. Stay tuned: we will update the information shortly. Please accept our apologies!

  2. Hi Dan-

    To set the record straight- as Linda pointed out – the Stephanie and Neil Gordon family are Westport residents.

    Stephanie is being recognized as a Mitzvah Hero by Federation as a member of the Executive Committee of Congregation Beth El Norwalk, Vice President of Education overseeing our Nitzan Nursery and Navasky Hebrew Schools, a member of our Re-opening Committee dealing with all the safety issues related to the Covid pandemic and as a long time Chairperson at Beth El in charge of the Social Action Committee that has provided food and help at the Norwalk soup kitchen, made knit blankets for the moms at the Norwalk shelter- to list just a few of the projects Stephanie has fostered.

    I will email you a picture of Stephanie and Neil from our 2019 Beth El Gala- I can’t figure out how to get it into this post.

    Thank you

    Steve Stein
    Westport Resident since 1973
    Member Congregation Beth El Norwalk since 1973

    • Thanks, Steve – great info. I’m sorry I did not receive the info on Stephanie when I got the notice about the honorees from the Westport congregations. I’ll also post this in an upcoming Roundup, so more people will see it.

  3. A. David Wunsch

    Dan: your running this story is itself a Mitzvah.
    A. David W Staples 1956