Inaugural Reb Zalman z”l Distinguished Service Awardee Judith Dack

Photo credit: Connie Reider Photography

The inaugural Reb Zalman z”l Distinguished Service Award was presented to Judith Dack at the 2018 ALEPH Kallah. In presenting the award on behalf of the ALEPH Board of Directors, Rabbi Dan Goldblatt referred to Judith as a bitzuistit, “Hebrew for someone who makes things happen, a door opener, a catalyst.” Goldblatt related the tale of Judith’s circuitous spiritual awakening, and her calling to avodah, sacred service.

Describing the early days of Jewish Renewal, Goldblatt recounted “the times when we were up in the mountains with Reb Zalman engaged in spiritual experiences, and Judith was on the ground asking the question, who is going to support this endeavor? None of us were thinking about that. She began supporting ALEPH by giving herself, and created a legacy of donors. She modeled her leadership in a way no one had done before. Not many of us were skilled in this.”

That was twenty-one years ago, when Judith took a bold step forward and began to lead the charge for ensuring the future of Jewish Renewal and ALEPH.

Judith’s commitment to ALEPH began at Elat Chayyim, the Jewish Renewal Retreat Center in Accord, NY. By the end of her first weeklong retreat, Judith knew she had stumbled upon something extraordinary and priceless. She started asking around, “Does anyone do any fundraising around here?” She saw that the facility sure looked as if it was in great need, but no one was very interested.

Judith had never been interested in fundraising before either, only giving out of a sense of obligation. “You know, the neighbor puts an American Heart Association envelope in my mailbox and I had to give so I wouldn’t look bad, or my daughters would come home from school with that Sally Foster gift wrap fundraiser and I had to buy all this stuff just so my kids would look good,” said Judith. “There was no kavanah, no giving from my heart.”

Everything changed that fateful Saturday night at Elat Chayyim. Judith stood up in front of the entire kahal—as she would continue to do for many years to come—and made the following pronouncement. She said, “Thanks to this transformational retreat, I know I have saved a small fortune in psychotherapy bills, and therefore I am making a $2000 gift tonight and I hope others will join me.” And they did. The community resonated with Judith’s story and gave generously, more than ever before.

Judith continued to deepen and expand her involvement with, and connection to, Jewish Renewal and ALEPH. For many summers she was the yoga teacher, mispacha group leader and fun-raiser at Elat Chayyim. She was in the first cohort of the Davvenen’ Leadership Training Institute (DLTI), and Kol Zimra where, for the past 10 years, she has continued to assist in Reb Shefa’s retreats. She joined the ALEPH Board of Directors in 2003 where she served for 14 years. “I was blessed by all these experiences and I knew I had received a truly great gift in my life through Jewish Renewal. I knew I had a huge debt that I could never repay but I was going to try. I was overcome with gratitude for my life and I tried to offer whatever service I could to further the programs.”

“Probably my greatest contribution was to transform the way fundraising was approached in this community,” recalled Judith. “I called it Stand-Up-FUN-Raising and I developed a technique which invited every person, no matter what the available funds were, to be inspired to participate and literally stand up at whatever amount had meaning for them.”

When Judith was honored by ALEPH as an Eshet Hazon, a Woman of Vision, she was named Ezrat Olamay Aleph, She who holds up all the worlds of ALEPH. ALEPH has been forever changed—inside and out—by Judith Dack. ALEPH is enormously grateful for her generosity, service and legacy.

In her remarks at the Kallah ceremony, Judith closed with this blessing: “as this movement continues to grow and evolve, may there always be space for every soul to heal and transform, and to be seen and valued for the unique gift each of us brings.”