Agenda at Federation’s annual meeting includes award for Ben Russ and reports on important initiatives

Posted on: May 30th, 2017 by tgregory

By Charles Bernsen

Ben Russ

Like almost everyone who volunteers for Jewish organizations in Nashville, Ben Russ knew Sandy Averbuch and was aware that she had been one of the Jewish community’s most respected leaders for nearly five decades. 

So Russ feels doubly honored that he will be the first recipient of the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee’s annual young leadership award since it was renamed in honor of Averbuch, who died last November at the age of 72.

“It’s such an honor, especially because I know there are many people who are just as deserving,” said Russ, noting that Averbuch was the first recipient of the young leadership award in 1971. “The thing about Sandy is that whatever needed doing, she was willing to do it.” 

The same might be said of Russ, a 39-year-old criminal defense attorney, who already has served on the boards of the Jewish Federation, The Temple and Jewish Family Service, where he is the incoming president. 

“Ben was selected because of his commitment to the Nashville Jewish community,” said Jewish Federation President Lisa Perlen, who served as co-chair of the Jewish Federation’s Grants Committee with Russ.  “It was through his work on the Grants Committee that I was able see first-hand his dedication to keeping the Nashville Jewish community strong and vibrant.”

Russ will be honored at the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee’s s 81st annual meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 14 at the Gordon Jewish Community Center. Because Russ will be unable to attend, the presentation of the Sandy Averbuch Young Leadership Award by her husband, Larry Averbuch will take place earlier, and a videotape of it will be played at the meeting. 

The primary purpose of the annual meeting is the election of volunteer officers and board members. But the agenda also includes: 

• Annual reports from Perlen and Executive Director Mark S. Freedman, who will announce his retirement effective at the end of June, 2018.

• Recognition of several board members: Dr. Frank Boehm, the outgoing chair of the annual campaign; Robin Cohen, the outgoing co-chair of the Grants Committee, and Faith Haber Galbraith, the outgoing chair of the local Partnership2Gether Committee.

• Remarks from participants of two new initiatives funded with special Federation grants: An interfaith-couples trip to Israel that was led by clergy from The Temple and Congregation Micah, and the Jewish Federation’s Emerging Leadership Initiative aimed at recruiting and training young adults to serve on its Community Relations Committee. 

The meeting will also include updates on two ongoing Jewish Federation initiatives. Adam Landa and David Steine Jr. will talk about the successful launch of Nashville’s participation in in Life & Legacy, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation aimed at helping Jewish agencies secure endowment funding. Landa is the chair of the development committee of the Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, and Steine is the captain of the Jewish Federation’s Life & Legacy team.

Steve Hirsch, the Federation board’s vice president, and Carol Hyatt, its immediate past president, will talk about Best Jewish Nashville 2.0, a community blueprint for planning and funding priorities for the next five years.  All of the volunteers who participated in the BJN2.0 effort will be recognized and thanked at the annual meeting.

The meeting, which is underwritten by SEI, the Jewish Federation’s investment manager, will be preceded by a 6 p.m. reception honoring the original legacy donors on the Federation’s Book of Life video display in the lobby of the GJCC as well as those who have pledged new endowment contributions as part of the Life & Legacy initiative. 

Russ and his wife, Marissa, are both Nashville natives. They have two children – Eli, 8, and Miriam, 6.  Russ says he got an early exposure to communal voluntarism through his father, Phil, who was president of The Temple and active in the Jewish Federation. Indeed, his own involvement began in 2005 through The Temple, where he has served on the board as chair of the budget committee. 

As a Jewish Federation board member, Russ served three years on the Grants Committee, including two as its co-chair. His involvement in JFS began when he joined the board seven years ago and he will become president of the Jewish social service agency this month. 

“One of the things that’s so rewarding about JFS,” he said, “is that you can put your hands on and know you are helping people in your own community.” 

Likewise, Russ is well aware of the impact the Jewish Federation on the lives of individual community members. He was among the 85-person contingent on the Jewish Federation’s mission to Israel last year, his first trip to the Jewish state. 

“I was able to go on that trip because of the Federation,” he said. “It’s just one example of the tangible ways individuals can benefit from the Federation.”  •


Nominees for 2017-2018 Board Officers

(1-year term) 

Lisa Perlen, president

Lori Fishel, vice president

Steve Hirsch, secretary

Michael Doochin, treasurer


Elected Board Members (3-year term)

Aron Karabel

David Levy

David Steine, Jr.

Janet Weismark


Continuing Board Members

 (Terms expiring in 2018) 

Tara Axelroth

Didi Biesman

Mindy Hirt

David Schwartz


(Terms expiring in 2019)

Mark Cohen

Adam Dretler

Leslie Newman

Jeremy Werthan


Board of Rabbis Representative (2017-2018) 

Rabbi Saul Strosberg