The Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York presented three awards at its June annual meeting. The Jewish Federation honored Leo and Ruth Phaff with the Sidney Albert Community Service Award, Benjamin and Ruth Mendel with the President’s Award, and Daniel Bernstein with the Samuel E. Aronowitz Young Leadership Award.
Ruth and Leo Phaff, recipients of the Sidney and Albert Community Service Award, were among the founders and creators of Temple Israel in Albany and The Hebrew Academy of the Capital District.
The Federation established the Sidney Albert Community Service Award for those leaders within the Jewish community who have demonstrated a lifetime of Jewish community involvement.
At the outset of their relationship, Ruth and Leo agreed that both wanted a large family, and that both were committed to helping to make the local Jewish community welcoming and flourishing.
Leo would be the president of Temple Israel twice, and spearheaded fund-raising initiatives to ensure the stability of the congregation and to support the Temple’s education center. Ruth became the Temple’s secretary and was on its building committee.
For decades, Leo raised money for Israel Bonds, The Hebrew Academy, Temple Israel, and the Federation. He served on the boards of the Albany Jewish Community Center and the Federation, and was vice president of the Solomon Schechter Day School Association. Ruth is a Hadassah life member.
Both have been honored for their work by the Hebrew Academy, B’nai B’rith, Maimonides Hebrew Day School School, State of Israel Bonds, and by Temple Israel.
The Phaffs had six children, 19 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren.
The President’s Award was established to recognize individuals for their substantial contributions to the Jewish Federation and to the community. Benjamin “Ben” and Ruth Mendel, recipients of The 2017 President’s Award, are members of Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany. Ben is a past president and Ruth is a former board member.
Ruth is a former member of Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Board and Steering Committee. She participated in the Melton Adult Jewish Education Program.She shares her Holocaust family history with student groups as a presenter for the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center. She also volunteers for the Capital Region Jewish Coalition for Literacy ROAR program.
Ruth is a founder of Person to Person, a high school mentorship program in the Bethlehem school district. She is a former board member of The American Red Cross and a Girl Scouts of the USA life member and former troop leader.
Ben is a past chairman of the board for the Union for Reform Jewish Camp Eisner and Crane Lake Camp. He is a former treasurer of the Federation’s board and has served on several committees for Congregation Beth Emeth.
Ben is a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Committee for the Capital Area Council of Churches and is a former board member of Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Various community awards have included the State of Israel Bonds Scroll of Honor and Congregation Beth Emeth’s Sisterhood Award. Ben was honored with the B’nai B’rith Covenant Award, Four Chaplains Brotherhood Award, and named Jewish Family Services Volunteer of the Year. Ruth was honored by Bethlehem High School for her years of involvement with the PTA.
Ben is a retired architect and Ruth worked in publicity for Voorheesville Central Schools.
Ruth and Ben have two daughters and five grandchildren.
The Samuel E. Aronowitz Young Leadership Award was established to acknowledge an individual who has demonstrated leadership qualities. The award includes a stipend to assist the recipient in attending an appropriate conference or mission. The award recipient this year was Daniel Bernstein.
Bernstein is an attorney with Iseman, Cunningham, Riester & Hyde LLP, practicing in labor and employment, health care, and litigation. Bernstein grew up in Albany, and graduated from the Hebrew Academy.
He was the president of the Cardozo Society Jewish student organization while attending Albany Law School, and worked with other area organizations to bring pro-Israel speakers to the school to combat the rhetoric of vocal and prevalent anti-Israel students and organizations. He has continued his philanthropic work in the Jewish community and has been on the board of directors of a variety of local Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Family Services, Daughters of Sarah Nursing Center, and the Federation. In 2016, Bernstein attended a Jewish Federation mission to the Eshkol Regional Council in Israel, which included the presentation of grants to assist infrastructure and support in the border region. Bernstein is also a volunteer teacher at the Mifgash Jewish Community High School program at Temple Israel.