Woman of Impact: Diane Greenfield

September 2020

Our Woman of Impact profile features a local woman, nominated by a community member, who is making an impact in our Jewish community. For this issue, we spoke with Diane Greenfield. A native of Fall River, Massachusetts, Diane has chaired numerous Federation Women's Philanthropy events over the years. She has also organized monthly luncheons for seniors at the Mandell JCC for over 20 years. The luncheons started with only a handful of participants and now sell out nearly every month! In 2009, Diane received the J’s Gerald M. Steinberg Outstanding Leadership Award.  Diane served as the second female president of Tumble Brook Country Club, where as chair of Play for a Cure she helped raise almost $2 million for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Diane’s impact on our community cannot be understated.

In lieu of a traditional interview, Diane opted to share a couple of personal highlights that have been particularly meaningful to her: her very first Federation Lion of Judah Conference in Washington D.C., back in 1993, and the senior luncheon program at the J, which she began in 2000.

In 1993, as a new Lion of Judah, I had the privilege of attending the National Women’s Division Lion of Judah Conference in Washington, D.C. with Joyce Mandell. It was an intense experience that enriched my life from that day forward.

The conference began on a Monday in the main ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel. I will never forget the vitality and enthusiasm of Suzie Stern, the conference chair. Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund, gave the keynote address, and then suddenly there was commotion! Members of the Secret Service marched down and surrounded the stage as Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan – for the very first time – addressed the hall of Jewish women and shared his hope for world peace.

That evening, we dined together at the National Museum building, where we were addressed by U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, Nancy Kassebaum, Barbara Mikulski, Carol Moseley Braun, Patty Murray, and Kay Bailey Hutchison. This was the first time all six women appeared together on a dais. We women do make a difference!

Tuesday’s highlights included a keynote by his excellency Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, and a tribute to Shoshana Cardin, Chair of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership’s Executive Committee, and Sylvia Hassenfeld, Chair of the Board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. 

That afternoon we departed – more than 1,000 Lions strong – for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We bonded like never before. I had tears in my eyes and in my heart.  We knew implicitly that we must light the way for future generations of Jews. The only way to preserve our rich heritage was to work together to preserve freedom and laughter for all our children.

After dinner, we attended an emotional memorial service and heard from Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Polish American writer, Holocaust survivor, and human rights activist.

By the time Wednesday morning dawned, I’d never been prouder to be a woman, a Jew, and most of all, a Lion of Judah – part of a sisterhood dedicated to helping others. At our closing caucus, we gathered by region and announced our collective pledges. In total, the women at our conference raised $13 million for Federation’s Annual Campaign – and another $3 million for Operation Exodus. And that doesn’t include funds raised by our home Federations.

At that moment, I felt like I belonged.

Who we are does make a difference. As Jewish women, we have the opportunity to change the future of our people, to take action, and to ensure Jewish survival. We have the power!

People who share a common direction and sense of community can reach their destination more quickly and easily. We give each other wings. I felt magic that day: the gift of love and caring, the joy of being a Jewish mother and grandmother, and the vital energy of bonding with other Lions.

Fast forward seven years to 2000 and a phone call from my best friend, Joyce Mandell. Joyce wanted my thoughts on how the Mandell JCC could revitalize a program for seniors – one where they could meet new friends and stay active and interested. I suggested monthly, themed luncheons: for a nominal fee, we would provide food, entertainment, and even transportation if needed. 

“I knew I could count on your ‘camp mentality,’” Joyce said. “When can you start?”

Nearly every month since, the J has hosted a senior luncheon. Volunteers serve the catered food; a variety of local musicians, singers, students, and teachers provide entertainment; and we pull names from a hat to determine the winner of each table’s centerpiece.

During Hanukkah, local Jewish day school students serenade us with Hanukkah songs, and each spring we celebrate our national pastime, baseball – my personal favorite theme. We set the tables with Red Sox and Yankees tablecloths, cups, and napkins. Red Sox / Yankees rivalry is alive and well for our seniors, and they are very particular where they sit. My good friend Sharon Holtzberg, the J’s Adult Program Director, wears her Yankees regalia, and I wear my best Red Sox outfit. We all join in singing “New York, New York” and “Sweet Caroline.”

Giving away the centerpieces is an especially meaningful touch; I’ve presented several to hospital-bound seniors and many have told me that I was their only visitor. More recently we’ve had to curtail the luncheons because of the pandemic but Sharon and I still telephone our homebound seniors. I have learned so much from these folks and we’ve had some wonderfully joyous – and sad – moments together. Of course, I couldn’t have accomplished all of this without Sharon and our luncheon volunteers.

As you think about your own impact on our community, I want to leave you with one final thought. To me, the following quote by Stephen Grellet says it all:

“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”