On November 20, The Associated will present its signature Keynote event, “After Pittsburgh: Pride, People & Power.” Held at Woodholme Country Club, the evening will feature a conversation with Bari Weiss, New York Times staff writer and editor and author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism.
Baltimore natives Bradley and Melissa Hecht are co-chairing the event with Morry and Lisa Zolet. We spoke to the Hechts about Keynote, Weiss and their involvement in the community.
Why did you want to co-chair Keynote this year?
Brad: When we were approached about the opportunity to take this leadership role, we jumped. We’ve attended Keynote for the better part of the last decade. We always find Keynote to be a great opportunity to connect with the community and learn from an interesting speaker on relevant topics.
Melissa: Keynote is definitely one of our favorite events of the year. I always feel like I could spend more time listening to the speakers. They always share such interesting perspectives about their topics.
Brad: That’s true. We often find ourselves talking about what was said at Keynote days and weeks afterward.
Why Bari Weiss?
Brad: Bari Weiss is a wonderful writer, and I’ve seen her speak on a number of television programs. She really stands up for our community. She grew up down the street from the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and brings an interesting perspective to Antisemitism. I recently saw her, and she was speaking about how Antisemitism can be indicative of broader, societal issues than just the Jewish people. I’d love for people to walk away with some talking points on this front.
What would you like to ask her?
Brad: I’d love to know what she reads in the media to stay informed. And, I’ve seen that her twitter often has polarizing comments. I wonder how she digests that – of if she digests it.
Beyond Keynote, how does The Associated fit into your lives?
Melissa: Several years ago, we attended an Oriole Park tour through IMPACT, the young adult division of The Associated. While there, I started talking to another mother who was also active within The Associated. She’s since become one of my closest friends.
Brad: I remember in middle school I was a Top Notch Teen (the TNT summer program at the JCC). It was a great experience that taught me about volunteer service. At the same time, I had the opportunity to help kids form their Jewish identity. And, of course, I developed friendships and bonds that I still have to this day.
I’ve spent the vast majority of my professional life with M&T Bank. M&T encourages all of us to be actively involved in supporting causes that are important to us. One of our core principles is that we believe that our company’s success is dependent of the success of the communities we serve. When I decided I wanted to give back to the community as a young professional, I became involved with The Associated’s Young Leadership Council.
You both seem to have strong Jewish identities.
Melissa: I grew up attending Hebrew school at Temple Oheb Shalom and was bat mitzvahed there. We always celebrated the Jewish holidays with my grandparents, who spoke Yiddish.
Although I wasn’t as Jewishly involved when I moved out and went to college, when Brad and I had a family, we circled back to our Jewish identities and knew that is how we wanted to raise our family.
Who influenced you most?
Brad: This is an answer that has changed over time. Initially, my grandparents were the strongest influence on my Jewish identity. All of the holidays were celebrated with them and, to this day, remain some of my best memories. Now, our kids are the biggest influence on my Jewish identity.
Melissa: My late zayde was my biggest influence. He grew up in a kosher household and always reminded me of the pride he took in being Jewish.
Giving back also seems to be part of that identity.
Brad: We are passionate about giving to The Associated. It supports the Jewish and the broader community. It’s hard not to be passionate about that.
The fact that we have a system we can invest in that makes investment decisions about what the community needs is so important. It addresses needs from before birth – in fact, Melissa and I attended a program before our first child was born – to the other end of the life cycle.
Are you teaching your children about giving back like their parents do?
Brad: My children see me spending a lot of time supporting the community and I explain to them that the community does a lot for us. It’s important to support it with the resources we have.
Melissa: I try to make sure their Jewish identity is tied to caring for others, being good people and having empathy for people. I think we are succeeding for I feel like they have a lot of compassion for others.
You two seem to be so busy.
Melissa: Even our weekends are full.
What are you up to?
Melissa: When we’re not at one of our kids’ friend’s birthday parties, we fill our weekends spending time with friends and family.
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