Increasing BNC’s Momentum in a Digital World

When the Brandeis National Committee started raising money for the Brandeis Library, members stood at the Park Street subway station in downtown Boston, clocking foot traffic, trying to determine the busiest location for their first book sale.

These days, much of the BNC’s traffic is online. During the pandemic, programming has shifted entirely to Zoom, and last May the first online meeting of the BNC chapter presidents was held.

“We have all learned to connect virtually, and the Brandeis National Committee is no exception,” says executive director Beth Bernstein, MA’90.

Once the pandemic is over, the BNC plans to take advantage of what it’s discovered about online engagement as it seeks to increase membership, boost fundraising, identify new program opportunities and create a structure that better unifies chapters under a national umbrella.

To do this, Bernstein says, four task forces have been created. A task force on membership will determine how best to retain current members and attract new ones. A task force on programming will draw on lessons learned during months of online presentations to create guidelines for national and chapter-level events and programs. A task force on structure will outline ideas for changes in the BNC’s organization. And a task force on finance will provide chapters with training to ensure transparency in the reporting of financial data.

These efforts are being led by National Executive Committee vice presidents Myra Silverstein, Maxine Schweitzer, Michelle Fischler and Carol Abrams.

The aim, Bernstein says, is to help the BNC “reflect on what elements of ‘virtuality’ should remain when we return to in-person activities, and how we can build on our strengths to continue to fulfill our promise to Brandeis and deliver this robust organization into the future.”

Founded as the Brandeis National Women’s Committee in 1948, the BNC is the largest library-friends group in the world, with 21,000 members in 37 chapters nationwide. It has contributed more than $141 million to Brandeis over the years.

The group’s current campaign, Honoring Our History, is supporting the digitization of thousands of materials in the university’s Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections Department, with an emphasis on collections that focus on the Jewish experience, immigration and resistance to persecution. 

— Mark Sullivan

BUILDING ON STRENGTHS: The BNC Tribute Wall in the Brandeis Library.

BUILDING ON STRENGTHS: The BNC Tribute Wall in the Brandeis Library.

Head shot of smiling woman with curly white-gray hair.
Merle Carrus, P’12

Message From the BNC President

If there was one positive from the challenging year that was 2020, it was the renewed emphasis on the “National” in Brandeis National Committee.

The face-to-face technology that enables remote programming has truly allowed BNC members across the U.S. to stay connected to Brandeis and to one another.

BNC chapters have met the challenge of transitioning to virtual programming with confidence, creating engaging and unique programs to share with BNC members as well as alumni and friends, near and far.

Learning and engaging virtually has brought us all together during a time that otherwise would have felt isolating. We will continue to put what we have discovered during this time to good use, even after in-person programming returns.

Throughout these months, in the midst of my first year as the BNC’s national president, I have found it incredibly inspiring to work alongside such a caring, devoted group of volunteers.


Merle Carrus, P’12

Woman in dark puffer jacket and jeans with a leather satchel slung over her shoulder sits at an outdoor table with a green checkered covering.
Ilana Krill ’20

The Power of Networking

The impact of alumni helping alumni was on display when an encounter at a virtual Brandeis National Committee event led to a rewarding fellowship for a recent graduate.

Ilana Krill ’20 landed her fellowship with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix after striking up a conversation with the council’s executive director, Paul Rockower ’03, following a Zoom presentation held in August by the BNC’s Phoenix Chapter.

Rockower was the guest speaker, discussing his work in public and cultural diplomacy. Krill, a double major in international and global studies, and psychology at Brandeis, attended the event, and asked Rockower for his advice on working in the diplomacy field.

She made such a good impression during a follow-up informational interview that Rockower invited her to apply to become the Jewish Community Relations Council’s first fellow in communications and public diplomacy.

“The thing that impressed me about Ilana was her boldness to reach out as a self-starter just trying to get involved in the field,” Rockower says.

“With Ilana’s educational background; her previous work on internships in the Jewish community, in Israel and in social media outreach; as well as her passion for social action, she has been a terrific fit for the position,” Rockower told the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

At the Jewish Community Relations Council, Krill is expanding the group’s social media engagement and outreach, with a focus on Jewish advocacy and cross-community relations. She has been working remotely from her home in Rochester, New York.

“It’s people like Paul, who are so generous with their time and willing to speak to recent graduates and offer them advice, who just warm my heart,” she says.

Leave it to the BNC to spark this mutually supportive connection.

— Sophia Fulara ’21

Remembering Estelle Jacobs

Estelle Wolowitz Jacobs, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, who brought passion and creativity to the Brandeis National Committee during her 70 years as a member and as BNC’s national president from 1989-91, passed away on Dec. 6 at age 96.

A talented writer and director, noted for her quick wit and perception, Jacobs is recalled for the poise with which she handled a dilemma at the 1977 BNC conference when a new computer system failed, losing membership records. A skit she crafted on the spot to restore good feelings was the first of many theatrical productions she went on to stage, often in what came to be called the Polka Dot Lounge in the Brandeis dorms.

Jacobs’ husband of 74 years, Dr. Irving Jacobs, predeceased her in 2019. He was also an actor, and both served their local Jewish community as well as Brandeis for many years.

She is survived by three children and four grandchildren.