About The Vilna Shul

Our Community

Board of Directors - Officers

Debbie Kurnisky, President

Debbie brings over 25 years of combined experience as both an estate planning attorney and as a professional in the non-profit world. She served as Director of the Annual Fund and Planned Giving for Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly (JCHE) and Founding Director of the New England Region for the American Society of the University of Haifa.  With her keen sense of strategy for development, she has used her skills to help position the Vilna for future financial success by developing an Annual Fund Campaign Plan as the primary platform of a future multi-million dollar capital campaign. Debbie is an active volunteer with many organizations in our community, Israel, and nationwide. Debbie holds a JD from Emory University, an LLM in taxation from Boston University, and a MA in Jewish Communal Service from Brandeis University.  Since joining the Board, she has served as chair of the development committee and has been instrumental in developing the strategic plan and materials for the Capital Campaign.  With her background in non-profit management Debbie also brings to the Vilna her experience in building community and creating innovative programs.



Kenneth (Ken) Handler, Vice President

Ken comes to the Vilna with a strong background in finance and strategic positioning. He is currently the Managing Director and Principal of AllianceBernstein L.P., Boston, with comparable positions in New York since 1994.  Prior to his directorship with AllianceBernstein, he has been with Management Strategies, Inc., New York, Circle Consulting Group, and many other major financial service businesses. He also holds an MBA from New York University. Some of his Board affiliations are the Boston Economic Club, Boston Athenaeum, and Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. In the few years Ken has been on the Board, he has been invaluable to the organization in the finance and development committees. Ken is currently a Vice President and will chair our development committee.


Jim Kutchin, Vice President

Jim has just moved to downtown Boston after raising two children in Andover with his wife Peri. A believer in Jewish community, Jim sees the Vilna as important in creating a Jewish connection in Boston, as well as a physical jewel. A degreed Architect, Jim currently runs a successful electronic sales representative business but maintains a strong interest in the arts, contemporary art & photography as well as architecture. He sees The Vilna historical building as a unique opportunity to connect future generations to a Jewish heritage. He is an active member of many of our committees and during the past year successfully chaired the Auction which contributed to the tremendous success of our Tribute event. He and his wife are founding members and Co-Chairs of the Vilna’s Downtown Social Club. As a member of the Executive Board, he will play a leadership role to help advance the mission of the Vilna.



Marilyn Lipton Okonow, Vice President

It is very clear that Marilyn’s major talents are in the creative field. She graduated from Cornell University in music and voice performance and attained a Master’s degree in Music Education from the New England Conservatory of Music. As a former professional singer/pianist/arranger, Marilyn has used her training in developing a music curriculum for the Rashi School and has been a frequent cantorial soloist at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. She is the musical director of the Tremble Clefs, a chorus for Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers under the auspices of Jewish Family and Children's Services Parkinson’s Family Support Program, and also she is the musical director of the Newbridge Chorus at Hebrew SeniorLife's Newbridge. In addition to her musical pursuits, Marilyn is an avid genealogist and is Outreach Coordinator for the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston.  Marilyn brings to the Vilna her broad experience in music programming for our events, as well as her genealogical research skills; she is currently working with fellow board member David Rosen to locate living descendants of the founding members of the Vilner Congregation. In her new role as Vice President and member of the Executive Board, Marilyn will also chair the marketing committee.


Joseph (Joe) Grabowski, Treasurer

Joe comes to the Vilna with an extensive record of successfully building and managing companies that market directly to consumers. With an MBA from Rutgers University and as CEO of different companies in the last 20 years, Joe has brought his knowledge and skill into a variety of underperforming enterprises and created a framework which resulted in significantly improved performance.  Joe brings his high level of integrity and focused decision making to the Executive Board, he is a member of the building committee, and chairs both the strategic planning and finance committees.



David Crosby, Clerk

David is our Clerk and legal advisor for the Vilna. On the Executive Committee or ad hoc, David has been our keen advisor in many fields dealing with legal issues.  His background is strong as a member in the firm’s (Nixon Peabody) Patents group, where he concentrates his practice on all aspects of intellectual property law, including the acquisition and enforcement of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. He is experienced in client counseling regarding intellectual property strategies and enforcement programs, including enforcement through litigation. David’s practice involves diverse high technology fields including Internet and electronic commerce. He was awarded by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce a silver medal in recognition of the quality improvements resulting from his enhanced system engineering.



Board of Directors - Members

Mark Atkins

A globally successful entrepreneur and business leader, Mark received the Vilna’s 2015 Visionary Leadership Award. With his vision, he turned Invention Machine into a global enterprise. He also served as a mentor to multiple early stage entrepreneurial companies. Adapting his expertise in business to numerous non-profit companies and universities, he is transforming the future. He is currently a Professor in the College of Management at University of Massachusetts (his alma mater) in Boston. Mark now also sits on the Vilna Marketing and Strategic Planning committees.


Robert Beal

Robert Beal joined Beal Companies, now known as Related Beal, in 1976. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Robert has been a strong advocate and leader for Boston businesses for many years. He is equally devoted to dozens of organizations and charities. Robert played a major role in helping to save the Vilna Shul from demolition in 1985 when he was Chair of Mass Development, and he was the recipient of the 2015 Vilna Legacy Award. Beal has served in leadership roles at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (Director and past Chair),Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (former Overseer and Trustee),Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Chairman, Council of Fellows),and the Museum of Fine Arts (Board of Overseers). He has been a civic leader and mentor as Chair of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard as well as the Chair of the School of Social Science, Urban Affairs and Public Policy at Northeastern University.


Carol Clingan

Carol grew up in Revere and Newton, and holds a BA from Wellesley College and a MA from Columbia. Having worked for 20 years in corporate communications and retired as Senior Vice President of Bank of America, Carol has used her talents in a number of nonprofit organizations in the Jewish community. She has done a great deal of research into Massachusetts’ synagogues, as well as extensive genealogical research into her own family and those of others.  She is Vice President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston, co-chairs its Program Committee, and was program co-chair of the 2013 international Jewish Genealogical conference in Boston. Carol’s organizational abilities, communications, and strategic planning are assets to the Vilna organization.


Susan Cohen

Susan became involved with the Vilna because of her close ties to Richard and Evvajean Mintz. She is the founder and Chair of the firm's (Mintz Levin Cohen Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC) Immigration Practice. Susan is actively involved in the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and has chaired and co-chaired a wide range of national AILA committees. Susan was involved in contributing to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations implementing the Immigration Act of 1990, and she has won many awards for her political asylum work from the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, named as one of the Best Lawyers in America: Immigration Law (2007-2014), and recommended as a leading lawyer by The Legal 500 United States for Labor and Employment. Susan has been invaluable to the Vilna with her counsel on numerous legal issues.


Nancy Sobin Drourr

Having spent most of her life in the Boston area, Nancy has contributed to the community in numerous ways. As an educator for the Holocaust Studies program Facing History and Ourselves and also as a leader in development for the Brimmer and May School, Nancy has been able to combine her depth of feeling for her Jewish identity and her passion for education. She is a mentor to many children and has helped them to reach their goals. She was Development Director for the Brimmer and May School for over twenty-five years and raised millions for their capital campaign, annual fund, and endowment fund. She is also a great golfer and supportive mother and wife. Since joining the Board Nancy has shared her expertise and been instrumental in the strategic planning for our Capital Campaign.


Deborah Feinstein, Chair of Capital Campaign and Immediate Past President

Deborah was a Museum Director/educator/curator for over 25 years. With her first graduate degree in Islamic art from Harvard University, Deborah has lectured on religious, historical, and cultural connections of the three major religions through the visual arts in numerous universities and museum venues. Recently, she also completed a master’s program in Jewish Studies at Hebrew College. Bringing the visual image as an interpretative tool, she is also an artist who creates Jewish illuminated miniatures, and she is passionately involved with USHMM.  As immediate past President, Deborah has played a vital role in helping to bring the Vilna new visibility in our community. With her leadership as Capital Campaign Chair, she has been able to help to plan and launch the beginning of what promises to be a successful Capital Campaign to make our building fully accessible to all members of our community and to restore our building to its original beauty.  She has been able use her professional skills in understanding the importance of the Vilna, as a place of history, a place of learning, and a place of community.


Paul S Gass, President Emeritus

Paul is President Emeritus of the Vilna and has supported us in so many ways, directing us on governance and organizational restructuring. He is a successful businessman and entrepreneur who founded Eaton Financial Corporation which went public and later sold to AT&T. He subsequently became president of AT&T Capital Corporation’s Leasing Services Division.  A graduate of Babson College, he has been a member of Babson’s governance for 30 years, a member of the Corporation, Board of Trustees, and Board of Overseers. He currently serves on the Global Advisory Board.  Paul is also a member of the Danforth Museum Board of Overseers, the Advisory Board of the Chabad Center of Natick, and Advocates Inc., a non-profit human services organization.


David S. Glater, Esq., President Emeritus

For over 20 years, David was Chief Counsel, US Department of Transportation's Volpe National Transportation System Center, Cambridge, MA.  As Chief Counsel, he was responsible for providing/overseeing the agency's legal services (contracting, finance, personnel, labor relations, real estate, employee ethics, FOIA), and for advising senior management on policy and management issues. In 1975, he joined with a small group of volunteers (including Historic Boston Inc. Executive Director and emeritus Vilna Board member Stanley Smith) to launch the rescue of the Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill. Activities included legal representation and participation in Supreme Judicial Court proceedings, community organizing, project-related presentations, public relations, recruiting volunteers. From 1990-1998, David served as the first president of the Vilna, obtaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for the organization, fundraising, and working with late Board member Richard Mintz and pro bono attorneys from the Mintz Levin law firm to negotiate purchase of the Shul from the Court-appointed receiver for the Vilner Congregation. In 1996, he received the Charlotte Bloomberg Award for outstanding service to Greater Boston's Jewish community.  David is one of our legacy Board members, and he still participates on committees.


Maxine Goldberg

As a Speech and Language pathologist, Maxine has brought her talents in communication and organizational work to the Vilna. Before moving into Boston she was active in the North Shore Jewish Community, a member of the founding committee and board member of the Jewish Journal, and a board member of the Jewish Federation and Cohen-Hillel Academy. For over fifteen years, Maxine has been involved with the Vilna’s programming, major events, membership, 2016 Tribute Benefit Co-Chair, and as a former Vice President.



Elaine Kirshenbaum z"l

As Vice President of Policy, Planning, and Member Services at the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS), Elaine brings an array of proficiencies to the Vilna. (Boston University, Masters in Counseling Psychology and Public Health). Her wisdom in people helped the Search committee find a special new Executive Director and her incisive questioning helped our Executive committee focus deeply on timely issues. Her Programming guidance has also heightened the community’s awareness and significance of the Vilna. Elaine is also a Board member of Boston University, Board member of the Dean’s Advisory Committee for Boston University School of Medicine, and Board member of the Anti-Defamation League. Elaine chairs the Governance committee and is making dynamic changes in our structure.


Judith K. Lieberman

Judith Lieberman has been a key member of the board for six years as she led our strategic planning committee and mission and vision statements. A highly experienced Communications Strategist and Organizational Behavior expert, specializing in identifying and addressing corporate, individual, and group communication effectiveness, she is perfect for our Vilna's lead future planner. She is the Principal of Lieberman Associates, a business consulting firm focusing in 3 areas: Strategic Communications, Executive Effectiveness, and leadership development.  Judith has been an instructor at the Harvard Graduate School of Business and Simmons College’s Executive Education Programs, as well as a Leadership Development Trainer for both Harvard and Stanford’s Business Schools’ MBA Programs. … AND, she is an avid tap dancer.  Judith will continue to support the Vilna as a member of both the marketing and strategic planning committees.


Evvajean Mintz, President Emerita

Keen on saving the abandoned Vilna Shul from demolition and preserving it as a Jewish site on Beacon Hill, Evvajean first joined her late husband Richard's efforts of acquisition and emergency repairs to the Vilna Shul soon after retiring from her law practice. Evvajean, a native of Chicago and part of a typical "German" Jewish family, had come to Boston with her first husband. The untimely death of her husband led to her decision to attend BC Law School and to establish a legal career. She and Richard married in l974, but she continued her practice until the early 1990's.  Along with Richard, the Vilna became a passion for Evvajean, and her work for the Vilna is without boundaries. They initially included keeping the building open for visitors and docenting, sweeping up falling plaster, the newsletter, and fundraising. Later, as an active Board member and President, her duties were creating policy, exhibit design, restoration planning, and fundraising. Evvajean has recently helped found and is Co-Chair of the Vilna’s SeniorsConnect! group. Currently Emerita, Evvajean attends most Board meetings and events and has been a cherished advisor to many of our Presidents. Fully restoring the building will make her dream of creating the destination in Boston for Jews and visitors from around the world come true.


Wendy J. Perlman

Wendy is an attorney with over 30 years of experience working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector. After working as legal counsel for two Massachusetts agencies, Wendy led a consulting business for small nonprofits.  While raising her family in Needham, Wendy held a variety of leadership roles as a volunteer for nonprofits focusing on education, child welfare, and service in the Jewish community. Some of the organizations to which she has dedicated her time include Parent Talk Needham (Founding Board Member), Needham Education Foundation (Large Grants Chair), Needham Public Schools (Grants Chair), and Temple Beth Shalom, Needham (Caring Connections Chair). Currently, Wendy is a board member and volunteer with Sibling Connections, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving connections between siblings in foster care in Massachusetts. Committed to the preservation of Jewish history and culture, Wendy has sat on many of our committees and is currently playing a major role in our Capital Campaign Foundation/Grants Committee.


David Rosen

David is an electrical engineer and is retired from a career in the defense industry as an analyst. Much of his current interest is in genealogical research, and he is a board member and archivist of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston. He is the 2013 recipient of the Volunteer of the Year award from the New England Regional Genealogical Conference. For the past three years, David has worked tirelessly on researching the past members of the Vilner Congregation. Hours of research have been invested to create three reunions at the Vilna. Connections and contacts are extremely essential for the future of the Vilna. David’s wife, Susan, is also active with the Vilna, as Co-Chair of SeniorsConnect!


Eileen Samuels 

Eileen, as a language teacher in high schools and college, has always been tied to the youth of our community. She was the Board member who first coordinated Havurah on the Hill with the Vilna. It was her deepest pleasure to see her students from Solomon Schechter Day School or Brookline High School come to the Vilna under the auspices of HOH. Vibrant and dedicated, Eileen has been our scribe for our board meetings and has taken meticulous and copious meeting minutes that track so much of the history of the Vilna. Her experience on other boards (Mishkan Tefila) has helped us detail our history and look toward our future. On the nominating committee, she has helped our board grow. Most recently, Elileen was the recipient of the Vilna’s 2016 Visionary Leadership Award.


Mike Samuels

Mike first came to the Vilna because of CJP’s Community Service Initiative, a real estate consulting committee which he led as a volunteer. Mike applied his real estate development, investment, and management experience to analyze the possibility of more viable space for the Vilna. Since then, Mike joined the board and is now chairing the Building/Facilities Committee and will be a major player in our strategic plans.



Liza Schneiderman

A resident of Boston, Liza Schneiderman hails from Toronto. She is a psychotherapist with a practice based in Boston.  She and her husband are parents of two daughters. Liza traces her ancestry to Lithuania, and therefore feels a deep connection to our historic building.  She has been instrumental in working to create downtown Jewish community programs at the Vilna and serves as a co-chair of our Downtown Young Families Committee where she has help build a growing constituency of participants. Liza was recognized for these efforts with her fellow co-chairs at our 2016 Tribute Benefit where the presence of our young families group was strongly represented. 


Arnold (Arnie) Slavet

Arnie is born and raised Bostonian, with family ties to the West End, has had a major career in law and published authorship in wealth management. As past Chairman of the Executive Board of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and on the Board of Advisors of the Cambridge Biomedical Laboratory and New England Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, he is a passionate visionary, trying to seek a universal way of creating ties between organizations. and its protection is sustaining as he has sponsored eighteen scholarships for Israel’s IDF combat soldiers. His connections to Judaism are intense and explorative with his ties to the Vilna and his memberships to many synagogues. A Harvard graduate, a fellow of the Esperti Peterson Institute, a J.D. from Boston University, and the recipient of the 2014 Zvi R. Cohen Legacy Award, Arnie is a key advisor in many areas such as strategic planning, marketing, and nominating committees.


Stanley Moïse Smith, Emeritus

As past Executive Director of Historic Boston Incorporated for 25 years, Stanley has broad experience in putting people and resources together to preserve pivotal, but endangered, historic buildings throughout Boston.  In May of 1989, under his direction, Historic Boston published a 48 page feasibility study on the preservation of the interior of the Vilna. The study advocated the formation of a new, non-profit corporation to acquire, preserve, restore, and manage the Vilna as a center for Jewish culture in Boston and as a landmark of national significance.  Fluent in French, Stanley has spoken at several conferences in France and in Québec focused on the preservation of historic religious properties.  Since being elected to the Vilna’s Board in 2007, he has served on the Building Committee.  Not idle in retirement, he is challenging himself by trying to learn to speak, read, and write Arabic.


Jack Swartz

Jack is a past president of the Vilna, and has been a leader in focusing the Vilna toward its future.  He is a partner in S&S Investments, a private equity fund that specializes in providing coaching and funding to high tech start-ups and President of Resource World, a consulting company that provides sales, marketing, offshore manufacturing as well as executive coaching to early stage technology companies. He is also active on many non-profit boards: University of Massachusetts office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property (CVIP) and Jewish Family and Children Services (JF&CS). Jack brings many talents to the Vilna. His technological expertise and marketing has helped us define our systems, and he has been an essential figure on numerous committees such as Strategic planning, search committee, and co-chairs the Nominating committee. Jack is invaluable to our organization with over 30 years of experience in sales, marketing, and corporate management.


Sandra (Sandy) Swartz

With her background in sales (Regional Sales Manager for Whitehall Laboratories), Program development for Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center, and fundraising for the Rivers School, Sandy has been a member of our Board for many years and has played a major role in our event planning, outreach programs for the community, and fundraising efforts. She brings a wealth of knowledge of the broader Boston community (graduate of Boston University), strategic business contacts, and managerial organizational execution. Her energy, generosity of spirit, loyalty and commitment to the Vilna, and her creative thinking has been essential to our success. Contributing to the program committee and the annual Tribute Benefit and a past Vice President, she is a valued advisor to the immediate past and current President.


Gilbert Winn

Gilbert J. Winn is the Chief Executive Officer of the Boston-based WinnCompanies, which has acquired and developed real estate holdings in excess of $2.5 billion.  The company’s management division, WinnResidential, is the 5th largest residential property management firm in the country operating more than 90,000 units across 23 states.  Gilbert is responsible for overseeing WinnCompanies’ property management and investment activities, as well as the real estate development activities of the firm alongside WinnDevelopment partner Larry Curtis.  He plays a leadership role in the creation, planning, implementation and integration of the strategic vision and growth of WinnCompanies.  Among Gilbert’s recent focuses, is the development of high-impact mixed-income and mixed-use environmentally-sustainable redevelopment projects, many of which have received awards from city and state agencies, as well as non-profits and industry associations for their impact on the community, design, sustainable features and/or historic preservation, including Preservation Massachusetts,  Paul E. Tsongas Award, 2014. Prior to joining WinnCompanies, Gilbert was an Associate at Related Capital Company, a full-service real estate investment company based in New York City, where he originated and implemented over $150 million of equity investments in various projects throughout the United States.   Gilbert graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a Bachelor of Arts studying History and Psychology.  As a new member to the Vilna’s Board of Directors, Gilbert will serve on the Building Committee.


Karen Winn

Karen Winn is an adult nurse practitioner and writer based in Boston.   She received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and her Masters of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice from MGH Institute of Health Professions.  Her clinical interests include preventative health, shared decision-making, and patient-centered care.  As a nurse practitioner, she works with Life Line Community Health Care mobile unit, administering preventative health care services across New England.  She is also currently involved in the creation of a decision aid for disease-modifying therapies in multiple sclerosis with The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.  She recently authored a systematic review on value concordance, a measure of decision quality, in Patient Education and Counseling (doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2015.03.012), and has presented her work on multiple sclerosis at several annual conferences of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CSMC).  As a writer, Karen received her Masters of Fine Arts from Fairleigh Dickinson University and has published short stories and essays in a number of publications.  She received a 2011 Pushcart Prize nomination.  She is a member of the Writers’ Room of Boston.  Joining us as a new board member, Karen will serve on the Program Committee.


Laura Wise 

Laura manages the fundraising program at the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston where she reinvigorated their flagship benefit Gala and created a successful development strategy for grateful patients. She is responsible for raising $400,000 annually for the organization.  Graduating from the Tisch School in New York, she has joined her love for the arts and her talent for development. She has been invaluable in defining our annual fund campaigns, major gift solicitations, donor stewardship programs, and special events.  She brings a detailed eye and a keen sense of process for the development committee.





Advisory Committee

Rabbi Albert S. Axelrad, Anne Bernays, Ariel Burger, Kitty Dukakis, Joshua Elkin, Gary Greenfield, David Gordis, Arnold Hiatt, Barbara E. Hunt, Judith Klau, Mayer Krochmal, Gloria Lieberman, Jonathan D. Plaut, Bernard Pucker, Jehuda Reinharz, Shulamit Reinharz, David Gerzof Richard, Sharon Rivo, Jonathan D. Sarna, Rabbi Sam Seicol, Cynthia B. Shulman, Ellen Smith, Rabbi David B. Starr, Sallyann Wekstein, Elie Wiesel, z"l, Honorary

Partners and Affiliates

Museums of Boston

 Museums of Boston is a collaborative organization of museum public relations officers, whose aim it is to increase awareness of the cultural life of Greater Boston.


Partners in Preservation

 Launched in 2006, Partners in Preservation is a program in which American Express, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, committed $5.5 million over a five-year period toward preserving historic places throughout the United States. Over the past three years, historic places in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicagoland and New Orleans have received $2.4 million in preservation grants, which has enabled recipients to make significant progress in achieving their preservation goals. American Express has also given $1.1 million to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to support its work helping people save the places that matter to them, all across the country. This year, the program is being launched in the Greater Boston area.