County Fare: North Adams Rabbi among 'Most Inspiring'


"The Forward," a news publication focused on Jewish American life and culture, published on Sunday its 2016 list of "America's Most Inspiring Rabbis: 32 Men & Women Who Move Us Most." Of those rabbis on the list, three of them are from Massachusetts, and one of them is from our own Berkshire backyard.

Rachel Barenblat, 41, serves as rabbi for Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, and was nominated by two people.

Listed on the website of "The Forward" is a statement of nomination by Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, who says of Barenblat, "She inspires me every day."

"Through the gift of her poetry and prose, as posted on her highly popular "Velveteen Rabbi" blog site, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat inspires thousands of followers all around the world in addition to her congregants at Congregation Beth Israel. I would never say that I have been a "poetry person," but I find that Rachel's gifts with words have the ability to reach right into the deepest longings of my soul," Schechter-Shaffin said.

Barenblat was ordained in 2011 by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and as a mashpi'ah ruchanit (spiritual director) in 2012. She now serves as co-chair, with Rabbi David Evan Markus, of ALEPH. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in religion from Williams College and an master of fine arts degree in writing and literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars.

Learn more at, or visit Rabbi Barenblat's blog,

He speaks for the trees

Ron Yaple, owner of Race Mountain Tree Services in Sheffield, was recently named the 2016 VISTA Award winner by the Massachusetts Arborists Association, for his lifetime achievement in the field of arboriculture.

Established in 2000, the VISTA Award is the highest honor the Massachusetts Arborists Association bestows on an individual. It recognizes outstanding tree care professionals whose actions serve as a guide and a challenge for all members of the industry. The award's title is an acronym for Vision, Integrity, Service, Talent and Action — the leadership qualities inherent in all VISTA award recipients.

"Inspirational industry leaders like Ron Yaple are setting the standard for professionalism, innovation and creativity in the arboriculture profession," said Marc Hansen, president of the MAA.

"To me, Ron epitomizes what it means to be an enthusiastic, lifelong teacher and learner: always seeking knowledge and sharing it with those around him," said University of Massachusetts arboriculture professor, Dennis Ryan, who presented the VISTA Award to Yaple.

Yaple said he was "deeply honored and grateful to accept this prestigious award."

He has been at the help of Race Mountain Tree Services since 1977. He has served on and is a past chair of the MAA's Massachusetts Certified Arborist Committee. He's taught arboriculture to landscape design students at the Berkshire Botanical Garden and contributes time to the Sheffield Tree Project and the Berkshire County Arborists Day. He served on the New England Grows Education Committee and is a certified arborist in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.

Said Yaple of his award and career, "It speaks to the fact that if you stay on message, are persistent in your commitment to your career, remain a life-long learner and encourage others to do the same, good things come!"

Read the full remarks and see photos from the award presentation online at

Branching out to preserve, protect trees

Lanesborough students and residents celebrated Arbor Day on May 13, the culmination of a year-long, town-wide effort to raise awareness and promote healthy and abundant trees in the community.

As part of the celebration, third-graders from Lanesborough Elementary School displayed tree art, toured and studied the species of the arboretum on the school campus which was installed by the Lanesborough Tree Committee, and sang songs about trees.

Paula Byrdy, a member of the Lanesborough Tree Committee and LIFE: Lanesborough Initiative for Excellence, said new this year to the program was a ranger-led hike on Mt. Greylock, to introduce the students to trees and animals in the forest.

Byrdy noted other tree activities in the town, as listed in the committee's 2015 year-end newsletter.

Residents were encouraged to donate trees in celebration of the town's 250th anniversary last year. "The trees were planted last fall in Laston Park, our community ball park. Plaques will be mounted to commemorate the generosity of the donors and identify the unique varieties of trees," Byrdy said.

The Tree and Forest Committee is in great need of new members who are interesting in promoting trees in Lanesborough, and in developing a plan to create an educational woodlands trail for the town. To get involved, contact Jim Neureuther at 413-499-4440, or Paula Byrdy at 413-499-1925.


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