DAY // WAY 87: SHABBAT THOUGHTS WITH RABBI ZIMMERMAN

100 Days – Naso

by Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, Temple Israel

 

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman

This week’s Torah portion creates a perplexing reading of the text through the use of grammatical ambiguity.

The text reads:

And every portion from any of the holies that the children of Israel bring to the Kohen shall be his.  A man’s holies shall be his, and what a man gives to the Kohen shall be his.  (Numbers 5: 9-10)

What does the Torah mean that a man’s holies shall be his?  Does it mean the holies are given to the individual or to the Kohen?  Using nouns and pronouns in a cryptic fashion confuses the meaning of the text – or does it?  I believe there is a profound lesson held deep inside what might at first glance seem like a problem of grammatical clarity.

The idea that the possession of a person’s holies belongs either to himself or the Kohen teaches us that when things are holy, they are given to more than one person simultaneously.  When our acts are holy – when our lives are holy – we give as much as we receive.shabbat day_zimmerman

For example, the gift of Tzedakah is a gift that is given from one’s treasures and resources.  People who only see giving as the depletion of their resources rarely are generous and often do not receive the ultimate satisfaction that giving can award.

100 days-01There is social research that has monitored the health of giving.  According to a survey and study by researchers Dunn, Akin, Akin and Norton, giving actually makes one happier.  They randomly assigned people into different groups, giving one group instructions to spend $5 on themselves and one group to spend $5 on others.  Those who gave away the money reported being much happier.  Those who spent money on themselves showed no change in happiness.

The bottom line is that giving gives you pleasure and can make you happy.  The Torah is teaching us this very same message.  If giving to the Kohen makes one feel blessed and happier, then giving to the Kohen comes right back to you – so it’s both the individual and the Kohen who are simultaneously rewarded.

In these last 100 days of the community Federation campaign, we are taught in the Torah the age-old lesson that giving does not diminish us but rather shores us up, that what we give to others is also a gift we receive.  This is confirmed by modern social science.  As Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun,” so from this moment forward let us all turn first to Jewish texts to find the answers for the 21st century.

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Be sure to check out the rest of our 100 Days events and posts on Twitter as well as on our website. Like posts like this? Why not give us a “chai” five?

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DAY // WAY 52: SHABBAT THOUGHTS WITH RABBI DAVIS

Harvesting Patience (Parashat Kedoshim)

by Rabbi Alexander Davis, Beth El Synagogue

 

I don’t have a green thumb. Even with all the rain we’ve had these past weeks, I can’t get my grass to grow. I put down new soil, spread the seeds and… nothing. I am thinking of planting Astroturf.

Rabbi Alexander Davis

Rabbi Alexander Davis

Our ancestors would not have had the same problem. They knew about sewing and reaping, planting and harvesting. And while I may have failed in farming, perhaps I can nevertheless glean from them a lesson.

We read in this week’s Torah reading about harvesting fruit trees: “when you come into the Land and plant fruit trees, their fruit shall be forbidden for three years. In the fourth year, it shall be set aside for rejoicing before God. And in the fifth year, you may use its fruit” (Lev. 19:23-25).

This is known as the mitzvah of orlah.  According to biblical law, this mitzvah applied only to farmers in Israel. But the oral law extended its application to outside of the Land.

Essentially, farmers did not use the yield of fruit trees for the first three years. In the fourth year, they brought the fruits to the Temple and donated them to the priests of the Temple. Only in the fifth year could a farmer taste the fruit of his/her labor.

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Commentators differ on the reason behind this mitzvah. Some claim that the fruit of the first three seasons was not healthy to eat or worthy of being brought before God (that is, it was not sweet enough). Ramban writes: “the fruit of the first three years is not fit to offer to God, for in those years the crop is small and tasteless; most of the trees will not even bring forth fruit at all until the fourth year. So we wait and taste none of it until we have brought all of the first good fruits as a sacred offering before the Lord.”

I don’t know if agronomists would agree with this analysis. But I see in this passage a lesson in patience. It takes a long time to enjoy the fruit of our labors.

100 days-01Serving on the board of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and as a co-Chair of Yachad, the new platform for Jewish education of Minneapolis teens, I see this lesson first hand. We must plan and propose, prune and pick. For example, in a start-up like Yachad, we understood that success would not happen overnight. It took years to cultivate relationships and nurture the program. But with patience, purpose and planning, the talented staff and lay leaders are planting the seeds of future growth for our Jewish community.

In this week when we celebrate the fruits of modern day Israel, in this season when we anticipate the arrival of fruits in the farmer’s market, we recall the efforts of our ancestors to bring forth an abundant crop of sweet fruit and in the process, harvest a lesson about the value of patience.

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Be sure to check out the rest of our 100 Days events and posts on Twitter as well as on our website. Like posts like this? Why not give us a “chai” five?

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DAY // WAY 38: SHABBAT THOUGHTS WITH RABBI RAPPAPORT

Memory and Tzedakkah

by Rabbi Debra Rappaport, Shir Tikvah Congregation

Rabbi Rappaport

Rabbi Rappaport

Until Rabbinical School, I believed that the Yizkor Service occurred once a year, on Yom Kippur. The afternoon when we’re fasting and deeply aware of our own frailty and mortality, we collectively remember our loved ones who have departed this life. While in fact the Yom Kippur Yizkor service was the original one (and the only one currently observed by many), our ancestors added three other times during the year for memorializing all of our close relatives who have died as well as Jewish martyrs. During the three Pilgrimage Festivals (hagim) of Sukkot, Shavuot, and Passover, our Israelite ancestors would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem with their offerings. On the last day of each of these hagim, a Yizkor service provided – and still provides – a chance to remember all who have died.

Why do we do this collective ritual? Each one of our deceased loved ones is remembered individually on his or her Yarzheit, the anniversary of their death. Why then do we remember them collectively as well? The Hebrew root of Yizkor is zakhor, which means “remember”. Judaism is filled with calls to remember, especially at Passover, when we teach the story of our becoming a people, beckoning the next generations to join in our collective identity.

 

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Rabbi Ron Wolfson explains, “Originally, Yizkor was recited only on Yom Kippur. Its primary purpose was to remember the deceased by committing tzedakah [charity] funds on the theory that the good deeds of the survivors elevate the souls of the departed. It also enhanced the chances for personal atonement by doing a deed of lovingkindness. Since the Torah reading on the last day of the pilgrimage festivals [the holidays of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, when the ancient Israelites made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem] mentions the importance of donations, Yizkor was added to these holiday services.” (source: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/yizkor-the-memorial-service/)

100 days-01The Yizkor prayer reads, “May G‑d remember the soul of my [father/mother/loved-one], my teacher [insert Hebrew name] who has gone to his/her supernal world, because I will — bli neder without obligating myself with a vow — donate charity for his/her sake. In this merit, may his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life with the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and with the other righteous men and women who are in Gan Eden; and let us say, Amen.

This year, Yizkor Pesach is today (Friday, April 29th) for Reform Jews and those in Israel, and tomorrow (Saturday, April 30th) for Conservative and Orthodox Jews in Diaspora.

Who will you be remembering?

Will you consider a gift the Minneapolis Jewish Federation in their memory?

***

Be sure to check out the rest of our 100 Days events and posts on Twitter as well as on our website. Like posts like this? Why not give us a “chai” five?

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DAY // WAY 31: Thoughts on Shabbat with Rabbi Stiefel

What questions will you ask this year?

by Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, Mayim Rabim Congregation Sharon S - AS cropped

One of my favorite Haggadah commentaries I found in recent years is this:

Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics was once asked, “Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?”

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘Nu, Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always would ask me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘Did you ask a good question today?’ That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist.” (Donald Sheff, New York Times, Jan. 19, 1988)

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Pesach is built around questions.

Not only are there the Four Questions, the actions we do at the Seder and the items we put on the table are to inspire questions. It is a way to open our eyes to ask, “Why are we behaving so differently tonight?”

Last year, just prior to Pesach, I distributed a stack of cards with questions on them to use at the Seder.  (If you go on line you can purchase a “Passover Box of Questions” advertised to jump start conversation at your Seder.) There are numerous other ways to elicit questions at a Seder. Everyone attending a Seder can be asked to arrive with a question about Pesach or the Exodus. Or rewards can be given at the Seder to encourage questions. A former teacher of mine distributes Passover candy to every person who asks a question at his Seder. 

Teachers know the importance of encouraging questions to keep students absorbed in learning. The importance of questions is the underpinning of our tradition. The Talmud itself is a form of questions and dialogue.

100 days-01Questions are at the heart of being a liberated people.

In a slave’s world, there is no room for questions. Life is arbitrary. Things are the way they are and the slave has no role in changing their existence. Free people, on the other hand, want understanding. We are not automatons; rather, our role is to personalize the story of the Exodus so it is ever more meaningful to us every year.

Often when we study text together, we implicitly embrace that the questions are more important than the answers. We hold contradictions in our tradition, find ourselves at moments of cognitive dissonance, and wrestle with troubling texts. And when we ask our questions, we engage with in conversation that builds our relationships with one another and with our heritage. We share a common bond of valuing our questions.

May this upcoming Pesach be full of questions, as well as joyous and sweet for you and those you love.  

***

Be sure to check out the rest of our 100 Days events and posts on Twitter as well as on our website. Like posts like this? Why not give us a “chai” five?

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Conversation with Ahava Tomer

Below is a terribly sad and moving portrait of a recipient of support from the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Fund for the Victims of Terror. With distance and through media we sometimes forget the real people behind the stories.

Thanks go to several of our partners in Israel, who not only visited the victims but shared these stories with us while juggling everything else that they do. Trying moments like these remind us of our  incredible mission and the truly exceptional and warm colleagues who deliver that mission in Israel and around the world. We have many hands working around the clock to bring what is going on in Israel a little closer to our community around the world.

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Jewish Agency representatives met Ahava Tomer outside the ICU at the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. She has hardly left the place ever since her son, Yonatan, was rushed there two days ago after being stabbed numerous times by a terrorist. She is not allowed to enter and see him often, but she said Yonatan is already doing better and calls her on his cell phone from inside the ICU room. He is laying in a bed near Nadav— a 13-year-old boy who was critically wounded in the same attack.

Ahava said her son was at her bedside every day at the hospital three months ago when she underwent surgery to address a disability she has suffered from since contracting polio as a baby. Now he is hospitalized just down the hall from the ICU where she received treatment and she can’t believe she is back.

She proudly described how Yonatan, who is the youngest of her 11 children, saved many lives during the attack when he shouted “terrorist, terrorist,” and yelled at a little girl to hide in a building. The girl’s father has since called Ahava weeping, and thanking her son for saving his daughter’s life.

Ahava recounted the day of the attack, saying that Yonatan was supposed to come back home from synagogue. When she heard ambulances outside, she tried calling him on the phone but he didn’t answer. She grew more and more frantic, calling him to no avail until a stranger answered the phone, telling her that her son had gotten a scratch and was in the hospital. It took Ahava several hours to get to the hospital since the roads were all blocked. When she finally got there and saw her son in the ICU bed she couldn’t believe it was him and broke down crying.

As she was sitting outside of the ICU room, she noticed that there was an Arab woman sitting across from her. Only later did Ahava realize that this was the mother of the terrorist who had attacked her son and was being treated in a bed right near Yonatan and Nadav — the other victim. After making a request to the staff, the terrorist was moved to another room.

Ahava, who received an emergency grant from The Fund for the Victims of Terror, is in desperate need of the financial assistance. Her husband is also handicapped and since the day of the attack hasn’t been physically able to visit the hospital. The family doesn’t own a car, so in order to come to the hospital she needs to get rides from neighbors and friends. Ahava plans on using the money from The Fund to help Yonatan while he is in the hospital by getting him a decent pair of pajamas and slippers to wear.

“It is very special that there are people around the world that care about someone like me, may I never need such a gift in the future,” Ahava said. “I want to say not just ‘thank you,’ but ‘a thousand thanks’ — I wish health to all those who gave and that may we never need such gifts in the future!”

** Important Note: Everyone mentioned is a real person. We have used aliases to give the family some measure of privacy during these trying times.

Because of your gift, victims of the horrifying terrorist attacks happening throughout Israel will receive assistance quickly—often within 24 hours—so they can start the process of healing.

DONATE TODAY

Eyal Rob’s Israeli Playlist

eyalrob_sqAs a special end of summer treat for the community, the Israel Center and 20|30 Project of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation are turning the Sabes JCC pool into a Tel Aviv beach Sunday, August 30, and if anyone is qualified to run the show it’s Eyal Rob, a screenwriting professor by day and well known Tel Aviv DJ by night. We’re calling it Minneapolis Heat, Mediterranean Beats.

At 3 pm, Rob will share stories of life as a young Israeli creative, a popular talk he gives around the country. At 4:30, Rob will trade speaking for spinning and begin that aforementioned Israeli dance party. You can register for this FREE event at jewishminneapolis.org/eyalrob.

We had the privilege of speaking with Eyal Rob a few weeks ago, and asked him to put together a playlist of some of the music that he listens to as a way to get inspired and pumped up before a DJ set. Below you’ll find links to various artists that you may (or may not) have heard of. Give them a listen, get pumped up, and we’ll see you on August 30th at the Sabes JCC.

Curious to know what Eyal Rob’s music sounds like? You can check out some of his work on Soundcloud.

 

We raised $20,380,850 – thanks to YOU

thank-you-2io54wi

Thanks to nearly 200 dedicated campaign volunteers, Federation professionals, and 4,900 gifts from generous donors, The Minneapolis Jewish Federation raised over $20.3 million during the 2015 Campaign year (including close to $540,000 through special emergency campaigns to help Jews in crisis in Nepal, Israel, and Ukraine).  Of that total, more than 11.3 million was distributed through the Community Campaign (including $187,000 dedicated from the unrestricted fund of the Jewish Community Foundation towards community needs, and support from corporate sponsorship).

Here are the facts:

  • Together we raised $10,760,561 – an increase of $126,194 from 2014
  • Together we raised $9,082,460 through planned giving & endowments
  • An additional $537,829 was raised for special initiatives

Beth Kieffer Leonard and Todd Leonard, Campaign Chairs

“As 2015 Community Campaign Chairs, we are thrilled,” says Todd Leonard on behalf of himself and his wife, Beth Kieffer Leonard. “$20,380,850 represents thousands of people who will benefit—thousands of faces of gratitude and hope.”

“These critical dollars will improve, strengthen, and transform Jewish lives around the globe,” adds Beth. “We couldn’t be more proud of our community. Together, with our donors, partner agencies, and volunteers, we are doing great work.”

A gift to the Minneapolis Jewish Federation goes beyond funding any single organization or building—it helps map out the programs and services that strengthen and enrich Jewish life here in Minneapolis and around the world. Federation professionals and volunteers from the community spend thousands of hours annually vetting the menu of needs in our local and global Jewish community. These needs range from social services and Jewish education to community security and Jewish arts and culture. This difficult work helps leverage resources and ensure every dollar goes to the highest and best use.

IMPACT: Jewish Learning Brought to Life

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A message from Laura Axler, a PJ Library mom:

It’s funny, but on the same day that Federation asked if I would participate in the PJ Library program, I was rearranging our children’s bookshelves. Like most young families, we have lots of children’s books that my eight-year-old, Jordan, and five-year-old, Becca, love to read. But when we started receiving Jewish books through PJ Library, they earned a special place in our collection.

PJ Library, a program funded in part by Jewish Federation, sends out beautiful, age-appropriate Jewish books to thousands of children—all for free. Every month, Jordan and Becca eagerly await their personalized envelopes, tearing them open and running with their new treasures to me and my husband, Eric, for story time.

Reading PJ Library books together has really helped our interfaith family learn and grow in Judaism and Jewish values. The first book we received, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, quickly became our favorite. It tells the story of a Jewish farmer who retailors a striped overcoat into smaller and smaller items. It’s based on an old Yiddish folksong, so it taught them about Jewish culture, and they loved the story’s award-winning illustrations.

When Jordan and Becca began to age out of the program, I decided to take them to a few PJ Plus events I’d read about, like a challah cover-making workshop and a Havdalah ceremony. Eventually, I started planning and hosting events on my own, including a community-wide Chanukah party. Some families that attended were like mine, with only one Jewish parent. Others families had two. But we all had one thing in common— the desire to bring Jewish learning to life for our children.

At dinner the other day, Eric was reminiscing about our PJ Plus Havdalah, so Jordan and Becca brought out their braided candle and spice box. We ended up having our own ceremony right there at the dinner table!

As we lit the candle and watched the wax drip down, we inhaled the spices and smiled. Our story began with books, but PJ Library has become so much more to us. It’s about connecting families like ours to the Jewish community, to our Jewish story, and to our Jewish future.

You can help Federation continue to provide free programs, like PJ Library, to engage children like Jordan & Becca today in three ways:

GIVE_60DOI
Give
 to change lives locally and globally through a gift to the Minneapolis Jewish Federation Community Campaign, which builds community, cares for the welfare of Jews everywhere, and maximizes participation in Jewish life.

DONATE

VOLUNTEER_60DOI
Volunteer 
by investing your time—make calls at a Call for Change phone-a-thon, join a committee, or become a campaigner.

SIGN UP TO CALL FOR CHANGE

CONTACT FEDERATION STAFF ABOUT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

ENGAGE_60DOI
Engage 
by exploring the many ways to get involved with Federation, from attending an event to exploring leadership opportunities, to hopping on our upcoming Campaigner’s Mission!

JOIN THE CAMPAIGNERS’ MISSION

ATTEND AN EVENT

CONTACT FEDERATION STAFF ABOUT ENGAGEMENT OPPORTUNITIES

IMPACT: A Helping Hand for Ethiopian-Israeli Youth

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When Brancha, an Ethiopian-Israeli girl, was in ninth grade, her mother died. Her grades plummeted, and she was placed in a low-performing vocational high school that held little interest for her.

Fortunately, Brancha had advocates at her side from the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), a Federation partner agency, whose youth programs she had attended for two years. ENP staff helped her refocus on academics and negotiated a new school placement for her. Now a high school graduate, Brancha serves as a police officer in an elite IDF unit.

Brancha’s triumph despite adversity is common for students at ENP, which works to advance the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into Israeli society. ENP helps youth in 27 communities overcome the cultural, social and emotional challenges of life in Israel. More than 4,300 students get educational support in its scholastic assistance programs, while nearly 1,900 at-risk youth benefit from 19 outreach centers that provide extracurricular activities, emotional support and leadership opportunities.

Because family support is so critical to the success of Ethiopian-Israeli students, parental involvement is integral to ENP’s programs. Counselors include parents in school-based meetings, mediate difficult family conversations and run workshops that help parents build more effective communication and relationship skills.

“ENP’s work with Ethiopian-Israeli children and youth is making a major impact,” says Roni Akale, ENP’s director-general, who notes that the matriculation rate among participants has nearly reached the national Jewish average of 65%.

ENP’s impact lasts well after participants leave high school. Shira, who grew up near ENP’s Youth Center in Beit Shemesh, now volunteers there as part of her army service. “My work is so meaningful here, especially because I am serving as a personal example to each of the kids—as a soldier, as an Ethiopian-Israeli and as one who came from this very neighborhood,” she says. “They see where I am today, and I hope—and know—that they can reach even greater heights.”

You can help Federation continue to support our partner agencies, like ENP, to empower children like Brancha today in three ways:

GIVE_60DOI
Give
 to change lives locally and globally through a gift to the Minneapolis Jewish Federation Community Campaign, which builds community, cares for the welfare of Jews everywhere, and maximizes participation in Jewish life.

DONATE

VOLUNTEER_60DOI
Volunteer 
by investing your time—make calls at a Call for Change phone-a-thon, join a committee, or become a campaigner.

SIGN UP TO CALL FOR CHANGE

CONTACT FEDERATION STAFF ABOUT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

ENGAGE_60DOI
Engage 
by exploring the many ways to get involved with Federation, from attending an event to exploring leadership opportunities, to hopping on our upcoming Campaigner’s Mission!

JOIN THE CAMPAIGNERS’ MISSION

ATTEND AN EVENT

CONTACT FEDERATION STAFF ABOUT ENGAGEMENT OPPORTUNITIES

IMPACT: Healing Trauma with Help from a Furry Friend

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Five-year-old Guy has spent his entire young life in Ashkelon, an Israeli city only miles from the Gaza border. He knows what to do when sirens warning of incoming rockets wail: run to the nearest safe room as quickly as possible and hide.

So this summer, when a rocket nearly destroyed his neighbor’s house, Guy was safe in a shelter. But witnessing the hit greatly shocked him.

#60DaysMJF Images for E-mail and Blog (3)He became obsessed with a shrapnel fragment from the explosion. He burst into tears at the sound of each siren. Between alarms, he refused to leave the house or sleep in his own bed, clinging instead to his mother. He also became violent, throwing objects and even biting people.

These behaviors are typical of post-traumatic stress, a diagnosis shared by tens of thousands of children and adults in Israel’s south. To confront this epidemic head-on, Jewish Federation’s Stop the Sirens campaign has allocated millions of dollars to support intensive trauma and psychological counseling programs—like the innovative one that’s now helping Guy recover.

Guy’s new best friend is Hibuki, a therapeutic puppy doll developed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a Federation partner agency. JDC’s therapists told Guy that Hibuki was scared and suffering. As Guy talked to Hibuki about its feelings, program therapists gained valuable insight into Guy’s own fears.

“Ordinarily we don’t have a way to know why a small child is responding to the trauma they have experienced in a certain way,” said Dr. Flora Mor, a JDC psychotherapist. “I am repeatedly amazed to see the change that begins to take place once a child ‘adopts’ a Hibuki doll.”

After a few days, Guy was significantly more relaxed and his violent behavior decreased. He gave up his piece of shrapnel, began participating in activities and no longer clung to his mother. And as he continues healing, Hibuki will be a treasured companion.

Hibuki is only one of the many invaluable tools Federation partner agencies like JDC, The Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israel Trauma Coalition and others are using to help alleviate the impact of a summer of conflict.

You can help Federation continue to support our partner agencies today in three ways:

GIVE_60DOI
Give
 to change lives locally and globally through a gift to the Minneapolis Jewish Federation Community Campaign, which builds community, cares for the welfare of Jews everywhere, and maximizes participation in Jewish life.

DONATE

VOLUNTEER_60DOI
Volunteer 
by investing your time—make calls at a Call for Change phone-a-thon, join a committee, or become a campaigner.

SIGN UP TO CALL FOR CHANGE

CONTACT FEDERATION STAFF ABOUT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

ENGAGE_60DOI
Engage 
by exploring the many ways to get involved with Federation, from attending an event to exploring leadership opportunities, to hopping on our upcoming Campaigner’s Mission!

JOIN THE CAMPAIGNERS’ MISSION

ATTEND AN EVENT

CONTACT FEDERATION STAFF ABOUT ENGAGEMENT OPPORTUNITIES