Thinking about Oma

Dear Minneapolis community,

Much to the delight of the camp-bound teen and tween in my household, yesterday marked the end of the school year. The final assignment my son had to submit before calling it quits on the academic year was the report associated with his genealogy project. Each member of the class had to learn and write about an ancestor who had immigrated to the United States. My son selected my Oma, Hanna Moller.

Helping with the research for this project was a wonderful experience for both of us, but particularly for me. Oma has only been gone for eight years, but reconnecting with her courage, her elegance and her story which included a narrow escape

This plaque hangs in my office to remind me of Oma, and her impactful contributions to the Jewish community.

from Nazi tyranny reminded me not only of my love and respect for her but why my colleagues and I show up for work each day.


I thought of Oma at the Board of Directors meeting of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) this week when I heard a wonderful presentation about the Secure Community Network, a JFNA funded program which helps JCRCs around the country protect Jewish individuals and institutions by providing up-to-the-minute security assessments and tools to employ in this critical endeavor.  I thought of Oma this week when I attended P’Chachka, an annual event organized by Rimon, the Jewish Arts Council which brings such richness to our community’s cultural life – something about which Oma cared so deeply.  And I thought of Oma just a few hours ago, as I watched the teens from Yachad’s amazing Witness Theatre Program perform at St. Paul’s city hall – at the invitation of the Deputy Mayor, to honor and memorialize victims of genocide.

While thinking of Oma during all of these experiences, I confess that I was thinking about you. Without the support of Federation’s donors, none of these programs would be possible. The breadth and depth of what is powered by contributions to Federation are inspiring. Our 2018 campaign ends in three weeks.  We have much work to do but are poised to have a very successful outcome. We need the help of each and every one of you.  We need you to invest in our community’s future. The Genealogy project reminded me why this work is so important. So I invite you to think about your own Oma, your Bubbie, your Nana or Safta or whatever else you may have called her, and join me in helping out community be the best it can be.

Shabbat Shalom,

My thoughts on the shamash

When we learn the story of Chanukah, we are taught about the shamash—the “helper” candle. We use this extra light to light all the candles. Though it does some pretty heavy lifting, it isn’t the star of the show—and I like to think it prefers it that way.

Of course, I liken Federation to our community’s shamash. We stand proudly, ready to bring light to partner agencies, our community, and Jewish communities around the world.

The shamash is part of the Chanukah menorah because Chanukah candles are meant to be enjoyed, not do the work of lighting the other candles. Our partner agencies, too, have a specific purpose: caring for the needy, enriching our community, and championing Jewish identity. As their shamash, we empower them to do this crucial work and fill gaps in community opportunities.

As we give light, our light shines a bit brighter as well. Our programming is designed to inspire the next generation of Jewish communal and nonprofit leaders; leaders who will use their skills to continue to keep the shamash flame burning bright. Federation does this in many tangible ways, Yesod, the Harry Kay Leadership Institute, and Yachad are three. But we’re also so excited to host the first annual Harry Kay Alumni Network Leadership Institute featuring Jewish-community powerhouse Rabbi Michael Uram.

But back to Chanukah, and the shamash, and bear with me, because here the metaphor goes off book a bit—the shamash has been the same for thousands of years, serving the same purpose. When the shape of the menorah changed, it always adapted to make room for the shamash.

This is not the case with Federation—nor should it be.

When the philanthropic landscape changes, when the community changes, we must change as well. This year, we’re rethinking two major components of our fundraising: the Community Campaign and Super Sunday. (Check out this amazing video by Rhonda Stein and Stuart Goldenberg about the changes!)

After many years of planning, we’ve shortened our campaign to six months, from January to June. Our hope is to make the process of donating to and volunteering with Federation a better one.

As for Super Sunday, we’re acknowledging that telethons are no longer the fundraising powerhouse they once were. We’re looking to celebrate our volunteers, donors, and the community—not ask them to work more. To that end, we dreamed up Super Funday, a FREE celebration.

Bring your family and join us January 14, from 1 to 5 pm at Punch Bowl Social to have fun, be inspired, and rediscover what Federation is all about—community.

Shabbat Shalom,






Federation usually contacts me in the fall. Why haven’t I heard from you yet?

We’ve shortened our campaign! This year, you’ll receive a call or meeting request from us in the spring.

Why did you shorten the campaign?

In the past, our campaign year spanned an entire calendar year. As soon as one campaign ended, the next began. This wasn’t ideal for our volunteers and was often confusing for our donors. Due to tremendous feedback and following several years of strategizing, we’ve revamped our campaign so that it now lasts six months; beginning in January and ending in June. By shortening the campaign year and streamlining our process, we’re providing a better experience for our volunteers and donors—because without them, where would we be?

In the future, we will actually shift the fiscal and campaign year to match the calendar year. This will reduce confusion and increase administrative and financial efficiencies.

How will you be able to raise enough money for the community with that shortened timeframe?

Anyone can donate to Federation at any time, and we will still be promoting Federation throughout the whole year through the mail, e-mail, and other digital formats. For the six months prior to the campaign, we will focus on engaging and building relationships.

That doesn’t work for me. I prefer to do my philanthropic giving at the end of the year.

We are working with donors who feel this way to make sure that their philanthropic conversations happen whenever it is best for them. If that sounds like you, please feel free to contact our team at

I heard a rumor you weren’t doing Super Sunday anymore. Is it true?

It is! Thanks to feedback from many of our donors and volunteers, we learned that Super Sunday isn’t exactly “super” anymore. In the past, phone-a-thons were the end-all-be-all of fundraising. These days, many of us no longer answer our phone—which makes calling extremely frustrating.

Our team crunched the numbers and found that it was possible to eliminate Super Sunday while still meeting our campaign goal. Now, instead of asking our most committed supporters to spend a day making phone calls, we’re going to take that day to celebrate them instead: introducing Super Funday.

What is Super Funday?

Join us January 14, from 1-5 pm, at Punch Bowl Social for a free celebration of our volunteers, donors, and everyone who considers themselves a part of this vibrant community.


I’ve been hearing about the Jewish Community Foundation. How do they fit into the Minneapolis Jewish Federation landscape?

The Jewish Community Foundation is the planned giving arm of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. Foundation provides donors with Jewish philanthropic expertise and support, valuable tools, and the professional know-how to make your charitable planned giving personalized, thoughtful, and tax beneficial.

What Harvey Reminded Me

The Weather Channel has been on at my house much more than usual lately, and I suspect our household is not unique. The weather-related tragedies which have been unfolding in Texas and which are, unfortunately, in store for tens of thousands of Floridians, have left us heartbroken. That said, I have learned some valuable lessons from Hurricane Harvey, or perhaps, these lessons have been reinforced in my mind:

As Aaron Burr’s character laments in Act I of Hamilton, “Life doesn’t discriminate from the sinners and the saints….it takes and it takes.” If a natural disaster teaches us nothing else, it reminds us that we are all in this together. Hurricanes don’t skip the houses bearing mezuzot in Haggadah-like fashion, nor do they ask people to which synagogue they belong before destroying their home. I wonder if Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who as reported by The Jerusalem Post, had seen any of the terrible images from flood-devastated areas before he called out reform Jews for “denying more than Holocaust deniers.” We are indeed fortunate to live in a community which truly respects the value of each and every human being and of each and every Jew. And we are doubly fortunate to have a JCRC in our community which sheds light on statements such as those of Rabbi Amar, which seek to divide us rather than uplift us together. (See JCRC website for their rebuke of Rabbi Amar’s comments and the September 6 Jerusalem Post article.)

The other lesson hurricane season has reinforced for me is the value and nimbleness of the Federation system. Thanks to Houston Jewish Federation, and with the millions of dollars the system has already raised to send to Houston, critical needs in the Jewish community post-hurricane were identified quickly and money began flowing almost immediately. With a day school completely destroyed, and several congregations still under water, this immediate help was crucial. I am proud that the Federation system was able once again to rise the occasion.

Additionally, the work being done on behalf of those struggling in Houston is an excellent example of the efficacy of pooling resources.  I am delighted that we are moving forward with The Jewish Metropolitan Council–a body made up of lay leaders from Minneapolis and St. Paul, charged with forging deeper cooperation and partnership. In fact, we are currently seeking nominations for members of the Council. Click here to learn more and apply. You will be hearing more about the Council in the months to come.

It shouldn’t take a tragedy like Harvey (or Irma) to remind us of these lessons, but admittedly, sometimes we all need a little reminding.

Shabbat Shalom.



Teach Them Well and Let Them Lead the Way


I am a firm believer in the importance of Jewish day schools and their role in the Jewish community. As a parent, as a Jewish communal leader, and as a “Jew in the pew,” I recognize that a successful day school has an impact on its community which reaches far beyond its own students. Day schools attract new families to a city, are often an important tool to recruit and retain clergy in a community, and serve as incubators for new programs and curricula which can be implemented in a wide variety of Jewish educational environments. And let us not forget their primary raison d’etre: they educate our children and inculcate in them not only knowledge but an immeasurable sense of Jewish pride. In discussing the importance of day schools, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks once said, “To defend a country, you need an army, to defend civilization, you need education.”

For all of the aforementioned reasons, and while wearing all of my aforementioned hats, I pay special tribute and offer heartfelt thanks to the Lynne and Andrew Redleaf Foundation, which yesterday awarded a $9 million grant to the Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School. By my way of thinking, this investment benefits each and every one of us, whether or not our children are currently enrolled at the school. It makes our community stronger and lays the groundwork for the next generation of Twin Cities Jews.

During my remarks at our annual meeting just a few nights ago, I pledged Federation’s commitment to do more to provide Jewish families with a “passport to Jewish life;” in essence, resources to provide easier access to day school, religious school, Jewish camp, and other educational and enrichment opportunities. Recognizing that a majority of our children do not attend day school, as a Federation we need to help lead the effort to make all educational experiences in Minneapolis first-class and that everyone has access to them. Federation’s track record in its role in launching the successful Yachad program bodes well for our future undertakings. I look forward in the coming months to exploring with leaders and parents throughout the community how best we can help in this vital arena.

Quoting Whitney Houston in the title of this month’s message is by no means an attempt to diminish the importance of the conversation. Quite the contrary, if anything it demonstrates the universal recognition of the necessity of educating our young. If we get this right, the next generation’s chances of flourishing increase exponentially. I do not want articulate what happens if we get this wrong.

Shabbat Shalom,


Your generous donations to the 2017 Community Campaign totaled almost $9.3 million dollars. 

For your dedication to building community. For caring for Jews in Minneapolis, Israel, and more than 70 countries around the world.
You continue to change lives. 

Because of you–he got to be a kid today


The Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and Minnesota Hillel, through Partnership2Gether, sent a group of college students to Israel over spring break this March for an “alternative spring break” of volunteering and learning.

A much richer experience than a typical Birthright or tourist-oriented visit to Israel, Alternative Spring Break offers students the opportunity to see Israel “off the beaten path,” providing immersive experiences interacting with Israelis from all walks of life.

This is a wonderful example of how what we do gives our community a richer and more beneficial understanding of our people and our connection to the land and the modern nation of Israel—and perhaps even a greater Jewish self-awareness. In fact, students report feeling a strong sense of connection to and pride in their community and to Israel after experiences like this.

Alternative spring break is a week full of life-changing moments; here’s a taste from 2017 participant Eli Singer.

On Tuesday, we drove into South Tel Aviv, a slum located within the “party city” that we all know and love. There we learned about Elifelet, an organization providing nursery school and childcare to Sudanese and Eritrean refugee children. These families come to South Tel Aviv as undocumented workers to escape persecution in their own countries.

After learning about the organization, we went to a dingy, second-story apartment housing one of the nurseries. There, we were each paired with a child to play with at a park across the street. I was paired with a boy named Yafet who was incredibly energetic and intelligent and the oldest boy of the group.

It was hard to see their living conditions, but we could tell that even taking these kids out for an hour totally changed their moods and allowed them to forget about their extremely difficult lives and just be kids.  

This trip has meant so much—it exposed me to what Israel is actually like. While Birthright shows tourists the best and most famous aspects of the country, this trip allowed me to see that the country I thought to be nearly perfect actually has many real flaws and issues. It was absolutely inspiring to learn about these issues and see the organizations and individuals striving to make them better.


Donate Today.

Reclaiming the comforts of home

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), one of Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s overseas partners, helps Holocaust survivors in need

Oszkár, 94, vividly remembers his Budapest childhood. Passover seders with family, singing in the synagogue choir, studying at vocational school—and the Nazis storming in and destroying all of it. Though he had dreamed of one day becoming a bank officer, the new anti-Jewish legislation turned what should have been an attainable goal into an impossible fantasy.

At 21, he was taken to two different labor camps, one run by a sadistic supervisor who forced each inmate to carry logs up a hill–logs so big each required two people to lift.

Somehow he survived.

Shortly after the war, Oszkár was fortunate to meet the love of his life, but since she passed away 20 years ago, he has lived alone in a small apartment in his hometown. His health declined in 2012 after a stroke left him with constant tremors, partial blindness and deafness, and limited mobility.

But with Federation at his side, he’s never alone.

A Holistic Approach

Oszkár is one of the approximately 4,000 Nazi victims receiving life-saving assistance from Federation partner the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)’s Hungarian office. He depends on critical medical care and home supplies, while other Hungarian Holocaust survivors receive food packages, home care, medicines, visits from social workers and more.

Direct service is just one part of JDC’s mission to assist Holocaust survivors in Hungary.

At the JCC in Budapest, the Shalom Club offers them the chance to come together for educational and social programs that also help beat isolation, like film screenings, city tours, and exercise. About 20-30 survivors participate in the monthly Eotvos social club, with many also serving as community volunteers.

It’s a holistic approach—one that reminds Holocaust survivors they have a whole Jewish community working hard to care for their needs.

“JDC makes me feel like I’m not alone,” Oszkár says.

Four Questions with David Orbuch

From the Desk of David Orbuch, President

Long journeys: as Jews, we know a little something about them. And while we may love to kvetch along the way, there’s something else we’re well versed in: triumphant endings.

Like the Jews wandering through the desert, our Federation has been on a bit of a journey. But unlike the wandering Jews, we’re not lost. And now that we have officially hired Jim Cohen as our Chief Executive Officer, our path is even clearer. Jim will join us officially on May 15, and we couldn’t be more excited.

Passover is one of my favorite times of the year. I hope this Pesach found you at a Seder table filled with people you love, honoring the beloved traditions of our people and celebrating the end of long journeys old and new. As we all know, Pesach isn’t complete without four questions and four answers. Here are Federations:

    1. Can you tell me more about our CEO?
      Jim Cohen comes to our Federation having served as CEO of the United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien for the past four years. Prior to a career in Jewish communal service, Jim served as Assistant Secretary of the University for International Affairs at Yale University and before that, as a career diplomat in the Foreign Service of the United States Department of State.I am incredibly excited about the unique skills Jim brings to Minneapolis. His experience has equipped him to build relationships, forge alliances, and carry out strategic plans. And his recent tenure at a Federation means he knows the business—its challenges and its inherent strengths.While Jim arrives in May, his wife Lisa and their two school-aged children, Jonathan and Dahlia, will follow in August.
    2. What is Federation’s role in keeping our community safe?
      The sensitive nature of security precludes us from sharing too many details, but know that the work behind the scenes is vigilant and focused.For two years, the Minneapolis and St. Paul Federations have worked with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) to enhance security and combat the rise of anti-Semitism. Outside of these efforts, JCRC plays a primary and invaluable role in community security—and relies on your support to Federation.Your support of Federation also funds the Secure Community Network (SCN), a dedicated homeland security initiative on behalf of the American Jewish community. SCN provides trainings and helps implement security staff and plans in communities.
    3. What are you doing to prepare the next generation of Jews?
      Recent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity on college campuses inspired Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy and the Israel Center to work with Yachad (Jewish learning for teens, funded by Minneapolis Jewish Federation), Hillel, and the National Council of Jewish Women to present Preparing U, a timely and important program for high school students and their parents. Hillel students spoke candidly with participants about their experiences being Jewish on campus, and Hillel director Benjie Kaplan gave parents insight into what their kids might encounter when they head off to college as well as tools to advocate for Israel.
    4. How are you advancing leadership development?
      At the end of last year, Minneapolis Jewish Federation introduced Yesod, a nine-week executive leadership program for seasoned leaders in our community. Hebrew University’s Melton School developed Yesod’s curriculum, and the program is facilitated by local veteran educator Meryll Page. Take a peek at our upcoming issue of Minneapolis Jewish Life to read more about Yesod.

Chag Pesach sameach,



David Orbuch

P.S. We need your ongoing help to continue our journey to freedom. If you have not given, a gift of $100 can provide a week of hot, kosher meals to a local homebound senior, while $1,500 can provide a scholarship to a Minneapolis child to attend two weeks of life-changing Jewish camp. Please give generously.

If you have given, thank you. Our community’s journey is safer because of you.

Minneapolis Jewish Federation names new CEO

Minneapolis Jewish Federation has named James A. (Jim) Cohen as the new Chief Executive Officer, effective May 15, 2017. The national search was conducted by a committee of key lay leaders and co-chaired by Howard Zack, President-Elect, and Gabrielle Parish, president of GF Parish Group.

Jim comes to Minneapolis with a broad background of service to both our country and the Jewish people. Most recently he served as CEO of the United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien. During his tenure at Stamford, Jim brought substantive positive change to the organization, including implementing new modalities of giving, establishing a legacy society, updating the governance structure, and creating positive, 21stcentury messaging about the benefits of federated giving.

“Jim Cohen is uniquely suited to help us move Minneapolis Jewish Federation forward,” said Howard Zack. “His dedication to the Jewish community, strategic perspective, and track record at the Greater Stamford Federation make him the ideal candidate to lead our community into the future.”

Before his career in Jewish service, Jim served for five years as Assistant Secretary of the University for International Affairs at Yale University, where he coordinated university activities in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe and advised the Yale Corporation and the President’s Council for International Activities.

Prior to his appointment at Yale, Jim spent ten years as a career diplomat in the Foreign Service of the United States Department of State. He served as Deputy Political Counselor in Quito, Ecuador, as a member of the Secretary of State’s Executive Secretariat, as Political-Military Affairs Officer in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and as Staff Assistant to the US Ambassador to Egypt.

“We are especially excited about what Jim brings to Minneapolis,” explains David Orbuch, President of Minneapolis Jewish Federation. “His years in the state department as a diplomat have equipped him to build relationships, forge alliances, and carry out strategic plans. His recent tenure at a Federation means he knows the business—its challenges and its inherent strengths.”

Jim’s wife, Lisa and their two school-aged children, Jonathan and Dahlia will join Jim in Minneapolis in August.