Why Mrs. Maisel is Marvelous

January 25, 2019

One of the silver linings of having to take a little sick leave is the simple pleasure of binge watching a favorite show. Having spent considerable time of late catching up on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has not only kept me fully entertained, but has also left me wondering why fans of the show enjoy it so thoroughly.

Please don’t worry! There is no need for a spoiler alert here. Specific plot details aside, I think that at the core of the appeal of the show is how the title character embraces reinvention. Changing life circumstances, changing times, changing challenges—Mrs. Maisel confronts change with determination, joy and yes, a sense of humor.

As the new year chugs along, we at Federation continue to embrace reinvention while retaining the best elements of what made us strong in the first place. The newly envisioned David Tychman Global Experiences Program has updated the concept of “missions” and is making interactions in Israel and overseas more meaningful and substantive. The Jewish Community Foundation continues to produce new high quality communications, a more transparent web presence, and better customer service. Women’s Philanthropy partnering with NCJW to put on Women Repair the World and re-inject women’s programming with relevant, inspiring educational topics. Federations’s day-to-day management of the Barry Family Campus is running very smoothly, and the strategic planning process in which the board is fully engrossed will help shift Federation into the Jewish Communal planning table we have been discussing with so many of you.

So while you won’t find the Federation staff donning vintage 1950’s couture, you will find us embracing positive reinvention, just like my friend, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Shabbat Shalom,

Posted in CEO

We’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

Since the joint Sabes/St Paul JCCs event a few weeks ago, a melody has been stuck in my head.

I’d like to teach the world to sing…

I can’t be annoyed about it, because what’s also stuck in my head is the message that accompanied the melody. Children, hand in hand, harmonizing a vision of two JCCs working as one. The JCCs’ latest gala video had an impact on me—and I suspect on everyone else.

At a time when many in our community are calling for more collaboration across the river, Minneapolis Jewish Federation is very proud of its role in the JCCs’ new agreement. If you don’t know, Federation has been working for the past few years with both locations to envision a joint JCC experience that best serves our community. Many of you have asked for specifics of late, so I want to share the latest with you about the Barry Family Campus (BFC) and the new JCC management agreement that will begin January 1st:

• In September, Federation took over the responsibility of management and administration of the Campus. BFC staff handling these responsibilities became full-time employees of Federation. Most tenants and BFC visitors have not noticed any change in the level of service because, I am happy to report, the transition has been seamless, thanks to the true professionalism of all involved.

• In December, Federation will become the sole owner of the entire Barry Family Campus land and buildings. We will then be able to tackle future decisions about the use of the Barry Family Campus and the appropriate building facilities with more clarity.

On January 1st, the two-year management agreement between Sabes and St. Paul JCC’s will begin. The objective of the agreement is simple yet powerful: to achieve the greatest possible impact of the two JCCs’ missions and continue to build a strong, stable and unified Twin Cities Jewish community for years to come. Over the course of the two years of the contract, Federation will work closely with the JCCs to determine what changes need to be made at the Barry Family Campus so that the facilities remain the gathering center it has been for decades, while also being affordable and meeting the needs of today’s community. At that point, Joshua Wert will end his tenure as CEO of the Sabes JCC, and we at Federation want to thank him and wish him all the best as he joins the JCC board.

To the average Sabes JCC constituent, nothing changes after January 1. As the JCCs have already communicated, all programs will continue. Federation’s allocation to the Sabes JCC of $400,000 will continue. Federation’s subvention of $541,000 in BFC expenses will continue. What has changed is that thanks to the partnership of both JCCs and Federation, we have a solid plan for moving forward.

Watching the sausage being made is often unappetizing—it is certainly not as heartwarming as listening to camp t-shirt clad youngsters teaching the world to sing. But the moral of this story is that by working together, we are doing what is in the community’s best interest. That is as important as any of the other critical activities powered by Federation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Posted in CEO

Lighting a flame with The Menorah Project

The Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s Community Impact team is launching The Menorah Project for the month of December. What does this mean?

  • In the spirit of Chanukah giving in the month of December, we have offered our community-funded agency and school partners a chance to submit 1-2 current needs (maximum cost of $250 each) to be fulfilled and delivered to them in January.
    • Examples: supplies like paper/art supplies for students, winter gloves for seniors/vulnerable populations, or Shabbat/ritual candles.
  • There is a giant menorah near MJF’s front entrance with flames/lights (needs) to fulfill and instructions on how to do so.
    • Check, cash, credit card in-person only starting on Monday, Dec. 3rd
  • Stop by the office any time this month to “light a flame” (meet a need) Monday Dec. 3 through Friday Dec, 28.


We are happy to give our donors a chance to help meet small yet tangible, current Jewish org needs and the opportunity to thank our wonderful agency and school partners during Chanukah!

Spread the word and spread the LIGHT!

QUESTIONS? Please contact ltilsner@jewishminneapolis.org.


Frontline on our Minds

This week, I would like to introduce you to Kristen Cullen, our dedicated Grantmaking and Evaluation Manager. As she shares her recent experiences in Israel, and the impact that our work has on a daily basis, I know we all hope and pray for the safety and well-being of those in rocket range. Day in and day out, cease fire or not, we stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel.


There are moments from my trip to Israel that I’ll never forget—from feeling the spiritual energy as Jews from all over the world welcomed Shabbat together at the Western Wall, to gently holding an elderly Holocaust survivor’s hand as he described his loneliness—but I can’t stop thinking about how it felt standing in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza.

My trip to Israel was part of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s mission for Federation Professionals, and on our second day, we took a bus to the Black Arrow Memorial Site, where an IDF soldier helped us see the realities Israelis face every day.

I asked a question I think all of us were thinking: what would happen if a rocket headed this way right now? The soldier ran through the protocol nonchalantly, as if this kind of thing happens all the time.

Because it does.

And then it did again. Earlier this week, as more than 400 rockets rained down on Israel from Gaza, terrorists intentionally fired an anti-tank missile directly at a civilian bus right where my group—and our bus—had been standing, two weeks earlier. It was the terrible moment I pictured while standing at the memorial, looking not very far into the distance at the two trees that marked the border with Gaza.

On my trip, we met a recipient of the Fund for the Victims of Terror, which is supported by Federation funds. Since the escalation this week, at least 17 people received emergency grants within 24 hours of being injured or losing their homes. According to the soldier I spoke to, “there’s no end in sight.” This fund is so important.

Even in periods of relative calm, the Jewish Agency for Israel is supporting people through the lasting effects of terrorism. On our trip, we learned about a new camp that offers stability and support to children with PTSD during the unstructured days of summer that can be so hard for these kids who struggle with constant nightmares and paralyzing hypervigilance.

When I stood with that soldier near the Gaza border, I found myself thinking of the so very many people who live with this threat every day. It was humbling. Today, I feel lucky— and not just because the rocket didn’t hit our bus. I feel lucky to work at an organization that is constantly supporting Israelis, helping them to endure this horrifying reality and to build better lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Kristen Cullen
Grantmaking and Evaluation Manager


P.S. The Minneapolis Jewish Federation thanks you for helping us raise $26,009 on Give to the Max Day! Watch our celebration here.

Proactivity (and an exciting announcement!)

September 28, 2018


When Rabbi Jonathan Sacks rose to speak in the House of Lords this month, he did so with a heavy heart. With incidents of anti-Semitism on the rise in Britain, and as he so accurately stated, anti-Semitism entering “the main stream” of the UK’s political life, Sacks had no choice but to speak in so august and formal a setting (click here to hear a portion of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ remarks).

Unfortunately, the number of incidents around the world, and the alarming breadth and depth of such activity, made it impossible for Lord Sacks to cover them all in his remarks. But we’ve seen them on the news and in social media: the professor’s shocking refusal to write a recommendation for a student wishing to study in Israel and the alarmingly high percentage of votes garnered by the Swedish far right party in recent elections are but two examples of this enduring, centuries-old scourge.

There are many ways that we as a community combat anti-Semitism, and Federation is proud to support them. But one of the most effective and inspiring ways is to be proactive; to instill a positive and proud Jewish identity in our younger generation in order to prepare them for all of the challenges and rewards of Jewish life. A proud, happy and engaged Jew is, more often than not, a successful one. Federation is particularly proud to support our partners in this work through allocations to our Jewish Identity and Engagement Impact Area, (including camp scholarships and Hillel) and we have exciting news about how you can help raise more money for the cause.

On Thursday, November 15, Federation will participate in Give to the Max Day—the incredible online giving platform that raises over $20 million annually for Minnesota non-profits. 100 percent of funds raised through Give to the Max will go towards Jewish Identity and Engagement. But that’s not all! The Tankenoff Family Foundation will match the first $25,000 raised. Thanks to their incredible generosity, gifts large and small will truly have tremendous impact. You will see much more about this special campaign between now and November 15.

Rabbi Sacks and many others have sounded the alarm bell. We want to do our part to respond, and with your help, we will.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Posted in CEO

My Family’s Jewish Path—Powered by Federation

by Debbie Lieberman


As we round out the High Holidays, I find myself thinking about my family, our traditions, and passing down my heritage, history, and connections to my children and their children. As I reflect on my family’s Jewish story, it’s no surprise to me that The Minneapolis Jewish Federation continues to make an appearance.

For instance, when my sons were toddlers, I took them to visit my grandma in the Sholom Home (a Federation partner). I had always imagined my grandmother, her great-grandchildren on her knee, sharing stories of our family settling in North Dakota.

But my grandma could no longer remember the stories.

Thankfully, my family’s roots had been recorded and saved in the archives of the Upper Midwest Jewish Historical Society—another Federation partner.

When, several years later, my sons argued about attending Talmud Torah (also a Federation partner), I reminded them which student’s picture was still hanging on the school’s wall – their father’s.

Because of the Jewish education they received throughout their childhood here in Minneapolis, my sons inevitably wanted to experience Israel. When I couldn’t afford to send them, it wasn’t a problem: Taglit Birthright Israel was there. (As you may have guessed, Birthright is also supported by Federation.)

My sons are all college graduates now, but whatever Jewish path they decide to take, I have no doubt Federation will be there to enable this story to continue for my family—and yours.


Then and now: Debbie and her three sons


Soul Searching

Our tradition suggests that we use the month of Elul (the days leading up to Rosh Hashana) to be retrospective and conduct a cheshbon hanefesh—an accounting of the soul. Admittedly, I am not a religious scholar, but to me, this makes a great deal of sense. If we are going to set New Year’s resolutions (whether or not we keep them) and if we are going to atone for our sins, taking stock of the year that was, and the state of our soul, seems right on the mark.

As the CEO of Federation, I have been giving thought as to the state of our organization’s soul. While measuring one’s own spiritual growth or satisfaction and disappointment with one’s own accomplishments is highly personal, assessing these metrics for an organization or the community has to be a group effort. Whomever first coined the phrase “it takes a village” was right on the money.

At our annual meeting last month, Federation President Howard Zack provided those assembled with an eloquent summary of the year in review, and highlighted many accomplishments achieved; five percent growth in campaign, movement towards resolving issues related to the Barry Family campus and reinvigorated young leadership efforts were but three examples. Many people left the meeting proud of those accomplishments and commented as much to me in the days following the meeting.

That in and of itself would have made me feel pretty good. But assessing material accomplishments alone is not what, in my view, cheshbon hanefesh is all about. What really made me feel good after the meeting were expressions about people’s feelings. “The event was so inclusive” or “Federation appears to be leading again,” or “I’m hearing good things about what Federation is doing behind the scenes” are statements which indicate to me that the state of our soul is improving.

There are, of course, things I wish we had accomplished this past year. And I know that while we are committed to a rigorous set of goals this coming year, we cannot guarantee success in every arena. But if each and every one of us puts community first, our chances of success will be exponentially higher and the accounting of our communal soul next year will give us much satisfaction.

As we at Federation keep these material goals in mind, I intend to be mindful of the intangible accomplishments as well. I urge us all to do the same in our personal lives—it’s these moments that truly reflect our souls.

On behalf of everyone at Federation, I wish you and yours a Happy and Healthy New Year.


Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,

Posted in CEO

Thanks for the Good News!

In an epoch when depressing news stories tend to outnumber uplifting ones, I am delighted to share with the community some good news. Our 2018 Annual Community Campaign closed five percent higher than it did last year. In fact, when you look at a variety of statistics, this year’s campaign was the most successful since 2015. We will be providing more information and statistics on this year’s campaign soon.

How should we interpret this good news? I posit the notion that much of this success has to do with the clarification of Federation’s message. Yes, Federation has always been about community. Giving to the annual campaign was never simply giving support to Federation, but rather a recognition of the work such investments underwrites across the community—here in Minnesota, in Israel, and around the world. But that sense of community had been waning—or at least positive discourse about it had been.

I am so pleased that as I talk to members of the community from many walks of life, differing observance levels, varying economic strata, and opposed political views, the belief that Federation is a table at which everyone can sit is returning. We have work to do. Our organization is not as strong as it could be and there is more we can and want to do for the community. Part of our value proposition is that we are more than just annual campaign and can provide help and leadership in many areas. But this is a darn good start.

We will have the opportunity to come together as a community to celebrate last year’s accomplishments and dream about the next frontiers at our annual meeting. This will not be your bubbie’s annual meeting. On August 15, we are having a Glatt kosher, family friendly, BBQ to which all members of the community are invited. Our annual meeting should be more about celebrating the power and joy in our community and I hope to see everyone there.

On behalf of the professional and lay leaders of Federation, I thank you for your support and look forward to another wonderful year.

Shabbat Shalom,

Posted in CEO

Rimon-Funded Artist Sells Piece to Mia

Ethan Rowan Pope recently sold a piece of art (pictured, below) to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia)—a huge milestone for any artist.

Just five years ago, Rowan completed a teaching residency at the Breck School, inspired by the life of local Holocaust survivor Joe Grosnacht. After hearing 17 stories from before, during, and after Joe’s time in three concentration camps, Breck students each created a work of art based on one of Joe’s stories. The project, made possible in part by a Project Support grant from Rimon: the Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, led to a moving book called Six Chairs, also funded by Rimon.

Breck’s mostly non-Jewish staff, students, and parents were deeply impacted by the experience, said David Harris, Rimon’s Executive Director. “Art can create amazing channels for understanding and empathy.”

David shared the story of Rowan’s residency and book at a Minneapolis Jewish Federation board meeting. It was through a connection made by one of the board members at that meeting that Rowan was introduced to the prints and drawings curator at Mia.

“If I hadn’t gotten the [Rimon] grant, I wouldn’t have been able to make Six Chairs, and without that, I wouldn’t have made any of the connections I did, let alone sold something to Mia,” Rowan said. “One thing really led to another, which was fascinating. I’m truly grateful.”

Rowan’s journey as an artist embodies the Rimon mission: to promote and enhance Jewish identity through arts and culture, support arts and artists who broadly explore Jewish themes, and to assist the greater Minnesota Jewish community in developing a collaborative involvement with the arts.

“We never know how a seed planted in an unlikely location with the proper nourishment will bear fruit,” said David.

A Hunger Artist, 2013
Ethan Rowan Pope, graphite on paper


Want more inspiring stories? View the Spring/Summer issue of Minneapolis Jewish Life here.

Already inspired? Power Jewish life with a gift to the Community Campaign.

Five things we learned about completely reinventing Jewish life

On March 7, the first ever Harry Kay Leadership Summit presented Rabbi Mike Uram, who literally wrote the book on redefining the Jewish community. Next Generation Judaism: How College Students and Hillel Can Help Reinvent Jewish Organizations offers innovative strategies to keep the Jewish community relevant for the next generation, and Uram discussed his methods with the Twin Cities Jewish community at two events—a workshop for professionals at Jewish organizations and a keynote presentation open to the entire community.
Here, our top takeaways:

#1 We need a thesaurus.

Uram suggests moving away from the phrase “the Jewish community.” This one might be hard for us, but the point is valid: “Every time we use stock phrases like ‘the Jewish community,’ we make a mistake because we fail to acknowledge the complexity of Jewish communities,” Uram writes. “That mistake often leads Jewish organizations to adopt a “one-size-fits-all approach to trying to reach different types of Jews.”


#2 Network versus community.

Instead of a community, we should think of ourselves as a network—more transient, and able to shift as the needs of Jews in the Twin Cities change.


#3 More than planning programs or events, we need to build relationships.

Jewish organizations are always dreaming up fun and educational events to remind people about our vibrant Jewish community (see, there we go again with that word). But building relationships with the people who attend the events are more likely to make them feel good about Jewish life in the Twin Cities than immediately beginning to plan the next event.


#4 Keep doing “High Holiday” events…but do more “Passover seder” events.

Uram divides engagement into two models: the High Holiday model and the Seder model.
“The High Holiday model is authentically Jewish,” says Uram. “Huge public spectacles, thousands of people show up, there’s a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.”
The Passover Seder model, according to Uram, allows smaller groups of people to customize what happens—because they are leading it. “Even though we’re not all together there’s a sense of belonging to something larger than yourself.”

#5 Instead of “affiliated” and “unaffiliated,” try “engagement” and “empowerment.”

Empowerment Jews are self-directed to seek out Jewish life. “They know all the acronyms,” says Uram. Engagement Jews feel just as Jewish, but they’re looking for ways to connect outside of institutional membership or affiliation.


Our copy of Next Generation Judaism is littered with Post-Its, and we’re already employing some of its strategies. We highly recommend it—you can find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound (and we may have a few extra copies at Federation if you ask nicely).



Want more inspiration? View our Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Minneapolis Jewish Life.

Already feeling inspired? Power Jewish life with a donation to the 2018 Community Campaign (it ends this week!)