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

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

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

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,

Oh, what a week!

Oh, what a week!

Time flies when you’re having fun and this week has flown by faster than a speeding bullet. There certainly hasn’t been any time to wallow in winter doldrums.

This past Sunday, 300 of you gathered at Punchbowl Social for our Super Funday. It was such a thrill to see so many young families join long-time Federation volunteers; playing games, enjoying each other’s company, and celebrating the joy of giving. We will certainly use the incredible energy generated Sunday as we move into our concerted campaign season. The needs of the community are great, but the community’s spirit is greater.

If that wasn’t enough to make Sunday special, I have two words for you: Minneapolis Miracle! There is nothing like one of the most exciting game endings in NFL history to keep a community feeling good.

And today, to round out the week, Federation is moving! The weather is indeed cooperating as we head to our new location. When we re-open the office on Tuesday, we will be ready to hit the ground running and continue our important work. As I have mentioned in previous communications, our ultimate goal is to move to the Barry Family Campus, but for the next few years, Cheshire Lane* in Minnetonka will be our home. We will be announcing the date for a community open house soon.

Moving into our new, albeit temporary digs reminds me about the significance of the mezuzah. Tradition dictates the mezuzah symbolizes, amongst other things, G-d’s watchful care over us. I have certainly felt that care and steady hand this week.

Shabbat Shalom and SKOL Vikings,


*Our new address will be:


111 Cheshire Lane, Suite 50
Minnetonka, MN 55305

Tending to the Grass Roots

Relationships are very much like plants.  To yield healthy specimens, they need to be nurtured.  They need to mature over time in order to blossom.  This is especially true when one looks at relationships that build community and promote understanding between cohorts.  Experience shows us that investing in the development of such relationships yields sweet, worthwhile fruit.

This is certainly the case with our Partnership 2Gether program.  Since the Partnership’s launch in 2014, the relationships fostered have been invaluable.  Just last month, 10 teachers from our sister city of Rehovot spent a week in Minneapolis on a P2G teacher’s exchange; acquainting knowledge and teaching skills to take back to their classrooms in Israel.  Additionally, they gained first-hand experience about Jewish life in the diaspora and can better integrate that into their own curricula.  Such learning is a two-way street.  Last year, 10 students connected to Minnesota Hillel, accompanied by our Israel fellow, participated in an alternative Spring Break program.  There they met peers, spent the week volunteering and touring, all the while seeing Israel though an undiffused lens. (Click here to read a poem written by students who just returned from at P2G exchange trip.)

The benefits of this type of partnership go beyond members of the Jewish community.  During the recent JCRC mission to Israel, 34 Minnesotans of all stripes, including 6 state legislators, spent time interacting with partnership volunteers in Rehovot.  This chance to “talk tachlis” with “real” Israelis and understand issues beyond what they read in the headlines, will indeed serve our community as these legislators deal with topics that bear on the state’s relationship to Israel and issues of general concern to the Twin Cities Jewish community.

It occurs to me that there are additional residual benefits to engaging in dialogue of this nature.  The recent discord over the Israeli cabinet’s decision to freeze the implantation on previous agreed to provisions for plurality at the Western Wall and the debate over conversions and marriages in the Jewish State are case in point.  Regardless of one’s personal views on these subjects (and I don’t mean to suggest that they are entirely monolithic within any Jewish community), the reality of politics is very simple.  Diaspora Jews do not elect Members of Knesset – Israeli Jews do.  If American Jews want to affect change on a matter dear to their hearts, an effective strategy (albeit one of many) is to have the Israeli voting public understand the concerns.  Programs like P2G and the windows and mirrors they provide for Israeli and American society are an outstanding way to achieve a meaningful level of understanding.

While there are many programs that operate in this space, there is no doubt in my mind that P2G is a jewel which has much to offer.  As we grow it further, and as we continue to build community, I encourage you to engage, as one of my heroes Theodore Roosevelt would have put it, “in the arena” and be a part of this grassroots movement that is making a difference.

Shabbat Shalom, and SKOL Vikings!

P.S. Speaking of building community, I hope to see you at our Super Funday event this Sunday, January 14 at Punch Bowl Social.  We will celebrate community and the power of tzedakah together, root for the Vikings, and enjoy food and drink.  Join us!!!

Posted in CEO

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,