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,

New Met Council digs into community issues

The Twin Cities Jewish Metropolitan Council, the new body created by the Minneapolis and St. Paul Federations to help achieve greater collaboration and cooperation across the Twin Cities Jewish community, is off and running – determining ways to work together for the benefit of our entire community.

 

Currently, the Council is meeting with community representatives to identify key metro-wide areas of concern.

January meeting topics included:

  • A discussion with Jeff Schachtman, representative of United Hebrew Brotherhood Cemetery, who sought out the Met Council for assistance with coordination of issues facing the Twin Cities cemeteries. Two Met Council members will follow up with Jeff to identify action steps.
  • A discussion on the current landscape regarding young adult activities and issues with Charley Smith, Federation’s Twin Cities Young Adult Engagement manager; Libby Parker, executive director, Jewfolk Media Inc.; and Benjie Kaplan, executive director, MN Hillel. The committee also received an update regarding the Harry Kay Leadership Institute. Two Met Council members will follow up.

At the next meeting in April, the Council will hear from lay and professional leaders about funding of bi-cities agencies in order to determine if the process can be accomplished in a more coordinated and streamlined manner.

 

Follow the Met Council on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2033680003523591/

If you have thoughts about any of the issues before the Council, or if there is an issue or topic that you’d like the Met Council to consider, please contact the Council Co-Chairs, Jon Parritz at jon.parritz@maslon.com or Howie Milstein at howiem@visi.com.

Joy Infusion

Growing up in New York, I remember the local radio station’s annual announcement: Alternate side of the street parking regulations are suspended today for Rejoicing in the Torah. The translation of Simchat Torah, the holiday we celebrate at the end of this week, brought a smile to my face and infused a little bit of joy into the incredibly mundane task of worrying about parking your car legally.

Infusing joy into the work we do at Federation is a much simpler task. As Laura Aknin of Simon Fraser University noted in 2013, “The psychological reward experienced from helping others is deeply ingrained in human nature.” In other words, the ancient adage that it is better to give than to receive has been given scientific back-up. And since the Federation system helps more Jews than any other organization on Earth, we have an awful lot to feel good about.

That sounds like a cause for celebration.

In that spirit, we are making some changes not only to the ebb and flow of our annual campaign season, but also to campaign activities for the coming year.  Rather than inundate the community with endless campaigning and calling, (and calling, and calling) we are going to be spending the fall conversing with and listening to our donors.  We want to hear more about your dreams and aspirations for the community and we want to share with you our vision and plans.

The campaign will then begin in earnest early in 2018, but with a twist: say goodbye to Super Sunday.

That’s right, we are replacing Super Sunday with Super FUNDAY! This January, instead of using the traditional model of Jewish guilt to raise funds, we are going to throw a party, at which we will celebrate our amazing community, hear about a few of the amazing things powered by Federation’s funds, launch a text campaign for many of our newer and younger donors—and have a grand time while doing it.

Keep an eye out for more information on Super Funday.  Details will be available shortly.  With far too much bad news scrolling across our screens on a nightly basis, I am very much looking forward to accentuating the positive and spreading the joy.

Chag Sameach,

 

 

Hurricane Harvey: Impact Stories

Sunshine Amid the Clouds: Federation Provides Critical Childcare to Houston Storm Victims

Children at Hurricane Harvey Camp

Before Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, Alyson and Daniel had just moved back into their new house after repairing wreckage caused by a burst pipe. That turned out to be just the beginning of their water-related woes — the rain and flooding from the hurricane filled their home with two and a half feet of water. But the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston was on the scene to provide Alyson and Daniel with basic supplies and people to help them clean their home and begin the recovery process.

Childcare was their most critical need. The Jewish community came through with a safe place to send their four-year-old twins while Alyson and Dan tried to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. The Federation-funded Hurricane Harvey Camp — set up at Congregation Emanu El, in conjunction with the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center and the Union for Reform Judaism’s Greene Family Camp.  It provided them and hundreds of other families with desperately-needed childcare, meals, snacks, and, above all, a secure location for their kids amid the post-hurricane chaos.

“This has shown me the strength of the Jewish community,” said Alyson. “When things are really rough, it isn’t just talk.” And while some may think about leaving Houston, for Alyson and Dan the storm has had the opposite effect. “How can you leave a community when you feel so loved and supported?”

 

 

 

Facing Unexpected Trauma: One Family’s Journey to Recovery from Harvey

Neighborhood devastation

The home Judi and Roger shared with their four sons had never been flooded before—neither had their street—and they were unprepared for just how quickly the effects of Hurricane Harvey would devastate their homes and lives. Before they even had a chance to pack a change of clothes, the family found themselves huddled on a bed, watching in disbelief as the water rushed in around them. Two of the couple’s four sons were with their grandparents that night, but the rest of the family found themselves surrounded by water and unsure of what was next or how to get to safety.

It was too late to get to the roof of their one-story house, so when their neighbors offered them a room on their second floor, Roger put his 7-year-old son on his shoulders and they all waded outside through waist-deep water.

“We were on our neighbor’s second floor for three days,” Judi recounted. All four of them, along with two dogs, using a child’s bedroom as a shelter, with their hosts in the room next door and a foot of water on the first floor. Rather than attempt evacuation, they decided it would be safer and more comfortable to stay put.

Out on the street, the water current was so strong that Judi could barely get to her house to try to salvage a few things. When she finally managed to get inside, she grabbed her laptop and a few other items. But virtually everything the family owned was destroyed.

The Jewish Federation and the Jewish community came through with the help they needed. Meals arrived, and volunteers showed up to help them sort through their belongings. The ERJCC handed out supplies and Target gift cards. Federation provided emergency money to get them through the weekend, no questions asked. Volunteers from Federation’s Young Leadership department came to help them pack up. “When everyone else had left, they stayed and continued to help us. Even when I said no, other people need help more, they still sent help. They knew I needed it.”

But for Judi and her family, the most valuable service the Jewish community provided was trauma counseling.

“Jewish Family Service set up shop at the ERJCC, and provided someone who was there to listen when I really needed it. I could break down because they were there to help.” A therapist herself, Judi has been moved by the support offered to her family. “It’s not easy for me to ask for help — I’m used to giving it. It’s been a humbling experience,” she said.

“We’re so fortunate to have this community. The Houston Jewish community will survive this and come back stronger.”

 

Who else are we helping? Check out the numbers…

 

Help us continue to help those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Donate here.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

THANK YOU MINNEAPOLIS

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

THANK YOU. 
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. 

Allons enfants de la Patrie….

 

 

I promise you that I am not getting too carried away with the spirit of Bastille Day. But I could not help but take a little inspiration from La Marseillaise, which is as stirring a call to arms as any ever written. The opening line of this ode to action reminds me of one of the most pressing challenges American Jews face today.

Many of us spend a great deal of time worrying about how to engage “millennials,” so much so that the frequency with which this topic is discussed has almost made it cliché. Indeed, if you are a millennial, you may be rolling your eyes right now.

But the simple fact is if we don’t have a future generation ready, willing, and able to take on the mantle we wish to impart to you, all of the dedication of those who have come before us and the sacrifices made on behalf of Jewish peoplehood will have been for naught. (One of the many concerns surrounding recent decisions in Israel vis-à-vis pluralism at the Western Wall and conversions is the negative sentiments they will generate amongst the younger generation.)

In an age when we are struggling to engage each and every young Jew, and at a time when were are combatting anti-Semitism on college campuses, young Jews should have as much access to Israel and to Jewish life here at home as possible. To our millennial readers, I believe one of the most important things we can do is include you in the conversation—how do you want to interact? (I would love to hear your thoughts—email me!)

Young Adult Leadership
To that end, Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul are hiring a Joint Young Leadership director, whose goal will be to bring young Jews together from across the Twin Cities and engage them in meaningful activities and projects that will connect them not only to Jewish life here at home, but also to global Jewry.

Young Adult Missions
Additionally, this coming year we will focus our missions efforts on younger folks. It’s time for a new generation to experience Israel first hand—to feel the power of peoplehood and get a better understanding of the Start-up Nation’s accomplishments and challenges. We want to expose them to the incredible work done by the Federation system throughout the world—to better understand the needs of our Jewish brethren abroad and the impact that Minnesotans can have on improving the lives of others.

These two initiatives will not dismantle overnight the millennial Gordian knot, but they are an important and worthwhile beginning. Each time we engage a member of our community and they arise to join their compatriots as the French anthem extolls, we are one step closer to passing the baton to committed and fulfilled successors.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

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
President

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.

JDC Takes the Fight Against Breast Cancer to Eastern Europe

empowered

“We Want People to Know They’re Still Women”

It started, like so many revolutions these days, with a blog.
Breast cancer is a taboo subject in much of Eastern Europe, and women there often feel alone in their struggles against the disease.

Bori Halom started blogging in 2012, largely out of a need to break this silence. Soon the platform grew into a support group for fellow Hungarian breast cancer patients and survivors that now connects over 900 women on Facebook under Bori’s motto “Together, it’s easier.”

These words also describe her relationship with Federation partner the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Her support group is a partner in JDC’s Women’s Health Empowerment Program (WHEP), which works in Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina to educate about the importance of early detection, offer mammograms and provide support for women currently wrestling with the disease.

“We want people to know they’re still women,” she says. “My main goal is to break down the taboos, to shake the stigma, to end women being gawked at for wearing headscarves or having shaved heads. We never asked for cancer, it just happened.”

In partnership with the Susan G. Komen ®, WHEP also provides survivors like Bori with leadership training, empowering them to start NGOs, run peer-support groups and become advocates for better women’s health services.

Once a year, Bori’s group gathers at Budapest’s JDC-supported Jewish Community Center for a daylong summit of mutual comfort and support. Women swap stories of chemotherapy and tragedy, remission and resilience.

From Zero to Recovery

About 350 miles away, Stoja-Mira Simic is standing adrift in a sea of pink. Growing up in a remote village in the former Yugoslavia, electricity was a late addition to her life, let alone mammograms. Besides, she had always had perfect health. So when a friend told her a WHEP mobile mammogram unit was coming to her village, she went because it was free.

Ten days later, she got the results. “I had cancer. I had to keep saying it to myself over and over—I have cancer,” she recalls.
A WHEP representative also led Stoja-Mira down the road to recovery, delivering first-aid packages and making sure she never felt alone. “It was as if we’d known each other our entire lives,” she says.

Once healed, she learned that women from a nearby town were traveling to Sarajevo for the annual WHEP co-sponsored Race for the Cure ®. She immediately bought a ticket.

“When we arrived in Sarajevo, I suddenly saw a sea of 500 other women in pink around me,” she says. “I felt sadness that there were so many of us, but also joy that I’d survived and that my life was saved. I’ll attend the Race every year.”

For herself, Stoja-Mira and countless others affected by breast cancer, perhaps Bori says it best: “I’m very grateful to JDC. We started from zero. It’s amazing that they believed in my vision and were willing to follow me.”

STAND TOGETHER