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


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.

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.

Ring Them Bells

I’ve always loved songs that tell a complete story, and one of my favorites was often performed by, believe it or not, Liza Minnelli. The story of “Ring Them Bells” is as humorous as it is simple. Shirley Devore, a 31 year old living at home with her parents on New York’s Riverside Drive, travels half way around the globe in search of a husband. She finds aforementioned husband on the beach in Dubrovnik, only to discover that he lives in the apartment directly next to her own.

I was reminded of this tale while listening to participants at the 248 Community Action Network Global Summit we held here in Minneapolis this week. This jewel project sponsored by our overseas partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel, brings young people together from the United States and Israel, teaching them how to be “Jewish do-ers” while exploring the Jewish world together and creating outreach and engagement projects that can be replicated in any Jewish community. The projects ranged from family engagement of lonely Holocaust survivors to baking hamentashen for soldiers.

The fact that many interesting and potentially successful projects will be implemented as a result of the global summit (and I am so proud that we hosted the first one), in and of itself is an accomplishment. But that is only part of the story. Of equal, if not greater value, is the bridge between Jewish communities and between individual Jews being built as the participants experience this journey. We heard from an Israeli woman who had never been inside a reform shul (let alone any shul in the past 20 years) and after her experiences here in Minnesota is now committed to having her daughter undertake bat mitzvah training. We heard from an Orthodox man who became best friends with a progressive woman, saying “We disagree about everything. But now I love her and respect her.” We also heard from many of the participants that speaking in front of such a large audience was “outside their comfort zone,” but they took center stage because the program meant so much to them. They chose to “Ring them Bells”.

Like Shirley Devore, sometimes you have to travel halfway around the globe to gain a better understanding of your neighbor. I am confident that programs like 248 CAN are vital to the future strength and success of Jewish peoplehood – not only because of the programs initiated, but because of the understanding, respect, and commitment to the notion of “doing Jewish” together it engenders.

Shabbat Shalom,


Israel at 70: Remembering Minnesota’s connection to a long road toward peace

By Steve Hunegs and James Cohen
Originally published in the Star Tribune. See it here.


Israel’s founding generation gathered on May 14, 1948, in the Tel Aviv Museum to proclaim a state. A lodestone of Israel’s Declaration of Independence was the United Nations General Assembly vote of Nov. 29, 1947, approving the partition of the Palestine Mandate into Jewish and Arab states.

Immediately after the U.N. vote, the Arab world from within and without the Palestine Mandate sought to extinguish the nascent Jewish state. Nevertheless, the declaration held out a peace offer promising that “[w]e extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness …”

Seven decades later — slowly and in fits and starts but hopefully inexorably — this tender has evolved from chimerical to fundamental with peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) — building upon U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 — and growing accommodation with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Egypt-Israel peace treaty was the first pillar to slide into place in large measure due to the successive efforts of the Nixon and Carter administrations. In the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy secured direct Egyptian-Israeli negotiations.

After Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s transformative November 1977 journey from Cairo to Jerusalem, President Jimmy Carter spared no effort to transform the transient euphoria of the visit into a gateway for regional peace or as it evolved: a treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Here the influence of a Minnesota statesman — Vice President Walter Mondale — enters this story of high-stakes international deliberations.

Carter gambled in September 1978. He brought Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Sadat together under American auspices at Camp David. A breakthrough was necessary to sustain the progress represented by the Sadat visit and warm Israeli welcome but endangered by increasing recriminations between Egyptians and Israelis.

Failure would compromise American leadership in the Middle East and perhaps globally — with fighting the Cold War still the essence of American foreign policy.

Rocky negotiations ensued. Impasse seemed the likely outcome of this huge investment of American prestige and push. The substantive issues of the details were enormous for two countries that had fought four wars in a generation. Two days before agreement was reached, the talks were on the verge of collapse, with Sadat literally packing his bags.

Vice President Mondale was indispensable to the Carter presidency. Mondale — with his access to the president and the levers of executive branch authority — brought to Camp David his roles in “Trouble-Shooting,” “Arbitration,” “Foreign Representation” and “Congressional Relations” as outlined in his famous December 1976 memorandum to Carter that reshaped the vice presidency.

Interviewing Mondale and highly respected Middle East diplomat and author Ambassador Dennis Ross helped crystallize Mondale’s role at Camp David.

Broadly speaking, Mondale’s 12 years in the Senate as a staunch advocate for civil rights and strong supporter of Israel made him a much-admired elected official in the American Jewish community. In particular, Ezer Weizman — Israel’s defense minister and a key Camp David participant — deeply trusted Mondale, who understood the feelings of the American Jewish community and was seen as a counterweight to the more realpolitik viewpoints of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

At the cinch, it was Mondale assisting Weizman in his counseling of Begin to cross his red lines of not withdrawing the Israeli settlements and Israeli Air Force bases from the Sinai. Begin’s courageous national-security concession removed a substantial obstacle to the negotiation of the Camp David Accords.

As Ross opined about the importance of Mondale’s efforts at Camp David: “Carter was the great hero of Camp David, and Mondale was his partner in all things, including the Camp David negotiations

The Egypt-Israel peace treaty created the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) with peacekeeping responsibilities in the Sinai.

Fittingly, given the Minnesota connection to the treaty, more than 200 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard’s Second Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment were deployed in the Sinai from July 2016 to June 2017 in support of the MFO far from their southern Minnesota home communities of Mankato, Rochester and Winona.

At Israel’s 70th anniversary, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is foundational for American foreign policy and Middle East peace, which includes Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Walter Mondale — to borrow a phrase from Dean Acheson — was “present at the creation,” and our Minnesota National Guard men and women help keep the peace in the Sinai.


Steve Hunegs is the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, and James Cohen is the CEO of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Day of Independence) is being commemorated April 18-19 this year.

Mr. Hughes Was Right (Spoiler Alert: Campaign Info Below!!)


Bill Hughes was the headmaster at Garden School, where I attended high school in Jackson Heights, NY.  Mr. Hughes has been gone for several years, but I think of him constantly.  A quintessential New Yorker, he was passionate, caring, and took no prisoners when he had something on his mind.

I often think of one of his favorite sayings: the best thing in life is to have a choice.

Just as Mr. Hughes empowered me throughout my time at Garden School, we want to empower you to use the power of choice.

Starting this year, Minneapolis Jewish Federation donors who pledge $1,000 or more to the Community Campaign can specify the impact area to which their gift is applied. 

We want donors who are passionate about a particular field to feel the impact of their gift and know their dollars are going where they want them to go. Within these fields, Federation will allocate the funds to the agencies and programs working hard in our communities to make a difference.

We know that in 2018 it is easier than ever to give directly to a particular organization, and we don’t wish to discourage people from supporting agencies about which they care deeply.  But the impact area system allows donors to support the agency about which they are most passionate AND other agencies that do similar work about which they might be unaware.  As they say, a high tide raises all boats.

Even though I am fairly certain that Bill Hughes never contributed to a Jewish Federation, I think he would be very pleased.

Shabbat Shalom,

P.S. Your 2018 donation of $1,000 or more is eligible for this opportunity, even if you’ve already made it. Click here and let us know if you’re interested in learning more or talking about the way(s) in which you’d like to allocate your gift for maximum impact!

P.P.S. This is just the beginning of empowering our donors! What else is in the works? Crowdfunding options for all donors to pool money and allocate to impact areas. Are you interested? Click here to be notified when this exciting opportunity is available.

A Time to March

On occasion, I want to use this space to introduce you to members of our Federation team. Permit me to introduce you to Charley (pictured far left).

Charley Smith, Young Adult Engagement Manager for Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul, flew to Washington DC last Friday to join the group that had traveled by bus the day before. The group was comprised of 70 teens and a handful of adults representing Adath Jeshurun, Bet Shalom, Beth El, Beth Jacob, Darchei Noam, Mount Zion, Shir Tikvah, Temple Israel, Temple of Aaron, regional NFTY and USY. Funding for the buses to and from DC was provided by the Minnesota Rabbinic Association, the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Federations and others—a terrific example of collaboration and—ultimately, a higher sense of unity.

See Charley’s reflections on the trip and what it means for our community, below.

A Time to March

by Charley Smith



When I arrived at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center (JCC), the Twin Cities teens were prepping their march. They were spread out—we had been given relatively free rein of the J—but our home base was the racquetball and squash courts. I introduced myself to the teens I hadn’t met before and was impressed to see the variety of sentiments displayed on their posters—from nuanced looks at gun laws, to biblical quotes, to memes featuring Kim Kardashian.

That evening, Kabbalat Shabbat was unique; the collaborative prayer service featured both bumps and pressure points, but in the end it was a mishmash of minhag and melodies, and not everyone was comfortable the whole time. I think that may have been the (albeit unintentional) point—to demonstrate the true nature of unity.

You see, being united isn’t always clean, and it isn’t always perfect, but finding common ground, being willing to compromise where it doesn’t diminish one’s values, is the most effective (and meaningful) way to move forward in community.

That night, after dinner (graciously served by local volunteers from the DCJCC) the teens gathered to mentally and emotionally prepare for the next day. They discussed why they had come, what it means to protest, and how to stay safe in the crowd.

Finally, thoroughly exhausted but anxious for the morning, we found our sleeping areas and bedded down. Just under 70 teenagers and a handful of adults sprawled out across three racquetball courts.



In the morning, we readied ourselves, dressing in matching orange shirts emblazoned with the text: #DAYENU. A handful of students met with a reporter from The Huffington Post, the staff chugged Starbucks, and the teens packed their backpacks with supplies for the day. We walked to meet up with the NFTY gathering to get ourselves pumped up and hear from some inspirational speakers as well as t’fillot. We said the mourner’s Kaddishtogether, remembering the victims of senseless gun violence.

Then it was time to march.

We joined the already massive stream of people representing every race, religion, and geographic corner of our country already flooding the streets. We spotted celebrities, carried banners, and together—over 800,000 strong—we arrived in front of our nation’s capital to make our voices heard.

I watched the teens and other marchers comfort one another as they burst into tears. I saw strangers help one another clamor up the walls of the National Archives for a better view. I watched a stage full of speakers, none of whom were much older than 18, and some of whom were as young as 11. The crowd alternated crying and cheering for more than two hours.

Once the rally was complete, the crowds began to disperse. The Twin Cities crew had long since separated into smaller groups. My group was a microcosm of the march—three girls and a boy from four different synagogues and four different high schools. I couldn’t have been prouder when they came up to the meeting point, sunburned, exhausted, and beaming with pride and emotion.

We reconvened to say Kiddush in front of the National Archive as a unified group from the Twin Cities, ignoring our differences—synagogue, movement, high school, age, background, city. As one, we blessed the wine and sanctified our experience together.

We walked back to the DCJCC, and the teens were abuzz, sharing their experiences and basking in the glow of one another’s strength. Arriving back at the J, the teens cleaned and packed, snacking a bit and getting ready for Havdallah and the ride back to the Twin Cities.

Later, the Havdallah was a mishmash of various traditions. It was clunky. It was emotional. It was the perfect way to end the experience—in two short days, we had become one. We had found unity.

My hope is for this unity to be a model for the Twin Cities Jewish community in all things. Let us follow the example of these brave teenagers from across our country and be less concerned with denomination, geography, or institutional affiliation, and instead, laser-focused on making things happen for tikkun olam.



An earlier version was posted on TC Jewfolk. See it here.

All of us

If you’ve been to the University of Minnesota this week, you’ve seen what happens when our community sticks together.

Maybe you were at TCF Bank stadium on Wednesday night, where more than 250 passionate people showed up to hear radical new ideas for making our community relevant and accessible to the next generation. The next morning at Minnesota Hillel, professionals from 25 Jewish organizations, schools, and synagogues across the Twin Cities dove deeper into strategies for reinventing our Jewish organizations. There was no competition or criticism, just Jewish communal professionals coming together in a shared commitment to our community.

The training, and an equally thought-provoking Leadership Summit the night before, happened during a trying time for Jews at the U. Jewish students on campus have been working overtime to rally the campus against a divisive and discriminatory BDS referendum placed on the ballot for this week’s student elections. These students are inspiring us with their initiative and tenacity.

Behind every student who raises her voice is a vibrant Jewish community. There’s the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas on the ground at the U providing resources to help the students be effective advocates for Israel. Minnesota Hillel is organizing students and providing a safe community space. Sunday schools and Jewish day schools taught these students the values of justice and tikkun olam. Trips to Israel helped the students experience the country, develop a love for it, and galvanize their support for its existence. And Federation empowered these organizations to do this important work.

At Minnesota Hillel yesterday, Rabbi Mike Uram said “there is no such thing as Jewish community,” that we are made up of many communities. While I agree with him for the need to engage in new and disruptive ways, I disagree with this one point. All of the aforementioned demonstrates that at times we are a community.

Because of the students’ hard work, we have a good chance of beating down this insidious demonstration of anti-Semitism. The effort by Jewish students and the massive support they received from a united Jewish community will not go unnoticed—nor will it slow down. We will continue empowering students to stand up for what they believe in. If the passing of this referendum leads to anti-Semitic activity on campus, the Jewish community will be there. All of us.

Shabbat Shalom,

P.S.  In another act of community, teen members of the Twin Cities Jewish communities—including Adath Jeshurun, Bet Shalom, Beth El, Beth Jacob, Darchei Noam, Mt. Zion, Shir Tikvah, Temple Israel, Temple of Aaron, regional NFTY and USY, and more—are working to organize buses to attend the national March For Our Lives in Washington DC on March 24.

This march is on Shabbat, so the group will be driving in early to spend Friday night in a local reform synagogue in DC. The group will be keeping Shabbat on the 24th—reading Torah together in the morning and then walking to, and in, the march. Join us in funding or supporting this group in our community. You can learn more and contact them here. We wish them safe travels.

Lean On Me

John Ruskay, the former CEO of UJA/Federation of New York was quoted many times regarding his organization’s readiness during a time of unspeakable tragedy. “We were ready on September 11, because we were prepared on September 10.” While it is sad that since that horrible day in 2001, Federations across North America have had to demonstrate their own readiness, thank goodness they always step up and spring into action.

Last week, I reported how quickly Broward County Jewish Federation began helping victims of the Parkland tragedy and their families. Here are just some of the things they are doing:

  1. Coordinating actively with area clergy, as well as teen and youth workers. This has included being a supportive resource to synagogues, Chabad and youth groups through the placement of mental health professionals at vigils, services and throughout their daily operations.
  2. With support from the Israeli government, the Israel Trauma Coalition is bringing a team this week to work with the city, schools, and clergy in the area.
  3. The Federation has supported the local Jewish Family Service to open a satellite office in the Parkland area, which is opening imminently. This was already planned, but is being accelerated in response to the situation.
  4. The Federation has also engaged a new professional outreach worker to be based in Parkland to focus in a broader way on building community in this under-resourced suburban area. This resource is focused now on providing ongoing support and training for advocacy activities, including providing a Jewish context.
  5. Federation is organizing hundreds of volunteers to assemble and distribute Purim care packages.

The notion of all Israel being responsible for one another is a code we live by here at Federation. To that end, Minneapolis Jewish Federation has made a grant to Broward County Federation’s fund to support the work mentioned above. This grant is made possible by donors who have given us funds to be used in circumstances like this. We are grateful to them. If you would like to donate to Broward’s work, click here.

As we light Shabbat candles tonight, I hope their glow helps those in need of comfort, even if only for a moment.

Shabbat Shalom,

Placing the “I”

Last month, I had the good fortune to hear Rabbi Paysach Krohn speak at the Bais Yaakov High School annual banquet, a renowned speaker and storyteller, Rabbi Krohn peppered his beautiful remarks with many anecdotes, my favorite of which was a simple statement made often by his father: “The only difference between the words united and untied is where you place the letter “I”.

Weeks after hearing this simple statement, I constantly find myself thinking of it. This week, five members of our wonderful Federation professional team visited Houston, where they and dozens of staff members from across the Federation system took time out from their seminars to visit the Houston JCC and other community sites devastated by Hurricane Harvey. They worked at the Houston Food Bank, the country’s largest food bank, helping with their Backpack Buddy program. They packed over 1,800 bags of food for kids facing food insecurity to take home from school (these are kids who often have nothing to eat at home, so the six extra meals a week really help!), learned about what Federation was doing to help those impacted, and certainly put the “I” in the right place.

Recently, as part of our efforts to reshape our annual campaign structure, we established a new Development Strategic Planning Committee. Their goals include looking at how Federation helps our partners raise money, identifying joint fundraising strategies, and determining how Federation can best serve the entire community as the hub for Jewish philanthropy. I am proud to report that representatives from two of our partners sit on this committee. Yes, you guessed it – this reminds me of where we should put the “I” as well.

And then, there was Parkland. Just days ago, as the Broward County Jewish Community was thrust into mourning over the loss of four of their teens in the unspeakable horror that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Federations leapt into action. Kansas City and Seattle Federations, which have suffered at the hands of gunmen in the past offered support almost at once, while Broward County’s own Federation began preparations to bring the Israel Trauma Coaltion’s experts to town to help in the aftermath. Mister Rogers always told his television viewers that in a crisis, we should “look for the helpers.” We should all take comfort in the fact that these helpers know how important it is to be united in troubled times.

At a time when Israel faces the impact of enemy drones and when Polish law is being re-written with anti-Semitic ink, correct “I” placement is as important as it has ever been.

Shabbat Shalom,