After 28 years in New Jersey, my husband, Bruce, and I are moving at the end of July to a resort island outside of Charleston, SC, called Seabrook Island. We made our plans known only over the past few weeks. During this time, the outpouring of emotion and good wishes from my federation friends has been overwhelming to me.
We have a wonderful Jewish community here in Greater MetroWest. I first became involved in the early ’90’s after attending a breakfast meeting of “Jewish Women Lawyers.” I still remember Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, who had just returned from a trip to the FSU, explaining with great compassion the critical importance of a little box of necessities — some chocolate, slippers, sugar, other items — that our funding to JDC helped provide to elderly FSU citizens. Like-minded professional women, a path to helping Jews; this was a group for me. Since then I have been active in Women’s Philanthropy, and that little box that helped so much has always been close to my heart.
In the spring of 2002, a small group from the Religious Pluralism committee was taking a trip to Israel, and I tagged along. I found myself traveling with several past presidents and their spouses and other community leaders. This was not a “mission” at all; rather, it was a site visit to many of our Religious Pluralism programs and a personal visit to many of our partners. I saw the friendships that these wonderful people forged with Israelis, and the tangible results of our federation’s support for their Jewish identity programs. This trip opened my eyes to the ability of the organized Jewish community, and of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ in particular, to take part in making real and lasting changes in the social fabric of Israel.
Indeed, we were at the forefront of what today is called Israel’s “Jewish renaissance,” and we are recognized throughout both Israel and the federation system for innovative Israeli programming that makes Jewish learning and Jewish culture accessible to all Jews, regardless of their level of observance.
As a result of that trip, I became a member of the Religious Pluralism committee. I widened my Israel-focused efforts by participating in, and later leading, not only the Religious Pluralism Committee, but also the Israel Program Center and the Israel and Overseas Committee.
I also met Amir Shacham during that trip (although it feels like I have known Amir forever). Amir is the heart and soul of our Israel office, and guides us with strength, patience, and wisdom through our deliberations on all things “Israel and Overseas.” No federation member should visit Israel without spending a day with Amir (or Michal or Atara or Noga, who will be “holding down the fort” in Israel while Amir spends two years here in New Jersey) to see our projects throughout Israel — not only to see “where your money goes” but to forge, for yourself, personal relationships with our partners in these programs.
I have also been a board member of Jewish Vocational Service, and saw first-hand the remarkable job of that agency in educating and assisting people in need, helping them learn English, develop job skills, and find employment. Through the services provided to my aunt at Daughters of Israel, I was touched to see how this community takes care of its elderly residents with dignity and respect. Bruce was on the JCC MetroWest board and chair of its finance committee during very turbulent times. But with all the stress of that work, he still came home with endearing reflections on the early childhood programs, the senior programs, the cultural events, and the vibrancy of all of the activities taking place at the JCC.
As a member over the years of the federation’s Local Allocations Committee and the Israel and Overseas Committee, as well as the Executive Committee and the Board, I learned about and came to appreciate the devoted work of the professionals and staff of each agency and organization with which we are connected. As a member of the Jewish Community Foundation board, I witnessed the generosity of our community members to our federation and beneficiary agencies, to charitable causes all around the nation and the world, and to future generations through endowed gifts. And nothing has been as impressive as our emergency support in the face of crises like the Second Lebanon War, Hurricane Sandy, and the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to their homeland. My respect and admiration for our leadership over the years are boundless. They have taught me so much about what it means to give of yourself.
So Bruce and I will not say “shalom” to our wonderful friends in Greater MetroWest; rather, we will say “l’hitraot” since we expect to see you when you visit Charleston (the number one-ranked tourist city by Travel and Leisure magazine for 2013!) and when we return to New Jersey.
And I also want to say “thank you” to the federation for giving me the opportunity to be part of an incredible Jewish community and to engage, in my own small way, in “tikun olam.”