Jewish Federation of Monmouth County’s 2011 Major Gifts Event and Campaign Kickoff was, according to one of its leaders, one small community’s example of “a global Jewish impact.”
And at the core of that impact, said internationally renowned author Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in his keynote address, is an unwavering commitment to ethics.
The Nov. 18 gathering at Congregation Magen David in West Deal was cochaired by Joe Hollander of Holmdel and Bobbi Krantz of Manasquan and drew more than 100 leading federation supporters. According to the federation’s financial resource and development director, Evan Levitt, the event raised $213,000 for the 2011 annual campaign, representing just over 10 percent of the campaign goal.
Red Bank residents Bob and Joan Rechnitz were honored for their philanthropic service and generous support of the federation’s annual campaign.
“This is the most exciting time to be involved with our federation, as we reinstate our direction and strategic goals,” Sheri Tarrab of Holmdel, vice president of federation’s campaign, told NJJN. “We are seeing a resurgence of Jewish life in eastern bloc countries, which I witnessed firsthand during a campaign mission to Budapest. After 5771 years, we are still going strong. At tonight’s campaign kickoff, you see a small community’s example of a global Jewish impact.”
Driving that impact, said Telushkin, is a steadfast commitment to ethics. Ritual observance as a path to ethics is one of the primary themes of his latest book, Hillel: If Not Now, When?
“Without Jewish learning we can have Jewish hearts but not Jewish heads, which means we have no Jewish message to transmit and nothing to offer Jews or other groups,” Telushkin told NJJN before his keynote address. “We are a community, so doing virtuous acts together keeps us connected. Federation enables people of different ideologies and political views to find common ground.”
Honoring the Rechnitzes and acknowledging the continuing support of federation donors, said its president, Stuart Abraham, “is what this event is all about.”
For honoree Robert Rechnitz, the impetus to help others is “first and foremost in a Jew’s sense of justice. My wife and I are not observant in the religious sense, but we give because it’s simply part of being Jewish. I used to give only to Israel until I realized that America is still viciously unfair to the disadvantaged. Therefore, we began to help the Jews in this country as well,” he said.
Rechnitz taught American literature at Monmouth University for 35 years, and his wife cofounded the Two River Theater in Red Bank in 1994.
“Joan and Bob embody the true meaning of philanthropy and tzedaka,” said Toby Shylit Mack, chair of the federation’s community relations committee. “It is fitting that the word philanthropy was coined in ancient Greece by the playwright Aeschylus for his protagonist Prometheus. He was “philanthropos tropos” and bestowed on the newly created human creatures the ability and desire to improve ‘the human condition.’
“Joan and Bob not only improved our human condition with their extraordinary generosity to our Jewish community, but also provided us with an exemplary cultural institution,” said Mack. “Their vision and unwavering spirit inspire us to strive for excellence, emulate their charitable state of mind, and nourish our souls by attending their beloved Two River Theater.”
For campaign supporter Gary Littman of Manalapan, owner of Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry, giving is a family credo. “I take great pride in the fact that no charity has ever been turned away by our family business. If we don’t help other Jews, who will? I grew up learning about the Holocaust. The slaughter of six million people happened in my father’s lifetime. This is not a religious endeavor to me; it’s an act of social justice toward the Jewish people,” he said.
“Our job is to repair the world, rescue Jews and help them rebuild lives in Israel, and help those here who need our services,” said Wendy Marks of Holmdel, recipient of the 2010 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, presented at the International Lion of Judah Conference in New Orleans. “I believe what we do is God’s work, and I’m happy to be on the giving end.”