A record 95 philanthropists turned out at the annual Vanguard event of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County to learn how their generosity has touched the lives of countless others.
The Aug. 16 event at the East Brunswick home of Sharon Karmazin brought in $1.1 million to the annual campaign, an amount that held steady from last year’s total despite continuing economic downturns.
This year’s gathering featured a talk by Dr. Rick Hodes, medical director for Ethiopia of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, one of the Middlesex federation’s overseas partners.
Honorees were Vanguard members Sandy and Dr. Steven Lenger of East Brunswick.
Vanguard, for donors who have given $5,000 or more to federation’s annual campaign, kicked off its fund-raising year. Federation’s fiscal year ended June 30 with a campaign that took in $2,165,579, down 2.28 percent from the previous year.
“I’m inspired by Dr. Rick Hodes and the work he does in Ethiopia, saving one life at a time,” said federation president Arlene Frumkin. “The generosity and dedication of Steve and Sandy Lenger also inspires each one of us to be a part of the good we see around every corner.”
Hodes has worked for more than 20 years in Ethiopia handling the health needs of Jews preparing to immigrate to Israel. He has received many honors and has been the subject of documentaries, books, and TV news segments. In Ethiopia, he also has served as senior consultant through JDC at a Catholic mission started by Mother Teresa, helping destitute and ill people.
“Even though our core value is that all Jews are responsible one for the other, there is another core value — one exemplified by Hodes — that underpins our work: tikun olam,” repairing the world, said Dov Ben-Shimon, JDC executive director of strategic partnerships, who introduced Hodes.
“He has provided and supervised medical care for victims of famine, war, and disease in Kosovo, Rwanda, Zaire, Tanzania, Albania, and Somalia,” Ben-Shimon said.
He also said JDC is “deeply proud of the partnership forged and deepened between your federation and the Joint.”
Ben-Shimon talked about the assistance offered through JDC to elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union who receive food, medicine, and homecare services. He also told the gathering about the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County Youth Center in Ashkelon and its program for disadvantaged youth and needy mothers.
With the backdrop of Farrington Lake abutting Karmazin’s backyard, Hodes showed photos of sick, impoverished Ethiopian children and women collecting putrid water from streams.
He went on to show images of a JDC clean-water project; schools built by the agency; and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children receiving chemotherapy on the porch of his home in Ethiopia and the smiling faces of the scores of children he arranged successful treatment for overseas.
Hodes showed pictures of two boys with badly twisted backs from tuberculosis of the spine, which can lead to lung collapse and death. Unable to find any other way to obtain treatment for them, he said, he legally adopted the boys and put them under his own medical policy.
“Aetna loves me,” he joked.
Some of the five children Hodes has adopted are at American universities or Jewish schools. At any given time he also cares for some 20 foster children in his home.
One seriously ill and nearly blind 12-year-old girl he took in told him her aspiration was to become a housemaid, then she would have a place to live and food to eat.
Recently he asked the now healthy girl if her goal has changed.
“She told me she now wants to be a doctor,” said a beaming Hodes.