Two executive board members of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County returned to New Jersey feeling more inspired and motivated than ever after a seven-day mission to Odessa and Israel.
Sheryl Grutman of Manalapan and Albert Bloomfield of Wayside attended the 2012 Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission from July 9-15. They joined more than 100 people from around the country on the annual program by Jewish Federations of North America.
The mission highlighted the global impact of the social service infrastructure supported by federation partner agencies.
In Odessa the participants met with veteran as well as young community leaders. Rabbi Michael Paley, scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Resource Center of UJA-Federation of New York, guided the group through the streets and history of the Odessa Jewish community.
In Israel, the group visited an array of programs administered through the Jewish Agency for Israel, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and ORT, the Jewish education and vocational training organization.
“I am thrilled that two of our key campaign leaders were able to participate on this mission to see our efforts first hand,” said federation executive director Keith Krivitzky, who met up with Grutman and Bloomfield in Israel.
“The Campaign Chairs and Directors mission is a great way to energize leadership and enable them to tell the story about the impact donors and ‘investors’ can have through their support of federation’s campaign,” he said. “We work with some of the best service providers in the world, connecting and providing support to those in our extended Jewish family around the world who are most in need.”
Grutman, the federation’s Woman’s Philanthropy president and campaign chair, said the mission reinforced for her the credo that all Jews are responsible for one another, locally and globally. The trip was her fourth mission to Israel, and her first trip to the Ukrainian city, where both her grandmother and great-grandmother were from. Grutman helped shop for and deliver groceries to homebound elderly Odessa Jews, including a 91-year-old woman who lives in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment with her disabled son.
“So many of us don’t realize how lucky we are,” said Grutman. “Any Jewish person who is physically and monetarily able to take care of those who are not should do so, especially those of us in America.”
Grutman said it was a thrill for her to meet members of the younger generation, including new immigrants to Israel, students at Jewish Agency summer camps, and hundreds of young Jews from around the world who gathered in Haifa for a Birthright Israel celebration.
“Some of these young people didn’t even know that they were Jewish growing up, and now they are so excited to experience their heritage,” she said.
For Bloomfield, who serves as the federation’s vice president of campaign, one of the most meaningful moments of the trip was a program at a Holocaust memorial in Odessa. Thunder and drizzling rain provided a dramatic backdrop for the memorial, which included a sculpture of a family shielding the eyes of a child. “It was very powerful and certainly brought many of us to tears,” Bloomfield said. The memorial was linked by a pathway to a second memorial dedicated to gentiles who sheltered Jews and resisted the Nazis.
Federation leaders also had the opportunity to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Peres told the group that the role of Jews is to be moral seekers of peace who continuously try to better themselves and the world.
The message resonated for Bloomfield and has intensified his efforts to engage more Monmouth County Jews in federation programs.
“I encourage people to find a way to participate and a way to give, even a small amount,” he said. “If every Jew in the county would give just $18, we would make a world of difference.”