Shalom Life | April 24, 2014

Finding Inspiration in Odessa and Israel

Jewish Leaders from 32 Communities Tour Both Countries

By: Jessica Pallay

Published: July 24th, 2012 in News » World

Finding Inspiration in Odessa and Israel
This month, more than 100 Jewish Federation leaders from 32 communities visited Odessa and Israel to experience the work that Federations do to help the global Jewish community. As part of The Jewish Federations of North America’s Campaign Chairs and Directors (CCD) Mission, lay leaders and professionals toured the Ukrainian city and then the Jewish State, meeting with programs, organizations and individuals supported by Jewish Federations.

The CCD mission raised more than $2.4 million for the Jewish Federation Annual Campaign, a 22 percent gift-for-gift increase from the previous year. Jewish Federations’ Annual Campaign cares for Jews in need at home, in Israel and in more than 70 countries around the world.

“Jewish Federations are the safety net for so many people in need. This trip reminded me that in many cases we are all these people have to sustain them,” said JFNA National Campaign Chair Susan K. Stern of New York, who co-chaired the mission.

“Through the work we do every day in our Federations, and through our partner agencies, we are working as hard as we can to make sure these people are taken care of and have the resources necessary to survive, learn of the joys of being Jewish and feel like a part of our global Jewish community.”

Stern chaired the mission with JFNA National Women’s Philanthropy Chair Gail Norry of Philadelphia, Campaign Director for Federation CJA of Montreal Yair Szlak, and Israel and Overseas Committee Chair at THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore Beth Goldsmith.

In Odessa, the mission toured Jewish sites, visited the Holocaust memorial, and learned about the political and economic climate for Jews in Ukraine. Participants visited the homes of elderly Ukrainians and families at risk that are being assisted by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)’s Hesed welfare services.

One Hesed recipient was Ada, a 57-year-old former nurse who is now infirm and homebound in a fifth-floor walk-up. “This is a woman who at one time was a JDC Hesed volunteer, and now is on the receiving end of our services,” said Goldsmith, who was part of the group bringing groceries and medicines to Ada. “If there were no Hesed, she would be dead. These are the vulnerable, people who have no other way to survive.”

While in Odessa, the group also toured JDC’s Beit Grand Jewish Cultural Center, toured a summer camp run by The Jewish Agency for Israel and visited a World ORT Jewish school. They heard from Odessa native Misha Galperin, president and CEO of The Jewish Agency, and met with students whose lives were changed by a Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel.

“The Jewish community in Odessa is desperately trying to reclaim the next generation, providing them with a multitude of programs to learn about their Jewish heritage,” said Norry.

“I think everyone felt very uplifted to see what a difference we are making to the revitalization of the Jewish community, the feeling that we are reclaiming a generation that the Nazis tried to obliterate,” she continued. “As we stood at The Jewish Agency summer camp and sang Hatikvah, I knew that we are well on our way to rebuilding the Jewish community there. Those teenagers are indeed the hope.”

In Israel, the campaign chairs and directors heard from Israeli leaders, including Brig. General Doron Gavish, head of the Israel Defense Forces aerial defense unit, Amb. Michael Oren, who dropped in for an unexpected discussion, and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Peres offered three pieces of advice for the group and the greater global Jewish community: First, to be moral is to be wise. Second, the strength of the Jewish People is our dissatisfaction with the way things are. And finally, always be soldiers for peace.

The trip also included many community-building activities in Israel, from participating in a Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat in the Old City in Jerusalem, to attending a Taglit-Birthright Israel Mega Event with more than 3,000 Jewish young adults from around the world.

Rabbi Michael Paley, scholar-in-residence and director of the Jewish Resource Center of the UJA-Federation of New York, provided valuable insight in both Odessa and Israel. “Rabbi Paley was inspirational. He was able to pull things together throughout the mission, and offer wisdom and context,” said Szlak.

Szlak also praised the collegial atmosphere on the mission, and found inspiration in his fellow campaign chairs and directors. “Everything I saw throughout the mission reinforces why we do what we do at Jewish Federations,” he said. “But the relationships I built on the trip, the discussions I had, and the sharing of what is going on in each person’s community – that’s invaluable.”

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