Celebrating Heroes, Helpers, and Hanukkah in the heart of New Jersey, the Jewish Federation and friends gathered for a fun and informative evening. Many legacy donors proclaimed, "I DID IT," signifying their commitment to leave a legacy gift to the Jewish community. Life & Legacy team leader, Mike Wasserman, was awarded the Seymour St. Lifer award for his contributions to the success of the Life & Legacy program. The Federation's Security Task Force was recognized for its work making the places where the Jewish community and its partners gather safer. The Task Force, led by Federation First Vice President, Amy Mallet, led the gathering in lighting the Hanukkah candles. Special guests, Fedline Saintina, a Rutgers student, and Richard Joel, president emeritus of Yeshiva University, were uplifting guest speakers. A delicious and festive dinner, complete with gourmet latke bar, was enjoyed by one and all. And the Federation presented highlights of the impact it created through programs and partnerships in 2017.
Invoking the evening’s hero theme, president, Jeff Schwartz, referred to Judah Maccabee as a hero who upheld Jewish values and way of life – not just for the Jews of his day, but generations to come.
“With real-life inspiration like that, it shouldn't surprise us that many of today’s make-believe superheroes were created by Jews,” he said. “So, what is it about Jews and heroes? We don’t need history or comic books to find the answer," Schwartz continued. “Look at the person on your left. Now look to your right. Now realize someone’s looking at YOU. You are all heroes. You step up for people in need. YOU support a bright Jewish future. You are leading the way.”
Schwartz described today’s real-life heroes – Federation supporters, partners, and team members – as using such ‘powers’ as selflessness and resolve to
• rescue those who would otherwise suffer alone
• fortify our Jewish community against threats -- from anti-Semitism to indifference
• and forge a strong future with a place for every Jew.
Adrienne Ross, Executive Committee member and the Federation’s Impact chair, described some of the heroes who made notable impact in the community this year:
Saying heroes keep us safe, Ross recognized members of the Federation’s Security Task Force, who make the places where the Jewish community and its partners gather safer.
• Their work helped the Federation bring another million dollars in Homeland Security grants to our Jewish institutions, for the second year.
• They support grant recipients in implementing new security resources and develop best practices for all Jewish institutions.
• They inform the Federation’s close working relationship with law enforcement.
With hate crimes on the rise, Ross continued, the Jewish community’s proactive work with law enforcement, interfaith leaders, and educators took on a new importance. In 2017, the Federation brought together the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and CHHANGE (the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education) to educate law enforcement officers about hate crime. A two-day intensive program included encounters with Holocaust survivors and meetings at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. A Marlboro Police Lieutenant said of all the training he’s had, this one had the biggest impact on him and the people he supervises.
Referring to another crisis that has gained international attention in recent months, Ross noted sexual assault, abuse, and harassment does not discriminate; Jews, of all walks, are not immune. Though many victims do not report sexual abuse, in Israel, the Tahel Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children gives victims a place to turn. Grants from our Federation help Tahel teach thousands of children how to deal with abuse.
After describing one 10-year-old victim who received help from Tahel, Ross thanked the heroes who effectively saved the child from her tragic secret of abuse. Among the heroes were the people of Tahel, a friend’s mom who helped bring the child’s secret to light, and the child, herself, as well as all the Federation supporters whose financial contributions help fund partners, such as Tahel.
“You helped rescue this child through your support of our Federation,” Ross said. “Don’t ever doubt the impact of your Federation gift. You change lives.”
Shifting gears, Ross explained there are many types of heroes -- some who rescue, and some who inspire.
“Tonight, we also celebrate heroes who bring joyful Jewish experiences to young people – because this is what inspires our youth to embrace their Jewish identity. And our future depends on it!”
PJ Library brings joy to thousands of children with fun and learning about Jewish traditions and values. Recognizing parents and teachers for helping put PJ Library books and music in the hands of young people, Ross announced in 2017, the Federation grew PJ Library subscriptions by 28 percent and grew the new PJ Our Way for tweens to 450!
In addition, she noted, for teens nothing strengthens Jewish identity like a peer trip to Israel and this year the Federation increased grants for these trips 35 percent.
Moreover, Jewish summer camp strengthens kids’ sense of belonging. Among all the types of camp assistance the Federation provides, grants for campers with special needs ensure all Jews are included.
Ross explained much of the funding for special needs camping comes from donors who are no longer with us, but whose legacies live on – donors such as Herb Stolzer. His endowment fund, created 20 years ago, has now sent more than150 kids with special needs to Jewish camp.
Much of the funding for Israel teen grants comes largely from legacy gifts from the Klein, Levavy, Pavlovsky, Gottfried, Goldstein, and Levy families.
“We are eternally grateful for the generosity and foresight of these legacy donors, and honored to keep their passion for a strong and inclusive Jewish future alive,” Ross added.
Special guest speaker, Fedline Saintina, then took the stage to describe her experience as a Rutgers University student looking to fill unmet needs in Jewish enrichment and community on campus.
“I participated in several Jewish learning classes with various organizations on campus ranging from the Orthodox perspective to Reform learning. All of them were great in their own way, but nothing really gave me what I was looking for, and after talking to other students, I realized I wasn’t alone.
“I created a class called Jewish Sensibilities focusing on what it means to be human, ways that guide our actions and choices. With help from Rutgers Hillel and funding from the Jewish Federation, I created a 10-week extracurricular class for 20 passionate and dedicated Jewish students from all Jewish backgrounds, traditional and non-traditional, to get more involved in Jewish life on campus, and become more connected to their spirituality.”
Susan Antman, the Federation’s Executive Vice President, lauded Fedline for fostering opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds, saying “A place for all Jews, support for all Jews... that’s what the Federation is about,” continuing to describe additional ways the Federation carried out that mission in 2017:
With help from Jewish Family Services of Middlesex and Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Monmouth, the Federation cared for hundreds of elderly people living alone and without the means for proper nutrition – providing Kosher Meals on Wheels delivered by a friendly volunteer every week.
Together, the Federation and these partners also kept hundreds of elderly Holocaust survivors out of nursing homes, which Antman noted, is important because relocation can re-traumatize survivors. She explained the Federation and partners help more than 250 Holocaust survivors in our community who could otherwise not afford health care and proper nutrition, let alone in-home aid with dressing and bathing. With our support, these survivors have home aides who help with such basics of daily living as bathing and dressing.
Antman then remembered many community pillars who passed away in 2017 – sharing a tribute to long-time Federation supporter, Barbara Kagan Littman, and declaring the Federation Women’s Philanthropy Book & Author series the Barbara Kagan Littman Book & Author Series.
“Given her love of learning, teaching, and bringing the Jewish community together,” Antman said, “it is a fitting tribute to a woman, who in all she did, made the lives of those around her better.”
Finally, Antman recognized Jeffries Shein, one of the Federation’s – and the community’s – biggest supporters, who after decades of major giving, has donated $1 million to support instrumental programs and services that address fundamental needs for those who need it most.
According to Antman, Shein made the $1 million donation to celebrate his 78th birthday, which takes place this January on that same day his parents, Jeannie and Joe, would have been married for 100 years. His parents were Polish immigrants and of modest means, yet they always offered help to those in need.
Circling back to the heroes theme, Antman concluded with a story from the Justice League of America comic series that closely mirrors the Hanukkah story – in which the villain forces conversion on the Flash and friends. The small group, led by Wonder Woman, fight back and prevail.
“Comic book characters like the Justice League inspire us. Historical figures like Judah Macabee inspire us,” Antman said. “But so do real friends in real time -- friends like Jeff Shein and Barbara Littman, Fedline, the Security Task Force, our Federation partners – AND YOU! – referring to Federation supporters present in the audience. “You breathe life into our Jewish community. For that we thank you, we celebrate you, and we join you in doing our part for what’s right.”
View photos from the Annual Meeting here.