In Their Own Words

Hearing from the honorees themselves is always a treat at the Jewish Federation's Annual Meeting.  Here are some snippets of what this year's award winners and speakers said...

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Andrew S. Hochberg, Julius Rosenwald Award honoree 

"Like many of you, I found myself intrigued by the competition in the recent Olympic Games, with the goal of personal success and rewards, and representation of country.  And, how about two gold medals for Israel?  The first gold since 2004 and more total medals than some countries much larger in size. 

We are aware of the many challenges facing our community today.  Perhaps each area-antisemitism, Jewish education, care for the most vulnerable-is its own "event" to be mastered.  As a recent past Chairman of the Board and in my new volunteer role as Chair of JFNA's Domestic Policy and Government Affairs committee, I have come to better understand the complexity of these events.  But rather than try and diagnose and identify concepts that others can explain, I am going to suggest some strategies for success that parallel the recently exhibited athletic achievements:

  • Unity or  achdut -some call it  achdus ; it's kind of ironic that our word for togetherness is pronounced two different ways! Our community needs to come together like rowers on a rowing team - unlike the old joke about the Jewish rowing team, where one person rows and everyone else gives orders!  
  • Training. Everyone knows the commitment it takes to be successful in business, in school, or in athletics.  Some say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert.  Why would we think that we can achieve our desired results for Jewish education, and understanding Israel, and other endeavors, in so much less time? 
  • Persistence. Athletes undergo peaks and valleys in their training and competition…why would we expect success to be quick and easy?  We must commit ourselves to our objectives and to continue long-range planning as we have done for millennia in times much more difficult than today. 
  • Passion.  It has been a very tough year, but we have so much to be proud of and thankful for.  Our passionate commitment has created a wonderful federation that is the envy of others.  A strong prosperous state of Israel.  An ability to control our future. 

We have enormous challenges ahead of us, but if we work together, put in energy and effort, are persistent and remember the joy in our work-we can't lose." 

 

Emily Pevnick, Davis, Gidwitz & Glasser Young Leadership Award honoree   

"When COVID hit last year, I, like many others, felt completely helpless as we watched the needs grow each day. I had an overwhelming sense of urgency to help those who did not have their basic needs met. 

I immediately turned to JUF to ask how I could give. I knew JUF could assess the broader needs far better than any individual and know where and how I could make the greatest impact. I responded to the TOV emails highlighting community needs, always feeling like I was never doing enough.

When I was asked to chair the Nourish Our Neighborhood community-wide collection drives last year, I said "yes" every time. Instead of asking what could happen to me in this pandemic, I channeled our good friend, Pastor Harris, and asked what could happen through me. Together, we gathered over 1,200 volunteers who donated almost 3,500 kits of food, winter gear, toiletries, and school supplies to those in need. 

As many of us got more involved in JUF's response to COVID, or antisemitism, racial inequities, and more this past year, we had a renewed sense of purpose and mission."  

 

Hannah Bloom-Hirschberg, Davis, Gidwitz & Glasser Young Leadership Award honoree  

"A few years ago, a friend asked me why I was so passionate about my work with JUF.  In what must have seemed like a roundabout way, I told her the stories of times I'd felt excluded, or awkward and shy and tentative.  And she, knowing that my story eventually had a happy ending, replied, 'if you, who are largely part of mainstream Jewish life, can feel like that, what must it feel like to people who feel so much more marginalized in our community?'  What a powerful moment this was for me, and how right she was. 

Little did I know that this passion of including the excluded was shared by many others I would get to meet and work with through JUF.  Indeed, my greatest pleasure has been learning how many lay leaders and staff are there for the same reason as I am, but the folks they strive to represent are a whole different group than who I've shown up for.   

And this is what makes our work together so very powerful."  

 

Lonnie Nasatir, President, Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago  

 "JUF's tagline, "Together for Good," stands as a promise to work together always, and always for a better world. In today's politically charged reality, "Together for good" also challenges us to accept diverging points of view within our community.  

Just as Jewish values fuel our passion for the issues, we must ensure that Jewish values shape how we speak to-and about-each other.  

We must tamp down the toxic tone in our discourse and learn how to disagree without disdain and to debate without doubting another's integrity.  

We are commanded to behave with  derech eretz -common decency-which has sadly become too uncommon.  If intelligent, good-hearted people cannot disagree and still respect and even like one another, what does that say about the tensile strength of our community?  

This division of the world into pro- or con-, liberal or conservative, us and them is not only heart-breaking-it just may be the greatest threat to Jewish survival today. Nothing empowers those who hate us more than seeing us divided.  

Let's ensure that JUF continues to be the place where Jews of all backgrounds can find a home; where individual politics are left at the door and we all focus on our core mission of helping the most vulnerable and engaging the Jewish community in new and exciting ways."  

 

Interview excerpts from the Samuel A. Goldsmith Award honorees 

Tejal Patel, System Director of Inpatient Pharmacy and Respiratory Services, Sinai Chicago 

"There was a lot of data [showing] which zip codes had high prevalence of COVID and a lot of those zip codes were areas we serve-and they were coupled with very low vaccination rates. We were able to work with our community partners and leaders and say: How can we get vaccines to these vulnerable populations? How can we help them?  

So, at Sinai Chicago we set up pop-up clinics on the weekends; we would work with various organizations and go to churches and high school gyms and set up 500 doses to be given in that community. And we've taken that platform and are now going door-to-door and vaccinating individuals in their homes."  

 

Kyle Kolling, Assistant Director of Camp Chi, JCC Chicago 

"For me, that moment when I felt [that] this was the place where I was meant to be was the first day of the first session this summer. It was the first time we'd had campers in camp in two years-and for our 100th summer-[after] a lot of talking: could this happen, how could we make it happen?  

And that moment that campers stepped off the bus and you could see their faces and they saw their friends for the first time in over a year-just the excitement, the pure enjoyment, the energy, the smiles, were amazing. It seemed like for many of these kids that they hadn't felt this way in so long and they finally felt free of the pandemic. They were in this bubble of Camp Chi where they could be happy." 

 

Nora Bergman, Holocaust Community Services Program Manager, CJE SeniorLife  

"It was [profound] to see the parallels between some of the traumas and experiences that survivors had and what was going on over the past year and a half. Things like food shortages and supply shortages could be reminiscent of when people didn't have enough to eat during the Holocaust . . . that feeling of confinement, feeling trapped . . . also, just being separated from your loved ones and fearing that you might not see them again, and all the illness and death around us, could trigger memories.  

[But] we've also seen so much resilience, which I think is a primary characteristic of survivors in general, and strength. Getting phone calls from survivors asking how we're doing [and] reminding us that we will get through it. We've been through harder things before and persevered and shown all of that resilience. It's been really special to see that and to take strength from our survivors, our clients, so they are supporting us just as much as we are supporting them." 

 

Letícia Cardoso, Assistant Director, Residential Support, JCFS Chicago 

"The hardest part was telling families and their loved ones that a hug was not safe. We had to rely on alternative ways to connect, so we facilitated a lot of virtual calls, backyard visits, car parades . . .  

Oftentimes people with intellectual/developmental disabilities go through a process when they're acquiring skills. There's this sensitisation, modeling, and repetition. We didn't have time for that. All of the sudden, masks were required.  We didn't have time to get used to the strong smell of hand sanitizers or the expected physical distance. So that was challenging for that group.  

But with our team and community partners, social narratives were created overnight. People dropped off various masking styles for us to try out. We assigned seating spaces in the home so people could practice social distance naturally, in their own environment. They did it!" 


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