2016-05-11 / Columns

Coming together to remember, collaborate, and build our community

FEDERATION PRESIDENT’S CORNER
VICKI ZELL
Federation President

This is the time of year of graduations, annual meetings, and lots of amazing programs and celebratory dinners throughout our community. Jen Weiss and I have the privilege of attending many of these events, where we rejoice in the institutions that make Jewish South Jersey so strong. Just in the past month, there have been dinners supporting Politz and Kellman Brown Academy day schools, the JFCS and the Jewish Women’s Foundation annual meetings, and programs from the moving JCRC-GHMEC Yom Hashoah commemoration to JSHHS Tacos and Tequila and JCC Kidsland. Through each event, we have opportunities to remember, learn, support, and sometimes just have fun.

With my personal goals as president to increase collaboration and to build our future, themes that truly matter to our Federation and to our entire community; I want to share my experiences at two recent programs that achieved these goals.

The first event was the Debbie Friedman Tribute Concert at M’kor Shalom. Since my first leadership experience in this community was chairing the JCC Community Choir event at M’kor Shalom in 2006, watching the Debbie Friedman Tribute Concert brought me full circle. For the first time in our community, our local cantors, cantorial soloists, and cantorial students from Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative institutions, as well as an adult and a youth choir, were gathered under the leadership of Cantor Anita Hochman for this community concert. Everyone was featured in various combinations as the music of Debbie Friedman filled the room and enriched our souls. The powerful music created by these spiritual leaders as well as a cross-section of community members from various congregations singing together was both moving and transformative. And it was truly collaborative! And those cantorial students, one of whom was my daughter, Shanna, are our future.

The second program that exemplified collaboration and building our future was the JCF LIFE & LEGACY VIP Dinner followed by the JCRC-GHMEC performance of the play “Dear Esther.” The play is about Marvin and Abe Raab’s mother, Esther, as she fought to stay alive in the Sobibor concentration camp, to then escape and struggle even further, and finally to find the inner strength in her later years to share her story. I first saw “Dear Esther” several years ago when I was on the JCRC Board. The audience at that time was totally comprised of school children. You could have heard a pin drop as the children watched the play and as they tried to absorb this chilling story. But the most important part of the experience for me was listening to their questions. “What is a synagogue?” “Why did she get a tattoo? I have a tattoo, also.” “Why did they kill the baby?” And more.

This time, over 200 attendees at the LIFE & LEGACY event joined another 200 adult community members to witness the deeply moving play. Together, these two different groups of people gathered to sustain the memory of the Holocaust and to see the impact of having endowments. With over 700 LIFE & LEGACY commitments across 17 Jewish organizations throughout the community, we are starting along the path to sustaining the organizations we care so much about for future generations.

When we work together, share our stories, and support the organizations that make our community strong, we make sure that the reasons we live in and love our Southern New Jersey Jewish community will last for many years to come. Two different events, two different audiences, but made up of our friends and neighbors who came together to remember, to learn, to support, to collaborate— and to build our future. . Jfedpres@jfedsnj.org

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