2018-08-01 / Voice at the Shore

Local leaders witness rebirth of Jewish life post-Holocaust, post-Communism

Executive Director Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties

More than 150 people, representing 38 communities from across the United States and Canada, visited Berlin and Budapest in July as part of The Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) annual Financial Resource Development (FRD) Leadership Mission. It was an incredible honor for me to take part in this educational and inspiring mission with Jewish Federation leaders Judith Sternstein Galler, Helene and Robert Hordes, and Isadore May.

The principal purpose of the FRD Leadership Mission is to demonstrate for professionals and volunteer leaders involved in fundraising locally how and where our overseas partners – Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and World ORT – put the funds we raise and allocate to use.

During our time in Berlin and Budapest, we met with representatives of our overseas partners, as well as representatives of local and national governments. We learned with some of the most phenomenally erudite and insightful rabbis and scholars in the Jewish world, saw some incredible contemporary and historic sites (Jewish and not), and visited with those, of all ages and backgrounds, who benefit from the programs and services provided by our overseas partners, and, therefore, each one of you who makes a gift each year to the annual campaign.

Given the devastation wrought by Nazism and the Holocaust in Berlin and Budapest, and, afterward, as elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, the repression of Jewish life under Communism, we witnessed what can only be called a mesmerizing renewal of Jewish life and community in these two cities. It is impossible to refer to what your support of the annual campaign makes possible in any other way.

Whether it is educational and social opportunities for young and old to connect with Jewish life, learning and culture for the very first time, or to reconnect after being denied the opportunity to do so for, in some cases, two generations, the support of Jews in America (like you!) and around the world is building Jewish communities in these cities and beyond. In some cases, the funds provided by communities such as ours are matched by local governments and other organizations. But all will tell you that none of what is going on would be possible without the support provided by Jewish Federations to JAFI, JDC, and ORT.

Your support makes it possible for elderly Holocaust survivors with no surviving family to attend regular luncheons and other social activities that keep them connected and engaged. It makes it possible for families to “come clean” with their children, to identify as Jews for the first time since the Holocaust, to learn how to live as Jews, and to understand through programs such as Birthright Israel and others that there are Jews throughout the Diaspora and Israel who live openly and proudly as Jews, and who want to see Jews like them thrive in their own communities.

Nowhere was this more evident than at Camp Szarvas, where, every summer for almost three decades, more than 1,500 young people ranging in age from seven to 18, from 22 countries, including the United States and Israel, participate in one of four 12-day sessions of an incredible and unforgettable Jewish summer camp experience like no other, three hours from Budapest along the banks of the Koros River.

The enthusiasm, spirit, and camaraderie of the campers at Szarvas is evident in their activities: Art, dance, Jewish learning, music, and a variety of sports, but nowhere more so than in the filled-to-capacity dining hall. That’s where, at each meal, they raise the roof in an inter-national ‘competition’ of cheers and Jewish song. It is an uplifting and joyous experience that entirely defies description. One must really be present and a part of it to understand how truly special and moving it is. What we can all understand is that we (you and me!) make it possible for those who are a part of it each session, each summer, every year – and all for less than $100 per session, per camper!

Our support of the annual campaign really does build Jewish community, not just here, but in Berlin and Budapest, in Israel, across the globe, and at Camp Szarvas. It is at the same time both unbelievable and enormously gratifying to realize just what we accomplish as a Jewish community – and as a people – and the impact of our collective giving. It also makes one think how much greater our impact could be if more of us participated in the annual campaign, and if those of us who give gave just a little bit more. s

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