The following remarks were given at the Jewish Federation's "Philanthropic Leadership Evening" Event on February 23, 2016, in Oakland, CA
Hi. My name is Jessica, and this is my husband, Dan. We want to start out by welcoming you all to the Philanthropic Leadership Evening. Thank you for coming.
This room is full of our most dedicated philanthropists and leaders: major donors, fund holders, legacy donors… special people, who have repeatedly and consistently supported our community. Tonight is also special, because we have turned this event into a multi-generational celebration. Tonight, we welcome a whole new generation of up-and-coming philanthropists and leaders.
This evening’s focus will be on young families. Over dinner, you’ll hear about the work that Federation is doing to engage young families, and why this work is so important — to each of us, personally. You’ll also be able to make a gift to support our efforts, and help Jewish families connect to our community.
We want to welcome some of our leaders, with us tonight: Steve Zatkin, president of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay; Eileen Ruby, President of the Jewish Community Foundation; Nathan Petrowsky, Community Campaign Chair, and Rabbi Jim Brandt, CEO of Federation and Foundation. Also, Also joining us tonight is my sister, and our keynote speaker, Lenore – and she has a great talk for you tonight.
There are hand washing stations in the back for anyone who would like to use them. We’ll start off the meal with Ha’Motzi:
Baruch Ata Adonai,
Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.
Now, please indulge me on this — but I want to tell you one story about my kids.
We were recently driving to Tahoe with our four-year-old daughter, Zoe, and it was pouring down rain. But she was delighted, and she started saying “Thank you, Hashem!” over and over. I asked why, and she told me because rain meant the drought was going to be over, and rain was a gift from Hashem.
Not to brag, but how did my kids turn out so great? Simply put, they have all been blessed with a Jewish education. And Jewish education is practically a tradition in my family: my own mother supports Jewish education as a board member and a past president of the East Bay Federation, and I myself am a parent volunteer at Oakland Hebrew Day School.
I am well aware, just like my parents, that children are our future and that our Jewish identity, continuity, and even existence depends on engaging and supporting young families. This is why efforts like Federation’s Sprout initiative are so critical. Our community, and the Jewish future, depends on it.
By funding education through programs like Sprout, we are passing the torch of Judaism, L’Dor V’Dor, from one generation to the next. My grandparents used to say that it’s not how the children turn out; it’s how the grandchildren turn out.
And education is key to raising grandkids that our grandparents could be proud of. Without education, we’re just passing along a challah recipe here, a candlestick there… without education, they don’t take on the meaning they should have. Our ancient traditions become soulless, mechanical… who would want to pass that on to their kids?
Jewish education adds depth and meaning to the things we do. It’s giving our kids a first hand connection to our tradition. Shabbat with your family every week is great, but Shabbat with your friends at summer camp connects you to it on a completely different level. These immersive and very Jewish experiences give our kids knowledge, language skills, the ability to think for themselves, and to find their own truth in our holy texts and rituals.
And as much as Jewish education is a gift to our children, it also is a gift to the whole family. So many times, our children can teach us, and help us to reconnect with our faith and our essence as a people. And once the kids have such an immersive Jewish experience, they will want it for their kids, and that is how we create continuity.
Through Jewish education, we are raising Jewish children who know who they are and from where they came. When they become adults, they will be proud, knowledgeable Jews — who will also raise proud, knowledgeable Jews themselves. Which would make bubbe very proud — and isn’t that what we all want?
I want to tell you a story…
I’ve been an Israeli folk dance teacher for over 40 years. I taught dance because it enabled me to show my students the joy of being Jewish in a kinesthetic way — by them directly experiencing it. Quite often, former students of mine would come back to me — 20 years later, as grown adults – telling me what they most fondly remembered from their childhoods was the experience I brought them.
They associated those very warm feelings with the Jewish community.
Similarly, we’ve brought up both our kids with Jewish educational experiences: Tehiyah for day school, summers at Kee Tov, trips to Israel in high school… and just like we’ve become involved in the community at large, beyond Tehiyah, they have also grown up to be very connected in the Jewish community.
As you can see, we believe in Jewish education’s power to help kids embrace their Jewish identities, and to live by their Jewish values. Which is why we’re very grateful for Sprout.
My cousin, Terry Friedkin, invited me to join Federation’s board. Allen and I had been leaders in Tehiyah for years – a really welcome, diverse environment – we were really ready to assume leadership on a community-wide level. That’s what Federation allowed me to do.
Truly, my commitment to the Federation comes from my belief that supporting our community is everybody’s responsibility. Some people give their money, some people give their time – but they all give acts of kindness and help other people. Federation helps bring all of these people together, pitching into different areas, in their own different ways, ultimately providing a rich vibrant community for everyone.
In our case, both Allen and I have dedicated our volunteership to Jewish education. Involving children in Jewish education is the way to secure the Jewish future. And I saw I wasn’t alone in thinking that. Our community cares very much about building Jewish identity for our children. In fact, we found this was the community’s highest priority.
I’m very proud of, and supportive of, the Sprout Initiative. Through Sprout, we help Jewish families live, learn, and grow together. And by being here, you are helping support Sprout. Thank you.