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Since August 2014, Maia Morag has been Cincinnati’s Community Emissary (shlicha) from Israel. As she leaves this month to return to Israel with her family (which has gained a member since they arrived) Maia shares her thoughts about her experience here, and we hear and from Federation leaders about the indelible impact she has made on our community.

“Maia has been a beloved addition to our community. She is a thoughtful professional who inspires us to consider new perspectives while constantly teaching us—about Israel, people-to-people connections, advocacy, poetry, and so much more! Maia has shared her warmth, knowledge, and friendship and has woven herself into the fabric of our community.” –Marcie Bachrach, Vice President, Israel & Overseas Committee

Maia Morag hosted a community forum in August 2017 with Israel’s Consul General, Ambassador Dani Dayan, about freedom of religious expression in Israel.


“Maia’s contribution to our community was invaluable. She deepened our understanding of the political, cultural, and religious complexities of the State of Israel and the wide-ranging interests and perspectives of the people of Israel. And she dealt with misunderstandings and conflicts over Israel in our community with patience and good humor. She will be missed.” –Gary Greenberg, President

“Maia brought her passion for Jewish learning, her knowledge of relevant Jewish texts, and her remarkable ability to bridge Israeli and American perspectives. She used her excellence as a teacher and her personal warmth and authenticity to connect thousands of Cincinnatians to Israel, Israelis, and Jewish texts. Her impact has been personal, unique, and unforgettable.” –Shep Englander, CEO

“Maia is an educator, a strategic thinker, and a shlicha who understands contemporary Israel, its successes and challenges, and the need for us to continually address our American Jewish relationship with Israel. Maia observed how we as a community were speaking about Israel; how Israel was being taught in our day schools, religious schools, and congregations; and how often Israel was being portrayed as a far less complex country and society than it actually is. Maia recognized that Israel required real conversations, and therefore, needed to be seen through the diverse eyes of our community. She did that by highlighting Israel’s growth, progress, challenges, and changes that it has faced in the last 70 years.” –Barb Miller, Director of Community Building

On Moving to Cincinnati

Here’s something you never knew about me: I named the folder holding the endless application materials and screening documents for the shlichut, “Italy.” I thought that Europe was not so far from my family and that I would drink coffee in the piazza. I would learn Italian, I thought.

But I got Cincinnati.

Before I came, Cincinnati leaders told me that “Israel is the only thing the community agrees on.” It sounded odd to me. How can they agree on Israel? Because in Israel, we do not agree on anything.

But I was naive and believed it.

Being an emissary is to be in a fascinating position, one not many get to enjoy in their lifetime. I was living in two worlds at the same time. I was asked to move here and be an Israeli, but I also had to integrate into the American culture. I was living on the border, only to find out that the border is not a fine line. There is space between worlds, where you can play and experiment—a place where there is no right or wrong, where there is no one way, and where there is an evolving set of tools.

On Cultural Differences

The first voicemail that awaited me when I got to the Federation office was a message to coordinate a lecture in May. I thought surely it was the wrong date. May was ten months away! I learned quickly that here there is much, much planning ahead.

I learned that in the United States, Israelis are not considered serious or trustworthy and change everything at the last minute. I taught people, however, that it’s our reality that changes all the time. We don’t know what will happen in six months. Here in the United States, there is stability; the future looks quite similar and promising.

So while in the US, I started to plan. I did so much planning for Israel at 70, in fact, I feel Israel is already 90 years old!

Maia Morag, Cincinnati’s Community Emissary (shlicha), leads a table of lay and professional leaders in discussions about how Cincinnati can better connect with Israel at a 2015 Israel Summit.

On What I Would Do in Cincinnati

When I was interviewed in Israel, I was asked what I would do in Cincinnati as a shlicha. I was asked what I would bring to Cincinnati from Israel. I said I would bring Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad. I did not realize then that I was saying something radical.

My goal was to present a complex reality of Israel. However, I found within the community the desire to keep Israel uncomplicated, a bit mythical, and sublime—to support Israel without criticism. Criticism and exploring challenges were seen as a betrayal of this support.

It was clear things needed to change.

We have no choice but to look reality in the eyes. Loving Israel does not mean a lack of criticism. Recognition of Israel’s challenges leads to engagement, not indifference. Israel is not only complex, it is a real place. And reality is not one-dimensional.

During my four years here, I adopted two slogans, “Israel beyond Camels” and “You Know It’s 2018 in Israel, Too!” We don’t ride camels. We are not always right. We do not agree on a lot of things. Our government is far from perfect. We have a deep and difficult conflict with the Palestinians that requires a solution. And we must talk about it.

Why? Because the younger generations are exposed to many sources of information, and they are no longer buying it. And they are right.

Shortly after I arrived, I noticed that in the United States, we teach our children about a land flowing with milk and honey, because we believe it is too complicated to share the complexity with them. They leave elementary school with a picture of a perfect Israel that’s never wrong, but they go out into the real world and learn about BDS, and they hear that Israel is an apartheid state, and they do not have the tools to deal with these statements. We didn’t give them the tools because we said it was too complicated.

Life is complex. Children understand complexity. It is our responsibility to give them the tools to deal with it. We do not have to fear that because of the complexity, they will not love Israel or will not feel connected to Israel. Israel is part of our story.

On Partnership2Gether

To turn Israel into a real and relevant reality, we need to create ties with Israel. We do that through the Partnership2Gether platform, which creates people-to-people connections between people living in Cincinnati and Netanya. Indeed, our partnership with Netanya and the many projects that we build in partnership every year are a role model throughout the continent.

I feel fortunate that I was able to lead P2G with Sharon Spiegel. I have learned so much about cultural relativism, about the difficulty in forming connections between different people and cultures, and about the infinite potential that is inherent in these connections—experiences that are truly life-changing.

On Jewish Pluralism

Promoting Jewish pluralism in Israel is my field. It was my background before I came to Cincinnati. So it’s something I’m passionate about. I spoke about the importance of the subject on many occasions. I lectured in the various synagogues, and I brought lecturers to talk about the issue.

I advised the Israel & Overseas committee when it expanded its allocations process to include pluralism organizations in Israel.

I was privileged to be a member of the community supporting iRep and the Freedom of Marriage Choice initiative, led by Kim Heiman, which is bringing significant change in the perception and life of many Israelis and in their relationship to Judaism.

I wrote the letter from the emissaries living in the United States to the Israeli society, following frustration after the freezing of the Western Wall agreement.

The contribution of our community to promoting Jewish pluralism in Israel is important not only for relations between Israel and the Diaspora, but also for the life of all Jews living in Israel, their connection to Judaism, and their future in the State of Israel.

On What I Learned

I learned how much I did not know—about America and American Jewry. (And therefore how much Israeli society does not know, and how much more work I have when I return to Israel.)

I learned that there are lots of “Americas.” America is not only New York and Los Angeles. I learned the best part of America is the Midwest.

I learned to plan in advance—way in advance.

I learned how to write archaic, polite emails—in English!

I learned how important it is to invest in creating relationships. The connections I had made with the rabbis in the city, the programing staff at the Mayerson JCC, the religious school, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion all enabled the trust that enabled the action.

I realized that community work requires endless investment in relationships. And I have learned how well this is done in this community.

I learned how much collaboration is key to success and how much the Cincinnati community invests time and energy to ensure that these relationships take place.

I learned how important it is to invest, strengthen, and build ties between Israel and the Diaspora—and how the future of the Jewish people depends on it.

Maia Morag (far right) is pictured with participants of a February 2018 reenactment of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, part of a day of learning in celebration of Israel at 70.

On Leaving Cincinnati

On the family level, we have had the opportunity for our older kids, Rey and Gili, to receive a great Jewish and general education at Rockwern Academy and the JCC. They speak fluent English—and American (as Gili says).

We got to bring into the world Ella, our American girl who whenever people ask her where she was born, she will say Cincinnati, Ohio.

Amit got to teach Hebrew to many people in the city and at Miami University, and he got to work with Steve Albert, a member of the community who helped us a lot during our fourth year in Cincinnati and who adopted Amit as an employee and partner.

As a family, we have had the privilege of being hosted by many of you and having hosted many of you in our house.

We traveled a lot and saw breathtaking views, and we met many different “Americas.” We enjoyed the long weekends and the convenience of living in America. Cincinnati—where every place is a 15-minute drive away. It was quite a ride.

I am leaving you with one last poem that was always a good reminder for me of my role, the challenges of the two halves of the Jewish people today, and the great possibilities that exist:


It’s hard for two seashells to share a real conversation.
Each inclines its ear to its own sea.
Only the pearl diver or the antique dealer
Can say for certain: the same sea

— T. Carmi, from Attention, translated by David Ilan

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The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati: We look at the whole picture, taking into account the diverse needs of the entire community. Together we can do almost anything.

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On June 7, before several hundred supporters of regional nonprofit organizations, the Greater Cincinnati Planned Giving Council honored Bill Freedman, long-time volunteer and donor to the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, with its Voices of Giving Award. The award pays tribute to selfless generosity in making a bequest or planned gift to a favorite charitable organization. Bill Freedman was 1 of 33 philanthropists recognized this year. 

Asked how it felt to receive the award, Freedman said, “I felt—and feel—very honored.”

Freedman was nominated by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. Its CEO, Shep Englander, praised Freedman: “We are proud of you. This is a well-deserved recognition. You have been a passionate, effective and humble leader of our community for decades.”

Asked why he did this work, Freedman said, “It’s fun to play a role in sustaining the continuity of our community. I do it by volunteering my time; I do it by making a financial commitment. It’s infused my life and my family’s life with a real sense of identity.”

In recognizing Bill Freedman, the emcee for the evening, John Lomax, shared the following with the crowd: “Bill is a longtime supporter of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and currently serves as the chair of Create Your Jewish Legacy, a community-wide endowment building program that began in 2014.  In fact, Bill helped to start this vital and impactful program, which has received national recognition for its effectiveness. He has been instrumental in leading the 23 community agencies and synagogues in starting and/or enhancing endowment programs in their institutions.  Ultimately, Bill’s leadership has increased the community’s overall estimated future endowment dollars to over $83 million.”

For many years, Freedman has been an active solicitor of major gifts for the Jewish Federation’s annual campaign, as well as serving on their Finance and Administration Committee. Throughout the past year, Freedman volunteered significantly more time to the Jewish Federation to help complete a thorough yearlong review of over 75 restricted and unrestricted endowments, some dating back to the late 1800s. In addition, Freedman has assisted many organizations participating in Create Your Jewish Legacy by supplying organizations with templates for endowment agreements and templates for policies guiding the setup of their institutions endowment program.

For Freedman, making a legacy gift was a simple part of his gift planning. He feels strongly that the Jewish Federation is an important organization to support. Freedman said, “If we don’t pitch in in the long run to make sure there is continuity with our gifts, there will be a gap. We need to bridge that gap, and the way to do it is through volunteering and making a legacy commitment.” Freedman’s legacy gift will assure the continuation of his annual giving and enable the Jewish community and other organizations dear to him to benefit from his generosity. The legacy gift will allow the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati to continue to provide programs for the community and funding for partner agencies, as well as continue to provide a strong, vibrant, and caring community for thousands. His personal and professional devotion to the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and other organizations is inspiring.

Asked what he would say to the younger generation about the importance of giving back, Freedman said: “All of us have benefited from the foresight and generosity of others who came before us and who literally invested in us. We simply pass that gift to our successors.”

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The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency have earned it a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator. This is the eighth consecutive year that the Jewish Federation has earned this top distinction.

“The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s exceptional 4-star rating sets it apart from its peers and demonstrates its trustworthiness to the public,” according to Michael Thatcher, President & CEO of Charity Navigator. “Only a quarter of charities rated by Charity Navigator receive the distinction of our 4-star rating. This adds the Federation to a preeminent group of charities working to overcome our world’s most pressing challenges. Based on its 4-star rating, people can trust that their donations are going to a financially responsible and ethical charity when they decide to support the Jewish Federation.”

Since 2002, using objective analysis, Charity Navigator has awarded only the most fiscally responsible organizations a 4-star rating. In 2011, Charity Navigator added 17 metrics, focused on governance and ethical practices as well as measures of openness, to its ratings methodology. These Accountability & Transparency metrics, which account for 50 percent of a charity’s overall rating, reveal which charities operate in accordance with industry best practices and whether they are open with their donors and stakeholders. In 2016, Charity Navigator upgraded its methodology again, further substantiating the financial health of its 4-star charities.

“It’s important to our stakeholders that we use our financial resources wisely to accomplish our mission—to build a vibrant Jewish community by guiding strategic, holistic community priorities, creating capacity for our partner agencies and congregations, and mobilizing in times of need,” said Federation CEO Shep Englander. “Our 4-star Charity Navigator rating demonstrates to our supporters our good governance and financial accountability.”

Charity Navigator ratings are based on two primary factors:

Financial Health

  • Program expenses at least 75% of total expenses
  • Administrative expense between 15-20%
  • Fundraising expenses at 10% or less
  • Strong revenue growth and program expense growth
  • Strong working capital ratios

Transparency and Accountability

  • Independent Board of Directors
  • Board Directors names listed
  • Board Directors NOT compensated
  • CEO name and salary published
  • CEO compensation determination process in place
  • Audited Financial Statements
  • Limited loan activity
  • IRS Form 990 available
  • Conflict of Interest policy in place
  • Whistleblower policy in place
  • Records retention and destruction policy in place

About Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org, is the largest charity evaluator in America and its website attracts more visitors than all other charity rating groups combined. The organization helps guide intelligent giving by evaluating the Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency of more than 8,000 charities. Charity Navigator accepts no advertising or donations from the organizations it evaluates, ensuring unbiased evaluations, nor does it charge the public for this trusted data. As a result, Charity Navigator, a 501 (c) (3) public charity itself, depends on support from individuals, corporations and foundations that believe it provides a much-needed service to America’s charitable givers. Charity Navigator, can be reached directly by telephone at (201) 818-1288, or by mail at 139 Harristown Road, Suite 101, Glen Rock, N.J., 07452.

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“From what I’ve learned and experienced through my life, I’m always thinking—what act of kindness can I do for my family, a friend, a stranger, or someone who is struggling?”—Susan Brenner

To be called a mensch is the highest praise in our community. On May 30 the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati awarded Susan Brenner the Mesel Wieder Mensch Award, which recognizes someone who has volunteered in a leadership role on a Jewish Federation committee or a Create Your Jewish Legacy team.

Cincinnati Hillel nominated Brenner for the award for her committed work as team leader for its Create Your Jewish Legacy team. Emcee Marty Hiudt announced the winner at the Jewish Federation’s Sustainers Event, in front of an audience of over 230 supporters of Cincinnati’s Jewish community.

Cincinnati Hillel’s executive director, Sharon Stern, said, “Susan Brenner is a perfect fit for the Mensch Award. Despite her low-key humble persona, she is a consummate fundraiser. Susan is gracious, sensitive, conscientious and persistent. Susan is usually in the background, but she is always making an impact.”

Asked how it felt to get the award, Brenner simply said, “Of course, I was very honored.” 

When asked what mensch meant to her, Brenner offered, “For me, a mensch is someone who is kind and is always wanting to do kind things for others. My motto in life is: I don’t think it takes a lot to make someone feel special or happy.”

The award was established to honor those in Cincinnati’s Jewish community like Mesel Wieder, who exemplified the meaning of the word mensch. Wieder survived the Holocaust in Ukraine. He was extremely involved in Adath Israel Synagogue and showed his dedication to education through volunteering for Rockwern Academy’s L’dor V’dor program. Wieder frequently attended Holocaust & Humanity Center programs, and was known to burst into a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.” Wieder passed away in 2010 at the age of 96.  

Volunteering has always been part of her life. Brenner said, “I started volunteering at a young age. My mother would take me along with her to help make and serve lunch for seniors at our Temple in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. All through high school, I volunteered with disadvantaged youth and seniors. I was also a Red Cross volunteer. Needless to say, I’m still volunteering and enjoy every minute of it.”

Brenner is a founding member of the Jewish Women’s Endowment Fund and long-time solicitor for the Federation’s community campaign; she has volunteered for the Federation for over 24 years. She served on the Federatin’s Planning and Allocations Committee, including as cochair of the Youth and Family Council; on the Israel and Overseas Committee; and as cochair of Partnership 2000 (now Partnership2Gether). She is a Lion of Judah, a member of the Moss Society, and was a Melton scholar. She is currently on the boards of the Holocaust & Humanity Center and of Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati. She also volunteers at the Mercy/Jewish Hospital and as a Neighbor to Neighbor volunteer at Wise Temple.

Cincinnati Hillel and its future is important to her. Brenner said, “It’s very important for me to see this community be sustainable for many many years. It was rewarding to be a part of the [Cincinnati Hillel] CYJL [Create Your Jewish Legacy] team and share the success of our community commitment.”

Asked what wisdom she would offer the younger generation, Brenner said, “Get involved and serve on a Jewish organization board. I have always found pleasure in giving, building relationships and helping the community.”

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Nice family, warm hearts.” That’s how Stav Barkai, an Israeli 19-year-old in Cincinnati for a year of service, described the Klings.  who live in Montgomery and are members at Adath Israel Congregation.

Stav and his partner from Israel, Liat Falah, are volunteers for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati through August, teaching children, teens, and adults about Israel. Through their program, known as Chaverim M’Israel, or Friends from Israel, which is a part of the Federation’s Partnership2Gether initiative, they will have taught over 5,000 Cincinnatians about Israel this year. This fall they will return to start their service in the Israel Defense Forces. I met Stav, Liat, and the Kling family—mother Lynn, father Joel, and teens Shayna and Adam—to discuss their new friendships.


Danielle: Stav, at age 19 you are on the Israeli National Orienteering Team and have been to two European championships. But you’d never been to the US.  What was it like?

Stav:  I remember the first week we came over here we [taught] a class, the first one—and it was hard for us to do 45 minutes in English, we had just come, we really—everything is spinning as you say. And I remember Adam approaching to me after class ended and saying he really enjoyed the class. And he had a Packers shirt, of—I don’t remember the name of the player—

Adam :  —Aaron Rodgers!—

Stav:  —Aaron Rodgers, exactly! And he talked to me and gave me his number and we talked after the class. And I said, this guy is really nice. I knew that—I have one friend—and that’s amazing. And I met Shayna a few weeks afterwards. We made connection and I learned from them a lot, and saw how welcoming are them. The Kling family gave me a lot. They really opened their house for me and Liat.

Danielle: And for you, the Klings, what was it like to become friends with Stav and Liat?

Shayna: I loved having a new set of friends to share different Jewish experiences with. I know that next time I go to Israel I’ll have a new set of family so that’s a really awesome thing.

Joel:  It has been a wonderful experience for my kids to have close Israeli friendships and develop some insight into Israeli life.

Lynn: Liat and Stav were wonderful examples to Shayna and Adam, bringing Israeli teenage life to Cincinnati.  

Adam: I just thought it was wonderful spending time with them and learning about their culture and Israel, especially since we are close in age.

Stav, Adam, Shayna, and Liat became great friends “in three hours,” says Shayna.

Danielle: How has the Kling family been affected by the chaverim?

Adam:  I just think it’s cool that you can be from opposite sides of the world, and they can come all the way over here and we can instantly connect, and the fact that we are Jewish brings us together.

Joel:  Look at the Jewish Student Union that Shayna is a part of and Adam is a part of at Sycamore, along with USY and BBYO. What I’ve seen this year is Stav and Liat come in, and I see our kids excited to go to those events. And obviously as Jewish parents we want to make sure our kids do things involved with the religion.

Shayna:  I would agree with that. I think Stav and Liat make events more fun. I’m the president of the Jewish Student Union, and we would ask them to come and everyone would be so excited. Also it just solidifies the fact in my mind that Israelis are more friendly than Americans. We met Stav and Liat one day in August or September, and the next week at Mercaz we were already chatting it up and laughing.

Lynn: I think it brings Israel closer, and makes it not so religious, per se. It’s made it more on a more intimate, social level, vs something that you learn about on a map or on tv.

Danielle: How is your Judaism similar or different from each other’s?

Stav: I didn’t know a lot about American Jewry before I came. I came and I saw so much of how Jewish pluralism works over here, and it does not work in Israel. In Israel it’s either that you are Orthodox, or secular. It’s not really the middle of Reform, or Conservative, or many other streams that we don’t have in Israel. So that’s a big difference.  

Shayna:  I would agree. I went to Israel last summer, and I feel like in Israel it’s more just ingrained. Like they have Purim, and the whole entire country celebrates, and with Yom Ha’atzmaut, the entire country gets the day off and goes crazy. But here you have to put time aside to celebrate.

Adam: So I’ve never been to Israel, I’m going next summer, but Shayna always talks about how amazing it was. And you can imagine that, and you can see pictures, or see it on the news or read about it, but it never really means anything until it’s actually in front of you. Stav and Liat have brought that, and it makes me very excited to go to Israel next summer.

Joel: One thing that I recall—we were talking: what are you going to do when you go back? For me, having a soon-to-be senior with Shayna going to college the next year, that’s what was on my mind. Then Stav made a quick comment and I remembered: army, got it. It was kind of an “aha” moment for me: while we’re enjoying fun together, there are differences in how our kids grow up and what their path is immediately out of high school.

Shayna: Every once in a while I’ll get that aha moment—the other day at graduation our principal said, would everyone who’s going into the military next year please rise—and there was seven or eight kids—

Adam: —out of 450—

Shayna: —and I turned to one of my friends, and I said, if we were in Israel right now everyone would stand up—which is crazy.

Danielle: So did this year strengthen you in a Jewish way?

Adam:  I think so. At our Shabbat service, when you’re sitting together, your arms around each other, and you hear them singing a Shabbat song that you’ve heard your whole life, and you see them singing it, knowing that they’re Jewish, it brings everything together, it’s just a really cool thing to see.

Shayna:  I don’t think the Jewish factor is insanely at the forefront. It’s who they are, and just the Israeli welcoming nature. We were all best friends in literally three hours.

Danielle: So was it Stav and Liat that led your family to agree to host a young Israeli in the same program next year?

Adam:  Shayna’s been wanting to do it for years and years—

Shayna: —I’m obsessed with everything that’s foreign [laughter]. I just want to travel everywhere.  And bringing someone from Israel into our home is kind of like bringing a chunk of traveling into our house. And adding a new sister will make the experience even more incredible.

Joel: We both have been very philanthropic and involved. I look at this as another opportunity to say yes. That’s important, because it teaches them: it’s good to give back, and do something for the community.

Danielle:  Liat, Stav, how do you feel about this past year?

Liat: The Klings are a great family and the kids are both good friends of ours. They really show us the city and teached us how it is to be a Jewish teen over here in America. We had a lot of fun with them.

Stav:  We had an incredible year. I didn’t imagine that my year would be so intense in a good way, we had so many high moments. I always say that the thing that will go most with me to Israel is the connections I made over here. And the Klings are a big part of this for me.

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Over the last year, the JCRC took bold steps to further our mission, which we shared with more than 250 people at our Annual Meeting in June. President Walter Spiegel spoke eloquently about our efforts to combat hatred in all forms, including leading in the formation of the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate; to get young adults involved in civic engagement; and to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that touches him personally. I took a look at the coming year, and discussed ways in which we will be intentional and nuanced in our approach to fighting antisemitism and how we can empower diverse voices to come together on the topic of Israel. And we heard a powerful message from Christian Picciolini, a former violent extremist, who now helps people leave the hate movement he helped create. I’m proud of the work we are doing and am looking forward to building on our momentum in the coming year. —Jackie 

United Against Hate

The theme of this year’s Annual Meeting was United Against Hate, a recognition of our commitment to stand together with our diverse partners to combat hate and bias and promote inclusion. In this video, members of the Coalition answered the question, “What does it mean to be united against hate?”

Year in Review | Walter Spiegel

One year ago, when I assumed the presidency of this historic organization, I spoke about some of the challenges facing our community. For example, the ADL was reporting an 86% percent increase in antisemitic incidents across the country, BDS resolutions seeking to isolate Israel were on the rise at college campuses across the Midwest, immigrant communities were increasingly characterized as the source of all societal ills – a charge that we in the Jewish community understand all too well – and civility and tolerance for opposing viewpoints were becoming the exception to the rule, often even in our own Jewish community. 

Responding to these challenges goes to the heart of the mission of this organization: to protect the security of the Jewish community, with a recognition that Jewish security depends on a just society for all people.

I wish that I could stand here tonight to report that through the efforts of JCRC and other like-minded organizations, these challenges have now been fully resolved. Alas, as everyone in this room knows all too well, the reality is that over the course of the past year, the challenges that I highlighted, along with new challenges that threaten the security of the Jewish community and call into question the cause of justice, have become even more acute. 

Last August, neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting Nazi era slogans such as “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil.”

A dysfunctional Congress and an Administration that speaks about immigrants in dehumanizing terms and separates young children from their parents have failed to advance legislation that would protect law abiding young adults who were brought to this country as children.

And our schools, where we drop off our children in the morning so they can learn to be contributing members of society, have become targets, with consequences that have tragically touched our community and our own JCRC.

So as an organization, how should we respond to these increasingly challenging times? Our answer is straightforward: we will continue to fight to protect the security of our community and to create a just society for all people. But in doing so, we recognize that in this fight, we are not alone.

After all, the hatred expressed by those neo-Nazis in Charlottesville was not focused solely on the Jews. Hate groups are equal opportunity haters, targeting not just Jews but also our friends in the African-American community, the Latino community, the Muslim community, the LGBTQ community, and all other communities that do not fit within their distorted view of what American society should look like.

And so tonight, we are highlighting the response of the Cincinnati community: the formation of the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate. The Coalition includes 19 organizations representing a diverse array of ethnic and faith-based groups. It is a nonpartisan alliance of organizations committed to being vigilant of and opposing hate activity by supporting impacted communities, responding in solidarity, and offering community education to foster acceptance, compassion and justice.  

Hatred is not an innate human characteristic but a learned response. And just as hatred can be learned, so too can we teach our children to value diversity and inclusion. As a founding member of the Coalition, we intend to work with our coalition partners to develop and implement programs that will teach tolerance and warn against the dangers of extremism.

Over the course of the past year, JCRC has worked on other issues that we believe must be addressed to fulfill our mission of creating a just society for all people. 

For example, our Immigration Committee, chaired by Mark Barsman, partnered with AJC Cincinnati to advocate on behalf of the Jewish community for passage of the Dream Act. 

On another issue of importance to the security of the Jewish community, our Cincinnati JCRC, through Ohio Jewish Communities, our state-wide advocacy partner in Columbus, is working with the other JCRCs across the State to support Governor Kasich’s proposal to pass common sense gun safety legislation in Ohio. The Board of JCRC supports the Governor’s proposal and we call upon all of our local elected representatives to do likewise in this legislative session. 

Thank you to John Youkilis for leading this effort – I know this is a deeply personal issue to you and your family.  

And so as I look back on the first year of my presidency and consider what new challenges await us in the coming year, I am confident that our organization continues to be up to the task.

As part of our strategic planning process, we have identified priority issues of concern, including responding to antisemitism and hate, advocating on behalf of Israel, and supporting immigration and criminal justice reform. 

And we have created new committees to work on these issues, including for the first time a Young Adult committee that will provide a vehicle for young adults in our Cincinnati Jewish community to become engaged in these issues of concern. Our Associate Director Justin Kirschner and Board Member Rebecca Zemmelman are leading this effort called L’Shem Cincinnati—JCRC’s new young adult civic engagement arm.

In the coming year, JCRC will continue to speak out against hatred in all forms and against all communities, we will continue to build relationships with like-minded partners across the Cincinnati community, and we will continue to advocate to build a just society for all people. 

Looking Ahead | Jackie Congedo

Since I will always be a recovering journalist, I’m going to start with a few headlines:

“Anti-Semitic incidents surged nearly 60% in 2017,” reads a CNN report.

“Did the federal government really lose track of almost 1,500 immigrant children?” reads a May 29 CBS report.

“Condemning anti-Semitism should not be difficult for Women’s March leaders,” says Guila Franklin Seigel in Washington Jewish Week.

“Gaza Militants Barrage Israel With Mortars and Rockets,” reads a New York Times article last month.

“Black men get longer prison sentences than white men for the same crime,” reads an ABC News article from late last year.

I don’t think I need to say much more to paint the picture—that we live in challenging times. When the stakes are this high, we often respond in one of two ways. We either withdraw—we put down the paper, turn off the TV. Or we get angry and turn inwards, preaching to echo chambers on Facebook. We lash out and demonize, or perhaps, even worse, we refuse to engage with anyone who offers a different opinion. When the stakes are this high, it feels almost traitorous to entertain someone else’s perspective. When the stakes are this high, we worry that we lose our morality when we open our tent.

The problem with this mode of operating—when the stakes are this high — is that neither path provides a way forward. How can we make any progress on these critical issues if the extremes continue to dictate our options for action?

In moments like these—the key to progress is our capacity to hold complexity. Our insistence on nuance. Our ability to face the inconvenient truths that eat at our own argument. Our courage to reject binary options—because rarely are situations black and white—and to, instead, grow more comfortable living in grey realities.

And our pursuit of complexity and nuance has to be intentional. It’s an art that must be practiced. Fortunately, this is the wheelhouse of the JCRC.

For 79 years, the JCRC has been intentional about bringing divergent opinions together for constructive discourse and consensus making. We have been intentional about facilitating diverse dialogue on controversial topics. And we have been intentional about reaching out to other faith and ethnic communities—across differences—to find solutions to our city’s most pressing problems.

This year was no different.

When Richard Spencer threatened to bring his hateful message to the University of Cincinnati, we reached out, co-hosting a forum to help community leadership understand the hate group threat. We partnered with our allies in other communities through the Coalition Against Hate to think through a response that would showcase our diversity without giving Spencer’s agenda fuel and attention.

When violence erupted at the Gaza border, we utilized our weekly Israel Update newsletter to circulate accurate information and analysis that adequately conveyed the complexity of the situation.

We also believe it’s important to send Cincinnati thought leaders to Israel, to help them see the Jewish state for themselves and to bring back the complexity and the nuance. This year, we partnered to send Ohio Representative Brigid Kelly and Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard on their first trips to Israel, where they were able to see firsthand that you can, in fact, be pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace all at the same time. 

We know it’s a sign of a meaningful trip when participants come back and tell us they have more questions than they started with. That speaks to this priority of building capacity for complexity in our binary world. And while it feels lonely at times, the JCRC will continue to be a place for diverse conversation, nuanced thinking and bridge building in the year to come. 

We will continue to empower diverse voices to come together on the topic of Israel. Right now, we are working with Resetting the Table, the Jewish Federations of North America’s civility initiative, to design workshops for our Jewish community and our friends in the greater community, where we can explore our own Israel narratives and divergent viewpoints on Israel in a safe space.

We will continue to convene and participate in robust debate about policies that move our community forward. We are in the process of planning an election forum for this fall that will go beyond politics to put the issues of Jewish security and justice front and center for candidates to discuss.

And, the JCRC will continue to lead as an executive committee member of the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate. At this time I’d also like to thank the members of the Coalition who are here with us tonight—I am inspired every day to be doing this important work alongside you. And I’d like to give special recognition to Barbara Perez, Desire Bennet, and the entire team at the YWCA, which is convening the Coalition and serving as the Coalition’s fiscal agent. 

Local News Coverage of Annual Meeting

FOX 19 | ‘I was a violent person’: former neo-Nazi talks about rise in hate crimes
WLWT | Former white supremacist brings message of hope to Cincinnati

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The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati joins more than two dozen national Jewish organizations in the letter outlined below opposing the inhumane practice of separating children from their migrant parents after families have crossed the border. As Jews, we are always cognizant of the fact that we were once strangers. We must do a better job treating today’s immigrants—especially children—with basic human dignity. To separate them from their parents inflicts unnecessary trauma which cannot be undone.

As such, we call on the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately rescind this trauma-inflicting practice, and we ask that our congressional delegation support legislation which protects family unity.

June 12, 2018

The Honorable Jeff Sessions
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530

The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
Secretary of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Nielsen,

On behalf of the 26 undersigned national Jewish organizations and institutions, we write to express our strong opposition to the recently expanded “zero-tolerance” policy that includes separating children from their migrant parents when they cross the border. This policy undermines the values of our nation and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of thousands of people.

As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.

Many of these migrant families are seeking asylum in the United States to escape violence in Central America. Taking children away from their families is unconscionable. Such practices inflict unnecessary trauma on parents and children, many of whom have already suffered traumatic experiences. This added trauma negatively impacts physical and mental health, including increasing the risk of early death.

Separating families is a cruel punishment for children and families simply seeking a better life and exacerbates existing challenges in our immigration system. It adds to the backlog of deportation cases and legal challenges in federal courts, places thousands more immigrants in detention facilities and shelters, endangers the lives of more children, and instills additional fear in people seeking safety in our country. In addition, those seeking asylum or other legal protection face numerous obstacles to making a claim, especially from detention. Separating family members at the border would force families into two or more immigration cases instead of a single case for each family, harming their ability to present a successful case.

Our Jewish faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Our own people’s history as “strangers” reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just. We urge you to immediately rescind the “zero tolerance” policy and uphold the values of family unity and justice on which our nation was built.


American Conference of Cantors
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
American Jewish World Service
Anti-Defamation League
B’nai B’rith International
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Labor Committee
Jewish Women International
Men of Reform Judaism
National Association of Jewish Legislators
National Council of Jewish Women
Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies
NFTY – The Reform Jewish Youth Movement
Rabbinical Assembly
Reconstructing Judaism
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
The Workmen’s Circle
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Union for Reform Judaism
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Uri L’Tzedek, The Orthodox Social Justice Movement
Women of Reform Judaism

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The Jewish Community Relations Council’s (JCRC) 79-year-old mission of fighting antisemitism and working to secure a just society for all will take center stage with new relevancy at its Annual Meeting this year. Under the theme “United Against Hate,” the JCRC will showcase its efforts in building and helping to lead the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate and will feature the story of a man who turned his back on a hate movement he helped build.

In its annual audit, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported a 57% rise in antisemitic incidents in 2017—the largest single-year increase on record. Just last week, they issued a new report, which found at least 4.2 million shares or re-shares of antisemitic Tweets in the last 12 months. As incidents of antisemitism and hate reach alarming new heights, the JCRC is debuting new efforts to combat them, including forming alliances with other communities in Cincinnati with the same goal.

“When we feel threatened, our instinct is to retreat into our own communities,” said JCRC Director Jackie Congedo. “But we can most effectively combat antisemitism and hate in all other forms by standing alongside others who are also committed to being vigilant of hate activity and speaking out together against it—with one unified voice. Our resolve to create unity is stronger—and our stories of collaboration, inclusion, and tolerance have the power to sound louder—than any hateful ideology.”

The JCRC has joined forces with 18 other diverse organizations committed to responding to hate activity and fostering acceptance, compassion, and justice for all in the Cincinnati region under the alliance of the new Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate. In addition to responding to incidents and assisting victims of hate, the coalition promotes inclusive values and educates the community to prevent bias and bigotry.  

“We look forward to educating the community on JCRC’s efforts to address these complex and challenging issues,” said JCRC President Walter Spiegel. “JCRC’s partnership with other ethnic and faith-based communities to form the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate as a response to the growing divisiveness in our society is one of our most important initiatives and we are particularly excited to introduce the community to this effort.”

At the Annual Meeting, the JCRC will also discuss its values-driven advocacy on immigration, criminal justice reform, and Israel.

The evening’s keynote speaker will be Christian Picciolini, an award-winning television producer, a public speaker, author, peace advocate, and a former violent extremist. After leaving the hate movement he helped create during his youth in the 1980s and 90s, he began the painstaking process of making amends and rebuilding his life.

Christian’s life since leaving the white supremacist movement over two decades ago has been dedicated to helping others overcome hate through such organizations as Life After Hate and ExitUSA. He now leads the Free Radicals Project, a global extremism prevention and disengagement platform, helping people exit hate movements and other violent ideologies.

He has spoken all over the world, including on the TEDx stage, and has appeared on national platforms including 60 Minutes and Time Magazine, sharing his unique and extensive knowledge, teaching all who are willing to learn about building greater peace through empathy and compassion.

The Annual Meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the Mayerson JCC. The event is open to the public; an RSVP is preferred at jewishcincinnati.org/JCRC2018. There is no cost to attend.


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This monthly report from CEO Shep Englander features topics of interest to the Cincinnati Jewish community and the work of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.

Taking Stock of Cincinnati 2020. In 2010, our community study reminded us that reaching our community’s potential requires critical mass and sustainability. “More Jews, More Engaged” became the DNA of our Cincinnati 2020 vision. We built priorities around making Jewish life thrive in Cincinnati.

At our Annual Meeting, we shortened the presentations and used that time to take stock of Cincinnati 2020. We asked all the participants, “What Cincinnati 2020 initiatives have benefited you or your family?” and “What do you see as our community’s biggest challenges as we look forward to 2030?”

The dialogues that broke out showed what makes our community different—the way we speak to, listen to, and challenge each other and how we collaborate for the greater good.

Annual Meeting participants told us how important it is to provide quality options for our older adults, to be inclusive of interfaith families and those with physical and other differences, and to strengthen our organizations and congregations. Everything we heard will inform how we begin to plan for the next decade.

New Federation President Gary Greenberg spoke so eloquently about these priorities and about his experience growing up and raising a family in Jewish Cincinnati at the Annual Meeting. Congratulations, Gary. And thank you, Tedd Friedman, for your vision and leadership.

Crucial Conversations. The decision to sell Cedar Village’s Mason campus so that the proceeds can be better invested in serving our older adults was very difficult for the Cedar Village Board. After that decision was announced, we heard many questions and concerns. However, since then we have had many face-to-face meetings. And when we sat down and discussed the specifics, community members were relieved to learn that:

  • the retirement communities built by Cedar Village’s new operator are high-quality and have great reputations;
  • the new owner is a nonprofit that is willing to go to great lengths to maintain Jewish life, observance, and tradition at Cedar Village;
  • all the proceeds of the sale will be invested in caring for our older adults;
  • this will enable the community to provide more and better services; and
  • some of the new services will start to become available just months after the sale.

In fact, the Aging 2.0 task force, a collaboration of the agencies that serve older adults in our community, is already investigating new ways to provide Jewish cultural, religious, and social connections for our older adults. To learn more about Aging 2.0’s goals and priorities, click here.  

If you have suggestions about where to hold future discussions about older adult needs, please let me know.

Together We Can Do Almost Anything. Your gift to the Annual Campaign fuels crucial work—to enhance belonging, take on big problems, and address critical community priorities. Our campaign closes May 31. And while we are close to reaching our $5.6 million goal, we are not there yet. For every new gift or increase before the end of May, the community gets matched, thanks to The Jewish Foundation.

Your generosity makes A Day with Jewish Federation possible. Check out this video, which illustrates just a few of the ways the Jewish Federation enriches our community.

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New Federation President Gary Greenberg spoke so eloquently at the Annual Meeting about growing up and raising a family in Jewish Cincinnati and meeting the challenges of the community. Below are his comments from the event. Congratulations to Gary and thank you to outgoing President Tedd Friedman for his vision and leadership. —Shep 

I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve as President of OUR Jewish Federation.

I emphasize “our” because this Federation belongs to all of us: volunteers, donors, agencies, synagogues, day schools—the entire Jewish community of Greater Cincinnati.

I had the good fortune to grow up in the vibrant Cincinnati Jewish community of the 1960s.  

My boyhood here was quintessentially Jewish-American: public schooling at Losantiville Elementary and Walnut Hills High, Class of 71, Wise Temple Sunday School, a year of Torah and Talmud with HUC student Lawrence Kushner to prepare my Bar Mitzvah, and a rock & roll party to celebrate my “manhood,” basketball and swimming at the old Roselawn Jewish Community Center, Saturday night at the movies with James Bond, sled riding at Gibson Greeting Cards in Amberley.  And I was fully educated on why some of our Amberley neighbors had numbers tattooed on their arms.

I went away to College and Law School, in Pennsylvania and Michigan, but always hoped to return here to raise my family.

And I was lucky enough to meet and marry my life partner Linda, who wanted the same thing. Here we are, a “few” years later, with the good fortune of having our two sons, daughter-in-law and grandson living nearby.

As we say on Pesach, “It would have been enough.” But now I have been given this opportunity to serve and give back to the Jewish community that has given so much to me.

Tonight we heard from you. About what is important to you and your family.

    • We must ensure that our elderly population, especially those with limited means, age with dignity and remain connected to their Jewish community, values, and traditions. To that end, we have convened the Aging 2.0 Task Force with representatives of all the stakeholders to understand the needs, the gaps in meeting those needs and best practices for closing those gaps. I am confident that our community will provide the care and respect for all of our elderly that we would want for ourselves.

    • Israel will remain an integral part of our agenda. Israel and American Jewry may at times have differences but we are family, Am Yisrael, and we need each other to reach our full potential. One goal I hope to achieve during my term is to finalize arrangements for Cincinnati and Netanya to be Sister Cities; this has been pending for far too long.

    • We must be welcoming and inclusive. Individuals with physical and developmental disabilities should have the opportunity  to participate fully and with ease in our community. This requires allocation of resources and effective accommodations. It also requires a culture of acceptance. In addition, we want to create a community that’s inclusive to the growing number of interfaith couples and families who are part of Jewish Cincinnati.   

    We will succeed in meeting these and the many other challenges facing us in the years ahead if we continue to listen to each other with sincere hearts and open minds, as we did tonight.

    Our differences will remain, but we will stand on common ground. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Psalm 133.  

    Finally, but not least, I want to thank Linda, the love of my life, as I would not be fit to serve you if not for the work she has done over the years to civilize me.

    Thank you, Linda. And thanks to all of you for being here tonight and all you do for our community.

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