The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati develops and connects leaders, contributors, organizations and ideas to build an inclusive Jewish community that cares for people in need, supports Israel and assures a vibrant Jewish future.
By Reagan Kuhn, Project Manager, Create Your Jewish Legacy
Meet one couple who are doing their part, and more, to ensure a vibrant Jewish community in Cincinnati for the next generation. They volunteer, serve on boards, give annually, and have made generous legacy commitments to the organizations they support and hold dear.
Who: the Rosens
Residents of Amberley, Cynthia and Bob Rosen are long-time donors to and volunteers with various organizations within the Cincinnati Jewish community. They have made legacy commitments despite the fact that their children and grandchildren don’t live here.
“Our kids and grandkids don’t live in Cincinnati. The Jewish community is our family. It has supported us in many ways, and we want to do our part so it can stay strong,” said Cynthia.
Why They’re Involved: Living a Purposeful Life
On the day of this interview, Cynthia was going home to roast chickens so an Israeli family with a child being treated at Children’s Hospital could have a homemade kosher Shabbat dinner. A couple of years ago, they lent their extra car for several months to another family that was here from Israel for medical reasons. Their insurance agent was so moved that he took the idea to his church.
“If we can, we’d like to make somebody’s life a little easier,” Bob said.
These acts of kindness and generosity give their lives purpose, they say. They both came from modest backgrounds and were always aware of needs around them.
Having been fortunate in their careers, they feel they were given this opportunity to help others—which they do in their volunteer work and annual gifts. They also have found great meaning in leaving a legacy gift to the causes they care most deeply about.
“We hope that with this gift, the world will be a better place,” said Cynthia.
What They Support and How They Do It
Ever since the Mayerson JCC opened, they both have come to work out. Cynthia was struck at the sense of community she found, and how the J helps people at risk. Her involvement started there. She is now on the board and leads the Create Your Jewish Legacy team at the JCC. Once a facilitator of one of Dr. Gary Zola’s community classes on Judaism at the Hebrew Union College, Cynthia led discussions on Jewish thought and practice, and she draws on those values in the way she seeks to “repair the world.”
Bob was once asked to sit on a Jewish organization’s board, and then another, and his involvement ballooned from there. Bob is actively involved with Cincinnati Hebrew Day School—even though their children didn’t, and their grandchildren don’t, go there—because they believe it is crucial that the community have Jewish education. They have both volunteered at Cedar Village, where Bob is also on the board, because they care deeply about taking care of the aging population. They participate in various activities at their synagogues to help others, and to share what they can, of their time and resources.
Bob now sits in more committee meetings than he likes, he says, grinning. But he also gives critical perspective and makes things happen for the organizations he is involved with, including Create Your Jewish Legacy.
Asked about his motivations for legacy giving, Bob told the story of Honi and the carob tree: When Honi saw a man planting the seed for a carob tree, he asked the man if he believed he would ever see the fruit from this tree, which wouldn’t bear fruit for 70 years. The man said probably not, but reminded Honi that when he was born into this world, there were many carob trees planted for him. He was planting trees so his children and grandchildren could one day eat the fruit.
Advice for Others
When asked about advice for others in the Jewish community, Bob said: “Broaden your network. We are one big Jewish community and we need to help each other. Everybody has something to contribute. Our community is rich in human resources: points of view, passion, expertise. Everybody can help in some way.”
Thanks for caring about our community and what we do.
In response to a recent Enquirer article about a local lawyer who is defending organizers of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Tony Stieritz, the Director of Catholic Social Action for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and I wrote this op-ed. Jackie Congedo, JCRC DirectorTony Stieritz, Catholic Social Action Director
Recently, the Enquirer profiled an attorney from our area who is defending organizers of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. One person died and more than a dozen others were injured in Charlottesville when a car drove into a crowd of marchers who were protesting against the white supremacists. While everyone is entitled to a competent legal defense, the article makes clear that this local attorney has beliefs in common with his white supremacist clients: “He believes white people must save and preserve their civilization from Jews, immigrants and minorities.”
“My willingness to get involved is to oppose Jewish influence in society,” the attorney said. This type of rhetoric was used by Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s to justify anti-Jewish violence and repression, and ultimately genocide. The attorney also called into question whether the Holocaust, during which six million Jews were murdered by Nazis, actually happened.
Just as distressing as this hate-inspired ideology is the false cover under which he preached it–claiming that these hateful beliefs are somehow affirmed by his self-assigned “Catholic” identity. In reality, antisemitism and racism have been unequivocally condemned by the Catholic Church, and his beliefs defy Catholic moral teachings on the infinite dignity of every human person. Pope Francis recently stated, “A Christian can never be an antisemite, especially because of the Jewish roots of Christianity.”
It might be easy to dismiss such examples of unleashed bigotry as sideshows. But there is a less obvious and more pervasive threat here, and that is apathy; our lack of relationships with those of another race, creed, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation and a lack of courage to be more than a bystander when others are harassed or bullied. An absence of intercultural and interfaith relationships can leave us vulnerable to tribal mindsets, that is, the temptation to validate ourselves only in opposition to others.
Therefore, our response to hateful displays must be twofold. First and foremost, people of goodwill must be clear and unabashed in speaking out against hatred. Second, we must make a concerted effort to construct the kind of society where seeds of hate will not take root. In order to accomplish these goals, we must work across differences to build a community that exemplifies our shared values. And then, we must be intentional about giving those efforts the kind of public attention that our society unwittingly too often gives to hateful and destructive forces.
Cincinnati’s Catholic and Jewish communities, among many others, are committed to this essential work. The mission of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, founded in the 1930s in response to growing antisemitism, is to promote Jewish security recognizing that Jewish security depends on a just society for all. The Catholic Social Action Office and Commission empower Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, to celebrate and live out the Gospel call for life, human dignity, and care for God’s creation through formation, organized social ministries, ecumenical and interfaith relations, and opportunities for public advocacy and action.
We are in ongoing conversation with each other and with our counterparts in other ethnic and faith communities, and we routinely celebrate the work undertaken by our respective congregations to jointly advance the region’s common good.
For example, in the wake of Charlottesville, more than a dozen minority communities came together to form the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate. Set to make its official debut during the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism event on April 27, the Coalition represents a united front in promoting a hate-free Cincinnati region.
For fifty years, the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati (MARCC) has brought leaders of major religions together to work on common social concerns. And, in June, the Bridges of Faith Trialogue will bring practitioners of twelve religions together to celebrate our city’s religious diversity in the first ever “Cincinnati Festival of Faiths.”
Several weeks ago, the Holocaust & Humanity Center in partnership with the Archdiocese brought Jeannie Opdyke Smith to Seton High School to share the story of her mother, Irene Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic woman who risked her life to save Jews during the Holocaust. Her story showed us that faith, hope and love can triumph over evil.
When we feel threatened, our instinct is to retreat into our own communities. And, when others are threatened, discomfort or apathy can tempt us to simply say nothing about it. Movements that preach hate count on this—so as to divide and conquer. But they underestimate the great majority of compassionate Cincinnatians who are working across faith and ethnic lines to build a community where all people can thrive. 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.
Together with the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, the Jewish Community Relations Council is outraged and heartbroken today after two Israeli soldiers were killed, and two others seriously injured, in a car ramming terrorist attack in the northern West Bank. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those lost and those fighting for survival.
According to the IDF, A Palestinian terrorist ran over IDF soldiers who were securing routes adjacent to the community of Mevo Dotan, west of Jenin. The terrorist was injured and taken to the hospital. He is being questioned as IDF troops are currently searching the area. Palestinian groups had called for Friday to be a “day of rage” in response to the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. Hamas welcomed the attack, saying it “proves our people’s readiness to continue the Jerusalem intifada.”
Together with our national partners, we call on global leaders to condemn this violent incitement and resulting terrorism.
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.
In the face of tragedy, our community rallies around each other. Sometimes, the most important thing we can do is to show up and be there for each other.
The tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida has shown me this again. As you know, one of those killed, 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, is the granddaughter of Cincinnatians Ethel and Marvin Guttenberg and the niece of Abbie and John Youkilis (a past president of our Jewish Community Relations Council).
Every day since she has returned from the funeral in Florida, Ethel has come to the J Café. Every day, I watched as one person after another walked up to her, looked in her eyes and embraced her. A dozen people crowded around her lunch table, tears on their faces.
Learning from tragedy—After the shooting, it came to light that the FBI received two tips about the confessed shooter—and specifically, that he might seek to kill his former classmates. Somehow those tips did not reach the level of law enforcement that could have made the difference.
Among the lessons this horror revealed is that today the FBI and other law enforcement agencies often do not have sufficient resources to monitor all the threats to our community. It is chilling that in the weeks before the shooting, our SAFE Cincinnati Director, Ken Wall was explaining to our SAFE Committee that no one will monitor threats to our community like we will. He proposed that SAFE add the capacity to monitor developing threats (online and otherwise) so that we can engage law enforcement before tragedies occur.
Standing up against hate—Last week, the ADL reported a 57 percent rise in antisemitic incidents in the U.S in 2017. This makes the work our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) even more important. The JCRC educates about tolerance, models civility, and builds relationships with leaders of other communities who stand with us to oppose extremists.
For example, JCRC Director, Jackie Congedo worked with leaders of other faith groups to respond to an Enquirer profile of a Cincinnati attorney who volunteered to represent the extremists who spread fear and division in Charlottesville. He is a proud anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Please watch for an op-ed from Jackie in the Enquirer a week from Sunday about how we must respond to this issue.
We are proud of their work towards ensuring the security of our community and support their mission to ensure Jewish security and a just society for all. It is clear that mission is as important as ever. The JCRC calls out extremism and hatred when they see it. More importantly, they develop relationships with leaders in other communities, like the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Bridges of Faith Trialogue, who stand up alongside our Jewish community in the face of dangerous rhetoric from extremists. Together with those allies, the JCRC can confront this common threat and do the daily work of educating about differences and teaching tolerance.
A True Hero, Connecting Our People—Last night we honored an actual hero. Natan Sharansky inspired the world by fighting for the release of Soviet Jews in the 80s. Refusing to compromise, he spent nine years in Soviet prisons using hunger strikes to win—and ultimately enabling 2 million Jews to get out. Mike Zelkind, CEO of 80 Acres Farms inspired me to make the trip to NYC to attend. Mike told me that his family’s ability to leave the U.S.S.R. and start a new life in America might not have been possible without Sharansky’s heroism. Mike’s wife, the Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Director, Jen Zelkind, and their son also attended. President Bush, PM Netanyahu, and hundreds of others braved a blizzard in NYC to be part of this historic night.
Since 2009, Natan Sharansky has served as Chairman of the Jewish Agency, where he has devoted himself to bridging the divide between Jews living in Israel and the rest of us. He has made my current service on the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors so meaningful. And we are proud that Maia Morag, our Israeli emissary (Shlicha), was one of a few emissaries invited to and honored at the event.
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.
Soon after being promoted as the new University of Cincinnati Police Chief, Maris Herold discussed with the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati (MARCC) the challenges the UC Police Department continues to face in the wake of the 2015 shooting death of unarmed, black motorist Sam DuBose by former UCPD Officer Ray Tensing. She talked about the innovative reforms that are currently underway in the department, and she shared her enthusiasm about the ongoing transformation of her department and how they are better prepared to ensure campus and community safety. In addition, on a personal level, she shared with us her unique professional history and how that influences her leadership style today.
Chief Herold is the first woman to serve in this position in the history of the university. Herold was hired as the assistant police chief in 2016 as part of a nationwide search for new leadership in the department; both the former chief and assistant chief resigned in the wake of the DuBose shooting. Herold spent 20 years with the Cincinnati Police Department before joining UCPD. Before becoming a police officer, she worked as a pilot and then as a social worker, investigating child neglect and sexual abuse. Upon experiencing culture shock and uncertainty after entering the police force, she followed her mother’s wise advice and persevered.
“I didn’t want you to go into law enforcement,” her mother said. “Now that you’re in it, policing needs people like you to be in it and stay in it. You must do me a favor—never lose empathy for the people you serve in the community. If you lose that, you need to leave policing.”
Herold has kept that commitment through her career and continues to keep her eyes on ethical and compassionate policing, using the skills she learned as a social worker. When Herold was promoted, she was determined to engage the young men and women of UCPD in innovative training, ethical thinking, and that same compassionate approach.
“I took the role at the University of Cincinnati, believing that they were trying to do that at the time,” Herold said. “This was right after the shooting of Sam DuBose. I wanted this position because of the young men and women that are part of this division—some of the finest people I’ve met. They want to learn and do good things for the community. They want to engage.”
The department is currently under a voluntary monitoring firm, Exiger, which put out a robust 276 recommendations in their report that UCPD must accomplish to meet the police reforms. They have taken an aggressive approach to put the recommendations into effect.
One of the department’s most pressing needs when she started, according to Herold, was resources for training.
“This police department had, in the past, suffered much financial neglect in training and officer development,” she said. “Policing is a high-risk, low occurrence field. If resources are not put into the training of officers, there will be another incident like we had. This is happening all over the country—officers are not trained; they are shooting unarmed citizens.”
Herold said to the university’s credit, she has been given a robust budget that has allowed her to introduce an aggressive training schedule. Understanding the circumstances under which many police shootings happen is critical to preventing them, she said.
“When officers get that radio call to respond, no matter the issue, they rush into the situation without thinking about the situation or calling on other resources or other officers. They have over and over been trained to respond with muscle memory—rapidly and without much thought. This leaves them in a dynamic situation they are not prepared to deal with.”
SWAT teams, on the other hand, are trained to consider time, distance, and barriers as their friend, she said. They contain the situation and remove themselves. Then, they involve those who are better qualified to deal with a situation—doctors, psychologists, crisis negotiating teams, even family members.
The UCPD is bringing the nationally renowned Police Executive Resources Forum to Cincinnati to support officer training; is re-investing in body-cameras, dash cams, and Tasers; and have created a citizen complaint process—accomplishing many of the issued reforms.
Chief Herold left MARCC’s faith leaders with the following. “It was important for me to talk with you today. You are the community. I want you to spread this word around—UC’s Police Chief is committed to doing what is needed; we know that it is vital to have the best trained officers in the country; these officers are people, too; and they are trying and want to do right. We know we’ve done wrong.”
Brianna Pecsok, a 25-year-old Cincinnati native, is spending a year in Netanya, Israel as the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s first Cincinnati Fellow in Israel, or Cincy Fellow. Pecsok is an American emissary who is teaching Israelis about life, culture, and Judaism in the United States. While many cities, including Cincinnati, welcome emissaries from Israel to the United States, the In addition to teaching Israeli students about American culture, Brianna Pecsok held a Chanukah party for her community.
I spend most of my time teaching at the school, where I have gotten to delve into a wide range of topics relating to American culture and Jewish pluralism, often through the lens of an American holiday. Outside of school, I am connected to a youth delegation that will be going to London this summer, I teach in youth movements such as Maccabi and Tzofim, I taught a two-month acroyoga course at the matnas (community center) in my town, and I organized a community Hanukkah event. In addition, I am looking forward to working with delegations that will be going to Cincinnati this summer and fall to prepare them.
Since my goal is to help Israeli students understand American culture, and I use holidays as the vehicle for that exploration, January was the obvious time to discuss Martin Luther King Jr, his peaceful quest for equality, and civil rights in the United States. I had the chance to teach these lessons not only in my regular school, Tchernikofsky, but also at Sharet School. I shared it with students in grades 7 through 12 over the course of a month. I call this the “snowball effect.” One teacher heard that I had an engaging lesson about civil rights, and the next thing I knew, I had the opportunity to teach it to several other classes. (This gives you a glimpse into the Israeli school system. It’s much more spontaneous than the American school system.)
When I was preparing to teach this lesson, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit overwhelmed. I felt unqualified to talk about this subject. However, I remembered back to when I was preparing to come teach in Israel. [My mentors] Sharon Spiegel and Maia Morag kept telling me, “You may not be an expert, but you know more than they do.” Through their guidance, I came up with a lecture to begin to explain this complex topic.
It involved cookies.
As part of her lesson on Martin Luther King Jr Day, Brianna Pecsok talked about ways people in the United States mark the occasion.
At the beginning of the lecture, I handed out slips of colored paper. Then I asked the students holding one color to go to the back of the room. I asked the students holding the other color to come to the front of the room. At this point, I gave cookies to the students in the front of the room and praised them for their hard work in school or how awesome they are. I completely ignored the group in the back. After that exercise, I brought up a slide about the history of segregation on public buses. I can tell you they were definitely paying attention.
The reality is that Israeli students know little to nothing about the history of slavery in the United States. Many thought that the Civil War was a war between white and black people. They may have heard of Martin Luther King Jr, but they did not know why he was fighting for equality. They didn’t know the essential role religious leaders play in issues of humanity in the United States because their religious leaders are part of the political system in Israel. They may have heard of Black Lives Matter, but they didn’t recognize Treyvon Martin. The list goes on. I kept coming back to teaching from a beginner’s perspective. What would my questions be if this was the first time I was learning this? How can I relate this to something they are familiar with?
At the end of the lesson, I asked the students where they saw inequalities in their lives, and what they can do to change it. I got a wide range of responses, some of which were, “There’s nothing I can do to change this.” However, my favorite answer was so simple and pure: “If students have to wear uniforms, I think teachers should have to wear them, too!”
The Cincinnati Fellow in Israel program is made possible by Partnership2Gether of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and by the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows Program.
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.
Thanks to you, Brianna Pecsok is making connections and expanding awareness in Israel of the many ways Americans identify as being Jewish.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bonnie Ullner, the Federation’s Co-Chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee. She shared the following about this year’s process:
Q: What is your role with the Israel & Overseas Committee?
A: I am the co-chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee along with David Weiskopf. Our amazing committee consists of approximately 15 dedicated volunteers, some of whom represent different boards and committees that are strongly connected with Israel and Israeli causes. Others on the committee joined following their experience on the 2016 Congregation and Community Mission to Israel. Many of our members serve as committed leaders of the Partnership2Gether (P2G) Steering Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and even as the chairs of Israel at 70. All the members care deeply about Israel and about strengthening our local connections and investments in Israel.
Q: What did the Annual Campaign allow Federation to invest in this year in Israel?
A: The Israel and Overseas Committee directed monies again this year to support grassroots programs that are happening in Israel and that share our mission of advancing religious pluralism in Israel. The I&O Committee feels that this is a core value of our own Jewish community and that investing in these programs is one of the most effective ways to achieve our goals of encouraging respect for diverse expressions of Judaism. We believe this will strengthen Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will allow North American Jews to remain connected to Israel, as many find it difficult to identify with a state that doesn’t guarantee equality for different choices of religious expression, including their own.
A portion of the Federation’s Global Allocations are given to organizations that promote pluralism in Israel, including Israel Hofsheet, an organization that strives for cultural and religious pluralism and protects civil rights, including freedom of marriage.
Our first focus has been on promoting freedom of marriage choice. We were the first to support the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) Israel Religious Expression Platform (iREP), which has in less than three years strengthened the trend in Israeli society to support alternative marriage options.
Since 2015, we have expanded our efforts to include freedom of religious expression and Jewish education.
Q: For local allocations, the Planning & Allocations committee makes a site visit to each organization in order to better understand their needs. What does that process look like for global allocations?
A: Because the Israeli organizations receiving funds are located in Israel, making a site visit is not always possible. That is why we rely heavily on the input of our former Israeli Shlicha Noga Maliniak, who works on behalf of the Jewish Federation as our representative in Israel. Noga gathers RFPs (request for proposal) and meets with the different Israeli organizations to assess their effectiveness. She assists us with making good choices when reviewing the grant applications of some of these programs.
Our current Shlicha Maia Morag also helps in this regard, as do our representatives of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)—Hal Applebaum and Alex Shklar—who represent our key partner agencies in Israel and abroad. Every year, each representative reports to our committee on the work their agencies do in Israel and Overseas and report on the impact that our funding has on core programs of both agencies. While most of our core funding goes to these two agencies, this year we chose to invest in two additional Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and JDC programs.
Through JAFI, we are supporting Nativ. The program is a 4 ½ week, pluralistic Jewish and Zionist educational program for soldiers who are of Jewish descent but not considered Jewish according to Halacha (Jewish law) or have limited knowledge of Jewish history, tradition, and observance. Nativ provides a safe space for immigrant soldiers, about 80% from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), to learn about their roots, solidify their connections to Israel and the Jewish people, develop personal connections to Jewish practice and culture and, for those who are eligible and choose to pursue conversion, embrace the full benefits of recognized Jewish status.
This year, the Federation will fund the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Nativ, a pluralistic Jewish and Zionist educational program for soldiers, most of whom are from the Former Soviet Union.
Through JDC, we are supporting seniors in Russia. The FSU still lacks coherent social safety nets for their poorest citizens. Elderly Jews on minimal pensions struggle to meet critical daily needs amid rising prices, costly and often unavailable medicine, and inaccessible care. JDC’s program addresses the critical material and emotional needs across the FSU.
Q: This year, the Israel & Overseas committee allocated funds to the Reform and Conservative congregations in Netanya for the first time. Why?
Given we are a very pluralistic and diverse Jewish community here in Cincinnati, and the home of Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, we felt strongly that we should support the only Reform and Conservative synagogues that exist in our partnership city of Netanya. The two congregations went through the RFP process, met with Noga, and shared with the I&O Committee the nature of their programs. We decided to fund each of the congregations for one year at $7,500 each. Beth Israel, a Conservative/Masorti congregation, intends to provide a setting for their large neighborhood of secular Israelis to celebrate the new experience of Havdalah with musical accompaniment. Congregation Netan-Ya, the Reform congregation, plans to hold a series of lectures on the status of women in Judaism.
Q: Looking ahead, what opportunities do you see for the Israel and Overseas Committee to make an impact in the future?
A: We will continue to look for opportunities to promote religious pluralism, both on a large scale, through platforms like iREP, and also by funding Israeli grassroots programs. We will also continue to connect our board and other community members to Israel through high quality Israel programming, Israel advocacy, Israel at 70 events, P2G exchanges and delegations, Cincy Journeys trips to Israel, and ongoing hosting and interaction with our visiting Israelis—our Chaverim M’Israel, Israeli businesspeople, and Israeli doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Q: Tell me more about that program—visiting Israelis at Children’s Hospital. How does our Jewish community connect with this initiative?
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) hosts Israeli doctors and nurses who come to observe for a few weeks at a time or as part of a medical school rotation. Primarily, though, we as a community get involved with the doctors and their families who come here for two to five years as fellows to do their post-doc training in their area of specialty. They come here under the auspices of the CCHMC Israel Exchange Program which combines Israel’s role as a global trailblazer in research, innovation, and technology, with Cincinnati Children’s leadership in delivering complex pediatric care.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) hosts Israeli doctors through their Israel Exchange Program, which combines Israel’s role as a global trailblazer in research, innovation, and technology, with Cincinnati Children’s leadership in delivering complex pediatric care.
When this program began eight years ago, the two or three Israeli fellows and their families needed a lot of assistance to become acclimated to their new environment, and we as a community reached out to help them with things like getting a driver’s license or renting a car. As more and more doctors and their families arrived—we now have approximately 15 at a time—many of them have settled in what we affectionately call “Kibbutz Indian Creek” (the Indian Creek apartment complex in Kenwood), and they have begun to help each other with these day-to-day tasks, even getting in touch before they arrived.
Now our role has evolved more into mainly welcoming them and getting them involved in our Jewish community. Having so many Israelis in our community who are eager to engage and volunteer, and most of whose kids go to Rockwern Academy and to the J’s summer camp, has truly changed the complexion of our Jewish community. So many new connections to Israel are being made organically through these daily interactions with these doctors, their spouses and their children.
In addition, for many of these fellow families, this is their first exposure to alternative forms of practicing Judaism. Through their connections to Cincinnati Jewish community members, their volunteer work, and their attendance at community events, including participation in congregational life, they witness how Jews in Cincinnati celebrate holidays, attend synagogue, and send their kids to day schools to ensure a solid Jewish foundation. In Israel their experience has mainly been that you are either secular or Orthodox; here, they come to understand that there are many forms of Jewish practice and observance. We believe they will carry these experiences back with them when they return to Israel, and continue to carry on the alternative expressions of Judaism that they have incorporated into their lives while here.
On a personal note, we welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family on October 28th, and I am officially back at work after a wonderful maternity leave with our new little one. I am grateful to all of you who pitched in to help the JCRC run smoothly while I was out, and special thanks go to Justin Kirschner, JCRC Associate Director, and Walter Spiegel, JCRC Board President, for leading the organization in my absence. As a new mom, I am finding even more meaning in the JCRC’s important work of protecting Jewish security and ensuring a just society for all. It is a privilege to work every day towards building the kind of compassionate community I want my daughter to inherit.
If you are reading this as part of a new Federation newsletter, you are probably also realizing that the way we communicate with you has changed, too. Instead of receiving the JCRC Behind the Scenes Quarterly Newsletter, you will receive a JCRC quarterly update as part of the new Federation newsletter. In order to ensure that you are receiving the latest JCRC news and events, please scroll to the bottom of your newsletter and click “Personalize this email!” (which is just above the Federation’s address). Then make sure you have selected “Jewish Advocacy,” “Justice & Equality” and “Interfaith” as areas of interest. If you don’t already receive our newsletter, In the spirit of Education and Knowledge, we provided background and context on the complex issue of African asylum seekers in Israel, and We prepared college-bound high school students to advocate for Israel in the face of anti-Israel and BDS activity on college campuses through our Israel on Campus Fellowship Program. In addition, we helped facilitate Ohio House Representative Brigid Kelly’s Legislative Mission Trip to Israel with Ohio Jewish Communities and hosted her for a debrief on the benefits of Israeli-Ohio partnerships.
Thank you for your partnership as we continue to work towards a more just and secure society for all.
Jackie Congedo Director Jewish Community Relations Council
University of Cincinnati student leaders in Israel this past January.
Why did Ryan James, who is not Jewish, make the choice to go to Israel this past January? A junior at the University of Cincinnati, Ryan James is an African-American student leader, the Student Government Diversity/Inclusion Chair with multiple other leadership roles. He is majoring in organizational leadership with plans for a master’s degree in public administration.
The answer is that James has an ongoing relationship with Cincinnati Hillel. Through Hillel, he has solidified friendships and attended two conferences: AIPAC and the David Project’s Black-Jewish Summit. On January 8, James returned from a 13-day trip to Israel specially designed for non-Jewish student leaders. He was one of eight from UC who went, including one Jewish student, a Hillel intern. The trip, Israel Uncovered, was organized by the David Project and partially funded through the Jewish Innovation Funds of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. The student leaders were selected by Cincinnati Hillel, which the Jewish Federation also funds, and Hillel’s Israel Fellow staffed the trip.
Cincinnati Hillel’s program is nationally recognized as successful. “Because of the quality of the students that we send on this trip,” said Sharon Stern, Executive Director of Cincinnati Hillel, “we have been designated a flagship campus for the David Project, and were named ‘Campus of the Year’ in 2017.”
I sat down with James after he spoke at a recent Federation board meeting to talk about his recent experiences.
Minson: Can you tell us why you decided to go to Israel?
James: After going to [the AIPAC and Black-Jewish Summit conferences] I really wanted to learn and grow more. I was very hungry for more answers. [So I applied and went on the trip.] And it was amazing—I just got back about a week ago [laughs] so I am still processing everything.
Minson: How was it?
James: We had amazing experiences: we stayed in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa. Especially the Old City was amazing with such iconic and cherished religious sites. Every part of that trip was just absolutely beautiful. It gave me the chance to get up at 7 in the morning and not go to bed until midnight, and every minute of the day was new food, new opinions, new people. Seeing so many people with so many different opinions who all wear the Israeli flag so proudly is so eye-opening.
Minson: How is it to be back?
James: I still feel like I have a lot of questions—that’s probably a through-line through all of this. [But] it’s been completely influential in my life. I think Hillel has done something fascinating, which is reaching out to students who have diverse interests and who are bouncing around doing a lot on campus, because that gives us the ability to learn, and then the second half is challenging us to engage with others on campus. Hillel has really given themselves first, and let that lead to authentic sharing. There’s been such a good reception to that in our community. I think that has been absolutely influential on our campus.
Ryan James and 7 other student leaders from University of Cincinnati in Israel this January.
Minson: Can we take a step back? What was your relationship with the Jewish community before Hillel?
James: I had had no real touches with the Jewish community in any way shape or form. I grew up in Columbus Ohio, in a suburban community. I didn’t realize how much antisemitism was present, I didn’t know a lot. I didn’t know that there were people in 2018 now as I’m speaking to you that believed that Jewish people had horns. That connected specifically to an experience my mother had where she was actually punished at her elementary school because students looked into the stall while she was using the restroom because they believed that she had a tail. And then when the situation went to the teacher she was punished instead of the other students.
What spoke to me is the parallels between the African-American community and the Jewish community. I think there is a lot of kinship among minority communities.
Minson: So what did you take from this trip?
James: College is about figuring out one’s identity. I am still learning how I feel about everything and interacting with the world. But being challenged to forge your own opinion on an experience that there is so much energy around, forces you to figure out where you stand. Coming back from Israel I learned just as much about myself and where I stand, with life.
Minson: So where do you stand?
James: [Pause] I think for the first time I am smart enough to know that I don’t know everything. Experiences are so layered and so dynamic there. But seeing how despite the strife that exists, seeing some of the most close communities that I have ever seen in my life and that maybe I will ever see in my life—that’s what came home with me more than maybe anything. If you walk into a store and you have a question someone will answer it not because they want you out of their store but because there’s a very unique dedication to the common good there.
We were given narratives that were completely disputed by other speakers. But with that combat and that sparring, it’s not attached to real divisiveness like you think it’d be—it’s over dinner, where people are authentically and wholly loving each other, if that makes sense.
Minson: It does. What else are you bringing back?
I knew that community was something close enough to me that I wanted to pull it into my major, but I’ve never felt it like in Israel. What I saw in Israel [pauses]: what it brings up in me is: authentic sharing, and authentic relationships between communities. Understanding that there are differences, and also understanding that the bridges between those differences are important, is the biggest thing that I brought back from all of these experiences. I really think there’s no finite amount of education or understanding in the world and if people advocate for their experience we need to listen.
Each installment in this series features a different perspective on Cincinnati 2020, the Jewish community’s collaboration to build an engaged and empowered Jewish community by the year 2020. This week, we hear from Marty Hiudt, who is on the Executive Committee of both the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and the Mayerson JCC.
Federation: How are you involved in the Jewish community of Cincinnati?
Marty Hiudt: I am currently active on both the boards of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and Mayerson JCC, serving on both Executive Committees. I have cochaired the Federation Annual Campaign for a couple of years (with Jay Price and my wife Sally, respectively). I have worked for a few years on the JCC’s Adams Golf Classic and serve as the cochair this year with Howard Schwartz. Additionally, I am active at our synagogue, Adath Israel.
Why should engaging interfaith families be important to the community?
Look, interfaith marriages are nothing new. People fall in love with who they fall in love with—simple as that. And study after study shows us that this reality, as it relates to Judaism, is not going away and will likely grow as a percentage of the Jewish population. As a community, we can “stick our heads in the sand,” ignoring the trend or, better to my way of thinking, find ways to embrace, engage, and expose these couples or families to the proud, beautiful, nurturing, fulfilling aspects of Jewish life in Cincinnati and the world.
The community is contributing a significant amount of time and money to send young couples to Israel through the Honeymoon Israel program. What do you see as the return on that investment?
If there is anything we have learned over the recent past from the 2013 Pew study, it is the value of sending our young Jews to overnight camps and getting them to Israel in their high school/college years. Either, or better yet both, of these significantly improves the odds that those who go to camp and/or Israel will have a closer, deeper lasting connection to their Judaism. That is why The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati funds Cincy Journeys and why they are now partnering with the Federation and JCC to bring Honeymoon Israel to Cincinnati. The hope/plan is for a similar connection for interfaith couples—for themselves as well as their families. The return on this investment is hopefully a renewal or deepening of the Jewish partner’s Judaism and an added interest, participation, and commitment to the history and culture of Judaism for the non-Jewish partner. And if they have children, we would hope to see Judaism incorporated into their children’s lives as well. To help facilitate that, the Mayerson JCC and the Federation will engage the couples who go on Honeymoon Israel before, during, and after their trip.
How do you see Honeymoon Israel supporting the Cincinnati 2020 vision of connecting young adults to the community?
Cincinnati 2020 strives to increase the number of Cincinnatians engaged in Jewish life and enhance their well-being and Jewish identity. Helping these couples experience Israel with their spouse is the essence of what 2020 is all about—which is a natural fit for our goals. If we help even a modest number of interfaith couples better navigate their “interfaith-ness,” this is a big win for Jewish Cincinnati.
How can we help others understand the connection to and the importance of Honeymoon Israel and interfaith engagement?
It’s a great question. So many are so busy doing so many “things.” Whether it’s home, family, work, finding personal time, or volunteering, it can be overwhelming. So cutting through life’s clutter and educating people on the features and benefits of Honeymoon Israel is a challenge, especially, I think, if one is not personally dealing with the issue of an interfaith relationship (i.e. Why should this matter to me? I am not part of an interfaith couple.) Our rabbis can reach out and help as they counsel new interfaith couples and their families. And we as a community should always work to be open, warm, and engaging in an effort to nurture these relationships.
What does the future of Jewish Cincinnati look like through the lens of young couples?
I’m not sure I am the best person to ask about a young person’s lens, but I would hope that any clear thinking, observant, even moderately involved local young person would see that so many in Jewish Cincinnati are working tirelessly to make our city a dynamic, sustainable Jewish community for them and their families to live, grow, and thrive.
What do you hope the community accomplishes in interfaith engagement through Cincinnati 2020 in the next 5 years?
I hope to see more Jews, more engaged. That’s kind of the unofficial Cincinnati 2020 motto, and it speaks directly to the vision to make interfaith families feel like they’re part of Jewish Cincinnati. There are many organizations—from our congregations to the Federation, Foundation, HUC-JIR, and the J—who are creating opportunities for interfaith families to engage. I think five years from now, we will see that impact in the community.