JUF News Express
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In this Issue:

• Jews in Chicago, nationwide welcome home Alan Gross

• Seth Meyers dubs YLD Big Event his 'bar mitzvah'

• Jewish Women's Foundation grants focus on social change

• IRA charitable rollover reinstated for 2014

• Multiple views on minimum wage aired at Goverment Affairs Committee meeting

• Join African-Americans and Jews in marking MLK Day

• Spertus shares wisdom from leading Jewish innovators

• From JUFNews.org and around the web

 

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Got married or engaged recently? Had a child? Your child becoming a bar or bat mitzvah? Announce your happy news to the Jewish world in JUF News' Simchas section.

 

Jews in Chicago, nationwide welcome home Alan Gross

After five years of imprisonment in Cuba, Jewish American Alan Gross was released Wednesday amid the start of a tidal change in U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations.

“We are thankful that tonight Alan Gross will be able to gather with his family to light the candles of Chanukah as a free man,” said Bill Silverstein, chairman of JUF, in a statement issued with Federation President Steven B. Nasatir welcoming Gross home.

Gross, 65, was arrested in 2009 on a mission for the U.S. Agency for International Development to set up wireless Internet access for Cuba’s small Jewish community. Jewish groups across the country have worked for years to raise awareness for Gross’ plight and call the government to action for his release. In Chicago, JUF worked with the Illinois congressional delegation, launched petition drives and more.

“It was important to keep the issue on the front burner, and the Jewish community did that successfully,” Silverstein said.

Gross finally had the opportunity to thank the community for its efforts in person at a news conference Wednesday, which he began with the greeting "Chag sameach."

“To … all of the executive directors, staff and volunteers of participating JCRCs, federations, synagogues, schools, and other Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations nationwide, God bless you and thank you,” he said.

Photo: Alan Gross speaks at a news conference in Washington following his release from Cuban prison Wednesday. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images via JTA)

Seth Meyers dubs YLD Big Event his 'bar mitzvah'

A whopping 2,400 people gathered at the JUF Young Leadership Division’s Big Event Fundraiser last Saturday night, Dec. 13, to support the work of JUF and — of course — to laugh at the standup comedy of Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live alumnus and host of Late Night with Seth Meyers.

The Big Event, JUF’s premier fundraising event for the next generation of Jewish Chicagoans, kicked off YLD’s 2015 Annual Campaign and raised approximately $333,000 — an increase over last year's event — and garnered 1,725 gifts, and 833 first-time donors to JUF. (View photos from the event.)

The event was led by YLD President Brandon Prosansky and YLD Campaign Chair Amy Kirsch. “JUF provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to pool our resources and extend our reach beyond any horizon we could ever hope to touch on our own,” Kirsch said. 

Meyers then took the stage, beginning his set by addressing the misconception that he is Jewish and explaining how he reached the conclusion that he’s “Jewish enough.”

“Over a five year courtship with my in-laws, they became OK with the level of Jewish I was,” he said. "I feel like that’s the only religion that happens with because it’s the only religion that ends with ‘ish.’” (Watch a backstage interview with Meyers after the show.)

“I may not be Jewish,” he continued, “but being here in a hotel ballroom with all you Jewish people and candy on the tables is as close as I’m ever going to get to having a bar mitzvah.”

Photo by Robert F. Kusel

Jewish Women's Foundation grants focus on social change

The Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago has awarded $349,890 to 21 unique projects that improve the lives of Jewish women and girls locally and around the world.

The grants focus on projects that promote social change at the individual, community and institutional levels. The total includes the foundation’s second multiyear grant (and the largest grant in its history) for SHALVA’s Legal Liaison Program, as well as grants from The Ellie Fund, established by JWF Trustee Ellen Block to help women and girls reach their full potential.

“The Jewish Women’s Foundation trustees seek to expand and improve opportunities in all aspects of Jewish women’s and girls’ lives through strategic and effective grant making,” said JWF Chair Gerri Kahnweiler. The foundation is an independent project of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

From a pool of over $2.5 million in grant requests this year, JWF trustees identified and selected projects that best reflect the foundation’s mission. Overall, JWF increased support of local projects to nine and seven international and increased the number of new grants to 10 and renewed six others.

View the full list of grantees and projects here.

IRA charitable rollover reinstated for 2014

Congress has passed the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, which reinstates the IRA charitable rollover. Expected to be signed into law by the president shortly, this provision allows individuals at least 70 years and six months of age to transfer up to $100,000, tax-free, from their Individual Retirement Account to a qualified charity by Dec. 31, 2014.

The legislation is retroactive to the beginning of the calendar year. Any qualified charitable distribution (directly from the IRA trustee payable to the charity from IRAs of those at least 70 years and six months of age)  that has already taken place this calendar year will qualify for IRA Charitable Rollover treatment.

Distributions only can be made to qualified charitable organizations, such as the Jewish United Fund, and must be made directly to the charitable organization through the plan administrator. View a full list of requirements and benefits.

To learn more about how distributions from your IRA may fit into your charitable giving, contact Legacies and Endowments at (312) 357-4853 or email legacy@juf.org.

Multiple views on minimum wage aired at Goverment Affairs Committee meeting

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago’s Government Affairs Committee hosted a panel discussion on the minimum wage Dec. 8, featuring four experts with differing perspectives.

John Bouman, president of the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, State Sen. Daniel Biss, Jonathan Greenberg from Illinois Policy Institute, and Ald. Michele Smith all shared their opinions as to how increasing the minimum wage might affect workers and the economy.

The City of Chicago already has passed an ordinance increasing the minimum wage for workers in the city, but the debate continues at the state level. A bill to increase the state minimum wage to $11/hour passed in the Senate but failed in the House because of an amendment restricting local municipalities such as Chicago from establishing their own higher levels.

However, a statewide advisory referendum on increasing the minimum wage was approved decisively by voters in November, so the topic is sure to continue under the new administration and General Assembly in January.

Photo: (from the left) Jonathan Greenberg, State Sen. Daniel Biss, Ald. Michele Smith and John Bouman debate the minimum wage increase.

Join African-Americans and Jews in marking MLK Day

JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council will join the North Lawndale community again this year for a special program honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at 10:30 a.m., Monday, Jan. 19, at Stone Temple Baptist Church, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd.

Entitled “Am I My Brother’s Keeper? Strengthening the bonds between the African-American and the Jewish communities, a tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” this year’s program will feature guest speakers Rabbi Wendi Geffen, award-winning jazz percussionist and motivational speaker Taylor Moore, and Maury Fertig, grandson of Rabbi Uri Miller, who spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, among others. Light refreshments will be served after the celebration.

This free event is sponsored by JUF, Stone Temple Baptist Church, The Firehouse Community Arts Center, Sinai Health System and the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society, and is open to the community. For more information, contact JCRC at JCRC1@juf.org or (312) 357-4770.

Spertus shares wisdom from leading Jewish innovators

The Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership has released a series of videos featuring the guest speakers who presented at the launch of the new Center for Jewish Leadership this fall.

Representing the U.S. and Israel, as well as both the for- and non-profit sectors, the speakers included Howard Tullman, CEO of Chicago tech startup hub 1871; Jon Medved, CEO of venture capital firm OurCrowd; Ariel Beery, CEO of MobileOCT; Toby Rubin, founder and CEO of Jewish entrepreneurship accelerator UpStart; local entrepreneur Jay Goltz; and Spertus President and CEO Hal M. Lewis. (View descriptions and full-length videos of their presentations.)

In 2015, the Center for Jewish Leadership will present master classes and workshops, leadership lectures, mentoring and an awards program for Jewish communal innovation and collaboration, as well as new professional certificates. Applications for the Certificate in Jewish Leadership and the new Certificate in Jewish Arts Education are now being accepted.

Photo: Speakers Jon Medved, Howard Tullman and Jay Goltz at the Center for Jewish Leadership symposium in October. (Photo by Dan Rest)

From JUFNews.org and around the web

News

JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council issued a letter to the Consul General of Pakistan in Chicago this week expressing condolences and "deep sorrow and outrage" over the Peshawar school massacre that resulted in nearly 150 deaths, most of them children.

A European Union court ruled Wednesday that Hamas be removed from EU’s terrorist list because the evidence used to place it on the list did not meet European standards. Israeli leaders denounced the ruling and also criticized the European Parliament’s decision this week to support a resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.

A resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem by the end of 2017 was submitted on behalf of the Palestinians to the U.N. Security Council yesterday. The U.S. has said it will not support the current draft of the resolution.

JNS.org examines the dramatic change in anti-Semitism in France over the last 10 years.

Comedian Sarah Silverman was part of Jewish women’s history in Israel Thursday when she stood alongside Women of the Wall for the first-ever women’s menorah lighting at the Western Wall.

JUF News’ Paul Wieder shares Chanukah stories, his opinion of “The Dreidel Song” and more with the Chicago Reader for its “Chicagoans” column.

A Chicago Tribune story this week featured local Jewish families that have welcomed racial diversity into their homes. (Subscription required.)

Students on the Deerfield and Highland Park High School robotics team have developed a special relationship their peers in Yerucham, Israel, as highlighted in a feature story for local Pioneer Press publications.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling gave Jewish fans a big Chanukah present this week when she confirmed one of Harry’s fellow wizards at Hogwarts was Jewish.

Events

Ditch the movies on Christmas night and check out Jewish performer Sean Altman’s “Jewmongous: Unkosher Comedy Song Concert” at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 25, at City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph St. Enter promo code “UNKOSHER” on the City Winery website for half-price tickets.

Join the Spertus Institute for its program, “Sex Trafficking: The Jewish Community Takes a Stand” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 11, at 610 S. Michigan Ave. The film “DEMAND” will be shown, and Kaethe Morris Hoffer of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation will moderate a panel discussion on the issue. Buy tickets here.

The latest JUF News blog posts:  

Aaron Cohen has a Muslim friend traveling to Israel to learn in Jerusalem. Acts such as this, he explains, are the key to coexistence.

Seven Catholic school teachers are visiting Israel this week on a trip organized by JUF's Israel Education Center and the Archdiocese of Chicago. Read Mount Carmel High School teacher Sean Sweany's account of the trip.

This Chanukah, Cindy Sher reflects on the darkness our world saw in 2014 and looks toward the light of the new year.

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