The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago's 112th Annual Meeting held Sept. 24 at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, reflected the community's commitment to Jewish life and Israel this past year and looked ahead to hopes and dreams for the new Jewish year.
Ambassador Dennis Ross, Middle East adviser to five presidents, delivered the keynote address. The Federation also recognized David A. Sherman, of Glencoe, with the Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award. The luncheon featured the State of the Federation address by Dr. Steven B. Nasatir, President of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF/JF).
Skip Schrayer completed a two-year term as chairman of JUF/JF Board of Directors. He offered a poignant message to the students in the room from eight Jewish schools across the Chicago area: "We have invested heavily in your future: Jewish preschools, summer camps, JCCs, teen trips to Israel, Write On For Israel, Jewish day schools, youth groups…we want you to lead us…we're waiting for you."
Schrayer passed the gavel to David T. Brown, the incoming chairman of the Board. Stephen Malkin received the Shofar Award for his work as chairman of the 2012 JUF Annual Campaign and Michael Zaransky was recognized as the incoming chairman of the 2013 annual campaign. Jen Levine chaired the Annual Meeting, while Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein, spiritual leader of Am Shalom, gave the invocation.
Among the approximately 1,400 people in attendance at the luncheon was the Honorable Roey Gilad, the new consul general of Israel to the Midwest. Foreign dignitaries attending the Annual Meeting included consuls general from Austria, Bulgaria, Burundi, Egypt, France, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Morocco, the Phillipines, Serbia & Montenegro, Taiwan, Turkey, and Venezuela.
Wendy Duboe, chief operating officer of United Way in Chicago, also attended along with government representatives, including U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky; and the following Ill. Reps: Attorney General Lisa Madigan; Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno; State Sens. Mattie Hunter and Ira Silverstein; and State Reps: Daniel Bliss, Kelly Cassidy, Kenneth Duncan, Sara Feigenholtz, Robyn Gabel, Lou Lang, Sidney Mathias, Karen May, and Elaine Nekritz; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer; Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza; Chicago City Treasurer Stephanie Neely; and Aldermen Edward Burke, Will Burns, James Cappleman, Harry Osterman, Debra Silverstein, and Michele Smith.
Law enforcement officers William Monroe, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Chicago Field Office, and James Roussell, Chicago Police Department 24th District Commander, also attended the luncheon.
Ambassador Ross discusses "Arab Awakening" and Iranian nuclear threat
Ambassador Dennis Ross, a Middle East adviser to five presidents, delivered the keynote address. He most recently served as Special Assistant to President Obama as well as National Security Council Senior Director for the Central Region from 2009-2011.
For more than 12 years, Ross played a leading role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process and dealing directly with the parties in negotiations. Ross recently resumed his role as co-chair of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), an independent think tank whose mission is to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people and of Jewish civilization, which receives an annual allocation from JUF/JF. He also currently serves as counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
In his talk, Ross focused on what he calls an "Arab Awakening," rather than an "Arab Spring" because a "spring" is something that emerges quickly, he said, while an "awakening" evolves over a longer period of time.
"In this region, what we've seen is many for the first time seeing themselves as citizens, not as subjects," he said. "As citizens, you can make demands. As subjects, it's the regime that demands and imposes of you. As citizens, you have a voice, and as subjects, it's the regime that has a voice that you have to listen to. As citizens, you have hopes and expectations and a sense of possibility. As subjects, it's the regime that defines us…"
The Arab Awakening is promising, according to Ross, except that the institutions and mechanisms for accountability don't exist in these Arab countries. The Islamists, in Egypt for instance, continue to perpetuate their own "unreality" and lies. The United States, he said, will only help these governments if they embrace the principles that the U.S. holds dear such as minority rights, inclusion of women, and respect of international obligations.
Ross also discussed Iran, which he said has not been a "beneficiary" of the Arab Awakening, unlike most other countries in the Middle East. Instead, Iran has been helping the Syrian regime kill its own people and continues to push ahead with its nuclear weapons program. "We, Israel, and the rest of the world cannot stand aside. This is something that threatens everybody," he said. "It reminds us that the fundamentals on this strategic objective for United States and Israel are in the same place. We both share the same [belief] that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon and our objective is to prevent it."
Ross noted that the United States and Israel do have what he calls "tactile differences" including in terms of timing. Israel is facing an existential threat, he says, and will ultimately decide what is in its own best interest on its own timeline, but the United States, he said, may proceed according to a slower timeline, hoping to build a coalition of support from other countries before acting militarily.
"We, the United States," he closed with, "have one friend that is always going to be there as a friend—and that's Israel."
Youngest person in history receives Rosenwald
Sherman received the Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award, Federation's highest honor, at today's luncheon. The accolade, named for the iconic Chicago business leader and philanthropist of the early 1900s, is presented each year to an individual who has demonstrated a lifetime of outstanding dedication and service to the community.
Sherman is the youngest person ever to receive the award. Four years ago, his father, Leonard Sherman, accepted the same honor. The younger Sherman's commitment to the Federation started as a youth when he and his sister would collect stray balls near a public golf course and sell them to golfers. His dad insisted that half the money to the JUF annual campaign.
From 2008 to 2010, Sherman—one of the youngest Board Chairmen in the history of JUF/JF—successfully steered the institution through the worst economic downturn in a generation. Since then, he has served as founding chairman of North America's Israel Action Network, and chairs JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council.
As chairman of the Federation, he saw the devastation that struck Haiti, and went there with Nasatir on the first North American Jewish community aid trip.
Sherman also commits time to his business, but even more to his family, philanthropy, community, coaching, running--he has ran at least 20 marathons. Plus he's also a storyteller and has published a children's book, whose proceeds support childhood literacy.
"Whenever and wherever he sees a problem, David seeks a way to help," said Schrayer, in his presentation of the award to Sherman.
Sherman believes in the Federation in large part because of how "far reaching and diversified its mission" is. He says he engages with members of the Jewish community who often don't realize that they are benefiting by the services the organization provides.
"No matter whether you're well-to-do or not-well-to-do, Jewish or not Jewish, [all] our lives our touched by the Federation," Sherman said.
A President's reflections on an incredible year
In his remarks, (read his full remarks) Nasatir reflected on the vital work that the Federation and its agencies have done this past year of continuing economic challenges. He pointed to the supplemental J-Help initiative, which has, over four years, raised more than $23 million in emergency assistance. The Federation is also providing free or highly-subsidized healthcare for 14,000 people per year and special services to 600 Holocaust survivors.
The community shouldn't have to pick between basic necessities and Jewish life choices, according to Nasatir. "We must also alleviate the pain of deciding between Jewish choices and basic household finances," he said. "That is, between providing Jewish educational or camping experience for our children, and/or paying the mortgage and utility bills."
The Federation is making Jewish life choices more affordable and accessible, he said, by sending this past year some 2,000 young adults to Israel on JUF Birthright and other Israel experiences. Closer to home, the Federation sent 822 Jewish young people to summer camp on scholarship, provided tuition assistance to 2,500 Jewish day school students; engaged some 3,000 students on Illinois campuses; 6,500 young children received free, monthly Jewish books and music, and hundreds received welcome gift packages.
This is all possible thanks to an increased JUF annual campaign, which last year raised $79.8 million. Along with other revenues, this enabled the Federation board to allocate $140 million during the fiscal year ending June 30.
Threat in Israel and abroad
Threat continues to burden our Israel brothers and sisters, said Nasatir. Current high school seniors in Sderot, which borders Hamas-led Gaza, have weathered more than 10,000 rockets since they were in kindergarten, most recently on their first day back at school a few weeks ago.
A delegitimization campaign faces Israel too. "The weapon of choice is boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the Middle East's only true democracy," Nasatir said. Federation is stalwart in exposing the demonization of Israel wherever it emerges, including in the Presbyterian Church and across Illinois college campuses.
Hatred reverberates elsewhere around the world as well, such as in Libya, where American diplomats were recently assassinated, and at American embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East. Iran's president, too, continues to plague the world with his poisonous rhetoric and agenda, according to Nasatir. "As Iran marches toward a nuclear weapon that threatens its Muslim neighbors, our nation, our European allies and the one Jewish state, we will not stand idly by!" Nasatir said.
Deadly hatred of Jews and others also emerged outside of the Middle East in recent months, including the murder of four French Jewish school children and seven Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. The Federation assisted the families of the slain victims as well as to the family of the Muslim bus driver murdered in the Bulgaria attack. The Federation also offered assistance and condolences to the families of those murdered at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee. Even in downtown Chicago, authorities foiled a bomb plot to blow up a Chicago bar less than two weeks ago.
Federation doesn't simply react to attacks, Nasatir explained. Through advocacy in the Washington D.C. office, Federation has helped secure some $10 million dollars in federal grants to enhance security of communal buildings and synagogues, and have convened security briefings and counter-terrorist seminars in Chicago and in Israel for law enforcement officers, some of whom attended the annual meeting.
Hope for the new year and beyond
Despite the woes that beset the Jewish people, Nasatir expressed his hope for a sweet new year and future.
The community, he said, believes in the cultivating the next generation of Jewish leaders, investing $1.7 million to serve post-college young adults.
In closing, Nasatir beamed at the grace, poise, and strength embodied in the young Jewish Olympic gymnast, Aly Raisman, who—to the pride of Jews everywhere—performed her gold medal routine in London this past summer to the tune of "Hava Nagilah." Despite the omission of a proper International Olympic Committee memorial for the murdered Israeli athletes of the 1972 Munich Olympics, Raisman reminded all Jews of our hopeful future. "Aly, in the midst of her most special individual moment, remembered how--across oceans and generations—we are all connected to one another," Nasatir said. "Talking to world media, she called for a moment of silence in memory of the [athletes]. This five foot, 115 lb. teen stood tall-she did not stand idly by!"