For generations, the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago has assisted those in need, supported Israel and Jews abroad, and helped build community here in Chicago. If you live in the Jewish community, you have seen the impact of JUF, whether you are a donor or recipient. Behind most Jewish organizations is the helping hand of JUF.
In our dynamic world, with changing demographics, evolving needs, and new ways to connect, JUF works to make Jewish life in Chicago more accessible, engaging, and meaningful for children, teens, families, and adults. By innovating new programs and updating long-running ones, JUF offers a broad variety of programs to meet diverse interests and needs. You might find yourself discovering, "Wow! I didn't know that this is a JUF program."
On the following pages, meet four people from different backgrounds and age groups who are volunteering, connecting, blazing trails, and learning philanthropy through JUF. They appreciate the fulfillment of giving back, both for the community at large and themselves -- while inspiring others to join them. We hope their stories compel you to find your own place within JUF, as we work together for good.
Julie DiGuiseppe, Connector Extraordinaire
As a suburban mom of two boys, Julie DiGuiseppe heard about jBaby Chicago classes from friends living in the city and wanted to check one out. Two years ago, she got her wish when JUF offered a class at Temple Chai in Long Grove. She jumped at the chance to attend with her younger son, and made sure others knew about it too.
"On the first day, 14 families I had told about the class showed up. The Temple Chai liaison told me I seemed like a good connector -- would I be interested in a jBaby ambassador position?" DiGuiseppe relates, as she tells the story of how she became an integral part of JUF's outreach program for young families.
When parents sign up for jBaby Chicago at www.juf.org/jBabyChicago, DiGuiseppe schedules a time to get together so she can welcome them to the community. She covers the northwest suburbs, while other jBaby ambassadors do similar outreach throughout the Chicago area. When DiGuiseppe meets with a mom for the first time, she brings a "swag bag" full of goodies and a laundry list of ideas how a young family can become involved in the Jewish community.
"I give them an overview of what I have to offer. There are playgroups, partner classes with Solomon Schechter Day School, JCC Chicago, and some of the synagogues, and monthly events, which are like a large play date for people to come and mingle," DiGuiseppe explains
Those monthly events started out in the summer with families meeting at local parks in their communities, but JUF now offers get-togethers year round with activities including a musician, crafts, and even Havdallah some Saturday evenings. DiGuiseppe says the Jewish link helps parents connect from the get-go.
"Even if one is 27 and one is 47, they have things in common, which is a good ice breaker. Even if they weren't raised Jewish, but are raising their family Jewish, attending some of our events is a good way for them to be exposed to Jewish customs and traditions," DiGuiseppe says.
She speaks from first-hand experience how jBaby events can influence an interfaith family. While DiGuiseppe was born and raised Jewish, her husband was not. But she says he always feels welcome when they attend JUF events together.
"They are very inclusive. We celebrate Judaism without excluding anyone," DiGuiseppe says.
JUF's outreach to young families includes the PJ Library program where children receive a Jewish book in the mail every month for free. DiGuiseppe says the books are helpful when she wants to teach her children or husband about an upcoming holiday. Her favorite is Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: BabYiddish, by Laurel Snyder, a board book that teaches Yiddish words to the stroller set. She says her husband likes to "impress her" with his vocabulary!
DiGuiseppe's work as a jBaby ambassador, seeing the value of the programs JUF helps to fund, has inspired her and her husband to become JUF donors.
"I feel like I'm doing my part and helping the cause with Jewish programming and classes that keep us going."
Julie Diguiseppe's picks of tunes and tales
On her PJ Library shelf:Nosh, Schlep, Schluff: Babyiddish
by Laurel Snyder
In her PJ Library earbuds: Rick Recht -- Saw him perform at a baby event
Favorite parenting site: Baby Sideburns & Kveller
Last book read just for Julie:Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Carly Colen, Budding Philanthropist
Anyone who worries about the Jewish future needs to look no further than Carly Colen to put their fears to rest. Giving back to her Jewish community comes naturally for this Buffalo Grove High School sophomore.
"I have always been interested in helping others. I would put birthday money in the tzedakah box. But I never knew how I could give money more strategically to better help others," she says.
Colen is now gaining those strategic skills through Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, one of the many ways teens can become involved in JUF. Last year, as a Voices 101 participant, Colen learned the fundamentals of Jewish philanthropy and grant-making, using funds provided by JUF. This year, as a member of the Voices Alumni Foundation, Colen's focus is on securing funding for the organizations that apply for grants.
"We don't start with any money. What we raise, JUF matches and then we allocate that money to non-profits," Colen explains.
She is planning a fundraiser at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago that will entail an art fair filled with vendors selling their wares along with a crafts booth for kids. She and other Voices alumni also will sell doughnuts and coffee, donated by Anshe Emet, as part of their fundraising efforts. Colen says she loves being "so hands-on."
Voices is not the only JUF program where Colen is learning to give back. For the past three summers, she participated in JUF's Camp TOV, a weeklong day camp on wheels where teens volunteer at different organizations every day. Colen says she especially liked serving at soup kitchens such as the JUF Uptown Cafe.
"I could not imagine not being able to put food on the table every day, so I think it's really important that we help those who can't. It always cheers me up to see… how happy they are to receive food, knowing they will be better off for another couple of hours and they won't have to go hungry," she says.
This past summer, Colen provided an Uptown Cafe recipient with even more than the gift of a meal. An elderly, hearing-impaired woman had never been able to fully communicate with anyone there. But Colen changed that when she conversed with the woman in sign language, which Colen learned in school.
"She was so happy that she could finally talk with someone -- and someone could finally understand her. That was cool," Colen says.
Through Voices, Colen has made friends with teens from all over the Chicago metropolitan area. "We all have the same goal, and we're all working toward the same thing, which is really nice and different from my friends from school," she says.
Colen encourages others in her age group to join her and her Voices friends in the JUF world.
"There's something for everyone. Get involved. You won't regret it!"
Carly Colen's mitzvah moments
Most meaningful donation: Children Of Peace, a charity that works to build trust and friendship between Israeli & Palestinian children
Most inspiring Tikkun Olam experience: Signing with a hearing impaired woman at JUF's Uptown Cafe
Making social media meaningful: Forget Snap Chat or Instagram. Carly only uses Facebook as a way to stay connected with Voices.
Rich Biller, Ultimate Volunteer
When Richard Biller retired in 2009, he could plan his days as he wanted. Instead of hitting the links or traveling the world, the now 57-year-old decided to fulfill his "desire to give back" by becoming what he calls a "professional volunteer."
"I get more out of volunteering than I give. I'm a TOV groupie. I think what they provide to our community is incredible," Biller says.
JUF's Tikkun Olam Volunteers (TOV) provides community members multiple ways to become involved. Some of the hands-on volunteering opportunities are ongoing, such as the JUF Uptown Cafe where you can serve a meal to the homeless. Others are annual, like delivering packages of Passover food to those in need through Maot Chitim of Greater Chicago, where Biller is board executive vice president.
"It's an organization with a very big roll-up-your-sleeves lay leadership," Biller says. "I spend two days a week in their office during much of the year doing data entry, stuffing envelopes, helping with development strategies, or making phone calls to recipients or volunteers."
Biller's TOV participation spans a wide range of activities, from reading with kids from underprivileged backgrounds through TOV Reads, to serving in soup kitchens. He's also hit the road, participating in TOV relief missions to devastated areas like New Jersey, where he helped residents clean up from Hurricane Sandy. He also went to Washington, IL, through TOV's referral, along with his son and nephews, to volunteer with NECHAMA right after a tornado devastated the small town.
"People's homes were ripped down to toothpicks. We were wading through the debris and finding a few cherished memories, a photograph or a dish. Finding those things and giving them back to the homeowners made it personal," Biller says.
While TOV provides Biller with multiple volunteer opportunities, his efforts extend into other parts of the Jewish community and beyond. His wife, Eve, is a breast cancer survivor, so he's worked with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Biller says he likes finding organizations with a personal connection. He's also involved with Hillel, an organization he calls a "critical point of entry into the Jewish community for young adults."
Biller also volunteers with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which held a multigenerational Passover Seder last year with JUF's Holocaust Community Services, Maot Chitim, and BBYO. Biller, who helped forge the partnerships for that event, says bringing organizations together is another "passion" of his volunteer work. "We reach more people and do more things when we all work together."
Biller appreciates the importance of financial gifts as well, and says he likes donating to JUF because of its broad reach. He recognizes he is "incredibly blessed" to be able to dedicate his time to causes that are important to him, but he emphasizes how giving back is what matters most whether it's financial, volunteering, or both.
"Your check can spread out all over the world, but doing it yourself is a totally different experience. It's just an overwhelming feeling of impact and of making a difference in a life."
Rich Biller by the numbers
Hours spent volunteering in 2016: 200 hours volunteering and 300 to 400 hours providing administrative support for Maot Chitim.
Years he has been a JUF donor: 30+
Meals served at the JUF Uptown Cafe: 25
Volunteers who helped deliver packages for Maot Chitim: 1,500
Alex Entratter, Trail Blazer
When Alex Entratter went on a JUF Birthright Israel trip in 2013, he could not have predicted that visiting the Jewish homeland would be a gateway to becoming a Jewish leader in his hometown, but that's what happened when he returned to Chicago.
"I was the driving force keeping my friends involved once we got back from the trip," he says.
He served on the Back from Birthright Israel Committee and soon became the group's social chair, planning events like the Bar Mitzvah Bash, which hosts 400 to 500 young adults at a club in the city, honoring people who celebrated their bar or bat mitzvahs on their Birthright Israel trip. The event also gives Birthright alumni the chance to get together and engage with the Jewish community in Chicago.
Around the same time he was proving himself as a leader in the Birthright community, he became a founding member of JUF's Young Leadership Division (YLD) Pride Committee.
"There wasn't something to bridge the LGBTQ community to Israel and the Jewish community in general. We had a meeting that started off with 15 people. We decided to do a happy hour at Sidetrack in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago. It was our first big event," Entratter explains.
Entratter says the happy hour was supposed to be a testing ground of sorts to gauge interest. The first year, 89 people attended. The following year they were up to 99, and the year after 102 people joined. That success led to more programming for YLD Pride, and now Entratter says the committee is an integral part of YLD.
"We're becoming really immersed in typical YLD programming, which was our goal from the beginning… It's a great way for the LGBTQ community to have a seat at the table."
In November, Entratter attended the Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly in Washington, D.C., an annual gathering where federation leaders from around the country discuss topics affecting the American Jewish community. The GA presented a video highlighting the positive effect of YLD Pride on the Jewish community in Chicago.
"It was great to see that our work is not only appreciated, but also is a model for other Federations around the world," Entratter says.
Entratter is now a YLD Board member, serves on the Social Media Committee, and is honing his fundraising skills. This year, he increased his own gift and became a member of JUF's Ben-Gurion Society, a national donor recognition society for adults ages 25 to 45 who make a contribution of at least $1,000 to the JUF Annual Campaign.
"I've learned how far everything we raise goes," he says. "I increased my donation this year because I really see the impact of the money I'm donating."
Entratter says his aunt and mom have always been "huge role models" for him as Jewish leaders and philanthropists. His aunt is a member of the JUF Board of Directors and his mom serves on the North Shore Auxiliary of Jewish Child and Family Services. Now it's Entratter's turn to be a role model for his fellow Millennials. He says he wants to impart how JUF's broad reach lets you receive, even as you give.
"You cover such a large variety of organizations locally and abroad. You are able to have a greater impact through involvement with JUF and YLD -- YLD gives you so much and then it's great to be able to give back that way as well."
Alex Entratter's globetrotting favorites
Israel: The Old City and The Western Wall
Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African American History and Culture
Sweet home Chicago: YLD & Oy!Chicago's Double Chai in the Chi, YLD Pride's Pre-Pride Bagel Brunch
Dream Getaway: Australia & New Zealand