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State of the Federation address at the 2012 Annual Meeting

Remarks by JUF/JF President Steven B. Nasatir

Congratulations to Rosenwald awardee, David Sherman.  It is not by the quantity of his words but by the quality of his deeds that David inspires.  We are comforted knowing that the Federation will have David to help guide our community for years to come.  Mazel tov David.

The full Federation Annual Report can be found online and an excerpt is in programs at your places.  My co-author is Skip Schrayer who today completes a two-year term as Federation chairman.  Leadership is comprised of heart and passion.  Skip has an abundance of both, but he also has very strong kishkes.  His kishkes burn with a commitment to community and instinctively Skip knows the answers to the toughest problems.  He has been a rock these past two years, and on behalf of a grateful community, Skip, thank you for all you have done.  And a big congratulations to David Brown, an incredibly capable and committed leader, who today begins his term as board chair.  Among this community's many assets, the skill and dedication of a David Sherman, Skip Schrayer, David Brown, Steve Malkin, Jennifer Levine and so many others stepping forward promises still another generation of extraordinary volunteer leadership on into the future.

Speaking of transitions, last week we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and tomorrow evening begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

These Holy Days call on us as individuals to review our actions of the past year and commit to doing better this coming year.   As individuals and as a Federation we face enduring and emerging challenges. And our annual meetings, coming as they do amidst our High Holidays, calls on us to look clearly both in our rearview mirror and straight ahead.

Here at home, topping our agenda, is addressing human needs stemming from ongoing economic difficulties. Many who lost their jobs, homes, or savings have not yet recovered.  Our agencies provide them help and hope.  They are able to do so thanks to our supplemental J-Help initiative, which has, over four years, raised over $23 million.  Those extra funds have helped 6,000 find jobs, fed many tens of thousands annually, and provided about $12 million in emergency cash.  In addition, we're providing free or highly-subsidized healthcare for 14,000 per year and special services to 600 Holocaust survivors.

We are helping these and others get back on their feet.  But we must do more. We must also alleviate the pain of deciding between Jewish choices and basic household finances.  That is, between providing Jewish educational or camping experience for our children, or paying the mortgage and utility bills.  

That's why, even as we ratchet up support for basic human needs, we're investing to make Jewish life choices more affordable.  This year, we sent some 2,000 young adults to Israel on JUF Birthright and other Israel experiences. Closer to home, we sent 822 Jewish kids to summer camp on scholarship, and provided tuition assistance to 2,500 Jewish day school students.

Just as we help make Jewish choices affordable, we're also making them accessible to those who have not yet fully discovered the joys of our cherished Jewish traditions and values.  So we engaged 3,000 students on campuses throughout the state, 6,500 young children received free, monthly Jewish books and music, and hundreds of others received welcoming "Shalom Baby" or "Shalom Chicago" gift packages.

We can do all this in part because of our 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.

Those dollars allowed our network of agencies to serve 300,000 Chicagoans regardless of faith. We are part of many civic and religious coalitions and a founding agency of the United Way. And for 33 years we've been the state's lead administrator for a consortium of agencies that has resettled 130,000 refuges. Spanning Democratic and Republican governors, your Federation has been the trusted institution to shepherd the sacred task of welcoming every refugee fleeing persecution - be it from Bosnia, Iraq, Russia, Myanmar, or Bhutan. Many of our consortium partners are here today, and we welcome and salute them.

Being an active participant in the affairs of our nation is embedded in Federation's DNA. 

Few American Jews of our generation have served this nation as ably as our keynote speaker, Ambassador Ross.  It is a privilege to serve with Dennis on the board of the Jewish People's Policy Institute, which he leads in a volunteer capacity. We are grateful, Dennis, for your years of dedicated service to our nation and our people.

For Jews, there is no line separating the domestic from the international.  The Jewish world was "flat" long before technology made it so for others.  Our thoughts, activities, dreams and nightmares know no geographical bounds.  The lens through which we see events is uniquely crafted.

For example, like many of you, I recently had the pleasure of joining my two youngest sons as they started another school year. By the hundreds students and parents gathered at open houses and inside and outside we socialized about how the summer went so fast and what wonders the new school year will offer. 

Yet even as I stood there soaking up the sheer joy of that scene, I could not help thinking that such a basic, universally-shared experience is simply impossible for many in Israel.  In Sderot, which borders Hamas-led Gaza, such a large outdoor gathering is unthinkable.  And sure enough, on their first day back to school, virtually in synch with the opening bell, a rocket struck near a school. Later in the day, for what would normally be outdoor recess time anywhere else in the world, two others hit. 

And so another school year - the twelfth under rocket fire from Gaza - starts in Sderot.  Yes, I said twelfth.  Yes, that means this year's graduating class has NEVER gone to school without the threat of rocket attacks. Since kindergarten, those seniors have weathered over 10,000 rockets. 

And make no mistake, those who fire rockets at school children in Israel are fueled by the same hate that triggers the assassination of our American diplomats in Libya, the storming of American embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East, and right here in the heart of our city, plans to bomb restaurants and cherished Chicago landmarks.

Sderot has figured prominently in many of these annual meeting speeches the past decade. Please indulge me, I've been there when rockets land and I've seen the children run for shelter, huddle together and cry.

As long as Sderot's students persevere and as long as others stand with arms folded, we will not stand idly by!

As Iran marches towards a nuclear weapon that threatens its Muslim neighbors, our nation, our European allies and the one Jewish state, we will not stand idly by!

As Iran plots assassination in our nation's capital and evades trial for the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Federation, we will not stand idly by!

And as the Iran's President denies the Holocaust while threatening another one against the Jewish State and the Jewish people, we will not stand idly by!

Last month Ahmadinijad said, "The very existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humankind and an affront to all world nations….

His boss, the Supreme Leader, called Israel a "cancerous tumor" that must be wiped out.

Those words and Iranian deeds speak for themselves.  Jews and all Americans have encountered such hate before. And, we are facing it again today.  In the face of Iran's genocidal threats, the world must not stand idly by!

Rest assured, your Federation is standing up to this threat and we will forever stand with Israel.

Deadly hatred of Jews and others emerges from many places. In the past few months four French Jewish schoolchildren and seven Israeli tourists in Bulgaria were murdered.  Meanwhile, the murder of seven at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee reminds us, bigotry has many faces and targets.

In all these cases your Federation responded.  We immediately assisted the families of those killed in France and Bulgaria. We also sent financial support to the family of the Muslim bus driver murdered in the Bulgaria attack.

Following the attacks against our Sikh neighbors, we offered assistance, sent condolences, and participated in local memorial services.

We don't just wait to respond to the next attack. The safety of the Jewish community is our priority.  Through the advocacy of our Washington, D.C. office Federation has helped secure some $10 million dollars in federal grants to enhance the security of communal buildings and synagogues.  In partnership with federal and local law enforcement, we have convened a dozen community security briefings. We have also sponsored two counter-terrorism seminars in Israel for Chicago Police commanders. A number of those federal and local law enforcement officers are in the room, so please join me in applauding their service!

Meanwhile, another type of threat we face is a pernicious campaign that demonizes Israel for the purpose of delegitimizing her.  The weapon of choice is boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the Middle East's only true democracy.

We're exposing their true intent and foiling their designs. The Israel Action Network, chaired by David Sherman, leads the fight nationally against this delegitimization campaign. For example, working with local Chicago Presbyterian friends, a divestment effort within the national Presbyterian Church was defeated.

College campuses are key venues for demonizing Israel. Those efforts have had rare, minimal success in Illinois. That's in large measure due to Federation's support for faculty and student leaders, a topic highlighted very beautifully at this morning's Business Meeting.

From JUF Birthright Israel to 16 Hillels across Illinois, and from internships to alternative spring breaks, this year alone your Federation invested more than $6 million in engaging college students.

This Federation also invests $1.7 million annually to serve post-college young adults. 2,600 of them attended our Young Leadership Division's Big Event and 360 crowded a boat on Lake Michigan last month. That program was launched with an online competition that went viral - generating 100,000 page views from 10,000 visitors overnight, with most of those visits coming via JUF's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Even as this 112 year old Federation remains committed to enduring values, we are utilizing every new technology to connect with the next generation.  I am especially proud of one of my younger colleagues, Stefanie Bregman, JUF's Manger of Digital Communications who just published a brand new book, Living Jewishly.  a snapshot of a generation.  Stefanie's anthology reveals how 20 and 30 somethings connect to the Jewish people.

Weren't you also beaming as we watched Aly Raisman perform her Gold Medal routine to the tune of "Hava Nagilah?"  That was a highlight of the London Olympics.  Yet a lowlight was the continuing omission of a proper IOC memorial for the murdered Israeli athletes of the Munich Olympics, which we and others called for publicly.  But Aly, in the midst of her most special individual moment remembered how, across oceans and generations, we are all connected to one another. Talking to the world media, she called for a moment of silence in memory of the Israeli Olympians slain 40 years earlier.  This five foot, 115 lb. teen stood tall, she did not stand idly by!

As the year 5773 begins, the unity and the generosity of this community are unparalleled. Together, everything is possible. Together, this community and Federation are here for good.

From the Nasatir family to yours, Shana Tova and Gmar Hatimah Tova, best wishes for a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year.

Thank you.

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