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Federation Annual Meeting: Turning the world ‘right-side up again’

A year of turmoil, celebration and deeply rooted commitment to Israel and Jewish life was marked Sept. 17 as the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago held its 115th Annual Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. 

Annual Meeting 2015

Photos by Robert F. Kusel.

A year of turmoil, celebration and deeply rooted commitment to Israel and Jewish life was marked Sept. 17 as the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago held its 115th Annual Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Historian, professor, and author Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt delivered the keynote address. The Federation also recognized Frances G. Horwich with its highest honor, the Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award. 

The luncheon session of the two-part meeting featured the annual State of the Federation address by President Steven B. Nasatir. Julie Dann Schneider chaired the event. ( Read about the morning business session .)

In presenting Sara Crown Star the Shofar Award for her work as chairman of the 2015 JUF Annual Campaign, JUF Chairman Bill Silverstein said, "She turned fundraising into friend-raising." Star praised those she worked with on the Campaign, then urged attendees to "think about participating more," promising they would enjoy it as she had. Harry Seigle was recognized as the incoming Campaign chair for 2016. Rabbi Elliot Gertel, emeritus of Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Chicago, gave the invocation.

More than 1,200 people attended the luncheon, including city, state and U.S. officials; members of local law enforcement; representatives from United Way and other human service agencies, and consular officials from Bosnia/Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Canada, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, France, India, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Lithuania, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Poland, Romania and Taiwan.

Students from area universities, the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, Chicago Jewish Day School, Chicagoland Jewish High School, Ida Crown Jewish Academy and Solomon Schechter Day School also attended.

Lipstadt annual meeting

Accentuating the positive

Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, began her remarks by saying that she is "privileged to be a giver" as a Federation Lion of Judah. ( Watch Lipstadt's speech. )

In 1993, Lipstand wrote Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory , in which she named a number of Holocaust deniers. In 1996, David Irving sued Lipstadt for libel in Britain; the legal battle lasted five years. Chicago's Federation provided $50,000 toward her defense. The judge found Irving to be a Holocaust denier, a falsifier of history, a racist, and an anti-Semite.

Lipstadt's 2005 book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, was adapted by British playwright David Hare and is to be produced as a feature film.

An upcoming book will address worldwide anti-Semitism in the 21st century and its impact on the Jewish psyche.

In her remarks, Lipstadt noted that Yom Kippur is her favorite holiday, citing its focus on "potential, remembering, and balance." 

"History is institutionalized memory," she said. "The past is the anchor for the present. It is the stuff from which the future is shaped. It is a guide and a teacher. Jewish life is infused with imperative to remember."

Regarding the upsurge of anti-Semitism worldwide and Iran's threats to Israel, she noted three differences between now and the lead-up to the Holocaust. Then, Lipstadt said, the hate was state-sponsored, while today it is condemned by every European government. Also, "today we have the strong State of Israel that will not let happen to it, and to the Jewish people, what happened before." 

Lipstadt closed with a reflection on balance, one of her central elements of Yom Kippur. The objective is "to push the balance to the good," she said. Despite the nature of her work, she chooses to focus on "Joy, not 'oy.' We have to know what was done to Jews, but also what Jews do, whether it's helping others through JUF, learning, celebrating, or gathering together." 

Frances Horwich

Rosenwald honoree

In recognition of her lifetime of service to the Jewish community in Chicago and around the world, the 52nd annual Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award was presented to Frances G. Horwich. ( Watch Horwich's speech. )

Honoring the memory of Chicagoan Julius Rosenwald, one of America's great philanthropists, the award is presented to an individual who has advanced the goals of the Federation and the welfare of the overall Jewish community. 

Horwich and her late husband, Franklin, have been stalwarts in Chicago's philanthropic world. They carry on a generations-long family ethos of supporting and strengthening the Jewish community and mentoring the next generations of leaders.

In introducing Horwich, Silverstein said, "She has chaired the Majors Gifts campaign, organized Women's Division events, hosted get-togethers, joined many missions to Israel, and was a founding trustee of the Jewish Women's Foundation. … She builds and betters our community by mentoring Jewish life and leadership. She models Jewish values, community and caring for all."

In accepting the award, Horwich acknowledged the debt she owed her "coaches," as she called her family and that of her husband- including his grandfather, Bernard Horwich. She praised her daughters, Marjorie Kulp and Carol Luber, for becoming Jewish communal leaders.

"I have concluded that any leadership on my part always has been very simple: When asked to help, I said 'yes.' We all must help, or there will be no us ," she said.

Nasatir AM 2015

Call for unity

In his State of the Federation address, Nasatir reflected on the vital work the Federation and its agencies have done this past year, a year of challenges in Israel and around the world. ( Watch Nasatir's speech .)

"The world has turned upside down by war, terror, hatred and other challenges," Nasatir said. "Through JUF, you entrusted us with your tzedakah , so that together we could turn the world right side up again for hundreds of thousands of Jews and others in Chicago, Israel, Ukraine and other countries." 

He praised Chicago's "amazingly generous Jewish community," detailing "over $82 million to JUF's 2014 Annual Campaign, and almost $10 million to last summer's Israel Emergency Campaign. 

Due to these gifts, and other sources, he continued, "We allocated over $200 million during the fiscal year ended June 30. That's a lot of help to non-Jews and Jews in need, creating Jewish experiences, strengthening community connections, and sustaining our abiding connections to the people of Israel." 

Referring to the state's financial crisis in Illinois, Nasatir said that "cutting human services has been the unfair, unhelpful, default approach to our woeful state budget. … We advocate in Springfield on behalf of those our agencies serve, urging the governor and legislative leaders to find fiduciary and humane fixes for our state's challenges."

Bolstering Jewish knowledge also is a priority, Nasatir said. 

"Israel travel, camp scholarships, Jewish education, Hebrew language instruction, and teaching about Israel are growth industries for us, because they grow the next-generation of engaged Jews. They care what happens in Chicago, in Israel and around the world." He noted that some 2,500 youth had been to Israel for the first time through JUF since the last Annual Meeting.

"But," he wondered, "what kind of world will they inherit and be called on to lead?" He listed attacks on Jews from Kansas City to Paris. In response, "we help our Jewish family in every way we can. We show solidarity. We provide financial aid for the families of the victims. We fund security for synagogues and other institutions. We help Jews make aliyah to Israel," including 7,000 from France, Nasatir said.

"Israel's enemies here in America are part of a global war to delegitimize the one and only Jewish State," Nasatir warned. "It is a war that we will not let them win!" JUF is active in combatting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and advocated to make Illinois the first state to enact a law against those efforts.

Turning to global affairs, Nasatir said, "The world and our country must not-and this Jewish community will not-turn a deaf ear to Iran's genocidal ranting toward Israel and their ever-present 'Death to America' chant." In August, he stated, Federation launched a renewed Iran Action Plan, building upon one unanimously adopted by JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council nearly 10 years ago. 

In addition to fighting hatred against Jews, he said, "We cannot turn a blind eye to the terrible plight of Syrian and other Middle Eastern Muslims and Christians, who now constitute the largest refugees crisis since WWII. … Through the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, this Federation supports those who have already been assisting Syrian refugees for two years. And we are proud of Israel's humanitarian efforts helping injured Syrians."

Nasatir urged unity at a time of disagreements. 

"It is up to each one of us to respect one another, even as we disagree. That is a lesson of our history and of this High Holiday season. Our community faces real struggles. Our tradition teaches we will be judged by our response to those struggles. Each one of us must commit ourselves to the core principles that we all hold dear, especially our love of America, of Israel and of the entire Jewish people." 

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