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Jewish Federation honors up-and-coming leaders, spotlights Israel Partnership Region

The noon luncheon was preceded by a morning business that opened with the unanimous election of the 2016-17 JUF/Federation Board.

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago's 116th Annual Meeting on Sept. 15 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago featured a keynote address by Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, and recognized David T. Brown for his lifetime of service to the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the global Jewish community. ( Read more here )

The noon luncheon was preceded by a morning business that opened with the unanimous election of the 2016-17 JUF/Federation Board, while outgoing directors were honored for their service. ( See photos from the event here )

Davis Gidwitz Glasser 2016

Davis, Gidwitz and Glasser Award winners Lindsey Markus and Brandon Prosansky.

Davis, Gidwitz and Glasser Young Leadership Award

Following the election, several awards were presented to rising community leaders. Jewish Federation Chairman Bill Silverstein presented annual Davis, Gidwitz and Glasser Young Leadership awards to Lindsey Paige Markus and Brandon C. Prosansky. The award honors young volunteers who have demonstrated exemplary dedication and made significant contributions to Chicago's Jewish community.

Lindsey Markus: Purpose in giving

Markus, 39, of Chicago, is the incoming chair of JUF's Lawyers Division and currently serves on the JUF Professional Advisory and Legacy and Endowments Committees. She has served on JUF's Young Leadership Division (YLD) Board of Directors, and was a member of the YLD Executive Committee and has chaired other JUF events. She is a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet and has served on committees and chaired events for the Standard Club, Chuhak & Tecson's Women Helping Women Initiative, and other nonprofit organizations. In 2012, she was named to YLD/Oy!Chicago's first "36 Under 36" list.

In her remarks, Markus said that the importance of philanthropic giving "is part of Jewish DNA," and that giving produces successful leaders and organizations. She talked about the way making an endowment gift empowered her as a young, single woman.

"Nothing could have prepared me for the sense of purpose I felt," she said, closing her speech with a quote from Anne Frank: "'How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.'" ( Watch the video of Markus' speech )

Professionally, Markus is a principal with Chuhak & Tecson, P.C., heading its Estate Planning group.

Brandon Prosansky: Uplifting by all definitions

Prosansky, 37, of Chicago, has been a YLD Board member since 2012, and has previously served as President, Campaign Vice Chair, and as an ex-officio member of the JUF/Federation Board. He is a past chair and Campaign co-chair of JUF's Young Lawyers Group, and has served on other JUF committees and commissions. Prosansky is a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet and was in the second cohort of the Jewish Leaders Institute. He was also named to YLD/Oy!Chicago's 2012 "36 Under 36" list.

During his remarks, Prosansky said "uplifting" describes Federation's work-building, supporting, and improving Chicago's Jewish community. He said he has been inspired to carry on the legacy of his parents and of his mentor, former JUF/Federation Chairman and Rosenwald Awardee, David T. Brown. 

"I see it as a challenge in continuing my work to be uplifting in all of its definitions," he said. ( Watch the video of Prosansky's speech )

Professionally, Prosansky is a partner at Barack Ferrazzano law firm.

Goldsmith Award 16

Samuel A. Goldsmith Award winners Erez Cohen and Caroline Musin Berkowitz.

Samuel A. Goldsmith Award

Caroline Musin Berkowitz and Erez Cohen received Samuel A. Goldsmith Awards, given to exceptional young professionals who have shown outstanding performance at a Jewish agency in the Chicago area.

Caroline Musin Berkowitz: Investing in others

Musin Berkowitz, 38, is the Director of Volunteers and Outreach at The ARK, recruiting, screening, placing and retaining over 2,000 volunteers. She oversees The ARK's food pantry and has streamlined redundancies and introduced multiple technology resources to increase the quality of communication with volunteers, staff and clients. She helped create, fund and implement volunteer opportunities specifically designed for families with young children. She works closely with and formally and informally mentors future leaders and interns according to their needs and abilities. 

Accepting her award, Musin Berkowitz said she makes it a priority to invest in others' learning and growth, whether they are professionals or volunteers.

"Every volunteer experience is an opportunity to educate people about our clients," she said, noting that one project has involved placing labels on holiday food packages for people in need. "By adjusting the frame through which volunteers see their work…they see it as feeding people, not just putting stickers on bags."

"I am honored to continue this sacred work," she said, expressing appreciation for her peers and their contributions to The Ark's clients and the community. ( Watch the video of Musin Berkowitz's speech )

Erez Cohen: Building community together

Cohen, 33, is Executive Director of Illini Hillel at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he manages staff and 25 student interns to engage the 3,500 Jewish students on the campus. He has implemented Hillel International's Circle of Educational Excellence program to strategically respond to meeting the needs of students from a wide variety of Jewish backgrounds and experiences, and is a core team member of the Hillel International Measuring Excellence program that researches and defines the metrics of success for the Hillel movement. He also spearheaded a five-year strategic planning process with the Illini Hillel board, and reestablished University of Illinois Jewish alumni events in Chicago. 

In his remarks, Cohen said he finds inspiration in an art piece displayed in the Margie K. and Louis N. Cohen Center for Jewish Life, Illini Hillel. "It says, 'A community is too heavy to carry alone.'"

Illini Hillel's relationship with Federation has invigorated Hillel's growth and impact on college students. "Together, we make this community thrive," he said. ( Watch the video of Cohen's speech )

Partnership Together: A unique relationship with Israel

The business meeting culminated in a showcase of JUF's Partnership Together program. Twenty years ago, the Partnership program, originally called Partnership 2000, was created by the Jewish Agency for Israel, or JAFI, one of Federation's primary overseas partners.

The program was originally created to connect diaspora communities with communities in Israel's periphery. Federation's participation would help raise the community's profile, improve the quality of life for the residents, and strengthen the bonds between Americans and Israelis. 

"Our Chicago Federation chose Kiryat Gat-Lachish-and Shafir for a variety of reasons," said Kim Shwachman, Chair of Partnership Together. "Typically there are fewer available resources in the periphery, which means fewer social services, fewer dollars for education, less cultural enrichment programs, and less resources for most other types of interventions."

The Partnership brings together Israeli and Chicago volunteers who work as a team for the betterment of the region. The volunteers meet twice each year in the region to visit existing programs that receive Partnership funding provided by Federation and visit new programs seeking support.

Over the past 20 years, Federation has provided $30 million to support trauma intervention and emergency response during times of crisis, educational enrichment and social service support, vocational training and economic development services, and physical structures that house programs serving some of the most vulnerable. Nearly 8,000 Israelis living in the Partnership Region are being served annually by Federation-support programs.

The Israel Children's Zone (ICZ) is Federation's flagship educational intervention program, serving all 6,500 elementary schoolchildren in the region. 

"These kids suffer from substantial gaps in academic performance relative to the national average," Shwachman said. "The municipalities on their own do not have the resources to provide needed services. 

To close this gap, ICZ has introduced a comprehensive program that encompasses wide ranging intervention programs which have proven effective in other areas of Israel. ICZ brings together the national and local governments, the Directors of Education for the three cities, various nonprofit organizations and all 17 school principals and teachers.

"In its first three years of implementation, it has shown very promising results," she said.

In addition to annual allocations and emergency support that Federation provides, individuals and families have provided supplemental support to launch programs and build physical structures in the region such as the Bob Schrayer Community Garden, Susan Crown Goodman Early Childhood Center, David S. Baitcher Sports Center, Yablon/Seidman Library, Sacks basketball court, and the Alex Brand Learning Center that was dedicated this past summer.  

Another Partnership Together goal is to connect Chicagoans and Israelis. Federation funds a number of people-to-people programs, including Kefiada English speaking summer camp, Ta'am Yisrael, JUF Birthright Israel, eighth-grade Jewish day school visits to the region, JUF missions, volunteer opportunities, and visits from non-Jewish Chicago leaders. 

"It is the relationship between our two communities…which is so unique, authentic and supportive," Shwachman said. "It's about more than just the work. Something special happens over time when you visit the region and you establish personal relationships." 

Photos by Robert F. Kusel.

Christine Sierocki Lupella grew up in Chicago's North Shore and Northwestern 'burbs.... Read More

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