‘Dreaming big, doing good’ at the 2017 Jewish Federation Annual Meeting

 The 117th Jewish Federation Annual Meeting was held on Sept. 18 and featured award-winning author, columnist, and Israel expert Dr. Daniel Gordis as well as the presentation of the Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award to Theodore F. Perlman.

Perlman Rosenwald  image
Theodore F. Perlman accepts the 2017 Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award at the Federation Annual Meeting on Sept. 18. (Photo by Robert F. Kusel)

See photos from the event

The 117th Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago was held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Sept. 18, just days before the start of the Jewish New Year. Award-winning author, columnist, and Israel expert Dr. Daniel Gordis delivered the keynote address.

The Federation recognized Theodore F. Perlman 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. Andrea Grostern chaired the event. (Read about the morning business meeting featuring the recognition of two young adult volunteer leaders and two young Jewish professionals.)

In presenting the Shofar Award to Larry Levy for his work as chairman of the 2017 JUF Annual Campaign, Federation Chairman of the Board of Directors Michael H. Zaransky praised Levy's "energy and creativity" and "charismatic personality." Levy "constantly seeks interesting new ways to engage community members in Federation's important work," he said, "inviting everyone to collaborate for the same goal."

In accepting the award, Levy said that he was grateful to be in a position to call on people to support JUF, and to set up programs to help those in need, from Syrian refugees to hurricane victims. "Anywhere there is a problem, JUF is there" to help, he said.

Zaransky also welcomed King Harris as the incoming chair of the 2018 JUF Annual Campaign. Meanwhile, Zaransky will remain board chairman for the coming year.

More than 1,300 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 numerous consular officials, including Aviv Ezra, Israel's Consul General to the Midwest. Students from area universities also attended, along with those from Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, Chicago Jewish Day School, Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, and Solomon Schechter Day School.

Theodore F. Perlman becomes 54th annual Rosenwald Award recipient

In recognition of his lifetime of service to the Jewish community in Chicago and around the world, the 54th annual Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award -- JUF's highest honor -- was presented to Perlman. 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.

As JUF General Campaign Chair, Perlman led the 2010 JUF Annual Campaign during the throes of the Great Recession, and rallied the community to close the Campaign at more than $1 million over the previous year, with 1,000 new gifts.

A former and vice chairman of the JUF/Federation Board of Directors, Perlman also served as JUF's Advance and Major Gifts co-chair; the Trades, Industries & Professions (TIP) co-chair; the JUF Briarwood Country Club Chair; and on numerous JUF committees and commissions. He currently is a member of the Hillels of Illinois Board of Directors and serves on the board of the Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning & Leadership.

In addition to his work with JUF, Perlman serves on the Anti-Defamation League Foundation Executive Committee; as Vice Chairman Emeritus of Beber Camp; President of The Perlman Family Foundation; as well as the BBYO International Board of Directors; the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel; and he serves the Jewish community as Treasurer and Board of Trustee member for North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe.

"The day, nearly 70 years ago, that he and his family stood with tens of thousands of Jews in a packed Chicago Stadium, raising funds to support Israel's independence, had a profound effect on him," Zaransky said. "That experience connected him to his Jewish family here and around the world, and created in him a passion for mobilizing collective giving within our community for nearly seven decades."

Accepting the award, Perlman said that it was not about him, but "how we stretch ourselves to meet the needs of others," and that it would "increase his momentum to support others in need." He thanked his parents for raising him with philanthropic values despite his growing up during the Great Depression. He also thanked his wife, family, and business associates.

Perlman then laid out some lessons he had learned, that applied in all areas of life, including delivering on one's promises, engaging others with respect, giving to others, and that "understanding your weaknesses is a great strength." In any situation, one must decide whether to be the leader, follow the leader -- or challenge the leader, he said.

Nasatir highlights a year of successes, challenges and dreams

Nastier Annual Meeting 2017

In his State of the Federation remarks (watch the video here), Nasatir noted that last year, Federation allocated $221 million, "but this is Chicago -- going big and doing good for many is what Federation is all about."

He then enumerated the challenges Federation confronted in 2017, and expects will continue in the coming year: "…anti-Semitism, violence in Chicago, [government] gridlock, and, in Jerusalem, enduring, and emerging challenges. At the end of the day, our core work is to feed the hungry, house the homeless, teach Torah to the next generation, and connect them to the land and people of Israel."

Nasatir lamented that, despite Illinois now having a budget, spending cuts would mean service shortfalls. He did note that "Federation still carries hundreds of millions of dollars in loan guarantees to help ensure continuing service delivered by our agencies."

One 2017 event provided a major boost to some of Chicago's most vulnerable -- the multi-media performance of "Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin," which, in one evening, raised over $4.6 million to provide Holocaust survivors with food, medicine, and socialization.

"On our watch, no Holocaust survivor in Chicago will go to bed hungry," Nasatir vowed.

This year being the 30th anniversary of Freedom Sunday, the 1987 march in Washington, D.C. aimed at freeing Soviet Jews, Nasatir noted the remarkable success of the Russian Jewish community in Chicago. Later this year, JUF's Russian Jewish Division itself will mark the anniversary with its first-ever gala fundraiser. The group of "young adults whose parents fled oppression and came here to pursue the American dream," Nasatir pointed out, are now doctors, teachers, and successful businesspeople.

He then compared their circumstances with those of the "Dreamers" -- those brought into the U.S. illegally as children, who only know this country as their homeland -- stating that "providing permanent protections for this group should in no way be a partisan issue."

Nasatir then focused at length on the issue of rising anti-Semitism, bringing to light FBI reports that Jews are still the single largest target for religion-based hate crimes in the U.S.

On college campuses, Nasatir was heartened to see that "[JUF's] Israel Education Center helped students defeat more student government initiatives than those which were passed. And no university has divested or boycotted Israel institutions. The connection between Israel and our Midwest institutions of higher learning has become stronger. The BDS movement -- the campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction the world's only Jewish state and the Middle East's only democracy -- is a failure on campus."

However, he felt that complacency was not warranted: "Anti-Zionism is today's anti-Semitism, and campus is where the disease is spreading … students at U of I returned to campus to chants of 'No KKK, no fascists, no Zionists.' Disgusting!" In response to such ongoing bigotry, he said he personally met with the presidents of each of the five largest universities in Illinois.

After one vandal smashed a window and placed swastikas at the Chicago Loop Synagogue in February, over 1,000 Jews, Muslims, and Christians came together in a powerful display of unity at the "Love Thy Neighbor: Interfaith Gathering Against Hate."

"Standing together in that historic sanctuary, we affirmed then, and we affirm now, that an assault on one is an assault on all," Nasatir asserted. "Anti-Semitism has no place on any campus. And no place anywhere in our country -- and that includes Charlottesville, Champaign, or a Chicago parade."

Federation's response has been, as always, to combat divisiveness with unity. He noted the 10 community dinners JCRC held this past summer with members of other religious and ethnic communities, the Combatting Violence Summit JUF convened, and the security summit JUF organized to hear assessments by the FBI and other security professionals.

On the issue of gun violence in Chicago, Nasatir was adamant: "With over 500 murders and 2,100 gunshot victims already this year, enough is enough! We will not stand idly by as our neighbors bleed and children are killed. When one Chicago child is shot, none of our children are safe."

Nasatir concluded by turning toward the future and quoting the late Shimon Peres, who, on his last visit to Chicago, said, "You're as young as your dreams. We are an ancient people who will never grow old because we never stop dreaming."

Dr. Daniel Gordis details a century of Jewish evolution since the Balfour Declaration

Daniel Gordis Annual Meeting 2017

The keynote was delivered by Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, Dr. Daniel Gordis, who writes a column for the Jerusalem Post and is a regular contributor to The New York Times . Since moving to Israel in 1998, Gordis has written and lectured throughout the world on Israeli society and the challenges facing the Jewish state. Gordis is the author of numerous books on Israel and Jewish subjects; his most recent book, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn , was the 2016 National Jewish Book Award's "Book of the Year."

Gordis noted the speed with which the Zionist movement achieved success. It was only 20 years between the first Zionist Congress in 1887 to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and then only 30 years until the UN voted for Israel's creation in 1947. Gordis remarked that this rate of success was predicted by Theodor Herzl himself, who in 1897 wrote in his diary that he expected the project of recreating a Jewish homeland to take 50 years at the most. There were 65,000 Jews in pre-state Israel in 1917, he said -- and 6.5 million today, just 100 years later.

With this year being the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Gordis said that was a fitting moment to reflect on the larger impact of the Zionist movement. Aside from establishing a modern Jewish state, reviving the Hebrew language, and proving that "intellectual capital" was a "natural resource," Zionism achieved yet another one of its goals: redefining how Jews were perceived, both by others and by Jews themselves.

"The most important thing Zionism did was reimagine what it means to be a Jew," Gordis asserted. It turned Jews from being scholars who largely lived in fear into self-sufficient, strong people of the land. It turned Jews from being "pawns" into being "players," who determined for themselves where they would live. He contrasted that to historic Jewish expulsions from England, Spain, and Germany.

Gordis related a story of his students' reaction to what happened Charlottesville in August. Watching news footage of a white supremacist saying his aim was "to kill Jews," the Israelis, most of whom had been commanders in the IDF, laughed -- a reaction he noted would not have happened before 1967.

Israel must remain a priority for Chicago's Jews, Gordis concluded -- and ensured the ability not just to survive but to thrive -- because Israel "changed the world in which we live, how we see ourselves, and how others see us."

"At the end of the day, our core work is to feed the hungry, house the homeless, teach Torah to the next generation, and connect them to the land and people of Israel."

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