Virtually unstoppable

Jewish Federation’s 120th Annual Meeting takes to cyberspace

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“Jewish values aren’t just what we do—they are who we are,” said JUF/Federation President Lonnie Nasatir during his State of the Federation address.

In every other year, Chicago's Jewish Federation has held its Annual Meeting in a grand hall, packed with community members and leaders, professionals and volunteers, donors and students, award recipients, and dignitaries local and international.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic made such a gathering impossible. The 120th Annual Meeting, instead, was held in many locations, connected by both the Internet and a shared sense of purpose. 

Federation's first virtual Annual Meeting--held in September--focused on both the challenges and successes of the past year, including the pandemic and JUF's response to it. 

Even under these circumstances, speeches were still delivered, awards were still bestowed, and Board members were still inducted. The Federation recognized a new reality, grappled with its new obstacles--and got the job done. Just as it has during historic crises large and larger, for 120 years.

"This virtual annual meeting may be a first, but a sense of virtual connection is nothing new for the Jewish people," said Linda Becker Ginsburg, the 2020 Annual Meeting Chair. "As Jews, our sense of community runs deep. When we pray, we know Jews around the world are reciting the same prayers. When we light Shabbat candles and say kiddush, we remember the family members who came before us--and dream about those who will come after us. We care for fellow Jews in need, wherever they may live; we know that whether or not we ever meet, we are family. And that's the work that brings us here today."

Kim Shwachman was inducted as the Chair of the 2021 JUF Annual Campaign. And after the new Board members were elected, the 2018-2020 Board Chair Andrew S. Hochberg passed the gavel to incoming Board Chair Pam Friend Szokol.

"Our Federation has 'Together for Good' as its motto. In my belief, that is a challenge at this time," Hochberg said. "Our country faces a divisive election in November. In Israel, political turmoil reigns. We need to remember that not only does Jewish tradition suggest a financial commitment to keep our community strong, but it also challenges us to look at each other with love, respect, and to give each other the benefit of the doubt. When I accepted the gavel two years ago, I referred to the concept of achdut , which in Hebrew means 'unity.' When we are united and generous, we succeed; when we are not, we fail. I encourage you to remember that, as we assess social media postings, conduct socially distant meetings, or engage in Zoom meetings."

In what was only his second Annual Meeting as Federation's President, Lonnie Nasatir used his State of the Federation address to outline JUF/Federation's response to today's twin epidemics of COVID-19 and antisemitism. He offered words of unswerving resolve in the face of unnerving reality.

Michael H. Zaransky received the 57th annual Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award, the Federation's highest honor. The award-- named for Chicago's own historic business icon and philanthropist-- recognizes a lifetime of outstanding dedication to Chicago's Jewish community. 

Other awards presented at the Annual meeting included:

-The Shofar Award, to 2020 JUF Annual Campaign Chair Marc Spellman.

-The Davis, Gidwitz, and Glasser Award, for outstanding lay leadership, to Katie Berger.

-The Samuel A. Goldsmith Award, for outstanding professional leadership, to Elyse Saretsky and Emily White.

Over 1,000 people attended this year's meeting, in the same place, if not in the same room. Members of our Jewish community sat isolated, if only by mere space. But we stood together, as always. Separated by distance, but united in spirit.


From the 2020 State of the Federation Address

Lonnie Nasatir, President

"We are in the midst of what may be the defining moment of our lifetime--and JUF has been able to step up, because you stepped up. Now the world is forever changed, and so are we. We discovered we have deep reserves of strength that we didn't know we had--and we saw that our Jewish values will always provide us the roadmap forward. Jewish values aren't just what we do--they are who we are. If we ground ourselves in those values, there's no challenge we can't overcome, from a still-unfolding pandemic to resurgent antisemitism and systemic racism.

At a time when society is more divided than ever, the world needs our unity.

At a time of great need, the world needs our generosity.

And at a time of great challenge, the world needs our spirit of innovation."


Remarks from Honorees

- Michael H. Zaransky, Julius Rosenwald Award winner

Former JUF/Federation Board Chair, 2013 Annual Campaign Chair

"To my generational or near generational peers, teach your kids and grandkids to be kind….to be a mensch. You may not realize it, but someone is watching, waiting to be inspired. This pandemic has given us an opportunity to focus on what really matters in life. Our tradition has taught us that we are the people that always, always, always, sees the light within the darkness. In the darkest of times, we always choose life. And to the younger generations who have joined us today: We look with hope to the future because of you. We hand you a community and tradition that is full of meaning and purpose. Walk upright and proudly because of who you are. Feel the pride of the legacy that is now yours. It is your turn to enter the miraculous story of our people. Step up and be a part of the story."


- Katie Berger, Davis, Gidwitz & Glasser Young Leadership Award winner

JUF/Federation Board Member. Former YLD Campaign Chair. Helped establish the Ben Gurion Society Advisory Council. Current Jewish Women's Foundation committee chair.

"Miriam is my mom's Hebrew name. And like biblical Miriam, she is a special kind of leader," Berger explained. "She has shown me the power of listening, maintaining calm in the midst of chaos, and how leadership is best done through connection. For anyone who knows her, you know exactly how I ended up making this speech here today. While we, as Jews, can be universally inspired by these women, my personal connection--my Ruth, my Devora, my Miriam--their stories fuel me. I feel lucky to be recognized as a leader in this community, but I wouldn't be here today without the women who taught me so much."


-Samuel A. Goldsmith Award winners

 -Emily White

  Director, JUF Israel Education Center

 "It would be easy to let the pain of the Jewish story define the Jewish experience. To let the golden star on the breast of the condemned cast its pallor across the faces of us all. But why would we? Why would we allow the legacy of the Jewish people be decided by our detractors? We can't, and we shouldn't. Our story is one of strength, of smarts, and tenacity. Our steely determination to exist. Our story is a story of the flow of ancient sand. Of Nobel prizes, of loyalty, and of love. Love for our god, for our children, and for each other. Our blood flows thicker than the water that separates us from our long-ago, and never-forgotten, home."


-Elyse Saretsky

  Director, Young Leadership Division

"Upon graduation, I joined the Teach for America Corps of 2012. I spent time on Chicago's South West side as a first grade teacher which opened my eyes to many things, but most importantly the importance of living life guided by a sense of humility and one full of community. When I left the classroom after two challenging years, with as much longing at age 24 as I felt at age 12, I found myself seeking out a Jewish community . . . Fast forward to today--the home I knew I wanted has turned into the career I never knew I needed."

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