Home Federation ‘Community’ is celebrated at JCFR Grand Event

‘Community’ is celebrated at JCFR Grand Event

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“Community is society with a human face – the place where we know we are not alone”

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

A large and energetic crowd of people came together in-person and via Zoom to celebrate “community” and welcome guest speaker — actress, author and activist Noa Tishby — to the Federation’s Grand Event on Oct. 20.

Kicking off the 2022 Annual Campaign, the outdoor event was held at the Cultural Arts Center of Glen Allen. Community members watching via Zoom had special welcome messages from JCFR President Ellen Renee Adams and CEO Daniel Staffenberg.

The program featured remarks from President-Elect and Campaign Chair Amy Nisenson before Staffenberg and Tishby held an “In Conversation” about her family, her book — Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth — her activism and a discussion about the many complexities and misunderstandings about Israel that exist today from so many. Tishby also offered pointed “must do’s” to counter the misrepresentations and untruths about Israel.

Resilience

The evening touched on themes of the Jewish community’s resilience, generosity, and compassion. It also saluted the most successful Annual Campaign in years, raising over $3.4 million.

In welcome remarks, Adams shared the accomplishments of the Federation and Jewish Richmond. She thanked and recognized the Grand Event sponsors – Allianz, Fulton Bank and Parker, Pollard, Wilton and Peaden Attorneys at Law.

She noted, “I am so proud and humbled by what WE, all of us together, have accomplished this past crazy 18 months. We have taken care of our children, teens, young adults and seniors. We have helped those in crisis – both physically and emotionally. We kept our schools open; we educated and entertained each other on Zoom.”

She continued, “All of our agencies and synagogues are whole. And this is because together as a community we raised and allocated the dollars to make things happen. Thank you ALL for stepping up and rising to the occasion. Our community lay leaders and professionals are heroes. And YOU, our kehilla kedosha, our holy community is what makes Richmond so special.”

Adams concluded, “We are RICHMOND TOGETHER!”

Amy Nisenson

President-Elect Amy Nisenson speaks to community members and makes an important point about the Federation.

She was followed by Nisenson who shared details of her heart-warming trip several years ago to Argentina as part of a special Jewish Federations of North America Mission.

Nisenson noted, “It was on that trip that my understanding of the critical role Federation plays in Jewish life locally and overseas became clear.”

In recounting the many high spots, she explained, “I walked into a Federation-supported senior center in Buenos Aries run and developed by our amazing partners at JDC.  It was not unlike our own Beth Sholom Home here in Richmond. The place had that special Jewish Neshama to it. The seniors were excited to welcome us, share their stories … The place was beautiful … with joyous sounds of life and vibrancy. We gathered together, sitting alongside the residents for a special concert of Jewish songs … Jewish songs are universal …”

She continued, “I felt so blessed to have this experience and to see firsthand that there is a Jewish world that needs us; relies on us. We are their Jewish family. That family is in Buenos Aires, Zaporozhe, Hadera, Jerusalem, and right here in Central Virginia.”

Nisenson also commented about the past year in Richmond during COVID and how the Federation responded with virtual town halls, volunteering at call centers, helping agencies and synagogues in so many areas and securing vaccines for over 350 individuals.

‘Federation Holds it Together’

“As COVID ravaged our community, Federation pivoted immediately in response,” she said. “Federation holds it all together. We were there for good because when we come together, nothing can stop us. This year we turn from resilience to resurgence. Our community, our children, our Israeli and worldwide family are counting on us. They need us to step up and be the strength they require.”

In introducing Tishby, she said, “Noa is a multifaceted powerhouse — actress, producer, advocate and storyteller. She has been recognized as one of the 50 Most Powerful Jews in the World and was on Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Power list of international executives.”

She noted Tishby’s book is a “must read,” which has earned praise from thought leaders across the political spectrum topping the Amazon bestseller lists.

In Conversation

Tishby and Staffenberg then took to the stage for an “extended conversation” as the main part of the program.

She told the audience immediately, “I am learning that Richmond is a small but mighty community. And everyone is related.”

In remarks to kick off his conversation with the guest speaker, Staffenberg noted, “Your book has been a source of many conversations in our community. There have been a whole bunch of ‘you’ve got to read this book’ comments.”

In a series of questions from the CEO, she recounted in detailed answers, often with amusing and personal antedotes, how she authored the book and began her advocacy work. “In my advocacy world, I have been doing this for a very long time; nagging people about Israel for many years – well over a decade. There was no book that tells the story of Israel that is easy to understand. Many times, I was able to sit down with a person and within 20 minutes, draw a map of Israel and explain what they needed to know. The next question always was, was is there a book out there.”

Tishby said her family was heavily involved in the establishment of the State of Israel – something she is very proud of and details in the book.

The following are among the many important points, she made in responding to his questions:

“BDS is a horrific movement. There is no negotiating with them. It’s anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. The founder is against the State of Israel. They have been doing this for a long time – in person. Someone is paying anti-Israel people to talk to groups for 20 years. Jewish BDS supporters don’t know what they are supporting.”

“We have to know our own history. We must answer these questions. We have not had to answer many of these questions in the distant past. It’s important — we must do.”

“Judaism is not a belief system. It is about making yourself a better person today.”

“We need to understand that what we are seeing online (attacking Israel) is not by accident; it’s by design.”

“This is a war against Israel. Our side was asleep. Only one side knew there was a war. We need to understand this.”

“Stop thinking about social media. Reach out to allies and social justice movement leaders. Reach out to colleagues who might make anti-Israel statements … have conversations. One-on-work is so important. Have a minyan with small groups.”

“We have failed our kids. We send our kids to religious school, public school and college completely unprepared to answer the tough questions. They went to college without knowing the answers. Kids are hiding their Jewish identity in college.”

“Calling Israel a genocide state is ridiculous, and we have to prepare them (our college kids) for these questions and how to answer. We must give them a toolbox.”

“The younger generation must awaken.”

“Israel is a country (like many countries and the U.S.) with politics. It is OK for us to criticize Israel. It’s unacceptable to question any country’s right to exist.”

“I am a pro-Zionist and pro-Palestinian. Zionism is a movement for self-determination but never for an inclusive Jewish state.”

Optimistic about Israel and the Jewish People

Tishby added that many younger Jews have forgotten what the State of Israel has meant to Jews since it’s founding. “Many don’t realize that Jews are doing OK. Jews have never had it this good in maybe the last 2000 years. They don’t have to go to Israel to know this. The fact that Jews are doing OK is because we have a Jewish State. They never have to go there. There was no Jewish State until 1948.  It’s important we have a State of Israel for our sense of security and allow us to do this great and important work.”

She concluded, “I am very optimistic. We have survived … We know in a thousand years in various places around the world, women will be lighting Shabbat candles.”

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