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JCF Blog

Year of the Philanthropic Journey Part 2 of 12: “If a Jew is in pain anyplace in the world, every Jew feels that pain.”

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 10/4/2018

It was Sunday, April 28, 1974, and I, along with over 100,000 others, marched on 5th Avenue in New York chanting “1,2,3,4 open up the iron door 5,6,7,8 let my people emigrate.” We marched for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. I was 14 years old and it was the first step in what was to become a lifetime of working on behalf of the Jewish people. It was the beginning of my awareness of the nature of oneness among Jewish people everywhere. The chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, said in Hebrew, “If a Jew is in pain anyplace in the world, every Jew feels that pain.” What has been named “Solidarity Sunday” marked a major turning point in my life. 

In 1990, Operation Exodus, a fundraising effort sponsored by UJA/Federation, raised the funds that would help nearly one million Soviet Jews resettle in America and in Israel.

I worked for the Federation at the time and felt that my life had come full circle in so many ways. My Jewish Day School education, Junior year study in Israel and Camp Ramah, all helped to prepare me to live a life dedicated to the global and local Jewish community. Rabbi Yossef’s words resonated in my heart,“If a Jew is in pain anyplace in the world, every Jew feels that pain.” 

At the time, I gave tzedakah to several places that felt important, our Jewish community included. A part of my work was to talk to others in our community about their tzedakah with the hope that they too would feel that building Jewish community was a priority.

We invited a speaker to talk about her experience during Operation Exodus. She told us about her journey from the former Soviet Union to Israel, the struggle and the hope, her family left behind, and the blind faith to leave the only world she knew and begin a new life. She spoke to us all,but it felt like she was speaking directly to me.  She was younger than I was and I was touched by her courage and gratitude. 

She told us it cost $1,000 to fly one person to Israel. Those words, that thought, struck my heart. It was more than I thought I could give at that time, but it didn’t matter. I felt the pain of that one Jew that I could save and so I did. I would never meet this life that I saved but I imagined their journey towards freedom and opportunity. It was the most meaningful gift I have ever given. I have given larger gifts since, but the impact of that gift will resonate in my heart forever and has been the driver of my work in our Jewish community.

When I speak with donors and community members, my hope is that we discuss meaningful gifts, gifts that connect donors with their philanthropy,gifts with the kind of impact that touches hearts. Those kinds of gifts take a little more time and thought. They require conversation, some education, some soul searching, and perhaps some soul stretching. Those gifts take us to the next step on our philanthropic journey.

As we explore our philanthropic journeys, think about a gift that you made that was particularly meaningful to you. Take a little time to explore why and ask yourself some hard questions. Or, call us at the Foundation and let’s have a discussion about what is important to you, what you might want to explore, and how you can begin that process.  

My gift to Operation Exodus saved a life. Through the power of collective philanthropy, hundreds of thousands of lives were saved. I didn’t feel the need to save everyone. I felt the need to do my part, to share that heartwarming feeling, and have faith that others would give their share as well. Meaningful philanthropy is our work every day and I am honored to partner with our community members to ensure we remain a vibrant Jewish people.

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Judy Rosenthal
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Rise, this a beautiful and poignant story. Thank you for sharing. You inspire and motive the inner spirit in all of us for helping our all Jews in the best way we all can.

Wonderful story from the heart.

Bruce Stanger
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Rise a moving account of only some of the ways you make a difference. A personal story - My brother's daughter in law is a jew from the former soviet union. She was an infant at the time that my brother was marching as you were in NY to free fellow Jews. Her parents were Zionists and as part of their protest on the other side of the world chained their infant daughter to the Kremlin gates demanding the right to leave the Soviet Union. They were eventually allowed in leave, in large part due to the pressure from the US, for Israel, Years later they moved here and that infant is now in our family as a mother of a new infant boy, my brothers grandson.
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Bruce - what a blessing. thank you for sharing this story....
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