ILOJ Conference Inspires

[by Cynthia Clegg Canada]

Lions of Judah are women who believe in the critical work that Federations do to make a difference in people’s lives and have made the commitment to contribute at least $5,000 annually to their communities’ annual campaigns. Each year, the Lions gather for the International Lion of Judah Conference to learn first-hand about the projects that benefit from their generosity.

The theme of this year’s conference, held in New York City September 10-12, was “Priceless.” That theme is reflected in the lives of Lions of Judah in many ways: in the financial resources these women provide to the Jewish community, the lasting changes in the lives of those they help, the richness their involvement adds to their lives and the connections and relationships they build as they unite in commitment to the global Jewish community and tikkun olam – the repair of the world.

This year Louisvillians Sandy Hammond and Karen Abrams participated, and both brought back positive experiences and a strong sense of motivation to the Jewish Community of Louisville and its Annual Federation Campaign.

Abrams, a Louisville pediatrician who attended the conference with her mother, Nancy Abrams, is one of the recipients of the 2012 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award. This biannual award recognizes extraordinary women who have set a high standard for philanthropy and volunteerism. Abrams and the other 2012 honorees were feted and received their awards at the closing dinner.

Abrams endowed her Lion of Judah gift and encourages others to consider doing the same. She accomplished the endowment using a life insurance policy, which – although it was a bit of a stretch – allowed her to maintain her annual Campaign commitment at the same time. Abrams also points out that her $100,000 policy will endow a $5,000 annual gift, and that if more people would endow gifts, the Campaign would become much more manageable year to year.

Hammond, an attorney, enjoyed the conference – speakers, networking, New York City – but especially treasured the opportunity to spend a few days with her sister, who lives in West Palm Beach, FL, and a cousin from Sarasota. For her, spending time with close family members was the best of all. She was deeply impressed by the global diversity of the International Lions of Judah community and wants to see Louisville’s Lions become more involved in that community.

Many of the conference breakout sessions centered on the topic of inclusion. They ranged from discussions of services for community members with disabilities to welcoming and including interfaith families. Many stories were heartwarming, such as in the session where attendees heard from Vivian Bass, head of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes in Washington, D.C.

This organization opened its first home in 1983, and they now have 188 residents in Washington and surrounding Maryland. All the homes are kosher, and they have an $11 million budget. They not only care for residents who have disabilities, but give them meaningful work – in itself, a priceless contribution.

Abrams brought back the story of one young man with a severe handicap, confined to a wheelchair, who works as a preschool aide. She said, “The children love him and he loves the children.” The gift of love in the life of a small child is immeasurable, the love that comes back to the giver is life-affirming, and the sense of inclusiveness these children are learning as a result of their experience with this young man also will have a far-reaching impact on their lives.

Inclusion of community members from multi-faith families was another focus for discussion. One of the speakers said the primary factor in an interfaith couple’s decision to raise their children Jewish is how they are received the first time they go to a Jewish space.

Another speaker talked about her experience as the child of an unaffiliated Jewish father and a Christian mother, and of her conversion to Judaism after going on a Birthright Israel trip because it was free. Her life-changing experience is an engaging story, but it also points to a need to be aware that people who are peripherally tied to the Jewish community may nevertheless have priceless gifts to offer.

Breakout sessions on multigenerational philanthropy raised interesting issues about motivating young women to get involved in giving. They stressed the fact that younger generations – “GenX” and Millennials – are inspired differently from the ways their predecessors have been. Family and legacy giving are, as ever, a primary focus in growth, but the presenters all stressed that even family philanthropic funds need to adapt their focus, gearing research toward hands-on involvement, developing mission statements, and clearly defining who they are and what their vision is for the Jewish community.

Overall, the Louisville attendees of this year’s conference enjoyed the experience enormously and came home with much to share. From Sandy Hammond’s perspective, the greatest takeaway was the need for Louisville Lions of Judah to be more involved with the global group. She noted that Israel sent a contingent of 12 women, and Louisville – with about 70 Lions in the Metro area – only sent two.

The Lions of Judah – in the Louisville Metro and around the world – can be a formidable force for all that is good in the global Jewish community. That can only happen, though, if leaders are willing to not only step up, but also to stay involved, adapt mindsets, expand their vision, and reach across community and generational boundaries to include new ways of thinking, caring, and giving.

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