[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
When members of the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Lion of Judah Division gathered at Judy Shapira’s home for their Annual Campaign event, they were treated to an engaging talk about what their campaign dollars do, laced with light-hearted anecdotes, a good meal in the company of friends and an update on local issues.
Lion of Judah co-chair and host Judy Shapira welcomed the Lions and introduced guest speaker Susan Jackson, the executive director of Toronto, Ontario, Canada’s Centre of Jewish Knowledge and Heritage, who flew into Louisville that morning and stayed just long enough to speak at the Lion event.
While Jackson wove many often familiar Jewish jokes into her speech (A rabbi, a priest and a minister go together. The priest complained about bats in the church’s belfry. The minister said he had the same problem. Both had chased the creatures away only to have them return. The rabbi said he had bats in the synagogue, too, but he solved the problem. He bar mitzvahed them and they never came back.), her message was serious. Jewish women play an important role in building community, and they do it for their children.
What keeps us going? Jackson said, Jews don’t behave like a religion, a civilization or even a community. We behave like a family, taking care of and looking after each other. For example, she recalled the Jewish community’s efforts to free Soviet Jewry before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was students and housewives making phone calls to refuseniks and singing Am Yisrael Chai that gave the movement its strength. It was the Jewish family that freed Soviet Jews.
Jackson also recounted a much more recent visit to the FSU. Accompanied by a translator from the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and a social worker from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), she made a home visit to an 87-year-old Jewish woman. They had to walk up nine flights of stairs to reach the woman’s tiny apartment. She hadn’t been out of her apartment in four years because the elevator was broken, and she couldn’t manage the stairs.
Jackson’s group gave her 40 cans of tuna, and the woman couldn’t believe her good fortune. A widow who had also lost her child during World War II, the food and medicine from her extended Jewish family keeps her alive. She even shares the fruit she receives with her neighbors.
Jewish communities everywhere are involved in the same in kind of work she explained in Toronto, just like Louisville, the Jewish community supports programs like Hillel for college students and family service agencies. “We see the world through Jewish glasses,” she said.
We build Jewish memories, which then form the basis for the next generation to live Jewish lives. She told of two secular Jewish families who decided that maybe they should do something Jewish for their children and settled on doing a food event. One of the wives remembered having latkes at Chanukah time, so they tried it and enjoyed the experience.
A year or two later they added a Passover Seder and then followed it with hamantaschen for Purim. Their group began to expand and they added more families to their celebrations.
Seven years later, they heard about blintzes and added Shavuot. When they added a once-a-year observance of Shabbat, they experimented with nine different kinds of cholent.
Today, Jackson reported the group includes 40 families. All of them belong to synagogues and all their children attend some kind of Jewish education.
“The more you hear, the more you learn, the more you want,” she said, and all of us are role models for the next generation.
She also told the story of a Jewish family in Eastern Europe. The parents were afraid that they would be killed in a pogrom, but were convinced that their children would survive, so they put their hopes and dreams and the Torah in a box for their children. They were killed in the pogrom, but the children had the box.
During World War II, those children were now adults who feared for their own lives. Now the only thing left in the box were hopes, but they passed it on to their children, who survived and became our parents. Now our parents have passed the box to us, and it is empty. Our job, she concluded, is to refill the box.
While Jackson focused on the total Jewish community, emphasizing the connections with our world-wide Jewish family, Judy Freundlich Tiell, the executive director of Jewish Family and Career Services, also spoke and drew the focus in on our Louisville Jewish community.
She presented the real stories of Jewish people who sought help from JFCS this year.
She told of a single mother of two teen age children who was faced with the loss of the job she had held for many years and the insurance that came with it, the subsequent loss of her home, which forced her to move in with her mother who is in the beginning stages of dementia. JFCS was able to help her by providing food, financial services and respite care. They helped her get a scholarship from the Jewish Community Center, provided a support group for her, counseling for one of her children and help with her job search.
JFCS also helped a young woman make a safety plan and escape from an abusive relationship. Today, with the agency’s help, she is back in school and getting her life back together.
JFCS, Tiell explained serves as a safety net for people who need a hand up during difficult times. “Everyone needs help at one time or another,” she said.
Within the Jewish community, there are people who are hungry, there are alcohol and substance abusers, there is unemployment and more and JFCS is there to help.
She called on those present to be ambassadors, making sure the community understands there are real needs among Jews in Louisville, and as family, we need to take care of them.
In addition to providing financial support, Tiell encouraged those present to become volunteers, even if only for one hour a week. She listed several opportunities available through JFCS including becoming a driver for the PALS program, delivering Shabbat challot to seniors in many care facilities across the county and participating in tikkun olam projects.
Lion of Judah Co-Chair Madeline Abramson wrapped up the event summarizing some of the things the Jewish Community of Louisville does and leading a discussion on issues about which the Lions present were concerned.
Lions of Judah make a commitment of at least $5,000 to the JCL Annual Campaign.