Major Gifts brunch focuses on making a difference

[by Phyllis Shaikun, Special to Community]

The Jewish Community of Louisville’s 2014 Federation Major Gifts event, held this year in the atrium of the Starks Building on Sunday morning, November 3, focused on thanking donors by letting them know how much their generosity has enabled our Jewish community to move forward during the past 12 months.

Emcee Adam Lefkoe, WHAS11 sports anchor, who prior to moving to Kentucky spent some time as the only Jew living in a small Nebraska town, expressed his personal thanks to all donors for keeping the local Jewish community thriving and relevant.

In her blessing over the brunch, Rabbi Laura Metzer mentioned that this week’s Torah portion has to do with paying attention, and she hoped those present would take notice of how fortunate we are to be “blessed with the bounty of the earth.”

Fred Whittaker, a teacher at St. Francis of Assisi School who has taught a Holocaust curriculum at the school and has accompanied students on visits U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, partially funded through one of the Jewish Foundation of Louisville’s restricted funds established to further interfaith Holocaust education in Louisville, introduced Adriana Conway, one of his eighth grade students.

Conway explained the trip kicked off the class’s year of Holocaust studies and commitment to “never be bystanders as so many were during that dark time in our world’s history.” Now two years later, she and her classmates continue to share their experiences with others.

“I am only one student of hundreds from my school that have experienced this trip,” she concluded, “and I thank you for the support you have shown to all of us.”

JCL CEO Stu Silberman thanked donors as well. “By any relevant measure,” he said, “we are doing remarkably well.” He related that operations at the Jewish Community Center are generating positive cash for the first time in years; membership is up 27 percent over last year and several summer camps and early childhood rooms are at capacity and have waiting lists. Revenues from those programs, he explained, cover the cost of operating the facility and provide for mission-critical programs such as senior nutrition lunch, preteen, teen and philanthropic programs such as the Federation Annual Campaign, Jewish Foundation and administration.

As members of the JCC Association, Silberman noted, Louisville is participating in a benchmarking project that compares our JCC’s program performance against others offered in similar size peer cities. Louisville has the rare distinction of seeing positive results in all areas across the board. Our JCC is here to provide programming for over 1,500 Jewish community members and for other non-affiliated members as well.

Philanthropically, thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are bucking a national trend and our last campaign actually finished higher than in the previous year. There are reasonable expectations that this year will show donors are even more willing to support the great things Louisville is accomplishing, such as making a difference with youth and teen programs. “These are our future Jewish leaders,” said Silberman, “and we are doing all we can to keep them Jewish and encourage them to live Jewishly – and you make it possible.”

Stew Bromberg, the Jewish Federation’s Chief Development Officer, introduced keynote speaker Dottie Bennett, a friend he considers “a role model to the world; a generous and supportive leader who sets a high bar high for herself and for others.”

Bennett is very active in the Jewish Outreach Institute and spent five years on the executive committee chairing education for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. A public school teacher for more than 20 years, she chaired Virginia’s Gesher Jewish Day School Campaign, mentors a Hillel worker at the University of Virginia and also chaired the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, which sends influential non-Jews to Israel to learn about and understand that nation.

“Activism is a way of life, of my life,” Bennett said. “I want to be able to look into the eyes of my grandchildren knowing I am trying my best to secure their generation’s future.” She quoted Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who supported the belief that one’s life belongs to the community and it a privilege “to do for it what one can.”

“Louisville seems to have everything you would want in a Jewish community,” she said, “including an impressive number of synagogues, Melton Adult learning, scholars in residence, CenterStage, the JCC, JCRC and JFCS – to name just a few. “This is happening because Louisville Jewry can count on donors like you; can look up to you, recognize the role you play and depend on you to lead both in your personal involvement and your financial commitment.”

She encouraged listeners to empower one another by embracing our commonalities and our differences, connecting with Israel, creating, funding and sustaining space for Jewish conversations and engaging in shaping the Jewish future you want. “Don’t leave it to others and think it will happen,” she cautioned, “we are depending on you and your wisdom to drive this engine home.”

“Leadership takes so many forms,” said Bennett. “Do what makes you comfortable, do it quietly or with panache, but just do it. I stand before you as a proud committed giver to my Federation and ask nothing of you that I would not ask of myself. Together, the Louisville Jewish community will be strengthened and you will be appreciated for ensuring that the centerpieces for the future: wisdom, social justice, community and lives of sacred purpose will flourish.”

The unique venue presented two major challenges during this event: first the acoustics in a large 12-story atrium, and, uniquely, a water fountain overflowing during the central part of the program.

As JCL Board Chair Karen Abrams said, “May the dollars of the campaign overflow as the waters of the fountain.”

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