Federation Women’s Division: Hard at work, even during a pandemic

by | Apr 22, 2021 | Trending News

The past 12 months have been unlike any before them in myriad ways. No one can argue with that. However, in other ways, it’s been business as usual for United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Women’s Division—with creative programming and fundraising.

This year’s Women’s Cabinet, chaired by Mona Flax, made calls, sent letters, texts, and emails, and in some rare cases, met face-to-face with donors throughout the community, asking for gifts of support for the Community Campaign, as well as the COVID-19 Emergency Relief campaign. And those efforts paid off! On April 16, 2021, the UJFT Community Campaign stood at $4,576,200 from 1,232 individual gifts of support (just $123,000 from its goal of $4.7 million), and the Women’s Division accounts for $1,414,100 of that total. In addition to the $4.5 million+, more than $300,000 came in for COVID Emergency Relief. What an incredibly generous community!

While the central purpose of the Women’s Division is to raise funds from area women, there are also plenty of opportunities for fun, education, and social programming. And, even during a pandemic, those opportunities abounded.

Back in July, at the very start of the campaign year, the Women’s Cabinet kicked off with a virtual (online) mission to the Jewish communities of Minsk, Belarus and Sofia, Bulgaria… all through the magic and brilliance of UJFT’s overseas mission host (and service delivery partner), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the JDC). Throughout the course of the three-part mission, participants “met” with elderly homebound Jews receiving services from JDC through food delivery, on-line fitness classes, on-line and over-the-phone counseling, and regular welfare checks. It was the teen volunteers in the community who delivered their meals, bringing with them not just food, but energy and hope to what might otherwise have been a beleaguered group of seniors, feeling isolated and alone.

Mission participants met those Active Jewish Teens (AJT) finding ways to build community during isolation and engage in meaningful volunteerism. The AJT kids inspired participants beyond belief, showing that there is every reason to hope for a successful future for the Jewish communities of Belarus and Bulgaria.

Despite the mission taking place online, participants engaged in real-time, interactive programming throughout, which included a short work-out session with the community’s fitness trainer (who does the same exercises with his home-bound seniors) and sewing face masks with the teens.

The group also met with Jewish community professionals and lay leaders in both countries to learn about the unique challenges facing each community and how they are addressing them head on.

The mission was followed by a couple of outstanding women speakers—The Women’s Ruby Lion event, co-chaired by Karen Lombart and Annie Sandler, was a true celebration of Tidewater’s Jewish community—this “place we call home.” It welcomed guest speaker Marina Yudborovsky, chief executive officer at Genesis Philanthropy Group to the community (live via Zoom). Marina talked about her childhood in Russia, and how resettling in America planted the seeds for her journey to Jewish philanthropy, and her eventual position at Genesis.

The Lion-Tikva-Chai Lunch (also on-line) brought guest speaker Meredith Jacobs to the screen. Jacobs is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, and she is CEO of Jewish Women International. Jacobs talked a good deal about Jewish life on campus and about the role that young Jews can play in strengthening each other against the slings and arrows that “life” throws at them, especially as young people, young women, and young Jews.

This year’s hybrid Super Sunday event, held in September, saw great success, thanks in large part to the women volunteer solicitors calling from the Sandler Family Campus and from home. They conveyed their passion for the Jewish community and the imperative for supporting the campaign this year in particular, with every call they made.

The women also took center stage in helping to decide which authors would visit Tidewater this year, as they attended the Jewish Book Council Conference in droves. And what an amazing job they did, working with UJFT/Simon Family JCC’s Cultural Arts department to come to consensus on which authors would provide the wow-factor here in Tidewater.

The Women’s Division will close the 2021 Campaign with a Women’s Cabinet Installation Lunch in May, featuring the return of one of its favorite guest speakers, Michal Barkai Brody. An Israeli, Brody is a women’s advocate, activist, and social entrepreneur. The Women’s Cabinet is bringing her “back” to Tidewater (this time via Zoom) by popular demand. This year’s Women’s Cabinet Spring Lunch will welcome new cabinet members and thank and recognize those completing their terms of service.

As the 2021 campaign winds down, the Women’s Division can look back on their many successes in the face of extraordinary challenges. So maybe it wasn’t exactly business as usual.… Perhaps it can better be described “business as…meaningful, productive, and a lot of fun.”

Amy Zelenka is United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s campaign director.

– Amy Zelenka