Jewish Tidewater and beyond in 2023

by | Dec 7, 2023 | Featured

Stephanie Peck and Terri Denison
Last year, the introduction to this section began “Jewish-related news made more mainstream headlines in 2022 than most of us could ever recall.” With Israel at war, the 400% uptick in antisemitism, comments by Elon Musk, etc., 2023 has certainly topped last year with Jewish reference in national news outlets. In fact, lately when reading major publications, it’s often possible to forget we’re not reading the Forward or Jewish News, as articles on Israel, antisemitism, and Jewish-related topics are front and center.

In Jewish Tidewater, the year began with hope (the arrival of Temple Emanuel’s new rabbi), post COVID-19 feelings of normalcy (packed calendars, including a community mission to Israel), and excitement (celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary). As everyone knows, despair hit hard on October 7, a date that will be etched in the psyches of Jews and Israelis as 9/11 is for all Americans.

While including global, national, and state-wide news, this review of 2023 primarily concentrates on the news of Jewish Tidewater, of which there was plenty to report.

One thing for certain, this piece highlights the diversity of groups and events that comprise Jewish Tidewater, as well as the generosity and commitment of its members.


Rabbi Ari Olisewski joins Temple Emanuel, arriving from Brazil. He was hired after a year-long search, although his visa paperwork took another year to process. Rabbi Ari, his wife Pati, and their two children, who attend Strelitz International Academy, finally arrived in Virginia Beach.

Jewish faculty and staff of James Madison University boycott an event commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Without planning input from Jewish individuals, the program appeared wholly insensitive, considered more of an opportunity to celebrate rather than commemorate.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed by United Jewish Federation’s Holocaust Commission with the publication of To Life: The Past is Present. Ninety-plus stories offer a window into Holocaust history, representing survivors, liberators, and rescuers from Tidewater.

Professionals from across Tidewater gather for group discussions of Jessica Nordell’s book, The End of Bias: The Beginning. Jonathan Zur, president and CEO of Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, moderates the lively engagements, which often elicite emotional responses from participants’ own painful experiences with bias and prejudice.



Fifty people from Tidewater attend Virginia’s Annual Jewish Advocacy Day in Richmond. Divided into six groups, they meet with senators, delegates, and legislative staff from 22 offices to discuss four pieces of legislation of significant importance to the Jewish community. Attorney General Jason Miyares announces the creation of a new task force to monitor and combat acts of antisemitism in Virginia.

The Virginia House and Senate pass two pieces of legislation important to the Jewish community: the statewide adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism and the designation of the month of May as Jewish American Heritage Month.

The 30th Annual Festival of Jewish Film celebrates with five films, including the documentary The Levys of Monticello. Following the showing, members of the film’s creative team discuss the documentary and how the second owner of Monticello, Captain Uriah P. Levy, was the first Jewish commodore to serve in the U.S. Navy and lived with his family in Thomas Jefferson’s iconic home.


Drew Goodove attends American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) Political Student Leadership Summit. The summit brings together a nationwide mix of high school and college students who are eager to learn more about the U.S./Israeli relationship and advocate on its behalf.

The 2023 UJFT Community Mission to Israel takes place Feb. 28 – March 9. The group returns with a new appreciation for the work of Federation and its partners.

In her third speech since becoming Congresswoman from Virginia’s second district, Congresswoman Jen Kiggans speaks about the importance of supporting Israel.

Andrew Nusbaum receives the Humanitarian Award from the Virginia Center of Inclusive Communities.


Temple Israel honors Rabbi Michael Panitz for his tenure of more than 30 years. Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander presents Rabbi Panitz with a Proclamation from the City of Norfolk.
United Federation of Tidewater hosts Yom Ha’Atzmaut. The Sandler Family campus fills with Israeli smells, tastes, and attractions to celebrate Israel @ 75.

The Janet Gordon Annual Mah Jongg Day and Luncheon, the largest annual fundraising event for Beth Sholom Village, reemerges post COVID-19.

Virginia Beach School Board agenda includes potential changes to the library media centers in all school divisions, including a revised review process for digital and print items in each library.

More than 100 people gather to celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah 50th Anniversary party in the Marty Einhorn Pavilion at the Simon Family JCC.

The annual Yom Hashoah Commemoration features local survivor, Michel (Mike) Ashe, who shares his story of ordinary French people who protected him and his family.


Cantor Elihu Flax receives Beth El Men’s Club Blue Yarmulke Person-of-the-Year award.

Robin Mancoll, chief program officer and Jewish Community Relations Council director for the United Tidewater Jewish Federation, is presented with the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award
for her service to the people of Hampton Roads.

Governor Glen Youngkin signs into law HB1606, which adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience’s 2023 Middle School Essay Contest awards first place to Virginia Beach’s Leah Steerman.

A community Memorial Day observance on the Sandler Family campus is hosted by the Board of Rabbis and Cantors of Hampton Roads and the Jewish War Veterans (Post 158), with keynote speaker, Rabbi Mitchell Schranz.

John Weber Williamson is the 16th recipient to be awarded the 2023 Stein Family College Scholarship of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation.


Jewish Federations of North America’s board chair, Julie Platt, speaks to leadership of UJFT’s Women’s Division.

Dr. Steven Warsof is honored by Inside Business as a recipient of the 2023 Healthcare Heroes Awards, awarded to “outstanding individuals or organizations that are making a noteworthy difference in healthcare across Hampton Roads.”

Avraham Ashkenazi receives the Technion Honorary Fellow Award in Israel. A 1966 Technion graduate, Ashkenazi’s life-long connection and devotion to Israel and the Technion earned him the award, along with his many contributions as a Technion Guardian and alumnus in support of graduate fellowships and defense research.

David Leon is installed as president of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater at its 2023 Biennial Meeting.

United Jewish Federation of Tidewater sponsors a luncheon on the Sandler Family campus to honor Delegate Anne Tata for her leadership and efforts in passing the first piece of legislation in Virginia aimed at fighting antisemitism – adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism.

Beth Sholom Village sells its senior healthcare and housing campus on Auburn Dr. in Virginia Beach to Green Tree Healthcare.

Descendants of Lewis Nusbaum, a leading member of Norfolk’s growing business community and Jewish community in the mid-1800’s, gather at Ohef Sholom Temple to view the restored portrait of their ancestor.

Tidewater Chavurah members celebrate its 25th anniversary at Vino’s Italian Bistro.

Elena Barr Baum joins The March Down Freedom’s Road, a civil rights tour sponsored by Classrooms without Borders.

Jewish Family Service Biennial meeting marks 75 years of service to the community and the installation of board chair, Scott Flax.


The Stein family reunites, celebrating their expanded family with 100 members in attendance.

The Feldman Family Medical and Health Professions Student Scholarship of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation is awarded to Nophar Yarden, a third-year medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University.


B’nai Israel Congregation welcomes Rabbi Shlomo Eisenberg and his family to Tidewater.

Tidewater bids farewell to Aya Sever and Alma Ben Chorin of the ShinShinim program.

Sam Sachs and his family celebrate life after cancer with a pool party at the Simon Family JCC.

Ten teen athletes from Tidewater participate in the Maccabi Games in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The 30th Annual Golf Tournament at the Virginia Beach National Golf Club raises $150,000 for Strelitz International Academy.


United Jewish Federation’s “Today, Tomorrow, Always” Super Sunday campaign raises more than $250,000.

Jeff Brooke is elected as chairman of the Norfolk Economic Development Authority.


Hamas terrorists brutally attack and kill more than 1,200 people in Israel on Saturday, October 7.

Jewish Tidewater stands with Israel at the Solidarity for Israel rally on the Sandler Family campus on Oct. 10.

Jewish Family Service honors veteran clients with a full military burial service in Quantico National Cemetery as part of the Missing in America Project.

The First Annual Strelitz International Academy Fall Festival kicks off in celebration of young families in Tidewater.

Virginia Beach City Council passes a resolution in support of Israel.

Hundreds turn-out to donate supplies and pack boxes to send overseas for the Israel Defense Forces soldiers and displaced families at the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Jewish Museum and Culture Center in Portsmouth participates in the nationwide Daffodil Project, planting more than 3,000 bulbs.


Area college students reflect on campus atmosphere since Oct. 7, many voicing concerns about antisemitism.

Americans March for Israel, to free hostages, and against antisemitism on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Two buses travel from the Sandler Family Campus to join the nearly 300,000 advocates for Israel from around the nation.

National Library of Israel makes a presentation at the Sandler Family Campus and includes an exhibit in the Leon Family Gallery.

The first hostages are released by Hamas.

Shabbat Project celebrates its first decade.


Annie Sandler is installed as president of JDC in New York City. A long-time JDC board member, she is the first from Tidewater to hold the position.

Tidewater Supports Israel – 2023 Emergency Fund exceeds $4.5 million since the attacks of October 7.