Tidewater Lions take a bite out of the Big Apple

by | Oct 3, 2014 | Other News

It’s a Tidewater reunion! Claudia Dreyfus, Mindy Strelitz, Joyce Kramer, Rebecca Dreyfus, Amy Zelenka, Jodi Klebanoff, Laura Miller, Bonnie Brand, Martha Glasser and Cindy Kramer.

It’s a Tidewater reunion! Claudia Dreyfus, Mindy Strelitz, Joyce Kramer, Rebecca Dreyfus, Amy Zelenka, Jodi Klebanoff, Laura Miller, Bonnie Brand, Martha Glasser and Cindy Kramer.

by Amy Zelenka, UJFT Women’s Campaign director

On a very special Sunday in September, six women from the Tidewater Jewish community met on the eighth floor of the Marriot Marquis Hotel in Times Square. As they quietly greeted one another, the spaces around them began to fill with more than 1,400 powerful, beautiful, opinionated and generous Jewish women from communities across North America and elsewhere.

The volume in the room began to rise pursuant to the number of conversations taking place. As the Tidewater contingent made its way around the opening reception of this year’s International Lion of Judah Conference, it was impossible to miss these uniquely familiar snippets of discussion… common Jewish experiences were compared and Jewish geography explored. Concerns for Israel’s security and fear over the plight of Jews living in Ukraine were themes which floated to the top of several conversations taking place in various corners of the room. Certain things became very clear: this was a special place to be, and this conference promised to speak to the heart of the issues near and dear to the hearts of the Lions.

What is a Lion of Judah Conference? To answer that question one needs to know what is a Lion of Judah. By definition, a Lion of Judah is a woman philanthropist giving $5,000 per year or more to her local Jewish Federation. But the truth is that a Lion of Judah is so much more. She is a role model in her community and often times beyond. She is a concerned Jewish woman who seeks to educate herself and others about the issues that impact local and global Jewish community and Jewish life. And she is an activist who looks for ways and opportunities to repair the world—for her fellow Jews and for all mankind. She sees herself as part of a People whose responsibility is to serve as a “light unto the nations” and a shining example of the best qualities of civilized men and women. Lofty enough? Well, don’t be scared away. The Lion of Judah (in many cases) is also a party animal! And the Lion of Judah conference provided 1,400 Lions with opportunities to learn, to be inspired to action, to bond with one another and to celebrate the collective power of Jewish women.

Co-chaired by Tidewater Lions Cindy Kramer and Martha Mednick-Glasser, other Tidewater Lions at the conference included Rebecca Dreyfus, Jodi Klebanoff, Laura Miller and Amy Zelenka. Miller was not just a conference participant, but also a national Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award Winner. The Tidewater group was extremely proud of her as she stood to receive her award alongside fellow recipients from around the country. Immediately following the award presentation Miller was singled-out by the conference organizers for special recognition. Unbeknownst to most of the women in the room, Miller had (earlier that day) performed an incredible act of kindness. Once announced, it was immediately clear to all in the room just how special she is and why it was so easy to name her Tidewater’s KWF award winner.

Conference plenaries featured such world-class speakers as Second-Lady Dr. Jill Biden; Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR synagogue in Los Angeles (named one of Newsweek’s top 50 rabbis in 2013 and its first woman rabbi to make the list); Rabbi Shira Stutman of Washington, DC’s 6th & I Historic Synagogue (named one of America’s most inspiring rabbis in 2012 by The Jewish Daily Forward); Knesset Member Dov Lipman of the Yesh Atid party; David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and its Ziegler Distinguished Fellow; Caryl Stern, CEO of UNICEF; and Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Musical performances by Sara Merson (a finalist on The Voice of Israel); Cantor Shayna Postman (from the Town & Village Synagogue in lower Manhattan); and closing performer Einat Sarouf (Israeli pop star) added further ruach and inspiration.

While the conference plenaries were energizing and inspiring, it was the smaller group breakout sessions and forums where real learning and ideas sharing took place. Day one breakout sessions ranged in topic from Jewish Genetic Wellness to Jewish Education; from Engaging Volunteers to Leadership and Social Change; from Next Gen to Imagining a Shared Society in Israel; from Creating Welcoming Communities to Modern Orthodoxy and the Israeli Feminist Movement. The conference on a whole spent a good deal of time on discussions surrounding social justice issues (including human trafficking, advocating for the rights of women and girls in Muslim countries, eradicating genetic diseases and addressing the needs of the worlds’ poorest children).

Day two of the conference brought meaningful discussions with the Federations’ overseas service delivery partners, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel. These sessions were particularly poignant and useful, providing excellent updates on the work UJFT helps to fund, as well as a global assessment of world Jewry and the threats and challenges it faces—today and tomorrow.

The conference ended with an Israelistyle party complete with singing and dancing to live traditional and pop culture Israeli music. Two and a half powerful days of philanthropy, Jewish activism and inspiration brought the Tidewater Lions home energized and with new ideas and enthusiasm to continue bringing light into a world which sometimes seems very bleak.

Still in the High Holidays mood, it is with great satisfaction that the group can look back at the 2014 International Lion of Judah Conference, knowing that the Lions of Tidewater and elsewhere truly are performing acts of righteousness (tzedakah). And by doing so, they are helping to fulfil the mandates of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh— taking care of fellow Jews.