UJFT Women usher in new Cabinet and Executive Committee at annual Spring Lunch

by | May 24, 2019 | Uncategorized

Passing the torch for the Women’s Cabinet: Barbara Dudley, chair elect; Mona Flax, chair; and Janet Mercadante, immediate past chair. Annie Sandler with Thelma Oser. Miriam Seeherman with Rabbi Roz Mandelberg. Connie Jacobson, Marcia Moss, and Jodi Klebanoff.

On May 7, in the rainbow glow of a giant Chihuly sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach, the Women’s Cabinet of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, held its annual Spring Lunch and Installation.

Janet Mercadante, outgoing chair, completing her term, welcomed everyone and expressed her honor at having been afforded the opportunity to lead UJFT’s Women’s Campaign for the past two years. In thanking the members of her executive committee, Mercadante reminded all in the room that “successful fundraising, which we have been fortunate to realize, year after year, is not accomplished by the chair alone, but by the entire team.” She then extended that thanks to the other members of the cabinet, the women in the room, and the women not in the room—all of whom brought their support to the campaign to make it the success that it has been.

Mercadante then installed the new executive committee:

  • Mona Flax—Chair
  • Barbara Dudley—Vice chair
  • (and chair-elect)
  • Janet Mercadante—Immediate
  • past chair
  • Robin Mancoll—Education
  • committee chair
  • Shira Itzhak—Outreach and Engagement committee chair
  • Stephanie Calliott—Leadership and Nominating committee chair
  • Kim Fink, Amy Lefcoe, and
  • Deb Casey—At-large members

Immediate past Leadership chair, Jodi Klebanoff, was installed on the Women’s Cabinet Honorary board, where she will now serve alongside other past cabinet chairs.

Mona Flax then installed the new cabinet, recognizing those whose terms of service were ending and welcoming back those who have agreed to continue serving. New to cabinet for a three-year term are: Betsy Karotkin, Ellen Rostov Hundley, Ellen Wagner, and Amy Weinstein.

On installing this year’s cabinet members, Flax stated, “There is not a doubt in my mind that you will all take-to-heart your roles as Federation ambassadors in the community, and that you will represent the Federation and the Women’s Cabinet with great distinction.… Thank you for agreeing to serve, she finished, “in this incredibly vital volunteer role.”

Flax recounted the terrific success that the Women’s Division saw under the leadership of her predecessor Janet Mercadante, citing several noteworthy statistics. Calling on the symbolism of light—found throughout Judiasm’s teachings, Flax thanked Mercadante for her service and for sharing the light of her example with the rest of the cabinet. She then went on to present Mercadante with a gift illustrative of that light—a handmade menorah from Israel—with the thanks of the cabinet.

In laying out her vision for the next two years, Flax shared her personal “Federation journey,” which was not always a smooth one. She talked about growing up in the heart of the Jewish community of Memphis, Tenn.; going to college at the University of Florida (where she was again surround by Jewish friends and classmates); and finally landing in Virginia Beach (after graduating from William & Mary Law School).

Flax and her husband Jeff made raising a Jewish family a priority, but for various reasons she never felt particularly drawn to the Federation. “Perhaps it was bad timing [on the part of a Federation solicitor]; maybe it was because she didn’t really know much about Federation,” she said. So, years went by; her children grew up; her practice was thriving. And she began hearing from some of her friends about a trip to Cuba—to the Jewish community of Cuba, in fact. “And it sounded interesting,” said Flax. “Yup,” she continued, “It was a game changer.”

“Traveling to Cuba with 30 Jewish women and having the opportunity to see and experience the kinds of life-changing programs that the Federation funds… witnessing how the Jewish community of Havana has to work so hard to remain a Jewish community… watching the Jewish teens in Havana lead Shabbat services… I came back from Cuba incredibly proud of the work we do—the Federation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee—to ensure and enrich Jewish life around the world.”

Two years later, Flax brought her husband on another Federation mission—this time to Israel. “So, while Cuba opened the door,” said Flax, “Israel sealed the deal.” And she hasn’t looked back. “And here I am, a few years later,” she said, “taking the chairmanship of the UJFT women’s cabinet.”

Guest speaker Alison Goldstein Lebovitz, from Chattanooga, Tenn., is an author, speaker, talk show host, and podcaster. She also serves as co-founder and president of One Clip at a Time, a nonprofit inspired by the Paper Clips Project started in Whitwell, Tenn. A former JFNA National Young Leadership Cabinet chair, Lebovitz has visited Jewish communities across the country. But where she feels most welcome, and best understood, are in the Jewish communities of the South. She was therefore, very pleased to come back to Tidewater to share her southern, Jewish, personal stories.

With intelligence, humor, and sensitivity, Lebovitz shared stories of her family—some joyful and funny; others poignant and full of meaning. In a particular story involving her youngest son Levi, Lebovitz talked about his taking on every southern Jewish boy’s “rite of passage”—not Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation…but rather (at age 15) being allowed to fly without a parent on Delta Airlines! In Levi’s case, it was to a USY convention in Florida. As his carry-on bag went through the x-ray machine at airport security in Chattanooga, a guard studying the image asked if Levi was carrying a magic wand, and if so, why. Unable to recall packing a magic wand, Levi simply shook his head.

A crowd of security personnel began to grow around the screen, conferring on what else it might be than a magic wand. They finally opened the bag and pulled out the object. Alison’s son had included his tallit and yad for the convention. He then went on to explain to the security personnel at Chattanooga Airport what the items were and why he was carrying them.

The women in the room were charmed not just by Lebovitz’s story-telling, but also by the pride we all felt in this 15-year-old boy, from a Jewish community of 1,500, in a small southern town. Not only did he know and understand the significance of these ritual objects, but he was able to teach others about it as well—confidently and unapologetically. Perhaps there was a bit of magic in that yad, after all.

Barbara Dudley, just back from Israel after welcoming the arrival of her new grandson, added her own beautiful story, picking-up on the significance of the tallit and yad. Having recently lost her husband, Noel (of blessed memory), Dudley shared that her grandson had not only been named for Noel, but had been wrapped in Noel’s own tallit during his brit just a few days earlier.

Dudley closed the event with thanks to the speaker, the volunteers who comprise the women’s cabinet, and the Federation professionals who help support them.

For more information about UJFT’s Women’s cabinet or how to get involved in volunteer fundraising for the Federation, contact Amy Zelenka at the Jewish Federation at azelenka@ujft.org.