Women draw inspiration from Julie Platt, JFNA chair

by | Jun 8, 2023 | Featured

In the beautiful Rodriguez room at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach, more than 50 women from the Jewish community celebrated the approaching end of a very successful 2023 United Jewish Federation of Tidewater Community Campaign and witnessed the biennial turnover of leadership in the Women’s Division.

Betty Ann Levin, UJFT executive vice president, welcomed everyone and introduced the featured speaker, Julie Platt, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) board. JFNA is the umbrella organization for 146 Jewish Federations (including UJFT) and more than 300 Network communities across North America, representing more than 300,000 donors and supporting a wide range of programs and services for Jewish communities in North America and around the world.

Platt brought greetings from JFNA and talked about the work taking place with Federation partners to address the most pressing issues facing the global Jewish community. She started by discussing the current situations in Israel – both the rocket attacks from Gaza and the ongoing judicial controversies, noting that JFNA, for the first time in its history, took a public stance on Israeli politics – in opposition to the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial changes. JFNA was invited by both Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid to discuss the proposals. And they made their position clear.

During the recently held JFNA General Assembly in Israel (celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday), participants – in a show of solidarity with the vast majority of Israeli citizens who likewise oppose the proposed Judicial changes – stood shoulder to shoulder with Israelis on Israel’s Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) and on Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut). For the first time ever, JFNA made the decision NOT to hold its own ceremonies for GA participants, but rather to participate in existing neighborhood programs, memorial events, and celebrations throughout the country.

Platt spoke of the incredible work being done to address the situation in Ukraine, citing statistic after impressive statistic of the life-saving services, food, and medical supplies that UJFT and JFNA have been able to deliver to the Jewish communities of Ukraine through its Emergency campaigns and overseas partners. Platt also spoke to the great numbers of both Ukrainian Jews and Jews from the Former Soviet Union who’ve made Aliyah to Israel since the outbreak of the war in February of 2022.

“For the first time in the history of the Jewish people,” Platt emphasized, “when a war broke out in Europe, every single Jew who needed rescue was saved, and every Jew who wanted to go to Israel was brought to Israel.”

She spoke of the plans in place and continuously being refined to address the scourge of rising antisemitism and to ensure that every Jewish community who wants or needs, has access to security training and resources through the Live Secure campaign. Tidewater was an early participant in this undertaking and continues to enhance security, using the combined funding of local donors and JFNA matching funds.

Platt cited a statement made by her professional counterpart, Eric Fingerhut, CEO of JFNA, in his testimony before the U.S. Congress: “The ability and confidence of our community to participate in Jewish religious and cultural life depends on feeling safe – safe to attend synagogue, safe to drop our children off at the Jewish Community Center for pre-school or day camp, safe to walk down the street wearing visibly Jewish head coverings and clothing, safe to gather in groups to celebrate, to mourn, to support our brothers and sisters in the State of Israel, and safe to be active in the life of our communities, our campuses, and our civic associations.”

Finally, Platt talked about the imperative of encouraging the next generation of future Jewish community leaders to get involved and to deepen their involvement, offering up the resources of JFNA to assist them. “Our overarching mission,” she said, “is to ensure that Jewish communities flourish, that they are safe, caring, welcoming and inclusive, educated and engaged, involved in our broader civic life, and deeply connected to Israel and to the global Jewish people.” She thanked the women in the room and the rest of the community for being “the kind of Jewish community of which all of us—across the country and around the world—can justly be proud.”

Barbara Dudley, Women’s Cabinet chair, then took the podium, and in her last official act as chair, installed the members of the Women’s Cabinet Executive Committee for a two-year term, including Betsy Karotkin as chair; Barbara Dudley, immediate past chair; Robin Mancoll as education chair, and Deborah Casey, Kim Fink, and Amy Lefcoe as at-large members.

Betsy Karotkin, newly installed chair, presented Dudley with a gift of appreciation from the Cabinet for her term of service. Karotkin cited a few highlights from Dudley’s past two years of leadership. “The Women’s Campaign, with nearly 500 individual donors, raised a total of over $3 million during the past two years, representing more than 30% of the overall campaign total. It also saw 33 new milestone givers: 2 new emerald Lions of Judah (at the $25,000+ level of giving); 2 new sapphire Lions (at the $18,000+ level); 7 new ruby Lions ($10,000+); 4 new Israel@50 Lions ($7,500); 10 new Lions of Judah ($5,000+); 3 new Tikva donors ($3,600+); 2 new Chai Society donors ($1,800+) and 5 new Golda Givers ($1,000+).

Karotkin then spoke of her personal journey to Women’s Cabinet chair, recalling her path from Jewish summer camp to Temple Emanuel Sunday School, to UJFT Holocaust Commission chair, to Jewish communal professional at the UJFT (with a long list of mentors she picked up along the way). After leaving the Federation to take care of her mother, Karotkin reentered Jewish leadership through her involvement at Congregation Beth El, ultimately becoming president. And in a sort of full-circle loop, she now finds herself back at Federation, at the helm of the Women’s Cabinet, looking forward to working alongside the dedicated women who serve on the cabinet.

Laura Gross, UJFT president, closed the lunch with thanks to all for coming and supporting, thanks to UJFT’s professional staff, and reminding all to attend the UJFT Biennial Meeting on Wednesday, June 14 at the Sandler Family Campus.

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For more information on the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, or to get involved in Women’s Cabinet, contact Amy Zelenka at azelenka@ujft.org.