The United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Women’s Cabinet thanked outgoing members and welcomed those coming in to serve a three-year term during the Annual Spring Lunch on May 12 at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art.
Jodi Klebanoff, outgoing chair, welcomed all to the event, thanking the members of her executive committee as well as the Cabinet for their support during her chairmanship and for allowing her the opportunity to serve at the helm of an organization whose mission is so dear to her.
Following a short summary of campaign updates, returning Women’s Cabinet Education Committee Chair Barbara Dudley delivered the D’Var Torah. In recounting the parsha, Dudley pointed out that we are now in the period of time known as the “Counting of the Omer”—a time of self-reflection and spiritual renewal. Parshiot Behar/Bechukotie reminds that “the earth does not belong to us but to God. We are merely stewards, and our actions on earth illustrate how we care for our world, for each other, and for ourselves. Dudley asked the Cabinet members to use these final days of the Omer to look within themselves and rededicate themselves to bringing their inspired hearts and voices to the community when asking for gifts of support for the Jewish community at home and abroad.
Klebanoff then discharged the members of the outgoing Women’s Cabinet executive committee—many who are returning to serve in other areas of women’s leadership —and installed the new executive committee, including incoming chair Stephanie Adler Calliott.
The members of the Women’s Cabinet whose terms of service were complete were discharged and many of the same women were reinstalled, opting to serve an additional three-year term. Special attention was given to the newest Women’s Cabinet member, Linda Fox-Jarvis.
Amy Levy, former Cabinet chair, presented Klebanoff with a small gift of appreciation for her term of service, thanking her for inspiring all involved in the business of community-building and fundraising with her energy and passion.
The Women’s Cabinet’s vision for the next two years was reviewed, which will focus on meeting the challenges of the Jewish community by deepening relationships with current supporters and bringing in new ones. “Ten years after the Federation’s move from Norfolk to Virginia Beach, there is a terrific opportunity— to assess ourselves and evaluate what’s worked well, what’s changed, and what must we now do to ensure the future of our agencies and programs here in the Tidewater Jewish community. It’s an exciting time to be involved in leadership. The next two years will offer all of us a chance to help write the next chapter of our collective Jewish story.”
Michal Barkai, the guest speaker, shared her story with the group. Barkai grew up in an affluent Tel Aviv suburb surrounded by family, friends and teachers who encouraged her to reach for the stars. She graduated high school believing with her whole heart that nothing was beyond her reach. As an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, Barkai encountered a very “different Israel.” She met young women from all over the country…and quickly saw that many of them did not have the same supportive community that she’d had. Many faced a variety of challenges, not the least of which was self-confidence. Barkai’s innate sense of justice (which eventually led her to Law School and beyond) rebelled at the notion that these young women— equally bright and just as talented as she —did not have the same shot at success that she had. Years later, on revisiting that notion, Barkai decided to take matters into her own hands. And with the audacity that rests within one who truly believes with her whole heart that nothing is beyond her reach, she decided that she would find a way to level the playing field for young Israeli women who come from less advantaged backgrounds. Barkai created the Alma Derech-Eretz Mechina—a program that brings women from across Israel to a six-month course of preparatory study— which prepares them for success in the IDF. With nothing but an idea and her grit and determination, Barkai went around the country (and eventually the Jewish world) seeking support and funding for her idea. She is currently recruiting for her third cohort and in the process of opening another branch of the Mechina.
The stories that Barkai shared included anecdotes about her family and her recent wedding (“her girls” from the Mechina walked her to the chuppah). It was clear to all in the room that Barkai is extremely proud of the young women in her Mechina —proud of all that they have had to overcome to in order to succeed; proud of the fact that they now want to succeed, whereas before many were perfectly satisfied not living up to their potential; and proud of how well they are doing in their roles in the IDF. “This success,” she says, “will allow them to answer with pride at any job interview, the question of where they served when they were in the IDF. They will not have to answer that they sold candy in the Canteen; or typed letters for officers; or drove delivery trucks. They can now say that they were instructors, social workers and even in some cases, Commanders. This,” she emphasizes, “is what will ensure that these young women are successful in life…and not just in the IDF.”
The Alma Derech-Eretz Mechina is supported almost entirely by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). Significant funds raised each year through UJFT’s annual campaign are allocated to the Jewish Agency to support programs like this. The women who attended the Annual Spring Lunch will surely agree that to meet Michal Barkai and to learn how she is changing the future of Israel one young woman at a time, is an indication that the campaign dollars are dollars well-spent.
The luncheon ended with special thanks to the luncheon sponsor, the West- Hoffman Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, and a shout-out to attendees Jason and Denise Hoffman. Barkai and all of the women in the room were also thanked for the work they do on behalf of the Jewish community and the greater Jewish world.
by Amy Zelenka, UJFT women’s campaign director