Make Federation Great Again. Before my friends on the left and on the right (I have both) condemn me for my appropriation of this politically-charged tagline, I implore you to proceed with a sense of humor and respite from our divisive rhetoric. Thank you.
Anyway, Make Federation Great Again. Again? While Federations across the country search for new models of relevance in a changing philanthropic environment, I submit that, like America, Federation is not perfect and does not appeal to everyone equally, but it IS great. Our Federation and the dollars we provide have real and meaningful impact to ensure our Jewish future, unlike any other organization (most all of which I admire deeply).
At this year's Options event, the largest annual gathering of San Diego women – and a few men – the greatness of our Federation was on full display. Our collective impact on people and our community was personified by women whose lives were altered. Our pride in playing a role in their personal stories and the strengthening of our local and broader communities was palpable. I cannot do their performances justice, but I hope to convey their stories in a manner that demonstrates Federation’s greatness.
Emily Fisher was consumed with the challenges of adolescence, confused and lost. Searching for her own identity and place in her difficult social milieu, she expressed a level of despair to which many of us can relate. Overhearing a conversation about Camp Ramah, she approached her parents with the hope of attending. While supportive, the cost of camp was prohibitive. Enter One Happy Camper, Federation’s partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Camp to offer grants for San Diego kids to experience their first Jewish overnight camp. Because of YOU, Emily (along with more than 300 other San Diego teens) was not only able to attend Ramah, but, more importantly, she found friendship and stability that “was life-saving.” Life-saving. Because of what we are able to do when supporting Federation. That is GREAT.
Stacy Kagan is not from around these parts, as we say (actually, we don’t). Stacy is currently a Commissioner of a town called Parkland, Florida. You may have heard about it. On February 14, 2018, she was the Vice Mayor, having to experience the horrific tragedy of a school shooting in their community. Although Jewish, she had no affiliation with Federation nor had she ever visited Israel. Her story of connection was inspirational, to put it mildly. You see, when she and her community were in the throes of despondency, the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) arrived to provide immediate counseling and professional support, as they do throughout the world after such senseless attacks. Federation – WE – help fund ITC. We were there for them. For all of them. As a result, Stacy was so moved, she made her first trip to Israel. She became a Lion of Judah ($5,000 gift). While donations are important, the impact was not about another contribution. The impact, about which I am so honored to have played a role, was on Stacy. She found a level of connection to her Jewish community beyond what she could ever have imagined. She is helping strengthen the community for our collective future. That is GREAT.
Rebecca Epner’s story is no less inspiring. A self-proclaimed “cultural Jew” (sound familiar?), Rebecca’s experience through the Jewish Teen Initiative that Federation initiated and now partners on with the JCC, helped her find her passion for community service, simultaneously teaching her “humility, selflessness and awareness.” Developing strong Jewish leaders for tomorrow. That is GREAT.
Last, but far from least, are Amit Katz and Michal Sharon, two Israelis serving in our community prior to fulfilling their commitment to the defense of Israel in the IDF. While this Federation program, which is growing, is terrific for developing more connections between Israel and San Diego, Amit’s experience is foreign to us and illustrative of our impact. Amit is from our partner region on the Gaza border, Sha’ar Hanegev. She lives in a war zone. Literally. Warning sirens, bomb shelters, weaponized kites – all a part of their daily existence. Amit described the impact Federation has had on her community. We help fund trauma services, art therapy for children, programs for seniors, and bomb shelters. Not just shelters, but “bomb-proofing” an entire high school. These are only a few of our activities in Sha’ar Hanegev. We do more, much more. Helping our partners live through a war. That is GREAT.
So, do we need to Make Federation Great Again? No. WE are GREAT.