Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Stories of Jewish Ukraine: Masha

Masha Shumatskaya is 23-year-old Jewish woman from Donetsk, Ukraine. She was forced to flee her home town to find refuge in nearby Kharkov after separatist violence destabilized the region. Her story is not uncommon - she’s one of 2,500 internally displaced Jews receiving aid from Federation’s partner— the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and she’s counting on your support!

Today, JDC is providing aid to thousands of Jewish families who have fled their homes and is providing support to thousands more who have remained in conflict zones.

To serve these thousands of Jews in need, JDC deployed emergency services including: food, medicine, and medical care; crisis-related home repairs; winter relief items, such as warm bedding, clothing, utility stipends, and space heaters. JDC is distributing full aid packages, emergency housing support, and post-trauma care for displaced Jews – including Masha Shumatskaya.

To raise awareness about the conflict in Ukraine, JDC invited Masha to North America to speak to Jewish audiences. Last week, she participated in an in-depth Q&A interview at the JDC headquarters in New York to discuss her Jewish identity, hopes and fears for the future, and current situation in Ukraine:

Can you tell me a bit about your Jewish background?

My ancestors were rabbis, but my grandparents weren't connected at all. It was also impossible during Soviet times. Nonetheless, others around them never let them forget their Jewishness. My mother put me in the Number 99 Jewish School in Donetsk because it was convenient, had a school bus, free breakfast and lunch, and great teachers. There, I received a Jewish education, learned subjects in Hebrew, and got really involved in Jewish life – I even took part in the International Bible Contest in Israel representing Ukraine and I still keep kosher.

How did you become involved with JDC?

When I was 17 there was an annual program for young leaders from all over Ukraine organized by JDC called Metsuda. They said it might be a good fit for me, and they were right. I learned the value of teamwork and met some of my best friends there. Perhaps the best thing was the network of mentors and colleagues that I gained. We still gather about once a year and discuss ways we can help out our communities. Some even have successful businesses – despite the crisis – and can give back.

What was it like living in Donetsk during the conflict?
It started with demonstrations by unarmed people. When they took over the government building it didn't seem unordinary or revolutionary. I saw that and told my boyfriend, ‘Maybe that’s what democracy is about.’ He said, ‘This is a bad thing.’ I only realized how severe the situation was when the barricades went up and some people started wearing masks and carrying guns. By the end of May they started shelling the airport and we had to leave. We lost our jobs and there was no reason for us to stay. We thought we would be back by September – nobody thought it would be more than a few months – so we moved to Kharkov. We stayed with friends until eventually we found an apartment.

How were you received on your tour of North America?

It was great because I came to people who realized I was a war refugee but didn’t realize the size of the catastrophe. I was treated as a member of the family, and showered with love. They were grateful I came, and I thanked those I met, those who supported us and my mother. Thanks to their donations to JDC we received food packages and financial help to rent our apartment for a few months. It was an honor to be an ambassador for all the Jews in need in Ukraine.

What does the future hold for you?

I have no idea – it depends on so many things. The thing that worries me the most is whether the war will come to Kharkov or not. If it does, I’ll be displaced a second time – not something I’d like to happen. In that case, I might have to think of other countries to live in. It might be Israel, or it might be another where I can find work as an English teacher or another specialist job. I had a lot of plans a year ago. Because of what happened, they changed completely.

Click here to read Masha’s full story.

Thanks to you, Federation is helping individuals like Masha.

To learn how you can help, go to www.jewishinsandiego.org/ukraine

Friday, March 27, 2015

Happy Pesach From Alon Schuster | Mayor of Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council

Dear friends and partners, 

I would like to wish you and your families a Happy Pesach. Thank you so much for your support and commitments. 

Alon Schuster
Mayor, Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council

Women's Philanthropy Rings in Generous Support

Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy is unstoppable!

In just two weeks time, Women’s Philanthropy organized, hosted, and led two highly effective phone-a-thons, yielding incredible results. The phone-a-thons were graciously hosted in the homes of Federation’s dedicated volunteers and loyal donors— Britney Ewing and Silvana Christy. Several women volunteers who were unable to attend participated remotely, adding to the major accomplishment— raising an impressive $40,000 in a few short hours - and, it’s not over yet! The women are planning for two more phone-a-thons in April, so stayed tuned.

“It was incredibly moving and inspiring to be a part of this effort, putting dollars raised aside, both phone-a-thons were extraordinarily special events that brought together San Diego’s Jewish women, leaders, and philanthropists to work together to not only achieve a common goal, but also, to exceed it,” said Lisa Kalal, Director of Women’s Philanthropy.  “I am thrilled to be amongst such an incredible group of women whose efforts are gaining a great deal of momentum. With confidence I can say that, Women’s Philanthropy will lead Shalom San Diego and transform our city into one of the most welcoming Jewish communities in the nation.”

Kol HaKavod to Women’s Philanthropy for spearheading this remarkable effort and a deepest thanks to our volunteers and donors.

Thank you for your kind generosity and for the role you play in helping to create a vibrant, caring, connected, and enduring Jewish community – locally, nationally, overseas, and in Israel.

Toda Raba.

Thank you for all that you do. 

Passover Reflections on Jewish Ukraine

Ilya, Lubov and their child Feodor (Teddy) Tokachov in their one room apartment in Kiev. Photo credit: Sam Sokol
On Monday, March 23, Sam Sokol, a reporter for The Jerusalem Post, published an article that sheds light on the harsh realities faced by displaced Eastern Ukrainian Jewish refugees and its effect on rising aliyah rates. The article was written in Kiev – the capital and largest city in Ukraine –shortly after a meeting with refugee Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski from the city of Donetsk.

Sam and Pinchas first met a year ago in the rabbi’s hometown of Donestk during the early stages of the country’s conflict – at a time when the rabbi had a more positive outlook for the future of his Jewish community. Recently, after being forced to flee his home, the rabbi now coordinates aid distribution – much of which comes from Federation’s partner—the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

The article discusses the orchestration and distribution of Passover supplies to Jews in need living in conflict zones along with the associated logistical difficulties; the growing number of internally displaced Jews, the unfair treatment of Jewish refugees in procuring living accommodations and receiving fair wages; JDC’s efforts to care for all Jews in need; and the overall deterioration of Eastern Ukraine – socially, politically, and financially.

These stories are not uncommon. The Jewish communities of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Sloviansk are caught in the middle of the conflict. Shockingly, out of the 10,000 – 11,000 Jews in Donetsk before the war, about 75 percent have left – either immigrating to Israel or moving elsewhere in Ukraine – effectively making them refugees within their own country.

“On Tuesday Morning [March 24], a flight organized by the IFCJ [International Fellowship of Christians and Jews] will take off from Boryspil airport here bringing a planeload of Ukrainian olim [immigrants]. Thousands have come over [to Israel] the last year, making Ukraine second only to France as a new source of immigrants.”

JDC staff orchestrating a cooking class for Ukrainian ladies.
Click here to read the full article that offers first-hand accounts from internally displaced Jewish Ukrainians and a multi-faceted and in-depth description of today’s Ukraine.

You can help.  Federation is collecting donations for Jews in Ukraine. Go to http://jewishinsandiego.org/ukraine to learn more.

Friday, March 20, 2015

San Diego Women Gather For A Special Passover Seder

On March 16, more than 160 women of all ages attended the annual Women’s Seder, a collaborative event on behalf of the Women of Beth Israel, Waters of Eden, and the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

Federation was thrilled to partake in and sponsor Women’s Seder, as such an event goes hand-in-hand with Shalom San Diego – one of Federation’s main initiatives. The overall goal of Shalom San Diego is to transform San Diego into one of the most welcoming, inclusive, connected, caring, enduring, and vibrant Jewish communities in the nation, which is now being led by Women’s Philanthropy – a new and exciting new change around here!

The seder was themed around the concepts of freedom and renewal, in the spirit of Passover, and was led by two outstanding leaders in our local Jewish community – Rabbi and Cantor Arlene Bernstein and Rabbi Lenore Bohm. The special, heart-warming, and inspiring evening featured music by Andy Mayer and performances by Heidi Gantwerk and Myla Wingard.
Although the event was advertised as a seder for women, female young adults and teenagers were encouraged to attend and were invited to the seder for free of charge. “Federation and Women’s Philanthropy were pleased to underwrite the cost of the seder for teenage girls involved in Congregation Beth Israel’s Rosh Hodesh program, said Lisa Kala, Director of Women’s Philanthropy. “It only makes sense to invite and immerse these young ladies in such women’s programming now, as they are the future leaders of the San Diego Jewish community.”

“The seder was truly a special event, and I am glad to have been a part of the wonderful evening in celebration of women and Passover” said Silvana Christy, a loyal volunteer and board member of Women’s Philanthropy. “It was extremely meaningful and important to have sponsored the teenage girls – our future mothers and wives.”

What is Good Deeds Day? | UT Article on Federation

Photo courtesy of John Galstado of the UT San Diego.
Last Wednesday, March 11, the UT published a story about Good Deeds Day, highlighting Federation's role in the international day of community service, and Women's Philanthropy’s awesome efforts in orchestrating the community-wide event benefiting seniors, children, and San Diegans in need.

The article sheds light on event preparations, our community partner organizations that were involved, and explores perspectives of tikkun olam (repairing the world) through the lens of multiple generations.

To read more about this important effort and to learn how you can still contribute, click here.

Senator Marty Block Denounces Anti-Semitism at Sacramento Rally

On Monday, March 9, Senator Marty Block, Chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, spoke at a rally denouncing recent anti-Semitic activity in Sacramento. The "Stand Up Against Anti-Semitism" rally, which took place at the West steps of the Capitol, was organized by The Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the Sacramento Board of Rabbis, and the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

“The Sacramento area has experienced a string of anti-Semitic activity over the past month, including swastikas and other hateful graffiti found at two locations in Davis and one in River Park,” noted Federation President Barry Broad. “This is not what we want Sacramento to be known for. We want our entire community to stand up against hateful acts targeting any and all of us.”

Former Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Senator Marty Block, and Sacramento City Council members Jay Schenirer and Jeff Harris joined community Rabbis, faith-based and community leaders, and concerned citizens as they rallied against anti-Semitism and hate in the Sacramento community and around the world. Organizers disseminated signs declaring, “STAND UP AGAINST HATE,” “HATE IS NOT ACCEPTABLE IN OUR COMMUNITY,” and “NO HATE IN OUR HOME.”

To learn more about events that spurred the "Stand Up Against Anti-Semitism" rally read the following articles. 

JCRC | Community Connection Series | March 27

CLICK HERE to register
CLICK HERE to register

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Women’s Philanthropy Leads Good Deeds

On Sunday, March 15, 325 Jewish teens and more than 30 adult volunteers gathered at the Lawrence Family JCC to participate in J-SERVE – an international day of Jewish youth service. The effort was a major component of this year’s Good Deeds Day – an annual, worldwide event in celebration of community service and volunteerism. The Jewish Federation of San Diego County was delighted to support, partake in, and promote Good Deeds Day San Diego for a second year in a row, in supporting our mission of transforming San Diego into the most vibrant, welcoming, and connected Jewish community in the nation, and caring for all people in need – here in San Diego, in Israel, and around the world.

Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy orchestrated the planning of Good Deeds Day activities, arranged pre-event donation collections, and successfully brought the community together for this day of giving back.

The theme of this year’s local Good Deeds Day was Art From the Heart. A month prior to the event, community members were asked to drop-off art supply donations to the 8 collection sites located all throughout town. The bins, filled to the brim with art supplies, will benefit Jewish Family Service programs that offer childhood, single parent, and family development services. It’s not too late! Art supplies are being collected until March 31, and donations to purchase art supplies and fleece blankets for Ronald McDonald House are still being accepted. Click here to make a donation.

In addition to the collection of art supplies and funds raised to purchase art and blanket-making materials, Art From the Heart was incorporated into the day’s activities. Teens had the option to participate in blanket making with residents of the Vi, a local retirement community; art therapy with elderly residents of Seacrest Village, a senior housing and healthcare organization; and various arts & crafts projects at Promises2Kids, a child abuse prevention and advocacy organization for children in foster care.

“Overall, Good Deeds Day was a great success and Women’s Philanthropy is extremely thrilled by the outcome of the event,” said Samantha Cohen, Good Deeds Day co-chair. “The most touching part of my day was when an elderly woman at Seacrest Village, who was beaming in the presence of the teens, remarked to me that she had never done an art project like that and loved that even at the age of 99 she could learn something new. It touched my heart to witness multiple generations interacting.

Another Good Deeds Day co-chair, Britney Ewing, had a completely different, yet just as satisfying of an experience with her group of 45 teens at Promises2Kids (P2K). “ I was impressed by the entire group as they were not only eager to get to work, but also as they sat completely engaged while inquisitively listening to a P2K representative describe their critical work with youth,” said Britney. “Within seconds after hearing the short presentation, amazing questions were asked. The teens wanted to know what else they could do and expressed interest in becoming more involved with P2K. A few in the group brought up their upcoming bar/bat mitzvah projects, and discussed ways in which to incorporate and support P2K, which I plan to personally follow-up on with parents.”

Kol Ha’Kavod to Women’s Philanthropy and to all volunteers!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Return of Federation’s Breakfast Club | A Big Success

On Tuesday, March 10, Federation kicked off the first event in the exciting Breakfast Club series that is to come this year. Approximately 100 members of the Jewish community arrived at Congregation Beth Israel bright and early to schmooze over bagels and coffee.

Joseph Berman kicked off the morning by thanking everyone for coming and sharing some recent highlights, goals, and achievements of Federation in our local and global Jewish community. Then the accomplished guest speaker, Uri Gneezy, was introduced.

Uri is an Israeli Economist specializing in behavioral economics, a UCSD Professor of Economics and Strategy, and an author who is often referred to as a revolutionary mind in his field. He delivered a fascinating speech in which he discussed incentives as a means to change and influence human behavior. Gneezy offered many insightful examples, which included best practices in regards to incentivizing people to get more exercise and give to charitable organizations.

Gneezy shared what he has learned over the years through his research. He spoke of money being the most common type of incentive, for example  the idea of health insurance companies paying subscribers who exercise regularly and the concept of fining college students for missing dormitory curfews. Gneezy said that although money is the most common kind of incentive, it is not always the most appropriate or efficient way to spur change. He concluded his speech by highlighting the importance of combining a variety of different incentives in order to influence behavioral change.

“I was blown away by the caliber of this year’s first Breakfast Club event,” said Ronnie Diamond, long-time Federation supporter and Breakfast Club committee member. “What surprised me the most was the high attendance rate, considering that it’s been almost a decade since the Breakfast Club last convened. “Moreover, I found it incredible to see just as many ‘old timers’ as young newcomers, which to me, indicates that there is a true demand and need in the San Diego Jewish community for such events.”

Click here to see photos from the event.

Click here to stay up to date on the next Breakfast Club event.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

NextGen Throws Epic Purim Party

On Saturday, March 7, 270 NextGeners arrived at Tin Roof dressed in their most creative Purim costumes and ready to celebrate the joyful Jewish holiday. It was a fun-filled night of dancing, comedy, mingling, and hamentashen!

The night began with a performance by ImprovCity, a popular comedy group from Orange County. The Purim celebration wasn’t just a great party thrown by NextGen and community partners; it also benefited a great cause. Event proceeds went to the San Diego’s Young Leadership division of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), and will benefit Israeli soldiers in the Givati unit – one of Israel’s first infantry brigades.

“It was amazing to see our community come together for such an incredible celebration - I can’t wait for another excuse to bring everyone together” said Danny Fleischer, NextGen Manager. “We wouldn't have been able to pull off such a successful event without the support from our seven community partners, and I would like to acknowledge and thank all partners who contributed to the success of this event.”

Click here to view photos from the event

Click here to learn about upcoming events

About NextGen:

NextGen – a Jewish Federation of San Diego County initiative – is dedicated to engaging Jewish young adults in San Diego County at a level that speaks to them. NextGen is an innovative collaboration of more than 15 young adult organizations, designed to inspire thousands of young philanthropists to get engaged and embrace their Jewish heritage.

NextGen’s mission is to double Jewish young adult engagement over the next four years through educational, social, religious, professional, and philanthropic programming. Currently, there are approximately 2,000 Jewish young adults involved in Jewish activities in San Diego. By 2017, NextGen aims to spur Jewish engagement for 5,000 young adults.

Israel Defense Ministry | Update on Reconstruction Progress in Southern Israel

Destruction caused by rocket fire in southern Israel. Photo courtesy of Marc Israel Sellem of the Jerusalem Post. 
On Tuesday, March 10, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced that 34 day care centers in southern communities in close proximity to the Gaza strip have been renovated, repaired, and in some cases, rebuilt. According to a Jerusalem Post article, the Ministry expects to finish construction on 30 more day care centers and classrooms in the region in the coming weeks. Since the war, the Defense Ministry has also been hard at work assembling over 400 temporary shelters and 25 safe rooms in the south.

The estimated cost of restoring the day care centers is more than $74 million U.S. dollars, and is currently underway in nine southern communities that were hit heavily by thousands of rockets and mortar fire during Operation Protective Edge this past summer, including San Diego’s sister city— Sha’ar HaNegev.

The Defense Minister stated that the day care centers that received fortifications include the “Savyon” daycare, which four-year-old Daniel Tragerman attended. Tragerman, the youngest Israeli victim of the war, was killed on August 22nd, 2014 when a mortar struck a car outside his family’s house while he and his family were rushing for cover inside. The family was gathering their belongings to flee the kibbutz when it happened.

Of the $3.4 million dollars the San Diego Jewish community raised this past summer during Federation’s emergency “Reach Out For Israel” campaign, over $200,000 was allocated towards respite, repair, and reconstruction efforts in Sha’ar HaNegev. Your generosity and continued support is going towards a world of good and is bettering the lives of our brothers and sisters in Israel.

Thank you for all that you do!

Click here to read the full article published by Ben Hartman of the Jerusalem Post on March 10, 2015.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Sweet Purim Celebrated in War-torn Ukraine

Despite the constant violence, Jews in Eastern Ukraine were able to enjoy a lovely Purim celebration thanks to Federation’s partners at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). JDC staff members and volunteers worked around the clock to orchestrate Purim celebrations in several Jewish communities in and around the war zone, which provided temporary and much-needed respite for thousands of misplaced Jews and to those living in separatist-controlled areas – the most vulnerable of Ukraine’s Jewish population.

Jews in Donetsk celebrated Purim by visiting each other’s homes and exchanging gifts packages full of traditional holiday food. In government controlled cities like Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Artemivsk, and Krasnaormiisk, Purim celebrations were held. With the help of local Jewish community members in these regions, the JDC was able to host hundreds of internally displaced Jews for the holiday, delivering light, cheer, and sweetness to many in need this Purim.

“This Purim, we are working hard to fulfill the holiday precept to celebrate with unrestrained joy, especially by providing a much-needed respite for the thousands of displaced Jews and those in separatist-controlled regions who are severely impacted by economic and political instability,” said Michal Frank, JDC’S Former Soviet Union Regional Director.

Click here to read the full, heartwarming Purim story, published by JDC on March 4th.

SDJA Students and G’mach Spread Purim Cheer

In the weeks leading up to Purim, students from the San Diego Jewish Academy (SDJA) and volunteers from G’mach—the San Diego Jewish Gift Closet, teamed up to deliver Purim gift baskets to Jewish families in San Diego who are experiencing financial and personal hardships. G’mach, a community partner of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, called upon students and their families to collect a variety of items, ranging from diapers and clothing, to toys and snacks, in order to the create Purim gift baskets.

The project was orchestrated by G’mach, and came to fruition after volunteers worked with SDJA students to teach them about life struggles that those who are less fortunate experience on a daily basis. The volunteers discussed the price of rent and basic utilities in San Diego, how much it costs to put food on the table for a family, and many other privileges that are often taken for granted, which gave the students a new sense of awareness and appreciation.

SDJA students kindly put together seven beautiful packages, personalizing each basket based upon the needs of each family. The thoughtful gift baskets were also stuffed to the brim with hand-written cards with wishes for a happy Purim!

Volunteers picked up the baskets at SDJA and delivered them to the families just in time for the holiday! A handful of elementary school students eagerly volunteered to deliver the gift baskets during their recess break, and they happily carried the large gift baskets to the two volunteers – Shani and Myrice, who were standing by waiting to deliver the packages to the families in need.

When Myrice Goldberg, co-founder of G’mach and dedicated volunteer, asked the children about the significance of the packages, the youngsters offered heart-warming explanations. The children explained to Federation staff and G’mach volunteers that they wanted to spread the sweetness of Purim to other children and to those who are less fortunate. SDJA high school students were also involved in the Purim gift basket making project.

Five sophomore girls gave up their free time to bring the baskets to G’mach volunteers. “I can speak for my entire group of friends when I say that, we are proud to have collected these items and put together these gift baskets, it makes us feel good to participate in this sort of tzedekah,” said one of the students. “Here at SDJA, we are always talking about mitzvahs, and I feel like sharing the sweetness of Purim with those who have less than us, is the ultimate mitzvah – I wish I could go along on the deliveries to see, first-hand, the joy that these gifts are sure to bring.”  

Click here to learn more about G'mach and how to get involved! 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Israel in the 21st Century: New Hopes, New Challenges | March 10

Bringing Back Breakfast Club | March 10

Women's Philanthropy Hosts Good Deeds Day | March 15

The Women’s Philanthropy division of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County invites you to partake in Good Deeds Day, an international day of performing good deeds, celebrated by more than half a million volunteers in 50 countries all around the world!

There are three ways to help Federation spread light and warmth throughout our community.
  • From February 10th through March 10th, Federation and community partners will be collecting art supplies, which can be dropped off at more than 10 locations throughout San Diego. The collected art supplies will benefit several community programs that focus on childhood and family development. Click here for a full list of drop-off locations. 
  • Help Federation meet its goal of raising $3,000 to purchase blankets for Ronald McDonald House – a critical need for the organization as it goes through 100 blankets per month! Federation also aims to raise $3,000 for much needed art supplies, which will be dispersed to local children’s programs. 
  • Federation and the Lawrence Family JCC is calling upon Jewish teens, grades 6-12, to participate in JSERVE – an international day of youth service, coinciding with Good Deeds Day. On March 15th, teens will arrive at the JCC, have lunch with friends, and depart to community service locations where they will spend the day volunteering. For more information and to register your teen, visit www.lfjcc.org/jserve2015.
Help Federation exceed our fundraising goals, create a positive impact on our community, and make Good Deeds Day 2015 the biggest and best community wide celebration of good deeds that San Diego has ever seen!

Thank you for all that you do! 

For more information, visit Jewishinsandiego.org/gooddeeds