More than 300 participants gathered for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 2021 launch event Aug. 27.
The venue changed, as did the plan for the event about 24 hours ahead of time, switching from a three-hour drive-thru event at The Temple-Tifereth Israel parking lot in Beachwood, to a 30-minute one online. Showers were possible in the afternoon and thunderstorms at night, prompting the change.
J. David Heller, chair of the Federation, thanked Federation President Erika Rudin-Luria in opening remarks.
“You have just been an absolute rock during COVID and everything, and just a phenomenal leader of our organization, of our teams, of our staff, of our whole community,” Heller said. “I think the word of this campaign is ‘pivot’ because that’s what we’ve had to do every time we get thrown a curve ball. The staff has just been incredible – the staff and our agencies, working together to respond to our community have just been phenomenal.”
Heller introduced the campaign video, the first time it has been screened publicly. He thanked campaign vice chairs Grant Dinner, Margaret Richards Frankel, Mitch Frankel, Michelle Hirsch, Jared Miller, Shari Perlmuter, Neil Waxman, Danielle Wild and Andrew Zelman.
“Our Jewish community has faced tremendous challenges,” said Bradley A. Sherman, general campaign chair. “Mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. But we’ve been tested before. And we know that by working together, we can keep our community safe and healthy today, tomorrow and all the tomorrows to come.”
Sherman said he missed the opportunity to greet campaign participants in person, “but you know what? It’s probably better that I was not standing outside next to a gigantic electric sign in a lightning storm.”
Sherman spoke of the opportunity this particular campaign represents.
“We have a chance in this moment to demonstrate the strength of our Federation and the power of a community acting together,” Sherman said. “Through past campaigns, we’ve built a community we can all be proud of.”
Sherman said the Cleveland Jewish community is both kind and resilient.
“While the past has prepared this community for the present, we need to seize the now in order to secure our future,” he said. “We face challenges that are both unlike and like anything we have seen before. We are faced with a challenge that demands separation but requires togetherness to fix.”
He spoke of the impact of COVID-19 as “the heartache of isolation and the agony of uncertainty. I think we all know people who are relying on community food pantries to feed their families. I think we all know people who are relying on the social services of Bellefaire and JFSA (Jewish Family Services Association) to stay healthy, to stay safe, and quite frankly, to stay sane.
“We know families that are committed to Jewish education but without the support of Federation to provide a safe learning environment, those families would have to opt out. ... We are experiencing the greatest threat to our community in my lifetime,” he said.
To help with the campaign, Sherman said the Mandel Foundation will match every increase to the campaign with a gift to Federation’s Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund, which aids people who are newly vulnerable due to the pandemic.
In addition, the Brunswick Companies in Garfield Heights is offering the Brunswick bonus.
“For every gift over $180 that closes during the first 18 days of the campaign, Brunswick Companies is going to provide $180 to our annual campaign,” Sherman said. “Hopefully that will spur us to quick action.”
Sherman invited launch participants to join in a campaigner training session that was held Sept. 2, pitched Super Sunday Oct. 18, and spoke of the campaign close Dec. 9.
He told his personal story of being helped by Federation, referring to the “three miracles” that shaped his life – of his adoption from Bellefaire by Lois and Larry Sherman, of meeting his wife, Elisabeth, at age 16 on a Federation-sponsored mission to Israel, and of having a college friend offer him a way through his grief after his mother, Lois Sherman, was struck and killed by a drunken driver when he was 18.
“So, I call these things miracles,” Sherman said. “I believe that at pivotal moments in my life, something was there for me. ... That something was everything. It’s us. It’s the Jewish community. It’s the Jewish people.”
Sherman said the miracles of his life showed him that, “when we set our minds, and our hands and, quite frankly, our dollars to the pursuit of causes that save lives, build communities and promote social justice, we set events in motion that are truly miraculous.”
Sherman said he is reminded that Jews, as a people, have faced crises.
“The Jewish story is about perseverance and continuity,” he said. “Whether it’s anti-Semitism and acts of violence perpetrated by white supremacists who hope to crush our spirit and make us feel vulnerable in our homes, in our schools, in our places of worship, we’re still here.”
He spoke of the attempts to destroy Israel and of domestic financial crises, saying, “We’re still here.”
“So, when I say we’re here for good, I am expressing the essence of our community in three little words,” he said. “Here for good.”
He asked those watching to add their voices about what “here for good” means to them by writing their thoughts on signs or in the Zoom chat.
A JFC Security LLC security officer, spoke about security of the community and said officers enjoy their work partly because of the appreciation within the community.
Neil Waxman spoke about being there for Jewish continuity.
“I believe it’s the foundation of our future,” he said, listing some of the Federation’s initiatives. “A Jew is not necessarily someone whose grandparents are Jewish, but who wants their grandchildren to be Jewish.”
Ginny Galili, executive director of Strengthening Families at JFSA, spoke of “strengthening families at JFSA and throughout our community.”
Sherman urged those who need it to use Access Jewish Cleveland, the Federation’s website for Jewish life.
Sherman acknowledged some past donors may not be able to give the same amount this year and offered his thanks to them.
For those who can, he said, “We need to act deliberately, we need to listen compassionately and we need to give generously.”