Destigmatizing addiction and mental illness will be among top agenda items for the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs in Conservative synagogues across the globe in coming years, according to Tom Sudow.
The 40-year member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike was installed as president of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs at the organization’s biennial convention in Toronto, which took place July 3 to July 7. The group is celebrating its 90th year.
“We’re going to go into congregations and change attitudes,” said Sudow, calling addiction and mental illness “the next shanda factor.”
He said he was inspired to tackle the issue by the book and work of Rabbi Mark Borovitz, a Cleveland native who founded Beit T’Shuvah, a nonprofit, nonsectarian Jewish treatment center in Los Angeles.
People in recovery at Beit T’Shuvah came to B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike in November 2018 to perform “Freedom Song,” a musical that portrays a family’s struggles around their daughter’s addiction. Sudow said he may bring that musical back to Cleveland as part of his plan to help make Conservative synagogues welcoming spaces for those facing addiction.
In addition, Sudow said the group will focus on leaving a legacy, specifically, “How do you want to be remembered?”
He had been the international organization’s executive vice president and served as the founding president of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs Foundation for Jewish Life.
Sudow was president of the Park Synagogue men’s club for two years from 1989 to 1991.
At that time, the men’s club raised funds by raffling a trip to Israel to buy the synagogue its first computer system and implemented “creative programming,” he said, including a Sunday morning brunch lecture series that brought in congressmen, a comedy night, and expanded work on the Yom Hashoah candle program, which provides candles to families in Conservative synagogues to be lit as a remembrance of the Holocaust.
“We’ve tried to stay on top of trends,” Sudow said of the international organization, adding one goal has been to “make synagogue life a lot more accessible to people.”
To that end, the group worked with Rabbi Noah Golinkin to develop curriculum to teach adults prayerbook Hebrew through a series of lay-led courses called Hebrew Literacy. Some 300,000 people have learned Hebrew through the program.
In addition, the group has focused on rituals, including hanging mezuzah, rituals around death and the Passover seder. It has also focused on health, offering health clinics to men.
Sudow was born in Stevens Point, Wisc. He was initially raised by his parents in the small town with fewer than 40 Jewish families.
His parents died when he was a child and he was raised by cousins in Chicago, who sent him to Anshe Emet Day School. After graduating from public high school, he went to Israel on Young Judaea’s year course and then became active at Kent State University’s Hillel, where he worked with the late Rabbi Gerry Turk to bring Shlomo Carlebach to campus for concerts and the late Debbie Friedman played songs in the Hillel house living room. He met his wife, Michele, at Kent’s Hillel.
The two married and lived in Akron. He went to graduate school at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York City and was placed on internship with the Jewish Community Federation, now known as the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
Following his internship, he became part of senior leadership at the Federation, worked as a fundraiser for American Friends of Hebrew University and became vice president of the former Cleveland College of Jewish Studies. He was also director of the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce, where he was instrumental in bringing Israeli businesses to Beachwood in the early 2000s.
Today, he is director of the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship at Ashland University in Ashland. He is also the director of business development for Cleveland Clinic Innovations in Cleveland.
The Sudows live in Shaker Heights. They have three children and three grandchildren.