A remarkable year of growth
Alon Shemesh, Board President of the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley, looks back on the past year.
A year ago, I received the “metaphorical gavel” from Mike Kirsch when I became the president of the Jewish Federation’s Board. Mike, Moshe Kruger (who had the misfortune of becoming the Executive Director right at the start of the pandemic), the Federation’s board, and the staff members had the near-impossible task of navigating the complexities of COVID-19. With their leadership and the support of the community, the Jewish Federation survived this period.
Since then, the Federation has reopened its doors to many exciting events that proved to our members that we will continue to be a center for the entire Jewish community. Some of our most successful events were the Fall Fest, which created a traffic jam in the Federation’s parking lot, the Women Leading a Dialogue event, which brought together women from different sectors of the Israeli map, and the Yom HaShoah program, which showcased youth education outside of Jewish our community about the Holocaust. We must not forget the amazing Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations for the State of Israel. At each of these events, the turnout was incredible, with over 100 attendees.
The above-mentioned events and the day-to-day running of the Federation could not take place without the support of the entire Federation staff. Moshe Kruger, with his contagious enthusiasm and his continued dream of a strong future for the Jewish community, was the architect behind the three sessions of Fed Talks. The idea behind these meetings was to discuss some critical questions about the state of our community to allow us to engage in a dialogue about our future together. I could not imagine how the Federation would be today without Moshe.
Rabbi Fred Nebel, the man wearing many hats, serves as Director of Jewish Family Services. With the help of Nancy Kennedy, they have done an amazing job keeping us connected to individuals who are in need. He often provides transportation and acts as the Mashgiach for our Kosher kitchen in his free time.
Bob Feferman is our sage CRC Director. His community relations leadership is vital to the community, as is his involvement and steady hand in the Federation’s shlilchut and Partnership2Gether programs. Bob’s dedication and good-natured personality make a positive difference in the many communities he touches.
Dan Ravitch, Programming Director, and Shirlee Greenwald, Israel Program Director, have worked closely together to plan different events for the entire community across the age spectrum. Through their creativity and long hours, they have set a high bar for anyone in the future. They have forever transformed Camp Ideal and created the Shi'Shuk Market, open every Friday afternoon in the summer to sell baked goods the campers made. Sadly, for us, Dan and Shirlee will be departing at the end of this summer to continue with new and exciting endeavors. Dan Cossman, who is the Federation’s Operations Manager, has many roles and is the ultimate team player. From paying bills to managing security, facilities and event logistics, Dan’s steady hand helps the Federation run smoothly.
This year, we have been fortunate to have a few new additions to the Federation’s staff. Last October, Steve Lotter became the Federation’s Director of Community Engagement. Steve joined us after many years of working at Big Idea Company. He has done an amazing job keeping the community informed through our newsletter, emails, and website management. He is also our “tech guru” and has helped all our programs run smoothly. Steve is working on an exciting mix of innovative community engagement programs, including leadership development, Israel engagement, social impact, and other aspects of Jewish life.
Additionally, Judy Sassler became the Federation’s Administrative Assistant. Not only does Judy help run the office, but she has also become our chef. Judy has prepared feasts for all our recent events. Her food and its presentation have been nothing short of a 5-star meal – as Moshe calls it “an Ooh La La Feast!” Finally, Jon Ravitch became the Federation’s Facility Associate. He does an excellent job making sure the Federation looks its best. Following the last Fed Talk, Jon became my drill sergeant and made sure that we left the room spotless.
Being Board President, to say the least, has been quite overwhelming for me. I have only survived thanks to the support of the Executive Committee. Cristyne Porile and Sarah Nerenberg have kept us organized and have paid close attention to detail. Mara Boettcher has continued to be the “financial guru.” Mike Kirsch is always there to answer my questions (and I think he has the entire set of bylaws memorized). Allen Stenberg has brought his broad knowledge of marketing and communication to the Board. I wish there was a way for me to say how much I appreciate all of the Board members. They have been so supportive over the last year and were not afraid to give their opinions when needed. I would like to personally thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for all the help you have given me.
For the first time since COVID-19 brought chaos to our lives, the Federation will be hosting a new Shaliach from the Jewish Agency. As I mentioned before, Dan and Shirlee will be leaving us at the end of the summer, but not before they get some quality time training Omer Karavani. Omer will arrive in South Bend around mid-September. I hope our community will open up their homes so we can make his stay in South Bend memorable.
On behalf of the Federation, I want to thank all of you for the help and support you have given us.