The only constant is change
Here at the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley, we’re having our fair share of change and renewal.
To illustrate this point, many of you know that Dan Ravitch, Director of Camp Ideal & Programming, and Shirlee Greenwald, Director of Israel Programming, are leaving after what can only be called an amazing and almost magical three-year stint at the Federation. It’s time for them to spread their wings and find that next opportunity for growth. We thank them for their dedication, passion, and ability to make a difference in people’s lives. To this end, they were effective in their efforts to create new points of entry into Jewish life in Michiana. On behalf of our entire community, we wish Dan and Shirlee continued success in all their endeavors.
Jon Ravitch, Facilities Associate, also gave notice and his departure coincided with the conclusion of Camp Ideal. We thank Jon for his service and wish him well. With three teammates out of nine leaving our small but mighty professional staff, the Fed will leverage this opportunity to optimize our staffing and programming operations.
The mission impact and financial sustainability of the Federation brings three interrelated areas into sharp focus. These three areas include:
Reshuffling the talent deck to maximize our unique strengths and gifts
Focusing on what matters the most to effectively and efficiently use our limited resources; and
Leveraging community partnerships to create actionable opportunities within the Vision 2025 framework, a three-year community-building plan based on:
K’lal Yisrael – increasing commUNITY
Bayit Chazak – strengthening community impact and sustainability
Kehila Conversations – purposeful community talks
This article highlights the steps the Federation is undertaking in this season of change.
Our search for a Director of Programming continues as our efforts to date have not produced qualified candidates we’d like to hire. In the meantime, I’ll serve as the interim Programming Director.
Our new shaliach Omer Karavani is arriving in South Bend on September 14 to fill our Israel Program position.
Judy Sassler, best known for her “Ooh La La” culinary creations, has been promoted to Program Associate from her role as Administrative Assistant to assist in our programming efforts.
Elliot Marino was hired last month to fill the Administrative Assistant position. Please see his bio on page 7.
We also hired James Whitaker as our new Facilities Associate. James started August 10 and is doing a super job putting the Fed House back in order after a busy summer of Camp Ideal and disarray resulting from installing our new HVAC system.
Bob Feferman will continue in his indispensable and multifaceted outreach role as Director of Community Relations. The broad bandwidth of his duties also includes supervising the Shlichut Program, coordinating the Holocaust Education Speakers Bureau, assisting in community security matters, and working closely with our Partnership2Gether colleagues.
Steve Lotter, Director of Community Engagement, will continue to give his midas touch to everything we do at the Federation -- think OCN, Weekly Updates, website, tech & Zoom guru, photographer, program support, campaign support, and community building.
Rabbi Nebel will continue his duties as Director of Jewish Family Services and as a mashgiach for our Federation’s kosher kitchen. In addition, Rabbi will continue with his successful adult education classes via Lunch & Learns and through Forever Learning.
Dan Cossman is our jack of all trades. Dan is a gentleman who works quietly behind the scenes—a fixer in the most positive sense who solves problems and takes care of everything. He was promoted to Manager of Operations in 2021. In this role, Dan’s expanded responsibilities included a myriad of details in overseeing the dual functions of facilities management and accounting. Dan tells me he is the future of the Federation and I see opportunities for his continued growth.
In short, I have an extraordinary team. Every day it is a great privilege to work with these remarkable individuals. We are team oriented. We care about the Federation and continue to promote a culture where we can do our best work. And we are passionate about our Jewish community and work mightily for its health and well-being.
You will not find a more dedicated group of individuals. We owe them a debt of gratitude. And in saying this, I encourage you to show these fine people our deep appreciation whenever possible.
Reshuffling the talent deck is only one of three ways the Fed will optimize staff and programming in the coming year. The second approach entails looking closely at where we can cost-effectively use contract hires as part of our extended team. A good example of a programming opportunity to harness the efficiencies of an independent contractor includes the Michiana Jewish Film Festival. In our 14th season of the festival, I’m excited to announce that Sheri Alpert will again serve as our festival director. Other potential programs where it would be advantageous to use contract hires include the annual Purim Carnival and our larger catered events.
The third element in the optimization plan is to work closely with our community partners both inside and outside of our Jewish community when it comes to programming. We have excellent resources in the community at our disposal. The goal in this third area of focus will be to tap into and promote these valued partnerships, and in doing so, raise the excellence of our programming bar.
Examples of recent programming partnerships include:
Forever Learning: Bird’s Eye View of Jewish History with Rabbi Nebel
Michiana Jewish Historical Society: BBYO Reunion Kick-off
NEXTGen: Dinner & a Movie @ Michiana Jewish Film Festival, South Bend Cubs Game, and Nature Hike at Potato Creek
Temple’s Sisterhood: Charles Troy presents “The Creation of West Side Story”
Simon Foundation: A Conversation with Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Sliding Dors: A Twist of Fate with Karen Perna
South Bend Medical Foundation: Community Blood Drive
South Bend Symphony-to-Go: Mother’s Day Brunch & Concert
Rabbi Kuppel Lindow: Ethics of Our Fathers
Unity Garden: Garden Club
The Federation’s overriding objective is to create Jewish spaces to offer more relevant programs at the community level. In other words, can the Fed be a catalyst to develop Jewish spaces to support what is authentically meaningful. I call this personal meaning-making.
Jewish spaces with authentic, meaningful content connect us to the second objective in Vision 2025 of Bayit Chazak that I noted above. Programming content is the heartbeat of our Federation. Here is where we must excel. Our best efforts are needed to offer relatable information that entertains and educates our community in a way that helps individuals and families form strong and loyal connections with Jewish life.
I recently read an article by Betsy Stone, Ph.D. and Alan Halpern that caught my attention. They wrote, “We believe that modern American Jews choose Jewish identity, affiliation, and behaviors because they find meaning. In fact, meaning-making may be at the root of Jewish connection — knowing that our institutions must help individuals make meaning through Jewish thought and action to remain viable as organizations. This is what keeps Judaism compelling.”
Another word for optimization is creative adaptation. Jewish practice is full of creative adaptations. We have seen Jewish practice and thought evolve over the centuries with the changes that followed the destruction of the Temple and at other perilous or opportune moments throughout our history.
Now it’s time for us to seize the moment to reimagine a vibrant and sustainable Jewish future. Do we have the will, the chutzpah, and creativity to come TOGETHER to create spaces where meaning-making can occur, whether it is:
Affiliation-based with one of the mainstream platforms in Judaism
Culturally-based because Jewish identity matters
Or simply being a part of the power of the Jewish story and renewing it in our time
All three approaches have the power to connect us to something greater than ourselves. As we enter the new year may each of us hear our own personal clarion call wherever we are in our lives, whatever level our Jewish knowledge and sense of Jewish identity. Being committed to something greater than ourselves is the “Federation way.” It means we have a purpose, mission, and a commitment to being partners in our communal prosperity.