Social action over spring break
In March, two University of Arizona students participated in the Jewish National Fund Alternative Spring Break. They were among 250 college students/young adults, ages 18-30, who spent a week in Israel
working and volunteering in communities in the Negev. Each was required to raise a minimum of $975, money allocated to JNF’s campaign to develop the Negev desert for Israel’s next generation of pioneers.
Callie Frisch, 20, a sophomore, had traveled on this year’s winter birthright Israel trip, returning with JNF less than two months later. Adam Bellos, 23, a graduating senior in Judaic and Islamic studies and an Israel advocate on campus, had studied at Tel Aviv University in 2007 and traveled on the JNF Alternative Winter Break in 2008/09. Studies have shown that while a first trip to Israel makes a tremendous difference, it is those who go at least twice who feel the deepest connection. Both Callie and Adam plan to return for further study/volunteerism.
Whether building a compost toilet in a community garden in Beersheva; painting apartment complexes in the Negev; helping take mentally disabled children at Aleh Negev (a rehabilitation village) from their classroom to the lunchroom; interacting with kids on the playground in Sderot (the city imperiled by rockets from Gaza); or gardening outside of Jerusalem, each experience allowed the UA students to give back, while strengthening their personal bonds with Israel.
The Mitzvah Magic program is winding down, but the good feeling that comes with helping others lingers.
This project began last summer when Shira Ledman, president and CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Services, voiced concerns to Marlyne Freedman, then-vice president and director of Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, about the increased demand on her agency to cover community needs during the economic downturn. Marlyne sent an e-mail requesting that women volunteer as team captains or workers for Mitzvah Magic, which would “adopt” anonymous Jewish families in need. One hundred fifty women responded, forming 15 teams (circles) of 10. Each circle received a profile of a family, with information ranging from their basic needs to their clothing sizes, and provided the family with the essentials for back to school, High Holidays, Chanukah and Passover. In December, 60 volunteers gathered one morning at the Tucson Jewish Community Center to wrap the Chanukah gifts.
This JFSA/JFCS collaboration brought together women from the entire Jewish community — synagogue sisterhoods, a mah jongg group, book clubs, or groups of individual friends — and new friendships were formed. The interest and involvement gave all a heightened, shared sense of community. Instead of just writing a check, everyone pitched in, hands-on, to make a difference. The expenditure each volunteer made toward this year’s combined effort amounted to about $100. Team captains/co-captains included Marcia Abelson, Jennifer Cassius, Rachel Green, Ruth Dickstein, Fern Feder, Hedy Feuer, Peggy Feinman, Anne Fisher Segal, Andrea Fleisher, Yetta Goodman, Wendy Goodman, Mary Ellen Loebl, Kathy McGuire-Rubin, Sarah Frieden, Jayme Olitzky, Claudia Oreck-Teplitsky, Lynda Rogoff, and Julia Waterfall-Kanter. Pamela Dubin and Stephanie Evic co-chaired the project.
One thank-you note from a recipient read: “Your program is highly effective in making us feel that we are supported and cared about, and your insightful and targeted gift cards provide us with greatly needed things that help us with our everyday life, bettering our situation and helping us attain greater independence and sustainability.”
As Deanna Evenchik, Women’s Philanthropy president, stated at the Connections event, “The gifts we provided were much needed and appreciated, but it was the care and the love that passed from one Jew to another that truly made the difference.”
Charlie Wilson’s land
This title does not refer to the late Congressman Charlie Wilson, subject of the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” with Tom Hanks, but rather the late pioneer Tucson homebuilder Charlie (Charles) Wilson, who donated the land on which the original Handmaker Jewish Nursing Home for the Aged was built.
A few weeks before his passing, Mr. Wilson joined the Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging community as a resident, entering this nationally recognized, award-winning facility, known for its commitment to top-notch senior living, which still stands on the land he had donated 50 years earlier. The Handmaker board and staff were honored that Mr. Wilson chose to spend his last days in their loving care. This columnist was about to visit Handmaker to meet him and learn his story firsthand; however, he passed away on April 5 before I was afforded the privilege. I would have heard, among other facts, that he was a civil engineer and co-founder of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association (SAHBA). At the time of his death, his portrait was being framed, to be hung at Handmaker at a ceremony celebrating his generosity and vision. Unfortunately, that dedication will be held posthumously.
Time to share
Thanks for sharing your news from September through May. My September column in the Rosh Hashana issue of the AJP will highlight Israel summer travel and other “local people, places, travels and simchas.” Keep me posted, stay cool and enjoy your summer — 319-1112. L’shalom.