Lions in New York, Holocaust education in Tucson, Peace Corps in Cambodia

Conventioneering in the Big Apple

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

— Margaret Mead

Lady Liberty shines her light on Lions of Judah: Angie Goorman, Karen Faitelson, Fern Feder, Robin Pozez, Diane Weintraub, Linda Tumarkin, Sharon Klein, Melissa Goldfinger, Brenda Landau (JFSA) and Judy Berman. (Not pictured: Marilyn Einstein, Deanna Evenchik and Janet Lang)

From Sept. 10 to 12, a dozen Lions from Southern Arizona roared at the international Lion of Judah convention of female philanthropists in New York City. We were accompanied by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Women’s Philanthropy director, Brenda Landau, and joined 1,700 sister Lions who converged at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square to celebrate Lion of Judah’s 40th anniversary.

Our group attended plenary and breakout sessions, caucused amongst ourselves and honored our community’s Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland award winner, our “woman of valor,” Diane Weintraub.

The group heard Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, who addressed our Federation board last year. He commented that “A Lion sees the world and makes it better.” This reinforced the conference theme of “the power of one” — the power of one person and one community to make a difference. This was brought home by several speakers:

• a Russian Jew who, as a child in 1981, was rescued with her family from the former Soviet Union, brought to America and now works for JFNA to give back;

• a cancer survivor who started a support organization for women with breast and ovarian cancer;

• the founder of Dress For Success, who has put so many women on the road to self-fulfillment.

We listened to Yonatan Rabin, grandson of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who is keeping his grandfather’s legacy alive. Dr. Einat Wilf, a Knesset member, recruited us for what she termed the “IIDF” — the “Israeli Intellectual Defense Force,” championing “the battle of the mind, because ideas matter in the pursuit of truth and justice.” We were entertained by The Maccabeats, Yeshiva University’s a cappella music group that performed at the Tucson Jewish Community Center this year. We heard Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J., who had just spoken at the Democratic Convention; and Larry Silverstein, president and CEO of Silverstein Properties, who had purchased the lease to the World Trade Center complex just six weeks before the Twin Towers fell.

On Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, we collectively said Kaddish for those who died 11 years ago. While commemorative ceremonies were taking place at Ground Zero, we were in midtown assembling 2,000 care packages for people in need on this National Day of Service. These packs included emergency preparedness kits, literacy kits, food packages, shelter packages and job-skills tutorials.

This conference covered a broad range of topics, from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to Iran. We heard from the group United Against Nuclear Iran, which was at the forefront of protests against Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during his United Nations visit to New York last month. We Lions were asked to lead, not just with our pocketbooks, but with our participation and voices. Together, we share the core values of tzedakah (charity/social justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) in helping others locally and abroad.

Lion who made a difference

Bryan Davis and Esther Sherberg hold Holocaust education curriculum kits.

Bryna Zehngut, of blessed memory, was proud to be a Lion of Judah. Following her death from ovarian cancer in February 2005, the Bryna Zehngut Community Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona was established. This fund is dedicated to fostering the issues and ideals in which Bryna believed and to which she devoted her life’s work.

One of these areas was Holocaust education. Bryna, a tireless community volunteer, formed lasting relationships with Tucson Holocaust survivors. She transported them to presentations at local schools and listened to their stories of life and death, incalculable losses and harrowing experiences. She joined the Holocaust Education Program in 1981 and served as its chair from 1984 to 1986.

On Sept. 20, at a Holocaust education teacher in-service at the University of Arizona Kiva Auditorium, Esther Sherberg, representing the fund’s advisory committee, presented Holocaust education curriculum kits to the educators in attendance. These kits are a gift from the fund to be used as classroom teaching tools. Bryan Davis, director of the JFSA’s Holocaust Education Resource Center and facilitator of the in-service, was instrumental in compiling the kit’s content and study guide. They contain information for students to learn about prejudice and to know that the Holocaust happened and must never happen again.

Kits are available at Davis’ Federation office and in the Tucson Hebrew Academy library.

Home for the holidays

Brenda Tobin was home over the High Holidays, having returned from a two-year stint in the Peace Corps.

Peace Corps volunteer Brenda Tobin, second from right, with neighbors in her Cambodian village

Born and bred in Tucson, Tobin, 24, a graduate of University High School, received a degree in political science from George Washington University in May 2010. Two months later, Brenda wasted no time in fulfilling her dream of joining the Peace Corps.

At age 12, while researching volunteer opportunities for her Bat Mitzvah project, Brenda came upon the mission of the Peace Corps. She ended up volunteering at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging, playing bingo with residents to fulfill her mitzvah project, but kept Peace Corps service in the back of her mind.

From July 2010 through August 2012, Brenda lived with a family in a rural Cambodian village south of Battambong. She worked at a government-run health center promoting maternal health education, doing pregnancy check-ups and pre-natal education, speaking in the local language. In honor of the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary (1961-2011), Brenda used grant money to carry out a road safety project. She worked with middle school students to make road signs, such as “Wear a helmet” (for riders of bikes/motor scooters), “Don’t drink and drive,” or “Drive slowly and safely.” This project was picked up by Cambodian TV, which interviewed our celebrity.

Now residing back in Washington, D.C., Brenda plans to pursue her interest in global health. Stay tuned.

 Time to share

I’m all ears. Keep me posted at the Post — 319-1112. L’shalom.