Coming to JFSA Connections: ‘Strength to Strength’ is personal

Sarri Singer
Sarri Singer

Sarri Singer has always been closely connected to her Jewish community, whe­ther in New Jersey, New York or Israel. On Sept. 11, 2001, at age 28, she was director of recruitment for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth summer programs, two blocks from Ground Zero. Since that date surviving terrorism, and working with others who have survived, has become an integral part of her life.

Singer will tell her story of “Strength to Strength” — both the name of her talk and of the nonprofit she founded in 2004 — as the Connections 2015 speaker on Sunday, Feb. 22 at 10 a.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. The event is sponsored by Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

On 9/11, she told the AJP, “I overslept so I was late to work. I turned on the TV and saw the towers burning. I didn’t go back to work for three weeks. She quit her job and led a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip in December 2001, staying in Israel and volunteering for anti-terrorist groups there.

On June 11, 2003, “I was on a Jerusalem bus when an 18-year-old Palestinian dressed as a religious Jew set off an explosive. Sixteen people were killed. The girl sitting next to me didn’t survive,” she says. Singer was considered kal, or lightly injured, in Israel because she didn’t lose a limb, or worse. Shrapnel was lodged in her left shoulder, her eardrums were blown and she required multiple surgeries.

“I’m somewhat healed,” says Singer, who recalls talking to a U.S. reporter at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem that day. Her father, Robert Singer, is a New Jersey state senator who found out what happened at a press conference and hurried to his daughter’s side.

After Singer returned to the United States in 2004, she founded Strength to Strength, a nonprofit that helps victims of terrorism from around the world to heal. She has spoken at U.S. congressional hearings, on college campuses nationwide and in Canada, Europe and Israel. She’s also appeared on CBS, CNN and Fox news.

“Victims don’t want to talk to people who don’t understand what they’re going through,” she says. “Whether they’re from Oklahoma City or Mumbai we connect them with members of our Survivors’ Circle, based in New York City. They’re all volunteers. We sponsor retreats for adults and young people 14 to 20.”

Singer grew up in Lakewood, N.J., a large Orthodox community. She attended Jewish day school and Orthodox and Conservative shuls with her family. “I grew up in the Federation system. We were heavily involved. My father was a past president. I [recall] making Super Sunday calls when I was 12 years old,” she says. After graduation from a public high school she spent a gap year in Israel before returning to New York to study psychology at Touro College.

“We were brought up to give back to our community. I was given a second chance and I don’t know why. Wherever life takes me, especially helping others, I’m going there. I don’t look back at this experience and say, ‘Why me?’ I look at this in a positive way,” she says. “I’ve met people from all over the world who have gone through [the same as me] and worse. It’s been amazing. I want to show love and kindness — the opposite of the hatred that day was about. My goal is to promote more social action. Everyone can play a role.”

The Young Women’s Cabinet Mitzvah Project requests that attendees help support victims of sex trafficking by bringing standard sizes of shampoo, conditioner, liquid body wash and tampons for Youth On Their Own and Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse. A Southern Arizona teen will be honored with the Bryna Zehngut Mitzvot Award. RSVP by Feb. 13 at www.jfsa.org or contact Karen Graham at 577-9393, ext. 118, or kgraham@jfsa.org. The cost is $36 per person, with a $180 minimum pledge ($18 for students) to the 2015 Federation Community Campaign.