What does it take to create a Jewish community?
As I was coming to the office the other day in the pouring rain, I saw a young mother with three small children: a baby in a stroller, a toddler in her arms, and a 3-year-old holding on to her hand, all huddling under the awning of the J building. I offered to help, and together, snuggling under my large umbrella, we delivered the little ones to the safety of her car. As we waded through the parking lot, the mother told the 3-year-old “the lady is doing a mitzvah.” My feet were wet and I was slightly late for a meeting, but I felt as if I had just won the lottery.
What does it take to create a Jewish community? Each morning as I arrive to work, I see young moms and dads bringing their little ones to the J preschool. I walk through the lobby and young campers zip by me on their way to morning activities. Through the walls of my office I hear campers from Camp J singing and laughing. An Israeli emissary is teaching them songs in Hebrew. It’s loud and bustling, and I think it’s fantastic! If I could bottle their energy up for myself, I wouldn’t need to drink any coffee! However, it takes a few cups of coffee (and tea – I am Russian after all) to get me through 10-12 hour days. Here’s a run-through of my typical day as Federation’s executive director:
It starts with an 8 a.m. meeting with the JCC and JAO presidents and executive directors to talk about the future of the Maitland campus. At 9:30 a.m. I spend a few brief minutes with Federation co-presidents Ryan Lefkowitz and Michael Soll who have become my most favorite people in the world (after my husband and daughter); at 10 a.m. I consult with the facilities manager about urgent campus maintenance issues. Next on the calendar is a brown-bag working lunch with my fantastic staff of five talented and hard-working associates Emely Katz, Dawn Phelps, Lisa Sholk, Dana Karen, and Becca Ginns, to plan Federation’s annual meeting. Next on the agenda is an afternoon cup of coffee with a generous Federation contributor. In the evening, there may be a board of directors or a Jewish Community Relations Council meeting or a get-together with a group of young volunteers who are planning Federation’s “next generation” program (more about that in the near future). In between, I must find time to draft a weekly email, answer emails, make and return phone calls, and set appointments to meet more community members and volunteers.
I am invigorated by our thriving campuses and by the whole Jewish community of Greater Orlando. In my almost four months here, I have learned how the Jewish Federation has been the engine and the catalyst of its growth and development. Just around the corner this month is Federation’s Annual Meeting on Aug. 21. We’ll be holding the meeting, complete with a ‘summer blockbuster’ theme on campus in the JCC auditorium. I look forward to the opportunity to share with you our vision of Federation’s future and the future of our Jewish community. The annual meeting is also the kick-off for our 2014 Annual Campaign. This campaign marks a critical time for us. Many have asked whether Federation is still relevant and needed. I believe it is. In fact, I know it is. Now more than ever, Federation’s role is to unify our Jewish community, to educate and develop our future leaders, and to connect us to Israel. For generations, we have enabled Jews to fulfill obligations to take care of each other and to ensure our Jewish future. Now it’s up to us to shape the future. I hope you will join us at our Annual Meeting in August to learn more about how we are shaping the future.
This is the first monthly column which I am thrilled to write thanks to the Heritage Florida Jewish News. I look forward to speaking with you each month about the Jewish Federation, our community, Israel, and our Jewish world.
Olga Yorish is executive director of JFGO.