An enthusiastic crowd of about 200 people from across the Greater Phoenix area came together for the 2015 Annual Campaign Kickoff for the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix on Feb. 26 in the warm and inviting sanctuary of Temple Chai in northeast Phoenix.
Keynote speaker of the evening was Gil Tamary, Washington bureau chief for Israel’s Channel 10 News. He was both entertaining and insightful as he discussed the challenges Jews face with anti-Semitism rising worldwide and Israeli’s creativity coping with challenges at home. With the recent anti-Semitic violence in France, he said that about 50,000 of France’s 500,000 Jews have requested information about making aliyah.
Life is likewise difficult for the 20,000 Jews in Iran, 20,000 in Turkey and nearly 1 million in the former Soviet Union. On a somber note, he spoke about current U.S.-Israel political challenges, in particular the Israelis’ concerns about U.S. policy toward Iran, which he said they fear will put Israel in jeopardy over time.
He also reflected on how creativity and a knack for doing the “impossible” enabled Israel to develop the Iron Dome in just three years. The inventor used parts from an old remote control car that he bought at Toys R Us. “Don’t tell us we can’t do it,” he said.
“What struck me about Gil’s message is the ingenuity of the Jewish people, especially in Israel where they took the “it-can’t-be-done” attitude as a challenge and created one of the most innovative defense systems in the world, the Iron Dome, which saved thousands of lives during the war last summer,” said Stuart Wachs, president and CEO of the federation.
2015 Campaign Co-chairs Esther and Don Schon unveiled the campaign’s new video emphasizing this year’s theme: Give today. Create tomorrow.
Three dynamic speakers engaged the audience with their perspectives and assessments of the three core impact areas the federation will focus on for this year: Now Generation, Senior Services and Israel Advocacy.
Jonny Basha, at just 24 years old, has already distinguished himself as a force for shaping the future. An original resident of the Moishe House, Jonny helps to lead his age group in getting involved in the Jewish community in ways that are meaningful to them. He is working with the NowGen department to create imaginative events and causes that resonate with the 20-somethings. “YOLO Engagement” speaks to the Now Gen’s view of life as “You Only Live Once,” he explains. By engaging this age group in social events, they have found that donations to Jewish causes have increased organically. The local Moishe House, which is part of an international movement that includes 75 houses in 17 countries, houses four young men and plans about 10 events per month that are open to the community. Events range from large Shabbat dinners and holiday parties to small Torah study sessions.
Barry Markson spoke about the recently compiled Senior Needs Study, which showed that the majority of seniors would like to remain in their own homes as independently as possible for as long as they can. To that end, the study identified three areas that would help make it easier for seniors to attain their wishes. The first involves the need for a database of senior resources available via phone and Internet. The second component is transportation, because the current city dial-a-rides are inadequate. The third element is socialization; seniors want to be around other people, and the federation hopes to create another senior center.
The last of the speakers was Jared Hirschl, a student at Arizona State University, speaking about Israel advocacy on campus. He pointed out that anti-Israel groups have increased dramatically in the past two years. He also said repeatedly that students “don’t care about the conflict – they care about themselves.” Once we accept this fact, he said, it’s up to us to educate and persuade the students as to why they should love Israel – by illuminating all the positive and inclusive attributes of the country. By connecting students to aspects of the county they can directly relate to, we will be able to build their overall connection to Israel.
The 2014 annual campaign brought in $3,030,000 with $2,047,000 allocated to core impact areas, school partners, strategic partners, federation community programs, and Israel and overseas.