The Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation, Foundation and JCC of Greater New Haven took place on Zoom on Wednesday, September 2, with over 100 attendees. The meeting opened with a welcome from the outgoing Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven President, Dr. Jeffrey Hoos, followed by greetings from Mark Wilf, Jewish Federations of North America’s President. He congratulated the community on its hard work and achievement. Jewish Federations of North America convened an Emergency Pandemic Response Coalition, which is comprised of umbrella organizations servicing camps, schools, Hillels, synagogues and social service agencies nationwide. The response included the sharing of best practices, assistance to thousands of Jewish organizations and businesses applying for Payment Protection Plans loans, and raising millions of dollars to support the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment for safe operation and reopening of institutions.
“New Haven is stronger because Greater Metro West is stronger, because Sarasota is stronger, because Sacramento is stronger,” said Wilf. “When the pandemic hit, we worked together, and we will survive until the day in which we can again begin to thrive.”
“2020 is like a Tale of Two Cities; it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” shared CEO Judith Alperin about the state of the organization. “The past year has seen the strongest growth in years with record high JCC membership and revenue as the organization rebuilt after the fire of December 2016. Our campus was electric with the energy of more than 18,000 people coursing through monthly.”
Alperin praised the success of the organization as it delivered “on mission” and engaged the community at every stage of life, all while staying “hundreds of thousands of dollars ahead of budget.”
When the pandemic hit, the organization shifted resources to continue serving the community under the changing circumstances. This included mobilizing a large number of staff and volunteers to reach out to the 10,000 people in our Jewish community database. The organization distributed over $290,000 to support critical requests through the joint Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven COVID-19 Response / Maimonides Fund. They also delivered more than 1.5 millions masks to those who needed them throughout Connecticut.
Dr. Craig Sklar, the Jewish Foundation’s Chair, cited 2020 as a difficult time in which the Jewish Foundation was called to support the community like never before. Over $2.1 million was distributed in the first half of the year alone—in comparison to $2.7 million distributed in the entire 2019 year. The vast majority (92%) of the funds distributed this year benefitted local Jewish organizations and synagogues.
New initiatives included the COVID-19 Response / Maimonides Fund mentioned above. The Grants for the Elderly distributed $130,000 to benefit New Haven Jewish seniors. In addition, the new Community Security Grants initiative in memory of Yvette and Arthur Eder distributed $240,000 to synagogues, the JCC, Camp Laurelwood, Ezra Academy and Southern CT Hebrew Academy.
JCC President Jeffrey Sklarz provided a historical perspective of the JCC and the pandemic, reciting the establishment of the JCC in 1912 on Orange Street, six years before the Spanish Flue pandemic killed 8,500 people in Connecticut.
“Our community has survived far worse plagues before and will survive this plague today,” he said. The JCC has registered remarkable growth since the fire of 2016 but COVID-19 has put everything that we have built after the fire at risk, Sklarz said. He restated his personal commitment to the success of the organization, along with his certainty of the staff, lay leadership and community’s commitment to the JCC.
“We have a plan and we’re executing it. It may not be a straight line back off the mountain, but it never is,” said Sklarz.
Sklarz presented the Kavod Key award to three outstanding community members who invested significant time and talent to the benefit of the JCC community this year: Shannon Lane, Paul Portnoy and Evan Wyner. Hadassah Buchwald of Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy received the Jewish New Haven award for Excellence in Jewish Education.
Outgoing Jewish Federation President Dr. Jeffrey Hoos said our communities are changed forever, reflecting on the insights and lessons gained in 2020 that will forever be part of our community’s considerations. Thinking of the work that still needs to be done to sustain the Jewish community of Greater New Haven, he reflected on Rabbi Tarfon’s quote in Pirkei Avot: “It's not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from doing it.” Dr. Hoos expressed hope that future generations of leaders will continue building on past work.
“I know one thing for sure. We're all working together to make the Jewish community of Greater New Haven a better place, and we're always moving forward despite the stumbling blocks that have been put before us. We cannot do it alone. We can always do it together,” said Dr. Hoos as he thanked community leaders and staff as well as his wife, Betsy Hoos, for her unwavering support.
After the vote and installation of Dr. Steven Fleischman as the new president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, Dr. Fleischman quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair.” Dr. Fleischman stated that the recent struggles and challenges faced by our community made it clear to him that the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven is truly a beacon of hope to our community.