407-645-5933 ext. 236 info@jfgo.org

Uprooting Prejudice: Faces of Change

Since I started working at the Maitland Campus, I always enjoyed my many opportunities to experience the Holocaust Center’s varied exhibits. Exhibits that focus not just on teaching us about the history and impact of the Holocaust; but also as their mission states “to build a just and caring community free of antisemitism and all forms of prejudice and bigotry.”

Founded in 1981 by Tess Wise, a local Holocaust Survivor from Poland, the Holocaust Center opened the doors to its current location in 1986, several years before the US Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington, DC. The Center provides area schools access to its Holocaust education programs and field trips free of charge. Teachers participate in the Center’s ongoing professional development programs to learn how to appropriately and respectfully teach this difficult subject. Students participating in its Upstanders: Stand up Against Bullying initiative start the program with a field trip to the Center. They are introduced to Holocaust history and discover the ultimate cost of prejudice, discrimination, and social isolation. And they are inspired by the true stories of rescuers who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors.

The Center’s latest exhibit Uprooting Prejudice: Faces of Change, is a series of 45 black-and-white photographs of people sharing their emotions and thoughts about prejudice. Each image is paired with a quote responding to photographer John Noltner’s question, “What do you want to say?” Some responses are understandably angry while others are hopeful. I had the opportunity to view the exhibit albeit separately from Dr. Stephen Smith, the Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation (founded by Steven Spielberg). Dr. Smith, who founded the United Kingdom’s first Holocaust center, wrote an interesting article that makes the core point that the exhibit is about how to come together as human beings in the face of racism. It asks questions and addresses current society. He notes that it is doing what temporary exhibits are meant to do: exposing people to new and challenging perspectives. I encourage you to read Dr. Smith’s article to learn more about how our Holocaust Center is viewed by one of the leaders in this field.

Some have raised concerns after reading news articles that contained inaccurate characterizations of the exhibit. I spoke with Michelle Feinberg, President of the Holocaust Center Board of Directors, who told me that “With the rise of antisemitism, racism and so many other expressions of hate, the Center sees this as an opportunity to reaffirm a goal Tess established almost 40 years ago. “The Center is a crusade against prejudice, a part of the struggle to keep history from repeating itself.”

I encourage our community members to take the time to visit the Center and see the exhibit for yourself.  As with many museums, reservations are required in order to ensure social distancing. To make a reservation click here or call 407.628.0555.

This is an opportunity for us all to learn and explore the power of prejudice and bigotry.  As Jews, we have faced prejudice and bigotry throughout our history.  Viewing this exhibit has led me to look deeper into the power of hatred and bigotry and the risks to our community if we do not take action to stop it.  I would love to hear your thoughts after you view the exhibit.  Please email me or feel free to give me a call.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah


PJ Library is Growing Into the New Year

PJ Library Orlando started off the new year by giving back to our senior community with a donation of 50+ pairs of socks to the residents of Kinneret Apartments. The success of this program was a joint effort in collaboration with the Roth Family JCC’s Richard S. Adler Early Childhood Learning Center, whose K3 & K4 students created beautiful new year cards to accompany the socks. PJ Library’s most successful efforts come from working with local community partners and agencies such as Kinneret and the JCC. 

As you know, celebrations for the High Holidays look different this year due to social distancing. Although we were not able to celebrate together, we were able to send families home with PJ Library High Holiday kits. 60 bags were made with 35 picked up at the Roth Family JCC and 25 at the Rosen JCC. These bags went home into the hands of excited children from north to south Orlando. The bags were filled with activity pages, recipes, kid-friendly tashlich ideas, honey sticks and more. 

We have seen tremendous growth in the number of PJ Library books that are sent out on a monthly basis over the past few months. In late 2019, PJ Library Orlando switched from a one book per household community to a one book per child community. At that time we were providing 714 families a monthly PJ Library book. In August 2020, we sent PJ Library books to 1,099 children. Over the past month, working with community partners, we enrolled even more children, bringing the total number of children who will receive PJ Library books in Central Florida to 1,530! That’s more than double the number just a year ago. 

PJ Library is launching a national parent pilot program, Unplugging for Shabbat. Two of our Orlando parents will join 100 parent leaders from PJ Library communities across the globe to take a deep dive into what author of 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, Tiffany Shlain and her family, call a “Tech Shabbat”– a simple, free, 21st century version of the ancient Shabbat ritual that has been working wonders for her family for more than ten years. If you’re curious about the power of unplugging, have been thinking of unplugging yourself or just want to hear what the buzz is about, we invite you to join us at 2 pm ET on Tuesday, 9/29 to hear from Tiffany Shlain.

We look forward to growing our PJ Library community, celebrating together and of course, snuggling up and reading in our pjs. Sweet wishes for a happy and healthy 5781!

TOP Jewish Foundation – Federation’s Foundation Department – Creates First Impact Investment Helping Orlando Residents in Crisis

As we approach the High Holy Days, TOP Jewish Foundation has focused its efforts to aid Orlando community residents most adversely impacted by the Pandemic. As the Federation’s foundation arm, TOP supports the Federation in many ways promoting philanthropy and positive impact in our community. This past month, TOP brought the concept of repairing the world very close to home as it harnessed the strength of its asset base, partnering with the Federation, Jewish Family Services Orlando (JFS) and Jewish Capital Alliance to help those in critical need of rental assistance in the Orlando community.

As a result of the economic fallout related to the pandemic, many Orlando families need help meeting their rent payments. JFS recognized the basic need to help the community and was awarded a $500,000 Housing and Community Development Grant as part of the Cares Act for rental assistance to Orange County residents in crisis. However, because all grants from the Housing and Community Development are awarded only after the funds are distributed to Orange County residents, JFS anticipated a cash flow issue and turned to TOP and Jewish Capital Alliance for assistance.

TOP assisted by opening a new fund, the JFS Orlando Rental Assistance Fund, and quickly garnered support from ten generous Orlando fund holders, including the Federation, to invest a portion of their individual TOP funds in the new fund. The new fund loaned $250,000 to JFS, which was designated for the rental assistance program. TOP fund holders will be repaid for their investment plus a nominal interest rate as soon as Housing and Community Development reimburses JFS. 

The collaboration between community organizations grew even stronger as the Jewish Capital Alliance, at the same time, committed to loan $250,000 to JFS so that JFS had no cash flow limitation and could extend the full $500,000 to residents in need.

The rental assistance program serves as a great example of how TOP can help the community using an Impact Investment, defined as an investment intended and structured to generate both a financial return and a measurable social return. “Since the investment in JFS and the rental assistance program aligns with our mission – to ensure that the Jewish community thrives for generations to come, TOP embraced the opportunity and is honored to work alongside such remarkable organizations like JFS Orlando, the Federation and Jewish Capital Alliance”, commented Craig Polejes, TOP’s Board Chair.

TOP could not think of a better way to celebrate the New Year than to have the privilege of helping those in need while collaborating with our valued organizational partners in the community.

Wishing the Orlando Jewish community a very happy, healthy and sweet New Year.

How to get a free shofar for the High Holidays

COVID-19 has brought us many challenges. One of them relates to the coming High Holidays and the mitzvah of hearing the sound of the shofar. With social distancing and many people choosing to not gather in groups, this year it is likely that many people will observe the High Holidays through virtual services. As such, many will hear the sound of shofar through the Internet but not in person.

As I wrote a few weeks ago in Fed Friday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando has partnered with many of our synagogues and Jewish agencies with the goal of making sure as many people as possible in Greater Orlando can hear the blast of the shofar in person.

Synagogues will be providing outdoor soundings of the shofar in order to ensure people can be socially distanced, safe, and hear the shofar sound in person. In addition, the Jewish Federation has 200 shofarot that will be distributed free to members of our community, allowing families to sound the shofar at home while they are privately observing the holiday. The Federation is also providing educational Zoom sessions to learn how to blow the shofar. Finally, the Federation is working to get volunteers to visit nursing homes and senior facilities to ensure residents there can also hear the sound of the shofar.

Click the button below to request your free shofar and/or to volunteer. The deadline to apply is Friday, July 31, and you will be notified the week of August 3 about your shofar. You will be able to pick up your shofar at either the Rosen JCC or The Roth Family JCC the week of August 10. We will provide instrucitonal programs via Zoom the week of August 17.

Thank you to our generous donors who made this project possible and special thanks to all of our partners listed below.

You have more time to get your free shofar!

We have had a tremendous response from community members who requested a free shofar from the Federation for our Sound the Shofar Community Celebration during Rosh Hashanah.

More than half of our beautiful shofarot (pictured) have been spoken for, but we are extending the deadline for one week only so as many people as possible have a chance to be a part of this very unique community celebration. Our goal: Make sure no one has to observe the high holidays without hearing the sound of the shofar in person.

Just fill out a shofar request online no later than 5:00 pm next Friday, August 7. We will let you know via email when and where you can pick up your shofar.

WHEN WILL I GET MY SHOFAR? If you have already requested a shofar, please note that we have moved the distribution time to the week of August 17, when you will be able to pick up your shofar at the Rosen or Roth Family JCC. Keep an eye on your inbox for specific dates and times.

I ALREADY HAVE A SHOFAR. HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED? We are seeking volunteer shofar-blowers — in fact, we’re counting on them — to make this celebration a success by visiting nursing homes and other care facilities to ensure residents there can also hear the sound of the shofar.. You can volunteer using the same request form on our website.

I DON’T KNOW HOW TO BLAST THE SHOFAR. We’ve got you covered. The Federation is providing free educational Zoom sessions on the fundamentals of shofar blowing. You’ll be sounding the shofar like a pro in no time!

Click the button below to request your free shofar and/or to volunteer. Remember, the final deadline to submit your request is 5:00 pm Friday, August 5, or until our supply of shofarot is exhausted.

Thank you to our generous donors who made this project possible and to all of our partners listed below.

Partner Synagogues

Chabad of South Orlando

Congregation Ohev Shalom

Havurah Tikva Hadasha

Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation

Temple Israel

Temple Shir Shalom

Partner Agencies

Central Florida Hillel

Hillel at Rollins College

Havurah Tikva Hadasha

Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center

Hillel at Stetson University

Kinneret Council on Aging

The Jewish Pavilion

Rosen JCC

The Roth Family JCC

Comfort in community

I remember 19 years ago today vividly as I am sure many of you do. When American Airlines Flight 11 hit the first tower, we thought it was an accident.  When United Airlines flight 175 hit the second tower, we knew something bad was happening. When American Airlines flight 77 hit the Pentagon we knew we were under attack. As South Tower collapsed, we watched in horror. We learned about United Airlines flight 93 crashing in Shanksville, PA and were gripped by fear. What would happen next? Where was the next attack going to be? Finally the North Tower collapsed and we began mourning. As I sat at University of Florida Hillel students began gathering to watch the news coverage together. As a community we joined to share the horror, the fear, and gain comfort by being together.

19 years later, we remember the 2,977 lives lost due to that attack. We mourn the loss of our country’s innocence and the way all of our lives have changed since that day. We remember the spouses who lost their partner, the children who lost their parent, the parents who lost their children, and the siblings who lost their siblings.

In 2020 we are faced with Coronavirus pandemic. While a virus instead of a terrorist has impacted all of our lives, similar to the impact of September 11, 2001 we are again finding comfort in community. When I hear the work of the Jewish agencies, synagogues and the Jewish Federation to take care of the Central Florida Jewish community, I am inspired. One of the core tenants of Judaism is community. Certain prayers require a community (a minyan, 10 people) in order to say them. We learn together, not individually, our Shabbat table is filled with people and the upcoming High Holidays are typically represented with large gatherings around meals, worship, and breaking the fast. All of that will be different this year.

As I watch our community continue to pivot, adjust, and find new ways to ensure everybody can find a home and a place to be a part of something larger, I realize how lucky we are. Even though Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot will look very different this year, we will find ways to celebrate together. We are finding ways to hear the sound of the Shofar, pray, and be a community. For me, this is the essence of Judaism. We are a community, a people, a mishpacha (family). We know we are stronger and better together and place that at the center of what we do.

So as we remember the impact of September 11, 2001 today and how it changed the lives of all Americans, let’s also pay attention to how Covid-19 is changing how we find community during the chagim, not if we still find ways to join together as a community. The joy of Judaism and Jewish community is clear, especially during challenging times.