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My Purim Paradise

When I was studying abroad in Israel 2 years ago, I was lucky enough to celebrate many Jewish holidays. Celebrating the spring holidays in Israel was incredible, and Purim was no exception. Purim has always been one of my favorite Jewish holidays. I love watching the elaborate Purim Shpiels (plays), eating the delicious hamentaschen, making costumes that I planned weeks in advance- it is all so festive and celebratory. But Purim in Jerusalem was a whole new level of awesome. 

The energy in the air during the weeks leading up to the holiday was so exciting. All the store fronts had racks of colorful, shiny, and textured fabrics on display (to purchase to make costumes, of course) and the stands in Machane Yehuda market were filled with fresh hamentaschen– I bought one every time I went. For someone who had never experienced Purim in Jerusalem, it felt like New York city at Christmas time. 

After a long day of classes my friends and I would take the bus from Hebrew University to Ben Yehuda & Jaffa Street to look for costume inspiration. I knew I wanted to wear a bright blue wig as part of my costume, but I didn’t know who or what I would be dressing up as, so I needed to 1). Acquire the wig and 2). Decide what my costume would actually be, based off of said wig. My friends found costumes that resembled Unicorns, Disney Characters, and farm animals. We were going all out this Purim. With the blue wig as the centerpiece, my costume was pop superstar Katy Perry. 

In the week leading up to Purim, my friends and I made Mishloach Manot baskets. This Purim tradition has always been so important to me and I love to do it every year. 

The night of Purim came in Jerusalem and we were headed to Machane Yehuda market for a Purim party! On a normal day, Machane Yehuda is crowded- it would be hard to maneuver your way through without twisting your body to scoot around people. But on Purim, there was an ocean of people. If you stepped too far to your left you could quite literally get swept away with the crowd of people. Everybody there was dressed in costume, dancing to music, and celebrating.There were children in strollers to adults with walkers present- this Purim Party was for everybody and nobody wanted to miss it. 

Music played all night and some people performed little dances and tricks as the crowd thinned. Through the air you could hear compliments on costumes, song recommendations, shouts of “Chag Purim Sameach!” and groggers shake if anyone dared to say Hamen’s name.

I love purim because it is so creative, crazy and communal in its celebrations. I will always look back on Purim in Jerusalem as one of the greatest celebrations I have been a part of. 

This Purim, remember to drink in so you can pour out.  Have fun and savor the celebration.


Take Time to Celebrate You

By: Ashley Bundis, Marketing Director & Keith Dvorchik, Executive Director

Alicia Keys says: “I recognized how important paying attention to the spirit and the soul is, in order to find yourself in a place that feels good. There has to be this inward dialogue and inward attention paid to what surrounds us, and how to be brave enough to choose ourselves.”

As we prepare for Purim and then Passover, before the rush of the holidays, take time for you. No, this is not a joke.  This has been a crazy past 12 months. I remember last year at this time trying to wrap my head around how to do a virtual seder while embracing my feelings of remorse on the whole situation.  Now, a year later, I am attracted to easy, doable, and convenient. This time, it is important for us to take time for ourselves.

Community support has proven to be the golden ticket towards goodness, awareness, and self-care.  Here at the Federation, we strive to be more than a resource. We are a family.  We are so excited to announce the premiere of two upcoming next endeavors that will hopefully bring great joy and happiness to your lives.

SOULCARE MONTH, coming in March, is an entire month curated to help you find ways to keep your peace safe.  March 2021 will be enriched with self-care experts, Rabbis, and community members offering an abundance of activities, discussions, books, and community 💜 that are sure to ground, protect and nourish.

Additionally, since this Passover is unlike any other Passover, the Federation will be launching its very own Passover Playbook presented by the Brown Home Group.  This 2021 essential digital treasure offers a grand look at how every Seder is unique, tips on new Passover trends, recipes, children’s activities, and an inside peek at our Israeli connection through the holiday.

Passover is a unique holiday in that we are required to recline, to relax, to drink 4 cups of wine (or grape juice), and enjoy freedom.  If the past 12 months have taught us anything, it has been the importance of family, of friends, and of taking care of ourselves.  Soulcare month gives us nearly 30 days to pay attention to ourselves, our needs, and our spirit, concluding with Passover, celebrating freedom and joy.  I urge you to invest in yourself, to take time to celebrate you, and participate in some of these programs.  After the last year, we all deserve and need to address our own spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs.

Shabbat Shalom.

RAISE Is Uniting Our Community, Celebrating Diversity in Our Workplace & Empowering Families

RAISE Is Uniting Our Community, Celebrating Diversity in Our Workplace & Empowering Families

By: Loren London, Founder and Director of RAISE & Rachel Slavkin, Director of Employment and Education

Our RAISE (Recognizing Abilities and Inclusion of Special Employees) mission is to build confidence, promote independence, and teach employability skills to adults with special needs and provide guidance and support to their families.  Once in the RAISE family, always in the RAISE family is at the heart of everything we do.  Discouraged and unsuccessful in entering the workforce, RAISE is proud to help our ‘family members’ become recognized and valued members of our community.

By March 2020, we were well aware of our need to pivot and provide virtual support and learning opportunities for the largest number of RAISE applicants since our inception in 2012. Teaching online has allowed us to expand our impact and offer RAISE Your Skills, pre-employment training to prepare participants to enter the workforce. Participants are matched with volunteer job coaches to practice and reinforce the learned skills. We have seen the importance of these personal connections and how they have helped build the self confidence of our participants.

Recognizing the more challenging role of our job coaches, we have also created a virtual educational opportunity providing advanced training for best practices led by professionals in the field. In addition, aware of the high risk for depression and increased anxieties felt by our families, we started an emotional support group, RAISE Your Voice. Our team saw this need and jumped at the opportunity to provide an online forum that connects families with professionals for much needed support and guidance.

There is no better way to share the impact of RAISE than in just one of the many testimonials we have received in the past from grateful family members.

A loving brother tells Alex’s story best:

“Alex had been in and out of jobs for years with no success. After 6 months of getting nowhere with dozens of agencies and community programs, I found RAISE. In the interview, I could tell the team knew all the resources in Orlando and amazingly, helped move the dial before the program began. Instantaneously, we were adopted into the RAISE family. Suddenly, we had a plan, a support network, and a Rolodex of caring people. Doors began to open; we started to see the light. The quality of his job coaches was beyond anything I could have expected. This free program and coaching would have cost thousands elsewhere. He even received a weekly paycheck! Alex learned how to interact with bosses, handle stress, and provide good customer service. As we leave, we still feel a part of the RAISE family. I have never seen a more caring organization.”

As RAISE continues to foster a culture of inclusion, we are proud of the meaningful impact we are having on personal dignity as our participants strive to reach their potential. A nationwide pause in hiring opened the door for RAISE to provide valuable pre-employment training to adults with special needs. When we can safely meet in person, we look forward to resuming our original RAISE format, offering social skills classes and paid, job coach supported employment training at 7 locations. During these challenging times of divide, more than ever before, inclusion of adults with special needs, empowering families, and celebrating diversity in our workplace will help us continue to build a united community guided by our values of making the world a better place.

Inspiration all around

What a community we have!

Anyone who has wondered about the level of passion, commitment and unity in the Central Florida Jewish Community had his or her questions answered this week.

On Monday, the Federation kicked off a 24-hour Focus on the Future campaign with the goal of eliminating the debt on the Jewish Community Campus following the sale of the vacant building. With only 24 hours to raise a significant amount of money, the community responded – loudly. The fundraising goal was not only met, it was exceeded!! The success of this campaign means the campus will be debt-free for the first time in a generation. And the retirement of that debt will have a significant positive financial impact on the Federation, The Roth Family JCC and the Jewish Academy of Orlando. The entire community will benefit, as these three agencies will be able to deploy more resources to support their core missions instead of making debt payments. Those who contributed to this 24-hour campaign – and to the larger Campus 2020 Debt Retirement Campaign – truly had a hand in making local history. Thank you!

Dayenu! It would have been enough. Yet it wasn’t.

On Wednesday night, The Roth Family JCC’s annual J Ball honored Jo Ann and Stuart Farb for their lifelong commitment to the J. Also in the spotlight was ‘Ms. Judy’ Galkin, honored for her 33 years of dedication to the JCC. In a wonderful evening with more than 325 people in attendance, both the Farbs and Judy spoke passionately about their lifelong commitment to the JCC and the Jewish community. They set an example for us all, and we are blessed to have them as our friends. (Be sure to check out our video tributes to the Farbs and Ms. Judy).    

Dayenu! It still would have been enough. Yet it wasn’t.

Coming up next Thursday, April 4, the Jewish Academy of Orlando and Central Florida Hillel are joining together for a special Casino Night, Poker Tournament & Lady Luck event. These two agencies are partnering to bring our community together once again for a night of fun and philanthropy. Seeing our community agencies work together for the greater benefit is both exciting and inspiring. That spirit of collaboration is definitely infectious.

Dayenu! Can there really be more?

There’s more. On Monday April 8, the Federation will host a special Women’s Passover Seder, led by Cantor Jacquie. This no-solicitation event is designed as the kickoff for the Federation’s new Women’s Division, an effort to create unity and bonding through meaningful programs led by and for our amazing Jewish women in Central Florida. This is a new initiative, and leadership positions are available.  

As I began, what a community we have! It is heartening to see and feel the passion that is fueling the growth of so many other amazing Jewish organizations in town. I encourage you to pick the things that interest you and get involved. You will benefit in ways you probably never imagined!


Thank you for an inspiring week.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Keith Dvorchik