Many of you know about the visit to our campus yesterday by a virulent anti-Semitic group. We were alerted to their presence in Florida by the Secure Community Network (SCN), a program of The Jewish Federations of North America, late last week. Along with SCN, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) kept us updated on their status. Our Campus Security Director, Jake Silverman, had been monitoring them since their arrival to Florida and was in regular contact with local, State, and Federation law enforcement to keep us safe.
On Thursday afternoon, Jake’s cell phone began buzzing as local, state, and federal law enforcement offices alerted him that this group was targeting the Holocaust Center on our Jewish Community Campus for their next location to spew their Jew-hatred. With thirty (30) minutes notice, Jake was in contact with law enforcement and within minutes, Maitland Police officers were on campus, preparing to keep us safe. Mike, our security officer, secured the entrance to campus to ensure they would not be able to enter campus. Orange County Sheriff’s officers arrived to provide support and other local police departments, sheriff’s offices, the FBI and Homeland Security offered support if we needed them. It was an incredible thing to see as our efforts to improve our security on campus were clearly shown. Jake’s leadership in keeping us safe has always been something I have valued and he truly exhibited how extraordinary he is during this incident. Mike goes above and beyond to keep everybody on campus safe and while he always makes us feel safer by his presence, his true value, experience, and passion for our campus was on exhibit. The relationships with the Maitland Police Department and other local, state, and federal law enforcement paid dividends as we had their full support.
When this hate group showed up and was denied access to campus, they parked across the street and began spewing their bigotry, ignorance, and hate. It was disgusting and heartbreaking. I was overcome with emotion seeing and hearing them in a manner that was unexpected and a bit overpowering. As I turned around and looked at campus, I was amazed at the dichotomy that was occurring. On one side of the street were anti-Semites, Jew-haters, people filled with hate and evil. On the other side were beautiful children engaged in learning, being picked up by their parents and grandparents, JCC members coming to work out or swim, seniors coming to enjoy Jewish life on our campus. It was a sight filled with love, joy, and happiness.
Anti-Semitism is real and the power of Jew-hatred was on display yesterday. Also on display was the power of community. The national Secure Community Networks and ADL helping alert and prepare us, the planning by our security team and the relationships with law enforcement, the hardening of the campus that continues to occur year after year to keep us safe. People reaching out with love, care, and concern. I heard last night from a representative of the Muslim community in Orlando, reaching out in support.
Last night was Brave Choices, our signature women’s event. We honored 28 amazing women last night and as I watched the program, I was inspired, excited, and empowered, not only by the 28 women who we honored but by the 100 women of various ages involved in the event. Hearing them talk about the Jewish community in Orlando, of the passion they have, of the future of Jewish life, and how they are inspired was beautiful. Hearing the singing in the beginning was powerful and I encourage you to watch it on our YouTube page to be inspired as well. On a day when Jew-hatred and bigotry was front and center, this event highlighted the beauty and love of our community.
We are an incredible Jewish community in Orlando. While yesterday afternoon was certainly challenging, it also gave us a chance to truly see the beauty we have. I encourage you to reach out and be a part of this special community.
For some, their Bar or Bat mitzvah may be the end of their formal Jewish education. Not in my house. From a very early age, probably before my bat mitzvah, I knew that my parents expected me to continue in religious school through 10th grade confirmation and our Rabbi continually reinforced the idea that learning was a lifetime activity. As was customary at the time, confirmation was a ceremony held on Shavuot, in which we confirmed our acceptance of the Torah. Once the service was over and we had celebrated with our friends and families, many of us stayed on to participate in our temple’s tikkun leil Shavuot – a long night in which we studied the Torah with our rabbi. Off and on since then, I’ve had the opportunity to come together with various communities and explore one of Shavuot’s most important themes, the promise our ancestors made to accept the Torah and share its lessons from generation to generation. So, when I was approached to develop a Jewish learning program for Shavuot it was only natural that my mind returned to all those nights spent studying the Torah. Of course, it also helped that I knew the Jewish Federation had hosted a similar Shavuot program last year, and that it was extremely successful.
As we read in the Torah, it wasn’t just Moses or the high priests who stood at Mt. Sinai, but the entire Israelite community. So, it’s really quite fitting that Into the Night: A Shavuot Experience should bring together our Orlando Jewish community. In preparing for this event, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rabbis, cantors, and educators from across the spectrum of Jewish beliefs and practice. On Sunday, May 16, our leaders will take time to share music, worship, and learning not just with their own synagogue communities but with the larger Orlando Jewish community.
The great thing about Into the Night: A Shavuot Experience is that it’s not just for adults. Just like the Torah was a gift to the whole community and future generations, this celebration is for adults and children. Yes, there will be a Shavuot service. Yes, there will be Torah study. But there will also be a chance for kids and their parents to follow the tradition of eating dairy on Shavuot by learning how to make ice cream in a plastic bag! And if you’re up to something a little more challenging, join our Executive Director, Keith Dvorchik, as he bakes his famous cheesecake. There will also be the opportunity to meditate on the meaning of the holiday and how we can use this time of year to heal ourselves and become more whole.
As I think back to the Shavuot celebrations of my youth, I also look forward to spending this Shavuot with you, my Orlando Jewish community. Don’t miss out, come for one or two activities or stay for the whole night. I hope I’ll see you online on Sunday, May 16, from 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
By: Loren London, Director & Founder and Rachel Slavkin, Director of Employment & Education
When our community locked down one year ago, RAISE did not patiently wait for the new normal and wonder what that would look and feel like. Although rolling out vaccinations has allowed so many of us to begin to see a light, our young adults with disabilities have needed so much more than that…they needed Soul Care.
And RAISE provided it.
RAISE started 2020 with heartwarming recognition when our program was selected as a Community Champion by WESH/Channel 2 News. Little did we know what lurked ahead.
When businesses shuttered and doors closed, RAISE kept on working safely, from a distance. Within two weeks, RAISE jumped on board to provide virtual opportunities to our employees, families, and alumni. Working remotely, our volunteer Leadership Team has been able to meet regularly and deftly pivot to accommodate the ever-changing data. And, as we have done for the past 8 years, RAISE has been able to deliver social skills training for adults with special needs and an added support group for their families. Our dedicated job coach volunteers, paired up with RAISE participants, and are able to stay connected on a weekly basis and provide practice and reinforcement of learned skills.
RAISE is proud to share that our program has been recognized as one of the first 2021Top Rated recipients by GreatNonprofits. The heartfelt words of our employees, alumni, their families, and our donors that have been touched by our program speak volumes. We hope you will take a moment to read a few Praise for RAISE quotes below.
RAISE is guided by the traditional Jewish value of Tikkun Olam and takes into account the overall well-being of adults with special needs and their families as we strive to make our community a better, more inclusive place for everyone. As a program, we have always deeply cared about the intellectual and emotional impact we are having on each participant, his/her family, and our community.
Soul Care month reminds us that although we need to take time to nurture ourselves, we also need to help one another, especially during this pandemic. This too shall pass and with a little bit of kindness and optimism, we can all make a difference as we wait for the new normal and the exciting changes it will bring.
Looking for a meaningful and rewarding experience? We hope you will consider volunteering as a job coach. Just click on our webpage to find out more about RAISE and how to participate. Working with RAISE participants is nourishing for your heart and soul.
See some Praise for RAISE:
Client Served 02/12/2021
As an employee of the RAISE Program, I feel honored. It was a wonderful experience. It gave me building blocks for self-esteem, self advocacy, and self-determination. I learned social expectations in a workplace, the importance of following directions at a workplace, phone etiquette, and peer-relationships. Through their help and encouragement and all that I have learned in the RAISE program, I was able to obtain employment. It is a blessing that I have been in the RAISE Program and continue to be in the RAISE family.
Client Served 02/24/2021
My son is 22 yrs old and graduated from high school in May 2020. He began attending the “virtual” RAISE Your Skills program during the Covid quarantine shutdown. I have been so impressed by the leadership and guidance of the staff as they teach important social skills for future work environments, the creativity and positive learning style is to be commended. My son looks forward to attending weekly and is gaining confidence practicing the new skills into his daily interactions with family and friends. The RAISE program provides a valuable service to individuals, the community, and their families by preparing these young adults for future work environments.
As a Job Coach with the RAISE program, I have been privileged to work with and learn from
the leaders and professionals of the RAISE Team. I have learned from my students and their families, and from the staff at the agencies, we are affiliated with.
What have I learned and experienced? A greater respect for everyone’s amazing potential, the value of patience, and the value of persistence.
I have been awed by the growth of my employees. They are like buds that blossom. I have shared in the amazement of their families as they watch their growth. And I have felt satisfied that by participating in RAISE I have been part of a worthwhile and meaningful effort.
As a supervisor to RAISE employees for over two years. I can say that watching these employees progress and add community to our organization benefits us a great deal. The level of support from RAISE, as well as the great work-ethic from employees is simply amazing. This program is important for the Orlando community and the interaction gained really brought light into our community center. I highly recommend RAISE to community partners.
As a donor, we are so happy to support RAISE each year since we continue to see the impact it has had on our entire community. Before the pandemic closed the doors of the Dick and Dottie’s Place, a cafe in the lobby of the Jewish Community Center in Maitland, we were particularly touched to see RAISE employees working in the cafe and helping customers. RAISE is the first program for adults with special needs in our Jewish community that pays their participants to work at partnering agencies! The fact that RAISE continues to prepare adults with special needs for competitive employment makes it even more valuable now as we make our way to the other side of this pandemic.
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.
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.
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.