Beauty and benevolence abound at Women’s Division Spring Luncheon

May 30, 2014

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Renee Strelitz, Jodi Klebanoff, Guest Speaker Sally Oren, Shari Friedman and Deb Segaloff.

Renee Strelitz, Jodi Klebanoff, Guest Speaker Sally Oren, Shari Friedman and Deb Segaloff.

The beauty, subtlety, elegance and graciousness of the Jewish women gathered in the sun-lit room at the Museum of Contemporary Art on May 20 outshone the stunning Dale Chihuly glass chandelier that hung from the ceiling of the gallery.

More than 70 attended the annual Spring Luncheon of the Women’s Cabinet of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. The luncheon is held to thank Cabinet members who help solicit gifts for the UJFT’s Annual Campaign, and this year was also an outreach event for Jewish women in the community who were invited to find out more about the Women’s Cabinet.

Jodi Klebanoff, chair of the Women’s Cabinet, welcomed the guests and expressed how thrilled she was to see so many of them. Susan Hirschbiel followed Klebanoff with the D’var Torah, discussing the Torah portion that deals with the census, and one of her favorite principles of Judaism—the responsibility of the individual to repair the world, and the common identity shared by Jews.

“We come together here at Women’s Cabinet. We share a love of Judaism, a love of community, a love of being together and participating,” Hirschbiel said. “But we all count. And because we understand that every person deserves and needs to count as well, we have made it our divine mission to continue to live by Tikkun Olam and repair the world, one person at a time.”

Following a Campaign update, Women’s Cabinet executive committee member Alicia Friedman introduced guest speaker Sally Oren. Originally from San Francisco, Oren moved to Israel 30 years ago, where she taught dance and began a life filled with educational, social and philanthropic responsibilities.

In 2009, Oren became known as “Madame Ambassador,” taking on a host of duties as the wife of Michael Oren, Israel’s then Ambassador to the United States. In addition to hosting many high level events at the Ambassador’s residence, Oren represented Israel at major receptions at other foreign embassies and at the White House.

With an unassuming and friendly delivery, Oren proved herself to be a captivating storyteller who left guests laughing at times, and completely, silently spellbound at others. Her topics ranged from hosting themed Embassy receptions to demonstrate Israel’s diverse population, to personal health crises, to her sister’s death in a Jerusalem bus bombing, to playing Frisbee with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

“I came from a Zionist family, and, early on, I fell in love with Israeli music and Israeli dance,” Oren said. “Growing up in San Francisco in the 1960s, one of our family’s very good friends was Bill Graham, who—when American music was being transformed by people like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendricks, the Doors—discovered many of them. Every week, my sisters and I went to listen to the music, and dance, and just groove. The musicians that the rest of the world saw as stars, were just people to hang out with.”

Many in the audience were amazed to hear that Oren served milk and cookies to the Jefferson Airplane after the first Human Be-In, and that the band also wrote two songs about her.

Israel, Oren says, has filled her life with joy, but with challenges and tragedies as well. She and her husband have three children, all who have served in the IDF (her oldest son was shot while arresting a Hamas fighter and her daughter served during the Second Lebanon War), and she still mourns the death of her sister.

“We’ve lived through bombings, through wars, through SCUD missiles, and yet, Israel is the most exciting and fulfilling facet in a life that has been, not exactly uninteresting,” Oren said. “Israel remains my home, my responsibility, and my birthright.”

Oren concluded her presentation by thanking the women present, noting that because of their generosity, Israel has not only survived, but has thrived.

Klebanoff provided an update on the generosity of women’s gifts to the 2014 Annual Campaign, noting that volunteers, to date, had helped raise $1.28 million from 594 individual donors, and had initiated more than 100 face-to-face conversations with donors over the previous nine months. Klebanoff recognized new milestone givers in the women’s division, including: 10 new Lions of Judah (women giving $5,000+ to the annual campaign), four new Tikvas (women giving $3,600+), and 14 new Chai Society donors (women giving $1,800+).

She thanked the women whose terms of service were complete and who were rotating off of the Cabinet: Susan Alper, Roz August and Connie Jacobson, and welcomed new members: Jennifer Adut, Lynn Sher Cohen, Anne Kramer and Joanna Schranz. Additionally, Klebanoff noted that the georgous floral arrangements adorning the tables were donated by Black Iris Floral Events in Virginia Beach.

In her closing remarks, Klebanoff summarized: “Sometimes we forget how important it is, this work we do year in and year out. Today I want to remind you that it’s more than important. It’s vital. The work we do today impacts the lives that our children will have tomorrow and their children beyond that, and not just here in Virginia Beach and Norfolk—in Israel, where far too many live below the poverty line (including children), in Budapest and Prague and Krakow and Havana—where Jewish communities struggle daily to meet the needs of their members and to promote Jewish continuity in places where not too long ago it seemed vanquished.

“The infrastructures we maintain through our Federation ensure that Jews in need have a place to turn—a source for assistance if and when they require it.”

To find out more about the Women’s Cabinet of the UJFT, and how to become involved, visit JewishVa.org/women, or call 757-965-6139.

by Laine Mednick Rutherford

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