The Jewish community’s impact on Alyssa and Jonathan Muhlendorf, a LIFE & LEGACY™ donor story

April 19, 2019

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Jonathan and Alyssa Muhlendorf.

Jonathan and Alyssa Muhlendorf.

The Tidewater Jewish Foundation (TJF) recently celebrated a successful second year of its LIFE & LEGACY program. During the community celebration in March, one set of donors, Alyssa and Jonathan Muhlendorf, shared their reasons for giving. The following is an excerpt from their speech.

Alyssa: We chose our LIFE & LEGACY recipient organizations because they made an indelible imprint on our Jewish journey, and we want to afford them the flexibility to create and grow for future constituencies.

Jonathan: Our gift provides unrestricted funds using life insurance. It doesn’t take a significant present financial commitment to guarantee a large amount of money in the future. Endowment gifts allow our Jewish organizations to plan for the future because there is a guaranteed stream of future income. At our ages, it costs us just a few thousand dollars a year to guarantee delivery of a ton of money in the future.

Alyssa: We realize the breadth of our Jewish lives is directly connected to the Jewish infrastructure in this community. Our choice to create a LIFE & LEGACY gift came from a desire to ensure that other Jewish individuals and families have the same opportunities as us.

Jonathan: I grew up in River Point and Wexford Terrace, close to the old Jewish Community Center in Norfolk. Aside from the JCC, I spent time at Ohef Sholom Temple and Beth Sholom Home. My grandfather (of blessed memory), Sam Gould, came to live in Tidewater from Tennessee when I was seven. I visited him and his bachelor brother for 15½ years at Beth Sholom Home. Sam died at age 98 and his brother died at 99, within two weeks of each other.

Alyssa: My beginnings were much different, and certainly more transient. My father was a professor of geology, then worked in the private sector, so we moved around the country. I was born in Michigan, lived in Las Vegas through seventh grade, and completed junior high and high school in Ohio. My paternal grandparents lived in Washington state, so most vacations were spent with multiple generations of relatives just south of Tacoma. I went to college in Washington, and my parents and siblings live there.

Two generations ago, my father’s ancestors settled in Minnesota, and brought their proud Norwegian and Lutheran traditions, many of which are still celebrated in my extended family.

Jonathan: We met in Washington DC in 2003, and in 2005 were engaged and moved to Tidewater to start our family and find a more deeply rooted community. With five years of experience in accounting and financial planning in Northern Virginia, I launched my own wealth management practice in Virginia Beach.

Alyssa: I wanted to transition careers, from politics, to social work. A chance conversation led to a position at Jewish Family Service. I coordinated a monthly food bank for Jewish families, planned Jewish social events for adults with disabilities, and connected donors to children during the annual Chanukah gift drive. I absorbed the importance of caring for our Jewish community through everyday deeds of loving kindness. My experiences at JFS were a key factor in my choice to become Jewish. JFS is one of the recipients of our LIFE & LEGACY gift.

Jonathan: The week after Alyssa went into the mikvah and we celebrated her conversion at Ohef Sholom, we found out Alyssa was pregnant. Our next chapters unfolded rapidly…Elijah’s bris, infancy, toddlerhood, moving from a condo, to an apartment, to a house, and then two years and eight months later, our daughter, Nyla, joined our family.

Alyssa: One program that unexpectedly made a great impact on me was PJ Library. Like LIFE & LEGACY, PJ Library is a visionary project by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. They partner with local Federations to ensure EVERY Jewish child receives a form of Jewish media in the mail each month. When I read our children these books, and danced and sang to the music together, I was given the tools to gain a progressively deeper understanding of the religion I choose for myself while at the same time, becoming a confident Jewish mother who could translate Judaism more effectively to our kids. The Federation is another recipient of our LIFE & LEGACY gift.

Jonathan: Our involvement with Ohef Sholom increased from attending services and programs, to volunteering our time, talent, and treasure. Alyssa was elected to the synagogue board in 2009. And we both now serve on the Ohef Sholom Foundation board. Ohef Sholom is also a recipient of our LIFE & LEGACY gift.

Alyssa: Our children’s attendance at Strelitz preschool and Hebrew Academy built more scaffolding on top of the foundation of our family’s Jewish identity. Because our lives synched with the Hebrew calendar, we had the time available on breaks to truly celebrate holidays. Because of our great experiences at HAT, the school is a recipient of our LIFE & LEGACY gift.

Jonathan: Our first trip to Israel in 2015 transformed us into Zionists. It never would have happened except for the programs sponsored by the Federation, the Foundation, the Tom Hofheimer Mission Fund, and the Simon Family Foundation. We had a new perspective on: world Jewry, the delicate balance of Israel’s security, and the deep historical roots of Israel as our sacred homeland. The relationships we forged with the other program participants are deep and meaningful, and we hope will continue for our lifetime.

Alyssa: This last summer the Federation and Foundation offered us another meaningful travel opportunity to Israel. When we visited JDC program sites, I found their work purposeful and exciting. The importance of this organization to world Jewry hooked me in. JDC is now one of our LIFE & LEGACY recipient agencies because we want to look beyond our local community to ensure Jewish people worldwide have a safety net and sense of Jewish community.

Jonathan: The LIFE & LEGACY Program really is about keeping all of our stories going and ensuring new stories can be written. Almost everybody can participate in some way. If you know you are ok, and your family is well taken care of, isn’t it all of our responsibility to ensure our community is taken care of, too?

Alyssa: Our sincere hope is that through the legacy gifts that ALL of us are creating, generations after us have the flexibility and resources to express THEIR Judaism in a manner that enlivens THEIR spirits, and allows them to approach and interpret Torah with the artful eye of discovery.

To learn more about LIFE & LEGACY and how you can make an impact on the future of Tidewater’s Jewish community, contact Scott Kaplan, TJF president & CEO, at 757-965-6109 or skaplan@ujft.org or Kaitlyn Oelsner, development associate, at 757-965-6103 or koelesner@ujft.org.

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