OyChicago blog

Why JUF? Part I

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Fifteen (Expletive) Phonothons Later 

Why JUF? photo

I was 25 years old and so green I sat there in my bare naked cubicle that first day at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago waiting – 5:00, 5:21, 5:37 – waiting for my boss to “dismiss” me. She never did. And I’m still here 15 years later.

I didn’t stay for the salary. Not for the tuna, the bronze Ben Gurion bust, or the bio-readers at every door. As for those phonothons – with my telephone phobia and fear of rejection – they damn near give me the hives.

But I understand their importance.

As a professional, I’m proud. As a client, I’m grateful. As a Jew, I’m humbled.

Once upon a time, I was a Hillel Lewis summer intern, packing food bags for hungry Jews at The ARK. Does it get any more basic than that? As a budding grant writer at CJE SeniorLife, I saw the kind of care I hope to receive when I grow old. (Let’s face it, reading glasses and hot flashes are not so far off.)

Working in the Chicago Federation system for a decade and a half, as I’ve graduated from that bare naked cubicle to a private office with glorious views of a parking garage, I’ve shared tuna with some phenomenal professionals. My colleagues – legends in our field with extraordinary vision, managers running model programs, clinicians offering compassionate services.

Compassion that I have come to know firsthand.

A Federation scholarship sent me to Israel. JVS helped me land a job (guess where). The same JVS taught my husband English. HIAS Chicago helped him become a U.S. citizen. JCC took care of our babies so we both could work. (And really, would I hand over my three month old to just anyone?) When we hit those goddamn inevitable bumps in the road, JCFS was there.

And that, my friends, is the biggest understatement of all. Big vision, big hearts, dear human beings.

Ironically, the moment that sums it up best didn’t take place at any of our JUF agencies – it actually took place in Orlando.

I was at a national Jewish conference six months after Hurricane Katrina hit. The first night at dinner (kosher chicken), a professional from the New Orleans Jewish Federation approached the podium and dissolved into tears. He thanked the Miami Jewish Federation for guiding him step by step through disaster recovery. He thanked the Houston Federation for providing physical refuge as he set up temporary shop in their offices. He thanked the Toronto Federation for bailing him out personally when he flew to his father’s funeral in Canada and left his passport behind.

He tearfully thanked us all, from Chicago to Chattanooga, for providing the financial resources and the human resources that enabled his Jewish Federation to be a source of leadership, support and concrete assistance to his community in the aftermath of that hurricane, in those weeks of chaos and months of despair. No matter what challenge he faced each day, he knew he could draw on the collective strength of the Jewish community and slowly begin to rebuild.

This is why I’m still here, 15 years and counting. In our darkest moments, whether it’s a hurricane or a war, a hate crime, recession, or personal time of need, I know the Jewish community is behind me.

And from what I’ve seen – as a professional, a client, and highly objective, emotionally detached Oy!blogger – the collective strength of our Chicago Jewish community is second to none.

For this reason – not for the tuna – I will trudge upstairs for the 15th year, pick up my stack of phonothon cards (to hell with my hives) and hope you, fellow Oy!sters, answer my call.

As a professional, I’m proud. As a client, I’m grateful. As a Jew, I’m humbled.

Wanna give back?  Click here to donate to JUF.

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