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2020 Impact Report

From the President

At last year’s (virtual) annual meeting, we all hoped to be gathering in person for this year’s annual meeting. Although we now know that wasn’t meant to be, and we are again forced to meet in a virtual format. The good news is that, as I write this, a return to “normalcy” appears to be within our reach. We already have an outdoor summer concert series scheduled, have re-opened Camp Ideal for our youth, and are actively planning additional in-person programming for the summer and beyond, as well as the general re-opening of our building. In doing so, we will continue to act in accordance with applicable CDC and county/state health and safety guidance. In this context, I urge all of you to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as vaccines are the most promising path not only to increased in-person events at the Federation, but more importantly to the community’s overall health.

While the pandemic created a year unlike any other in the Federation’s rich history, we nonetheless accomplished a great deal in furtherance of the Federation’s mission. We continued to respond to the needs of our community through Jewish Family Services, as well as the needs of Jews elsewhere through an allocation of part of our annual campaign. We also presented creative virtual programming by tapping into the talents of members of our local community as well as speakers, educators, and films from across the country and across the globe, and continued our engagement and advocacy with respect to issues of importance to the Jewish people. If there is one silver lining to what we have gone through this past year, our forced adaptations to the pandemic have shown us that the Federation is so much more than its building and campus, as beautiful and important as those physical assets are.

None of the Federation’s impact this past year, as well as in the year to come, would be possible without the support and involvement of so many people. Thanks, first, to you the members of the Federation, who continue to support the Federation not only through your pledges and gifts, but also through your volunteer efforts and your participation. Also, thank you to those members who have shared your time and talents as members of the board or committees. I have appreciated your input and guidance, and so much of what happens at the Federation would not be possible without your involvement. I won’t attempt to name all of you here (for fear that I certainly would accidentally omit someone), but we will mention and thank the board members at the annual meeting.

Thanks also to our tremendous staff, whose dedication and creativity has enabled us not only to adjust and succeed during the challenges of the past year, but as importantly has put us in a position to “hit the ground running” as we return to in-person activities and once again are able to utilize our building and grounds as a center of Jewish life in the area. Under the leadership of our Executive Director, Moshe Kruger, as well as our Director of Operations, Emily Benedix, we have used the past year to reorganize and modernize our staffing structure and back-office support systems. We have already seen some of the benefits of these updates through the Federation’s new website and our integrated communications and event registration abilities, led by our talented new Director of Marketing & Communications, Allen Stenberg. We also welcomed our new Jewish Family Services Director Sandy Levine, who, with the support of associates Laurie Radin in South Bend and Nancy Kennedy in Benton Harbor, ensured that JFS continued to provide much-needed support to our community in a seamless manner with the departure of our much-respected former director Rowan Kelley.  Thanks also to the ongoing efforts of Bob Feferman, whose insightful and proactive approach ensures that the Jewish and broader Michiana community is well-informed about Israel and other issues of importance to us, as well as the dedicated work of programming director Shani Kramer, administrative associate Sheri Alpert, and facilities associate Dan Cossman. While we said goodbye to our much-admired shlicha of the past two years, Chen Nissan, we are very pleased to welcome Dan Ravitch and Shirlee Greenwald, who will ensure that we have a successful Camp Ideal this summer as well as the insight and knowledge of Israeli emissary services for our community.

I cannot close this president’s report without again mentioning our dear friend Lisa Lerman z”l. This meeting would have marked the end of Lisa’s second annual term as president. I am certain that Lisa would have guided us through the challenges of the past two years with her good judgment, insight, humor, and level-headedness, and we at the Federation continue to miss her leadership and friendship. Our thoughts remain with her family, friends, and all those whose lives she touched. 

I am eagerly anticipating seeing you in person in the coming year. Having gone through this past year at a physical distance from each other, I know that I, and I suspect many of you, have a newfound appreciation for the importance of our Jewish community. Thank you for the trust you have given me as I enter one additional (and final) year in the role of president, and thank you to Alon Shemesh for agreeing to serve in the role of Incoming President during the coming year. I look forward to all of us continuing to build on the Federation’s many strengths, as we continue to fulfill our mission to embrace, connect and support the Jewish community, both locally and globally.

Michael Kirsch
Board President


What a busy year this has been! Despite the closing of the community center for 15 months due to COVID, I’m pleased to report many significant accomplishments:

During COVID, we looked inward to assess our organizational strengths. The analysis yielded opportunities to optimize staffing and to strengthen internal systems to improve operations. On the people front, significant hires included Allen Stenberg, Director of Communications, who created & launched our new user-friendly website. Sandy Levine, Director of Jewish Family Services(JFS), strengthened the agency’s case management procedures and reimagined the Food Pantry to serve our community better. Laurie Radin, was hired as our South Bend JFS Associate and is part of the dynamic duo, teaming up with Nancy Kennedy, who takes care of JFS business with our southwest Michigan clients. 

Operationally, Emily Benedix and her team updated the business platforms we use to fulfill our mission. COVID also challenged us to look outwardly into the community in new and creative ways. From delivering critical JFS services to providing a diverse mix of adult and youth programming to fundraising efforts, and the Jewish Film Festival, your JFED team worked diligently to create meaningful experiences. 
I’m very proud of what our JFED professional team accomplished. We performed admirably under COVID’s heavy shroud made more complex by our evolving Jewish community already in flux. 

Thank you, Chen Nissan, our amazing shlicha. You touched our hearts and became part of our Jewish Michiana family. Thank you, Bob Feferman, for your counsel and steady hand in guiding the Community Relations Committee as a force for good in our community. To the JFS Team, previously mentioned, you exemplify the very core of our community mission to help fellow Jews. Thank you, Sheri Alpert and Shani Krammer; your programming support infused new technology that kept the Federation humming and our community safe throughout the year. Thank you, Dan Cossman, for adroitly addressing the facility management needs of our small but mighty Federation. Thank you also to Dan Ravitch, our Camp Ideal & Youth Programming Director and Shirlee Greenwald, Israeli Emissary. Your contribution to reimagining Camp Ideal is bringing us into a new era of increased camper enrollment. And thank you, Emily Benedix; you are the glue that holds us together. Your institutional knowledge and operational leadership are genuinely appreciated and will be instrumental in taking us to the next level. The hard work of the staff, dedicated volunteers, and guidance from the board all led to getting to where we are today. 
Where do we go from here? What important community questions do we need to address, and what new strategic thinking tools are required to reimagine our way of organizing our collective lives? 

Our Federation was born in 1945 out of the ashes and horrors of World War II. Fifty years later, community leaders funded and built our beautiful community center on 28 acres in 2000. Fast forward another 20 years -- here we are a generation later! Moving forward, our organization will need to think and act differently than we have in the past. A new roadmap will be required to move us from where we are today, to where we want to be, a destination we’d like to travel to based on our aspirations and needs.

In my experience, big questions can help guide the development of a new roadmap. The beauty of asking big questions is that it creates space for community members to reflect together. Many of us are looking for ways to learn, engage, and solve problems together. Given the centrality of community to Judaism and to the ethos of Jewish people, my big question is, what is our once-in-a-generation opportunity and responsibility as a community and as a Federation? 

To uplift our community, we have to build trusting relationships. In ancient times, building the Tabernacle created a community out of the tribes of Israel. Today, the South Bend Jewish Federation faces the challenge of building its own “Big Tent” that will embrace and affirm all of the remarkable diversity in our community.

2021 - We will brainstorm, use community survey feedback, parlor meetings, and town halls to identify the dreams of our community.
2022 - We will review the findings and present proposed solutions to make our community’s dreams a reality.
2023 - We will be positioned to execute the plan needed to repair, renew and reimagine our community.

To jumpstart the planning process for our Big Tent initiative, I’m pleased to announce the creation of a Community Planning Forum. The goal of this group will be to provide a community-wide dialogue to span the divides and lines of difference that separate us as a community. Together, we can “Dream Boldly.”

Our members are the life blood of our Federation and their support is what allows the Federation to fulfill their mission each and every day. As the federation slowly begins to plan its reopening, I look forward to meeting each of you.

Moshe Kruger
Executive Director

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