This year marks the 25th anniversary of a pivotal time in my life when I was living in Israel as a college student and made a commitment to myself to return to the United States to pursue a career in raising funds to build the American Jewish community. I had seen firsthand how international donations were making Beersheva bloom with critical infrastructure for olim (new immigrants) and I wanted to help Jewish organizations thrive at home. This has been my life-long passion and pursuit. I have enjoyed a fulfilling career doing exactly what I was meant to do as a professional fundraiser and community builder.
Along this journey, I have had the good fortune to contribute to the success of a variety of Jewish organizations. Every experience reinforces for me how difficult it is to secure each and every dollar, notwithstanding how visionary the ultimate objective is and the impact it will make for future generations. I have also come to have a deep understanding of how precious our stakeholders are to the life and success of the organization.
In the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, like so many of my colleagues in the philanthropy industry, I have fears and uncertainties about how to navigate this challenging time. I worry about the critical services provided by the American Jewish community’s vital umbrella organizations and the ability of the human service organizations, day schools, congregational schools, preschools etc. to meet vast communal needs.
Then there are newer organizations like the Capital Jewish Museum (CJM), which through innovative exhibits and programming, will celebrate the intersection of American Jewish life and American democracy in the nation’s capital.
Our work has not stopped. We are busy finalizing our exhibit plans and preparing for construction. We are proud of the important role that our museum will play in contributing to the city’s economic recovery.
The Greater Washington Jewish community is immensely generous. We have a deep history of rising to the occasion and providing essential funds to meet local and global demands and make a critical difference. We have done it many times before and we will do it again.
I want to share two inspiring stories from the Museum’s collection to remind us of what we have been able to accomplish together through inspired philanthropy during challenging times–local women uniting to raise funds to save children’s lives during WWII and the pillars of the community working together to covertly aid the Haganah during Israel’s War of Independence.
Through the Museum’s collection, I learned about the advocacy story of Denise Tourover. Following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Denise Tourover fought for action on behalf of disenfranchised and oppressed children. Her actions ensured the safe passage of 700 refugee children ages 2-17 stranded in Persia. The children had papers allowing their immigration to Palestine but they did not have transportation or a safe route. Tourover worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, ambassadors from Iraq and Turkey, the president of Standard Oil Company, the Red Cross, State Department Officials and wartime agencies until she found success. She persuaded Lord Halifax, the British Ambassador to the United States, to employ the British War Ministry to provide a British transport ship in January 1943. Tourover also worked through the State Department and wartime agencies to obtain export licenses for sorely needed medical supplies and food. Click here to learn more about Denise Tourover.
Some items from our online exhibit, Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community highlight the urgent Washington based philanthropic work of Jewish women like Denise Tourover throughout this perilous time.
“As the war raged, Jewish women in the Washington area struggled to help children at risk. Founded in 1933, Youth Aliyah rescued Jewish children from increasing danger in Europe and brought them to safety in Palestine. There, Hadassah—the Women’s Zionist Organization—assumed responsibility for the youngsters’ housing and schooling in special children’s villages on kibbutzim (cooperative farms).
In Washington, a number of women lobbied and raised funds for the children. Denise Tourover, Hadassah’s first Washington representative, worked tirelessly to rescue the “Tehran children”—700 Polish orphans stranded in Persia after making their way out of Europe. She pleaded with State Department officials and ambassadors until British ships finally transported the children to Palestine”
After hearing Denise Tourover speak, Northern Virginian, Sally Kravette became chair of the local Youth Alliyah. She remembers: “My quota was $4,000. I raised $7,000 that year.”
Sally Kravette, Interview, 1997 , CJM Collections
Another incredible story illustrating the power of philanthropy to initiate change during times of upheaval is the secret fundraising campaign by Washington Jews like Abraham Kay, Morris Pollin, Jacob Kamerow, Ruth Cherner, Therodore Herzl Levin, Joe Cherner, Isador Turover, Morris Rodman, Leo Bernstein and Hymen Goldman to support the Haganah (underground Jewish army) in its war for independence. Men and women raised suitcases full of cash that provided ships and crew for Aliyah Bet (illegal immigration to Palestine), machinery for a munitions factory, and World War II surplus weapons and explosives for the Haganah.
Leo Bernstein brought this extraordinary experience to life with the following statement in his personal oral history. “Before Israel was a state, we had many Haganah meetings. We were getting ready to help Jews get into Palestine They needed money for guns, ammunition, and ships. We met at my office at 718 5th. Street.” Leo Bernstein quote Oral History, 1998, CJM Collections
Our community’s historic and sizable philanthropic impact provides a wonderful legacy for successive generations to come together to make change. The CJM preserves this history with narratives and items illustrating communal vision, leadership, kindness and generosity.
Given Washington’s deep philanthropic roots, I have no doubt that our community will do everything possible to provide vital resources and rebuild as we have in times past.
As we launch a special #GivingTuesdayNow, a global day of generosity, citizen engagement and action, let us remember these stories from our community’s history about the power of inspiring change.
Me-Chayil El Chayil, may we continue to go from strength to strength! (The Book of Psalms)