Our Jewish Community Heoroes have found inspiration for their selfless work in all sorts of places. Read more about the people, places, and experiences that inspire our heroes to make a difference every day.
"What inspires me on a daily basis year in and out are the beautiful, wonderful and most deserving of children that I am honored to work with and work for each day. Having walked in similar shoes as a youngster I know first hand what adversity is and what it means to have a caring mentor, friend, teacher or other adult to guide you on. My inspiration are these wonderful boys and girls."
— Susan Kaplan
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"When I take a group of senior citizens to a local nonprofit organization to work for the day, I have 20-40 people giggling and laughing while working their fingers to the bone. They're smiling and so full of life. They feel accomplished, needed and appreciated. Seeing that joy on their faces brightens my heart and gives me the strength to go on working even on days when everything goes wrong. Senior citizens are such a forgotten blessing to our communities, and I am truly blessed to spend so much time with them."
— Joanne Hickox
Learn more about Joanne.
"Young couples from low-income families come to me with a ton of worries for how they are going to make a wedding reception for their family and friends. It gives me so much joy to take a big load off their shoulders by promising them to take full responsibility to design and decorate their wedding in a beautiful way and make them proud. I love to see the sparkle and joy in their eyes when they enter the hall after the marriage ceremony."
— Michal Poratti
Learn more about Michal.
"Fun: I enjoy what I do. I volunteer my professional skills (marketing and communications) to eight local Jewish nonprofit organizations: Congregation Beth David, The Addison Penzak Center for Jewish Life and Learning, Sharone Hadassah and the Central Pacific Coast Region of Hadasssah, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, The PJ Library (a program of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley), the Jewish Studies Program of San Jose State University, and Yavneh Day School. I truly enjoy maintaining websites, creating flyers and eNewsletters, covering news stories on agency achievements, reading to kindergarteners...
Friends: Each agency I volunteer for has a professional leader whom I admire and whose dedication, creativity, and energy are enormously appealing. Everything I do, I do for PEOPLE!
Facilitating Community: The Jewish community in Silicon Valley is growing in numbers, visibility, energy, effectiveness, and meaning. I am honored to be a part of that historic trend."
— Eleanor Dickman
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"My parents, Holocaust survivors, dedicated their lives to working in the local Jewish community. They were active in our synagogue and served as role models for me as I found my niche through youth group, religious school, and then temple in general. As temple administrator and director of education, I think about their influence on my professional development and consider it an honor to carry on their work and thus make their memory a blessing."
— Miriam Van Raalte
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"What inspires me daily are the incredible individuals all over the world who are victims of terrorism and have such strength and courage to live their lives despite the trauma we have all experienced. Our lives would have never intertwined except that we share a common experience that bonds us for life. These special individuals, some who have become my closest friends, inspire me in ways that I cannot even express and make me realize that all the work that One Heart Global is doing is all worth it!!!"
— Sarri Singer
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"On a day-to-day basis my job as an Anesthesiologist is to help people get through their operation in the least stressful manner. Not only does that mean I am there for them during the surgery but just as importantly I try to calm their fears and get to know them with the small amount of time I have to do so. It's amazing what a difference that preoperative interaction makes.
On the macro level my work in fund raising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is one that I was fortunate enough to get involved with when I was an undergraduate at Wayne State University. At the time our fraternity (Sigma Alpha Mu) had an annual fund raising week for the Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan and one year I was the Chairman of the activity. In 1967 we raised over $5000 in a week on an urban campus. Translated to 2011 dollars, quite impressive. Though just a young kid in school I became aware of the devastation that blood cancers had on the families, let alone the death sentence to the patient. I was so fortunate to reconnect with the Leukemia Society in 1993 when a phenomenal program called Team in Training began. This program was developed to help raise funds for the society, now the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, by helping people train and run marathons for which in return they would agree to fundraise.
After a few marathons for me the 1st of my 2 nephews (one a grand-nephew) was diagnosed with leukemia. I watched as he (age 9) and the family, including his 2 siblings, went through treatment with all the associated difficulties and the disruptions from normal life. He persisted and now is a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Then 5 years ago another nephew, this one 40 years old was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease at the time of a relatively routine appendectomy. He too was successfully treated and is living an incredibly successful life. It is hard to explain how just absolutely cool it is to see 2 of your family members be cured from previously untreatable disease. I am so fortunate to be able to live through and in my small way be involved with at least helping fund research to cure blood cancers and lymphomas. The true question is how could I not go on, on a day-to-day basis when I have seen what I have?"
— Paul Rein
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"Hearing reports of surprise and astonishment when all over the world many thousands of players learn that the sport they and their friends and family love to play was created by a rabbi and as a result, how stereotypes are broken down and annulled."
— Reeve Brenner
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"Do you recall your 8th grade science teacher telling you, 'Nature abhors a vacuum'? So, every day I see a hole, a vacuum in someone's life. Either he or she was a volunteer soldier who returned paralyzed or missing limbs and his/her vacuum is his/her limited mobility, or a child whose parent isn't coming home from war, and her/his vacuum is that missing parent, or a child or young adult is diagnosed with Crohn's or Colitis and they no longer have a carefree childhood, they grow up in pain, some without part of their intestines, and they have a hole in their future, so, my inspiration, I think my job is to fill in as many of those vacuums as I can, today, tomorrow and every day. That is why g-d gave me breath."
— Gary Lawson
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"I receive many beautiful letters and emails from the troops expressing their appreciation and gratitude for the challah I send. I recently received a folded flag that was flown in the face if the enemy, in my honor at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan by the Jewish community there. It is my hope for the new year that I will lose my 'job' in the very near future when all of the troops return home."
— Marla Turk
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"The huge variety of work a Hillel Director does is immense. Everyday, students come past my office to talk about their ideas, dreams, family and also their problems. I am humbled that I am the person they want to tell that they got an A on a test, or that guy asked them to date night or they need support and help because they have an eating disorder or they need help because their father died an hour ago and they don't know what to do. These are just some of the examples that have happened to me over my time at Hillel.
I am inspired by the thousands of students who I have met and worked with who are able to engage in new ways with their Judaism to find new meaning. They have raised thousands of dollars for so many different charities, taken care of fellow students who are sick, flown to many countries to help the Jewish communities on alternative spring breaks, gone to Israel on Birthright or to study abroad, formed Jewish music, comedy, environmental groups to gain a deeper connection and appreciation for their Judaism, cooked thousands of Shabbat meals so their fellow students have a free place to go for Shabbat, advocated for equal rights for the LGBTQ community, sat side by side with African American students at Seders on Passover discussing Freedom, been delegates at many national conferences, done Holocaust remembrance programs bringing survivors to school, planted trees on campus, highlight and recognize outstanding professors for their work with students, written pieces defending Israel in local and national press, helped get students to sign up for genetic testing, blood and bone marrow drives. They have done this and more, all with the help of Hillel and its staff. It's impossible to work for Hillel and not be inspired."
— Joel Marcovitch
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"I am inspired when I see the many people who I have touched throughout my career and life, connect and engage in Jewish life in Jacksonville because I made them feel welcomed."
— Isabel Balotin
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"When the face of the other becomes a concrete experience instead of just a transcendental encounter, when I feel that there is a sacred task in reaching out to the one who is a seeker, the one who is a need, the one who wants to celebrate a simcha or share her/his tears, there, where the other is, the inspiration to devote and consecrate my vocational life arises."
— Analia Bortz
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"The smiles on the faces of the children I taught in Kenya. The relief in the voice of a woman whose son had been given a scholarship as a result of a Rotary program. The kvelling that you experience when you see someone succeed — like a former homeless women whom I had helped through Rotary when she received her college diploma from William Paterson University last May, after years and years of trying and struggling to make ends meet. This is what keeps me going — the potential to change lives for the better through my volunteer work."
— Bonnie Sirower
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"I've unfortunately learned from my own experience that there is no time more difficult for a family, than when they suffer a loss. There's nothing that can be done to ease their pain, but through my website 'ShivaConnect' I can help mourners 'connect' to Judaism, to their friends, relatives and their community to be comforted.
There are no words to describe the incredible feelings that come from receiving an email 'God bless you for making it easier for us' or having a Rabbi say that my work on 'ShivaConnect' is a mitzah, that is elevating my Mother's soul."
— Sharon Rosen
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"When children share their passion with other children, there is nothing more inspirational. My son Jacob inspires me to continue each day. Each morning he struggles to breathe. If he can smile and embrace each moment of his day, what's my excuse?"
— Ellen Schwartz
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"Was a Rabbi, teacher, social worker and former NYC police officer I have seen much misery among our people and other groups of peoples from around the world. There cannot be any greater good then relieving our fellow human beings of their suffering whether we assist the sick, poor, the oppressed or whomever is in great need. By doing this Tkkun Olam it not only helps the intended people targeted but it transform the person doing the chesed where it creates an adrenaline and dopamine rush which helps us physically connect to God as it literally increases our respiration making us healthier which goes back to the Bible when God first created Adam it says in Genesis that That God breathed the breath of life (Neshama) into Adam and he became sentioned.
Performing rituals and prayers is the easy part of Judaism and is the warm-up of Judaism. Judaism becomes alive when when we are involved in self-improvement and then empowering others around us. Building a Sukkah is fun and easy but simple. Being involved in feeding the poor helping the uneducated and the sick daily is time consuming but must become our lifestyle which reflects our Judaism which connects us spiritually with God.
Every day I am involved with helping kids with cancer and other illnesses using our martial arts modality for pain/fear management, rehab and emotional and spiritual support. Afterwards I feel great and can't wait to work with the next set of kids. The love I receive from the child and family cannot be measured. I train healthy kids in martial arts as well and train them to work with sick kids. Additionally I have developed an empowerment program for women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault which is free. Lastly I am now the Rabbi of the first floating shul called the Wellness and Synagogue (Kehila Nefesh Breeyah) which I founded. I believe that one has to strive to be emotionally and physically fit as a vehicle to becoming spiritual so part of our prayer service incorporates what I call 'Chai Chi' where we move in soft circular motions as we sing, pray and meditate."
— Gary Moskowitz
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"Every day I receive emails from the Chabad.org readers that the articles I have posted or have written have moved them and impacted their lives. Receiving such feedback shows the power of the written word to connect to those you will never meet. Hearing that an article was exactly what someone needed, or that it changed their perspective or offered them support and comfort is so inspiring to me as a writer and editor and continuously motivates me."
— Sara Esther Crispe
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"There is no greater reward than having a positive effect on a child's life. I get to have the opportunity to do this every day and also guide and encourage others to do the same. When I come to work in the mornings, I am greeted by students and parents that are happy to be here. They are eager to find out what they will be learning and for me that is so wonderful.
As a young girl, I was not eager to go to school each day. It was a constant struggle for me due to the fact that I would come to find out at age 20 that I had several learning disabilities and ADHD. My goal each day while attending school was to not be called on in class and not have to answer any questions. There were only a few Jewish students at school, and I felt uncomfortable and alone in my Jewishness and struggled establish a strong sense of Jewish Identity. Later on in college, I quickly realized that something was not right. I wanted to succeed, met with professors for tutoring and still struggled. Thankfully, I got the right diagnosis and had people in my life that helped me get through this difficult time. It was during that time I decided that no child should have to feel like the goal for the day is to not be called on in class. I wanted to work in a place where children were excited to ask questions, learn in a safe environment, and know that it is okay to not know the answer.
It is wonderful to provide a strong Jewish Tradition for the students and provide them with a sense of community and a sense of pride in their Jewish heritage. This is what motivates me to come to work every morning. This school is what keeps me going during the tough times. The students at my school have a place where they can learn, grow and ask questions. They can feel confident in their Judaism and establish a strong sense of self. There is no other Jewish Day School in our area; the closest one is almost 50 minutes away. I will continue to do whatever I can to keep this special school open and thriving in order to serve our children and families."
— Emily Zappa
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"When I was on bedrest for almost 4 months with my twins, and was unable to earn an income, and my husband was underemployed and then unemployed, it was a very dark time for me. We had done everything 'right' in our lives: gone to graduate school, worked in our fields for many years, and worked really hard. We were at the cusp of fulfilling our dream of having a family, and we were totally broke and at risk of losing everything we had. The stress of worrying how to support our growing family eclipsed the most joyous event of our lives: the birth of our babies. The Teaneck Baby Gemach and others in my community were there for us when we needed it the most: diapers, pricey specialty formula, equipment (for two!), and clothing. When the opportunity of taking over the Teaneck Baby Gemach arose, I took it as a sign from Hashem to make sure that those who were in my position would also have the burden of crushing bills alleviated, if only a little bit, during what is supposed to be the happiest time of their lives. So I run the Gemach on my iPhone from 7 p.m. until 8 p.m. on my commute home, then log on to my computer or sort through the day's donations at 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. to run the Gemach. And it all starts again at 6 a.m. when I get up for work. Sleep? Clearly not my inspiration.
The faces of the people I help are my inspiration. The members of the community who selflessly donate their time and money to help in our cause are constant sources of inspiration. And the random item that someone has a need for and makes a request, that I have never seen or heard of yet, that suddenly appears on my doorstep on cue — those calling cards from Hashem are my inspiration."
— Ginnine Fried
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"We felt there is a GREAT need to offer Jewish programming for all ages in the beautiful community of Bellaire which is filled with Jews...and no one was offering it. We jumped in!!! We come from a more observant background and there are few to none with similar backgrounds here...but the people here are as sweet as sugar. The have it all...we just want to offer them more spirituality in their lives to complete the picture and make Bellaire the place to be all around."
— Gavriel Jacknin
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"I think that compassion, resilience and inspiration keep me involved with the community I serve through PANDORA. Compassion because many of the individuals served by PANDORA become invisible as these illnesses rob them of quality of life. Often it will make them invisible. Resilience because it is what I see in many of these individuals, who despite difficult life-long challenges, nonetheless survive such ordeals. I am inspired because I see first hand the power of the human spirit."
— Marly Silverman
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"My inspiration for all that I do comes from the memory of my son, Josh. Josh was born in 1983 with multiple heart defects. However, he never let his problems hold him back from anything he wanted to do. He was of small stature and did not have the energy of his friends, however, he starred in plays at the JCC, played soccer and volunteered regularly at the Jewish Home. When he was sixteen, he was hospitalized at CHOP, two hours from home to await a heart lung transplant. Although he was very sick, Josh maintained an amazing sense of humor and reached out to other patients with his compassionate heart. When he died after eight weeks of hospitalization, I knew my old world had ended. However, with family and friends, I started the Josh Klein Bikkur Cholim, which on a daily basis sends volunteers to five area hospitals, bringing gifts and food. I have continued to volunteer at the Jewish Home, leading the Friday night services. I educate the youth of our community about the importance of bikkur cholim. All of my efforts are inspired by my love for my very special son, Josh."
— Marilyn Klein
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"Two main sources of inspiration that lead me through my work are my late grandparents' personal stories and the students' that I currently work with. My grandmother was the daughter of one of the great Rabbis of Krakow. When the Nazis walked into Krakow she chose to join the secular youth movement Ha'eyal and take part in the Jewish resistance. Following the Krakow the rebellion in December 1942 she was caught by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz until the end of the war. After the liberation she made Aliyah. In Israel she met my grandfather and after their marriage they were sent to Austria by the Jewish Agency for Israel to work with the Jewish refugees from the war.
I have learned from my grandparents the importance of being active in the causes you believe in. I have learned from them how important it is to be patient, passionate and consistent. More than all I have learned from them how to put myself into the work I do.
At the same time, I wouldn't be able to remain passionate without the students I work with. Through my work I See them make life changing choices, asking questions and experiencing moments of understanding during their path. Without their everyday search for answers about Israel and about a way to make this world a better place, I would not have the motivation and will power to continue educating, advocating and promoting the causes I work for."
— Erez Cohen
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"I wake each morning thanking G-d and my parents for surviving concentration camp, when all around them died. There is a line in Saving Private Ryan when Tom Hanks character, playing the Captain, who is dying, tells Private Ryan, played by Matt Damon; he says 'Earn this'. I feel the same way when I do my mitzvot. I want my parents to feel that I 'earned this' life that they gave me, that their survival against all odds is manifested in my working to reduce hunger and poverty. I think about their struggle to survive each time I deliver food and other assets to the poor."
— Syd Mandelbaum
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"It is a great feeling every time I save a life of someone in need of a kidney. Knowing that I can extend their life, by finding them a kidney donor, is rewarding. Every day is a new opportunity for me, that can lead to another life being saved."
— Chaya Lipschutz
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"Daily I receive emails and calls from my long distance conversion, para rabbi, home schooled hebrew school students, video watchers, blog readers etc. telling me how valuable the programs are, how they enrich and transform their lives and to keep up the important work."
— Jonathan Ginsburg
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"I am motivated by the need in our community for jobs and business growth. I tirelessly use the relationships that I've developed to connect job seekers with employers and businesses to each other. My inspiration is simply walking into a Starbucks (which I do 3-5 times a day!) and finding people that I have personally connected developing new relationships and doing business. Our organization is driven every day by one of the key tenets of our faith that the HIGHEST form of charity is helping someone to earn their OWN livelihood."
— Shalom Klein
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"I feel grateful for all the good things I have in my life — family friends, a job I enjoy, relatively good health, more than enough for life's necessities and luxuries. Giving back to others who may be less fortunate is a driving force in my life. Doing that through Met Council is particularly motivating because they touch so many lives in so many ways. I'm so glad that I can contribute to that impact."
— Monita Buchwald
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"I've been working with teenagers who come from conflict zones and war zones and who are new immigrants and refugees for 15 years. I'm always inspired by the energy they have to persevere against all odds, the love and openness that they show in the theatre and art workshops and their willingness to work through pain and fear. The kids teach me as much as I teach them. I'm consistently reminded that any of us, at any time could lose what we know to be familiar and that sharing my knowledge and love with them, expands not only their lives, by everyone's lives who any of us touch. In a time of global crisis, this work keeps me grounded and at the same time driven to work for them. As Jay Allison said, 'Fall in Love with a place and fight for it.' I fell in love with kids from all over the world who landed in Queens and am fighting for them."
— Judith Sloan
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"Each individual in a small Jewish community counts in ways that cannot be understood in a larger community. We must rely upon each other not just 'professionals' to create the foundations of Jewish life for our own families, friends, and fellow congregants. When I was young and living in Lincoln, I watched my parents and their friends work to build a Jewish community that enriched my life. I decided early on, that I needed to give back to this community so that others' lives would be enriched. There is so much to be done here...but very few individuals to shoulder the responsibility now that many of our congregants are elderly. I know the stories behind the faces that I serve...that's what keeps me going on a daily basis. They are the stories of hard work, caring, and concern for the future of Judaism in Lincoln, Nebraska. In Lincoln, the theme of KOL YISRAEL ARAVIM ZEH BAZEH (All of Israel is responsible for one another) is not just a phrase...it is a reality! That's what inspires me!"
— Nancy Coren
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"I work with Jewish college students and young professionals. The future of our Jewish community is our youth. If we want a vibrant Jewish community in 20 years we need to make young Jews feel proud to be Jewish — now. I believe passionately that quality Jewish education is the most important factor in guaranteeing a Jew will feel proud to be Jewish throughout his lifetime.
I remember how I was inspired as a college student and young professional by my teachers to explore my Jewish roots and how that inspiration remains with me today. So I relate most personally to college students and young adults in this critical time in their lives. I see how they thirst for authentic Jewish meaning in their lives and how positively they respond to authentic Jewish education. That is what inspires me every day to inspire them."
— Rabbi Zev Kahn
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"When I wake up in the morning, I am looking forward to what the new day will bring, the people I will encounter, and what I will be able to accomplish. I walk outside and exclaim, 'What a day!', thankful to be alive and feeling good. As the Psalmist says, 'I lift up my eyes to the (Blue Ridge) mountains', and feel inspiration emanating from Hashem, my soul, and my community."
— Bob Deutsch
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"Unfortunately, the world and too many of the people in it, suffer from injustice in many forms. That includes my community of Lawrence, KS, and I believe it behooves all of us to participate in trying to lessen it. Most recently, we have added to our City's Human Relation's Ordinance gender identity. I've known people who have had to deal with the discrimination related to their struggles, so I was at the late-night City Commission meeting helping to plead their need to be protected in our public accommodations and housing. Treating all people with dignity is worth fighting for!
Right now, we have a new organization struggling for immigrant rights and against the stringent laws that some states have already passed. I've joined this group to help us become again the welcoming country that protects all peoples' rights to live in peace and security without fear of deportation. We must have a more inclusive immigration law!
Last month, our Governor tried to close several State Social and Rehabilitation Services for our poorest, most vulnerable citizens. I joined many others in protesting the saving of our State funds on the backs of our poorest citizens! One thing after another! There is work for all of us who care about our country and our community to do. I want to continue to be a part of that needed effort."
— Hilda Enoch
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"The concept of Teshuvah inspires me; the opportunity we have to make the world a better place to live. Our lives are more fulfilled when we are involved in the business of sharing our talents and gifts and paying it forward. When we find something that is helpful, pass it along, and in this way the idea of the 100th monkey theory is practiced. Ken Keyes developed the theory and it is one that definitely inspires me. Don't keep knowledge to yourself, share it so that others may grow and maybe in our lifetime we can help usher in the words of they shall know war no more."
— Deri Ronis
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"Cong. Beth Israel (an Orthodox Cong. in New Orleans) was founded in 1904. One hundred years later, I was elected as the 1st female president of the congregation. I am 3rd generation in my Family to grow up at Beth Israel, be educated Jewishly there, and learn to love our Jewish Heritage.
Today, my oldest grandson, Benjamin Gothard, is a 5th generation Beth Israelite. When Hurricane Katrina flooded our synagogue, ruining all that we owned and cherished, I was determined to work as a hard as possible to keep our congregation alive. Beth Israel is more than the building we lost, and the 7 Torah scrolls that are buried in our Cemetery. Beth Israel is over 100 years of Orthodox Jewish tradition in New Orleans. I felt that if Noah & his Family could withstand the flood that wiped out humanity, and if Jews throughout history could overcome anti-Semitism and dispersion, we could regroup our members and rebuild our synagogue that was only lost because of an act of nature. We have gathered every Shabbos and all Holidays in temporary quarters since that terrible storm.
Today, we are vibrant, growing in members, and our new synagogue is under construction. It was a monumental task, but my Family and my Friends and our members, our local Jewish community and Jews nationwide joined with me and supported our task. I feel that my grandparents and parents, who were so active in our shul, are looking down from their Heavenly abode with smiles and blessings for us as we rebuild our beloved Congregation Beth Israel."
— Jackie Gothard
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"I am constantly inspired by my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren along with all the children living in our community. Because our Jewish community is small and there is little contact with the greater Jewish community, I feel it is important for our children to experience a trip to Israel. Therefore I established a 'Youth Trip to Israel Scholarship Fund.' Since 1986 I have sent 36 young people to Israel.
I have always felt that education is the way to open the eyes of those who refuse to look and see. Therefore I established an annual scholarship to be used for the 'Teaching Tolerance' program in the Ventura Unified School District. Jewish Federation sends all eighth grade students to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. I hope and pray that through these programs, there will be peace and understanding throughout the world."
— Barbara Meister
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"Many things inspire me. But the main thing, I would have to say, is Gilad Shalit and his story. After being in captivity for years, he is still alive and will hopefully soon be released. I believe that the reason he is alive is because of his fight for his life and the fight for his return home. It was his strength that kept him alive and it inspires me to do what I do because he gives me strength."
— Georgeta Seserman
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"While there are many internal and external reasons that have inspired me to continue my work on a day to day basis, there are three that stand out.
First, I have felt the incredible feeling from academic colleagues who have wanted to support Israel on campus but have had difficulty because it wasn't always politically correct in recent years. Their sense of engagement and empowerment to level the playing field on campus and in their disciplines has been very gratifying.
Second, the sense of gratitude coming from Israel for this work we are doing in SPME has been stunning as they have faced academic boycotts and other forms of rejection. At the end of the day our work is about Israel and eliminating anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism in academia and we are beginning to make an impact and a difference.
The third inspiration is the incredible love and warmth I receive daily from family and a growing group of colleagues which is something unsurpassed in my experience.
All of this has fueled me to keep going. I have met some of the best people who are now friends, including Nobel Laureates and others. No one was doing this work on campus with faculty and the feelings of gratitude and connected by many faculty has been extraordinary.... And that's what keeps me going :)"
— Edward Beck
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"People are my muse. People are where I find my inspiration and where I direct it. If I can give back any of what has been given to me, I will be achieving something. I will be prolific. I will be satisfied. In essence, my fellow souls are what ripple the pond, cause the chemical reaction, and make each domino fall. If not for them, if not for you, I wouldn't strive to make the world the best that it can be."
— Shoshana Bell
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"I am inspired by the thank you notes we receive from recipients everyday. We are 'a lifeline.' 'A lifesaver.' 'A gift of hope, a ray of light at the darkest hour.' 'We do God's work.' And indeed we do."
— Ellyn Saft
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"I am inspired to continue to work for safety on dating website. My lawyers and I were successful with Match in getting them to screen for sexual predators on a state and federal level because I believe the attack against me was totally preventable. I see a domino effect happening in the dating industry as others have to rise to Match's new level and screen for sexual predators. I am working to get the story out to the public so that others can be inspired that if you stand up, you can make a change. It took a lot for me to go from victim to activist and I want others to feel that I am speaking up for the other Jane Does and John Does who have been victims of sexual predators and can be their voice. Every day I investigate ways we can help the cause, be it through a 501C3 that helps rape victims, making speeches, helping push legislation that will keep sexual predators off of dating sites. There are a myriad of possibilities. I have learned to be strong through this ordeal and want to be inspired to be strong too."
— Carole Markin
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"Community and Family. Tikkun Olam. Giving Back. These are my main inspirations. My family has always been very supportive of my involvement and that helps provide the clear conscience of spending so much time in communal work. The Knoxville community has always been welcoming, supportive, energetic, available to new ideas, and has provided the platform for my endeavors whether within the Jewish community or within the greater Knoxville community. I have always believed that one person can make a difference, no matter how small, and that we must always seek ways to make the community a better place; to help repair the world; to be able to believe that I did not just pass through but tried to make a difference. I firmly believe that each of us has a responsibility to give back to the community, people and organizations which have given me so much."
— Bernard Rosenblatt
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"At age 41, I was diagnosed with extensive, aggressive breast cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes. The diagnosis came with an admonition to go home and set my affairs in order, because I would live for no more than 18-24 months.
My parents taught me that a life well lived is a life of service. I have spent most of my professional life working in non-profits and volunteering in the Jewish and secular communities. But this diagnosis grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. Was I doing enough? Had I left a legacy that I could be proud of? How would my daughters, then ages 5 and 7, remember me?
I made two decisions — first, that I would seek treatment despite the severity of the diagnosis, and second, that what mattered was not how long I lived, but how well I lived. That was in January, 1999. I've outlived that prognosis, but not the dedication to living my life well.
My dual career paths — fundraising for the Jewish community and being a Jewish educator and spiritual leader — have given me boundless opportunities. As a fundraiser for the American Technion Society, I have the privilege of helping people give tzedakah to support the Technion, one of Israel's brightest gems and itself dedicated to tikkun olam, improving the world for everyone. As a rabbinic student, Jewish educator, blogger and spiritual leader, I have the privilege of sharing my deep love for Judaism and my own spiritual journey. I hope that I have had some small influence for good in others' lives.
It's easy to get up every day and do what I do. The hard part is knowing that there is so much more. But I am heartened by the famous line from Pirkei Avot: Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v'lo atah ben chorin l'hibateil mimeina. It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."
— Jennifer Singer
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"I am inspired by the spirit of the Jews of the Vilna Ghetto. I think specifically of the Ghetto Library. The library was a place of learning and culture and resistance. On December 13, 1942, the Vilna Ghetto Library held a celebration at the Ghetto Theatre which is also still standing. The purpose of the celebration was for the fact that the library had loaned out its 100,000th title. Think of that. During the darkest time in human history when the Jews did not know if they would be alive tomorrow, they took time out to celebrate education. What more inspiration do I need?"
— Wyman Brent
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"Seeing courageous survivors of sexual abuse discover a voice with which to bear witness to their victimization. Seeing trauma survivors heal. Seeing regular Jews breaking through the wall of silence and begin to hear the cries of their brothers and sisters. And finally, having wonderful nephews and nieces of my own that I want to grow up in a safe community."
— Asher Lipner
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"I knew a freshman girl who was turned off by the 400-person Shabbat dinner, vowing never to come back — until invited to a Heart to Heart Shabbat dinner. There, she forged new relationships that gave her an entranceway into the Jewish community, going on to become one of its leaders. Her story, and the stories of thousands of others impacted by Heart to Heart's work, inspire me to empower college students and communities to reach out to and engage students like her."
— Hart Levine
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"My inspiration comes from the steadfast belief that without strong Jewish Day Schools, the future of the Jewish people is in serious jeopardy. Too many families are already 'priced out' of being able to afford a Day school education for their children and countless others are ruining their family's financial future to pay for it. It is only getting worse.
Yes, there are many important causes we need to support, whether it's feeding the hungry, supporting Israel, or many other pressing needs, there are no shortage of places we should be investing in. But it will all be meaningless in a generation or two if we don't make a Jewish education affordable to all those who seek it.
That is why I'm passionate about starting a new kind of day school, one that is focused on affordability and a 21st century approach to education. Most importantly, it is replicable and sustainable for future generations."
— Gershon Distenfeld
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"Three things primarily. First, we are helping to cement the Jewish identity of thousands of Jewish college men. Second, we are achieving our mission to develop the future leaders of the global Jewish communities. Third, I waited 38 years to have my dream to become the international president of THE Jewish college fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi (we have a presence in four countries on three continents), I am determined fulfill my duties and responsibilities despite being stricken with a serious central nervous system disorder about 19 months ago that has affected my balance and coordination of my limbs, forced me into a wheelchair and effectively rendered me close to a quadriplegic."
— Sam Blustein
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"What inspires me to continue my work day to day is The truth of the Torah and the people's incredible response to that truth, and the feeling that an injustice has to rectified, people where not given the information that is rightfully theirs; the brilliance and relevance of Torah and Judaism."
— Rabbi Manis Friedman
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"What impels me every day to pursue what I regard as a categorical moral imperative — not merely my work — is articulated with great eloquence in the Book of Proverbs. One passage best expresses my sense of mission: 'The day is short, the labor is great, the workman are lazy, and the master of the house is impatient.'
I am inspired — even compelled — by a sense of great urgency about the issue to which I have devoted my professional life, all of my intellectual resources, and my sense of social ethics, one reflective of a profound attachment to Jewish teaching about the proper hierarchy of our moral responsibility as individuals."
— Dr. Stephen Steinlight
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"Every Monday afternoon from September to May, there are about 100-110 Special Olympics athletes that attend our bowling league. Just to see the smiles and hugs they give when attending this event is enough to make this more than worthwhile.
Sometimes I just stand there and am amazed how the league has grown over the last 13 years and then there are times that I just say to myself 'why not?' These special athletes are so enthused, they bring that enthusiasm to not only myself but the other 40-50 volunteers that show up every week."
— David Ross
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"Since I work alone a lot, and we are promoting a new concept which will take much time to get traction, I stay inspired by our mission which is to promote Jewish connections throughout the span of our lives. Chai Mitzvah honors the passages of our lives and provides an outlet to continue that growth with a Jewish perspective."
— Audrey Lichter
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"What inspires me to continue my work each day? That's easy, I love what I do. I have literally spent a lifetime working with individuals who have special needs, in both academic and recreational settings. Over the course of my career, I have created innovative, groundbreaking programs that pioneered Jewish special education in Chicago. I have helped thousands of children successfully navigate the complexities of school and life, and I have had great 'nachas' from my students' accomplishments."
— Shana Erenberg
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"I am inspired each day by young children! It amazes me that when we present our young children with giving back opportunities, they thrive! Lemons to Aid is a non-profit organization that sets the foundation for charitable giving at an early age. We use simple and kid-friendly ways such as lemonade stands, read-a-thons, placemats for Meals on Wheels, etc. to engage the next generation of givers. We also have a Youth Advisory Board made up of kids between the ages of 13-16 that will be performing site visits to local charities, visiting with their boards, discussing their needs, presenting their finding to the Lemons to Aid board of directors and then allocating funds to them. We are very excited about this project!!! We are going to film in and develop a webisode series. Kids want to help and it inspires me daily to make it happen!"
— Melissa Plaskoff
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"My wife Caroline and I are inspired by two things, our daughter Eden who tragically was born with ML4, one of the 19 known preventable Jewish Genetic Diseases, and by our own sense of responsibility to the Jewish people. We believe that we have a unique responsibility that allows us and even requires us to change the world of Jewish Genetic Disease in a way that no one has ever envisioned. Jewish Gene Screen is the most comprehensive program of its kind. Every day Jewish Gene Screen educates rabbis, doctors, singles, couples, parents, and grandparents, with the goal that every single Jew knows that before they walk down the aisle to get married they need to be screened for the currently 19 known preventable Jewish Genetic Diseases. Our program is about healthy children, because even if both members of the couple are carriers of the same disease they can still have healthy children of their very own."
— Randy Gold
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"I am most inspired by seeing acts of chesed (loving kindness) that others do. When I see parents volunteering to help out at my son's school, to my neighbor offering his help to fix my sink, when I see our local Jewish Federation collecting food and money to help hungry people (regardless of their religion), to a teenager steadying an older person with a helping hand while crossing the street, I am inspired to work to do something to help my community. I may feel tired, or like the task is too big to accomplish, but then I see how little acts of chesed can add up, and I am able to start another project or at least work another day."
— Laurie Davis
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"What motivated me to become involved in efforts to combat campus antisemitism was my growing concern over the global campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state and her supporters, and the way in which that campaign has reared its ugly head on American college campuses. What inspires me to continue in my work on a day-to-day basis are the courage and perseverance of Jewish students who proudly stand up for Israel on their campuses, as well as the strength and commitment of Jewish community members who refuse to remain silent while Jewish students are being harassed and intimated."
— Tammi Benjamin
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"YOU! All the individuals on their 'Personal Inner Journeys' who call us, at JEWS FOR JUDAISM, seeking to understand the beauty of Judaism, God and the essence of the Jewish soul and peoplehood."
— Ruth Guggenheim
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"I have the best volunteer job in the world, since I get to shop for clothing and be a hero. But seriously, there are both intellectual and emotional aspects to the inspiration. Intellectually, knowing that just a little bit of effort on my part can make such a big difference in the lives of a family and child is a great motivating factor. Many families are under such financial pressure, and kids often sense that and feel awkward or become withdrawn. By providing new clothing, I can both make a child feel special and relieve a burden from her parents. Emotionally, there is nothing like the feeling I get when a child's eyes light up as she sees the clothing available to her, the smile across her face when is trying on the outfits, and the excitement she has when she finally selects the right one. That experience is priceless, and I get to repeat it thousands of times each year."
— Michal Schick
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"When I was molested by an adult, I was 14 and in the ninth grade. I didn't tell anyone, not until I was 40. And now at age 58, not a day goes by when I don't think about what happened to me. What inspires me is to keep the conversation going so that survivors of abuse and molestation don't wait so long, so they can go to sleep at night and feel above all anything else....safe."
— Phil Jacobs
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"I stay constantly motivated knowing our one of a kind programs bring happiness, comfort and smiles to hospitalized children with cancer throughout the United States and Israel. Our Happy Hats and story/interactive books help distract the kids and their families from their pain, fears and anxieties. We can't cure the children but our programs make a definite impact in their hospital experience."
— Sheri Schrier
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"Definitely knowing that the work I've been doing is making an impact and I want more people (particularly families with kids) to take in the experience. I think of the 10 year old who went on our Do-Good Adventure to rebuild New Orleans trip with his synagogue who said in our wrap up discussion that he learned from the trip that if you have family and faith, you don't need things to make you happy. (No joke... he used those exact words). I want more people/kids to get a perspective on what people have here as well as how to use that knowledge toward Tikkun Olam."
— Robin Richman
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"Tzedek u'mishpat (Beraeshit) — Doing what is 'just and right' motivates me to make the world a better place than how I found it. I have been given the gift of life for the second time. I believe that I should take advantage of the quality of life that I now have to help others to improve their quality of life."
— David Goodman
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"There is no one more frustrating and exasperating, and yet more rewarding and uplifting than a person in great personal need that you, and only you, can help. It makes every day at work a priceless gift."
— Daniel "Igor" Branovan
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"There were a few occasions that prompted me to get involved with individuals with special needs. My mother had a sister who was developmentally delayed and she was killed by the Nazis because it was felt she was a useless person who did not contribute anything to her community. When I was 14, I volunteered with developmentally delayed young people and watched them join in and enjoy music. Their faces lit up when music was played. I know a young man who is developmentally delayed and who loves music and participating in plays. I would love to utilize all these young people to showcase them in a play."
— Sandy Keshen
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"I am lucky in that I get to engage in work I find to be exceptionally meaningful and important: I work for the full equality, dignity and protection of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT, or queer) people. I am also a Jewish educator and often work as scholar-in-residence/educator at synagogues, seminaries, community centers and camps across the country. More and more, these two passions of mine intersect. I love what I do.
Still, work is work and sometimes work is tedious. So the question of what inspires me to do what I do on a daily basis is a good one.
The most obvious answer is one that I hinted at in the first paragraph: I engage almost exclusively in work that I believe to be vital, and this belief powers me through moments when I would like to be lazy or complacent. Since its founding in 2009, I have worked with LGBT activist group, Queer Rising, to demand full equality for all queer people through non-violent direct action. We have worked on such important issues as: marriage equality, shelter for homeless LGBT youth, repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," anti-bullying, a stop to hateful rhetoric spoken "in God's name," and employment and housing equality for trans-identified individuals. I believe this this work is so important that I have been arrested twice for engaging in non-violent civil disobedience to achieve our goals. The need for my work inspires me.
I am also deeply inspired by the example almost every one of my family members provides. My mom has dedicated almost her entire life to pursuit of social justice, largely through Jewish and feminist spheres. I grew up taking for granted that she devoted much of her time working with/for Soviet Jewry, kids with special needs, poverty issues, women's reproductive rights, interfaith families, Jewish family education and so much more. My dad is an OB/GYN. My older sister is a nurse practitioner. My younger sister is a farmer and herbologist. I have an aunt who was active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s (and beyond). My grandparents were deeply engaged in their Jewish communities. Growing up, I associated all this with my Jewish education and its association with social justice and Tikkun Olam. This foundation inspires me.
The same is true of my friends. I don't know how I got to be so lucky, but my friends are rock stars and better the world in so many ways: revitalizing Jewish education, helping girls go to school in Uganda, educating the world about the terrible political situation in Hungary, creating vital new theater....
Also, I am inspired by the activists I work with. I am not tireless, but they seem to be and their perseverance and passion inspires me. It also guilts me! If I do not do my share of the work, I let them down, and that is unacceptable. My friends/colleagues at Queer Rising, in particular, are just inspirations. (This is also true of my friends/colleagues at Storahtelling, CBST, MENY, Ali Forney, Kolot Chayeinu, Keshet, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, Occupy Wall Street, and so many other places.)
Of course, there are also "famous" people who inspire me. First and foremost, the giants in the field of LGBT activism upon whose shoulders I stand: ACT UP, Queer Nation, GAA, STAR, etc. Also: Abraham Joshua Heschel. Emma Goldman. Bayard Rustin. Naomi Wolf. "
— Jake Goodman
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