BY JON ECKHARDT, BOARD MEMBER
Editor’s note: Jon Eckhardt was asked to speak at the Major Gifts event on August 28th, 2016, at Nakoma Golf Club. Below are the words he shared with the fifty community members in attendance.
Tonight I want to share with you why my wife Lee and I donate to the Jewish Federation of Madison. Our story with the Federation started before we arrived in Madison. Lee and I had started our family in Washington DC, and we were looking for a permanent home.
Madison rose to the top of our list professionally, but as East Coasters living in a major metropolitan area, we knew little about what it would be like to raise our children in Madison. One night, we typed in the words “Jewish Madison” in Google, and we came across the website for the Jewish Federation of Madison. Our computer screen exploded with culture. We found synagogues, a Jewish preschool, a successful Hillel, and a day camp.
We then received a large package from the Federation that contained written material about the Jewish community in Madison - including an issue of a Jewish newspaper! After all of this, we were convinced that Madison should be our next home.
Our children have flourished here. They have developed strong Jewish identities in no small part due to Federation programs such as Midrasha, Camp Shalom, Gan HaYeled, and the One Happy Camper Program. Our daughters were able to participate in these programs because of the Madison community’s history in investing in building the community.
Community is important for raising our children, but history provides us constant reminders that our survival as a people depends on us supporting each other. Our family recently learned of the Jews of Priest’s Grotto. At Priest’s Grotto and nearby Verteba Cave in the Ukraine, several families of Jews--the Stermers, the Dodyks, the Wexlers, the Bodians, the Franks, the Barads, the Kitners, the Goldbers, the Kurzs, the Kavaleks, the Reibels, and Mr. Chisdes, survived the Holocaust by taking refuge underground. Some of the members of the families spent 344 consecutive days living in the caves. This is apparently the longest consecutive period known that humans have survived underground. Young children were without sunlight for months at a time.
Thirty-eight people from these families survived the war and immigrated to Canada and the United States. These families survived because of community - they helped each other. But this was not just a story of Jewish survival. The families received help from fellow Ukrainians. People like Munko Lubudzin--who helped them find the caves - and Semen Sawkie - who sold the families food at great personal risk.
Many, if not most of us in the room tonight, are descendants of people who relied on others to survive World War II. Lee and I feel a personal obligation to invest in community because of this history of tzedakah and tikkun olam. Through our annual gift to the Federation we support programs that strengthen our community like Camp Shalom, Jewish Social Services, Gan HaYeled, Hillel and Chabad Programs on Campus. These programs pull us together and strengthen our shared identity.
Our gift helps Jews worldwide including those in need living in places like the Ukraine and China. Since 1950, Israel has promised to provide a safe-haven for Jews fleeing oppression world-wide. Through our Federation gift we help support this important effort.
In the spirit of tikkun olam, many of our programs strengthen the city we live in by serving those of all faiths. Camp Shalom is open to the entire community. Gifts to the Federation help to provide legal assistance to immigrants in need through services provided by Jewish Social Services of Madison. Outside of our local community, the Jewish Federation of North America funds relief efforts worldwide. Recent initiatives include providing assistance for those impacted by natural disasters in Baton Rouge, Houston and Nepal. Recent events in Milwaukee and across the United States remind us of the importance of regularly supporting the communities that we live in.
We hope you share our sense of obligation and an understanding of the importance of these programs in perpetuating life and helping those in need worldwide.
We give for community--but there is one other reason we give. Our involvement in the Federation has fostered friendships that we cherish that we hope continue to deepen in the years to come.
That’s it. That’s why we give.
Please commit to supporting our Jewish community in Madison and around the world. I hope you understand that there is no one else. Our donors - of which you are one - are an incredibly small number of people. The success of our annual campaign and the future of Jewish life in Madison relies on you.
Support COMMUNITY by DONATING NOW to the 2016 Annual Tzedakah Campaign.