Aftermath Of Terror; BJF Expanding Its Reach

ONE COMMUNITY, ONE DESTINY

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When long-time Jewish community volunteer leader Jimmy Filler became president of The Birmingham Jewish Federation nearly three years ago, he said that one of his goals was the concept of "One Community, One Destiny," and a cornerstone of his vision has been the development of new ways that The BJF has been able to serve our community agencies.

A big breakthrough came when, under Jimmy's leadership, our annual Birmingham Jewish Federation/Foundation community event and awards program was combined with our community's annual Israel Bonds gathering. This innovation, started two years ago, has been highly successful and well received.

Another such innovation is underway right now. The BJF is helping the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School explore the prospect of a major capital and endowment campaign by having Federation personnel do a pre-campaign feasibility study for the Day School.

Typically, outside consultants are hired for such purposes. However, The Federation felt it was positioned to experiment with a new approach and offered to conduct the feasibility study for the school at no charge. Since that time, BJF Executive Director Richard Friedman and Strategic Fundraising Associate Amanda Weil, who joined our BJF staff on March 1, have been conducting interviews with prospective donors on behalf of the Day School. This project is one in a series of new fundraising initiatives that Amanda already is working on in her new position.

An array of families who have an attachment to the Day School are being interviewed. The goal is to complete approximately 25 interviews by April 20 and present a report to the Day School summarizing the discussions and making recommendations about the prospect of a fundraising campaign.

"We deeply appreciate the help and support that The BJF is providing the Day School with this important feasibility assessment, as well as the Federation's continued support and financial assistance year after year," said Hilton Berger, Day School president.

STRONG, CENTRAL FEDERATION

This project is one more illustration of the value of having a strong, central Federation and a great way that The BJF can assist one of our agencies and save our community considerable money on a consultant's fee.

During the interviews, Richard asks some of the questions and Amanda asks some of the questions. She will be the one to write the report and will help present it to the Day School. At The BJF, we are committed to providing younger volunteers and staff members, such as Amanda, with the opportunity to "learn by doing," which is one more reflection of a new movement at The BJF known as LIFT -- Leadership Initiatives For Tomorrow.

LIFT is a new strategy to provide younger people, in addition to our current cadre of outstanding volunteers and staff members, with the opportunity to make an impact on The BJF today, so that they will be primed to lead us into the future.

"I am so pleased we are helping our Day School," said Jimmy. "We are available to work in partnership with our community agencies to help them raise funds because by doing so it makes us all strong and makes Jewish life in Birmingham even better for all of us. As I keep saying over and over, we are one community with one destiny."

'ONE DAY YOU WILL CELEBRATE LIFE'

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The following is from an open letter that ran in the Jerusalem Post from Sherri Mandell to Eva Sandler who lost her husband and two sons in the Toulouse terrorist attack March 19.

Sherri is director of women's programs for the Koby Mandell Foundation, which has received funding from The Birmingham Jewish Federation, and is the author of The Blessing of a Broken Heart. She has been to Birmingham. The photo is of Rabbi Sandler and his two sons, Arieh, left, and Gabriel, all killed in the shooting. Eva is holding their daughter. (Flash90/JTA)

In 2001, when my son Koby was 13-years-old, Palestinian terrorists murdered him with his friend, Yosef Ish Ran, here in Israel. Unfortunately, the horror of that act made me and my family part of Jewish history. Now you and your family are part of history too.

Eva, you are obviously a remarkable Jewish woman already transforming your pain, writing to us telling people to increase their learning of Torah, to light candles before the time Shabbat begins, so that your tragedy brings more light into the world.

And through your generosity of spirit and empathy for the Jewish people, it's not just the terror perpetrated on your own family that we will remember. Because you named your son Gabriel after Gavriel Holtzberg, who along with his wife was murdered in a terror attack at the Chabad House in Mumbai, we remember him too.

HOW TO SURVIVE?

But the question that people are asking me and the question I am asking myself is personal. How are you going to survive this loss? How are you going to survive, period? It's like being disabled, Benjamin Netanyahu told you after your two children and husband were murdered in a terror attack in Toulouse last week. "It's like missing a limb." He is telling you from personal experience because he, too, is bereaved. His brother Yoni was killed in the Entebbe raid.

Like Netanyahu, I can tell you from experience. The pain is indescribable. Nobody wants to imagine it. Everybody is terrified of the pain.

People are also afraid of my family's pain. Koby and Yosef were cruelly murdered, beaten to death with rocks. It's a truck crushing you, a tsunami, an earthquake. When Koby was murdered, for me it was the feeling that life was not worth living, that everything I counted on was gone. Evil had invaded my home.

When I grew up in the 1960s in New York, I heard that the Jews suffered. But me. I didn't suffer. I didn't understand the Jewish history of suffering. During the shiva (mourning period) we asked a bereaved father, a rabbi, how we would survive. He told us, "You have to use your pain to grow." You are already doing that.

Eva, you remind me of Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner who runs on carbon fiber artificial limbs, blades really. Critics claim that he has an unfair advantage: he's faster than a regular runner. You refuse to allow disability to paralyze you. You are already learning to walk while missing limbs. You see, and most people don't realize this: you have the ability to do great things. To go beyond.

Most people are not aware of post traumatic growth -- some people who experience tragedy believe that it gives them a kind of wisdom. Some go on to do great things.But greatness in Judaism has to do with acts of kindness.

EVERYDAY HEROICS

Years ago, when I met the actor Christopher Reeves, who played Superman in the movies, he told me that before he was paralyzed in a horseback riding accident, he thought that greatness had to do with heroic activities: sailing around the world alone, climbing high mountains, equestrian jumping. And then when he was gravely injured, unable to move his limbs, he understood: greatness had to do with everyday kindness and overcoming everyday obstacles.

It's not surprising that a synonym for kindness in Hebrew is gedula, greatness. Greatness sometimes means just that -- becoming bigger. The pain and terror of the chaos and darkness and evil of loss is so great it threatens to unbalance you. At first it will. But you will become greater in order to recalibrate your center of gravity.

One day your happiness, too, will become greater. We see that at Camp Koby, the summer camp we run for 400 bereaved children in Israel. Their happiness is tremendous, wonderful. It is, one counselor said, "the happiest place in the world." Despite the fact that every kid there has lost a mother, a father, a sister or a brother to terror or tragedy.

I have a handicapped friend who is an excellent swimmer. She told me, "If the world were a pool, I wouldn't be disabled." There are ways to circumvent the feeling of disability. Everything now needs to be redefined. You are already doing that.