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Jack Novorr probably hadn’t heard the phrase tikkun olam or even knew what it meant when he was 5 years old. But repairing the world is exactly what he set out to do one day soon after the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, causing death, destruction and all-around chaos.

The youngster just happened to see a news report about sick and injured children in New Orleans being airlifted here to Children’s Mercy Hospital. Jack’s parents, Jennifer and Scott Novorr, think the helicopter may have originally captured his attention, but it was the story of the children that stuck with him.

"We explained what was happening as best we could to a 5-year-old and he felt bad about the whole situation," Scott recalled.

Jack disappeared to his room for a while after that conversation. When his parents checked on him, they found he had spilled his piggy bank all over his room because he wanted to give his money to help the kids.

"I felt bad for them so I wanted to raise money to help them survive," said Jack, who is now a 10-year-old fifth-grade student at Cedar Hills Elementary School in the Blue Valley School District.

That year, with help from his parents and grandparents, Jack made his first donation to Children’s Mercy Hospital to the tune of about $800. His donation, and the time he has given to the project, has grown every year. Last year his efforts resulted in $5,000.

When this project began, Jack always requested that the money go to buy toys for the sick children. But last year hospital representatives asked him to support other efforts instead of purchasing toys. So last year his donation went into the fund to help build an emergency room at Children’s Mercy South.

This year Jack’s goal is to raise $10,000. It will go toward a pediatric dental clinic.

"The clinic operates at a $1 million loss every year," Scott said. They hope to use this money to purchase devices for children’s mouths that cost $2,000 each. Those devices will help keep the kids more comfortable while the dental work is being done."

Jack and his family have already begun this fundraising campaign. Jennifer said besides his brother and sisters — Tate, 5, Sophie, 8, and Lilah, 17 months — Jack has also recruited friends from school to help. The kick-off was a pizza party where a Children’s Mercy rep spoke to the children about fundraising efforts.

Sophie is proud that she has spearheaded a holiday bake sale in the neighborhood that netted $200. On Saturday, Dec. 11, a neighborhood friend offered a garage for a clothing and toy sale that raised $1,100.

"Here’s the cool part. We found out a friend of a friend, someone we don’t even know, offered to match everything we raised," Scott said.

Last year the family started a partnership with Jumping Jax, an indoor inflatable play venue in Overland Park. As it prepared for its grand opening in late 2009 Jumping Jax offered open play sessions to the public in exchange for a donation to CMH.

"Jumping Jacks donated all the money in Jack’s name," Scott said. "It was a win-win for both."

Once again Jumping Jax will host open-play sessions this year. Sessions are scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 28, and Thursday, Dec. 30. Admission is a donation to CMH.

After five years, Jack is still excited about the project.

"I like helping sick kids who most of the time do not have a lot of money and I like setting goals each year," he said.

The Novorrs are truly proud of their son’s efforts, and the fact that all their children want to help as well.

"There are no words to describe how we feel," Scott said. "We couldn’t be more proud and it has just blown us away that Sophie and Tate have stepped up to help Jack as well. It’s a great feeling to see them care so much about helping others."

Jack and his friends will make the 2010 presentation to Children’s Mercy on Dec. 30. Anyone interested in making a donation can contact the Novorr family at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Scott Novorr loves children. The father of four (see related story, this page) likes nothing more than playing with his children and their friends.

Like many people he watched with interest when an earthquake devastated Haiti in January. But unlike others he had the opportunity to travel to Haiti and visit its children last month as part of a group from The Global Orphan Project (GO Project).

Novorr, a member of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, connected with GO Project through a friend. Go Project, based in Parkville, Mo., mobilizes local churches in some of the poorest areas on earth to care for the neediest orphaned and vulnerable children.

"I’ve always had a soft spot for kids and when my friend traveled there he periodically mentioned he’d love for me to go with him one day. I always said ya, sure, one day I will," he said.

That day came sooner than he anticipated. In early November he was invited to participate, but said he couldn’t go.

"I gave every conceivable excuse why I couldn’t go then. Work was crazy. We had 20 people coming to our house for Thanksgiving …," he said.

But his wife, Jennifer, thought it was a great idea and so the mad rush started to get all the paperwork and immunizations done in just a few short weeks.

"Everything lined up just perfectly and I was off to Haiti," he said.

Bonding with orphans

The group of 15, five from Kansas City, planned to visit different orphanages and simply be with the kids.

"So many of these kids were recently orphaned because of the earthquake. Three hundred thousand people were killed and a lot of these kids that we dealt with had recently lost their parents," he explained.

Being with the kids, who ranged in age from 6 months to 16 years, is exactly what Novorr wanted to do. "Every day I feel fortunate for what we have. I wanted to try to give something back to these kids," he said.

His short time there was spent playing soccer, coloring or just holding a child.

"The kids absolutely blew me away," he said.

Novorr noted that the children are not mistreated in the orphanages, which housed between 70 and 120 kids. They are fed, clothed and educated.

"But that’s about all there’s time for," he said. "They are so starved for emotional and physical attention."

That’s why, Novorr explained, it’s important for volunteers to be able to just spend time with the children.

"They just want to be held. Immediately kids will run up to you and just jump into your arms or they’ll hold your hand or grab on to your leg. They want what all kids want," he said.

Haitians speak French, so there’s a communication barrier. But Novorr said the kids still find a way to communicate.

"They love to have their pictures taken and they will yell ‘photo, photo’ and they’ll yell football because they want to play soccer with you," he said.

One boy in particular, Emerson, really took to him. The pair spent a lot of time together.

"The hardest part of the entire trip was the day that we left," he said. "He was sitting by himself on a rock and I went over and sat down next to him. Usually he talked a mile a minute. He was just quiet. He just leaned his head down on me and for a half an hour he just sat there. It was like all the life had been sucked out of him."

Novorr said he felt like he was abandoning the child.

"They don’t tell you much about these kids I don’t know if he has been an orphan a long time or if he lost his parents a year ago. I don’t know how fresh the pain is. That was horrible," he said.

The people of Haiti

The group spent a lot of time in Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince. Novorr kept a journal and took pictures, but out of respect for the city’s residents, he tried not to be intrusive about it.

"The conditions in Haiti are far worse than I ever expected to see. Everywhere you look people are living out of boxes or shacks. Trash is piled 6-feet high. It was just chaotic," he said.

But he saw hope in the faces of the people.

"Driving through Port-au-Prince, people would be a foot from our bus and they would look up and smile at us or wave at us. At no time did I ever feel like we were in danger or uncomfortable in any way," he said.

Novorr said Haitians appreciated their attention.

"It wasn’t about what we brought with us, or money that we were donating, they were just appreciative that we were there to support them," he said.

Novorr was particularly impressed by the character of some of these kids. A member of the GO Project group was a dentist who did procedures on Haitian children. They had never seen a dentist before. A 15-year-old Haitian boy took it upon himself to help the other children.

"Over the course of two days the dentist saw more than 200 kids," Novorr said. "This boy walked each kid from the waiting room into the exam area and for two days took care of these kids by holding their hands or stroking their hair or patting their shoulder."

"He literally didn’t say a word, he was just there. That’s one of those instances where it’s easy to get depressed and feel sorry for the kids but really you know that they are strong and they are taking care of each other," Novorr said.

Novorr hopes to go back again next year. His 10-year-old son, Jack, wants to make the trip as well.

"This wasn’t just a bucket list thing for me. I’ve climbed mountains and other things I can check off my list and move on," he said. "This isn’t like that. I feel inside that I want to keep doing this and my plan right now is to go back once a year and not have a particular mission in mind. There is such a connection with the people in Haiti and for what they are dealing with and with the kids. I just want to be a part of it."

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Barbara Bayer has been named editor of The Chronicle.

Bayer began her association with The Chronicle as a staff writer in 1988. Moving up the ranks to editor, she left the paper in 1994 to devote more time to raising her family.

For the next several years she freelanced for Jewish Life Magazine and a variety of other publications. Bayer also volunteered for many organizations in the Jewish community including the Jewish Community Center and Congregation Beth Torah.

She returned to The Chronicle staff, once again as a staff writer, in late 2005 and stayed in that position for two years. In the spring of 2008 she was named editor of Jewish Life Magazine. In addition to Jewish Life, she has been in charge of several special projects for what is now The Chronicle’s parent company, MetroMedia, Inc.

"I have enjoyed reading The Chronicle since I was in high school looking for AZA and BBG news, so working for it has always been a labor of love for me," Bayer said. "Even when I haven’t been officially associated with the paper, people have always stopped me to talk about what they liked, or even didn’t like, about it. So I’m excited about the opportunity to work with people in the Jewish community on a daily basis and help make the paper something our subscribers will continue to love getting in their mailboxes every Friday."

David Small, who now owns The Chronicle along with Steve Rose, said Bayer will immediately begin implementing the paper’s "open door" policy of seeking information, photos and story ideas from readers.

"Barb is someone our readers have known for years. She has also cultivated many friendships with people who work and volunteer for our local congregations and organizations. We know she understands the value of the community partnership we are striving to develop at The Chronicle," Small said.

Bayer, 53, a Kansas City native, is married to David Bayer. They have two children, Matthew, a freshman at the University of Kansas, and Rachel, a sophomore at Blue Valley North High School . They are members of Congregation Beth Torah.

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The adjectives were sizzling as hot as latkes in a frying pan as the judges for the 14th annual Chanukah Art Contest wandered around the Chabad House Center looking at the more than 30 contest entries. The overall grand prize, an Apple iPad, was awarded to Sarah Unterhalter for her entry The Duct Tape Menorah. Sarah’s sister, Mandy Unterhalter, received first place in the K-4 division and Mya Levitch won the 5-8 division. The identity of the contestants was kept a secret from the judges until the judging process was concluded. The two first place winners each will receive an iPod Nano. The contest is sponsored by The Chabad House Center and The Chronicle.

Rabbi Mendy Wineberg, the Chabad House’s program director, explained that the purpose of this contest, which attracted more entries this year than any year in recent memory, is to get children to think about what Chanukah is really all about.

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Kansas City’s Jewish community is responding with help following the devastating forest fire that broke out Thursday, Dec. 2, in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa, Israel. At least 42 people have died, homes were lost and more than 12,500 acres of forests destroyed. Jewish National Fund foresters estimate more than 5 million trees were burned.

Todd Stettner, executive vice-president & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City reports that the Federation mobilized very quickly to join the national Jewish Federations of North America effort by establishing a special mailbox for donations to help the victims of this fire.

"Our focus has been on helping the people of the region. Both our major overseas partners , the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) were on the scene quickly to help evacuate the most vulnerable — children, the elderly and disabled," Stettner said.

He said that 1,000 children were sent to special camps where activities could be provided for them in safe places and volunteer teams went house to house in some areas to check on the elderly.

"In addition, through the Israel Trauma Coalition we are providing counseling to families of the fire victims, those who lost their homes and valuables and to the emergency personnel who were witness to this tragedy," Stettner said.

Stettner has visited the area and said he can "attest to the fact that a beautiful part of Israel has been destroyed in addition to the lives and property that were lost. We now must concentrate on rebuilding and repairing shattered lives."

He said the local Federation will continue to work with our on-the-ground partners in Israel to determine both the short and long-term needs of those affected, noting that contributions will be directly distributed to the most effective service providers.

JNF’s emergency campaign

Local JNF supporter Larry Haith sent an e-mail blast to his friends on Monday telling them that it was time to "give ’til it hurts."

"Then it feels soooo good … So dig deep, do not go out to dinner this weekend ... pass on the new car ... take care of our people," Haith pleaded.

Haith said he gives to many Jewish causes, but JNF is one of his favorites because it is a non-political entity that owns and administers the land in Israel.

"As a young boy we always had the blue box. In synagogue we had the blue box. When I was fresh out of college I was fortunate to meet Alon Ben Meir, who is now a professor and writer at NYU. He asked me to be the local JNF president and I accepted the position for 10 years," he said.

As the local JNF president, Haith learned a lot about JNF, raised large sums of money and spoke to many groups about the organization.

"It was one of the great experiences of my life. I would love to do it full time," he said. "Go to the JNF website. The JNF has planted so many trees that the desert now rains. A gift of a tree gives an individual an affinity with the land, so I give the gift of a tree on many occasions."

Another reason Haith supports JNF is because their administrative costs are below 10 percent. He also loves it because all Jews own JNF.

"It’s like a big partnership owns Israel, therefore it can never be sold.The land purchases began in 1902 through Theodore Herzel and Baron Rothschild and from 1903 until 1948 enough absentee land was purchased that the British, through the United Nations, agreed to mandate the statehood of Israel. and the JNF is the administer of the land holdings," Haith explained.

Haith also pointed to the JNF website, www.jnf.org, which notes that the road to recovery in Israel has just begun. JNF, staying true to its mandate of caring for the needs of the land and people of Israel,has established Operation Carmel Renewal: From Black to Green to help rebuild and renew the Carmel Forest. Forest restoration efforts will include erosion prevention, clearing of debris, creation of firebreaksand care of the naturally regenerating woodlands.

Donate now

Almost every national Jewish organization is raising funds to help the relief effort for the worst fire in Israel’s history. Here’s two ways you can help:

The Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City is accepting donations. They may be mailed to:

The Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, Attn: Israel Fire Relief Fund, 5801 W. 115th St., Suite 201, Overland Park, KS 66211. Credit card payments will be accepted by phone by contacting Gail Weinberg at (913) 327-8123 or going online to the Israel Fire Relief Fund www.jewishkansascity.org.

Jewish National Fund is accepting donations, via credit card, at www.jnf.org.

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Charles "Charlie" Wolock, a senior at Blue Valley North High School, recent learned he had earned two perfect scores and not just any perfect scores. Charlie achieved perfect scores in both the ACT and SAT college entrance exams. He is one of a select group who has accomplished this feat.

"Charlie is a bright guy with an excellent memory and is a great test taker," said his mother Barbara Wolock, MD. She believes it was a combination of these two things, as well as the great teachers he has, that has enabled him to achieve these scores.

Charlie, the son of Barbara and David Wolock, is modest. "It was not a really huge deal for me," he said about his scores. "I knew I was pretty close, and I already had a perfect ACT score, so I did not think it changed my chances for college too much." He found out about his perfect SAT score in October; his perfect ACT score this past summer.

Although, he did not study for these tests, he did take each one twice, and thinks that helped. "I have always been good at test taking," he added.

Tonya Merrigan, Ph.D., Blue Valley North principal, has her own opinion about him. "Charlie Wolock is very worthy of these academic accomplishments," she said. "He set a goal for himself on both the ACT and SAT and persevered until he reached this accomplishment." She added that no other Blue Valley student has gotten perfect scores on both tests since the SAT changed several years ago.

In fact, according to the 2010 Book of Odds, Inc., only one of 5,152 students who take the SAT achieve a perfect score, and one of 2,320 get a perfect ACT score. There were no statistics on the number who score perfectly on both. More than 1.5 million students take each exam.

A National Merit Semifinalist, Charlie has applied to be a finalist in this prestigious college scholarship program. But his college choice is not yet certain. He wants to attend a small liberal arts school and study something in science.

Charlie likes the unique. He is a member of the Blue Valley North Mustang’s marching band and concert band, playing the bassoon. "I thought it would be fun," he said, "because it is not the typical band instrument."

Being untypical is the usual for Charlie. "He is humble and unassuming," stated Michele Radio Buche, his high school enrichment teacher. "Yet, Charlie is his own original. He is intrinsically motivated to learn and discover his own future. He cultivates his own set of broad interests."

But he also achieves in other areas. Charlie is the president of the school’s Spanish club, captain of the boys tennis team, a freshman mentor, and a member of the Categories Team that competes in the Scholar’s Bowl. With all these activities, he still takes an impressive course load with five AP classes in his schedule this fall. As an honors student, he maintains grades that reflect his membership in both the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society.

Charlie’s many extra curricula activities include volunteering at Congregation Beth Torah, where he is a religious school madrich. "Charlie has been a wonderful asset to our teachers and students for four years. He has always been modest about his accomplishments, and he makes a great role model for our fourth graders," stated Marcia Rittmaster, Beth Torah’s religious school and youth groups director.

"I always wanted to be connected to my synagogue," Charlie said about Beth Torah, where he became a Bar Mitzvah. "So I decided to help out with Sunday school classes."

Rabbi Mark Levin got to know Charlie’s views on religion through the congregations confirmation class and the essays each student writes. "Charlie is a real mensch to have around," Rabbi Levin said. "But behind his eyes, he has such a deep insight and understanding of the difficult concepts of how religion works. His level of understanding is uncanny."

Which, some might say, is just perfect.

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Post-Holocaust taboos against anti-Semitism are breaking down, and it is seeping into the mainstream of social and political discourse in the West — even America. So says Mark Weitzman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who will speak on “The Threat of Global Anti-Semitism” at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Jewish Community Campus. Weitzman’s remarks are being presented by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education and the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee.

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The experience of purchasing a car — whether it’s new or used — is not something most people look forward to. Ron Coppaken, owner of Image Motors, characterizes it as downright painful for most people. He’s hoping to change that experience, at least for those looking for premium pre-owned vehicles, now that he’s in the business.

Coppaken specializes in selling high-end cars like Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and Infinity. While Image Motors is just a few months old, Coppaken is not new to the auto industry. For more than 35 years he owned an auto parts company.

He’s also passionate about cars and has owned and collected antique and classic cars for more than 25 years. He’s personally bought and sold many premium autos for his own personal use and knows how difficult it can be to find top-quality, low-mileage, like-new condition vehicles at very competitive prices.

"I’ve driven a lot of these cars as a car enthusiast and I’m very passionate about this business and my customers and making sure they have a good experience," Coppaken said.

He said he spent a lot of time researching the industry and figuring out ways to make the car-buying experience "an easy, pleasurable, no-hassle situation for the customer."

"So customers are dealing with me and they are getting my years of experience," explained Coppaken, who is an active member of the Jewish community. He is past president of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and Congregation Beth Shalom and serves on the boards of the Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Community Campus and Beth Shalom Foundation.

"I personally handle all transactions, so you can expect first-class treatment," he said.

Coppaken said his customers also receive a lot of hand holding.

"When I search for a car, I act like I’m buying a car for my own mother," he said. "If I don’t think it’s right for somebody then I try to lead him away from it, tell them why and hopefully point him toward a better one."

Image Motors sells cars both locally and on the internet through eBay and AutoTrader.com. Coppaken keeps some cars in stock at a climate-controlled warehouse in Merriam, Kan. He meets customers by appointment only and notes that weather is never an issue when car shopping at Image Motors.

"I think that when someone comes to look at a premium car you want to have it detailed and ready to go. By having the entire inventory kept inside out of the dust and inclement weather, the cars are always clean and ready when someone comes to look at them," he said.

Coppaken only sells cars that are under factory warranty. The cars sold at Image Motors are relatively new with low mileage. For instance early this week Coppaken had in stock a 2-year-old BMW that has 11,000 miles on it.

"And I just sold a Range Rover to a guy that has 15,000 miles on it," he said.

Coppaken said word of mouth has really helped his business and he has sold many cars to friends and friends of friends. Then there are also his internet customers who, while they don’t know him, are quickly discovering his reputation for fairness and quality.

"I’ve sold three cars to people who live less than 3 miles from me. They either saw the car on eBay or AutoTrader.com and called me," Coppaken said.

A large part of his business is searching for cars that customers have requested.

"I’ll go out and find them the particular car that meets their requirements. I’ve got it set up so I can buy just like the franchise dealers," he said. "I also accept trade-ins and I’ll catch something on trade and then I’ll know someone who’s looking for a cheap car for somebody and I’ll put them together."

In this day and age, it’s actually more common for Coppaken to sell a car sight unseen than in person.

"Very, very few people come to my building and look at a car. Of the cars I’ve sold so far, I bet less than five people have physically come to look at the car. People in Kansas City call me and want to see the car prior to making a deal, but only because they are in Kansas City," Coppaken said.

He explained that people today are very comfortable purchasing cars that they haven’t actually seen or driven.

"If you’ve driven a Mercedes E350, they should all drive the same. I represent what the condition is … if there are any scratches or dents. People know what they are looking at," he said.

"I’ve found that most people want to talk to somebody prior to hitting the like or buy it now button on eBay," he continued. "When I talk to the people, they feel comfortable with who I am. They look at my feedback, which is 100 percent good on eBay and I give my spiel. I’ve had some great experiences with people buying cars and wiring the money into my account. Then I Federal Express them the paper work and arrange to have the car transported to them."

Shoppers can contact Coppaken through the website imagemotors.com or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He can also be reached at (913) 707-8111.

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Members of Congregation Beth Shalom have voted to shut down its Wornall facility. When the building closes all operations and activities will take place at the Lamar facility located at 14200 Lamar.

Beth Shalom President Kurt Kavanaugh, DDS, reported that at a meeting in mid-November more than 600 votes were cast, overwhelmingly supporting by a 5 to 1 margin the board of director’s recommendation to close the facility at the earliest practical date. The Lamar facility, which currently houses the congregation’s administrative offices, Sisterhood Gift Shop and school, opened in December 2005 and was officially dedicated March 26, 2006. The Wornall facility, located at 95th and Wornall, was used almost exclusively for worship. Both weekday minyan and Shabbat services, as well as weddings, are held there.

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Shirley White has been a dedicated volunteer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City’s Women’s Division for more than half a century. When she first began soliciting donations, she fondly remembers personally going to people’s homes and apartments who lived close by the Jewish Community Center and the local synagogues.

"Women would save up all year to contribute," White said. "In many cases, it was only a handful of change, but they were so proud and thrilled to be able to give tzedakah. It was so rewarding to be a part of that."

This long-standing dedication is exactly why White was recently recognized as a 2010 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award winner at the International Lion of Judah Conference in New Orleans last month. The award is given to women who have been a Lion of Judah for at least 10 years and have made a significant impact in the local Jewish community, in Israel and/or abroad.

The Lion of Judah, according to Beverly Jacobson, Women’s Division director, is a campaign division comprised of women who give large sums to their federation’s campaigns. It was established in 1972.

"The symbol of the Lion of Judah is a gold pin that Lions can buy. Each year they can add a jewel to the pin, depending upon their lion giving level," Jacobson explained.

"The Lion of Judah is one of the most successful giving tools of non-profit philanthropies. It denotes a sisterhood of women committed to the same goals — the continuity of their Jewish communities," Jacobson said.

Typically a behind the scenes leader, White has served in official capacities for most of the Jewish women’s organizations in Kansas City. When she hears about a program she thinks could be valuable to the community, she makes calls seeking the funds to get the program up and running. If she sees a need that hasn’t been addressed, she goes about finding a way to address that need.

"I enjoy being with people and I believe in tzedakah and caring for our people," White said. "I am so grateful for what I have. What more could I need? However there are many who are not so fortunate so it’s important I do what I can to help them."

White is proud to wear her Lion of Judah pin. In fact she has been known to strike up conversations with other women, often strangers, who are wearing the pin.

"I was shopping once in Palm Springs and I noticed a woman wearing her Lion of Judah pin," White said. "We started talking and we became friends. I still keep in touch with her and I was hoping to see her at the conference in New Orleans, but an illness in her family kept her away," White said.

In addition to White and her daughters — Sandi Fried and Linda White— the local delegation included Jacobson, Dierdre Baker, Sarah Beren, Bari Frieden, Susan Goldsmith, Trudy Jacobson, Shanny Morgenstern and Karen Pack.

Over the years two other local women, Elaine Polsky and Maria Devinki, have been presented with the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award. Norma Kipnis-Wilson, who founded the Lion of Judah program along with the late Toby Friedland, said each of the women highlighted this year (there were 78 honorees) "is a woman of valor, which means they are unafraid and undeterred in their efforts to ensure a better world for us all and the generations to come."

White was humbled by the honor.

"I feel honored to have been in the company of all these women, many of them young women," she said. These women have done phenomenal things for their Jewish communities and all of them are still continuing their work."

This conference gave White a chance to get to know the women of the Kansas City delegation better. She’s excited to have the opportunity to continue working with them.

Her favorite activity during her time in New Orleans was a trip to an inner city school where the "Lions" read young children books that were donated by The PJ Library.

"We took 15 busloads of women to two schools," White said. "It was nice not to just talk about what we could do but to actually do something. Being with the children was very satisfying."

White was especially pleased to be a part of a PJ Library program because the program is so important in Kansas City as well as Jewish communities around the country. In fact it’s one of the many programs she champions. It’s important, she believes, because the program is changing the way young families are making their Jewish journey.

"Every month the families in the program get a book sent to their home. Karen Gerson, who oversees the program, has told me it is making a very positive impact on the way young families are making their Jewish journeys. The program’s goals are to engage families first through the books and then into their communities," White said.

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We’ve heard so much about the economy it’s easy for many to tune out. But not for the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City. In fact, it’s harder now than ever.

The Federation’s Chesed Fund helps Jewish residents living in the five counties of Greater Kansas City address chronic financial challenges. These are situations that typically involve extended job loss and medical issues that can’t be helped with one-time emergency assistance.

The Chesed Fund distributed $82,000 to 81 individuals in all of 2009. Already, in the first five months of this year, the fund has provided slightly more than $81,500 to 71 individuals/families.

"I’m glad we have this fund in place," says Shari Stimetz, assistant executive director of the Federation. "But the amount of money we’re dispersing every month is beyond belief. At this rate, we’re going to need $250,000 to $300,000 for assistance by the end of the year."

But why? Isn’t the economy improving?

Not for the couple whose child has health issues and house is being foreclosed on after losing the family business and the wife’s work hours were reduced. Not for a recently separated individual who has a part-time job during the school year and needs assistance with rent because her spouse is not paying child support. Not for the head of a household who lost his job, has health problems and was denied unemployment.

More Jews in need

The urgent need is evident on a daily basis at Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Greater Kansas City.

"We used to get about 40 intake calls a month," says JFS Executive Director Don Goldman, "the majority from people who for most of their lives made just enough to get by. Now we get about 200 calls a month, and while the number of non-Jewish cases in recent months has gone down, we’re seeing a big increase in need among Jews.

"Many of them have never been in this situation before. By the time they come to us for help, they’ve borrowed and gone through their savings to stay afloat. Now they’re desperate.

"Also," he continued, "they come to us with complicated issues that require more services and take more time to work out. Many of the jobs lost — teachers, lawyers, financial services professionals — are not easy to replace. Often, we need to bring in a pro bono attorney or financial planner to help the client address such issues as how to protect the 401K, what to do with their house or whether to declare bankruptcy."

JFS social workers help each client develop a turn-around plan of action, which often includes financial assistance from the Federation’s Gesher Fund. The Gesher Fund was established in 1985 to provide emergency financial assistance which, until recently, was enough for most clients to weather crises.

In 2009, 98 individuals received assistance totaling $93,000 from the Gesher Fund. This year through May, 53 individuals/families have already received assistance totaling $48,700.

"Increasingly," says Goldman, "we have to go to the Chesed Fund because clients need more than a one-time fix. People may find a job, but it takes a long time, may be a significantly lower salary and require retraining. They may put their house on the market but it takes time to sell, move and get back on their feet."

Over and above

Kansas City is fortunate that the Federation has been able to help area Jews in need to the extent that it has.

"The Federation established the Chesed Fund in 2007 because even then we saw a rising need among people with chronic financial challenges," said Stimetz. Chesed was launched with a $50,000 grant from the Menorah Legacy Foundation and has received generous support from funds at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City, including the Legacy Fund, the Flo Harris Fund, the Wilk Foundation, the Joel and Sue Vile Philanthropic Fund and J-LEAD.

Other Jewish communities across the country have funds like Gesher, but Kansas City is one of the few that had a resource like Chesed in place when the economy crashed.

It also has donors who, as Stimetz puts it, "care about people in need – especially Jewish people right here in our own community – and understand why it’s critical at this time to give above and beyond their Jewish Federation annual gift.

"Helping people and saving lives is the highest value in the Jewish tradition," she says. "And that’s what these funds are doing. Saving lives. Literally!"

To donate to the Gesher or Chesed funds, contact Shari Stimetz at 913.327.8102, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or donate online at www.jewishkansascity.org.

In addition to seeking funds for the Gesher Fund, JFS is looking to raise an additional $75,000 to support emergency assistance and other programs it provides.

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, contact the JFS Helpline at (913) 327-8293.

  • Edit

Every ethnic group in the melting pot called America takes great pride in identifying with those with similar backgrounds who have made it big in sports. “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” directed by Peter Miler and written by Pulitzer Prize-winning sports reporter Ira Berkow, is an historical documentary that focuses on the connection between Jewish Americans and our national pastime of baseball. It opens today for a limited engagement this weekend exclusively at Screenland Crown Center. (See below for details)

 

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