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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.

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.

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.

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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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.

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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When Jake Ehrenreich was a kid, the American and Jewish sides of his personality seemed like two separate things to him. Now 54 and the author/star of a one-man, off-Broadway hit show, “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn,” Ehrenreich said those once-seemingly-divergent sides of his persona have melded into a seamless whole.

Ehrenreich will take audiences along on his journey to acceptance — with lots of jokes and songs and a few tears along the way — when he comes to town next mo nth for four performances of “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn,” (See below for details)

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