Editor’s note: On Oct. 28, Todd Simon and David Gilinsky addressed a number of community members during the Lion of Judah and Pacesetter brunch. These are excerpts from their speeches. Read David Gilinsky’s speech below.
by Todd Simon
In 1987, I received a call from Gloria Kaslow, and that was how it started for me. It sparked my connection to the Jewish Federation of Omaha, but, more importantly, something inside of me told me how important it was and is to help people. I credit Gloria with connecting the dots for me.
The family legacy of community involvement started with my grandparents. I witnessed it in my father, Fred, who set an incredible example as I was growing up. Watching the work dad did in the community, giving of himself, giving his time and money to provide important leadership to make our community better, was inspiring.
Cut to 2012, when I found myself with David Gilinsky and others on a mission trip in the Ukraine. We were outside of Kiev in a shtetl called Zhitomer, and we met a woman named Magda, one of a dozen elderly Jewish widows. When we asked where all the men were, they said: “gone.” Gone because of war, poor diet, Chernobyl, a life of industrial labor.
Magda has seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, and varying levels of anti-Semitism. But today, as hard as it has been, she has an ok quality of life. In fact, better than ok: she has a community, she has friends, and she has what she needs to live and be happy. She has plans for tomorrow, and a real smile on her face. She is grateful, and I in turn am grateful that I had a chance to see the work we are doing sustain life half a world away.
We all know these stories don’t end in Eastern Europe. Some of these same people were rescued by Shirley Goldstein and Miriam Simon, and brought to Omaha where they were able to survive and thrive thanks to our work with the Federation.
Nearly half of all the money that goes to Federation is allocated to directly help people who need it. We help people overseas, through JDC, JAFI, ORT, and locally, through CDC scholarships, Jewish Senior Service, and JFS.
The very next day after visiting Magda, our group visited Babi Yar. It was the eve of Yom HaShoah. Magda would have been born just around the time of the massacres that happened there. It was the most impactful moment of the trip, and it brought home the fact that there was a time in Magda’s life when nobody was there to help. Thanks to the work we facilitate, help is now there for people like Magda, both here in Omaha, and everywhere else.
by David Gilinsky
The Omaha Jewish community is a very special place. It is unlike any other place I’ve lived or visited. Some of us have known each other for generations. Todd Simon and I have been friends our whole lives; the Simons and Gilinskys have enjoyed friendships for generations. I remember Trudy and Chicky’s friendship well. Bruce Simon’s daughter Talia traveled to Israel with both of our daughters, Molly and Laura, just two years ago.
While it is special, around here it is not that uncommon. Many of my friends have had friendships that reached across generations.
Our community is small, incredibly close, and incredibly generous. How did we get here? Omaha is a microcosm of our Jewish existence. We are a community because of our shared heritage, a set of shared experiences and traditions connecting us back not five, but 100 generations. And to maintain and build upon what we have, we have to remember where we have been and how we got here.
Our great-great-grandfathers left their homes, and came here to find a better life for their children. They started with nothing so we could have something. When Todd and I visited Zhitomir, I thought: “but for the grace of G-d and the fortitude of our ancestors, we would still be here.” It is a miracle, and we are very fortunate.
So, I moved back to Omaha because of our amazing community. But how did I know what to do?
It was people like Phil Schrager who inspired me. He created a legacy of giving not only through his Foundation, but by bringing in the next generation, and showing us how it’s done. I remember the snowy February morning he asked Todd and me (amongst others) to serve on his Foundation board. By bringing younger people in on his thinking and beliefs, he created something much bigger than just the dollars in the family Foundation.
There isn’t a greater honor than being a steward for a portion of the Schrager family legacy. Phil gave us the blueprint and the playbook. We know how to move forward in his absence. Our generation is so much more accepted and integrated into the general community, which is wonderful. The downside is, we can spread thin and develop a blind spot, forget where we came from. We need to infuse each other with passion, remind each other why the Jewish community is important. The challenge is making the Jewish community a priority in any generation. Don’t leave behind the urgency and commitment that your generation brought to the table.
Your parents gave you first hand accounts of WW II, you saw the birth of a Jewish nation and the constant fight for its survival. It’s something my generation has only read about. So, ask yourself, how can you crystallize what’s important, and communicate it to those who can have an impact on our future?
The community needs the inspiration of your example as much as your financial support. Because your story is inspirational. Please share it with the next generation.