On Oct. 11, 2015, the Jewish Federation of Omaha (JFO) staged a revival of Campaign Cabaret that brought back memories of the first production thirty years ago. The re-staging of the show also brought original cast members together with a new generation of donors and participants, excited to be part of this meaningful community event.
From Dec. 21 to Dec. 31, 2015, thirty-five Jewish high school juniors and seniors representing Temple Israel, Beth El Synagogue and Beth Israel Synagogue, participated in the Teen Trip to Israel. When plans for the trip were first announced, many people asked, “Where else but in Omaha could three congregations join forces to give their kids this unique experience?” We’re sure the answer is, “Nowhere, but in Omaha.”
And so, because Campaign Cabaret 2015 and The Teen Trip to Israel made a significant impact on the Omaha Jewish community, both will receive this year’s Community Service Award from JFO. The award, which recognizes programs that are creative, innovative, and foster Jewish cultural, religious, educational or social purposes, will be presented as part of the Jewish Federation of Omaha Annual Meeting scheduled for Monday, June 6, at 7 p.m. in the JCC Theater.
“Campaign Cabaret brought Jewish Omaha together on so many different levels,” said Louri Sullivan, Director of Community Impact and Special Projects. “From the children of the synagogues and the Friedel Jewish Academy to cast members who had participated almost three decades ago, this production involved people from all parts of our community and created enthusiasm we haven’t seen in years. Over 500 people attended the performance at the Joslyn Art Museum, and all came away enthused and committed to sustaining and strengthening our Jewish community. The night celebrated our past, represented a vision of our future, and helped Federation Campaign leadership reinvigorate the essence of fundraising and attract a new cadre of young people to this important work.”
Sullivan applauded the driving forces behind Campaign Cabaret 2015: Andee Scioli, Event Chair, who teamed with Joanie Jacobson to co-produce the show; Beth Friedman, production assistant; and Stacey Rockman and Betsy Baker who chaired the pre-show dinner. “The purpose of Campaign Cabaret was to bring our community together, in a physical, participatory sense and in a spirited endorsement of Jewish Omaha,” Sullivan said. “The event met and exceeded all expectations.”
The Teen Trip to Israel also exceeded expectations. The sponsoring organizations — Jewish Federation of Omaha, Temple Israel, Beth El Synagogue and Beth Israel Synagogue — began with a hope of attracting twenty high school juniors and seniors to the project which coincided with the Partnership2Gether Mega Teen Mission and was incorporated from the beginning into the trip itinerary. Recruitment proved far more successful than anticipated, and by the June 1, 2015, deadline for applications, thirty-five students had signed on. Through the generosity of the Phil & Terri Schrager Supporting Foundation, The Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Supporting Foundation, the Herbert Goldsten Foundation, the Lois Jeanne Schrager Memorial Fund, and the Carl Frohm Memorial Foundation, enough funding was raised to cover a large portion of the trip costs, with families charged only $500.
A requirement of the trip was enrollment in the synagogue Hebrew Schools. Beginning with the start of the school year, the students met weekly, often under the leadership of community shaliach Eliad Eliyahu ben Shushan. These sessions helped the teens begin their personal relationship with the people, land, and history of Israel, and also gave them the opportunity to develop friendships with peers from congregations other than their own. During their weekly meetings, the kids each wrote personal statements that were subsequently presented to high schools in the Western Galilee. “By the time they departed on December 21, we knew this was an outstanding group of Omaha Jewish teens,” said Alan Potash, Jewish Federation of Omaha CEO. “We were fortunate that a member of the clergy from each congregation served as guides and chaperones for the trip — Cantor Wendy Shermet from Temple, Rabbi Steven Abraham from Beth El and Rabbi Ari Dembitzer from Beth Israel.” Under their collaborative leadership, the teens toured the Western Galilee, the Golan Heights, visited Tel Aviv, Akko, Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, the Sinai, and spent Shabbat with Israeli host families.
For many of the young participants, the impact of their visit to the Western Wall was visceral. “When I went up to the Wall, everything stopped,” one student wrote. “My heart, time. I said a prayer and even started tearing up.” Another commented, “The connection you feel when you actually touch the Wall is just indescribable.” All agreed the entire experience was life-changing. “Before my trip,” one teen admitted, “Israel was just another country I saw in the news. Sure, it was a Jewish homeland, but that didn’t mean anything to me. After ten days in Israel it became more than just a country. I was greeted like family. Now I realize Israel isn’t just a country. It’s ours. Never forget.”
“It’s evident that this program touched our youth and made a significant impact on their Jewish identity,” Potash said. “Because of the program’s tremendous success, JFO and our local synagogues are committed to offering this trip on a bi-annual basis.”
A dessert reception will follow the June 6 Jewish Federation of Omaha Annual meeting and award presentation. The entire community is encouraged to attend.