Jan Goldstein and Howard Kooper, recipients of the 2016 Phil and Terri Schrager Spirit of Federation Award, are poster kids for the word spirit. The dictionary defines spirit as an invisible force that can inspire, encourage, influence and motivate — qualities Jan and Howard employed with enormous success during their leadership of the 2015 Jewish Federation of Omaha (JFO) Annual Campaign.
“But they didn’t stop there,” said Jay Noddle, President of JFO. “With their spirit and enthusiasm, Jan and Howard reinvigorated the Annual Campaign. They created a model of inclusion for younger community members and also brought back the beloved Campaign Cabaret, which ultimately saw the participation of over 500 community members. From campaign workers to talented performers, the 2015 campaign was a special, collaborative effort that strengthened relationships between generations, united all of us, and celebrated being Jewish in Omaha. Both Jan and Howard embody the character and sense of responsibility associated with the prestigious Spirit of Federation Award, which is given annually to honor a man and woman who have demonstrated personal commitment, dedication and leadership to the Federation and its agencies.” The presentation to Jan and Howard is part of the Federation Annual Meeting and Awards night on Monday, June 6, at 7 p.m. in the Jewish Community Center Theater.
Shortly after moving to Omaha in 1970 as a young wife and mother, Jan Goldstein was named Cultural Arts Director of the JCC. The role found her working with state-wide archaeological and art exhibitions with the University of Nebraska Omaha and other organizations. Subsequently, Jan spent over a decade developing the Women’s Campaign as a JFO professional, and helped create a successful Missions to Israel program that brought nearly 15% of the Omaha Jewish community to Israel. In 1998, Jan was appointed Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Omaha and Chief Development Officer. In addition, she continued the missions program for the next two decades, traveling with groups and individuals to Israel over sixty times.
“I’ve loved this community since the day I first walked into the JCC forty-six years ago,” Jan said. “And how blessed I’ve been at every turn to find Jewish communal work that fed my passion for and belief in the Jewish people. Today, our existence is still being threatened and our survival depends on finding relevant ways to insure the continued existence of a strong, global Jewish people. And it begins here, at the Omaha Jewish Federation, with purpose and action. Serving as Co-Chair of the Annual Campaign with my longtime friend and partner-in-Jewish-community work, Howard Kooper, was a huge honor. Howard’s extraordinary vision always fuels my energy. For Howard, nothing is ever out of reach — not even bringing back the spirit and success of Campaign Cabaret from two decade ago.”
“I loved every minute of my tenure as Executive Director of Federation,” Jan continued. “When I retired from the position I was ready to hand over the reins to the next generation, and I vowed to never be the old lady who walks around muttering, ‘But we used to do it THAT way!’ Communities must grow and change in order to stay relevant. Still, some things don’t change — the value of lay and professional leaders who ‘want to matter’; relationship building so progress can be made; love for our Jewish Homeland and the messages of Tikkun Olam and Am Yisrael Chai. Those fundamentals remain constant and steadfast. When we do this holy work together, we always get back more than we give. I’m so grateful to the Omaha community for this award.”
Today, Jan Goldstein serves as both Director of North American Tours for Amiel Tours of Tel Aviv, and Stateside Director for the Central Area Partnership Consortium with the Western Galilee, a pillar program for the Jewish Agency for Israel. In these positions she promotes people-to-people connections and fosters greater mutual understanding between Israelis and Americans, both in the Jewish and non-Jewish community.
“Jan has been passionate about every role she’s played in our Jewish community and is responsible for helping further develop the vibrant organization we have today,” said Zoe Riekes who, together with her husband, Carl, received the Spirit of Federation Award in 2013. “Jan has also contributed valuable programs and services in the larger Jewish world. Her love and commitment to the State of Israel and its people is admired by everyone who knows her.”
Howard Kooper’s friends describe him as a big-hearted guy who makes things happen, a guy whose fund-raising fingerprints are on many important building projects in our Jewish and non-Jewish community. “Howard has served in countless positions of leadership,” said Alan Potash, Jewish Federation of Omaha CEO, “but none have been as important to him as his role in the Omaha Jewish community. He held many offices on the JFO Board of Directors, and was Federation president from 1997 to 1999. Howard was instrumental in the late 90s — together with his business partner, Tom Fellman — in developing a major renovation on the JCC Campus. Next, Howard provided unparalleled leadership during the transformation of the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home, which created a treasure for this community. Over the years, Howard Kooper has remained an ardent patron of Federation, always optimistic, realistic and far-sighted.”
Kooper discovered Federation at a very young age. “I got involved with Men’s Campaign when I was nine years old,” he said. “The kick-off event that year was at Highland, and Bob Epstein and I dressed up like newspaper boys and ran into the Club dining room shouting, ‘Extra, extra, read all about it.’ Believe me, this is a true story. I guess you could say I’m still shouting about Federation.” With his involvement in the 2015 Campaign, Howard realized a long-held dream. “Bringing back Campaign Cabaret has been a pet project of mine since the curtain went down on the original show. Re-staging the production created such an atmosphere of good will and comradeship between old and new. The bonus for me, this time around, was working with Jan. We think alike.”
In his acknowledgement of the Spirit Award, Kooper repeated a quote from a 2011 Jewish Press interview. “My dad, Bob Kooper, felt you had to give back to the community.” Part of Howard’s ‘giving back’ includes the Robert H. & Dorothy G. Kooper Charitable Foundation Trust, established by Howard and his wife, Sharon, in honor of his late parents. The Trust awards scholarships, based on financial need, to Jewish undergraduate students with ties to the Omaha community who are pursuing their post-secondary education.
“Jan and Howard have been exceptional role models for their peers and for the young people in our community who they have engaged,” said Potash. “They both possess a deep commitment to grow and sustain a strong Omaha Jewish community, work tirelessly to share their vision for our future, and have created significant opportunities for community members of all ages to get involved. Jan and Howard have earned the respect and gratitude of the entire community. The Phil and Terri Schrager Spirit of Federation Award is a fitting tribute to their years of service.”
A dessert reception will follow the June 6 Jewish Federation of Omaha Annual meeting and award presentation. The entire community is encouraged to attend.