Mark Kirchhoff, Program and Communications Assistant, Jewish Federation of Omaha
“Before we go too far with this interview, I think it is important to let people know that I am, indeed, ‘Jeff Gates’ sister,’” quipped Jennie Gates Beckman with an engaging smile. “When I worked for the Jewish Press in Omaha as a Production Assistant under the direction of Carol Katzman, I was known simply as ‘Jen Gates.’ I’ve been away from Omaha for 12 years now, and ever since I returned last November it seems the easiest way for people to place me. It used to annoy me since I am the oldest, but being Jeff’s sister helps jump their memory, especially since I proudly added ‘Beckman’ to ‘Gates’ when I married David in 2006.” Jennie joined the Jewish Federation of Omaha on Aug. 22 as the Director of Community Engagement and Education. Her enthusiasm for her new role is infectious.
Jennie’s family moved to Omaha when she was seven years old. “This was about the time that Rabbi Aryeh Azriel began at Temple Israel,” Jennie said. “Being a part of Temple Israel and having Rabbi Azriel as our Senior Rabbi has been very special to me and my family for all this time,” she added. Jennie graduated from Millard North High School and went on to earn her BA at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. During her undergraduate studies she taught religious school and helped with the youth group at Temple Israel. She continued with post graduate work at the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country, Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. There she earned an MA in Jewish Communal Service and Non-Profit Management.
Jennie began her career in the Jewish community as a FEREP Fellow. The Federation Executive Recruitment and Education Program (FEREP) is a graduate scholarship program, funded through The Jewish Federations of North America Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence, for students who are planning careers in Jewish Federations. Her first six years were spent with The Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. There she gained experience in Campaign, Leadership Development, Community Outreach, and at Jewish Volunteer Connection. “Our community outreach goal was to engage new people who were otherwise not active in the Jewish community. I was able to put a special emphasis on working with those who showed the most interest and potential for leadership to become more involved and to assume leadership roles,” Jennie said. “It was rewarding to see the ‘new life’ that these people experienced by learning more about the Federation agencies and programs serving our community.”
Following her work with “The Associated,” Jennie served as Director of Volunteer Strategy at the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies (AJFCA) in Baltimore from February 2012-August of 2016. There she was tasked with launching a national partnership with Repair the World (werepair.org), looking to elevate the role of volunteers in AJFCA’s 125 member agencies (JFS in Omaha is one of their member agencies). Through the creation of a track at their conference focused on volunteer engagement, a cohort of volunteer professionals, quarterly community of practice calls and regular newsletters, Jennie established a strong network of professionals to come together for training and sharing of resources. Although the bulk of her work has been focused on volunteer engagement, just this past year Jennie led the creation of a new Early Career Professional Fellowship. This fellowship is an opportunity for exceptional young leaders from AJFCA member agencies to participate in a year-long leadership program, including an opening retreat, group calls, skill building webinars, technical assistance and mentoring.
Jennie and David welcomed the birth of their daughter Sadie in October of 2014. “Although we’ve lived so far away, our connection to our family is very important to us. We are so fortunate in that our parents always supported our pursuing our careers wherever that might take us,” Jennie said. She then related how during a visit with family in Ohio in which the grandparents were there playing with Sadie, they realized how very special it would be for Sadie not to have to wait for these special occasions. “There were so many things that Baltimore had to offer that we just didn’t want to part with,” said Jennie. “At the same time we have such a love for Omaha and being with our families that we decided to return.” Jennie was able to begin working remotely for AJFCA in 2015, enabling her family to move to Omaha without having to do a cross-country job search. “Already, Sadie has such an amazing relationship with all four grandparents, as well as my youngest brother Jon and his fiancée Kalli.”
When a friend reached out to Jennie about the position with the JFO, she was intrigued. “The more I learned about the new role, the more it seemed to fit with my passion and experience. I really enjoyed the process of exploring the position with Alan Potash and am excited to begin my work in this new capacity.” This position is tasked with enhancing community engagement, promoting lifelong Jewish learning, providing a connection to Israel and supporting the synagogues in their mission. “The breadth and depth of what we will be doing is exciting,” Jennie said. “One piece I am most excited about is improving the welcoming experience for individuals and families who move to Omaha. Based on my own personal experience, trying to connect to the Jewish community as someone who is already quite connected – it still wasn’t easy! I’m looking forward to hearing from more folks out there who have had a similar experience so we can put our heads together and lower the barrier for engagement. This position has the added benefit of allowing me to be directly involved with the people and the programs, which is something I have missed quite a bit working on the national level,” Jennie shared. “At AJFCA I enjoyed highlighting how our member agencies work with the entire community is supported on a foundation in Jewish values – but in this role I really get to make that a core part of my job!”
We encourage you to meet Jennie to catch her enthusiasm and to volunteer to help with the exciting challenges ahead. She is sure to be a part of the ever evolving greatness that is the Jewish Federation of Omaha.
Questions or suggestions? You can reach Jennie at 402.334.6445 or email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.