Update from Jan Goldstein

These past 11 months of participating on the Federation Professional Interim CEO team have reminded me of just why our Federation and this Jewish community remains strong, vibrant, and special, year after year. The lay and professional leaders here work daily to plan programs and activities and to implement guidelines, procedures and measurable outcomes with dedication and tireless service.

This doesn’t happen by accident, and our Federation has invested considerable time and resources over decades to ensure this success. The JFO and its agencies have grown tremendously, especially over this past decade, and with this growth comes many new challenges, including some that our leadership team could have never imagined. COVID and the post-pandemic world have introduced new norms which have changed everything in both our work and personal lives. But what do I see? Performing arts in the Alan J. Levine Theater, basketball tournaments at the Staenberg Omaha JCC, children learning at the Pennie Z. Davis ELC and Friedel Jewish Academy, senior programming at our exceptional Rose Blumkin Jewish Home, clergy and community members coming together for Beit Midrash, local Jewish authors discussing their latest publications, and the list goes on and on. Stop by any day of the week, and you can tell from the activity on the Staenberg Kooper Fellman Campus that nothing can stop our community from moving forward.

Since my departure in 2012 as JFO Executive Director, I’ve had the opportunity in my continuing work with other Jewish Federations, to hear about challenges much like those we are facing here in Omaha. In this respect we are not unique. What’s important, however, is how we face these challenges. I can tell you that being back in our community, I have clearly seen an atmosphere, under the leadership of our JFO President Mike Siegel and this Federation Board, of responsibility and cooperation, using creativity to find answers, and a constant motivation not only to meet those challenges, but to do so with an overarching goal of uniting the community – bringing everyone to the table, both literally and metaphorically.

Speaking of challenges and creating the “big table” where everyone feels comfortable, included, and welcomed, I’d like to touch on the subject of kashrut. It’s been talked about the past few months, and it’s an important issue for many of our community members, whether kashrut is one’s practice or not.

Why? For several reasons.

First, so many of us speak continually today about inclusiveness. Our cultural and political climate and just about everything today focuses on the important issues centered around diversity, equity, and respecting others’ beliefs, traditions, and rights, even though they may not be our own. While we as Jews are a diverse group of people and hold many different beliefs and practices, we are united by core values. As we continue building upon the successes of Jewish Omaha, we look for opportunities to build inclusivity.

The ability to share a meal is essential to the Jewish experience. In the Torah, great and important things happen over meals. When we come together at a community-wide event, we want everyone to feel comfortable eating together.

I have heard it said that kosher is too expensive and that we don’t have the resources or the ability in Omaha to make it happen. These are challenges that we are discussing, and we are actively exploring workable ideas for how we can become more inclusive with food at community-wide events. Why? Because kashrut is part of our Jewish tradition and for many it is still very important. Kashrut is part of our legacy and it is a symbol of respect for each other and Judaism.

We are proud of our small midwestern Jewish community because we support diverse populations in every corner of the Jewish world – locally, nationally and worldwide. At the end of the day, isn’t it all about respect for one another?
We are and always have been the community that cares about all people… This is Jewish Omaha.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jan Goldstein
Programming and Campaign Consultant