Update from Phil Malcom

It was 4:45pm on a Tuesday, and I needed to bolt out the door. As I finished up my shift as the Campus and Events Assistant at the Federation, I knew I needed to get to 156th and Dodge by 5:00 to begin my first tutoring session of the night. I had sessions stacked up one on top of the other all across West Omaha until 9:30pm, at which point I’d make my way back to Dundee, meet up with Laura for a drink at the Dundee Dell, and collapse into bed in our little apartment. On Wednesday I did the same thing, but swap out tutoring, and replace it with waiting tables at the Outback Steakhouse on 132nd and Center. At the Dell, Laura and I would swap horror stories of grumpy customers as we looked at each other, bleary-eyed, over our nachos. (She worked a second job at the end of her teaching day as well.) It was 2012, and we were in our 20s, early in our careers, and working hard to cobble together a life. Sometimes we look back on those days with a bit of nostalgia for the feeling of hustling and of being “Malcoms united” (the nightly toast). What I also remember is that of those three jobs, what I wanted most was to spend time working at the JFO, even though it wasn’t my highest paying gig. And when the opportunity arose to take on more responsibility, I jumped at it.

There’s a “stickiness” to this place, something that keeps people coming back. Each year we celebrate people who have worked at the JFO for 5, 10, 15, 20, or more years. Each year I’m amazed at how many people have been here for more than 20 years, people who have spent their entire careers serving the community. What is it that keeps us all coming back? I posed a similar question to our leadership team this week, and they told me things like, “the sense of camaraderie on our team,” “the purpose behind our work,” “the support of our community.” These are things I often hear when I talk to people about their work at the Federation.

I heard similar things from Vanessa Gifford, a Graphic Designer on our Marketing team, in a recent conversation. She and I have bonded over the last year as we are both new parents of twins. When Vanessa discovered that she was pregnant with Nora and Isla, she had a choice to make: she knew that she didn’t plan to come back to work full time, but she also knew there were plenty of opportunities to work remotely for other companies or as a freelancer in graphic design. Instead, she decided to stay at the Federation for three days a week. When I asked her about that choice, she told me right away that she wanted to stay connected to her team and her work at the JFO. She loves feeling a part of something bigger than herself. She loves the variety of programming we do across our campus. And she loves the dynamic of her team, one that consistently does amazing work without taking themselves too seriously. Like Vanessa, hundreds of dedicated people think of this place as home.

Erin Leutzinger was five years into an appointment at Madonna when she got the call from Shelley Cash telling her that she needed a new Nurse Manager. Erin had worked at the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home for 15 years previously before leaving for Madonna. Feeling comfortable and established in her role at the time, she said she wasn’t particularly interested. Then she went home and her husband, Craig, told her, “What are you talking about? You loved working at the Blumkin Home, and you talk about it all the time.” She’s been back with us for over a year, and she tells me the sense of family (both staff and residents) and the sense that we are all united in one purpose across this campus are the reasons she missed the Jewish Federation during her five years away and the reasons that brought her back.

Last week, our campus leadership team hosted an appreciation lunch for this dedicated crew. We grilled kosher hamburgers for everyone and celebrated the work we do, the community we serve, and the family we’ve become. Your Federation is filled with remarkably talented and committed people doing amazing things every day. I’ve visited other communities and can tell you that Omaha’s staff is the envy of many other organizations. If you get a chance in the coming weeks, thank one of the many professionals who make this organization run day in and day out. I know that you, like me, are tremendously proud of the work they do to grow and sustain a strong and vibrant Omaha Jewish community.

Thank you, and Shabbat Shalom,
Phillip Malcom