Susanna Goldberg and her family moved to Madison just over a year ago, but in that short time their connections to the city’s Jewish community have become remarkably strong.
This is in no small measure due to the work of the Jewish Federation of Madison, now celebrating its 75th year of serving the state’s second largest Jewish population, numbering more than 5,000.
In a telephone interview Aug. 4, Goldberg credited JFM staff and volunteers for the feeling of belonging she has enjoyed in Madison.
“We took a pretty big leap of faith,” she said, in moving from their longtime home in Charlotte, N.C., to Madison, an unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar region. “But people here are warm and welcoming, and I could see being happy living here not just short-term, but for years.”
Tiz Goff is a major part of the reason for Goldberg’s positive initial experience. Goff is JFM’s first community outreach coordinator, a position created in 2013 with funds provided by an anonymous donation.
According to JFM’s 2014 Annual Report, she works “to connect and engage individuals and families with the many opportunities available to live Jewishly in the Madison area.”
Since the start of her position, Goff said in a telephone interview Aug. 3, she has revived the Shalom Madison program, personally meeting with more than 100 people so far, many of whom are newcomers to Madison.
Goldberg was among them, and her meeting with Goff was “the first thing” that came to mind in recalling her introduction to Madison.
Goff said she follows up with newcomers after that initial meeting, providing them her personal contact information and urging them to stay in touch.
She also asks if she can match newcomers with outreach volunteers. These volunteers become “buddies” with newcomers, Goff said, introducing them to other members of the community, and often accompanying them to community events.
Goff oversees a Shalom Baby program as well. The birth of 10 Jewish babies in Madison since March has presented multiple opportunities to reach out and invite new mothers/caregivers to attend JFM’s Yad B’Yad playgroup for children ages birth to two, and to Schmooze/Zuz and Tunes, music and movement classes for children ages birth to four.
One mother, initially reluctant to join, was ultimately happy to be part of a playgroup, Goff said. “The mom told me, ‘You kept pushing, and I’m so glad you kept after me — and in such a nice way.’”
JFM executive director Dina Weinbach, in a telephone interview Aug. 3, acknowledged the importance of Goff’s work. She said JFM faces a challenge common to many Jewish federations around the country, “to find and engage new members of the community.”
She said there are numerous additional ways in which JFM tries to meet this challenge. They include:
• Engaging and involving parents of children in JFM’s Gan HaYeled Preschool.
• Developing camaraderie among like-minded participants in JFM’s Future Directions leadership program, as they learn about Madison’s Jewish life and history and about the workings of JFM.
• Providing programming that promotes networking among those belonging to JFM’s Jewish Business & Professionals Roundtable.
There are also opportunities for Madison Jews to participate in programs that transcend the confines of the local Jewish community, Weinbach said.
In the spring of 2014, JFM joined Partnership2Gether (P2G), a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The program partners 550 Jewish communities across the globe with 45 regional communities in Israel.
According to the May 2015 issue of the Madison Jewish News, the program seeks “to cultivate people-to-people relationships, projects and professional programs between the partner communities.”
Madison thereby joined Milwaukee — and Tulsa, Okla., and St. Paul, Minn. — in linking to the Sovev Kinneret (Around Lake Kinneret) of Israel.
As part of this year’s Israel Independence Day celebration in Madison, P2G hosted an exhibition of photographs, “The Kinneret People: Photographs by Naftali Oppenheim (1912-1953),” later shown in Milwaukee at the Jewish Home and Care Center.
The exhibition’s curator, Guy Raz, himself an eminent Israeli photographer, brought Oppenheim’s photos to Madison from Israel, and was a guest of the Madison Jewish community for two weeks, Weinbach said.
May 10 marked the 75th anniversary of the creation of JFM’s ancestor, the Madison Jewish Welfare Fund. Founded in 1940, it was committed at the time to raising money to help Jews overseas and an increasing immigrant population in Madison that had fled Hitler’s Europe.
As The Chronicle reported at the time of the organization’s 50th anniversary (Nov. 9, 1990), the organization raised $12,800 in its first campaign. Today, it raises more than $1 million annually, a goal it first reached in 2011.
According to information published on JFM’s website (JewishMadison.org/History), in 1948, the Welfare Fund incorporated under Wisconsin law.
In 1974 it took a new name, the Madison Jewish Community Council (MJCC), reflecting an expansion beyond fundraising to also providing services to Madison’s Jewish community. These services included:
• Camp Shalom, a day camp established in 1954.
• A community newspaper, the Monthly Reporter(1969), now called the Madison Jewish News.
• The Gan HaYeled Preschool (1970).
• The Midrasha Hebrew High School (1975).
• Jewish Social Services, which became a separate corporation in 1978 and provides services to increasing numbers of senior adults and their families.
In 2009, MJCC changed its name to Jewish Federation of Madison, to clarify that it was and had always been part of the national Jewish federation movement.
Steven Morrison was JFM executive director from 1984 to 2010 and still lives in Madison. In a telephone interview July 27, he identified “building” as among the hallmarks of his tenure.
“Early in my tenure, it was clear that we had to push for new infrastructure,” Morrison said. He recalled that in those days the offices were housed in unsatisfactory rental space.
“We determined that it would actually be less expensive to build a small building than to continue paying rent,” he said, but many feared that fundraising for a capital project would hurt the annual fundraising campaign.
Under his leadership, funds were raised that financed the construction of the Max Weinstein Jewish Community Building, MJCC’s first permanent home and still JFM headquarters today.
And that fundraising “did not hurt the annual campaign,” Morrison said; in fact “capital campaigns get people excited — they help to envision what the [organization’s] future might look like.”
Growth of the Gan HaYeled Preschool, housed in a synagogue basement when Morrison took office, was facilitated by a donation from George Mosse, a retired professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Mosse’s gift enabled construction of additional space in the Weinstein building for the preschool, which was named in memory of Mosse’s sister, Hilde L. Mosse.
Morrison was also a key figure in the acquisition and development of a 154-acre site in nearby Verona, which opened in 1999 as the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Jewish Community Campus.
The Camp Shalom day camp had been using space in Madison city parks and could not accommodate increasing demand, Morrison said. “We eventually found a site, but it had a million-dollar-plus price tag,” he said.
Morrison spoke to the Goodman brothers, well-known philanthropists and major supporters of Madison’s Jewish community, about the camp, and asked them for a gift large enough to buy the site and make initial improvements to the infrastructure.
They gave more than $2 million which, coupled with donations from the community, enabled a vast increase in the number of children served, Morrison said.
The Goodmans later donated $600,000 to build the Goodman Aquatic Center on the Verona campus, which is open to the entire Madison community.
“Yes, we built buildings, but we also built community,” Morrison said.
Jewish Federation of Madison will celebrate its anniversary with a “75th Diamond Gala” on Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m., at the Marriott West, 1313 John Q. Hammons Drive in Middleton. Watch for further details in the October Chronicle.
Freelance writer Lynne Kleinman, Ph.D., is a retired teacher and journalist.