Michael Green, who volunteers as a major gifts solicitor for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, gave this speech at the Create a Jewish Legacy celebration of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation, where he accepted the 2016 Legacy Leadership Award on June 22. He is a resident of Mequon and has served as a Federation board member, chair of the annual campaign, president of Congregation Emanu El B’ne Jeshurun and volunteer publisher of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, among other roles.
As a child I attended Sunday school at Congregation Emanu-El and Hebrew School at the East Side Hebrew School. I was a bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Israel because in those days Reform congregations did not have b’nai mitzvot. I can remember on Saturday afternoons riding the Holton Street trackless trolley to the JCC on Milwaukee Street. During high school I was an AZA president and as a student at UWM I was one of the founders and the first president of the AEPi chapter there in the 1950s.
Anti-Semitism existed in Milwaukee in the 1950s and my generation lived through it, some of us experienced more and some experienced less, but it was always there. I have some pretty unpleasant memories of being spat upon, beaten up, bullied, called a kike and a Christ killer as well as being discriminated against in employment.
And that was the hard part of being Jewish in the 1950s.
Over the objections of my parents, I enlisted in the army a month shy of my 18th birthday, first stop – Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. During basic training, my unit was on bivouac which meant several nights living in a pup tent in the woods with all that living outdoors entails. One of the nights it was raining hard, we were ordered into company formation and called to “attention.” The next order was “all Jews fall out get on that truck.” No other explanation. We could not imagine what was happening and I admit, for an 18-year-old it was scary. It was dark and when the truck finally reached its destination it turned out to be at a mess hall. Soaked and coated with mud we were greeted by a Jewish chaplain, it was Passover and we were at a Seder.
I’ll never forget, when we left to go back to our unit each soldier was handed a daily prayer book, a mezuzah to wear along with our dog tags, some matzo, a tiny can opener and a couple of cans of matzo ball soup. This was sponsored by what at the time was known as the JWB, the Jewish Welfare Board, which is now a part of the JCCA, The Jewish Community Center Association of America. That Jewish memory has been with me for 60 years only to strengthen my belief that Jewish institutions really deserve our support because of what they do for our people. I still send an annual donation.
I graduated UWM in 1960 and that was also my first year of being solicited for the Milwaukee Jewish Welfare Fund, later to become the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. That first $25 gift felt great. I was really proud of it.
I have been a campaign worker since 1961 and I still do it to this day. During the ‘60s I learned more and more about the Jewish Community, the things it does and what it meant as well as the horrors that had happened to our people during the Holocaust. I also met and learned from people who had suffered only because they were Jews. There was an opportunity to learn from the professional staff, the speakers and the programs of the Federation and from some of our campaign co-workers who were survivors.
When the ‘67 war broke out, survival of the Jewish state was questionable and frightening. I became more involved with the Jewish Federation and worked soliciting funds for the Israel Emergency Fund. Milwaukee raised historic amounts of money for the Emergency Fund.
In 1972, Betsy and I were asked to go on a Federation mission to Israel. That experience changed both of our lives forever and that was the first of our many visits to Israel.
As the years have passed and Israel and our Jewish community have changed, grown and moved on with the times I have had numerous duties and positions within the Jewish community locally, nationally and in our synagogue. It truly has been an honor and a privilege for me to be involved in our Jewish community. All of our children and grandchildren are here with us tonight. And our hope is that they have gained an understanding of what this night means to us and to our community.