MILWAUKEE – Hannah Rosenthal holds up a spiral notebook, with one page chock-full of bullet points. Next to each one, she’s penned a big checkmark.
“I have a bucket list that I created when I came, on this piece of paper,” she says, adding that she knew it was time to go when the checkmarks were done.
Rosenthal, CEO and president of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, will mark her coming Dec. 31 retirement and her checkmark achievement with a “Farewell Hannah Rosenthal” event set for Tuesday, Dec. 4. The Capitol Steps, Washington-based musical satirists, will perform at the $40 event, at The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. Pre-register at MilwaukeeJewish.org/Hannah.
The Capitol Steps started more than 30 years ago as a group of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the very people and places that employed them. Today, the troop still has plenty of government experience. They’ve been featured on NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS, and on National Public Radio. Their latest album: “Make America Grin Again.”
That’s all fun and good, but it’s to celebrate things Rosenthal is serious about. Her Federation checklist items included improving the Economic Forum and starting Teen Philanthropy and the Hours Against Hate initiative. These are among her checkmarks since she started in 2012.
She also sought to bring Yom HaAtzmaut, the Israeli Independence Day celebration, out of the suburbs and into the city. It did return to the suburbs last year but that was an anomaly, she says. It’s headed back to Downtown Milwaukee this year.
She’s proud of a staff trip to Israel and support for the man who has dedicated himself to remembering Holocaust victims in mass graves. “I am very proud of the missions that we have led with father Patrick Desbois,” she says. “I met father Desbois; he became a hero of mine.”
Rosenthal won’t be in her role here to see how an ongoing examination of Federation spending ends up, but she’s excited about it. “We take the fundraising that we do of the community money very seriously,” she says.
The SHOFAR initiative is a relatively recent addition, but Rosenthal insists she’s been wanting to start something along those lines “since the day I came here.”
She recalls that someone once said to her, “isn’t it wonderful that Jewish men don’t beat their wives?” She replied, “you have got to be kidding me.”
“I realized there are certain populations that believe it doesn’t happen here,” Rosenthal says, acknowledging that men, too, can be victimized.
Rosenthal is also proud of speakers she’s brought to town.
Looking back over the whole career, she’s glad that every job has been a chance to advocate for tikkun olam, or repairing the world, in different ways.
When asked what was most meaningful, she says, “It’s hard for me to pick one of them.”
“When I ran a religious school, all I had to do was look in the eyes of these kids,” she says. When she was in U.S. State Department, as the special envoy in charge of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the Obama Administration, she could go and shake her fingers to a prime minister or foreign minister.
“It’s bittersweet,” she says. “I’m looking forward to being with my family, taking care of myself.”
“As much as I cherish the notion of spending time with and watching my grandson grow up … I’m going to miss the people here.”
But she’ll be visiting from Madison.
“I’m keeping my ‘Rep’ tickets.”
How to go:
What: “Farewell Hannah Rosenthal” with Capitol Steps performance
When: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 6 p.m.
Where: The Pfister Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee
Pre-register: By Nov. 27 at MilwaukeeJewish.org/Hannah or contact Ashleigh Lund at 414-390-5741.