Last week, the vibrant ambiance of Fata Morgana, a local Israeli restaurant, hosted an evening brimming with inspiration and camaraderie. Over 40 young professionals from across the Valley gathered for “An Evening of Inspiration,” organized by CJP’s NowGen program. A significant portion of attendees were first-timers, reflecting a growing trend post-October 7th.

Andrew Gibbs, NowGen’s Director, set the evening’s tone, highlighting CJP’s steadfast commitment to community cohesion. Despite adversities, the Center for Jewish Philanthropy (CJP) has remained resolute in its role as a community convener, offering support and solace during moments of both joy and sorrow.

Gibbs emphasized CJP’s enduring dedication to community engagement, citing events like vigils, workshops combating antisemitism, and speaker engagements featuring survivors of October 7th and bereaved families. This dedication is evident through initiatives such as $1.6 million in community impact grants, which benefit both local and global organizations. Additionally, CJP raised an additional $1.6 million through the Israel Emergency Campaign. Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) have collectively raised nearly $800 million since October 7, with over $400 million allocated for humanitarian and economic support in Israel. Gibbs also highlighted the cohesion within the community, acknowledging differing opinions on Israeli policies but stressing a shared commitment to the Jewish state’s security. He called for continued support for one another, fostering a future of compassion and solidarity. As Passover approaches, he urged reflection on the tales of courage and perseverance that define the Jewish people, underlining the importance of standing together through both joyful celebrations and trials. During this time of celebrating freedom, we pray for the safe return of those still in captivity.

The evening was graced by the presence of esteemed guests including rabbis, local Israelis, and a mental health professional, each contributing to the frontline efforts of the local Jewish community. Their collective presence served as a testament to the fortitude and cohesion prevailing amidst challenges faced six months prior.

Ronny Urman, alongside his wife Sigal, founders of Shevet Shemesh, shared their efforts in organizing the local Israeli community since October 7th, including vigils, rallies, and speaker events. They recognized the need for a stronger connection to Israel, Jewish values, and Hebrew language within the community. Their goal is to build bridges between Israeli and American Jews, especially focusing on supporting Israeli children to take pride in their Jewish heritage. Ronny emphasized the resilience of the Jewish people and the tenacity he witnessed among Israelis during his visit shortly after the attacks. He concluded by expressing his inspiration upon seeing so many young adult Jews gathering on a weeknight to support and empower each other.

Rabbi Allouche, from Congregation Beth Tefillah, shared insights from his 7 trips to Israel since October 7th. He touched on his son, Yisrael, a Lone Soldier in the IDF, and recounted visiting Soroka Hospital near Gaza, where he witnessed numerous examples of resilience. He mentioned a friend, Yonatan ben Ellen, who lost his leg to an RPG attack, yet his children built him a walker, symbolizing hope. Notably, Rabbi Allouche organized a BBQ for soldiers near the Gaza border, expressing admiration for their fortitude and faith in a brighter future.

Jodi Woodnick, a seasoned therapist, led attendees through mindfulness exercises, highlighting the importance of focusing on what one can control amidst uncertainty. Her lighthearted anecdote about attending the inaugural Mazelpalooza (with pictures in hand for proof) underscored the interconnectedness and evolution of our community over time.

Rabbi Andy Green, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Or Tzion, shared insights from his recent participation in the CJP Israel Solidarity Mission, underscoring the importance of community unity. Despite spending only 55 hours in Israel, Rabbi Green recounted numerous impactful experiences, including meetings with IDF spokesperson Major (Res.) David Ross, visits to sites of tragic events like the Nova Music Festival and Kibbutz Be’eri, and interactions with various individuals and support organizations, including survivors of the October 7 terrorist attacks.

A highlight of the trip was a meeting with survivors and representatives of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, deeply affected by the attacks, where Rabbi Green unexpectedly reunited with his former teacher, Adva, who happened to be in the US during the attacks. This poignant encounter highlighted the interconnectedness of the Jewish community.

Reflecting on his visit to the Nova Festival and in particular, a memorial post for Eden Ben-Rubi, the niece of a longtime Or Tzion Religious School teacher, Rabbi Green emphasized the significance of cherishing life amidst tragedy.

The evening served as an opportunity for attendees to reflect on the past six months and draw strength from one another as they navigate the challenges ahead. Am Yisrael Chai!

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