November 29, 2010

One Global Jewish Family

From Steve Schwager, CEO

I share with you below e-mails from two young women—Lisa Kudish and Marcy Bass—who were involved in the Lion of Judah Conference in New Orleans. Their story reminds us not only how we Jews yearn to care for our needy elderly as though they were our own grandparents, but also how the thread of interconnectedness binds us together as a global family. Years apart, both Lisa and Marcy had a common experience of being touched by an elderly woman half a world away; years later she is still being cared for by JDC.

Marcy Bass sent the following e-mail to Michael Novick, JDC’s Executive Director of Strategic Development.

Greetings from Atlanta! I thought you would be interested in knowing about a wonderful coincidence that happened at the Lion of Judah Conference last week. One of the last speakers at the Conference was Lisa Kudish, a young woman from Chicago now living in Miami. She shared her Jewish story, which included a trip to Minsk and St. Petersburg in 2006. She told us about a home visit to a woman who was homebound but who had touched her heart and who she still thought about 4 years later. She flashed a picture up on the screen—and my heart leaped—I recognized that face! I was almost certain that it was Seina Meerman!

At the end of Lisa's talk, I found her and told her that I had been in Minsk this summer and had visited Seina—and that she was still alive and still being cared for. Lisa burst into tears at the news and I promised to send her my pictures from our visit. I sent her the pictures when I got back to Atlanta and her response is below. Needless to say, we were all touched beyond measure by this coincidence. It once again brought home to us the magnitude and importance of the work the Joint does. I hope this story helps to remind you that you are touching lives not only in Minsk but all over the world.

My very best to all of you,

When Lisa received the photos of Seina, this was her response to Marcy:

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!! I literally gasped when I saw the photo of you and Seina together—her face, I knew it instantly. And, it is virtually the same EXACT photo that I took with her (same position next to the bed, with a French-manicured hand giving her a gentle touch) that I have. I am attaching my photo, and you can look at it next to yours... if the face wasn't “proof” enough, the wallpaper is!

I am just blown away... I loved your presentation in its entirety. Reading about Seina, it was just stunning to see/hear someone telling the same story that I knew, the same person that I knew, and the same feeling that I knew... yes, she would be 85... she was 81 when we visited her in May 2006.

These pictures—seeing that she is still smiling and feeling cared for—I can't tell you what a gift that is to me. I am so grateful for you sending this.


When Marcy sent the photos to Lisa, she, too, was confident that they had visited the same elderly woman. And she was thrilled to report that “Seina is alive and feisty, although still homebound and still completely dependent on the angels of the JDC.”

But the story doesn’t end there; Lisa then wrote to Michael Novick and added an interesting twist:

The world gets smaller by the minute. My sister Debra is very close with Eric, Jill, and Rebecca Schwager in Chicago and my father [David Kudish] knew Steve about 20 years ago. My own involvement has grown through National Young Leadership Cabinet, and it was on our 2006 Study Mission that I had the amazing experience of meeting Seina.

The story is not just shared between Marcy and me... the day before I spoke, there was a “Next Gen” breakout session at the Lion Conference, and one of the panelists was my dear friend, Stacy Siwak, from St. Louis. Stacy and I—along with one other Cabinet member—were the group of 3 to visit Seina in May 2006. During the breakout session, Stacy was asked what her “aha” leadership moment was... she and I had never discussed this since our visit, and she did not know that Seina would be referred to in my remarks. So when she answered the question, detailing our visit to Seina's apartment, recalling her tears of gratitude and smile in the most impoverished of circumstances, I welled up then... thinking “how amazing that this visit was so profound for us both.” The next morning, when Marcy approached me after my speech—it was just unreal.

Three young women—Marcy, Lisa, and Stacy—bound together by their devotion to the Jewish people and to one elderly Jewish lady in Belarus. Their collective, meaningful, first-person encounters with a JDC client personifies why Irv and I are committed to sharing JDC’s work with the Next Generation of Jewish leaders. And their story reminds us that wherever we live, however much time and geography may distance us, we are connected as one global Jewish family.

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