Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut Homepage

2016 Leader Annual Appeal off to good start

Thank you to all who have responded to the 2016 Annual Appeal letter that was sent out in mid-January. To all who have given, thank you for your generosity. For those who have added the appeal letter to your stack of bills, please don’t forget about sending in your check. Your contribution is essential to keeping the Leader in top operating form.

Please click here to download the Leader's appeal form or to make a secure donation online via PayPal.

Eastern Connecticut Hadassah Receives Chapter of Excellence Award

Once again, Eastern Connecticut Hadassah has shined brightly as one for the most active and effective Hadassah chapters in the State. At the annual Connecticut Region meeting on December 6, Eastern Connecticut was awarded with two prestigious certificates. Click here to read the full story.

Host an Emissary!

Amit Horovitz & Sagi Zazon
You will have an unforgettable experience and create a life-long friendship if you can host a an Israeli emissary – a young high-school-graduate who has volunteered to work full-time for us in our local Jewish community

All you need is willingness.

The Eastern Connecticut Jewish Federation & Israel’s Jewish Agency is sponsoring two more young Israeli Emissaries who have delayed their army service to work full-time for our community as volunteers until the end of June 2016.  Each Young Emissary stays with 2 different families.  New host families are needed for the second half of this year. The Jewish Federation provides them each with a car and a cell phone.  What they need from you is to love them and welcome them in as part of your family.

If interested, please call Marcia Reinhard, Young Emissary Coordinator at 860-442-8062/860-235-4719  or email at

Picture: Amit Horovitz & Sagi Zazon

From the Desk of the JFEC Executive Director

By Jerry Fischer, JFEC Executive Director

There are several very positive activities and developments that have occurred this past year and I want to share them with everyone. They are, overall, very encouraging, although they do cause some people anxiety. There were also some statements and actions that were disturbing, and they too should be highlighted.

While annual letters seem to be the bailiwick of college and university professors, I think it is important to highlight these activities and developments both to shine a light on them and to call attention to issues that still need to be addressed.

On the local scene there are several developments that are noteworthy:

  • Barbara Wolf has taken the reins of Solomon Schechter Academy and is working hard to keep it a quality Jewish Day School. She has retained key staff and brought on new Judaic staff. So far, so good. Our Young Emissaries (YEs) love working there.
  • Our YEs came to us with great enthusiasm and skill. And Amit is perhaps the most English fluent YE we have ever had and Sagi is not far behind. Because of this we have placed Amit and Sagi in public schools starting in the Fall semester, and we anticipate them visiting more schools, civic organizations, and churches than ever. Explaining Israel to the general community is a vital function of the Federation, and the YEs are a key way for us to accomplish this.
  • The YEs also visit every synagogue and teach at every Hebrew or religious school, from Willimantic to Colchester to Waterford. Our Federation is truly a regional Federation and every community benefits from the Young Emissary program.
  • Hillels at Connecticut College and Mitchell College have been revived and are doing well. After a year of sharing space because Shain Library at Connecticut College was being renovated, the Zachs Hillel House is now filled with students and activities. Rabbi Susan Schein has proven to be a wonderful Hillel Director and a fine addition to our Rabbinic community. For a tiny Federation we now have two women serving as Rabbis and two (the only two) Reconstructionist Rabbis in Connecticut. Rachel Sheriff, who staffed the Connecticut College Hillel, is continuing as the JFEC staff person for Mitchell College Hillel and she has it humming!
  • Several years ago the Federation, together with the Congregations, undertook a community wide study and planning process, the Thriving Jewish Community initiative. Out of that came the community youth groups, strengthened commitment to community wide programs such as Hebrew High School, Adult Education, the Harvest Supper, and the JCC w/o Walls, and continued emphasis on community wide commemorations of Holocaust Memorial Day and Israel Independence Day.

o   Now Congregation Beth El and Temple Emanu-El have committed to cooperating and making their congregations open and welcoming to each other’s members. They are planning together and trying to ensure that there is critical mass for their programs. This is an important step in both overcoming ideological obstacles, and in recognizing that cooperation can help to overcome weaknesses. Geography favors this endeavor, but the Presidents and Rabbis of these two congregations have assured me that they will continue to invite and welcome all congregations to combined religious programs and activities.

o   The excellent Slichot service at Beth Jacob in Norwich with the participation of Ahavath Achim, Beth El, Temple Bnai Israel, and Temple Emanu-El, and the Beth El-Beth Jacob combined Purim service are excellent examples of how to meet the religious needs of some in the community and reach critical mass for programs and services that might otherwise not take place.

The JFEC will continue to serve each and every Jewish person in eastern Connecticut and promote as much coordination and cooperation as possible. We are committed to a thriving Jewish community in all of eastern Connecticut.

  • On the national and international level our year has been difficult and contentious. It has not been marked by civility or measured voices. The debate over the Iran agreement with the international community divided the organized Jewish world and led to overwrought accusations and incriminations. We are still trying to recover from the unfortunate excesses of that discourse.
  • And the elections in Israel also proved to be disturbing. Despite high standards and strict election laws the internet media was used on Election Day to scare people and influence voters. And while apologies were issued after the election for the statement that “Arabs were voting in droves” it was a clear case of lashon ha’rah (an evil tongue), and as the story of the rabbi and the feather pillow illustrates, you cannot really take back the statements made in lashon ha’rah.
  • In the last hundred years there were pivotal moments that changed the way we saw the world and how we coped with new realities. The gas warfare of WW I and the Holocaust and atom bombs of WW II both had a profound impact on our approach to international relations. The beheadings by ISIL of Christians in Libya, the terror attacks in France and America, and the Syrian civil war, while not at all on the scale of those world war events, are perhaps signals of a new world war. And the largest refugee wave to ever occur will challenge us in an unprecedented fashion. They will transform how we live our lives. How we respond to these related developments will shape our future in profound ways. We must be measured and cautious in our response, and preserve our way of life while defending it against radical Islamist terror.
  • For Israel the unsettled state of the Middle East is presenting challenges that are more complex than the challenge of defeating an Egyptian, Syrian, or Jordanian army. Despite the anxiety over Israel’s diplomatic isolation, in a sense Israel is no longer alone. Europe, Russia, Africa, and alas, the United States are all confronting a religiously motivated movement that wants to terrorize and conquer not just the Jewish state of Israel but the Christian world too.
  • These ISIL and ISIL-inspired attacks are a challenge not just to us, but to their Muslim coreligionists. If the Muslim world does not come to grips with the insanity of ISIL and the senseless struggle between Shia and Sunni Islam their future is dismal.
  • Palestinian leaders will have to choose between creating a modern state of Palestine, with all the human rights and modern values of the world, or aligning themselves with the radical Islamists and condemning their people to perpetual oppression and backwardness. No one can any longer condemn Israel for their extreme emphasis on security and their great skepticism about a state of Palestine. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin’s ideas about a confederation of Israel and a state of Palestine may be the best path towards providing a state for the Palestinians and peace and security for both peoples.

So, in this rather dismal global picture, what can we do? Whether you are a religious Jew of any variety or a secular Jew, I think we do have foundational principles that we all share and that underpin our efforts at the Jewish Federation, and those principles are G’milut Hasadim, Acts of Loving Kindness, and Tikkun Olam, Repairing the World. And like the little boy, who in response to the man who taunts him as he is tossing starfish back into the ocean with the query “Can you see the thousands of starfish on the beach? Do you really think this will help?” the boy bends down, picks up another starfish and throws it back into the ocean and answers “ It will help this one…”

So too with our Federation and our community. When someone turns to us for help we try very hard to help. And to encourage and to show respect. We try to practice acts of loving kindness. And when someone attacks Israel we respond in the most thoughtful and effective way possible. And we celebrate Israel and recall the Shoah, and share our food, and take care of our Seniors, and resettle refugees. And we help all those in our community, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, who ask for help. G’milut Hasadim and Tikkun Olam, on a daily basis, in very small but practical ways, but ways that make a real difference in the world.

That is the best response to the crises we face…open our hearts, act on and be proud of our practical Jewish traditions.

Have a safe, happy and healthy New Year, and a great 2016!

Ray Gawendo: Holocaust Survivor: 'You lose family, you lose everything'

Taken from The Bulletin 

By Adam Benson, (860) 908-7004 Posted Jan. 4, 2016 at 7:26 PM 

NORWICH — Even on her 101st birthday, the incredible arc that is Ray Gawendo’s life remains a mystery to her.

“I wonder myself. It’s a big question. God must be good to me. Something in my life, I must have done something special,” Gawendo said Monday at Norwichtown Rehabilitation and Care Center where she lives.

In fact, she has.

At 91 – after a lifetime of living with the quiet but piercing pain of surviving the Holocaust – Gawendo went public with her story, bringing its horrors into area high schools, synagogues and community centers to educate and speak out against hatred and intolerance as part of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut’s “Encountering Survivors” program.

Ten years later, her public appearances have slowed, but Gawendo, with her soft Polish accent and gripping recollection of the 27 months she spent at the Klooga labor camp in Estonia, has left an indelible mark on the region she’s called home since the 1950s.

“Her impact has reached hundreds of people, if not thousands. Her courage is an inspiration. Her longevity is an inspiration. It’s just amazing,” said Jerry Fischer, executive director of the New London-based federation. “You could see the impact of seeing a woman who survived the Holocaust and lived to 100, and still looks beautiful and looks young.”

In 2010, Gawendo was keynote speaker at the state’s Holocaust commemoration at the Capitol complex in Hartford. She’s the fourth centenarian at Norwichtown Rehab.

Gawendo was born Raja Axelrod on Jan. 4, 1915, in Minsk, Russia, before her family migrated to Poland. Her name was anglicized to "Ray" by U.S. immigration officials at Ellis Island. Gawendo had just completed her first year of college and was a new bride when Germans occupied Lithuania.

She was separated from her first husband, Fayvush Favusevitch and was eventually transported from a ghetto to the 20,000-person Klooga camp. She would never see him again.

Wholesale murder, widespread disease and deplorable living conditions were the norm for Gawendo between June 1942 and September 1944, when Russian forces finally liberated her and 38 other Klooga survivors.

“My family was dead already before I started the concentration camp. I was by myself,” Gawendo said. “I had a sister a little bit younger than me. All my family was gone. I am the only one who survived.”

And she only did so by playing dead among a pile of corpses. Four days before the camp was freed, Nazi soldiers began liquidating it. Gawendo was hiding in an attic with 33 other people.

“A woman German SS trooper sprayed the barracks with a machine gun and I was hit in the buttocks. I was bleeding. I crawled out from under the bed as I wanted a rag to stop the bleeding, but two woman SS troopers came into the barracks. I turned over and lay in my blood and heard one of the women say, ‘take a look, I think she is alive,’” Gawendo recounted in 2006 at Temple Emanuel in Waterford – the first time she ever told her story. A transcript of her remarks is on the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut’s website. “I crawled over to the pile of dead bodies and lay down there. More people were brought to the pile and shot and fell on top of me.”

Gawendo met her second husband, Jacob, soon after the camp was freed. In 1947, Gawendo’s uncle sponsored their arrival to the United States, and the couple was able to purchase a chicken farm in Moosup through the Jewish Agricultural Society.

Gawendo’s son, Evert, said his father never spoke of his experiences. He died in 1983. And it wasn’t until his mother turned 91 that Evert learned of her ordeal.

“It was shocking to me, because at that point I was about 50 years old and I never heard it,” he said. “To me, it was the norm because I grew up with other immigrant children, and none of our parents talked about it. Our parents were stung by what happened and just wanted to put it out of their mind and never, ever spoke.”

Earlier Monday, Gawendo enjoyed a slice of chocolate cake after lunch, and her family arrived in the evening for a celebration dinner. With four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, she has much to be grateful for.

But, she admits, a pang still tugs at her heart.

“Mentally, you absorb everything, and you are ashamed what happened to you,” she said. “You lose family, you lose everything.”

Fischer said that aspect of Gawendo’s life is what he admires most.

JFEC's 2015-16 Annual Campaign: Do Good Everywhere. From Anywhere.

To read more about this year's campaign and make a secure online donation through PayPal, please click HERE.

P.S. Remember, your donation today supports hundreds of ongoing efforts, plus relief for emergency situations for Jewish communities around the world. Please respond with your donation card or make a secure donation HERE (via PayPal) by November 30, 2015.

Ambassador Ayalon and Annual Campaign Co-Chair Rosa Goldblatt at La Luna Restaurant in New London on October 22, 2015. Dinner followed Ambassador Ayalon's lecture at Connecticut College.