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.
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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.
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 email@example.com.
Picture: Amit Horovitz & Sagi Zazon
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:
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.
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!
Taken from The Bulletin
By Adam Benson firstname.lastname@example.org, (860) 908-7004 Posted Jan. 4, 2016 at 7:26 PM
“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.
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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.