By Ben Tinsley
FORT WORTH — A change in leadership, three elections and a Skype presentation from an Israel deputy consul general whose Houston home was swallowed by flooding all marked the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County’s 79th annual meeting Tuesday, June 2.
More than 50 people attended the busy, 7:30 p.m. ceremony at Beth-El Congregation, 4900 Briarhaven Road.
Outgoing President Jeffrey S. Hochster effectively handed the gavel to incoming President Lon Werner during the evening, but first offered his final “State of the Federation” address—essentially a review of his time holding the office. Before delving into his own projects, Hochster first gave high marks to Bob Goldberg, who took over as executive director at Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County a couple of years ago.
“Bob Goldberg has been a refreshing and engaging person, which is what we were hoping for when he was hired,” Hochster said. “I cannot say enough about all the positives Bob has created and how he made us all look that much better.” Hochster also discussed his progress on the list of Federation goals he provided when he took the office of president 24 months ago. This list includes his proposed expansion of campaign and endowments.
“Campaign has grown slightly each year,” Hochster explained. “We have added new donors but still have some way to go so everyone is doing their share. Endowments have had a major effort the past year. …We have even added two pace gifts this past year. Improvements, but still a ways to go.” He said his idea for better communication and messaging has been addressed with an improved newsletter with better coverage—easier to read—and a new website.
His list also contained a desire for increased participation of young adults, and Hochster said the group has worked hard to focus on this age group. “We may have the youngest executive committee in many years with one-third being under 40 and half under 50,” he said. “This year the leadership program was launched under Bob Goldberg’s tutelage and had 12 young people go to Israel as the highlight of this wonderful program.”
Other accomplishments cited by Hochster include a successful Israel Emergency Campaign last summer, establishment of a program committee under the direction of Angie Friedman, and the rejoining of The Partnership of Israel with the Jewish Agency providing funds for summer camps, scholarships and the Maccabi Games.
After Hochster’s address, Federation members conducted three separate elections, each moderated by secretary Todd Blumenfeld. The first, of new members to the board of directors, saw Julie Goldstein, Sandy Hollander, Lisa Rein, and Cheryl Visosky unanimously elected. The second saw board officers unanimously elected—Lon Werner, president; Diane Kleinman, vice president for campaign; Todd Blumenfeld, vice president for administration; Robert Simon, vice president for community relations; Cheryl Visosky, treasurer; and Alyson Halpern, secretary. The third election was for new members for the Jewish Family Services committee. Unanimously elected were: LaJean Sturman, Howard Katz and Cheryl Visosky.
In a separate part of the meeting, retiring board members Larry Brunell, Klila Caplan, Louis Schultz, and Jonathan Suder were thanked for their service.
The Wolens Award was presented to Diane Kleinman, a Canadian transplant who has served on the Jewish Education agency board, the Beth-El board and, right now, the Federation board. Kleinman has held positions on Beth-El committees such as the one for the recent “8 Over 80” event. She recently returned from Israel as part of the 2014-15 Federation Leadership Group. Although not born Jewish, she said she’s making up for lost time as a Jew by choice. “I believe in the importance of Israel and I love the Fort Worth Jewish community,” Kleinman said in a statement. “I am happy to give back and be involved.”
At the end of the meeting, Daniel Agranov, deputy consul general of Israel to the Southwest U.S., made an appearance—via Skype. Agranov was in a Houston hotel room, his home having been severely damaged by the recent flooding in Houston. Agranov told the Fort Worth audience that as many as 5,000 Jewish households were severely affected by the flood. “Some have a couple of inches and others have 3 or 4 feet of water,” Agranov explained. “The water was contaminated. It’s like sewer water. …It’s times like this you see the community in Texas is very strong and helpful. People reached out to see if we need anything.”
While fighting the flood, Agranov ran across Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of Houston’s Chabad of Uptown, who helped organize relief efforts for those stricken by the rising waters. At one point, Lazaroff said he had 15 teams working simultaneously with approximately 70 volunteers. Lazaroff said he came upon Agranov on May 27 when the Israel leader was driving around the United Orthodox Synagogues neighborhood. Agranov noticed Rabbi Lazaroff. He stopped his vehicle, rolled down his window, and spoke with him. “I asked how he was doing; he shared that he was completely flooded,” Lazaroff said. “He was driving around, somewhat listlessly, looking for help to remove the furniture from the home.”