Leslie Kirby Remarks

We raise money, we give money away. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that phrase this past year, I’m not sure we’d need an annual campaign!

We do indeed raise money and give money away. I’ve been serving as the 2022 campaign chair, and I’m pleased to report that this year’s campaign has been highly successful so far. To date, we are at a little over $1.71 million, from 463 individual gifts. We are ahead of where we were at this point last year and we are on schedule to exceed our 2022 campaign goal of $2.35 million.

We did some innovative things with the campaign this year, primarily among them shifting from a traditional Tzedakah Sunday in February to what we called Jewish Nashville Community Day on April 3rd. For Community Day we invited our local congregations, agencies, and other Jewish organizations to set up information booths which we combined with delicious food offerings, fun activities for kids - AND campaign phone calls. We raised over $125k from calls that day, which far surpasses our standalone Tzedakah Tzunday results from the past several years, including the two years prior to COVID.

We received a $20,000 anonymous matching gift to this year’s campaign, so we were able to draw in new donations and annual increases by matching those dollar-for-dollar up to the match amount. The match was so successful that after we quickly closed out the initial $20,000 match, the anonymous donor generously agreed to provide an additional $10,000 in matching funds, and we’re working on that now.

All these accomplishments do not happen in a vacuum, and they are certainly not all due to me. First and foremost, I’d like to thank Campaign Director Carolyn Hecklin Hyatt and our CEO, Eric Stillman. Carolyn has been my day-to-day partner all year long, offering creative ideas to help modernize the way we run the campaign, reigning in some of the crazier ideas I had, serving as a sounding board, and always staying upbeat despite the occasional frustrations that come with running the campaign. Eric has provided much encouragement and reassurance that I wasn’t botching everything, he’s been responsive to others’ ideas, offered suggestions based on his experience and expertise, and shown steady leadership throughout the campaign. Eric and Carolyn both very patiently put up with all of my questions – of which there have been many! And most importantly they have both worked - TIRELESSLY - to make this year’s campaign a success, despite COVID, despite being short-staffed, despite having to deal with me as their campaign chair. To say this year’s campaign wouldn’t have happened without the two of them is a profound understatement. I’d also like to thank members of my campaign cabinet for their sound and inventive advice, all our volunteer solicitors for their assistance in reaching out to donors, and the rest of the Federation staff who always pitch in to help where help is needed.

Together, our volunteers and staff show a passion for the Federation and its mission that is touching and remarkable.

Speaking of that mission. We raise money, we give money away. But that’s not all we do, and as the newly minted president-elect, I’d like to turn my attention to the rest of that mission and talk briefly about plans going forward.

The Federation’s mission statement reads as follows:

“Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville & Middle Tennessee is the central voluntary communal organization of the Jewish community. Through its fund-raising, planning, and community relations efforts, either independently or in partnership with other Jewish organizations, the Federation works to promote the general welfare, viability, and cohesiveness of the Jewish community of Nashville and Middle Tennessee and to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people locally, in Israel and around the world.”

Built into that mission statement is the idea that there is an important role for the Federation, beyond that of our beneficiary agencies, in providing programming and services for the Jewish community. Whether through newcomer outreach, work to draw in those who are unaffiliated, attempts to educate our members about key issues, mission trips, or just hosting events and spaces where our full community can gather together, I look forward to continuing to provide vital resources to the broader Nashville Jewish community, both independently and in partnerships. A key example of this type of leadership from the Federation is our recent Federation-sponsored service mission to Poland. We sent six members of our community – four lay leaders (including myself) from three different congregations, one of our local rabbis, and a Federation staff person -- to Poland for a week to learn about the Ukrainian crisis firsthand, to work with directly with refugees, and then to come back and share what we had learned. We plan to send another delegation to Poland later this summer and remain committed to continued efforts to support Ukrainian refugees.

Also built into our mission statement is the central and critical notion of community relations. My original knowledge of and service for the Federation came through the Jewish Community Relations Committee or JCRC, so this is an area that is near and dear to my heart. Community relations provides a two-fold benefit to our community. Like me, many people want to put their Jewish values into action through serving the broader community. This draws in new members and new donors. For many of these individuals, their support is contingent on our willingness to be actively working on critical issues in the broader community. A second benefit is that community relations are by far the best way to work to reduce antisemitism and to promote the state of Israel. You’ve heard the phrase to get a friend you need to be a friend. With antisemitism rising dramatically and alarmingly in our country across the political spectrum, it has never been more important to utilize our community relations network. We don’t earn friends by demanding support in a moment of crisis. We earn friends by being friends every day, standing on the front lines with other groups in the broader community, and showing our commitment to shared values. The work of our CRC, under the extraordinary leadership of Deborah Oleshansky, puts these goals into practice every day.

Moving forward, I’d ask us all to remember that each one of us is b’tzelem Elohim, created in the image of God. We may disagree, sometimes about small things and maybe sometimes evenabout big things. But I hope at the end of the day we can stand together and remember that it is incumbent on each of us to recognize that Divine spark in the other, to focus on building up rather than tearing down, to remember that there are many paths to a thriving Jewish community and that our favorite or preferred path may not be the best one for the whole community, and to recommit to promoting the welfare, viability, cohesiveness, and continuity of the Jewish people.

Finally, I’d like to offer a note of thanks to our outgoing President, Andy May. Earlier this year at one of our board meetings, someone asked Andy how he was doing, and he said he was gruntled. Several of our board members didn’t think gruntled was a real word, so our Secretary, Christie Wiemers, looked it up. It says a lot about the state of our world that, despite the rather obvious construction of the word disgruntled, a number of people didn’t think gruntled was a word (which it is). This memory of Andy stuck with me, and it seems to me a good anecdote to describe his service as President this past year. Andy and I don’t agree on everything, our politics in particular are a little bit different. But one area where we absolutely agree is through our shared commitment to helping the Jewish community of Nashville to thrive, and the utmost importance of the work of the Federation in that process. So, thank you Andy, for your willingness to step in and lead in a tumultuous and uncertain time, for NEVER threatening to take your ball and go home if you didn’t get your way, and for reminding all of us that in a world where many people think pitching a fit is the best way to achieve their goals, it’s almost always better to be gruntled rather than disgruntled.

On behalf of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, thank you to everyone for joining us here tonight, thanks to Congregation Micah for kindly hosting our annual meeting, and thanks to each and every one of our members for their support of the mission - the full mission - of the Federation. I’m honored to serve as your President.


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