This message has 770 words and will take about 3 minutes to read.
Every once in a while in life you come across someone who is just so obviously a star. For me, one of those people is Alison Lebovitz, who I first met years ago at a JFNA National Young Leadership Cabinet meeting. Alison ended up chairing the Cabinet, which is one of the premier young leadership programs in the continental Jewish community. The fact that she rose to lead this prestigious group is a prime example of why she is such an amazing go-getter. She’s always been someone on the rise.
Ever the change agent, she is an extraordinary part of the success story of her own vibrant community of Chattanooga, Tennessee. So, imagine my delight when two of our Federation staff (unaware that I know Alison) proposed bringing her here to present at FEDtalks, our campaign kick-off, on September 22nd.
Part of what we do with FEDtalks is bring a selection of speakers you may not be familiar with, but who have extraordinary stories to share and who are doing important work in areas of particular interest to us as Jews. Alison will be joined on stage by Randi Zuckerberg and Gidi Grinstein. While you are surely aware of the Zuckerberg name when it comes to Facebook (have you liked us yet?) you might not be aware of her deep personal connection to the Birthright Israel program. Gidi is the founder of the independent Israeli think-tank, The Reut Institute, and has been instrumental in leading positive change in Israel’s periphery. He was also the youngest member of the 2000 Camp David Summit delegation.
Everyone who attended FEDtalks last year had a moment that stuck with them, and for many of us that moment was unique. We bring with us our own personal experiences and our own individual expressions of our collective values, which leave us with a unique take-away from each speaker. Maybe you already have an idea of which speaker appeals most to you and whose story you expect to appreciate more than the others. While you may be right in the end, I assure you that each one of these speakers will bring something that connects with you in a way you didn’t see coming. We vetted over 80 potential speakers this year, and we are bringing you the absolute best of the best.
Now, let me tell you a little more about Alison, because I know you are going to love her. Are you familiar with the Paper Clips Project? In 1998, during a lesson about the Holocaust, a student stumped a teacher at a Tennessee middle school by asking, “What does six million look like?” The teacher set the class the task of collecting six million paperclips, so they could have a tangible sense of such a high number. They ended up collecting 11 million and establishing a permanent Children’s Holocaust Memorial at the school.
Recognizing the impact of the project and that the opportunity for it arose in large part because of a teacher who was knowledgeable and confident enough to tackle the subject matter, Alison founded her own not-for-profit, One Clip at a Time. Using a teach-the-teacher model, One Clip at a Time provides free kits and training sessions that empower educators to teach about the Holocaust and “inspire social activism and foster lifelong civic responsibility” amongst their students.
As our team researched Alison and spent time talking with her on the phone, a story emerged about a simple act of tikkun olam that made a quiet contribution to a pivotal moment of societal change. Her grandfather, who owned a café, once saw a woman standing outside in the rain registering people for a youth movement. He let her come inside and use one of the booths to continue her work in comfort for the rest of the week. Alison told us that this woman’s efforts “ultimately contributed to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts,” which were sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks after she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. Those of you who’ve read this message for a good long time know about my family’s connection to the Civil Rights Movement, and so you can imagine how much this story moved me.
We never know what small part we might play in changing the world, often without even knowing it. No wonder then that when Alison sees a need she finds a way to do something about it. Just imagine if we all did that.
We are thrilled to welcome Alison to our community, and I look forward to helping you get to know our other speakers over the next few weeks. We’re not kidding when we say that you’ll be talking about these speakers for the rest of the year. I hope you will join us for what promises to be an incredible evening of FEDtalks.
Ezra S. Shanken
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver