By Ken Garfield
With faith and determination, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte launched its annual campaign to raise money for righteous causes, and raise voices against prejudice.
The 2023 Main Event on Jan. 19, the first in-person celebration in three years, brought this year’s theme to life – “Now We Go Forward.” Almost 600 people came together at Temple Israel to pledge financial support for 70-plus agencies at home and beyond. That includes Israel and our global family. Our community raised $5 million last year.
This year, while continuing to support vital agencies and causes, additional support is welcome for four pillars of action: Outshine Hate, Safety & Security, Jewish Identity, and Jewish Education. Outshine Hate responds to the rise in anti-Semitic and other acts of prejudice with community workshops and training. Safety & Security provides training, tools and resources to give us peace of mind and body in the greater Charlotte Jewish community. Jewish Identity seeks to provide a range of Jewish experiences to strengthen ties to the faith from childhood on. Jewish education focuses on capital improvements to the Levine-Sklut Judaic Library located in the Blumenthal Center for Jewish Education Building at Shalom Park.
Packets at the Main Event shared details of how your pledge furthers these and other causes. Information, and the opportunity to support the campaign, is at www.jewishcharlotte.org.
Main Event co-chairs Julie and David Sheffer opened the celebration by affirming the importance of sharing our gratitude and triumphs. With their three sons, they led the congregation in the Shehecheyanu, blessing the one “who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.” Then Julie Sheffer shared a memory to illustrate the importance of standing up to prejudice. Her grandfather, Stan Fox, lived in Oxford, N.C., in a place and time (the 1950s) not always welcoming to Jews. Faced one evening with spending the night at a golf club that barred Jews, his buddies urged him not raise a stink. What did Stan do? This proud man who owned a department store signed the guest register “Rabbi Stan Fox.”
Julie’s story segued into the highlight of the Main Event: Reflections from ABC News’ Juju Chang entitled “Fifty Percent Korean. One-Hundred Percent Jewish.” Chang’s challenge to all of us? Stand up to the ignorance and hate that threaten us all.
An Emmy Award-winning co-anchor of “ABC News Nightline,” Chang has reported on the darkest moments. The 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 and wounded six. The 2022 mass shooting at the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 20 African-Americans and injured three. The 2022 mass shooting at a gay nightclub, Club Q, in Colorado Springs, Colo., that killed five and injured 25 others.
These acts of hate make the news. But there are others. Antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021, with 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism reported to the Anti-Defamation League. Incidents of antisemitism reported to our Federation in 2021 more than tripled from prior years.
Chang’s own journey, stained at times by anti-Asian and antisemitic bias, resonates.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, she was four when her family moved to northern California. Such was the immigrant experience, at an early age she wanted to be like everyone else, with blond hair and blue eyes. When she and Neal Shapiro (head of The WNET Group of public TV stations in New York) were married and had the first of their three sons, she recalls sitting at breakfast and telling him, “I think I’m going to convert.” She embraced the fellowship that enriches Judaism. The invitation to ask questions. To serve.
Those qualities shape Chang’s life and work. Her heritage and public profile has also led to the threats and hate that come at her on Twitter. Or the guy who rolled down his window at a stoplight and told her to go back to her own country. Or the fan who told her “You speak English pretty well.” Chang’s comeback? “Thank you. So do you.”
Rather than run from all this, Chang told the Main Event audience that she accepts folk singer/icon Joan Baez’s counsel that the antidote to despair is action.
So Chang tells stories that humanize us – stories of people victimized because of how they look or what they believe. Stories of people working against hate. And she travels to places like Charlotte to share her story at gatherings like the Main Event.
Whether on TV or in front of audiences, she takes us to a better place – beyond our differences – simply by introducing herself: “I’m a friend. I come into your living room. I‘m Jewish.”
The Main Event closed with the sweetness of fellowship, desserts and the mission that brings us together.
“Tonight we celebrated our resilience,” said Co-Chair Julie Sheffer. “We leave with a feeling of connectedness, and support for all the work the Federation does.”
Ken Garfield, former religion editor of The Charlotte Observer, is a freelance writer/editor focusing on charitable causes.