More than 1,000 people attended the Jewish Community Association’s Mega Event, held March 21 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, and got a rousing testimonial to “The Power of Community” from the guest speaker, Bruce Feiler.
The Mega Event is the primary fundraising social event of the association; as of press time, the association did not have a tally of the pledges made that evening. Because the process of counting the pledge cards is manual and Passover came right on the event’s heels, a total won’t be available until at least April 3, according to Jennifer Grossman, the association’s vice president of marketing and public relations.
The event itself began with Cantor Melissa Berman of Congregation Or Chadash leading “Hatikvah” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and continued through a welcome from Shari and Irwin Kanefsky, co-chairs of the event.
Debbie Berkowitz, another Mega Event co-chair, shared some “it takes a village” remarks about her family’s involvement in the Jewish community (listing as her “village” Jewish institutions like the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center).
Joel Kramer, the association’s board chair, greeted the audience and told the Talmudic story of the old man who was planting a carob tree, as an example of what the association is about: planting seeds of which only future generations will see the fruit.
Stuart Wachs, the association’s president and CEO, spoke of the association’s efforts to plan for the community’s senior care needs as the Baby Boom generation ages and of its efforts to make its finances and other workings more transparent to the community.
Gary Weiss, another event co-chair, asked Kimberly Kur to rise and then lauded her long-term involvement in the community and her recent hiring to the post of association vice president and chief development officer.
Sandy Rife, of the association’s Campaign Cabinet, played with the idea of a face-to-face meeting with donors in her remarks, treating the audience to the type of pitch she might give on an individual basis in their living rooms or over their kitchen tables.
There was no question, though, that Feiler’s speech was the main event.
The author of “Walking the Bible,” “The Council of Dads” and “Secrets of Happy Families” tied together strands from all three books and from experiences that helped him put the books together to make the case that stress and hardship are fundamental elements that make communities come together, at one point asking the audience, “Sound familiar?”
The question referred to the struggles of the Greater Phoenix Jewish community over the past three years that led to the closing of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and the founding of the Jewish Community Association, with the strong implication that the community will be stronger for the challenges.
One of his summary points was: “Happiness is not something we find. It’s something we make.”
But what summed up the evening was a comment Sandy Rife made at the beginning of her remarks. “Such a young crowd,” she said, “for an old-timer like me, that’s a thrill to see.”
An early version of this story was published March 22 on jewishaz.com.