None of the 45 people in the kosher Chinese restaurant on Flatbush Avenue had ever been to Zembrov, a town in northeast Poland, and some even had trouble spelling it. But all had relatives who came from there, and they gathered two weeks ago to keep their memories alive.
When Danielle Zeiler began seriously dating her husband-to-be, Scott Greenwood, she made it clear that if they married, their children would be raised Jews.
"He said fine, but then when we became engaged, he said he wanted his religion represented in the marriage also," recalled the 26-year-old. "I said we had a problem."
Another problem surfaced over the question of who would officiate at the marriage.
Life had been a struggle for Mrs. M, her husband and four children. And when her husband found himself out of work in August, the Long Island family quickly found themselves behind in the rent and the oil company demanded cash on delivery.
"We needed help and we didn't know where to go," Mrs. M recalled. "We had no money in our pockets and we were waiting for unemployment checks to arrive."
Saying the last 18 months have been one of the "saddest chapters in our country's history," the executive vice president of UJA-Federation detailed his organization's struggle to deal with the impact of welfare reform.
"I can report to you the panic that ensued" as legal immigrants here more than five years realized they would lose Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid and food stamps, Stephen Solender told a recent UJA-Federation-sponsored legislative breakfast.
Acknowledging that a number of families evacuated from Gush Katif in the summer of 2005 may be in need of economic assistance, the leadership of UJA-Federation of New York and the United Jewish Communities (UJC) have committed to evaluating the situation first-hand.John Ruskay, the executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation, plans to visit some of the evacuee communities in Israel in February to help decide if assistance is required.
After returning from a trip to Ethiopia, Barry Effron couldn't forget the faces of 20 Ethiopians in Addis Ababa who had just been accepted for aliyah to Israel.
"They had smiles on their faces," he said. "It was like they were just born. The twinkle in their eyes: it was just so beautiful to see."
At a time when Jewish federations across the country are facing a declining donor base, UJA-Federation of New York not only increased the number of contributors this year but also recorded another record year in gift giving.
For the campaign that ended June 30, the charity raised $133.4 million, a nearly $4 million increase over last year and a $16 million increase in the last four years, according to its executive vice president, John Ruskay.
Despite a sluggish economy that hurt fund-raising at many charities, UJA-Federation of New York realized an increase of $1.4 million in its annual capital campaign and added more than 1,000 new donors.
"These results reflect recognition that [projects] UJA-Federation support in New York, Israel and throughout the world are essential," said John Ruskay, UJA-Federation's executive vice president.
First it was parents who were asked to give money. Now, their kids are getting involved. Tens of thousands of toiletry kits are being assembled by families throughout the metropolitan area as part of the Kits for Kosovo drive launched here by UJA-Federation to help ethnic Albanian refugees forced by Serbs from their homes in Kosovo.
With UJA-Federationí' annual campaign running $4.5 million ahead of last year, the organization is now gearing up to stage a unique auction that it hopes will help push the campaign close to the $130 million mark when it ends June 30.