Over 100 individuals on more than 95 computer screens gathered remotely for the 2020 Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor Annual Meeting Wednesday, June 10. The format of the evening was completely different from previous years, as it was the first, and hopefully only, year the meeting took place virtually. 

The evening commenced with a video of highlights from the past year and a welcome from Federation President Stephen Aronson.  Aronson introduced representatives from local partner organizations and congregations as well as special guests including Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Renie Schreiber of the Israeli Consulate General to the Midwest, Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox, and Chris Matus, representing Senator Gary Peters. Rav Nadav Caine of Beth Israel Congregation gave the D’var Torah connecting the Parsha (portion) B’haalot’cha to how we as a community should address racial injustice and recent events surrounding the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

It has become tradition at the Annual Meeting to announce and introduce the recipients of the Susan L. Lichter Memorial Endowed Israel Scholarship. This year’s recipients were Talya Castell and Elijah Rassoul, both students at Washtenaw International High School. Carolyn and Paul Lichter and their friends and family established the scholarship fund in memory of their daughter, Susan L. Lichter z”l, who had a deep connection to Israel developed through her own Israel travel and learning experiences. Since 2009, the Susan L. Lichter Memorial Scholarship has enabled dozens of teens from across our community to visit Israel, where they developed a connection to our worldwide Jewish community. 

The Annual Meeting is when the new board is elected by the members, and this year, official business included approval of amended by-laws. Governance & Board Development Chair Laurie Barnett presented the 2020-2021 Board for approval. Current board members elected for an additional term were Hanna Goodstein, Babette Levy Daskin, and Joshua Sukenic. New board members elected for their first term included Michael Davidoff, Marla Linderman Richelew, Rob Stern, and Andy Tankanow. They joined Joelle Abramowitz, Decky Alexander, Stephen Aronson, Randy Milgrom, Marla Chinsky, Murray Rebner, Dalia Naamani Goldman and Liz Wierba who are in the middle of their terms. Officers to be elected at the next board meeting are Randy Milgrom (President), Decky Alexander (Vice President/President-Elect), Joelle Abramowitz (Secretary), and Marla Chinsky (Treasurer). 

Three board members, Laura Udell, Donny Wohl, and Tamar Springer, were thanked for their service to the community. Udell, one of the founders of Jewish Young Professionals (JYP), had been on the board since 2015 and recently moved to Chicago. Wohl joined the Federation Board in 2016 and was a member of the first cohort of Levine Fellows. Springer joined the Board in 2018 and was on strategic planning committees and work groups in other Jewish organizations in Ann Arbor including Hebrew Day School and Temple Beth Emeth. 

Also honored was departing Federation Chief Development Officer, Sharyn Gallatin. Aronson spoke of her two-year tenure during which “she created and sustained relationships both big and small with individuals, families, and organizations. She played a significant role in the Annual Community Campaign and spearheaded both the Community Security Campaign and then the COVID Emergency Fund. Sharyn will be very missed in the community.” 

Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) President and CEO Eric Fingerhut was the evening’s keynote speaker. Prior to joining JFNA last fall, Fingerhut was President and CEO of Hillel International. Fingerhut spoke about the two current crises facing our country and community, the COVID pandemic and systemic racism. He spoke about the uncertainty of the future and how communities must come together to “draw a picture” of what our world will look like post-COVID. He also spoke about this time of soul searching for the Jewish community, during which must join together with the Black community to fight racism.

Fingerhut stressed that it is difficult to build community during times of crisis. The strength of the Federation system is that Federations are constantly engaged in building community which prepares them to act quickly to address acute challenges. He lauded the Ann Arbor Federation for its leadership and collaboration.

The remainder of the meeting was devoted to the installation of Randy Milgrom as Federation President and appreciation of outgoing President Stephen Aronson. After reflecting on his tenure as president, Aronson introduced Milgrom who has been involved with the Federation since 2012 and elected to the Board in 2015. Milgrom led the Strategic Communications Committee where he helped the organization professionalize communications efforts. Milgrom has “a leadership style marked by a thoughtful perspective that incorporates incisive – often out-of-the-box – thinking, utter respect for others and others’ viewpoints, and an ever-present and irrepressible sense of humor,” said Aronson. He is “clearly the right person to lead Federation at this time – and for all the right reasons.”

Milgrom thanked Aronson for his passionate and devoted leadership of the Federation, in particular for his dedication to getting to know and connect with community members. “He is always on the phone with people,” said Milgrom. “More than anything, Steve is generous. He is generous in his care for others. He is generous in his sense of compassion—and in the sharing of his many passions. And perhaps most of all, he is generous with his time…..Thank you, my friend, for your many years of wise and impassioned service to this community.”

Milgrom shared his motivations and plans for the coming year. “During this crisis,” he said, “we’ve all acquired a greater sense of purpose—and I am poised—and primed—to do more. And I’m thankful to be in a position to try to help all of us do more.” He dedicated the Federation board to “work together with Federation staff to further an already ambitious agenda” with a focus on security, helping those in need, sustaining our local institutions and maintaining our communal way of life even during these uncertain times. 

The meeting was concluded by Federation Executive Director Eileen Freed, who expressed gratitude for the professional and volunteer Federation team; colleagues and volunteers who lead and serve the local Jewish community; JFNA for bolstering and supporting the system at this challenging time; and the many donors to Federation and its partners for their “deep commitment” and generosity. “We will look forward,” Freed said. “We will start creatively thinking and planning for the future – one in which together we will nurture a strong, caring, engaged, connected, vibrant and enduring Jewish community here in Washtenaw County, in Israel and around the world.”

The 2020 Annual Meeting was recorded and is available on the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor YouTube page.