Danielle V. Minson — Raising the Bar
Cincinnati 2020 in 2016: Amy Susskind Weiskopf
Each installment in this series features a different perspective on Cincinnati 2020, the Jewish community’s visionary plan for building an exceptional future. This week, the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s President, Tedd Friedman, interviews Amy Susskind Weiskopf, Co-Chair of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s Planning and Allocations Caring Council.
Tedd: How did you first get involved in Cincinnati 2020?
Amy: We moved to Cincinnati in 2013. I left a city I loved and a good job so we could raise our children near their grandparents in a well-respected public school district. Even though I’m a native, I hadn’t actually lived in Cincinnati since high school. So when I moved back here, no longer working and no longer among my close network of friends, I felt lost and instantly began wondering if we had made a mistake. Fortunately, Federation heard that a Jewish family had returned to town and immediately reached out to me in multiple ways: personal invites to Federation events, especially Women’s Philanthropy; “setting me up” with new friends; and asking me to participate in the Planning and Allocations Connecting Council, which focuses on one priority of Cincinnati 2020—connecting Cincinnati’s Jews. My involvement as a Connecting Council member was such a wonderful entrée to learning about what Jewish Federation and its partner agencies do for the community. Personally, Federation helped connect me to my “new” hometown by meeting so many wonderful and dedicated volunteers, lay leaders, and Jewish organization professionals. After that first year, I became co-chair of the Connecting Council for two years. Presently, I’m a co-chair for the Caring Council.
You, your husband, and your two kids just got back from the 2016 Cincinnati Congregation and Community Israel Mission. What does Cincinnati 2020 mean to you, given your experience on the mission?
Cincinnati 2020 means an engaged, connected, and welcoming all-inclusive community. It was so inspiring to see over 500 Cincinnatians come together and celebrate our heritage and discover more of our history. It was wonderful having different denominations within the Jewish community come together as one. I also found it exciting that there were so many interfaith couples on our bus. Everyone felt a part of this mission, no matter his or her religious affiliation. This is a profound, yet very welcome, change from the Cincinnati I grew up in. Inclusiveness will go a long way to achieving Cincinnati 2020’s connecting goal of sharing our heritage, participating actively, establishing roots, and supporting Israel.
Would you call the mission a success?
The mission was a huge success! And it helped advance Cincinnati 2020 even further. The numbers of those engaged show the success that the mission alone accomplished. Five hundred plus people! This number far exceeded the initial expectations for the trip. Cincinnatians who normally would never even think about going on a trip like this—my family included—were a part of this journey together. It created a bond among all the participants no matter which congregation or bus they were on. The sense of community and sharing that occurred with each participant, each bus, and each congregation was phenomenal. In addition, our tour guides’ transparency and honesty when explaining Israel’s history and current political climate was vital in creating a deeper understanding for the complexities and difficulties Israel is facing both internally and externally. Personally, this has motivated me to stay more involved and supportive of Israel while also pushing for pluralistic change there.
Did anything about the mission surprise you?
Yes, two things: First, just how seamlessly it all went! It is very hard organizing a trip with just one congregation! However, to do it with nine congregations and have us all well fed, in great accommodations, with incredible guides and itineraries, and have little or no complaining among us—well, it was more like a miracle than a surprise!
Second, personally, what surprised me the most was how it affected my husband. David had absolutely no interest in visiting Israel—ever! My parents had even offered to send us on an all-expense-paid trip to Israel after our wedding but David politely declined. Even with the generous grant being offered by The Jewish Foundation, it still took personal discussions with Rabbi Thomashow, Rabbi Kamrass, and Barb Miller to get him to even consider it. Then on the last day of the trip, David stuns me. Despite the crazy pace and lack of sleep, David turns to me and says, “Why don’t we look into renting a place in Tel Aviv for a month next summer so we can see all of Israel at our own pace?” He now jokingly refers to himself as a converted Israeli advocate as he has been telling all of his friends and colleagues about how incredible the country is and how impressed he was with the security.
What memory from the mission will stick with you most, and why?
I was pushing this trip with my family for two reasons. The first was to see Israel through my children’s eyes. Kate and Zach are very into being Jewish. They are extremely proud of and vocal about their Jewish heritage. This is a little strange for me as I had always been self-conscious about being Jewish when I was young. The second reason was for my husband David. He isn’t from Cincinnati and his work is based in Washington, DC. Therefore, he doesn’t have the roots or typical opportunities to meet people in Cincinnati. I grew up at Wise Temple so I instantly felt comfortable going back to our congregation. However, Wise wasn’t his congregation, yet. We had been in Cincinnati now for three years but it felt like neither place was truly our home since we were caught between two different cities. The trip really helped change that for all of us and it was through our daughter’s eyes:
Our very first evening in Jerusalem was on a Friday night. During our Shabbat service, Rabbi Kamrass asked the congregants to think of just one word to describe our trip. Throughout the service, he would call on people as they raised their hand. Kate, who is barely four feet tall, couldn’t be seen although she was straining for the rabbi to call on her. Finally, after some prodding from her father, Kate got the courage to go to the aisle so Rabbi Kamrass could see her. He called on her and asked what one word best describes your journey so far. And Kate said, “Home.” David was moved to tears, as were a few others. Having straddled two cities for three years, it took a 6,000-mile journey and our daughter’s insight to discover that we were home. We were where we were supposed to be with the people we were meant to be with. For that we are truly grateful!