“5,000 Years of Basic Principles:” How Andy Abel and Ed Kuresman are Energizing Giving in Jewish Cincinnati
“Family, education, hard work, faith. It’s not rocket science. It’s 5,000 years of basic principles,” said Andy Abel about Judaism. “I’ve always believed people who are not Jewish look at us and think we’re so complex, but we’re a pretty simple formula: family, education, hard work, and faith.”
Abel is the 2023 Major Gifts Chair for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s Annual Campaign, and he recently sat down with Ed Kuresman, the 2023 Community Campaign chair, to discuss their family history, community involvement, and Jewish values. The following discussion has been edited for time and clarity.
—Debra Steinbuch, Interim Chief Development Officer, Jewish Federation of Cincinnati
Ed: Andy, you had me at hello! I am so honored to be working on the 2023 campaign with you this year. You have such a long history in the Cincinnati community.
Andy: Thanks Ed, and the pleasure is all mine. And you’re right, I come from a tradition of community involvement. My great-grandfather, Milton Mailender, was involved in the Jewish community at the turn of the twentieth century, and then my grandfather, Kartan Mailender, was a past president of the Jewish Community Center, and he started the softball league there. My parents were also very involved. My father, Fred Abel, was the chair of Jewish Vocational Services [now JVS Careers] for several years, and he also served on the board of the Jewish Federation.
I moved away for a while, but when I returned in 1991, I got involved in the Federation, and was asked to serve on the first leadership team, which occurred at the same time in our community that the Wexner Foundation was put together for young adult development.
Ed: I got started in a similar way. I was asked to be a part of the first class of the LEAD Program [young adult leadership development]. From there, I got involved in different areas—Young Adult Division, National Young Leadership Cabinet. I’ve sat on several endowment committees in the community, served as President of Rockwern Academy, and served on the Federation’s Planning & Allocations board at one point.
My wife Jessica and I find when you give of your time and you get involved, you develop a clear understanding of the financial component of what the Federation is doing and where the resources are going. We’ve been giving for some time, and we view it as a privilege. We’re very fortunate to be able to contribute to the community financially.
Andy: My wife, Dara, and I also consider ourselves fortunate to be able to help the community. The way we look at it, any gift is appreciated. As Jews, we’ve been taking care of each other for over one hundred years and we will continue to do so, and we must do so.
There are a lot of organizations asking for donors’ money right now, but the great thing about the Federation is we are a time-tested, proven organization that is charged with building our community, fostering our community, engaging with our community, and taking care of those who took care of us.
So no matter your interests, we address the concerns at a social services level that nobody else does. I’ve solicited people in the past who had issues with one agency or another or our politics, and I was able to compel them to look at the bigger picture, because we’re a bigger picture organization. We do a lot of things at Federation. We cannot please everybody all the time, but we ask people not to take their marbles and go play in another sandbox.
Ed: Right, for me, my most meaningful solicitations have been when people share their personal journey, their values, what’s important to them, and tying their community engagement and their giving to who they are, who their family is, what’s important to them.
In those conversations, people become very personal and share a lot of information that we might not know about each other, and certainly that they probably don’t actively share with anybody. They aren’t just making a gift for the sake of writing a check or moving the process along, but they’re actually taking the time to think about what’s important to them and how this gift is helping them realize that at this moment in time.
I love to help people understand what their role looks like in the community, both from an engagement standpoint and a giving standpoint. And I think it can be very rewarding to help people go through that journey and arrive at a place where they do find a place to engage and a role to give.
Andy: I remember my first meaningful gift; it was when we moved back to Cincinnati in ’91, and we gave $1,000, and when I joined the National Young Leadership Cabinet, they asked for $5,000, and after I resuscitated my wife, she was on board, and we never looked back. For me, it’s a great point of pride, but even before that, I vividly remember, as a kid, my parents taking us to the Day of Fun at the Jewish Center in Roselawn—it was a big carnival, and they explained to us that, while we were having fun, we were also raising money for the center.
Ed: I remember collecting tzedakah in Sunday school, but for me, my first meaningful gift was when I was going through the leadership program and we were asked to make a $365 gift, and at that point in my life, that was the largest gift anyone ever asked me to make. And at that moment in time, it’s like, wow, that seems like a lot of money, but I made the gift and I felt good about it.
I have two kids, a son, Max, who’s 13, and a daughter, Sadie, who’s eight, and they make gifts to the Federation each year. Jessica and I hope our kids are some of the youngest Silver Circle [25-plus years of giving] givers in the history of the community.
Andy: I’ve always heard people use the phrase “meaningful gift,” and a meaningful gift is subjective and specific to each person’s situation, but the important part is the experience of making a financial commitment to the community for the right reasons. Whether that’s $18 or $18,000, feeling good about the gift.
Ed: And the range of gifts is pretty wide. A large majority of the gifts might be anywhere from $18 up to a couple hundred dollars. So, we do this together and there’s no one person who’s giving all of the money. Anyone who wants to join, anyone who wants to be part of it, it all helps, it all matters.
Andy: And it’s not just the financial commitments, it’s volunteering and getting involved. Seeing you, Ed, is the most encouraging thing to me. To see young, bright people who are engaged in trying to lead the community is very encouraging. I would hope to see more Ed Kuresmans come forward in the future to lead this community because to me, that is the most encouraging thing I’ve seen in my experience this year as chair of Major Gifts.
Ed: Thanks Andy. It’s been really easy to work with you on this because you bring an energy, and a willingness to try new things. You have experience and knowledge, both in the community as well as in business, to look at what we’re doing and recognize what’s working well and recognize where there’s opportunities to try new things or where we can get better. You’re not afraid in the slightest to speak up and share those ideas with the group and push back sometimes if you feel the community would be in a better place if we decided to potentially do things a little bit differently.
Andy: It comes down to this: we have to take care of each other to ensure that we not only survive, but that we thrive. Daily we’re reading headlines about the rise once again of antisemitism around the world, and we have to look out for each other.Ed: I think it’s unbelievable to see how such a small group of people could have such an unbelievably large impact locally, nationally, and globally. I’ve also been amazed by the beauty of the religion, the traditions, the values. There is a true beauty to Judaism and to experiencing it over your life.
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Excellent discussion. Thanks for all of your support for the Jewish Federation. Good luck on the 2023 Annual Campaign!