Shep Englander — Strategic Initiatives
Cincinnati 2020 in 2017: Marla Lisman
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 Marla Lisman, post-mission coordinator for the 2016 Cincinnati Congregation and Community Israel Mission.
Tedd: How did you first get involved in Cincinnati 2020?
Marla: I was a member of Adath Israel and a parent of two teenagers both of whom have used their Israel travel grants for high school trips to Israel. However, as a recent mission participant and, inspired by my experiences on the trip, I volunteered to help with Israel mission follow-up within my congregation when we returned home. I was then offered the role of post-Israel mission coordinator for the participating congregations, and in that role learned about Cincinnati 2020. My job, supported by the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, is to make sure that participants’ involvement with their congregation and the community doesn’t stop just because the mission is over. That includes engaging participants in events and programs in their congregations and throughout the Jewish community, as well as identifying people to create and lead these kinds of programs going forward.
What does Cincinnati 2020 mean to you, given your work as post-mission coordinator?
This is important to me. I have lived in Cincinnati and, except for four years at Ohio State and one year living and working in Israel, have always been involved in the Jewish community here.
The 2016 mission was my fourth trip to Israel; my passion for the country runs deep. Cincinnati 2020 and my post-mission work have enabled me to take that passion to another level. Mission participants are a continuing source of strength for Cincinnati, in part through the connections I’ve been privileged to help make happen. I’ve helped organize some initiatives, including some of the post-mission reunions for the individual congregations and community-wide reunions for all mission participants.
We had one of our first all-mission reunions under the sukkah at the JCC. We all enjoyed an organized program, a dessert reception and plenty of time for people to share stories and be reminded of how it felt to all be together. A particularly unifying part of the event was the display of many of the thousands of photos submitted by participants for a photo contest. We announced the winners and people gathered around the displays to share remembrances of their time in Israel. We’re using the photo displays at other events and every time people express feelings of warmth, joy, and unity they recall from their time together in Israel.
Other wonderful things have developed organically, like people who, prior to the trip, didn’t even know each other but now get together regularly.
These are the kinds of things that strengthen our community—what Cincinnati 2020 is all about.
Why should Cincinnati 2020 be important to the community?
The Jewish community in Cincinnati is forward-looking. The mission to Israel, in scope and scale unlike any previous mission we know of, is a perfect example. With Cincinnati 2020 there is a structure in place for implementing innovative ideas like the mission, increasing involvement, bringing forth new leaders, and helping to build a vibrant community. Cincinnatians will continue to benefit from such programs and opportunities.
What does the future of post-mission engagement look like through the lens of Cincinnati 2020?
Post-mission engagement has momentum, and I believe we’ll see more and more mission participants involved with organizations that support Cincinnati 2020.
For some people, it’s simply about deepening relationships within their own congregations, while others are choosing to be involved more broadly. Some initiatives focus on families, or adults, children or college students. There are programs involving weekly, even daily engagement; others might require concentrated effort just once a year, like this May’s Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebration, which we’re planning with the JCC. The participating synagogues continue to develop post-mission initiatives, enhancing their existing programs, creating brand-new ones, and strengthening bonds between Cincinnati and Israel.
For several years, Adath Israel Sisterhood members had been providing shiva meals, rides to doctor appointments, and other assistance needed by congregants. Adath Israel President Debbie Lempert recruited two mission participants to formalize such supports into a Caring Mishpacha, which now serves as an extended family to congregants who live in Cincinnati without local family or support.
Wise Temple’s mission participants are leading activities associated with the synagogue’s anniversaries: 175 years as a congregation, 150 years of Plum Street Temple. Rockdale Temple, Beth Adam, and Northern Hills Synagogue all have invited rabbis and other leaders they met in Israel to serve as presenters here in Cincinnati.
These are just a few examples. But the point is, mission participants and synagogue and community leaders are stepping up, forming new bonds and strengthening ties that can only grow in the future.
Has the post-mission engagement been successful so far?
Yes. We measure success by the number of people who are more involved than they were before the mission, as well as by the examples I have given. At the Federation alone we have 30-plus more people involved on committees than before and if we extrapolate across all the congregations and agencies involved, the number is clearly much larger.
Do you think the successes of Cincinnati 2020 and post-mission engagement are related, and how?
Cincinnati 2020 and the mission are inherently related. The mission statement for Cincinnati 2020 is to increase the number of Cincinnatians engaged in Jewish life and enhance their well-being and Jewish identity. The goal of post-mission engagement is the same. Exactly.
Did anything about Cincinnati 2020 or the post-mission engagement itself surprise you?
I’m amazed that so many people continue to be affected by this two-week trip—sharing, communicating, and coming together to ensure that post-mission engagement stays strong. The Jewish community in Cincinnati is strong because of our leaders and the people who volunteer their time to make sure Cincinnati is and remains a city with a lot to offer.
Do you have an anecdote you could share?
The one thing I hear repeatedly is how much more connected people feel to their congregations and to the Cincinnati Jewish community by having gone on the mission. They say they want to do more and be a part of things when they haven’t before. I hear this from mission participants everywhere I go, including rabbis and other leaders throughout the community.
What do you hope the community accomplishes through Cincinnati 2020 in the next 4 years?
I hope that the buzz from the mission continues and I feel confident it will. The more we all work together to keep the “Israel vibe” alive, the more people will stay involved as part of Cincinnati 2020 and our community’s strong future.