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May 15, 2003

'Voices' brings together community of Jewish women

From: Windsor Journal, CT - May 15, 2003

By:Pam Shearer, Correspondent
May 15, 2003

Every May, the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford holds "Voices," a dinner to thank women who've made gifts to the women's fund-raising campaign and a chance to hear a presentation by a prominent Jewish woman. Held May 8 at the Emanuel Synagogue this year, "Voices" is appropriately named, for very rarely did the waterfall of conversation cease.

As West Hartford resident Roberta Singer said, "It's a little bit like a reunion." Friends, old and new, who didn't really need the name tags they wore.

They were there for a good meal (Avon Old Farms catered) and a good speech. In the past, they've heard Joan Lunden, Joan Rivers, Dr. Ruth, and Deborah Winger. This year, they would listen to actress Marlee Matlin, who at the age of 21 won the 1987 Oscar for best actress in "Children of a Lesser God."

But the dinner wasn't just about speeches or discussing vacations and grandchildren.

"Voices" is part of the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah "righteous giving" and Tikkum Olam "improving the world." Women like Roberta Singer, who last November visited Israel with the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and was now here to support Federation fund-raising events.

"It's a sisterhood of philanthropy for the Jewish community," said Joyce Mandell.

Leigh Farber of West Hartford, the chair of "Voices" when actress Deborah Winger spoke, was there with her friend since first grade, Rebecca Epstein.

"I feel like I'm part of a group of women who are supportive not only of our religion, but of Jewish women in the world," said Epstein.

Rabbi Danny Allen, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, estimates that 25 percent of funds raised for the Federation comes from the women's campaign. Before the dinner, he said, "The goal of this evening is to acknowledge that and to celebrate that, also to have the opportunity to hear from a person of stature in the Jewish community."

Bradley Hoffman of the Hoffman Auto group in East Hartford and Avon, grew up in West Hartford but now lives in Avon. A member of the Corporate Sponsorship Committee and the 2003 Campaign Chair for the Jewish Federation, Hoffman said he is proud to lend his support to the cause.

"There is a tremendous need in the greater Hartford area for all the Jewish agencies and Israel as well," he said.

Jaime Seltzer West Hartford is the major gifts director for the Federation, where she's worked for 25 years. She chose her career after a visit to Israel in 1973 with a group of college students, realizing she could make a difference in the Jewish community. Funds raised from the campaign, she noted, help Jews in the Greater Hartford area, Israel, Argentina, the former Soviet Union and Jews worldwide through scholarships, hot meals and day care for Jewish seniors, and Jewish education for the developmentally challenged.

"People's one gift to the Federation touches so many lives throughout the world," Seltzer said.

Before dinner was served, several speakers gave updates of fund-raising efforts and life in Israel. Danny Allen said conditions in Israel are so bad that for the first time, he actually saw homeless people there. The goal for this year's Women's Campaign was set at over $7 million.

As Women's Campaign chair for the last two and one-half years, West Hartford resident Gail Sack was grateful for the support of the 440 women at the dinner. She told the crowd that $5,224,000 had already been raised from 2,261 women.

"We're making fantastic progress," she said. "Our dollars are making a difference." With dessert of chocolate decadence still on the table, the women grew quiet as Marlee Matlin and her interpreter, Jack Jason, shared the triumphs and challenges of "a nice Jewish girl from Morton Grove, Illinois" who just happened to be deaf. Matlin recalled the reaction of movie critic Rex Reed after her Oscar win. He said the award was a sympathy vote. Others expected she would never find more parts. But Matlin grew up in a family that didn't believe in limits. She said next to the dictionary definition for chutzpah should be a picture of her parents.

"Yes, I was different, but we Matlins had answers for everything," she said, adding that her brother explained her hearing aid as large wads of bubble gum.

After getting hooked on acting at a summer camp, Matlin pursued her career with the support of people like Henry Winkler and Whoopi Goldberg. Today she appears in films and television shows; last fall she published a children's novel, "Caution: Deaf Child Crossing," which has already sold 20,000 copies.

"My life has been about making a difference," she said. "You have made a difference. Don't ever, ever stop."

She commented on how appropriate the title "Voices" was for their work helping Jews in need.

"Our voices are being heard," she said. "Listen to your heart. I will always listen to mine."

©Windsor Journal 2003