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Cherie Half and Charlie Rothschild — Cooking Up New Ways to Sustain Communities

Written by Shelley Hebert; Nominated by Liz Vaisben

When Cherie Half realized that this year’s Poltava benefit dinners would be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew there was more at stake than an enjoyable evening for a good cause.  As chair of the Poltava Committee for 19 years, Cherie understood that the financial assistance Beth Am provides annually to its sister congregation in Ukraine is essential for their operating expenses.

She also saw that needs were growing exponentially right here in our own community. So Cherie reached out to Charlie Rothschild, and together they cooked up an alternative to the cancelled dinners. Their goal was to help Beth Am honor its longstanding commitment to Congregation Beth Am of Poltava and raise critical support for South Bay residents impacted by the pandemic.

Charlie has been involved in the Silicon Valley chapter of the Industrial Areas Foundation, which brings together religious, civic and community organizations to address local concerns.  He knew that among its members, Sunnyvale Community Services (SCS) would be facing a huge increase in the number of people turning to its safety net support, from food to emergency financial aid to housing assistance.

Next, Cherie contacted someone she and Charlie both knew, who she describes as “a major mensch.” Ambassador Rabbi David Saperstein, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, had visited Beth Am previously.  He quickly agreed to give a special Zoom talk that would help us raise funds both for Poltava and for Sunnyvale Community Services.

In record-setting time (just two weeks from the call to Saperstein), the Poltava Committee had mobilized with personal outreach to congregants by email and phone. On May 3, about 100 Beth Am participants joined in a special Zoom session with Ambassador Rabbi Saperstein, whose unique perspective on international Jewish life was engaging and inspiring to hear. Marie Bernard, SCS Executive Director, also spoke about critical local needs and how the organization is helping to meet them. The event raised $8,000, with proceeds split evenly between the Poltava project at Beth Am and SCS.

Now Cherie and Charlie are cooking up another idea. They realized that the successful model for this event could be replicated by other North American congregational affiliates of the World Union to continue financial support for Jewish communities around the world. At a time when in-person dinners cannot be held, they have created a new recipe for sustaining communities while nourishing the human spirit.

To learn more about other initiatives Beth Am’s Poltava funds support, such as training of rabbis from underserved countries with emerging liberal Jewish communities, visit the international page of the World Union for Progressive Judaism website.

Wed, September 30 2020 12 Tishrei 5781