Wednesday, February 3, 2010


A few weeks back, our local Crain's Chicago Business reported that a start-up airline, Air Choice One, was initiating flights between O'Hare and Decatur, Illinois. This brought back some great memories...

Back in the late 70's when I and so many others served on the United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Cabinet, those of us in Chicago would meet monthly with wonderful young UJA professionals and a young one from Chicago, as well -- one Steve Nasatir. We would discuss possible programming and how we might make an impact. The meetings among us were great fun in and of themselves but the outcomes were always serious business. We determined that one way we could make a difference would be for each of us (at the time it was only men) to be assigned a community where we could not only bring the message of federation but provide speakers and programming. I was assigned Decatur, Illinois, at the time serviced a couple of times a day by the late unlamented Ozark Airlines.

I remember so well my first flight to Decatur. One of my dear friends was to join me. He missed the flight. So there I was, travelling into unknown territory. with some materials, terrified -- not just by the prospect of flying Ozark. I was met by a wonderful local Decatur leader and we were joined at his home by about 30 others. Together we outlined a one year program of monthly meetings. And, once a month I would hop on that Ozark flight, sometimes with a scholar, sometimes with an UJA staffer, but most of the time alone. I remember the group so well; how eager they were for adult Jewish content; how appreciative they were of our presence; and how much I learned from the experiences. I would use those experiences gained over 24 months often in the years since.

The memories of Decatur stirred by this new air service brought to mind a question I would hope the leadership of the Men's and Women's Cabinets of The Jewish Federations of North America are asking themselves today: what are our purposes? Beyond a beautiful Mitzvah Day in New Orleans and our Retreats and a Mission and a Washington Conference -- all terrific -- just what are we about? For me it was always more than the Retreats and the caucuses; the Young Leadership Cabinet experience was truly a bridge for all of us connecting national Jewish life with our federations; it was for all of us a life lesson in leadership.

But, that was then; what about now? What about tomorrow? What about Decatur?


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