50(ish) Voices: Looking Back on Fifty Years of UJF

One of the best parts about commemorating the last 50 years of United Jewish Federation this year and applauding the impact the organization continues to make locally and globally, is being able to share the experiences, memories, and moments from across the community about what UJF means personally to people.

Through this limited testimonial series, these "50(ish) Voices" and stories help make UJF what it is today: still a convenor of the community with a remarkable story to tell together. Thank you to those in Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien who have been reaching out and taking part in the “50(ish) Voices” online Q&A, including past presidents, campaign chairs, volunteers, and former staff members of UJF. The kind responses and reflections provide the opportunity to recognize, hear, and learn from the wide reaching voices in the community as UJF looks back, and ahead, to another 50 years of Federation.

Why does celebrating this 50 year milestone matter to you?

As a past President (2003-2006), the continued viability of UJF is very important because the role it plays in the Jewish community is essential. – Ed Spilka

I have been actively involved in UJF for the past 21 years and have been proud and honored to do so. I have seen first hand the impact it has had on our community both locally and globally. We live in a wonderful Jewish community and UJF has had a major role in keeping it strong and vibrant. UJF has been here for our community in good times and bad. This 50-year milestone of Federation is so meaningful. It is an opportunity to recognize the impact it has had on our community and all the donors, lay leaders and staff who have supported this organization these many years and have worked hard to bring us to this momentous occasion.   – Ellen Weber

I feel like any Jewish organization that has a 50 year history is momentous! It’s important that Jews in Stamford (Israel and all over the world) know that they have an organization like UJF “watching” out for them, for the better of the community. Historically, this hasn’t always been the case for Jews. - Taly Farber

How has United Jewish Federation impacted your life?

I learned about fundraising and how to "make the ask" at my first "Super Sunday" about 25 years ago. It was held at a downtown office where volunteers could use a room full of landlines together. There was a spirit of community unlike any other. I was trained by the giving guru, Fred Springer. Did I realize then that his guidance – giving from the heart – a little more than you think you can afford – would lead to a lifetime of volunteering and philanthropy? I am glad it did. – Barbara Aronica

We learned that UJF provides a vital voice for those unable to speak for themselves. We made so many friends over the years through our involvement, people who may not have known otherwise who have enriched our family's lives proving, for us, to give is to receive! – Peter Poser

My mother fled the Nazis and I was raised with a sense of vulnerability because I was a Jew. My sense of responsibility to the Jewish community was nurtured at the firm I worked for as it was one of the largest contributors to United Jewish Appeal. I believe that all Jews care about their community and will step up to provide support when it is called for. – Ed Spilka

In 2016, while president of UJf, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Israel as part of Partnership Together’s 20th anniversary celebration. It was a memorable trip attended by many members of the various federations throughout the country. One of the most memorable events to me was a visit to our sister city of Afula Gilboa, where we toured the facilities of the Rape Crisis Center. On the outside wall of the building was a plaque that read””Women for Women” Center - Supported by the Jewish Communities of the Southern New England Consortium. Knowing that our Federation was part of making this happen filled me with enormous pride. Because of our Federation along with our other SNEC members, women and men, Jews and non-Jews are helped on a daily basis. Helping others - that’s what life is all about. Thank you Federation! - Ellen Weber

I have been involved with the UJF from the Young Leadership Division, to volunteering and chairing two Super Sundays, to being Volunteer of the Year 2018. Now I have the unique opportunity of seeing UJF from “the behind the scenes” side of things. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an idea for an event become a fully functioning successful event, and knowing the work and layers that went into it. For example, our Yom Ha’Atzmaut event that was so well attended this year with great food and a camel! – Taly Farber

How do you feel UJF has affected our community? 

If there is one organization that cares about every other Jewish organization in our community - it is United Jewish Federation. Millions and millions of dollars have been allocated to the various Jewish organizations over the years. And new projects have been able to be undertaken because of the UJF menu Most recently, UJF provided financial support to organizations during Covid, was at the forefront of obtaining supplies and funds to help those making aliyah as a result of the war in Ukraine, facilitated the partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to bring the Life and Legacy program to our community, insuring our community's Jewish future, and has employed a security specialist to insure that our community remains safe. But Federation is concerned about those outside the Jewish community as well. Local children, food deprived, are given bags of non-perishables so they can survive the weekend, women are given personal items monthly and over the last 20 years, children in our Stamford elementary public schools have been helped to attain grade level reading by UJF's Reading Partner volunteers. - Ellen Weber

I think UJF is a leader for change and mitzvot. In a world of cancel culture, and being politically correct, it’s important to have consistency, even if it’s not a popular world view, for example UJF ‘s stead fast support of Israel, in a world with anti- Israeli / antisemitic views circulating. - Taly Farber

Do you have family or multi-generational connections with UJF you would like to share with us?

When we moved to Stamford in the late 80's, my father-in-law, Stanley Ferber, reminded us that if you want to live in a Jewish community, you must support that community. With that as our guiding principle, my wife, Caryl and I have participated and donated throughout the last 35 years. – Peter Poser

Why is a strong UJF important for the next 50 years?

A Jewish Community needs a central organization that cares about all the agencies and encourages interagency support and participation. UJF is that organization and therefore vital to our community's success. – Peter Poser

The Jewish community is always likely to be small, fractured and beset by antisemitism. It is important to have a few strong pillars that can be depended upon to ensure we remain vital and healthy. UJF will always fill that role with proper leadership and direction. – Ed Spilka

The Jewish community has had many challenges in the past 50 years and Federation has been at the forefront of addressing many of them. The future of our Jewish community is of great concern to me especially with the increase in antisemitism. But with a strong UJF presence, I know we can face these challenges together. - Ellen Weber

There is a saying in Hebrew “ad meah v’esrim”, which means “until 120”. It’s what you wish someone on their birthday, like Moses from the Bible who lived until 120 years. This is just as important for the UJF. That there should be strong Jewish support of Israel, and Jews in the community, nationally, and internationally, is needed “ad meah v’esrim”. – Taly Farber

To submit your entry for “50(ish) Voices,” visit www.ujf. org/50ishvoices, or if you prefer to tell your story to one of the project chairs, Peter Poser or Barbara Aronica, contact Wendell Maxey (wendell@ujf.org) at United Jewish Federation for more information

This article was written by Wendell Maxey and appears in the October issue of The New Jewish Voice newspaper. To receive The New Jewish Voice delivered free to your home, sign-up today at www.ujf.org.