A Q&A with Debs Weinberg
Debra Silberman Weinberg (a.k.a. Debs) has served in many roles with THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. She is passionate and full of energy. This year, she will fill a new role: co-chair of Israel & Overseas. THE ASSOCIATED caught up with Debs just as her term is about to start to ask her a few questions:
How did you become interested in Israel & Overseas?
Twenty years ago, I was a re-settlement worker at Jewish Community Services (then Jewish Family Services). Hearing the new immigrants’ stories, one couldn’t help but reflect, ‘what if my grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t make the decisions to leave the Ukraine and Lithuania? Might I have traded places with the clients sitting across the table?’
But do you feel we really make a difference?
As important as the work is that we do with individuals or families, I realize that working on a larger scale could effect more change. For example, in the 1980s, with a small window of opportunity to rescue Jews in the Former Soviet Union, the Baltimore community, in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, went to work. Those who might not have known they had Jewish parents or grandparents were discovering their heritage.
We have carried out lifesaving efforts to aid the elderly and vulnerable children. The renaissance and rebuilding of Jewish life, and the saving of Jewish communities abroad, is what we do with our Israel & Overseas funds.
Do Baltimoreans benefit, too?
As partners, we are both beneficiaries. We have been able to adopt programs that we have learned about, like the neighborhood eating together clubs that work well where Jews live too far from the Odessa community center, the Hillel clubs that meet the needs of those post college age in Argentina, or the PACT program that we are bringing from Israel to East Baltimore. We share our successes and challenges in encouraging the next generation to be Jewish. … We cannot be so insular! Hungary was once a dying Jewish community. The philanthropic dollars infused there resulted in a Jewish revival. We benefit as a global community.
What are you most looking forward to this year? What are your plans?
I believe missions and ‘voluntourism’ add meaning to our lives and are opportunities to engage people in something larger than ourselves. They are community building activities. I hope to see the expansion of engagement opportunities and the use of this website and social media to help penetrate a larger market – namely those under 40.
It begins and ends with the Jewish belief that, “we are all responsible for each other.”