In the week after Oct. 7, when 1,200 people were massacred in Israeli communities near Gaza by Hamas, a donor called Danielle Minson to set up a brief meeting.
“We sat down for coffee, and he made an enormous gift,” said Minson, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. “I just started crying because I was so moved and overwhelmed by this gesture of generosity.”
That’s the story of just one of the over 1,000 people who have given to the Federation’s Israel Emergency Fund since Oct. 7. Collectively, they’ve donated $4 million, which is being allocated to Israeli organizations addressing the humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hamas’ attack.
The total includes a $1 million donation from the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and half a million dollars from Charles Shor, along with longtime donors who have increased their usual giving to the Federation and an influx of smaller individual donations.
For Minson, gratitude at the community’s quick response, and pride at the Federation’s ability to be a platform for that response, is mixed with the weight of the moment.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling, because we are all devastated by what’s been going on in Israel,” Minson said. “At the same time, the one way that we can act is by raising dollars. And it doesn’t always feel like [that’s a way to help]…yet at the same time, what we have found is…a need for the community to look to us, to be able to do something. So we are so proud that we’re able to do this.”
For now, as Israelis begin the long road to rebuilding their lives, the Federation will keep fundraising to support them.
“We know that there’s still a huge need [to support] families who have loved ones that were murdered on October 7, and for those that were injured, those who had homes and other property destroyed, and so we’re continuing to plug away,” Minson said.
For the moment, all donations to the Cincinnati Israel Emergency Fund are allocated through the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the national umbrella organization for federations like the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. JFNA and the federation system have raised over $700 million so far, with roughly $200 million already sent to organizations in Israel.
But the Cincinnati Federation is starting to think about what direct allocations could be made outside of the JFNA pipeline.
“It’s a great question that we’re having right now with our Israel and overseas [funding] committee,” Minson said. “We know that our communities and our friends [in Israel] are going to have needs, and so we’re considering that.”
That’s part of a broader shift happening at the Federation, as the response to Oct. 7 and its aftermath becomes less reactive and Jewish organizations figure out how to navigate a changed world.
“We are moving out of that acute response into phase two, sort of a more long-term planning phase,” Minson said. “I think our team feels it. And actually, it’s healthy, in one sense, to feel that because we’ve just been going, going, going.”
There are a lot of moving parts in the long-term planning effort. For example, before Oct. 7, a Cincinnati mission trip to Israel was scheduled for July 2024, with nearly 500 people signed up to go. The trip will still happen but now needs rethinking, as the old playbook for Israel trips doesn’t seem appropriate for a country still reeling from Hamas’ attack.
“It would be tone deaf for us to go and celebrate and hike up Masada and drink wine in the Galilee,” Minson said. “But it would be irresponsible of us not to go at all to show our support. And so we’re trying to figure out what that looks like.”
Meanwhile, there’s added pressure for a successful annual campaign. The Federation not only needs to keep funding existing projects, but also invest more into local community relations and Israel education to address the dramatic spike in antisemitism since Oct. 7.
To that end, the Federation has already raised $1 million to support local security in Cincinnati since Oct. 7. More support could be coming from Congress, with $1 billion slated for the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program – though the funding still has a long road to passage as Republicans leverage it for other policy priorities.
“We do fundraising with a variety of different revenue streams: One is from individual donors. One is from foundations. And then the other is city, state and federal funding – and so we are actively seeking all of those,” Minson said. “We hope that we’ll have some news from [the NSGP] as well, and those dollars will be deployed locally to the Jewish community of Cincinnati.”
Guiding the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati through the past several months has not been easy for Minson, and it’s been an exhausting time for staff. While a career in the federation system helps her feel ready to work in such challenging times, doing community work right now can be overwhelming.
“You’re holding the response for the organized Jewish community, you’re holding the response for individuals that are coming to you and asking for help, and helping them, and then you also are sort of holding it for yourself,” Minson said.
“I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve screamed, I’ve exercised, I’ve overindulged…but it’s just really finding that balance and feeling really privileged to be in a position right now where I can help and I can lead an organization so that we can just do some great work.”
But alongside a lot of bagels and chocolate, Minson credits the Jewish community’s newfound cohesion around the Oct. 7 response with keeping her going. Before, Jews were arguing over Israel’s judicial reforms, split over its government and the massive protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Now, we are unified, we are united” with Israel, Minson said. “The overall community response, which has really been heartwarming, is one of resilience and resolve and compassion.”
Alongside donating to the Israel fund, Cincinnati Jews have also sent care packages and supportive messages to Israel, and held various vigils and gatherings locally in support of Israel. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Israeli community, which has largely kept to itself, is now getting more involved with the rest of the Jewish community.
“We’ve been working really closely with them,” Minson said. “Because they’re grieving, they’re mourning, and they want us to act.”