Outgoing Chair Gary Gross ‘Always Stepped Up’

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Reneé Chelm, former board chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, gifts outgoing board chair Gary Gross a yad for his three years of service as chair. CJN photo / Alyssa Schmitt

Reprinted with permission from the Cleveland Jewish News.

by Alyssa Schmitt 

The rekindling of anti-Semitism and the characterization of Israel were thoughts Gary Gross shared as he gave his third and final address at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 115th annual meeting April 8. He proposed the two go hand-in-hand. To combat anti-Semitism, a unified Jewish community is needed. Yet varying thoughts Jews hold on Israel can create disagreement and prohibit unification.

“I expect that few would take issue with my remarks on anti-Semitism and many will share my perspective on Israelis, but I’m not naive. I know that some of you will be upset with my comments on Israel,” he said. “Of course I care about the people with different perspectives. What I care about most is the way we stay together at the same table. There are so many needy Jews right here at home, in Israel and around the world. I want all of us to continue to visit Israel, the birthplace of our people and homeland of the Jews. Express your views, disagree with one another, but never walk away. We Jews are a very small people, we can’t afford to lose anyone.”

Gross, a Shaker Heights resident, was recognized as the outgoing Federation board chair during the annual meeting. He will conclude his three-year term April 30. J. David Heller will be voted on to succeed Gross at the board’s April 30 business meeting.

Other nominated officers are vice chairs Beth Wain Brandon, Lynne M. Cohen, James A. Ratner, Neil R. Waxman, Daniel N. Zelman; treasurer Dara G. Yanowitz; and associate treasurer Jeffrey Weiss.

“Gary doesn’t take on assignments for the honor that goes with a lot of assignments, he does it because something needs to be done and someone has to take charge or straighten out a situation,” Stephen H. Hoffman, former president of the Federation who worked with Gross, said in a video tribute. “He always stepped up when he was needed.”

When looking back on his term, Gross said the No. 1 thing he’s proud of is the process of finding Hoffman’s replacement. Gross was chair of the search committee, which selected Erika B. Rudin-Luria to succeed Hoffman Jan. 1. In the same video, Harley Gross, Gary Gross’ brother, said Gary Gross has the talent of inspiring others, challenging them to be better, both of which was put to the test in selecting Hoffman’s successor.

“If you’d ask him what he’s done, he would say that he’s done what should be expected,” Albert Ratner said. “He’s a very humble man and that is a great Jewish value.”

Gary Gross noted in the video how proud he was in the community for standing behind the Federation’s increased safety and security drive. The Federation is expected to spend nearly $2 million more on security in the next fiscal year.

“How are we going to respond in terms of making the people that are going to schools feel safe?” Chelm said in the video. “I felt like he instituted and led up the charge to make sure that we did move along as a community.”

Michal and Steven Soclof, co-chairs of the event, both commended the Federation’s value of chesed, noting those who are hungry or needy can join in the celebration of Passover due to the Federation.

“Tonight is an opportunity to celebrate what makes Federation special, the strong partnership between our volunteer leaders and our professional staff and the collaboration we foster between the life better and more meaningful in Jewish Cleveland and Greater Cleveland as well as around the world,” Steven Soclof said.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., was the featured speaker at the meeting. She explained Israel’s changing role in the Middle East.

“Arab leaders are more worried about holding onto their seats of power than they are about their neighbors,” she said. “In the midst of all of this uncertainty and jockeying for security, Iran has found new opportunities to expand its influence, and it has exploited those opportunities to great affect, Turkey is playing a larger role in regional affairs, we see Russia re-entering the region in different ways.”

She also noted the rise of new, violent jihadism and the Islamic State group which she said is of interest across the region.

“We’ve seen Arab governments find a common cause with Israel’s government in confronting shared threats,” she said.

The U.S. military is also shifting its resources from the Middle East to East Asia to confront the threat of a rising China, she said. Americas commitment, however, remains to the area, but the focus has begun to shift.

“This leaves our regional partners feeling uncertain about how much they can rely on the United States and more interested in working with one another, even through tensions to protect their own interest,” she said. “There are some real opportunities for Israel. There’s the opportunity for cooperation for regional governments on these security threats like ISIS, like Iran.”

Nominated trustees-at-large for a three-year term are Eric E. Bell; Barnett N. Bookatz; Susan R. Borison; Reuven D. Dessler; Barry S. Feldman; Margaret Richards Frankel; Alan D. Gottlieb; Rochelle Gross; Jeffrey M. Kahn; Karen Krause; Gregg A. Levine; David B. Orlean; Marla Petti; Loree E. Potash; Barbara Rosskamm; Mitch Wolf; Jason A. Wuliger; Darrell A. Young; Don Zigdon; and Sarah Zimmerman.

Added as an emeritus trustee was David J. Strauss.

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