Reneé Chelm Says Federation’s Eisenman Award an 'Incredible Honor'

Tags: Federation, Leadership

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Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News.

By Courtney Byrnes

Reneé Chelm accepts the Charles Eisenman Award. CJN Photo / Courtney Byrnes

With decades of involvement focusing on the Jewish and wider community in Cleveland, Reneé Chelm was honored with the 2022 Charles Eisenman Award at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 118th annual meeting June 9 at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights.

“I’m incredibly honored to be included on the list of past recipients,” Chelm, a Pepper Pike resident, told the Cleveland Jewish News June 15. “I admire so many of the people and the organizations that have won the award in the past, so to be included on that list is just an incredible honor.”

The Eisenman Award is named for one of the founders and the first president of the Federation, Charles Eisenman. It is the Federation’s highest honor, given each year to individuals and organizations making significant contributions to the community.

Her long history of community involvement includes organizations such as Planned Parenthood Cleveland, the Center for Domestic Violence, Habitat for Humanity, Therapeutic Riding Center, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center and Dress for Success, with current involvement on the board of YWCA Greater Cleveland. In the Jewish community, she has served in roles with the Mandel Jewish Community Center, Mt. Sinai Health Foundation, Park Synagogue and Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning program. She sits on the board of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation and is working on projects with the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Chelm first became involved with the Federation around 1998, and after selling her business in 2000, she became even more involved.

“I think what drives me is that’s just my nature to be involved,” said Chelm, a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike. “When I see an organization with a goal that is in sync with my goals, I want to get involved to further their success and make a difference.”

Her involvement with and impact on the Federation spans across the board, with involvement in jHUB, strategic planning, COVID-19 distribution, overseas connections, the Israel Emergency Fund Campaign and MCAL – the redesigned Mandel Course for Advanced Leadership. She has elevated herself and other women by becoming the first female chair of the annual campaign, and was the third woman in the Federation’s 119-year history to chair the board of trustees.

This passion to make a difference in the world is one of the things that attracted Chelm, a born Italian Catholic, to Judaism.

“In 1989, my late husband, Mike, and I converted to Judaism, and one of the reasons that it was so attractive to me was because of Judaism’s belief in tikkun olam and repairing the world,” Chelm said. “That was always very important to me to get involved in social action and standing up and being heard and being counted.”

Chelm’s involvement with the Federation led her to join a trip of community leaders to Israel, meeting Ukrainian refugees as they made aliyah this year. Along with receiving the framed plaque of the Eisenman Award, the Federation gave a grant to the Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund in her name.

“One of the reasons I chose it was because I was in Israel recently ... and witnessed refugees arriving in Israel who had to flee the Ukraine based on the war and what was going on there,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want Ukraine to become yesterday’s news. “... And I feel that the need is as strong as ever if not more right now, so it’s important to me to continue to have focus on what’s happening to the people in that country.”

As for her current and future involvement, Chelm said she is eager to continue to play a vital role throughout the community, looking for where she can make a difference ... and finding time to relax as she travels.

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