Thursday, May 26, 2022
A Welcoming Cultural Center for Nebraska's Jewish Community
People always joke about how small Nebraska’s population is, but for Jewish Nebraskans, it's even smaller. Representing less than 1% of all Nebraskans, most of the state’s Jewish population has congregated in one city - Omaha - where over 90% of Nebraskan Jews live.
One organization serving the state’s Jewish population is the Jewish Federation of Omaha, located on the Staenberg Kooper Fellman Campus on 132nd Street. The Federation’s Executive Director of Community Philanthropy and Engagement, Jennifer Tompkins, recently met with Heartland to discuss what it’s like to be a Jewish-centered organization in Nebraska.
“I feel like this is the whole world, the times where it’s obvious that there are outside influences is if we have an event somewhere else, and we want to have Kosher food, with the whole logistics of that.”
When Tompkins says it can feel like the whole world, it’s not just because she works for the Federation - the Staenberg Kooper Fellman Campus is also home to other organizations like the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Social Services, the Jewish Press of Omaha, and even a retirement facility - the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home.
Through all these organizations, Omaha’s Jewish population can find themselves relying on the Campus throughout their lives - for everything from more secular events to some explicitly religious ones, like Purim parades, a Jewish holiday which commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an official of the Achaemenid Empire who was planning to have all of Persia's Jewish subjects killed, as recounted in the Book of Esther.
“It's important for the community that we continue to raise money to offer these programs and to have these services,” Tompkins continues.
The Jewish Federation raises money for all these organizations and more via an annual campaign and a fall event, as well as through donors.
“Last year, we raised over $3.5 million. And so then that money goes to the agencies, it gets allocated to Israel, and to communities in Israel and around the world,” said Tompkins.
Everything the Federation does is guided by central cores, one of which is Judaism. But just like Omaha’s Jewry, the Jewish Federation is not strictly religious. The Federation focuses more on education and community, leaving solely religious aspects (such as services) to organizations like the Chabad House or the city’s synagogues.
But even if the Jewish Federation of Omaha focuses on Nebraska’s Jewish population, it does not mean that others are not welcome.
“We have non-Jewish people come to the programming, we invite everyone to come and tour,” Tompkins says.
For those more interested in the Jewish Federation of Omaha and its organizations - and possible tours - the website is jewishomaha.org.