Returning Home

By Jesse Ulrich

Posted on 08th January 2010

It is hard to explain to people who ask me “There are Jews in Tulsa?” that, not only are there “Jews” in my hometown, but actually a strong Jewish community.  If it were not for my parents, I would have assumed, growing up,  that all Jewish communities in America were like Tulsa’s.  Both of my parents were born and raised in Brooklyn.  Surrounded by literally millions of Jews, going to schools that were 95 percent Jewish, walking to shul, and having no problems finding a good bagel, they never had to worry about their Jewish identity.  I was constantly reminded of these facts as we had to drive 16 miles to my Temple Israel every Wednesday and Sunday for Hebrew School, and every Friday night for services, and that  I had to represent the entire Jewish people every day at school, being the only Jew most of my friends and teachers would ever meet in their lives.  But I would not trade my upbringing in Tulsa for anything.  It made me proud to be Jewish; it forced me to choose between advocacy and compliancy, fitting in or being unique.
If it were not for the Tulsa Jewish community, I would never have sought a Masters in Jewish History, which led me to Brandeis, which led me to Boston, which led me to   It was with so much pride that I returned to Tulsa at the end of December to tell my Jewish community about  As I knew they would, both Temple Israel (Reform) and Congregation B’nai Emunah (Conservative) were looking for a way to organize their social justice projects, and both wanted to help find causes in need.  It will be a thrilling challenge seeing if we at can help congregations  half a continent away.
The two congregations were not the only supporters I met in Tulsa.  I had a wonderful meeting with Sandy Cardin and the Schusterman Foundation, who, like the Tulsa congregations, was looking for some help organizing its charitable program, B’nai Tzedek. This is a program that exists in many cities across the country, where the local Jewish Federation and a local foundation (in Tulsa’s case the Schusterman Foundation, but usually the Harold Grinspoon Foundation) match funds raised by bar/bat  mitzvah-aged kids.  These  teens then use the money throughout their high school years as they continue to develop from young philanthropists into adult philanthropists.   This seems like a perfect fit for, and I look forward to helping my hometown continue the values that I was taught growing up there:  Being charitable is part of being Jewish.

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