“I was taught by my parents to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I was taught to stand up for what I believe in and be proud of who I am,” says Jason Hoffman, YAD cabinet chair and a recent participant in the UJFT’s Tom Hofheimer Young Leadership Mission to Israel. “But I really didn’t get it and feel it and know why I should play an active part of this Jewish Community and the Federation until a few years ago.”
Hoffman, originally from Brooklyn, went to a Hebrew Day school and considered himself “fairly observant, but not necessarily engaged” as a young adult. Moving to Tidewater to be closer to his parents who relocated here, he contacted the Tidewater Jewish Foundation in 2001 as a way to gain contacts in the community since he had recently relocated his wealth management business to Hampton Roads. After making an impression on Philip Rovner, President and CEO of TJF, Jason was invited to join the Investment Committee. A few years later he was asked to be the Chair of the Committee and join the Board of Directors for TJF.
For several years prior to his involvement at TJF Jason also volunteered at HAT, instructing 6th graders on the basics of the stock market and financial literacy.
He was introduced to the UJFT’s Young Adult Division about 7 years ago, and he “poked in but it didn’t click.” But when the former YAD director approached him about the 3rd session “Tidewater Couples Project” three years ago, “I was intrigued and thought I’d give this YAD program a try.”
Jason and his wife Denise joined with 5 other couples for 10 monthly events that were designed to build personal connections, explore Jewish identity, and lead to discussions about Jewish issues here in Tidewater and around the world. “During this year, it began to gel for me, this feeling of community. We had a young daughter and a baby boy. I started thinking that if we want this community-- this foundation that we’ve built-- to continue, who’s going to do it? It’s ultimately our responsibility.”
Tidewater Couples Project led to Hineni!, a formal year long communal leadership development program in which participants learn how they can provide meaningful leadership to the Jewish community. Hineni! is by invitation only, and concluded with the mission to Israel this past June.
Ask Jason about his trip to Israel in June and he’ll share that it was life changing. “That flicker of being Jewish became a reignited flame when you put your hand on the Kotel….the realization that all roads lead back to Israel.” He was tremendously inspired when he visited a JAFI Ethiopian absorption center in the city of Safed (Tzfat). The absorption center is where Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, or Olim, come to become acclimated to Israeli life and culture. Children learn Hebrew, go to school and acquire vocational skills, while the parents are expected to go out to find work and learn Hebrew all at the same time. “This one child wanted me to give him a piggy back ride, so I put him on my shoulders instead. It was after that experience, that I felt it, this overwhelming sense of community. This boy on my shoulders is a Jew just as I am. He is our overseas allocation, and we need to continue to help him.”
Specifically after the mission to Israel, Jason understands why the future of our community depends on a collective responsibility to stand up and work to make a difference in the lives of others, both locally and overseas. “As I held that boy on my shoulders I knew I’d never question why I support the Federation, and why I want to set the standard for my children to give back in order to sustain our Jewish future.”