Keeping the Flame Alive

Photography provided by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati

In every Jewish congregation, over the ark where the Torah scrolls are kept hangs a flame that represents God’s eternal presence. It is traditionally the community’s responsibility to keep the flame alight.

This eternal flame, or ner tamid, is the inspiration behind an interactive sculpture and exhibit dedicated last summer in Cincinnati’s Jewish community center, the Mayerson JCC. The Legacy Flame, created by artist Brian Russell, honors those who nourish the flame of the Jewish community with legacy gift commitments. Within the beautiful structure, a large interactive touchscreen allows donors to share with the community – and their own families – their stories through videos, photos and written statements. 

One of the donors featured in The Legacy Flame is William Friedlander, who passed away earlier this year. In his video interview, he says, “I think it’s important to pass on to children and grandchildren that helping others is a key component of my value system, and whether it’s financial or nonfinancial, you should be out helping people...Now the next question you’re going to ask me is, have you told them that? And the answer is not really; I probably should.” 

The Legacy Flame is an opportunity for donors to articulate their values and tell their stories, which are sources of inspiration to others. It makes the very idea of generosity beautiful. The sculpture is the heart of a new, innovative, community-wide program called Create Your Jewish Legacy (CYJL), spearheaded by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and funded by The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and seven private families. It is a collaborative effort led by teams from twelve organizations to build the endowment base across the Jewish community.

This initiative aims to expand traditional nonprofit funding from annual giving campaigns to endowment campaigns – with the goal of building sustainable funding for the Jewish organizations, congregations and day schools in the Cincinnati area. As annual gifts are steadily decreasing, this forward-looking approach is well known among universities, museums and hospitals, but less developed among nonprofits.

The CYJL program in Cincinnati has achieved remarkable early successes in its first year. The program has secured over $22 million from over 250 legacy commitments. “We are proud of how well our teams have done so far,” said Bill Freedman, the chair of the CYJL program. “I am also proud of how this community is stepping up to secure our future–and keep this flame lit for many generations.” 

Cincinnati shelters the oldest Jewish community west of the Alleghenies. The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, and all the participating organizations, are working to ensure that our Jewish institutions, services and history continue to stand strong.