SARASOTA -- The Jewish Federations of North America honored five community federations in the United States and Canada with its 2013 Fedovation Award, including the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.
The award, which recognizes innovative new programs, was given for JFSM's groundbreaking Heller Israel Advocacy Initiative.
Howard Tevlowitz, JFSM executive director, accepted the award with Marty Haberer, associate executive director, at JFNA's General Assembly in Israel on Nov. 11. Other communities honored include New York, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
"We're all deeply humbled by this award," said Tevlowitz. "At the same time, we feel this is the sort of program the award is meant to encourage."
Tevlowitz said The Bob and Esther Heller Israel Advocacy Initiative was established to advocate for peace and security in Israel through education, information and community awareness in the Sarasota-Manatee region.
"Robert and Esther Heller saw a need in our community for pro-Israel advocacy and together we worked to fill that void," said Tevlowitz.
With the support of the Hellers, JFSM started a series of interfaith missions, programs and initiatives. In the past two years, JFSM has coordinated two interfaith trips to Israel, an Israeli arts and cultural fair and several other programs that attracted more than 10,000 people from the interfaith community.
The organization also partnered with nonprofits groups, including Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Mote Marine Laboratories, Sarasota Ballet and The Perlman Music Program/Suncoast, to present programs showcasing aspects of modern Israeli life and culture.
"Through these initiatives, we're able to bring Israel to our region and educate the community about Israel's contributions to the wellbeing of our world," said Tevlowitz.
"What sets our initiative apart is the creative way we get our message out there," said Haberer. "We aren't just preaching to the choir anymore. We're speaking beyond the Jewish community to a global audience. Yes, what they're hearing is a voice for Israel -- but it's a fresh voice. We're speaking to the 21st-century mind with 21st-century communication tools. It's a new, fresh and original concept and I think the JFNA recognized that."
Haberer said 28 programs met the criteria for the award. An online voting contest narrowed the sample down to five. The final decision was made in an online election.
Five hundred votes were cast from JFNA representatives from the United States and Canada.
Haberer said people cheered when the news came out that JFSM's Heller Israel Advocacy Initiative was a winner.
"It's like hearing your brothers and sisters from across the continent say: 'We think you're doing a good job. Keep it up,' he said. "We're still deeply touched."
The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to save Jewish lives and enhance Jewish life in the Sarasota-Manatee region, Israel and worldwide.
The Federation responds when worldwide catastrophes occur.
Information: 941-371-4546 or go to TheJewishFederation.org.