Meet Nina Rosenzwog

Nina Rosenzwog

Two years ago, Nina Rosenzwog and Jason Reitberger  became Co-chairs of The Associated’s Israel and Overseas initiative. Among their many plans was to broaden and enhance our overseas impact —and this year celebrate the 30th anniversary of an extraordinary people-to-people connection: The Baltimore Odessa Partnership.   

Unfortunately, the best laid plans can change, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has upended part of that narrative. Today, one of the priorities of The Associated is focused on meeting the overwhelming humanitarian needs for the Jewish communities of Ukraine through the work of our overseas partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).  

Fortunately, three decades of work in Ukraine have created immeasurable relationships that are helping our Odessa friends during these tumultuous times. And the fact that our overseas partners have long-standing on-the-ground networks in Ukraine is making a major difference. 

We spoke with Nina about our work in Odessa, the conflict and her interest in our overseas agenda. 

How has the war affected our work? 

In Odessa, The Associated always worked with its overseas partners. They helped rebuild Jewish life there and support individuals, such as Holocaust survivors, who were now facing multiple challenges. 

When Russian invaded Ukraine, The Associated opened a Ukraine Emergency Fund. The community response was overwhelming, raising well over $1.5 million dollars. The generosity of resources contributed by the Baltimore community went to our partners who provide transportation, food, medicine and psychological services to Ukrainians. Their staff is maintaining immigration centers, and we are helping those who wish to emigrate and resettle in Israel.  

In addition, we are preparing for the possibility that Ukrainians might immigrate to Baltimore. I was recently on a zoom call with HIAS, which is planning for the potential of Ukrainian refugees coming to the United States. In Baltimore, Jewish Community Services also is talking with HIAS in case this happens. 

We have this amazing partnership with Odessa. What have you heard from the people over there? 

Every morning, I wake up to see news from Oksana Nelina, the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Coordinator via What’s app. She mentions that on a regular basis, they hear shelling, yet fortunately, up to now, they have remained safe. She sometimes sends pictures from the community. Last month, during Passover, she sent photos of boxes of Matzah, and it was heartwarming to know that despite everything going on, Jewish life is continuing there. 

As I drink my coffee, I make sure to respond. She tells us how important it has been to hear from the Baltimore Jewish community and know that there are people here who continue to care about them. It is so important that we show support. If you are interested, please go to our Baltimore-Odessa Partnership Facebook page where you can send messages.  

Why has the Partnership been so valuable over the years? 

The Associated’s partnership with Odessa demonstrates the people to people experience and that we are one global Jewish community. In recent years, the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership has piqued the interest of our local Russian-speaking community, and the Partnership has been led by Russian-speaking community members.   

The Partnership provides an opportunity for connection and a way to bring people together.  Baltimore community members who traveled to Odessa have been inspired by the rebirth of Jewish life there. Over the years we’ve been able to care for those in need and revitalize Jewish life. 

Tell me about our new Odessa Ambassadors. 

We hope our new Ambassadors will help us engage our community in the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership in new and creative ways and strengthen our ties to the Ukranian community. These individuals are knowledgeable about The Associated’s work in Odessa. The Ambassadors, Jessica Halle Gorsky, Susan Flax Posner and Neil Katz, are creating people-to-people projects which present opportunities to engage the Baltimore Jewish community in new and creative ways. Since the conflict in Ukraine, the Ambassadors have been working to coordinate programs and communication. 

Why is our global agenda so important? 

Throughout our history, and even today, Jews around the world often feel antisemitism and hatred. We want people to feel proud of being Jewish … to see how well other Jewish communities are doing and to understand that we are part of something bigger. It is so important that Jews continue to help other Jews thrive and overcome challenges. If we don’t do it, no one else will. 

As co-chair with Jason, you’ve been involved with creating a new program. 

Over the past two years, we introduced Going Global under the leadership of Chair Eve Kresin Steinberg to increase awareness of our Baltimore community about Jewish communities worldwide. The inaugural Going Global program featured Sigal Kanotopsky sharing her and her family’s story of making Aliyah from Ethiopia at a young age, and she now serves as the director of JAFI’s Northeast region of the United States. An upcoming Going Global program will feature Sergio Widder, JDC’s regional director for Latin America, as he discusses the Jewish community in Argentina.  

What inspires you? 

My parents gave me the opportunity to travel from an early age. They wanted me to have a chance to appreciate people and cultures. Since I began traveling at age 16, I always make sure to stop by the Jewish communities in the cities and towns I visit and talk to the people to learn about their Jewish lives.   

You must have stories about the people you’ve met on your travels. 

I’ll never forget traveling with my husband, Stuart, to India and meeting with JDC. We spoke with a Jewish father and son. They lived in a remote part of India, and the father wanted his son to see other Jews. It was fascinating to hear about their lives and how they maintained their Jewish identity. 

There also was the time we visited Morocco and were in the Atlas Mountains, touring a temple there. There were no longer any Jews left in this community, yet the non-Jewish man who was taking care of the synagogue for the Jewish population that no longer existed had passed away.  

Israel has always been an important to you and has defined who you are. 

About 27 years ago, I traveled on an Associated Women’s Mission to Israel. I will never forget standing in front of the Kotel and having what I call my “Burning Bush” moment. I remember thinking then that whatever I do in the future, I will commit to contributing, financially and spiritually, as well as volunteer in whatever way I can make a difference. 

I have previously co-chaired The Associated’s Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, as well as the Baltimore-Odessa Partnership, and traveled to Israel many times. Education about Israel is essential, and for that reason my husband and I established an experiential seminar for college students to learn and engage about the history, complexities and contributions of the modern State of Israel.  It was part of our dream to promote understanding and dialogue rather than anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism, in general, on college campuses. 

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The Associated is a home for everyone in the Baltimore Jewish community. We offer several email lists to help people find a community, engage with their peers and support Jewish journeys around the world.

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