2016 Annual Campaign Co-Chair Q&A

We sat down with Geraldine Acuña-Sunshine and Dena Boronkay Rashes to talk about their roles as co-chairs of CJP’s 2016 Annual Campaign, and what community and philanthropy mean to them.

You both have impressive track records with being involved in your community. Why is it important to you to do this kind of work?

Geraldine: As a Jew, I feel incredibly proud and blessed to be part of a people whose values are strongly anchored in service toward others, in tzedakah and gimelut chasadim.  For me, it is striving to fulfill these mitzvot that makes life meaningful and sacred, so my deep engagement within the community has merely been a reflection of this aspiration. Throughout my journey and work in the community, I have learned a lot about the importance of compassion, courage and standing up for what is right. I have also grown as a person and have, through my involvement, met some of my closest (and hopefully lifelong) friends. In the end, I feel that by sharing myself with others, I have already received a hundredfold what I have given.

Dena: My parents engrained in us that it is an obligation to give back. My mother’s work as a community volunteer made a huge impression on me, and I know that there were many organizations in the town where I grew up (including the congregation that I grew up in) that she played a role in shaping and improving.  

As a child, I sold candy bars to help support and raise awareness for Soviet Jewry, and organized fundraising efforts at my elementary school to support famine victims in Ethiopia—today, I enter my second year of chairing the CJP Annual Campaign.

My parents taught us that if the needs of your family are met, and you have the ability to give back to your community, it’s an obligation to do so. These are the values I was raised with, they are core to my beliefs as a Jew, and I hope my actions will inspire my children to do the same.

What area of CJP’s work is especially meaningful to you?

Geraldine: I wholeheartedly believe that our main mission as Jews is to create ever-increasing goodness in the world. Through its various targeted programs, CJP allows us—individually and collectively—to fulfill that mission. Whether it is promoting Jewish learning and continuity, caring for the poor and vulnerable or supporting Israel, CJP efficiently allocates funds to where it can create the greatest impact based on well-thought-out strategic priorities. For this reason, CJP has been an amazing way for me to effectively channel the deep care I have for the Jewish community through thoughtful action that generates results and transforms people’s lives.  

Dena: As the child of a Holocaust survivor, who lived as a refugee and immigrated to North America after years of hiding and living in displaced persons camps, the power and responsibility of Jews for one another—kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh—and specifically the American Jewish community for global Jewry has never been lost on me.  I love serving on the Israel and Overseas commission and I am proud of our partnerships in Haifa, with the JDC and with the Kehillah Project in Dnep.  I am inspired by our work on college campuses and the tremendous efforts of our Israel advocacy team. 

Which programs or services that CJP supports have touched you or your family?

Geraldine: I am especially proud of CJP's work with the JDC to assist marginalized Jewish communities around the world. Both Dena and I have been on trips with CJP and the JDC to places like Cuba, Argentina and Hungary to assist the local Jewish communities in need. As we celebrated Shabbat in each of these places, it made me appreciate how despite our differences, we are all really one.  Next year, Dena and I plan to travel with our spouses and friends to assist Jews in the former Soviet Union.

I was also moved by my recent trip to Poland and Israel as a member of CJP’s Acharai Leadership Program. That trip meant a lot to me because I was with participants of the same age but from different backgrounds and experiences. Some of us were religious, others secular, some were conservative, others liberal, some were Jews by choice, while others were part of interfaith households. Yet despite our differences, we all bonded as we cried over graves of ancestors long gone, celebrated our togetherness in the streets of Jerusalem and struggled over text for guidance on how best to express our communal responsibility. Needless to say, it was a powerful experience that has forever shaped me.

Dena: We are a Rashi family.  My oldest is an alum and my three younger children are still at  the Rashi School. My oldest started at Rashi in 2004 and for those of us who remember the days before the school’s permanent home, we know the vital role CJP played in ensuring our future when times were less certain.  In addition, CJP provides significant ongoing support to all of the day schools and our community is the richer for it. 

Another program our family has benefited from is Gateways, both receiving services and as a mitzvah opportunity. Our community is fortunate to have a central address for Jewish special educational services, which not only reaches kids with special needs, but also teaches typically-developing teens about inclusion by encouraging them to participate in Gateways educational programs as volunteers.

Dena, this is your second year as campaign chair. What do you hope to achieve this year? And how did your experience last year impact that?

Dena: Last year was an amazing experience, and a huge part of that experience was the opportunity to work with Aron Ain. Aron is not only the CEO of a corporation, an adoring father and wonderful spouse, he is the hardest working and most thoughtful volunteer leader I have ever worked with. I think that we made some really great changes to the campaign that we felt proud of, and I know that Geraldine and I will continue that great work in the coming year.

I’ve known Geraldine for almost 20 years, and we have shared some pretty incredible experiences together (including our weddings and many milestones with our kids). I admire her tremendous intelligence, grace and thoughtfulness—she is quite literally a force of nature. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work together in this capacity. I hope that together we exceed our Annual Campaign goal, yet again!

Geraldine, this is your first year as campaign chair. Overall, what do you hope to achieve this year?

Geraldine: I hope to share with others in our community why I love being Jewish, how being part of CJP fulfills our Jewish mission to increase goodness in the world, and the beauty and power of what we can do together.

This is the first year in CJP history that both campaign chairs are women. How do you feel about this momentous year?

Geraldine: I am humbled to represent CJP in this capacity. And I am especially honored to do so alongside an amazing friend and Jewish leader, Dena.

Dena: As a Wellesley alumna I suppose the historic nature of our appointment should have crossed my mind sooner—I embrace the fact that this is a historic moment, but would caution against fixating on the fact for too long. We have had tremendous female board chairs, remarkable long-tenured female professionals on the CJP staff, and several of our beneficiary agencies have tremendously strong lay and professional female leadership. I believe that we are standing on the shoulders of the women—and men—who have come before us, and my hope is that we do them and our community proud!

Any other thoughts you want to include?

Geraldine: I love CJP!!! 


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