The local Jewish men’s group is more than social – it gives back
“I am a member of the board of directors Desert Jewish Federation,” said Arnie Gilman. “And I woke up one day and thought, ‘We’re going to start a men’s group so that men can do social things together. “
Such was the genesis of what became the jewish men Desert Awareness Group (JMOGD). Gilman invited friends to join his fledgling social group, and the inaugural event drew eight people. From the start, Gilman knew he wanted it to be more than just social – he wanted the band to do charitable things in the community.
“Our goal was to help the Jews of the whole valley and also the children of the whole valley,” he says.
From the beginning, JMOGD’s efforts were – and remain – completely local. “Our first (charitable act) was toys for children for Christmas,” says Matt Fisher. “I went to the Portofino, and they very generously let us use their restaurant for a happy hour. So, we did flyers, and I think we ended up having about 20 people and 60 or 70 toys. was a fun group, so we decided to do more.”
The next JMOGD event was a luncheon, and 50 people showed up. That was about eight years ago. Today, the group has about 140 members. And while being Jewish isn’t a requirement (the group includes an Italian gentleman who is married to a Jewish woman), membership requires donating to the Jewish Federation.
JMOGD’s management team includes Gilman, Fisher, Michael Zaifert, Steve Weiss, Ben Weissbach, Phil Hudis, Alan Gitlin, Sid Weiss, Steve Bergman, Norm Jacobs and Barry Fisher.
Most members are retirees. “We all come from somewhere else,” says Weissbach. “We had homes, families, friends, social life, and then we suddenly retired and came here.”
The group is always looking for new ways to give back. “Sid Weiss once said, ‘Let’s adopt a school,'” Gitlin recounts. They have chosen Martin Van Buren Primary School in India. “We raised nearly $2,000 and, working closely with the director, sent them backpacks with books, paper, pens, etc. In the end, we were left with about $300, so Sid went back to the manager and said, ‘We have $300 left over, should we get more supplies?’
The main, Melissa Pizano-Grunnet, made a surprising request. “She said that the children who attend this school often have other needs, ‘so why don’t you offer them toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap?’ And that’s what we did,” Gitlin says. “She was beside herself. She couldn’t believe an organization out of nowhere would do this for children.”
Earlier this year, the group held a dinner dance and children’s book drive, and last month donated proceeds from that event.
“The book drive was for the Loma Linda clinic in Indio,” says Hudis. “Scooter’s Bottomless Library was created so that children could take a book home. The first year, we collected a few hundred books. Now, on average, we collect around 400 to 500 books.”
Their gift did not go unnoticed. ‘Here is a group of individuals not connected to a children’s hospital, but they are attracted to the cause,’ says local philanthropist Jill Golden, the founder of Scooter’s Bottomless Bookshelf. “They just have such big hearts, and Scooter’s Bookshelf is just a happy recipient of their generosity. And for that, I will be forever grateful to them.”
The people at the hospital are also grateful. “The partnership with the Jewish Men’s Outreach Group has been amazing,” says Josh N. Zahidchief development officer Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Foundation. “The Indio Clinic has received thousands of reading books to help make visits to the clinic more manageable. These books bring much-needed smiles to so many little faces.”
In addition to Loma Linda, JMOGD donated much-needed goods to Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Martha’s Village and Kitchen and angel sightwhich operates 19 six-bed residential group homes where children and adults with disabilities receive loving care in a family setting.
“Angel View has two kosher homes,” says Gitlin, “and for Thanksgiving we raised $1,600 for meals from those homes, totally out of pocket. It’s very impressive how people in this organization dedicate their life helping humans, and if we can be a part of that, that’s great.”
They also worked with the Jewish Federation to raise funds for the Jews of Ukraine.
But it’s not just schools and nonprofits that benefit from the group’s generosity. “These men’s wives would come up to me and thank me for getting them out of the house,” Gilman says.
The group, which is not 501(c)(3) registered, stresses that it does not advertise or collect financial donations. All gifts come directly from members’ pockets.
In the end, says Gilman, the band is just a bunch of nice guys who like to hang out and do good things for people. “The tradition of Judaism is that you should help Jews around the world,” he says. “If you don’t do it, who will?
To learn more about the Jewish Men’s Outreach Group of the Desert, email Fisher at [email protected].
As editor of philanthropy and special sections of The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraisers, and locals giving back. Join it at [email protected].