Create a Jewish Legacy Honoree Remarks


Betsy and Michael Green were honored with the 2016 Legacy Leadership Award at the Create a Jewish Legacy Celebration of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation held on June 22, 2016. Their remarks appear below. Click here to learn more about the Create a Jewish Legacy program, our contact Jane Chernof, program coordinator, by email or at 414-390-5725.


Being Jewish is different

By Betsy Green

Being Jewish took on a new meaning when I realized being Jewish was being different!

It was a beautiful winter afternoon as I walked down Burleigh Street with my young friends to go ice skating and we passed a kosher meat market. It was then they asked if those “strange words” were the language I spoke at home.

Betsy Green

Betsy Green

That became a turning point in my life as I, too, wanted to know what was different about being Jewish.

As a child I had never attended a Seder; in fact, I was the first in my family to have a Seder.

But for some reason as a child I felt comfortable being in a synagogue. For me it was a place of learning and peace. To this day, I find spiritual peace in the synagogue. I guess it was because I learned what being Jewish meant through the synagogue, religious school, BBYO, and a Jewish sorority in college.

At the University of Wisconsin non-Jewish sororities allowed Jews to go through the freshman rush, but no Jew was ever invited back for a second rush. Being Jewish was being different.

But the major turning point in my life was a Jewish Federation trip to Israel with Michael in 1972. Being Jewish in Israel was being proud of who I was, of my heritage and my people. I wanted to wear the biggest Jewish star I could find and shout that I was a Jew, but at home that Jewish star was too big. Being Jewish in Milwaukee was still being different.

After the trip I was asked to be on the Women’s Division Board of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. That began a new stage of my life. I learned that being Jewish came with responsibility to our Jewish world.

27250453023_b0e0683714_zAt about the same time, our children were among the first group to attend the new Jewish Community Center Day Camp in Fredonia. Esther Leah Ritz was the president of the JCC at that time and she came to speak to all of us on Parent’s Day.

She was brilliant and talked about the philosophy of the camp and how it would impact our children Jewishly. I wondered how a woman ever got to be a leader of that stature within the Jewish community (remember, it was the ‘70s). She, along with Betty Lieberman and Ruth Orenstein, and others, became my ultimate role models.

I believe that the only people who really care about Jews are Jews. Therefore, I have put almost all my energies into serving the Jewish community. I assumed leadership roles when asked because I felt as a Jew we have a duty and responsibility to our people whoever and wherever they are – in Milwaukee, Israel, and throughout the world. We are commanded to leave the world a better place. I hope my life has fulfilled that commandment.

Being Jewish is being different!  And that is a privilege.

So now you know why the Create a Jewish Legacy Program is so important to Michael and me. It will insure the Jewish future of our community. Because history has a way of repeating itself and as Jews we must always remain alert to signs of hate and bigotry, even if it is not aimed at us.

About 15 years ago, Michael and I in our estate plan included a bequest to the Jewish Community Foundation to sustain our annual giving, make gifts to agencies and to endow our synagogue.

We are happy that Milwaukee has chosen to join the Create A Legacy Program because of the opportunity it provides for Jewish fulfillment. And while our children and grandchildren do not live in Milwaukee, we are hopeful that the communities where they live have the same kind of participation we have had in Milwaukee’s Create a Jewish Legacy Program.

There is saying in the Talmud: “I did not find the world desolate when I entered it, and as my fathers and mothers planted for me before I was born, so do I plant for those who will come after me.”


An honor and a privilege, creating a Jewish legacy

By Michael Green


Michael Green

As a child I attended Sunday school at Congregation Emanu-El and Hebrew School at the East Side Hebrew School. I was a bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Israel because in those days Reform congregations did not have b’nai mitzvot.  I can remember on Saturday afternoons riding the Holton Street trackless trolley to the JCC on Milwaukee Street. During High School I was an AZA President and as a student at UWM I was one of the founders and the first President of the AEPi chapter there in the 1950’s.

Anti-Semitism existed in Milwaukee in the 1950’s and my generation lived through it, some of us experienced more and some experienced less, but it was always there. I have some pretty unpleasant memories of being spat upon, beaten up, bullied, called a kike and a Christ killer as well as being discriminated against in employment.

And that was the hard part of being Jewish in the 1950’s.

Over the objections of my parents, I enlisted in the army a month shy of my 18th birthday, first stop – Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. During basic training, my unit was on bivouac which meant several nights living in a pup tent in the woods with all that living outdoors entails. One of the nights it was raining hard, we were ordered into company formation and called to “attention.” The next order was “all Jews fall out get on that truck.” No other explanation. We could not imagine what was happening and I admit, for an 18-year-old it was scary. It was dark and when the truck finally reached its destination it turned out to be at a mess hall. Soaked and coated with mud we were greeted by a Jewish chaplain, it was Passover and we were at a Seder.

2016 Legacy Leader Award

2016 Legacy Leader Award

I’ll never forget, when we left to go back to our unit each soldier was handed a daily prayer book, a mezuzah to wear along with our dog tags, some matzo, a tiny can opener and a couple of cans of matzo ball soup. This was sponsored by what at the time was known as the JWB, the Jewish Welfare Board, which is now a part of the JCCA, The Jewish Community Center Association of America. That Jewish memory has been with me for 60 years only to strengthen my belief that Jewish institutions really deserve our support because of what they do for our people. I still send an annual donation.

I graduated UWM in 1960 and that was also my first year of being solicited for the Milwaukee Jewish Welfare Fund, later to become the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. That first $25 gift felt great. I was really proud of it.

I have been a campaign worker since 1961 and I still do it to this day. During the ‘60’s I learned more and more about the Jewish Community, the things it does and what it meant as well as the horrors that had happened to our people during the Holocaust. I also met and learned from people who had suffered only because they were Jews. There was an opportunity to learn from the professional staff, the speakers and the programs of the Federation and from some of our campaign co-workers who were survivors.

When the ‘67 war broke out, survival of the Jewish state was questionable and frightening. I became more involved with the Jewish Federation and worked soliciting funds for the Israel Emergency Fund. Milwaukee raised historic amounts of money for the Emergency Fund.

In 1972, Betsy and I were asked to go on a Federation mission to Israel. That experience changed both of our lives forever and that was the first of our many visits to Israel.

As the years have passed and Israel and our Jewish Community have changed, grown and moved on with the times I have had numerous duties and positions within the Jewish community locally, nationally and in our synagogue. It truly has been an honor and a privilege for me to be involved in our Jewish community. All of our children and grandchildren are here with us tonight. And our hope is that they have gained an understanding of what this night means to us and to our community.