Singer, lecturer, and Kulanu activist Laura Wetzler was presented with Kulanu’s rarely-bestowed Extraordinary Service Award following her talk to 15 officers and activists in Silver Spring, Maryland, on June 13, 2006.
The award has only been presented one other time in Kulanu’s 12-year history.
Wetzler was cited for her vital involvement in over 20 projects with the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, ranging from annual mitzvah tours to Uganda and an interfaith coffee cooperative to educational programs and water projects. These projects are described in the last Kulanu newsletter (“It Is a Joy To Do This Work” by Laura Wetzler, Spring 2006).
Wetzler first became connected with Kulanu in February 2002, when she (and her special voice and guitar) participated in the organization’s delegation to Uganda accompanying a Beit Din. This was followed by her hosting Abayudaya student ambassador Rachel Namudosi Keki on her US tour in 2003, including securing a place for Rachel as a junior counselor at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire and programming her on a tour of musical lectures. Wetzler became Kulanu’s first Coordinator for Uganda that year, and went on to widen her portfolio dramatically.
Wetzler, with her characteristic modesty, has issued a statement giving others much of the credit:
I would like to thank the Kulanu board for this award. Jack Zeller and Karen and Aron Primack have created a unique grassroots volunteer organization, where anyone is welcome to come and learn to be of use. This organizational openness is rare, and in a post-9/11 America, vital to many of us. How else could a musician who tours in 150 concerts and lectures each year, learn development work, hands-on, in Africa? The three years I have volunteered as Kulanu Coordinator for Uganda has been an unsurpassed practical education that has opened my eyes to a world I never would have known otherwise. I am grateful to Kulanu and to the Abayudaya community for teaching me so much and for being patient with my learning about Jewish life in Africa.
At the risk of seeming ungracious, I must admit to being upset at the erroneous impression this honor may give to others about the limited nature of my role. No one works alone in Kulanu.
It is the Abayudaya leadership who carry out projects in Uganda. It is their vision, hard work and success on the ground that continues to inspire us. We celebrate their many accomplishments over the 11 years of this Abayudaya-Kulanu partnership. This honor belongs to them.
It is Karen Primack’s gift as a writer and manager that has moved us into the new world of foundation grants, helping us to do so much more. It is Harriet Bograd, Kulanu treasurer, who is responsible for facilitating the exponential growth of Kulanu’s work in the last four years. Everything happens through Harriet’s brilliant, exuberant multi-tasking expertise and guidance.
We are so moved by the high school students like Max Yadin, raising money for textbooks and the bar mitzvah kids who send donations; the Kulanu volunteers who go and share skills; the generous Kulanu supporters like Barbara Lubran, Roberta Roos, Jeanne Bodin, and Alan and Rena Steinfeld, and so many other synagogues, foundations and individuals, who fund our projects.
What could be done without this enormous network of folks from all over the world? Not a thing.
Something special is going on here in this joining of so many different people of good will, who spark and learn from each other and take direct action doing “tzedekah” (justice) work across oceans and continents. I am so grateful that Kulanu exists and I am proud to be one of many Kulanu volunteers.