Second-Generation Activist Continues the Good Fight


When you grow up in a family of social activists, your childhood can be unusual. Cindy Smukler Dorani's parents, communal leaders/philanthropists Joe and Connie Smukler, were international figures in the Soviet Jewry movement, and their daughter came of age in a remarkable world.

She remembers chaining herself to the Liberty Bell at age 12 to make a point about what liberty means. She recalls a kitchen table at which Soviet dissidents were often seated, secret meetings and missions, and an assortment of unusual guests passing through her home.

"It was definitely a fascinating household, and I have indelible images of those years," said Dorani. Another indelible image is of a family trip to Israel, also around the age of 12, and how she felt a tidal wave of emotion about being in the country that felt strangely — and instantly — like home. It was, she says decades later, easier felt than explained.

So in some ways, Cindy Smukler Dorani's passionate activism in the Jewish community seems her manifest destiny. She lived it and breathed it from childhood on.

But Dorani also has taken that legacy and charted her own clear path. Today, at 44, she is undeniably one of the region's leaders, with a record of service and accomplishment that belies her youth.

With a background in social work from her college years at Tel Aviv University, and her family's social justice heritage, Cindy Smukler Dorani is eminently qualified academically, and surely emotionally, for the vital undertakings she has chosen: working to heal a troubled world and supporting causes that matter.

In her earlier professional life, Dorani worked in the prison system in Philadelphia and also with AIDS patients. She does not tackle minor matters, she quips. Now, her volunteerism is a full-time job.

Along with leadership positions for Jewish Community Centers, OROT, and JFCS, and honors and awards for her record of service, this Wynnewood mother of three has just undertaken the co-chairmanship of the Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas. It is a challenge that both inspires and delights a woman who dreams big dreams.

"Recently, my wonderful co-chair, Michael Coslov and I went with a small group to Israel where we could visit the places we need to care about, from hospitals and army camps to amazing new Federation projects. I love showing people the Israel that I've come to know" said Dorani, whose husband, Ilan, is Israeli. The family maintains a second home there, and the three Dorani children, Shoval, 15, Omri, 13, and Liat, 7, share their parents' love for Israel.

"I think you have to walk the land, breathe the air, and see with your own eyes what miracles there are in this country. It is where I feel most alive and most at home."

Dorani has even led small groups of women to her beloved Israel, showing them the place through her eyes. "I want my generation to care as much as our parents' generation has cared," she said, and reports with pride that several of those women have since become Federation activists with an emphasis on global issues.

But that doesn't mean that Cindy Smukler Dorani has turned her back on her own community. She is particularly committed to a program started last spring in memory of her late and beloved grandmother, Mildred Lasch, for the Kaiserman JCC Day Camp. Called The Mildred Lasch Special Needs Inclusion Program, it is, explains a proud granddaughter, rooted in Lasch's own love of children.

Like her late grandmother, Cindy Smukler Dorani worries about the children of the world, about Jewish continuity and security and surely about the Jewish homeland.

"People need to get out of their bubble and look around at the world. It's our duty and responsibility to protect Israel, to kiss the ground there in real and symbolic ways and to say thank you to those who preserve it and protect it for us," said the new co-chair of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas.

And many agree that there's no better person to accomplish that mission. "Cindy is extraordinarily dedicated and committed to the Israel and Overseas agenda," said Jeri Zimmerman, Director of the Center. "Her energy and enthusiasm for visiting the projects that we fund, and then sharing that information with others, is remarkable."

Dorani likes to share the sentiments of a young Israeli soldier whom she had met in Israel. His message was piercing:

"I'm not just fighting for my own mother's home," the soldier had said to the group. "I'm fighting for YOUR home, too."

For Cindy Smukler Dorani those words say it all.

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