The Jewish Federation of Omaha is pleased to announce that the Jewish Community Center will be named the “Staenberg Omaha JCC.”
Michael Staenberg, more than anything, is a builder. Never satisfied to simply sit behind a desk, he needs to move around, walk while he talks, roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. There are times one can almost feel the energy buzzing around him. It’s what has allowed him to be successful, but also what others can tap into: this ‘let’s do it, but do it together-‘ attitude. As happy as he is to give both dollars and expertise, he is happiest when others join him in his endeavors.
“I want to inspire, and I want others to realize they can
do this,” he said. “I give, because it makes me feel good about the level of engagement it creates. Everything we have done at the JCC is about so much more than just the money, it’s about getting involved, about creating opportunities and about the next generation.”
Next month, the entire Jewish and non-Jewish community will be invited to “Be a Part of It”. Following the inspiring generosity of Michael and about 100 other lead donors, all of us will have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of future generations by making a meaningful gift to the building project. More details on this Campaign will be shared in the coming weeks.
“Michael is so much more than a philanthropic donor,” JCC Executive Director Mark Martin said. “He is a listener, teacher, and partner in sharing his vision. From our very first meeting six years ago, Michael told me the JCC needed ‘mojo’ and he would help us get there, but it would take more than just building materials. A welcoming environment, innovative programming, and an engaged staff are just some of the additional components he has taught us to become an even more successful organization. I am fortunate to have such an insightful leader as Michael providing guidance as we move forward.”
In a recent interview with Rabbi Yitz Greenman from the organization Olami, Michael emphasized his father Marty’s lasting influence:
“He was the inspiration for who I am today. Tzedakah was so important at our house. I remember how he said, ‘Michael, we are not a 10 percent family, we are a 20 percent family.’ We are all the product of those who mentored us. It’s important to allow others into our lives and guide us and, in turn, pass that on to the younger generation.”
He has memories of some of those mentors, which he carries with him to this day: “When I was 16 years old, our family didn’t have a lot of money,” he said. “I worked after school, bagging groceries and other things so I could pay for my school lunch. The principal, Dr. Phelps, of blessed memory, pulled me aside one day and told me, ‘Michael, you are number 401 out of 400. We only keep the top 400. What are you doing?’
I told him I went to the pharmacy after school and worked for $0.50 per hour. He said: ‘Congratulations. You just got a raise to $1.00 an hour. You will be in my office every Monday through Thursday from 3 to 6. We are going to learn together.’ Thanks to Dr. Phelps, I graduated in the top 10 percent of my class. Without Dr. Phelps and other mentors like him, I would not be here today.”
JFO President Jon Meyers emphasized that once Michael decided to get involved, he stayed involved: “From the moment he decided to step up, he has been tremendously generous with both his dollars and his time,” he said. “The more he is exposed, the more time he spends on our campus, the more involved he becomes. Now, he has added an additional multi-million dollar gift, which is why the JCC will carry his family name (not to be confused with the campus as a whole, which is the Staenberg-Kooper-Fellman Campus). Giving for him is its own reward, more so because he is so invested in the actual renovation.”
Putting the Staenberg name on the JCC allows Omaha to honor Michael’s entire family, especially his father, who died when he was only 13.
“He gave me that name and I forever hope to make him proud,” he said, “Much of what we are building is in recognition of growing up here in Omaha. Whoever could have predicted we would have been able to have this impact in a place that gave my siblings and me so much? It is incredibly exciting to see it all come together.”
“Michael’s philanthropy is an extension of his passion for building,” JFO CEO Alan Potash said. “And it’s infectious.”
From endless new artwork to lighter, more inviting spaces and bright colors on the walls, the very feel of the entire building carries Michael’s stamp. While he’s been instrumental at several other locations, including Kansas City and St. Louis, it is the Omaha JCC he is most proud of and the most connected to.
“In today’s world, the JCC continues to be as important a gathering place and a place to build community as it was when I was a child. If I could just pick one, this would be it. It’s not just the JCC itself,” he said. “It’s the entire package of Places, Programs, People, and Purses. Remember to combine all four of those elements and we can truly be transformative.”