Thanks to a donation made in memory of Hoffman Estates founder Jack Hoffman, the JCC Chicago Jews in Blues program at the Great Lakes Recruit Training Center in North Chicago will continue to provide spiritual nurturing and community building for recruits.
Growing up on Chicago's West Side, Hoffman learned about religious persecution firsthand from his parents, Sam and Anna, who had fled Russia in the 1920s.
Hoffman, who died in 2008, did his basic training at Great Lakes served in the Navy from 1943-46 during World War II as a signalman first class. Although he periodically faced anti-Semitism from fellow sailors, he never lost his strong sense of pride in being American.
After the war, the Hoffman family moved to Phoenix, and he and his father formed Father & Son Construction. Sam Hoffman donated the land and built the first Jewish Community Center in Phoenix in 1953.
In 1956, Jack Hoffman moved back to Chicago, and started Hoffman Homes with his brother-in-law. Hoffman built 5,000 homes in the town incorporated in 1959 as Hoffman Estates.
Hoffman donated land and construction costs for schools and parks in the village, a synagogue, and churches. He was also the first president and creator of the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicagoland.
The Hoffman family was always very active in the Jewish community and at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, where Hoffman was a board member and contributor.
Hoffman sought missing family in Russia and located aunts, uncles, and cousins around the world, including three aunts he helped move to Israel. He visited Israel and began another building business there.
"My father felt it was important to teach us about our history and heritage," said his daughter, Robbie Schreiber of Northbrook, who with her husband, Scott, made the gift to JCC. "Because he was proud of his involvement in the U.S. military, it's natural to do something at Great Lakes. Everyone recognizes this is something my dad would have liked."
While the amount of the gift is private, it was pivotal in ensuring the program begun in 2008 continued. It provides weekly Shabbat programming, holiday services, and opportunities for Jewish learning and exploration. Additionally, JCC provides Jewish "survival" kits, which include prayer books, ritual objects, music, and meditations recruits can use once deployed to maintain connections to Jewish practice.
During a visit to the program, Schreiber noticed many attendees were not Jewish.
"I thought, 'This dad would like.' Here's non-Jews being exposed to Judaism in this incredibly positive way. I'm thrilled with that aspect of the program."
The Schreiber family belongs to Congregation B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, where Robbie is on the board, teaches Hebrew school, and chairs the Chavurah program, while Scott coordinates monthly Torah study sessions for Chicago Loop professionals. He is on the national board of the Jewish Nation Fund and president of the Midwest region. Jack Hoffman's grandchildren, his self-proclaimed "true legacy," have all visited Israel.