Wednesday, September 18, 2019

(Courtesy of UJF) Ethan Zohn, who won the popular television competition “Survivor Africa,” inspired millions of viewers with a victory in which he displayed a sense of decency, fairness and selflessness. Zohn will be sharing his thoughts on helping to build and strengthen community at United Jewish Federation’s 2019 Campaign for Communal Needs gala event, which will be held at Serafina at the Italian Center in Stamford on Sunday, September 8, at 6 p.m.

I had every intention to go [into “Survivor”] and be a lying, backstabbing person and do everything I could to win this game,” said Zohn. “However, once I got there, I realized it wasn’t necessarily the best strategy for me. My wonderful mom had said, ‘Ethan, just come back with your dignity and self-respect. That matters more than whatever happens there.’”

Once immersed in the game, Zohn realized that using some of the values he had learned growing up in the Jewish community worked well with the people there—being the teacher, being a member of the community, being a leader who works closely with other people. Those were many of the things Zohn had learned growing up in a Jewish community.

Zohn’s philosophy very closely matches the values that the new UJF Campaign for Communal Needs is trying to promote—helping to build and strengthen community. The campign is seeking to specifically address community needs that are not being met in the local Stamford area by enabling innovative programming to be funded by community members.

Zohn won $1 million from Survivor, and used the money to create a nonprofit organization called Grassroot Soccer, whose mission is to improve the health of teens living in developing countries.

The idea came from a Survivor scene where he was playing soccer in a small village. “I couldn’t communicate with these kids, and I couldn’t speak the same language, but once we started playing soccer, it broke down the barriers. We were able to communicate and laugh and smile and giggle.”

Diane Sloyer, CEO of the UJF, explains the similarity of messages: “Ethan Zohn understands the importance of giving back to one’s community and making the world a better place. As we roll out our new fundraising model and attempt to strengthen and grow our own community, I believe his message will resonate with our residents.”

Zohn’s father died when he was 14, and he has felt a deep appreciation of being part of the Jewish community since that time.

“During the year following my father’s death, I pretty much tried to go to minyan every night,” Zohn recalled. “It’s just that community structure that is kind of built into our religion, which I think is incredible. Any way we can get people together to celebrate Judaism, and celebrate who we are as a community and a tribe and a people, is important.”

Zohn has beaten cancer twice, and serves as a spokesperson for Stand Up 2 Cancer. He has also written a series of children’s books exploring world cultures through the sport of soccer.

Sloyer is very excited about the new initiative at UJF. “This fundraising campaign is donor driven, so donors will be able to decide from a menu of choices which specific programs and projects they wish to support. We will also have representatives at the dinner showcasing their plans and answering questions about their specific projects.”

Lead sponsors for this gala event are TD Bank, Wells Fargo and BMW of Darien.

Tickets to the event are available at ujf.org/zohn at $125/person, with a special price of $50/person for those under 40 years old. If you would like additional information, please contact Diane Sloyer at 203-321-1373, ext 105.

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