Over 10 years ago, I had an amazing experience that changed my life and motivates me to this day. In fact, it inspired me to get up pretty early on Super Sunday morning and drive up to Rockland County, to do the Super Sunday training for the Rockland County Jewish Federation.
The experience that changed my life? I was on a MetroWest mission to Cherkassy, our partner community in the Ukraine. We were having lunch at the Hesed Center, where about 40 elderly women and men enjoy a hot lunch five days a week. This lunch is almost certainly their only hot meal of the day. The meals and staff are supplied through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and funded by our gifts to the annual UJA Campaign of MetroWest.
I was sitting with three women, all regulars at the Hesed Center, and a young woman from the JDC who was serving as a translator. We had no language in common as they only spoke Russian and Yiddish and I only have English to rely on. Despite this challenge, we were having a lively conversation conducted mostly in sign language and smiles; the translator was having a little trouble keeping up with us. My new friends made sure I was eating all of the delicious borscht in front of us, when one little woman grabbed my hand. She couldn't have been more than 4' 7", with sparkling jet black eyes and hair to match. Her name was Rina and she was really, really trying to tell me something. I looked over at the translator, who had tears in her eyes. "She's saying that if you weren't doing what you are doing, she'd be dead."
Well. That statement, and the sense of responsibility that went along with hearing it, has been a touchstone for me for 10 years. How could it not? If not for a decision by my great-grandparents to emigrate from the Ukraine when my grandfather was an infant, my grandfather or great-aunt could have been sitting at that table in the Hesed Center. So that’s why I got out of bed and went to Rockland County Jewish Federation’s Super Sunday — to tell them about Rina, and about all of the wonderful things that are possible when one Jew asks a second Jew to help a third Jew.
What I saw in action in Rockland County would have been familiar to anyone from MetroWest, albeit on a somewhat different scale. They fund the same kinds of local agencies; in their case it’s the Jewish Family Service, JCC, Gittelman Hebrew Day School, Hillel, the Holocaust Museum and Study Center, and they just established PJ Library! They also care about Rina and others like her in need around the world and about staying connected to Israel through their support of our overseas partners. Best of all was this similarity: they also have college kids who come to make calls. About 15 young Hillel students got up on a Sunday morning (!) to thank the donors who fund their programming and to ask for continued support.
Going to Rockland County Jewish Federation reminded me that it doesn’t matter how large or small a particular federation is. What matters are the people who are willing to make the gifts that our North American federation movement relies on, and even more importantly, what matters is that there are still people of all ages who are willing to perform the mitzvah of making these sacred phone calls.
Stay warm. My next post will be from Israel!