Looking Back and Looking Forward

“The Days Between” by Marcia Falk is a wonderful companion for the Yam’im Noraim, the days from Rosh Hashanah to the close of the Neilah service of Yom Kippur, when we are supposed to contemplate the year gone by, apologize to those we may have injured or offended, and review the ways in which we can be better people. It is a small book of poems and contemplations, alternative prayers for home and synagogue, and daily meditations to help us on the introspective journey we each take at this time of year. I highly recommend it.

This little book is one of the tools I’m using this year. In addition, I’m giving 10Q a try. No, it’s not a miracle drug to ease arthritis. It’s a daily question that you answer for the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  You can find it at www.doyou10q.com if you also want to give it a try. The answers are then locked away in a virtual vault and sent to you the following year. Just answering the questions has been helpful; I can’t imagine what I’ll think of the answers a year from now.

Why all of these tools for introspection and prospective action? It’s not like my plate isn’t full enough – but that’s exactly the point. With all that is happening at Federation, and all that I want to accomplish in my remaining two years as President, taking the time to step back is necessary in order to see where we need to go next.

When I look back on this past year, starting in July 2014, I am awed by all that our Jewish community has had to absorb. A 50-day war in Israel; horrifying, murderous attacks against Jews in Paris and Jerusalem; Jewish refugees in eastern Ukraine fleeing for safety; and the bruising discussions over the Iran agreement.

At Federation, we’ve dealt with all of these challenges. We raised more than $1.5 million for the emergency campaign to provide relief, both short and long term, from the impact of the Gaza war. We reached into our emergency reserves, created by the careful husbanding of your dollars, to help in Paris and in eastern Ukraine. And we made a tremendous effort to educate ourselves and the entire community about the Iran Deal, both leading up to and following the issuing our statement by the Board of Trustees. More on that below.

There have also been incredible opportunities for this Jewish community of Greater MetroWest NJ this past year. Using our strategic plan as a springboard, and with the arrival of a new Federation CEO and a new Jewish Community Foundation Executive Director, we are moving forward. Streamlining the Board of Trustees has given me a smaller group that can be more responsive and nimble. Creating a Board of Advisors allows us to maintain a larger group of thought leaders and ambassadors; I’m looking forward to the first meeting of this group on October 8.  

We’ve also begun the crucial work of forming stronger, less “parental” relationships with our agencies, starting with the work of the Agency Presidents and Executives Forum. The JCF launched its first cohort of Create A Jewish Legacy, which helped 15 of our agencies and synagogues to begin ensuring their future, to the tune of over 323 commitments totaling $11.8 million. Many of our friends from Israel came to visit and we visited them, creating and strengthening bonds that are so vital to a strong worldwide Jewish peoplehood. We’ve launched an Engagement Division that will bring new ways of integrating the work of Federation into the life of the community. Most importantly, we are beginning to see our Annual Campaign stabilize and, in the year ahead, hope to see even more growth, so that we can do more good and touch more lives, every day.

It is exhilarating, energizing, and emotionally gratifying to be engaged in this work every day. (And I really have only scratched the surface – there is SO much more to say!) The two values that I have held before me and which I will continue to hold up to the Board as we continue our work are communication and transparency. Those values have been my touchstone when the path forward has been unclear. And if I measure where we’ve been by those values, and where I would like to see us go in the coming year, it is instructive.

We can do an even better job of communicating. This is especially true of the initiatives in our strategic plan, so that more people in our community would understand where we want to be as a federation. This is easy to fix – plan on seeing more about the strategic plan in spaces like our e-newsletter Speak EZ, on our website, in our blogs, and in the New Jersey Jewish News. Whenever I’ve talked about the goals and the action items in the strategic plan, people have been excited and engaged by the ideas and concepts, so we will do a better job of getting the word out and listening to your feedback.

And while I’m on the topic of communicating and hearing responses and ideas, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last few weeks meeting with as many people as I can who were unhappy with our Board of Trustee’s statement on the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). I’ve also had the extraordinary privilege of meeting with both Senator Menendez and Senator Booker. Through these meetings I’ve learned two things: First, that both Senators were glad to hear from our Board and that both found it helpful and appropriate to hear from the board of the largest Federation in their state and, second, that there are members of our community and donors to our campaign who, despite our careful efforts, felt marginalized by the Board’s statement.

My takeaway from these important conversations is that we need to find a way, as a community, to talk about difficult issues with kindness and respect. I was and am very proud of the process we used to educate the Board and to come to a consensus about making a statement on the Iran agreement.  But I also believe that it is incumbent upon the Board of Trustees to develop a protocol for how to treat important and controversial issues in the future (something that certainly would have been helpful to me in facing this very difficult leadership challenge). And I would like Federation to be the place where we bring the community together to learn how to speak with one another in ways that move us forward.

At the end of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf service, we say that HaShem hears the “splintered call” of the individuals at prayer. My prayer for the Greater MetroWest Jewish community is that we can learn to hear each other, to communicate with respect, and remember that we are all made in the image of G-d, valuable and valued, with the common goal of a better year ahead for the Jewish people.

Wishing you all a good seal in the Book of Life,
Leslie

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