At the close of three years as president, I have the opportunity to look back and think about what has been significant to me, to the Federation, and to the community. It’s been an exhilarating, challenging, enormously rewarding experience. We’ve gone through so much change and achieved goals we didn’t even know we had when I started.
And yet, when I started, I felt totally alone.
Let me explain.
As part of a national Federation campaign mission to Greece and Israel in July 2014, I found myself flying into an Israel at war. I’d always wondered if I had it in me to do something like this, and now I was finding out.
We landed late at night, practiced getting on and off our tour buses in under 60 seconds, and headed to our hotel, the David Intercontinental, right on the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv. If you don’t know it, it is a huge hotel, with a very dramatic end coming to a point facing towards the sea. In each of our rooms was a piece of paper detailing the location of the nearest shelter, in case of a rocket attack. The closest shelter to me was the staircase in the point of the hotel, right next to my room. Equipped with this helpful information, I promptly went to sleep.
I woke up to a bright, sunny Tel Aviv morning. I’m always happy to wake up in Israel, and especially happy that day, because it was my birthday. Wrapped in a towel after my shower, I thought to myself, “Leslie, you better get dressed, because that Red Alert could go off any minute.” As I was clambering into my clothes, sure enough, there it was, the unmistakable sound of the siren, and then the hotel PA announcement: “Dear guests, please proceed to the nearest shelter.” So I grabbed my cell phone and my room key, and headed to the staircase. The stairwell door closed behind me with a clang.
And there I was, all by myself. I heard no one come into the stairway above or below me. Certainly no one joined me from my floor. The PA announcement repeated a few more times and then, just me and the silence. I’ve never felt more alone or angry or scared in my life. Then, two huge BOOMs that made the whole huge hotel shake. I thought to myself, “Dear God, let that be the Iron Dome.” And it was, because about a minute later the PA speaker came on again: “Dear Guests, you may now resume your normal routine.” I thought to myself, “Not so much,” finished getting ready, and headed down to the hotel ballroom. There I found 100 other Jewish lay leaders and professionals from across North America, as devoted as I am to the future of the Jewish people. And even though there were several more Red Alerts during our mission, I never felt alone like that again.
That’s the power of Federation – to bring people together from across the Jewish world, across our Greater MetroWest geography, so that we are not alone, and so that others in our Jewish community never feel alone.
So that’s a good start, to not be alone. But we, as a Federation and as a community do so much more than that.
After three years as president, and through all my time watching and learning what we, and our agencies, accomplish, I can say with certainty that what we really do is this:
We ensure a strong Jewish future, based on enduring Jewish values.
We often point out that Greater MetroWest, unlike other Federations, has no actual large city to anchor our community or our activities. We have more than 85 synagogues, with very high rates of loyalty and identification. We are spread out over a wide geographic area. These factors have sometimes been challenges to growing our brand, and to growing the campaign, quite frankly.
Here’s the thing: when what you do is to ensure a strong Jewish future, all of those characteristics are opportunities that we can harness in pursuit of that mission. We need to activate our common sense of purpose no matter where we live, listen to and work closely with our synagogues, find new places to gather, and use new technologies to bridge physical distance. All of this is necessary to recognize our connectedness and our partnership in this great endeavor.
When we focus on Jewish camp, we are looking to support the creation of the immersive Jewish experiences that can make eight weeks last a lifetime. When we focus on strengthening our day schools, we are investing in creating generations of Jewish leadership and scholarship. When we focus on connecting our Jewish community here in Greater MetroWest with our family in Israel, through the living bridge exchanges and our shlichim and rishonim, we are investing in strengthening a bond we cannot take for granted. When we focus on how we can support our direct service agencies, we do so because we are a stronger community today and tomorrow because of their work.
What I want you to hear in this description is that we don’t do this without your investment in a strong Jewish future. Whether you are a donor, an agency leader, or a member of our community, please remember: we can’t do a single one of these things alone.
In order for there to be a strong Jewish future, we need all of our synagogues, our JCCs, the Y, all of our helping social service agencies, many of whom were founded before the Federation, and of course our overseas partners who make Jewish life possible, making sure that no Jew is alone.
We cannot do this alone – we shouldn’t do it alone, and we don’t want to.
And speaking of partnerships and working together, no one can do this job alone, either. Even in the most challenging moments, there has always been someone, or many someones, for me to call on. I have relied on the past presidents, the members of the Board of Trustees, my professional partner Dov Ben-Shimon, and, of course, my family ̶ David, James, and Elise ̶ for their constant support and encouragement.
We are commanded in the Torah to remember that we were each brought out of Egypt, each one of us redeemed individually. It was at Sinai, however, when we stood together, that we truly became a free people, the nation of Israel, commanded to act together to care for each other and to be a light unto the nations. Even today, while we cherish the ability of each individual, it is easy to feel alone unless we act as a people.
And this, my friends, is what matters in the end: working together for a future for the Jewish people that allows us to adapt to a changing world, relying on the Jewish values and traditions that have brought us to this day. Thank you for all you do to make sure that a strong future is possible.