These past three months I’ve been privileged to see the strengths and challenges of our community from my perspective as the CEO of our Jewish Federation. And I’ve learned three things.
I’ve learned that only a Jewish Federation can convene the forces of community life in a respectful and effective dialogue. We might not always do it well. But no one else can replace the capacity of a Federation to bring everyone together. These last few months I’ve seen conversations with JCCs, day schools, synagogues, camps, and Israel initiatives to talk about the affordability, viability, and inclusiveness of Jewish life in our community. Just two weeks ago we brought rabbis together from different streams to meet with local social agencies and schools and Hillels and talk about global Jewish issues. If we didn’t do this kind of thing as a community we’d have to create a whole new structure to do it. But this structure would look like a Federation anyway.
I’ve learned that there have been too many instances these past few years where people expected ‘someone else’ to take care of the burning issues. The Jewish refugee crisis in Ukraine, Superstorm Sandy, Protective Edge in Israel. Someone else will do that; someone else will step up.
I believe that our Federation is the ‘someone else.’
It’s the embodiment of our deepest core values. It allows us, through our philanthropy and activism, to own the responsiveness and values of what being a Jew should and can be today.
Some things don’t change. Being a caring, committed Jew is one of them.
And we need an organization that can be flexible enough, smart enough, and Jewish enough to provide for our response in Israel, around the world, and here in our local communities. We may not always do it well. But we do it better, and kinder, and more effectively than anyone else.
And finally, I learned that only a Jewish Federation can create the frameworks to welcome new people and new ideas into our community. We won’t have all the answers. But we should aspire to be flexible and respectful enough to promote and pull new ideas together. And there are lots of good ideas coming out of the Federation right now.
Here’s what worries me: if everything in our community is created at the whim of single-issue entities and causes we won’t have a diverse strong community with multiple entry-points. We’ll have a small sector of strong projects that are the ‘flavor of the month’ and very little real innovation or thinking. Very little caring for the vulnerable, or the ‘routine’ important stuff. And no funding for the really important stuff that makes us proud to be Jewish when the time comes for standing up for what we believe in.
You have to support lots of Jewish organizations. They’re important. They’re necessary. They help us define the strength and vitality of our community. But you don’t get to have a strong Jewish community without three things.
You have to care, you have to build, and you have to save.
You need to promote caring, kind, compassionate Jewish community life, which has a ripple effect on the world around you. You have to build Jewish life, and leadership and learning for all. And you have to save the world. One person at a time. Every day.
I know that there are many good organizations that do some parts of these. They’re important. We should support and nurture them. They reflect some parts of our values.
There are many more organizations that don’t do any of these.
But there’s only one that does all of these – care, build, save – and that’s a Jewish federation.
That’s why this coming Sunday you’re (hopefully) going to get a call. Because it’s Super Sunday. And it’s the most important day of the year to build up the annual campaign for showing our community’s strength and vision. To help the vulnerable at home, in Israel, and around the Jewish world. To build up Jewish leaders and organizations. And to save lives.
The person who calls you on Sunday is probably going to be a volunteer. So, please, be nice.
It’s really difficult to call someone you don’t know and ask that person for money. Be nice to the caller and thank them for allowing you to do a mitzvah.
And if you haven’t given a gift before: please consider a good gift. Think of the money you spend on Starbucks, or useless stuff around the house.
And think of the person that you want to be. The person that you want to look at in the mirror after you hang up the phone from your Super Sunday call. The kind of Jew you want to be.
So don’t just do good on Sunday. Do great.