I had the opportunity to listen to Abe Foxman earlier this week.
Abe is a Jewish hero, a man who has dedicated his life to serving the Jewish people. Since 1965 he’s worked with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and has served as its national director since 1987. Before he retires next month (his fiftieth anniversary at ADL), he came to speak to the national board of our Jewish Federations of North America about where he thinks our horizons will be. He was provocative, thoughtful, and insightful. And two issues from his presentation really struck me.
First, he noted the polarization of our North American Jewish community. I want to process that a little before I write on the subject. The challenge will be to start some kind of community dialogue on (especially) how we talk respectfully about Israel, Israeli politics, and Arab-Israeli peace/conflict. So more on that in a future blog.
The other issue he discussed is the rise of global anti-Semitism and the revival of the crisis-and-rescue model of community response. We thought we’d done this – rescued all the Jews from crisis. Honestly, I thought we were done some time ago. But here we are again, reading in our newspapers, blogs, and newsfeeds about this community in crisis and that community about to need rescuing. Is it all going to happen? Let’s hope not. But here’s what struck me: I’ve been CEO of our Federation for nine months now. And in the past nine months I’ve seen five international crises in which Federation has been there with a community response.* Each time we’ve stepped up and organized. Each time we’ve made people in our community proud. And each time we’ve helped to care for those in need, to build (and rebuild) Jewish and non-sectarian programs of aid and support, and to save lives.
Not just figuratively save lives. Literally save lives.
We are able to do this because our annual UJA Campaign dollars allow us to build an infrastructure that can respond swiftly and effectively to these kinds of crises. And because we have a generous, caring community that steps up when people are suffering or in need. It doesn’t matter whether it’s after Hurricane Sandy, flooding in Texas, disaster in Nepal, or attacks on our families in Israel. It’s the same suffering.
There will surely be more crises coming up in the future. We’ll need more leaders like Abe. And more community members like so many we’re blessed with, who show that they care.
* Protective Edge, Ukraine Summer, France, Nepal, Ukraine Winter
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