Over the past twelve months, our local community underwent profound changes that changed the community's landscape probably irreversibly. What will come out of the new community landscape is some thing the jury is still out on. The Pew Research report also raised important questions about the future of the Organized Jewish community in America.
The situation in the Middle East changed (of course) dramatically, with an Iranian regime emboldened in their pursue of nuclear weapons and a West looking on ineffectively and some would say emasculated. The Arab Spring degenerated in a bloody coup d'etat in Egypt and a raging civil war in Syria. The Palestinian Authority is loosing control of Palestinian society and we are witnessing growing anarchy in the West Bank, growing repression in Gaza, and the emergence of a new kind of freelance terrorists unattached to the traditional organizations.
So what have we done about all this?
The Federation reaffirmed its identity as the common ground for all Jewish organizations and unaffiliated Jews in Dutchess County. We have new headquarters, we organized a very successful Israeli Films Festival with screenings around the county, we continued the success of Mitzvah Day bringing the community together, we found new ways to support Hebrew education and we continue to provide services day in and day out to all members of our community.
In spite of one of the worse economic times for our region in recent memory, marked by a shrinking workforce, shrinking job market, and the inability to attract new business – our Annual community Campaign remains stable, as it has been over the past few years. If we actually look at a five-year period, our Campaign has grown.
Regarding the Middle East there is not much we can do individually to change the facts on the ground, but we have probably not been proactive enough in supporting Israel's position in the though neighborhood where it happens to live. The same can be said about our lack of strong advocacy for the victims of Arab repression and state-sponsored terrorism in their own societies.
So what are the opportunities moving forward?
We need to learn to work with each other for the common goals, from Campaign to addressing the challenges outlined in the Portrait of Jewish Americans released by the Pew Research Institute. The future is not about what we can gain for our little shtibl, but about how to leverage our financial and Human resources to serve as a hub for Jewish innovation and renewal. This requires a strong Campaign, open communications, and to put individual ideologies in a second row while giving priorities to the common community needs.
We also need to put aside attachment to the old ways and open ourselves for change, because the younger generation has ideas of its own about what it means to be Jewish and how to participate in the Jewish community. And as the Passover Haggadah says: “In each generation must every person must see him/herself as if s/he is just coming out of Egypt”. Jewish identity is something we learn anew in each generation, and the answers of one generation do not necessarily apply to the next...
When it comes to Israel, it is also important to set aside our differences and focus on our commonalities: we are Jews, and Israel is the expression of the Jewish right to self-determination. As a people, we fought long and hard to arrive in the place we're in today. Our future as Jews, and the future of the State of Israel are part of the unbreakable link of generations in Jewish history. One hundred generations separated the destruction of the Temple from the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the land of our National birth. We need to step up to the plate and defend our right as a people to have our own Nation State – then we can argue about “details” such as what that State ought to look like or about its social ills (of which there is no shortage, as Israeli society is made of just Humans). Disagreeing with specific policies of the State of Israel is valid and even necessary for our health as a Jewish nation – but it should not prevent us from defending our collective rights within the concert of Nations.
WE NEED TO SPEAK UP!!
We are all partners in an incredible adventure started, according to our National story, 3,400 years ago at the foot of Mount Sinai. In a sense, we're still there receiving the commandments, and in Jerusalem building the Temple, and in Masada resisting the Romans, and in Spain writing poetry, and in every place where Jews thrived – as well as in every place where Jews were the object of genocide. Like the Aztec serpent, we live grounded on Earth but striving for the Heavens. That is our history, and our strength.
And as the partners we are, we need to learn to treat each other with respect and not just hearing, but listening to each other. It is said that Jerusalem fell because Jews spent more energy fighting each other than fighting the Romans...
HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014