Federation is a Verb

Federation is a Verb
An Invitation to a Conversation

 “The significance of Judaism does not lie in its being conducive to the mere survival of a particular people but rather in its being a source of spiritual wealth, a source of meaning relevant to all people.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1965

This is not the first article to use those words as a springboard for an examination of Jewish life. Nor is it the first time Heschel’s words are read as equally pertinent and provocative today as they were fifty years ago.

I chose this quote for my first article in The Voice as a springboard for a conversation about Judaism and the Federation in Dutchess County. What does it mean to create a thriving—not merely surviving—community?  What makes a community thrive? What is Federation’s role in this process?

On the one hand, the notion of thriving may appear a luxury. With news sourcthe es and social media providing a regular feed of global and local anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents, it’s difficult, at times, to imagine going beyond survival.  

Yet I can’t help but wonder, what does it mean, as Rabbi Heschel suggests, that the real significance of Judaism lies in our being a source of spiritual wealth and meaning.

It’s about a year since the publication of the Pew Research Center’s A Portrait of Jewish Americans. In my short time here in Poughkeepsie, I’ve talked to folks who lament declining synagogue membership, are critical of Jewish institutions for their failure to reverse a perceived tsunami of secularization, and insist young families are too busy to be involved in Jewish life. There’s a powerful pessimism in some folks.

On the other hand, I’ve met many more people who are excited about what’s happening in this community. I’ve met people who talk about burgeoning religious schools and vibrant adult education. People are excited about the future of their community, and they’re eager to share with me an expanding list of opportunities for Jewish engagement. In my brief tenure, I’ve attended lectures on Israel/Palestine, prayed in a beautiful musical worship service, worked with dedicated professionals, and enhanced my own spiritual journey. Some of you have shared with me new ideas for creative partnerships with Federation around issues of social justice and the environment.

Is the glass half full or half empty? More to the point, is the glass filling up or is it draining? I think the answer is a matter of where you stand.  I, for one, am in the thriving camp.

If you are a part of Federation this year—if you volunteered, honored a pledge, or will make a financial contribution before the end of the year—you, too, are in the thriving camp.

  • You helped a child learn his or her aleph bet,
  • You provided a meal and companionship for a senior citizen,
  • You sent emergency relief funds to Israel,
  • You sponsored 92nd Street Y lectures at a local Poughkeepsie library,
  • You kept the community informed about Jewish events and activities via the JFDC website and this paper,
  • You strengthened ties to the non-Jewish community through Mitzvah Day and other outreach projects,
  • And much, much more.

For some, survival is the overriding feeling. After all, if we don’t survive, everything else is of little consequence . For others, the emphasis is on community, relationships, and spiritual enrichment. I see your hand in conversations I’ve had, shuls I’ve visited, and Jewish organizations I’ve encountered.

Whether you are an observant Jew, a secular Jew, a progressive Jew, a conservative Jew, or a none-of-the-above Jew, I urge you to voice your opinion. “To federate” is to act in concert or unite in a common purpose or belief.  Let’s work together and mine the well-spring of wisdom and creativity that is this Jewish community.

Now tell us. What do you want Dutchess County Judaism to look like? Email me at director@JewishDutchess.org  or go to our Facebook page and join the discussion.

The Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Dutchess County takes place on Thursday evening, December 11, at Temple Beth El. Please mark your calendars and plan on attending. More details can be found on our new website next month, www.JewishDutchess.org  


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