31 December 2020
We did not ask for a portal between an old world and a new one, but the pandemic has given us just that. The crises of 2020 created a fissure in time and upended when and how we gather, how we connect with those around us, and how we observe and celebrate Jewish traditions. Now, with a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, it seems we have a choice coming our way, do we go back to business as usual or do we seize this moment to create change? For us, the answer is clear. At The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, one of our top priorities for 2021 will be to make the most of this window and accelerate positive change in the Jewish community.
Indeed, our community will soon be transitioning from managing an emergency situation to thinking about how we continue shaping a stronger, more vibrant community that speaks directly to people’s needs and interests. This opportunity to reexamine how we do things comes at the precise instant when more and more people are searching for meaning and connection. After a year in which we had to confront uncertainty, inequality, and mortality, many people’s rituals are up in the air. They are exploring what is out there and how Jewish life might speak to the things that have given them pause and hope this year. The stakes, and the possibilities, of this moment are high.
And so, Federation will be working with our partners, leaders, and our community to think about what is working, what is not, and how we continue to spur Jewish communal evolution. We want everyone who is interested to feel not just welcome in the Jewish community but like they belong, like there is a place for them in the pantheon of Jewish peoplehood. But belonging, we hope, is a catalyst to something even deeper, and that is a sense of ownership and responsibility for Jewish life today and tomorrow. How do we learn about and embrace relevant lessons from Jewish wisdom, literature, culture, and tradition? How do we look back on the story of the Jewish past so that we might shape our collective future? How do we leave our mark on Jewish life in a way that benefits us and future generations?
Perhaps most importantly, we are asking how we ensure that the search for meaning is not a solitary pursuit. The pandemic was preceded by an epidemic of loneliness and isolation among people of all ages. In whatever ways we choose to reimagine Jewish life, they must, first and foremost, help people find community with one another. In 2021, we will be experimenting with new ways to bring people together, because it is through a sense of connection that the richness of Judaism and Jewish tradition come to life.
No doubt these questions will also shape our thinking when it comes to tackling our other top priorities: addressing immediate needs and building a systemic response to poverty and economic insecurity; speaking up against anti-Semitism and ensuring our community’s safety; and bringing the community together to examine how we put our values into action to help meet the national and international challenges of the day.
In short, a consequential year lies ahead for us at Federation. We are committed to supporting everyone in our community as we recover from a truly trying time. But just as we work to regain our balance from the shifts of the past, we will also be working proactively to build for a better future. The circumstances have combined to form a unique opportunity to reach people and redefine Jewish engagement for a post-pandemic world. We could respond by creating a new normal, but I say let’s create a new extraordinary.
Shabbat Shalom and with wishes for a healthy and happy New Year,