Building Blocks of Community

Building Blocks of Community

We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of life during last night’s Lag B’Omer celebration in northern Israel. Our thoughts are with the many families who lost loved ones. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

While our hearts are in Israel this morning, I am writing to you with some updates about our work closer to home. Throughout the pandemic, our goal has been to support our community as best we can. Importantly, that has meant raising and allocating funds to help people meet their basic needs during an exceptionally stressful and challenging time. Working with our partners to help community members weather whatever storm comes our way is an essential part of who we are and what we do.

For us, this work also includes ensuring individuals and families can continue to connect with Jewish life and community. That is why we have invested $1.2 million from our Fund for Communal Vibrancy in scholarships and financial aid for families attending Jewish early childhood education programs, summer camps, and day schools. Many families in Greater Washington have seen their financial circumstances change in the wake of the pandemic, and we do not want anyone to feel these critical, identity-building opportunities are out of reach due to financial need. Our estimates tell us that scholarships will help make a difference for close to 800 families this year.

We are prioritizing this investment because we know the outsized impact these programs can have on both children and their families. I have written before about how beloved Jewish summer camp is among kids and teens. The summers I spent at camp had a lifelong impact on my identity and even my social circle—I am still friends with some of the people I met when I was 11 at Camp Sprout Lake and later, Camp Tel Yehudah.

We strongly believe that through these scholarship funds, and the increased number of One Happy Camper grants we distributed to a pool of eager first-time campers, many more children will be able to enjoy a safe, inclusive, and ultra-fun Jewish camp experience this summer.

Of course, when it comes to Jewish preschool and day school, parents benefit as well. The social ties parents of young children make with one another during this period in their lives can last for decades, and help them progress on their own Jewish journeys alongside their children. Indeed, sending your child to a Jewish preschool or daycare program means connecting with other Jewish parents, forming friendships, and building a stronger sense of community.

Though the pandemic may have turned backyards into summer camps and living rooms into schools of their own, we believe that families are eager to take part in communal Jewish life in person once again. In fact, this time of physical distancing has only underscored how important a sense of community can be, and we anticipate increased demand for opportunities to form meaningful connections through shared experiences both for our children and for ourselves.

Whatever changes a post-COVID world may bring, we know that Jewish educational and recreational programs have a vital role to play in shaping a vibrant Jewish future. These experiences have been critical in helping community members cultivate and strengthen their Jewish identities, and we remain committed to ensuring they continue to meet the needs of community members for years to come.

Shabbat Shalom,