18 December 2020
Division has been a consistent theme of this year. As a country, we entered 2020 alarmingly fractured and then a contentious election and staggering public health crisis only deepened our divides. It would come as no surprise if this time in history is remembered, in part, for its disunity. Here in the Jewish community of Greater Washington, however, I believe that we have a different story to tell. In the face of enormous challenges, people came together to focus on the needs of others and how we could partner to meet those needs.
Indeed, at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, we joined many others in prioritizing collaboration and cooperation. We continue to see how volunteers, professionals, and organizational leaders are choosing to put their own agendas aside, put faith in one another, and take risks in order to better serve our community members. Consider, for instance, that Jewish camps are talking about teaming up should there be demand beyond capacity when they reopen. Human service organizations are launching joint anti-poverty initiatives. JCCs are sharing programming and facilities. All across the community, people are actively working to reach beyond their traditional separations and form meaningful, productive relationships.
Certainly, trust lies at the heart of this work. As George Shultz wrote in an article about his 100 years and storied career: “When trust was in the room…good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details.” I agree and am heartened to see the strength of trust in our community. The shift in how we work—away from silos and divisions and toward trusting partnerships—is palpable. Just last week, a group of clergy, agency executives, and board members came together for a discussion facilitated by Federation and our Shalom Hartman Institute partners. Many of the participants remarked just how good it felt to be at the table with such a broad group of leaders, discussing the Jewish future as teammates.
While the work to dissolve organizational barriers in our community started long before the pandemic, it has accelerated rapidly over the last ten months. I hope that this continues. I hope that our newfound capacity for creativity and partnership will serve as an updated baseline, and that it becomes simple habit to function as collaborative parts of a cohesive whole. I also know that finding the right balance between integration and decentralization will be an ongoing exercise.
On the one hand, our community needs a plurality of approaches if we are to achieve the Jewish future of our dreams. And, on the other, our greatest challenges and opportunities can only be addressed collectively. This, Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer points out, is an age-old tension. At the Hartman convening, Dr. Kurtzer reminded us that the Jewish people began as a collection of 12 distinct tribes and became a people bound together by a shared covenant. To this day, we still feel a pull to walk different paths while also maintaining a sense of common destiny.
Of course, if there is any community that can honor these two forces, it is ours. Jewish Greater Washington is home to remarkable organizations and remarkable people, and I am so proud of what we accomplished this year. I also know that even as we turn the page on 2020, our work is far from over. The road ahead is steep, but we will travel it faster and farther together.
P.S. We have two weeks left in our Annual Campaign. I invite you to donate what you are able and join us in our efforts to strengthen our community for 2021 and beyond. Visit shalomdc.org/donate.