Finding Strength in Judaism

As I shared during our Annual Meeting, it increasingly feels like the ground is shifting beneath our feet. Questions about the place and future of the Jewish community in America and about the place and future of Israel in the world are being raised in ways unheard of just a few months ago. This complex moment is leading us to challenge our assumptions about who we are, what we stand for, and what we need to move forward.

I’ve heard from some of you that you’re experiencing shifts in the way you parent, relate to friends, connect to Israel, think about your Jewish identity, consider your politics, and go about the world. It’s a lot of change to core parts of our lives all at once. But while we face waves of uncertainty, we can work together to reestablish solid ground. I believe that it is within our ability to shape our world rather than be battered by it.

I say this knowing how daunting it feels. And yet, it’s precisely during challenging times that shaping our future path becomes ever more important. As my friend and colleague, Dr. Elana Stein Hain, senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, shared during an event last week, there are urgent, proactive things we can do to find our footing and lay the groundwork for better days ahead — namely vigorously addressing antisemitism, embracing Jewish peoplehood, and leaning into Judaism.

Individually and collectively, we must defend the norms meant to hold hate, discrimination, and antisemitism at bay. While we may not be able to change people’s hearts, we can impact their behavior. This means speaking out when it’s uncomfortable, even among friends. It means holding institutions and leaders accountable for addressing hate.

We can also do more in this moment, when our instincts would have us focus inward, to keep the tent of Jewish peoplehood as wide as possible, to recognize the true diversity of our community and come together to understand one another. Even if we may disagree with another member of the Jewish community, we should try, to the best of our ability, not to close others out. The more generous our tent, the stronger our people.

And, in the face of layered moral challenges, we can find strength in Judaism. We are beneficiaries of an incredibly rich culture defined by faith, hope, joy, literature, and traditions. Now is the time to explore these gifts and tap into the wisdom and guidance meant to accompany us during times of uncertainty.

Indeed, the questions posed to us today may be new, but overcoming internal and external challenges as a people is not. While we may not be able to control everything happening around us, we can continue taking bold steps forward to strengthen a vibrant Jewish community and joyful Jewish future.

Elana makes a strong case, but I also want to hear from all of you. In what ways, big or small, are you exercising your agency these days? What can we do as individuals or as a community to build our solid ground?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions.

Shabbat Shalom,
Gil Preuss
CEO, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington