Honoring our Community Builders

Last night, I had the pleasure of gathering with many local community and real estate industry leaders for an event more than two years in the making: Cornerstone. I’m still feeling energized by the momentum from the evening, blown away by the $1.25 million raised to benefit Federation’s anti-poverty initiative, and truly moved by the well-deserved tributes to our inaugural recipient of the Community Builder Award, Mr. Robert P. Kogod.

If you’ve visited the Smithsonian; attended or sent a child to Capital Camps, the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, or the Kogod School of Business at American University; attended a performance at Arena Stage; or learned with scholars from the Shalom Hartman Institute, you’ve been the beneficiary of Bob’s vision, spirit, and generosity. But that just scratches the surface of who he is.

Community builders like Bob see the needs, recognize potential, articulate their vision, and then bring people together to make things happen. In Bob’s case, both professionally and philanthropically, he has imagined and reimagined spaces to connect people, including Crystal City, VA, now home to Amazon’s HQ2. Alongside his wife, Arlene, Bob elevated Jewish and secular learning for community members of all ages and ensured Washington is home to a vivid and celebrated arts scene. His own generosity inspires that of others. And Bob, as a leader who truly believes in the power of leadership, serves as a role model to future generations for how to live a life of purpose.

Earlier this week, as we celebrated the holiday of Simchat Torah and concluded our annual reading of the Torah before beginning it anew, I was reminded of a teaching by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik that, to me, exemplifies Bob. Rabbi Soloveitchik noted there were two very different creation stories involving Adam in the book of Genesis. In the first, Adam is tasked to “subdue the earth and have dominion over creatures.” In the second, he is given the responsibility to take care of and preserve the world. Two very different roles, two very different kinds of people. Soloveitchik noted most people struggle with these two impulses. I know that I do.

Bob, however, embodies the integration of both. He is grounded in a sense of responsibility to care for and preserve our community, while also understanding and seizing the potential for change and growth. I believe we can all take inspiration from the way Bob approaches life. It was truly an honor to recognize his accomplishments and contributions.

I encourage you to watch our two videos shown during the Cornerstone program to learn more about who Bob is, and what drives him.

A Video Tribute to Robert P. Kogod  

Robert P. Kogod in conversation with Joshua Bernstein

At Federation, our aspirations are similar to Bob’s. We seek to honor our past and tradition while, at the same time striving to bring about a stronger, more caring, and more vibrant Jewish community. And so, as we honor Bob Kogod for how he has moved us forward, we also celebrate every leader striving to build a stronger Jewish community in Greater Washington.

Successful community building depends on one generation guiding another, staying true to the values that connect us and coming together to make a difference. It’s the passion of local leaders of all ages and backgrounds for our community and for our future that enables us to do our work. It is their commitment that empowers us to care for people in need; that ensures our community will have strong organizations for the future; and that enables us to educate and engage people in vibrant Jewish life even during rapidly changing times.

As we all know, there is so much more to do. As the pandemic continues, new challenges will require the same level of commitment we have needed over the past 18 months. And yet, we know that together, thanks to the leadership of so many dedicated community members, we will meet every challenge grounded in our collective sense of responsibility and clear in our aspirations of where we must go.

Thank you for everything you do to make Greater Washington such an incredible region and Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom,