Innovation & Ingenuity

Innovation & Ingenuity

As fall approaches and we increasingly recognize how different so many things are going to be this year, leaders across our community are asking: how can we reimagine what we do and redeploy the tools at our disposal to further Jewish communal life?

As I reflected on this question this week, I was reminded of a scene from the movie Apollo 13. On screen, the astronauts are faced with the sudden need to fit a square CO2 cartridge into a round filter using limited materials, and before their breathable air runs out.

As the situation unfolds, the NASA team on the ground springs to action. A team leader holds up a square cartridge and declares, “We gotta find a way to make this fit into the hole for this,” picking up a round cylinder, “using nothing but that” he continues, pointing to a hodgepodge of supplies dumped out of cardboard boxes. On screen, the engineers successfully use the resources at their disposal to literally fit a square peg into a round hole.

And right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, that is what our community is doing, too: moving forward by combining what we have at hand with incredible creativity and ingenuity.

Our community is responding well to the challenge of designing new ways to strengthen and sustain Jewish life for the coming year of uncertainty. We are reimagining our collective work: how we support each other; how we deliver critical services; how we come together in prayer and ritual; how we deliver education; how we grow with each other. We are rethinking everything we do to achieve our vision of a vibrant, resilient, and connected Jewish community.

At the same time, many households are developing their own plans for the coming year to meet their particular needs for routine, or social connection, or education. Some families, for instance, are hiring tutors for children who will be learning at home, moving in with extended family, or forming quarantine “bubbles” with friends to maintain critical social connections. These are rational and important responses in a radically changing world.

As a Jewish community, however, we have responsibilities that go beyond meeting the needs of our own family, organization, or small circle. At the core of what it means to be a community is the idea that we must be here to support people who may not be able to access services or resources on their own. While some individuals may have the capacity to effectively adapt and meet their own needs, we must, collectively, be here to support all members of the community.

When the NASA team dumped out their boxes of supplies, they did so onto a communal table. It was by sharing resources and ideas, and working together, that they were able to solve their problem.

At Federation, convening and connecting individuals and organizations is central to our approach because we, like the NASA team, know that our success depends on working together and being there for each other. That is why we brought together our local human service agencies to create 703-J-CARING: the Jewish Community Support Line, a centralized place for any member of our community to find personalized guidance and targeted assistance from across the region. And it is why we are discussing new approaches to make education and childcare safe and accessible—physically and financially—for every family. Collectively, we can build and share creative adaptations and critical innovation for every member of our community, including and especially those without the financial resources or experience to navigate these issues independently.

Thank you to every member of this community—to every leader, partner, and friend, who is sharing ideas, engaging in conversation, and elevating community partnerships with the shared goal of strengthening our community for all of its members in the coming year. Together, we can ensure that our entire region continues to benefit from vibrant Jewish life in Greater Washington, in whatever new shape or form it may take.

Shabbat Shalom,