Investing in a Brighter Communal Future: A Message from Gil Preuss

Chanukah is a holiday of many lessons. It reminds us to persevere despite the odds and to stand up for what we believe in. It also reminds us that when we each contribute to a shared goal, we can accomplish great things.

Here in Greater Washington, that means coming together to build a strong, vibrant, inclusive community that endures and adapts over time.

The act of community building is multifaceted. No one task and no one person can form community. Rather, it is the sum total of ordinary and extraordinary acts of caring, shared experiences, routines, important bonds, new friendships, the belief in a common purpose, and more.

Community is perhaps most tangible during times of crisis. This year, several crises underlined just how valuable and effective community can be. In the aftermath of the devastating California wildfires, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles organized an alert system and arranged for emergency shelters. Volunteers provided onsite counseling services and raised funds for displaced families. And donors from communities across the country gave generously to support these vital efforts.

We also felt the strength of community after the Pittsburgh attack. Three days after the shooting, more than 5,000 people showed up for an interfaith service in the heart of Washington. Later that week, synagogues hosted overflow crowds for a special solidarity Shabbat. The sense of community—in Pittsburgh, Washington, and beyond—was palpable.

This past weekend, Rabbi Sarah Krinsky of Adas Israel Congregation told a story about another recent crisis. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last fall, the island went dark. As electricity was restored, it came back sporadically. Both during the black out and as power slowly came back, a sense of community was unmistakable. A power plant operator and de facto community organizer Jorge Bracero did not want this connection to slip away. As he wrote to his social media followers, “In the dark we have met again as neighbors. Don’t forget. Don’t go back to your bubble.”

We need each other in times of crisis and The Jewish Federation is proud of our ability to respond. Indeed, across the country Federations are uniquely suited to serve as capable coordinators, helping to address critical and diverse needs.

But community must be more than a crisis response. Rather than dissipate only to rise again in times of need, community must be an ever-present force—one that sustains us in daily life and across generations.

That is the work we are doing here in Greater Washington. We want to be ready when the lights go out, but just as importantly, we are building community that can last—and thrive—with the lights on.

Over the next several years, our community will no doubt continue to expand. Greater Washington now represents one of the largest centers of Jewish life in North America. Within this growing community are people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. Many of us are putting down strong roots in an area historically known for its transience. We are also reflecting on what it means to be Jewish today. We are increasingly turning to Jewish life not for a rote set of activities but for wisdom and guidance about how to live as modern global citizens.

Our job is to help all who are interested to find the answers, the meaning, and the purpose they seek. In the coming years, we hope to reach every individual in our community who needs support, who wants to learn more about Jewish values and tradition, and who is looking to connect with those around them.

We can make our collective aspirations a reality, and we can get there by working together.

As we approach the final month of our annual campaign, I invite you to donate.

For those who have already donated, thank you very much for your contribution. For those who have not yet given, I urge you to invest. Now is the time to invest in your neighbors and in our common future.

Now is the time to invest in our ability to support each other in times of darkness and miraculous light.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah,

Gil