05 May 2023
This past week, I read an important article by United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, about the effect of increasing loneliness and isolation on our mental and physical health and collective well-being. Dr. Murthy’s piece left me reflecting on the trends in American society over the past decade or two, as well as the rapid shifts we’ve experienced during and resulting from the pandemic and the role of the Jewish community in this changing environment.
Judaism and the Jewish community have always served as an antidote to the isolation that frequently arises in the modern world. Judaism’s focus on communal gatherings for celebration and prayer have helped people maintain personal connections over the years. There is a clear emphasis that Jewish life occurs in community. At the same time, with the unprecedented changes to American life over the past three years, it has become even more critical to build a Jewish community that reflects and embraces the full breadth of Jewish life and brings everyone into our collective life.
In response, Federation has proudly launched our Belonging Cohorts Initiative to build more paths towards a community of belonging. In this initial program, more than 100 community leaders and 39 synagogues and organizations (including Federation) are exploring specific ways to build confidence and competence in our shared pursuit of a more inclusive Jewish community, where all community members feel they belong.
The initiative covers six distinct topics, including racial, LGBTQ+, and disability inclusion and addressing political and cultural divisions, among others. Through this program, Federation’s focus is to work with our local partners to create a community once described by Dr. Mijal Bitton, Scholar in Residence at the Shalom Hartman Institute, as, “where people not only feel they belong but feel they are needed to make Jewish Greater Washington whole.”
This work is at the core of our ability to develop and sustain a strong community for years to come, and its impact is designed to go beyond any individual person. As Dr. Murthy suggests, when we are invested in one another in this way and have created avenues for increased social connection, we are less susceptible to polarization and more likely to pull together in the face of challenges that we cannot solve alone. Our ability to make space for one another helps ensure we can overcome future challenges together and continue to build toward a vibrant future.
Thank you for working together to strengthen and brighten our community, today and always.