Network Event: Remarks from CEO, Gill Preuss

Good evening everyone and thank you for coming.

Before moving on, Let’s pause for a moment and think about what we just saw….a Jewish preschool, teachers, classmates, and parents, all driven by values of caring, inclusion and learning.

We saw a deep belief that every single person has within them the spark of God that we are called upon to bring out.

We saw a thriving school, within a thriving institution, within a network of Jewish organizations, with the capacity to make this happen.

And behind all of that, there were the people who envisioned this, and built it, with their generous contributions, both human and financial….

In short, what we saw was Jewish community.

And this is just one example among so many that I have been privileged to see since I joined this community just a few months ago.

More than anyone else, however, you are the very people who understand this, who roll up their sleeves and make this all happen.

In fact, I see your impact and that of so many others, everywhere I go.

I see it in the thriving Hillels, where college students are defining their own identities as Jewish adults.

I see it as hundreds of Holocaust survivors receive needed services through JSSA to continue living independently and with dignity.

I see it at Sixth & I and GatherDC, where young adults come together to learn and engage.

I see it when busy families, parents and children together, pause to volunteer at a Doing Good project and contribute to those in need, giving back to others and changing their own lives in the process.

And finally, I see it when we come together to address local, national or international crises, from wildfires in Israel to devastating floods in Houston, where we come together and help those we may never meet but whom we care for as members of our family nonetheless.

This is an incredible time to be part of the Greater Washington Jewish community. We are experimenting, innovating, changing and growing.

This was highlighted most recently by the community study made possible by The Morningstar Foundation.

There are nearly 300,000 Jews living in the Greater Washington area.  This makes us one of the largest Jewish communities in the country.

We are also one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in the country – growing almost 40% in the past 15 years.

Moreover, contrary to assumptions, people move here and stay.

Across all of this, the study found that 86% of our Jewish community engages in some way in Jewish life.

Washington has an incredible and vibrant Jewish community.

And yet, we are all aware of the pressures we face.

We are in the midst of potential significant changes in American life.

Our ability to come together as a country to address critical issues seems to be challenged as fewer and fewer people have a sense of a common destiny.

At times, it feels that partisan politics is defining everything about us.  One recent report noted that people are willing to marry across any boundary except political party.

For both adults and children, social media has become a defining aspect of our lives. While it has the potential for building broader, global connections, social media can also serve to isolate.

People are no longer joining organizations but rather sampling experiences.

As a country, we are struggling to define our common story.

This is the world that we live in and the world that is shaping our own Jewish community.  We are not immune to the changes around us.

The end result, is that, at times, it can feel that the ties that have bound us together for so many years are getting weaker and weaker.

Against these trends, what we build as a Jewish community and what we represent as a people is, in a sense, counter-cultural.

At a time when online connection may count as community for some, we understand the power of coming together for a Shabbat meal.

At a time when our culture suggests that we should always celebrate the latest innovations and upgrade to the newest model, we study ancient texts and discuss their meaning for the modern challenges we face.

At a time when we are told to only look out for ourselves, we commit to caring for the most vulnerable amongst us.

At a time when discourse is limited, we have a tradition and history of debate for the sake of strengthening the world in which we live – not tearing it apart.

I wouldn’t say we’re the resistance – but we do stand for something that is unique – and has been since Abraham was named ‘the ivri’ – the one who lives on the other side.

As we look towards the future, we start from a place of incredible strength. We start from a strong community with an enduring tradition. We start from a context of innovation and growth.  We start with a eternal belief that we may not know the answer but we can build the Jewish future.

But how do we build this future?

At the Federation, we are beginning a community-wide strategic planning process, and I invite you to participate. We need your hearts, and minds, leadership and passion to help write the next chapter of our community’s history.

We need to take all that we have learned and expand it. We know that people engage in Jewish life in different ways and through different pathways.  We need to understand what moves people to connect and where they find meaning.  For some, it is Israel, for others social justice, for some learning or culture, and for yet others taking care of the vulnerable.  What we saw in the community study is that while people participate, they participate in different ways.  That must be our starting point.

We must also build a community that is welcoming to all.

This does not mean simply putting out a welcome sign.  We must establish community in real and tangible ways for all of its members. It is the knowledge that you are part of something larger, that you have a responsibility to help others in a time of need and that others will be there for you when you need help.  This is what we saw in the video earlier.  It is a core belief that we have a shared past and are committed to building a shared future.  Finally, it is the understanding that we are all part of this journey in defining and building our future.

It has been said that, “Judaism and Jews represent the voice of hope in the discourse of humankind.”  That is our collective job. That is why we are here.  Each and every person here represents that voice of hope.  I look forward to partnering with everyone here and many not here tonight to make this dream a reality.

On a personal note, I want to thank each of you not only for joining us here tonight, but also for everything that you do every day to further our community. It is an honor to be your partner in this work.
I am also honored to share a stage this evening with our special guest, Lior Raz, the star of one of Israel’s most popular television shows. If you haven’t seen Fauda yet… go home tonight and fire up Netflix… because it is a story that will grab you.

While Fauda means chaos, it is a story about people, about relationships.  And like every good story, it is both particular and universal.

It is a particular story unique to Israel, yet at the same time, a universal story about struggle and triumph. – It is a story about human fear and longing for home.

It is a story that belongs to each and every one of us.