Obligated to See

Friends,

When I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago, something caught my eye. In the entry way of the Hinam Center for Social Tolerance in Abu Ghosh outside of Jerusalem, a small tile was placed that cut short a familiar line from the Passover seder about leaving Egypt. The new phrasing creates a call to action particularly relevant to our time: “In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see.”

I have been thinking about this imperative in the context of the next phase of Federation’s work. As I noted during Federation’s Annual Meeting last night, the COVID-19 pandemic asked a lot of us as a community, and we rose to the occasion in a way that should make all of us proud.

I am grateful to every community member who stepped up and pitched in during this time. I also want to acknowledge Federation’s 2020-2021 Board members for their unwavering leadership and welcome our incoming Board members as we prepare to take on new, vital, and increasingly complex goals.

For as challenging as it was to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, it also provided us with a straightforward endeavor. We did not have to think too critically about our priorities because the need was so clear. Our goal was to work with our partners to help people as quickly and effectively as possible. We encountered little uncertainty or moral ambiguity when it came to our work over the past year and a half.

Now that the thick of the pandemic is subsiding, however, we must consider more open-ended topics. What does vibrant Jewish life look like in 2021 and beyond? How can we evolve and strengthen our connection to Israel? What is our responsibility to the greater community in which we live? How can we cultivate common values strong enough to transcend the divisions in American society? How do we vigorously respond to antisemitism while ensuring that it does not define us as a community?

These are the kinds of questions that await us now, and the kind we are eager to help our community answer together. After all, ours is one of the largest, most diverse, and most engaged Jewish communities in the United States. We have among us the people and ideas poised to reshape Jewish life for a new era. The passion, creativity, and ingenuity in Jewish Greater Washington is what provides me energy every single day.

More than ever, we are also motivated by the fact that people are rediscovering the value of community. Indeed, I see the COVID-19 pandemic as a tipping point, one that underscores how precious our time is and what a difference it makes when we feel a sense of purpose and belonging. It seems no matter how much technology advances or how engrossing politics becomes, there is no substitute for community when it comes to soothing the soul.

As we know, however, community does not just happen. Vibrant Jewish community is a perpetual act that requires us to strengthen what is working and reshape what is not so that everyone feels they belong—that they have a voice and a seat at the table. To build a community capable of sustaining all its members, we need to fight the impulse to step back into our old ways of thinking and instead keep our eyes, hearts, and minds open.

We are obligated to see what is going on in our community and the world around us, and then listen, learn, and act together to strengthen our collective future.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Juneteenth,
Gil