Our Moment in Time: A Message from Gil Preuss

Our Moment in Time: A Message from Gil Preuss

Last night, I was thrilled to join more than 600 people at Federation’s Main Event. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect, schmooze, and touch base with longtime supporters and new community members. One of the many highlights of the evening was hearing from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who shared her insightful take on current affairs as well as some poignant reflections on her family’s Jewish heritage. Once again, thank you to everyone—including our dedicated Federation team—for making the Main Event a great success!

Below are excerpts of the remarks I shared during last night’s program:

Good evening everyone.

It is so wonderful to be here and share this evening with all of you.

In just a few minutes, we will have the chance to hear from former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She will be sharing stories from her extraordinary life and work on the world stage. I have no doubt that she will also talk about the significant shifts occurring in the world today.

We are clearly living in changing times. For many, these past few years have been particularly challenging.  With increasing nationalism and division and increasing attacks on the Jewish community around the world and close to home.

Just last week I was saddened but perhaps not shocked to see images from Belgium where there was a recent Carnival float with two giant figures of Orthodox Jews, with side curls and grotesquely large noses, sitting on bags of money and one with a rat on his shoulder—it could have been taken from 1930s Nazi Germany.

Swastikas scrawled into Jewish students’ notebooks. Headstones toppled at Jewish cemeteries. While we knew that anti-Semitism was not gone, its resurgence is hard to believe.

Just a few months ago, we came together as a community to remember those killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States. We came together in solidarity to honor the innocent victims and support each other in these challenging times.

As we celebrate Purim this coming week, I keep thinking, the more things change the more they stay the same. But it feels closer now than it has for many years. The old joke about how Jewish holidays can be summarized as “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat” somehow does not seem as funny. As a community, we will continue to come together and fight anti-Semitism and hatred from all sources.

At the same time, we will not allow the anti-Semites to define us.

The Washington Jewish community is in the midst of another kind of rapid change. This is the change created by the vision and passion of the people in this room and many others. This is the change created by people asking the question: what are our greatest hopes and dreams for the Jewish community, the Jewish people, Israel and American society?

This is one of the most vibrant, exciting and engaging Jewish communities in the country. As we learned from last year’s Demographic study and as we can see for ourselves every day, Washington is a rapidly growing, magnet community for people from around the country.

We need not look any farther than this very room to see that something new and very big is happening. What does it mean that we have gathered together—over 600 strong—to be with each other and celebrate community? What does it mean that there are leaders from over 50 local Jewish organizations here tonight all working towards a common future?

This includes people from all demographic groups, young and not so young, deeply engaged and first timers, first generation Washingtonians and those from multi-generational families, and people who engage with Jewish life in many, many different ways. Together, we are collectively building an incredible Jewish future.

Indeed, we are creating models to take care of one another and look out for future generations. To engage in complex and respectful discussions. To welcome people with open arms and help them learn and grow. To preserve tradition while also reimagining what Jewish community can be.

This is not at all surprising. After all, Greater Washington is a place of action. People are here because they want to make a difference. This is where people seek to tackle today’s most important issues locally, nationally, and internationally.

In the story of Purim, Vashti, Mordechai and Esther all understood that they were in that particular place at that particular time for a particular purpose. Each played a unique and critical role in changing the trajectory of Jewish history.

Tonight, all of us here in this room, live in a particular moment of time with significant threats and incredible opportunities. We must fight anti-Semitism but not get defined by it. We must come together, as a community, to imagine and build our collective Jewish future. I have no doubt that this will happen since it already is.

Please continue to come as thought partners, volunteers, leaders, participants, connectors and supporters. We need each other. Only together, can we write our collective story. Only together can we build the future we all imagine.