01 May 2020
A couple of years ago, I started toying with the question, what is the next big American Jewish project? It was clear by then that we had a crucial and ongoing responsibility to stand up to hate and anti-Semitism. But beyond this, it also seemed that the American Jewish community had reached an exciting crossroads. More than ever, people were eager to transfuse Jewish life with innovation and creativity. In an uncertain world, more and more people (including younger generations) were turning to Jewish wisdom and tradition for answers and meaningful connection. We were in a position to set our own agenda, to build the future we envisioned, and to strengthen Jewish life and community for decades to come.
Today, however, the idea of doubling down on our aspirations seems suddenly counterintuitive. Before the onset of COVID-19, the US jobless rate was at 3.5%. In the next two months, economists say the number could rise to nearly 20%. These are circumstances not seen since the Great Depression. Within our own community, individuals are dealing with how to cover basic needs for themselves and their families. Essential organizations that serve as linchpins in the Greater Washington Jewish landscape are being forced to close their doors and shrink their staff. We face more challenges as a community than at any time in recent memory.
This all begs the question, where do we go from here? Do we channel our focus into providing emergency relief during this astounding time of need? Do we continue to dream and press on with cultivating our vision for the Jewish future?
The answer is yes. The Jewish people have survived for 3,500 years in some part because we have always managed to find a balance between meeting immediate needs while also laying the groundwork for a stronger community. To care for the vulnerable among us is fundamental to who we are as Jews. We must continue—as we did in good times and all the more so now—to ensure our community members, neighbors, and friends have what they need to get by. The Jewish community has an essential role to play in helping our country and the world recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
But just as importantly, what has sustained us through the millennia has been our connection to each other and to our rich history and tradition. We cannot take these bonds for granted. Instead, it is incumbent upon each of us to strengthen Jewish life and community anew. No doubt, this will take some adaptation. We will be challenged moving forward to find new ways to foster meaningful relationships despite what will likely be recurring quarantines. Or connect more people with Israel, even when travel is not feasible. But no matter the challenge, I hope we will continue to prioritize bringing people together and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to feel part of a greater whole.
As a community, we are responsible for tending to our needs and our dreams simultaneously. It is up to us to respond to everything our life and times throw our way while also charting a future of our own design.
Moving forward, Federation is committed to being there for every facet of our community. We will be providing support and coordinating emergency relief efforts for as long as it takes. As always, we also remain your partners in dreaming big and making the vibrant future we all picture a reality.