31 July 2020
Yesterday, we observed Tisha B’Av, a day reserved in the Hebrew calendar for solemn reflection. Traditionally, Jews spend this day fasting and mourning the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and other historic calamities. This year, our public health and economic crisis added additional layers of meaning and personal relevance to observing Tisha B’Av. In that spirit, I have been reflecting this week on the meaning of loss and rebuilding in our own times.
What does it take to rebuild after communal losses like the ones we have experienced in recent months?
How can our community find comfort and move forward together after, or even while, enduring difficult times?
What will sustain us and keep our community connected as we navigate towards new iterations of vibrant Jewish life?
One key answer to these questions is having a clear vision for the future. In order to move forward and create positive transformation, we must have a definitive destination and a roadmap to follow. We also must have a clear set of values that shape how we make decisions even in the midst of so much change and uncertainty.
For Federation, this roadmap is our strategic plan, which was outlined two years ago and guides every aspect of our work. This strategy drives us towards identifying and addressing the most critical opportunities and challenges for our community, an approach that continues to guide us even during global health, economic, and social crises.
When our landscape began to shift radically nearly five months ago, we brought together leaders from throughout the community to consider our current and future challenges. We discussed critical paths to address the most immediate needs even while looking towards the future. Our community responded by helping Federation raise more than $4.4 million in emergency funding to support individuals and families in need, sustain critical organizations on which our community depends, and seek ways to support and strengthen our Jewish life and community, which are so central to seeing us through this crisis and into the future.
The conversations regarding our present and future are always rooted in clear guideposts defining vibrant Jewish life, the values of caring, responsibility, and community, and an understanding that no one person or organization could get through this crisis alone. Being so firmly anchored by our core values allows us the flexibility to stay true to our vision while addressing in real time the most critical opportunities and challenges for our community as the world around us changes so rapidly.
As we begin to emerge from the recent months of crisis-response into a new phase where we must address longer-term challenges, I am encouraged and inspired by the steady rebuilding spirit nourishing Jewish life in our region. Although many had hoped life would resume its familiar patterns by the end of the summer, our leaders, clergy, and educators in individual synagogues, schools, and agencies are working hard to adjust plans for the coming year. They are finding innovative ways to meet their organizational missions during this unusual time. This pioneering approach will carry many institutions forward into the next iteration of vibrant Jewish life.
Of course, the Greater Washington Jewish community is more than a collection of individual organizations. I strongly believe that one source of communal strength during this time of crisis has been our willingness and ability to come together across organizations, individual community members, and systems. Adapting for the future across the whole community is possible because of mutual learning, meaningful relationships, and collaborative strategies for a shared future.
Jewish mysticism teaches that there is always a kernel of joy to be found, even in the greatest sorrow. When Tisha B’Av ended last night, we entered a transitional phase—away from sadness and towards sources of renewal and fresh opportunities. For some, that is the new moon promising another month. For others, it is meaningful community, relationships, and countless sources of creativity. No matter where we find the inspiration to build again, together our community turns towards a shared vision of vibrant Jewish life in Greater Washington that will connect and sustain us as we continue forward into the next season.