19 June 2020
During the past three months, I have been reflecting on the ways the Jewish community is responding to these challenging and rapidly changing times. More specifically, I have wondered what precisely are the characteristics that have enabled so many people across our community to emerge time and again to lead effectively. An old quip tells us that anyone can lead when things are going well, but only true leaders can do so when things are falling apart. If this is the case, then we are blessed with a disproportionate share of true leaders in the Greater Washington Jewish community.
Last Wednesday, at Federation’s first-ever virtual Annual Meeting, I smiled to see the faces of many known community leaders and some future-leaders wearing Federation onesies and bouncing on parents’ laps. Some of these leaders are professionals at local Jewish organizations while others are volunteers who provide critical resources of all kinds. Together, they are all building our future.
As I shared that evening, community leadership has never been so important. The significant challenges we face today, from the pandemic, economic turmoil, and social injustice, call for leadership that makes critical decisions with care, empathy, and inclusivity.
And it is exactly that kind of leadership that I have seen throughout our community in recent months.
- Beginning in mid-March, as the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, an inspiring number of community partners pivoted quickly to collaborate in new and important ways. As they addressed challenges unlike any we had faced before, they pushed beyond existing institutional boundaries and created new ways to come together and meet the needs of our community. One collaborative new effort to support vulnerable people is the 703-J-CARING Jewish Community Support Line, designed to provide callers with a single point of entry to a full network of assistance.
- Other leaders confronted the challenging economic questions facing organizations they are passionate about. They made hard decisions about staff and programming with the goal of ensuring their organizations remained viable, successful, and able to serve the community in the future.
- Leaders at synagogues, agencies, and organizations across our region broadened the reach of services and connections even as the pandemic could have pushed us to think only about those closest to us.
At the same time, many people have provided critical financial resources to the community even while their own circumstances became less certain. At Federation, this can be seen through the success of our Annual Campaign to date and through the incredible generosity of supporters for the Emergency Response Fund.
Our community leaders, both lay and professional, are engaged in robust conversations with one another as they face the new decisions required by this moment. As our Annual Meeting keynote speaker, Co-President of the Schusterman Family Foundation Lisa Eisen shared, one key to effective leadership during a crisis is the humility of listening to other people. We must recognize that no one person, even those who demonstrate true leadership, has all the answers. We can set ourselves up to successfully address the unknown by bringing together and amplifying new and diverse voices, people with different perspectives, and people who have been directly impacted by these challenging times.
This challenging season presented our community’s many leaders with the opportunity to imagine, as if from scratch, what kind of community we want to build and share and leave to our children. Together, our diverse leaders are meeting this moment guided by our core values, informed by the new developments surrounding us, and inspired by the potential of what we can become. Thank you for being part of Greater Washington’s inclusive, collaborative, and values-based leadership and for positively shaping the future of our community.