Weekly Reflection – October 16, 2020: A Message from Gil Preuss

Weekly Reflection – October 16, 2020: A Message from Gil Preuss

This has been a season of tending to immediate and short-term needs. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have joined with the Greater Washington Jewish community in raising and repurposing millions of dollars to ensure that people can meet the significant and layered challenges of this time. This work has no end date—we are committed to helping our community get through and recover from the effects of the pandemic for as long as it takes. To support this effort, I hope you will consider making a donation this month to take advantage of our October Match. All new and increased gifts will be generously matched to help those facing adversity, including unemployment, food insecurity, and emergency expenses.

At the same time, and without tempting fate, we at Federation are also pushing ourselves to dream again. Lately, we have begun taking a closer look at how we can best foster vibrant Jewish life in the months and years ahead. Our $20 million plan is specifically intended to propel this work forward at a number of levels, understanding that vibrant Jewish life is at the core of everything we do. But before we distribute funds, we want to learn from our successes and challenges thus far and think critically about our role in bringing our shared vision to life. In particular, we have been exploring: what does vibrant Jewish life actually look like? How does it feel? How can we make it tangible in each of our lives?

During a recent staff team exercise, we reflected on a time when we felt part of a vibrant community. While each answer was different and reflective of our team member’s diverse backgrounds, sharing our stories helped us articulate some common themes and components of community.

We posit that a strong and flourishing Jewish community helps everyone to:

  • Feel a sense of belonging,
  • Develop meaningful ties with other members of the community,
  • Engage deeply with Jewish culture, history, tradition, wisdom, and values,
  • Connect with groups and organizations that foster and sustain ongoing relationships, and
  • Act on their Judaism in ways that enhance their personal lives and the world around them.

Of course, each of these ideas deserves its own deep dive. How does one facilitate a sense of belonging? How can we build a sense of consistency and reciprocity within something fluid? And so on. Indeed, our goal is not to arrive at a singular definition of vibrant Jewish life—we celebrate the great diversity of perspectives within the community—but rather to identify the guideposts that will help us leverage our resources to further it in the most effective and innovative ways possible.

We also know that the first step in this process is to learn. Since 2018, Federation has prioritized investments in community building in Northern Virginia and helping the next generation connect with Jewish life. We have also invested in adult Jewish learning through our partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. With these initiatives continue to elevate Jewish life in Greater Washington, now is the time to assess our progress and learn about the ways in which we can enhance and expand our work.

Likewise, now is the time to hear from our community. I am calling upon you to be part of these ongoing conversations. What does vibrant community mean, and feel like, to you? I hope you will join in and make your thoughts and experiences known.

With your help, I believe we can get back to the business of dreaming. We can take strategic and concrete steps toward vibrancy while continuing to rise to the challenges of the day.

Shabbat Shalom and please feel free to share your thoughts with me or my colleagues anytime,