Did you catch last week’s edition of eNews? The subject line was “Federation is Closing,” and as our outgoing Board Chair Brian Tauber hoped, his final article provoked a range of reactions. Dozens of calls and emails flooded our office from supporters, friends, and interested community members inquiring, “What the hell happened?!.” Some expressed concern and shock while others felt it was unnecessarily provocative. Some took the opportunity, once they read past the subject line, to share their appreciation for what we do. And yet others wondered whether Brian’s column was in fact prophetic. One donor emailed me saying, “Federation is NOT closing. Not on my watch!.”
The intent of the message was not designed to trivialize the sadness some of us have felt over the past year in the wake of the announcements that the American Hebrew Academy and Kutz Camp would be closing forever. These incredible institutions have deepened the Jewish identities of tens of thousands over many decades. To the contrary, we watch and see how these more recent instances present painful examples of how all institutions, here in San Diego and around the world, wrestle with questions about impact, relevance, and even, survival. Federation is no different. And so, the question of “what if…” is the elemental question that compels us to articulate why we feel our institutions are indispensable, advocating on our own behalf. That is, after all, a central role of any leader of any institution. That is certainly my job.
None of the reactions to Brian’s article particularly surprised me, except, perhaps my own. Constantly worrying about how Federation is perceived, I wondered if Brian’s message would be perceived of as overconfident. Perhaps to some, it was. And yet, when I first read a draft earlier in the week, I smiled and thought to myself, ‘boy, what a privilege to work with someone who clearly cares so much and believes so deeply in who we are and what we bring to a community.’ I was inspired. I felt motivated to do even more and work even harder. That clarity and passion, whether one agrees with everything that Brian or our leadership says or does, is a true gift to us and to the community. I expect and imagine that all of our institutions have their heroes, their ambassadors, their biggest cheerleaders. Brian, our board, our Women’s Philanthropy Board and all our lay leaders and volunteers play that role. They all inspire us.
I share many of Brian’s views on the value proposition of a Jewish Federation. I buy into the concept that Federation must be concerned with our entire Community, with a big C. In a community with so many strong, vital, and independent Jewish institutions, I concur that one of Federation’s unique value propositions lies in our potential to foster a sense of connectivity, unity, and cohesion. I believe in our efforts to leverage the many assets of the community to address needs that transcend any one institution’s focus and mission, neighborhood, stage of life, or ideology. This does not mean the individual efforts of all San Diego Jewish organizations are less important than Federation’s efforts. We ALL fill an important role. We each have different areas of expertise that make this community dynamic and strong.
Quite frankly, we could not be successful without our partners, and believe that Federation strengthens our partners in return. I sometimes call out specific partnerships that exemplify this idea. One, in particular, that jumps out to me here is our partnership with the Lawrence Family JCC Jacobs Family Campus, which delivers to our community the Jewish Teen Initiative. The LFJCC is an exemplary partner in that they bring their significant expertise and leadership throughout the planning, supervision, implementation and administration of this dynamic program that has engaged thousands of teens over the last 4 years. Federation plays an important role in generating the financial resources, supporting the efforts to collect and analyze data, and providing some thought leadership, but the JTI is a great example of our community working together to address a major need.
As I think of our future, I see the Federation playing an integral role in helping to foster lay and professional leadership development to strengthen our Community’s capacity to thrive and grow. We want to bring as many as 1,000 members of this community to Israel in 2023 to celebrate Israel’s 75th Anniversary (also the 25th anniversary of our partnership with Sha’ar HaNegev). We will continue to work with our partners to ensure we ALL do our part to enhance existing efforts to ensure San Diego’s remaining Survivor population lives the rest of their days in dignity and in the embrace of our entire Jewish community. We hope and expect that these and other efforts will do much to strengthen our entire community and reflect a future that celebrates both the strength of our independent institutions while finding ways to work together to address emerging needs and opportunities.
While I agree with Brian that we MUST do a better job getting our message out there, I also believe that our future success depends on our ability to grow, do more, and have greater impact. A Rabbi and friend once told me that as Jews, it does not matter what we say, think, or feel. It only matters what we do. And, I am proud of what we do to care for Jews in need, strengthen identity, build community, and connect members of our community to Israel and Jews around the world. Together, I want us to do even more, but we need your help.
Thank you to the thousands who have already donated this year and to those who still plan to do so by the end of our campaign, which is THIS SUNDAY. To be sure, our survival, or that of any institution, should not be taken for granted. However, my expectation is that our Federation should not spend time trying to SELL ourselves or CONVINCE you of our value. Let our actions speak for us and let us deliver on real needs. What matters is what we do. If you disagree with our priorities and focus, talk to me about it. I accept, no I expect, that our decisions as to how and where to invest in one institution or cause versus another may cause disappointment. After all, every organization in our community has its champions, and so much of the work addresses critical and important needs facing our community and the Jewish people. If you disagree with our priorities and focus, I invite you to talk to me about it. Like a family, let’s debate, argue, and wrestle over these important issues. At the end of the day, also like a family, let’s find a way to come together and demonstrate unity as a Community. If Federation can help deliver on that, while growing our capacity to make an impact, and with YOUR help, I have no doubt our institutions will be here for many years to come. Once again, I am reminded of my favorite quote from Deuteronomy that “a community is too heavy to carry alone.” Let us carry it together.