From prescriptions for peace in Israel to recipes for better brisket, we Jews have plenty to talk about at holiday time. What constitutes a good year is a topic that could take us straight through Shemini Atzeret, and we still might not reach consensus.
Few would argue with a year — indeed a world — marked by less illness, violence, poverty, loneliness. Just how we achieve those ideals … that’s when the conversation gets interesting.
Drill down a bit further and you’ll likely generate more heat discussing: How do we keep Jewish life alive and well for our children and their children? How do we make Jewish gathering places more secure against increasing anti-Semitism? Which vulnerable individuals and families should get aid when there’s not enough to go around?
Because such pressing issues affect every kind of Jew, because individual Jewish organizations cannot tackle certain challenges by themselves, because gaps in programs and services prevent the extended Jewish family from caring fully for its own, there is Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey. We may not be able to change that law of nature — two Jews, three opinions — but that does not stop us from mobilizing partners and resources to address hate and security concerns, aid those in need, inspire young people to build their Jewish future, and enable more people to discover why Israel matters to them.
We are taught in the widely cited Jewish text Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of Our Fathers: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it, either.”
Among our work in the past year:
• Federation helped generate an additional $1 million in security enhancements for dozens of Jewish organizations across Monmouth and Greater Middlesex counties, bringing the four-year total to $4 million.
• Federation’s Life & Legacy initiative helped 10 different Jewish organizations reach $14 million in future value of after-life gifts, so the organizations’ programs, services, and resources can continue to thrive for generations to come.
• Federation partnered with Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Monmouth County (JFCS) to launch the stigma-busting, culturally sensitive Jewish Center for Drug and Alcohol Treatment & Education, augmenting existing federation-supported addiction and mental health programs offered by both JFCS and Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County.
• Federation expanded our teen-engagement programs, complementing community service and philanthropy programs with Israeli innovation-based Eitanim, which connects teens to Israel and empowers them to become community leaders while developing entrepreneurship, teamwork, presentation, and other life skills.
In 5780, we will continue working toward keeping the Jewish heart of New Jersey strong, safe, supportive, and sustainable.
With heightening levels of reported anti-Semitic incidents in our area, Federation has committed to an expanded Community Relations and Advocacy Initiative. Working across all facets of the Jewish community and with interfaith, multi-ethnic, and civic leaders, we will convene partners, organizations, and participants to strengthen relationships and communications; build on common goals; and interact with state, local, and national leaders.
In addition, we are:
• partnering with the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education (Chhange) and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office to expand a program to help law enforcement officers identify and respond appropriately to anti-Semitic and other bias-driven activity;
• increasing our commitment to Chhange in order to expand its previously Monmouth-only Building Bridges public school program to Middlesex County. Building Bridges combats hate by helping administrators, educators, and students build a culture of mutual respect and understanding; and
• supporting Rutgers Hillel in creating programs that educate college students on standing up against and combatting hate.
Our community has much to celebrate as we mark the 10th anniversary of PJ Library and deliver our 150,000th PJ Library package. Federation, in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, currently makes available to some 3,000 children, aged 6 months to 11 years old, monthly deliveries of free books and music that create positive connections with Jewish traditions, culture, and identity starting at a young age. PJ events connect families for community activities, such as Mighty Mitzvah Makers and carnivals, and just in time for the 10th anniversary, the federation won a new grant from the Grinspoon Foundation for PJ Library Ambassadors to create neighborhood-based gatherings strengthening young families’ ties to each other and the Jewish community.
Also, the federation and its partners are excited to take a fresh look at ways informal educational opportunities, such as sleepaway camp, youth groups, and Israel programs, can inspire young people to embrace their Jewish identity and peers.
Does every Jew in the heart of New Jersey agree on how to battle anti-Semitism, bolster the Jewish future, and care for people in need? Do we all like our brisket the same way? No and no. Do we all want to be free and safe to live as Jews in whatever way is meaningful to us? Absolutely. That’s why you need Jewish Federation and Jewish Federation needs you.
As we begin 5780, be in touch. Let me know what a good year means to you — for yourself, your family, your community — and let’s make it happen together.
From all of us at the federation and from my family to yours, wishing you a good, sweet, safe 5780.