It is hard to believe, but this will be my final message to you as Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America. At our Annual Meeting on Monday, I will turn over the responsibility of leadership to Julie Platt, who currently serves as our National Campaign Chair.
Serving as your chair has been an extraordinary privilege. I have had the chance to see the work of our incredible Jewish Federation system up close in our communities, in Israel and around the world. And while too many of our meetings these past three and a half years have been on zoom, and too few in person, the rise of zoom meetings meant that I have had the chance to see more of you and talk with you more often on screen than we ever could have if we met only in person.
Many of you know that my favorite expression is “Am Yisrael Chai!” Why do I love this expression so much? There are several reasons.
I love the expression Am Yisrael Chai! because it expresses our inherent optimism – that despite numerous challenges and crises, our Jewish community lives, and thrives, and flourishes. After these years as your chair, I am more optimistic than ever about the future of our community.
I love Am Yisrael Chai! also because it includes the name “Israel” – the name G-d gave to Jacob after Jacob wrestled with the angel and prevailed. It is a reminder of our endurance and our strength, it is the name on so many of our houses of worship, and it is name we gave to our sovereign state when it was reborn in 1948.
But most importantly, I love Am Yisrael Chai! because of the word Am. If we were trying to say that the State of Israel will live, we would speak of Medinat Yisrael. If we wanted to declare that the land of Israel will live, we would speak of Eretz Yisrael.
Instead, we declare that it is Am Yisrael – the entire people of Israel – that lives. Our beloved Jewish people, wherever we are in the world, whatever we believe, however we practice our faith – this beautiful, diverse, creative Jewish people - lives!
Our Jewish Federation system plays no small part in the fulfillment of this declaration. Whether it is caring for those in need, or educating our children, or saving Jews from danger and bringing tens of thousands each year to Israel, we are at the very center of the communal infrastructure that builds and sustains flourishing Jewish life. We are Am Yisrael. We are the people that the Jewish community turns to in good times and bad, to turn challenge into opportunity, and to lead with vision and courage. This we have done, time and again.
Julie will be a great chair – we are all in good hands. And I am not going far, as I have been nominated to serve as the next chair of the Board of Governors of our partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel. In this new role I will see your incredible work and support of the Jewish people from a different vantage point, and I am sure that I will come to appreciate what you do even more, if that is possible.
This Shabbat, in the Diaspora, we read Parshat Naso, which includes the formula of the priestly blessing given from G-d to Moses and Aaron the high priest. To this day, in many synagogues, the descendants of the kohanim recite these exact words as they bless the congregation. And at Shabbat tables all over the world, parents use these words to bless their children. This “three-fold” blessing has been adopted by many faiths, has been set to glorious music, and is among the famous words of Torah.
My family are not descendants of the high priests, but may I take the prerogative of the chair one last time to bless this entire Federation community – “may the Lord bless you and protect you, may the Lord’s face shine on you and be gracious to you, may the Lord’s grace turn to you and give you peace.”
Am Yisrael Chai!
L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom,
Chair, The Jewish Federations of North America