By Robert Lichtman
The organization I lead and our local federation merged; on July 1 we became one. I thought it would be appropriate if not a little uplifting for us to celebrate a new hyper-local-holiday marking our new relationship with our professional colleagues and the parallel one among our respective volunteer leaders. No longer an independent agency, I thought we might begin to observe July 1 as Interdependence Day.
What led to this? A simple calculation. The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life was the Jewish Identity-building organization in our Greater MetroWest (NJ) community; indeed we were a federation agency – actually created by the federation in 2006. In celebration of our 5th Birthday, we set out a strategic plan for the next five years. As we approached our 10th Birthday, we looked back and saw that we hit virtually every goal we set five years before. We did very well. But in looking ahead another five years we saw that we were coming upon a point where the distance to our destination exceeded our ability to get there. At the same time, the federation embarked on an ambitious new endeavor to engage families with young children, to connect them to community, and in harmony with The Partnership’s goal, to empower them to lead meaningful Jewish lives. It did not take long for us to say to each other, “I cannot do this without you.”
Through the milestones of life, we re-enact and realize interdependence. At the brit of a baby boy we acknowledge God’s role in our destiny, and at the same time, God looks to us to fulfill that destiny. Interdependence is the touchstone of covenant / brit.
At Bar / Bat-Mitzvah we celebrate the coming of age of a young person who joins the Jewish People, acknowledging the interdependence of a community that cannot be sustained without new participants and individuals who cannot flourish without community. The unsung words to the music we dance to are “I cannot do this without you.”
The bride and groom share a sacred moment under the chuppah when they realize that it is not good for a person to be alone, and they exchange pleasure by declaring, “I cannot do this without you.”
At the onset of every Shabbat when we and God reaffirm our respective roles in the creation and nourishment of the world, we see each other face to face through the Shabbat candles and we both say, “I cannot do this without you.”
At the creation of the State of Israel with Jews worldwide redefining and reimagining what it is to be Jewish at a time when both they and a Jewish state inhabit the earth, the Jewish Agency for Israel re-positioned itself to strengthen those connections because we acknowledged to each other, “I cannot do this without you.”
Truly, interdependence is a deeply shared Jewish and American value. On the same July 4 that the colonies declared their independence from England, they declared their interdependence with one another. The federal nature of our government, the recognition that we are 50 united states, is intentionally reflected by the historic federation structure and its relationships with the agencies that are so pivotal to communal vigor. These inter-relationships are built upon these unspoken words, which should be said and said more often, “I cannot do this without you.”
As increasingly generous and pivotal funders and foundations negotiate with organizations about metrics and visions and logos and sustainability, it would be good to pause and to look at each other and confess, “I cannot do this without you.”
As thinking and caring human beings we sometimes prioritize our responsibilities to our world while neglecting our responsibilities to our Jewish People. We should look at each other and acknowledge, “I cannot do this without you.”
Our Interdependence Day is July 1. We wish you a very happy one – whenever it is, or will be.
Robert Lichtman was the founding Executive Director of The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life until July 1 when he became the Chief Jewish Learning Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.