What Happens When we do Jewish Together
By Eric Fingerhut
What a strange time this is! We are in the midst of a global pandemic and an unusually contentious election in the United States. We have real concerns about racial injustice and antisemitism. Many of our children are not yet back in school – and those that are in school are wearing masks, studying in pods, and having their temperature taken daily before they enter the building. A majority of us are working from home. There was no dancing in the streets on Simchat Torah – in fact, most of us celebrated the Yamim Noraim, as we did Passover and Shavuot, separated from our families and our regular prayer communities. We are still suffering over the loss of loved ones from the virus.
And yet all around us we see stories of resilience and generosity. It is clear to me that the greatest source of this resilience is the way in which the organized Jewish community has come together to partner and collaborate. We call it JewishTogether!
Just this week we joined together – 10,000 strong for the annual gathering of The Jewish Federations of North America: The General Assembly. One of our plenaries, also called Jewish Together, centered on the work of of the work of the Emergency Pandemic Coalition that has been convening almost weekly on a continental level. It includes the JCC Association, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, BBYO, Moishe House, Repair the World, Hillel International, the denominational movements, Prizmah, Leading Edge, Jewish Funders Network, the Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies, and the Association for Jewish Aging Services.
Through this group and others like it, we learned that our differences – which loomed so large just a few months ago – have never seemed so small, while our need for each other has never felt so urgent. And we learned that coming together to share information, to plan and to act makes it possible for us to accomplish great things.
Together we mobilized and trained volunteers to help all our communal agencies access federal loans and grants totaling well over half a billion dollars. The Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund marshaled $91M in zero interest loans and grants to camps, synagogues, JCCs and more. The Human Services Matching Fund is helping local Federations raise $54M in additional funding to meet the growing demand for services, which is being raised following countless Federation emergency campaigns that collectively raised over $175M in the first few months of the pandemic to meet the emergency needs of our Jewish communities here and around the world.
We have also convened specialized coalitions: The Engagement Roundtable, representing the service, community building, education, travel and diversity and inclusion organizations, and a separate Israel Travel Alliance, made up of 37 unique organizations that run close to 50 different immersive travel experiences to Israel.
Deep collaboration has been a hallmark of this time – collaboration among global, continental, and local organizations, within networks, between what were once siloed departments in organizations, between Boards and professional staffs. This trust has helped us keep Jewish communal life thriving over the past seven months.
Our community often looks at all our separate organizations and wonders if we are working together. Our missions and approaches are so different that it is a legitimate question. During this pandemic, we have demonstrated clearly that we are not in silos, we are not in competition – we are in partnership. We are not uniform – we are unified!
We are proud to release this exploration of other hallmarks of the past months, the innovations we have developed and the leadership that has brought us through.
We can’t control the course of the pandemic, but we can control our community’s response. That our response has been Jewish Together! is to the lasting credit of the organized Jewish community.
Eric Fingerhut is President and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.