It has become a tradition of mine to write a column for the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin marking each year that I am privileged to serve as your CEO. If anything, my passion for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and our Jewish community has only increased these past three years.
Each year has been filled with different challenges, wonderful opportunities, and passionate dialogue and debate. While a few less challenges might have been appreciated, it has always been interesting and we continue to move the needle on Jewish engagement and community building.
Recently, I found myself re-reading speeches from the all-too-brief political life of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy. His eloquence continues to resonate today as does his famous challenge to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This is not merely wonderful prose, but an exhortation to accept responsibility for our shared future.
Amongst other things, the Kennedy family is well known for their raucous touch football games and if you were lucky enough to be invited to their compound, it came with an expectation that you would play and compete. President Kennedy’s inauguration challenge was a natural extension of his family’s philosophy ostensibly demanding that everyone get in the game.
President Kennedy’s brief time in office affectionately came to be known as Camelot. “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”
True confession: as a teenager, I had posters of president Kennedy and Robert Kennedy on my bedroom walls alongside Rob Lowe and John Stamos. Clearly, when I was young, I bought into the notion of Camelot, in part, owing to the glamour of the Kennedy family. And, in part, because of the fervent optimism Camelot represented about a bright and promising future, and the understanding that shaping this exciting new frontier, was a shared responsibility from which nobody was exempt.
What does this mean for Jewish Ottawa in 2016?
If you care about the community, get involved. Volunteer your time for Jewish causes that ignite your passion. Outreach – be a person who attends a program or services and when there, helps create a welcoming environment. Actively promote Jewish programs and activities to your social network and encourage others to get in the game. Give generously – funds to Federation’s Annual Campaign are essential to community building. Emphasize the positive – look for the good in our community and communal organizations and actively promote Jewish life. One of my favourite quotes from Pirkei Avot, attributed to Rabbi Tarfon, is, “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” Imagine our community’s vibrant new frontier if we all did just a little bit more.
Recently, a wonderful member of our community, “Stuntman” Stu Schwartz, was diagnosed with leukemia. He is not the first community member to battle a horrendous illness, nor, sadly, will he be the last. But Stu has chosen to make his battle public and, through social media, is teaching us that even from an extraordinarily difficult place, a person can still be positive, make change, raise funds for worthy causes, and encourage people to do good in the world.
As I reflect on the lessons learned from president Kennedy, Pirkei Avot, and the example Stu is setting, I am eager to begin my fourth year of service to Ottawa’s Jewish community.
Each of us has a responsibility to make the world and our Jewish community a better place. I will work hard to do my part. Will you?