Reflecting on the nature of community as we approach Rosh Hashanah, Jewish Federation of Ottawa President and CEO Andrea Freedman calls for all of us to make more and deeper Jewish decisions.
The transition from summer to fall feels dramatic. Just as daylight hours diminish, the pace of life increases dramatically. As I write this article, the flood waters are slowly receding from Houston while we are still reeling from the ugliness of Charlottesville and watching the nuclear madness in North Korea. Here in Ottawa, I spent time in court attending the sentencing hearing of the young offender who caused such pain and fear last November with his hatred. Together with other community leaders, I have been meeting with local MPs and one of the critical issues we raise during our discussions is anti-Semitism and community security.
During these troubled times, now more than ever, we need community. And fortunately, our Jewish community and Jewish peoplehood is strong.
In an unprecedented move, the Israeli government is planning to send $1 million US in emergency aid to Houston’s flood-hit Jewish community. As Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett explained, “The Jewish State is measured by its response when our brothers around the world are in crisis. For years the Jewish communities stood by Israel when it needed their help; now it is our turn to stand by Houston’s Jewish community.” It is why the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, as part of our national system, has been raising funds for the victims. It helps explain why the Jewish Federation of New Orleans was one of the first Federations to step up with financial aid, having been on the receiving end of such assistance and kindness during Hurricane Katrina.
All of this is about more than money. It is about a sense of community, a commitment to help and support one another in good times and in bad times. And this is why I am so proud to work for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, to work for you, because our mission goes beyond a single cause and gifts to the Annual Campaign enable our community to function 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Federation is taking an active role in the fight against anti-Semitism and hate while, at the same, funding and creating positive Jewish experiences for all ages. This is a delicate juggling act, performed on a high-wire and without a safety net, but it is necessary.
Many years ago, while working for Federation CJA in Montreal, I was conducting interviews for madrichim (counsellors) for Birthright Israel. One of the questions I asked was that they speak about their most formative Jewish experience. I was saddened that the overwhelming response was the riot that had recently taken place at Concordia University when Benjamin Netanyahu, the former and future Israeli prime minister, tried to speak on campus. What had seared their Jewish souls was not a positive experience while at Jewish summer camp, a favourite teacher at day school or their bat mitzvah; it was an episode of hatred and ugliness.
And, so, I remain motivated to this day, to ensuring that future generations will have a different, positive answer to that question. With Rosh Hashanah fast approaching, let this be a call to action for all of us to increasingly participate in Jewish life as individuals, as families, and as a community. Let the blast of the shofar motivate each of us to make more and deeper Jewish decisions that create positive and lasting Jewish memories.
At times like this, we need community. And our community also needs you.