Federation and USHMM: Strengthen both

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by Dottie Bennett

Sunday, April 28 was a special day which involved two organizations I feel strongly about, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. As unlikely as it seems, these two community pillars presented very different programs yet there were many common threads.


The Federation presented a program entitled “Welcoming Interfaith Families: A Community Conversation.” It took a look at creative approaches to this issue in programming, resources here and country-wide. It included the pioneering workshops which Dr. Marion Usher leads at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, programming at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, the role of PJ Library, the Jewish Outreach Institute’s Mother’s Circles, the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club’s Keruv initiative and the work of Interfaithfamily.com. It was followed by breakout sessions where congregational life, bar/bat mitzvah preparation were discussed along with strategies for community inclusion and engagement.

The afternoon concluded with Dr. Erica Brown in conversation with a Hillel Campus Entrepreneur from GWU, an engaged interfaith couple and three rabbis from different traditions, Rabbi Bruce Aft, Rabbi Esther Lederman and Rabbi Gil Steinlauf. The diverse perspectives gleaned and the openness of the discussion gives us a wonderful basis from which to continue working toward a more inclusive Jewish community.

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That evening, the USHMM celebrated its 20th anniversary with a dinner for 3,500 people. The depth of the event was highlighted by the attendance of hundreds of survivors and liberators. To hear memory discussed and the need to rescue the evidence underlined the museum’s commitment to preserve their stories and teach the lessons. We heard from two college students, neither Jewish, who, after interning at the USHMM, developed anti Holocaust-denial materials for their campuses. We heard from Elie Wiesel who once again implored us to take action wherever we see injustice. When one hears it from Wiesel, it takes on special meaning. We heard director Sara Bloomfield encourage us to be a transformative force for the future in helping the museum fulfill its mission of teaching, remembering and acting.

You may wonder why I link these two important events together: When I looked up at the ceiling of the museum’s tent, I saw several “tag lines” the USHMM asked us to contemplate. Two of those were: What you do matters and Secure the future. It struck me that these two ideas carried a common thread. Whether it is developing an inclusive community, being aware of the changing landscape of American Jewry, what we do matters in how we approach and welcome the interfaith unit. If we succeed, it will help secure a Jewish future. As for the museum, the two ideas incorporated into our lives will insure that it remains a force for understanding and a warning system for the 21st century and beyond to never forget. So after spending my Sunday listening, learning, remembering and honoring, I note that two distinct institutions share a common thread. We are duty bound to strengthen both.


Dottie Bennett, who lives in Falls Church, is a community activist.

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