Rosh Hashanah is always a great time for new beginnings. A new school year starts. We buy new fruits, new holiday clothes and invite new guests to our holidays tables. We reflect on the year past but almost always as an anticipation of how we would like to translate yesterday into a better tomorrow.
But new beginnings are not the only way we frame the High Holiday season. We like to think of it as a strengthened continuation of the things that have mattered to us all along. Our priorities don’t change. Our possibilities often do. Lord Jonathan Sacks observed that when Abraham was told to go to the Holy Land, the language is “Lech lecha:” continue. In fact, Abraham did not start the journey. His father did. Abraham continued it. There are beginnings, and there are important continuations.
At Federation, we would like to think about new beginnings within the framework of so many important projects that we have already started that we need to strengthen as a community. We began a festive celebration of Israel at 65 this past May. But we are going to be celebrating all year long and invite you to join a mega-mission to Israel to express our collective commitment to our homeland. This is part of our mission of enhanced commitment to Israel as a critical center of Jewish life and peoplehood.
Last year we spread the reach of the PJ Library, a premier program of Jewish literacy that began in Northern Virginia, and now we’ve been able to expand it across our entire region. If you know a young family that would like to receive free Jewish books on a monthly basis, please contact Sarah Rabin Spira at [email protected] And if you have or are a college student or a 22-26 year old who has never been on an organized trip to Israel, please connect with Sarah Arenstein at [email protected] and find out about our fabulous free Birthright trips to Israel. We are making magic happen every day. This is part of our mission of enhanced Jewish education and identity.
Last year, we started the Jewish Food Experience — tradition with a twist — to help foodies, food pantries and those on the lookout for great new recipes to connect to Jewish life through this long-standing and delicious aspect of our shared culture. This is part of our mission of enhanced Jewish culture.
We are committed to Jewish leadership development and through our Jewish Leadership Institute have been working closely with our partner agencies to make sure our board members, senior lay leaders and professionals have access to great leadership development. In that spirit, we have brought the Wexner Heritage Program back to our area, working with 20 young leaders over two years to strengthen Jewish literacy and personal and organizational leadership. This is part of our mission of enhanced leadership.
Last year, we purchased a building with dedicated donations. This year, in 5774, we will be moving into it and are working with a collaboration of Sunflower Bakery, Jewish Foundation for Group Homes and the Ivymount School to open a cafe on our premises. Sunflower Bakery was recently announced as a winner of the prestigious Ruderman Prize as an organization with an incredible mission, to help integrate adults with disabilities into meaningful employment. This is part of our mission of enhanced inclusivity.
And we proudly supported the covert rescue of 17 Yemenite Jews last month through The Jewish Agency, bringing them to Israel. We understand that it is not enough to create a journey. We have to support a soft landing and a healthy integration of all immigrant populations in Israel. This is part of our mission of being a global community committed to relief and rescue wherever needed.
These are examples both big and small that illustrate how innovation has to go hand in hand with continuity and established priorities to make sure that our community retains its vitality and meaning. We have to have lots of new beginnings but also couple them with taking care of tried and tested priorities, including senior care, social service assistance to those unemployed and serving the homeless. Abraham got to Israel, but his journey only really began upon arrival. It was then that he had to build a community — a nation and a people — often with limited resources but always with a passionate commitment to a larger vision and mission.
We wish you all a year of Abraham’s blessings: a blessing of both newness and growth twinned with an enhancement of all that has always mattered to you. This is the year, 5774, to take a strong beginning and to strengthen it. We hope you will partner with us in all that we stand for as a community: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Shana tova!
Liza Levy is president and Steve Rakitt is the executive vice president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.