From sirens to landing rockets, fire to smoke, memorials to celebrating community, it has been quite a week.
Today, I cannot help but think about safety, preparedness and resilience. As the news relates stories of another casualty of the California fires or the frightening violence in the south of Israel, one cannot help but wonder: What would I do if I were there? What should I be doing now? What steps are we doing to continually prepare our own communities for such disasters?
And then there was Tuesday in Pittsburgh, when I was honored to be standing shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues from Pittsburgh, who were entering the Tree of Life building for the first time since the horrific massacre three weeks ago. As we filed into the remaining pews, one could not miss the bullet holes in the reading lectern, marble steps of the bimah and in the holy Ark in front of us, housing the congregations’ Torah scrolls.
“My holy space has been defiled,” Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said to our large group of professional and volunteer leaders from Jewish Federations, JCCs and Jewish Family Services organizations who gathered there from throughout North America. “But they will not chase me out of my house.”
Visions of other moments of Jewish communal solidarity flashed before me as I stood solemnly with him, singing “Oseh Shalom” and reciting Kaddish. And, as on so many other occasions, the only thing that felt right to do after communal prayer, was to simply bear witness, learn critical details about what has been done for the community to date, and then continue the work toward resilience together.
Throughout the week, many of us have been checking on our colleagues and friends in our partnership region of Netivot & Sdot Negev as well as elsewhere in Israel. How scary to hear about the terrifying damage from hundreds of rockets hurtling from Gaza, and how many hours our Israeli friends have spent hearing warning siren after siren, cramped in bomb shelters and safe houses.
It is the stories of kindness that fortify me. Yesterday, my friend and Jewish Agency for Israel colleague Hila Yogev-Keren responded to my outreach by telling me about how Isaac “Boujie” Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, took the time in the middle of the crisis to call her late at night after hearing she had been stuck for hours in the Partnership regional office and offer to stay on the phone with her until she arrived home safely.
On Wednesday, I participated in a call with my Jewish Federation colleagues from California, talking through their response to the deadly fires. As is often the case, our conversation was peppered with questions of what Jewish institutions had been damaged, where interested donors could turn and what else our collective could do to help heal yet another community.
And on Thursday, as I looked around at the incredible amount of people who attended our Main Event, many proudly wearing name tags identifying themselves as past mission participants, I felt an overwhelming wave of gratitude. For almost 118 years, our communities have supported our Jewish Federation as we have built critical infrastructure as well as a caring community.
For even in such weeks of extreme highs and lows, we can depend on one another to continue to meet the needs here in Philadelphia, Israel and around the world. I hope it brings you comfort to know that your Jewish Federation works every day to invest in, prepare and create the framework to help us be stronger together. Thanks to each one of you, and the thousands of hours of time and millions of dollars donated, we are able to build upon the power of our collective.