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2017 JOFEE Network Gathering Remarks

From Steven Green, Director of Grants Management and Program Officer, Jim Joseph Foundation

We are here!

We tend to wish one another a Shana Tovah while we acknowledge this has been a Shana Kashe. It’s been a tough year. That’s probably the understatement of the century, but it needs to be said and acknowledged. The attacks on Jews of all creeds have been physical, verbal, emotional, and unrelenting. Our values and our resolve have simultaneously been tested. And of course we have not been the only ones attacked in these ways.

But no longer are we in a shtetl.

No longer are we monolithic.

No longer are we even always a ‘we’ – and yet, we are still degraded and debased collectively.

I know these are less-than-uplifting remarks, but processing this reality helps us better understand our work and our critical role creating deeply meaningful, personal life experiences for people. Others here will talk about JOFEE specifically; I want to focus for just a few minutes on the external realities impacting many of our lives right now.

We have shown that we can stand up against something together – standing up against misogyny through women’s marches; standing up against bigotry, antisemitism, and hatred following Charlottesville and rallies in Boston, San Francisco, and elsewhere; and standing up against sending our immigrant friends and families away.

The even more challenging moment is when we are asked to stand together for something.

Many of you are likely exhausted, battling superficial and environmental forces for the past 9 months and knowing that the end is not yet in sight. And yet you are here. Each of us here has chosen this as a place to convene, whether it be for immersive professional development, empathy, or just comraderie, this is where we all are.

I believe in HaTikvah – the hope.

I’m going to share two anecdotes with you that give me that hope, one in which our community showed up for others and another in which others showed up for us.

Story 1:

Less than two weeks ago, amidst the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Zaka, a United Nations-recognized humanitarian volunteer organization known for its efforts in search, rescue, and recovery in natural disasters as well as terrorist attacks, led a team of Ultra-Orthodox Israelis to Houston to provide assistance. One of the major projects undertaken was to assist the Gulf Meadows Church with cleanup and restoration. The idea of Ultra-Orthodox Jews cleaning up a church feels counter to many of our assumptions, but it was done both honorably and in the spirit of b’tzelem elokim (that every person is in G-d image).

Story 2:

There have been several claims made in prominent media outlets that following Charlottesville the US is like 1938 Nazi Germany. Here is why I do not believe that is true. During the Holocaust, there was a fear, unwillingness, and even complacency of the masses to intervene in the mass murder of Jews, the disabled, Roma, homosexuals, and threatened minorities. Thankfully, the idea of an ‘innocent bystander’ is no longer an accepted norm. In Charlottesville, hundreds marched against the KKK, Nazis, and other white supremacists. In Boston, tens of thousands marched against them. A week later, these bigoted groups canceled their rallies in the Bay Area less than 12 hours before they were to begin and still the counter-protestors stood up to show their solidarity. Candlelight vigils, prayer services, and counter rallies were ubiquitous and these words of hatred, bigotry, and antisemitism were not allowed to go unanswered.

As we sit together for the next several days, it is hard to imagine the world outside of the context of the last nine months. But let us imagine – let us imagine the 120 of us gathered here standing together for something. It is a tendency in the nonprofit world to be siloed and allow ourselves to be separated by competitive forces. What you are doing is far beyond hosting a program, running a camp, or even building a farm. You are giving meaning and belief during what is, for many, a time of desperation. You are providing a lens through which others can view the rest of the world.

And that is what gives me hope.

I hope each of you lives in the moment of these next three days and that you have an opportunity to think about what it is you can do together.

Thank you for all that you do.