In challenging times, work of inclusion, giving, and tradition continues

Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace (in red) stands with other religious leaders as the Jewish Federation holds a “Stand Against Hate” rally in March at Independence Hall to protest vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and hate crimes.

Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, is a time to celebrate the year ahead and to reflect on the one past. It’s a time where we come together to commit ourselves to our shared values, to guide ourselves to the choices and actions that will bring meaning to our lives and the community around us.

Similar to last year, we continue to struggle to define the attributes of a singular, Jewish identity. Sitting down to a holiday dinner with family members who have different views on politics, Israel, or religious observances for some has become alienating rather than engaging. And, far too many lack the resources, including transportation, to partake in a communal holiday at all.

I am frequently asked how my organization can truly be the voice of a community that is growing increasingly diverse. It’s a question that comes up every day: How do we find common purpose while ensuring that Jews of every opinion are heard and valued? How do we communicate that everyone is welcome to pass through our doors?

For more than a century, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has carried the light for Philadelphia by embracing three key roles: community convener, fund-raiser, and grant maker.

To accomplish this, we invest in the Jewish community by raising vital funds and addressing critical priorities, and leading region-wide conversations and actions on policies, strategies, and collective priorities. We amplify diverse Jewish voices by creating an atmosphere where all community members can have a seat at the table for open dialogue and by forming a vibrant network enabling us to ensure the safety and strength of Jews everywhere. And we strengthen Jewish values and traditions by providing an inclusive environment and valuable resources to all Jews in our region.

I am incredibly grateful to live in a city where so many share a similar set of beliefs. To this day, I am still in awe of the diverse crowd at last March’s Stand Against Hate rally that came together to denounce the vandalism at Mount Carmel cemetery. While racism and anti-Semitism are still percolating in our society, I was proud to stand with Philadelphia that day to announce that hate has no home here.

But, as we lead to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, we also must reflect on the occasions when we were too silent, judgmental, or inadvertently dismissive. The Jewish Federation’s motto is to “Carry the Light” to all members of the Jewish community. It inspires us to continue to do even more.

It is devastating to know that so many of our communities’ members live in poverty, including dozens of Holocaust survivors in the Northeast. While we will do our best now and in the future to fix their homes, to deliver food and other basic needs, how can we go further? How can we get to them, or get them to us, so they can be a part of our community?

Making sure that every member of our society is not only included, but feels included, is essential. In the Jewish community we don’t always agree on the questions most important to our way of life. But by keeping our focus on respect and service to one another, we can do more to embrace each other, even if we may not follow or understand our different journeys in life.

The Jewish Federation is committed to meeting the most basic needs of vulnerable community members of all ages — in the Philadelphia area and across the world.  Because we truly believe we are stronger together, we are continuously connecting individuals and organizations in various communities with one another to repair our society. And, we will continue to facilitate the enrichment of Jewish life and learning for everyone. No matter where people are on their Jewish journey, we are committed to provide opportunities for growth.

We live in a great community filled with hope and promise. May the new year inspire us to be even more impactful as we encourage one another through giving, inclusion, and tradition!

L’Shana Tovah!   

Naomi Adler is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. nadler@jewishphilly.org