A few weeks ago, I went into New York City on a Sunday to spend the day with my 5 year old granddaughter, Adin, and celebrate her birthday. Most of the day was centered around what Adin wanted: a shopping excursion at the American Girl Doll Store, a children’s art museum, and pink-a-licious cupcakes at Crumbs. But savta (that’s me!) insisted on picking the place for lunch. An avowed carnivore, I selected the quintessential Jewish deli. While she gobbled down a hotdog, I feasted on my chopped liver sandwich on rye, with gribenes.
It reminded me of the comedian’s joke: Four Jewish women are sitting at a table at Schwartz’s delicatessen. One is kvetching about the temperature of the coffee; another remarks that the pickles are not crispy enough. The third is annoyed that the lean pastrami has some fat and the fourth is chagrined that the meat on her sandwich is not piled as high as it ought to be. The harried waiter stops by and pointedly asks, "Is anything okay?"
Is anything okay? These are tough times in the world and in our community. The turbulence goes deeper than the current financial crisis, the pendulum swing of the stock market, the political turmoil affecting nation states in Europe and upheaval in both North Africa and the Middle East. The tectonic plates of history itself are shifting.
For the Jewish community of Greater New Haven, there are challenges ahead. When faced with adversity, we can give up, adopt the critical attitude of the proverbial kvetchers at the deli, or we can look at the challenges as an opportunity to make things better.
Grandmother’s pushke is no longer the way people give tzedekah. We can not depend on donors, large and small, to automatically give to our campaign as they did in years past.Our agencies need additional dollars in order to maintain programs and fulfill their mission; membership in some synagogues is decreasing; and we have not engaged the younger generation nor sufficiently inspired the current one.
Yet, there is much to celebrate. Despite the economic downturn and the trend in other non-profits, we have maintained our campaign. We need to raise an additional 10% to meet the needs of our agencies; this is not beyond our ability. We have raised additional dollars for crises around the world and, closer to home, we have responded with alacrity to two recent storms. Our increased allocation to a revitalized JFS has allowed them to better serve those who need counseling, job training and emergency assistance. The Jewish Scholarship Initiative increases our commitment to scholarships for informal and formal Jewish education, from nursery schools, to special needs, from camp to MAKOM and day schools.
We have provided significant resources to Camp Laurelwood to improve their facility and they are thriving. PJ Library provides books and programs monthly to 700 children aged 6 months to 8 years old in our community. Almost 300,000 young adults have traveled to Israel on Birthright Israel, which our community enthusiastically supports. We are collaborating with synagogues, building the Jewish community on the shoreline, providing money for Shabbat services and Jewish programming at the Towers, placing 164 volunteers in 7 public schools who teach children to read and to love reading, and building relationships with the interfaith, immigrant and diverse ethnic groups in our area with our JCRC.
I am privileged to see the way our JCC, with increased Jewish programming, the involvement of our teen emissaries from Israel, a vibrant camp, excellent nursery school, and gathering place for the community, touches people’s lives every day. Every day we have things to be proud of as a dynamic, caring, responsive Jewish people.
If we wrestle with the great issues that confront Judaism and our community today, we will find that we are not just "okay". We will be much better. Not, as my granddaughter declared at the end of our excursion, "Perfect!", but much better.