Judith Alperin, CEO: Traveling This Bridge of Adversity Together

By Judith Alperin, CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven

Kol Ha'Olam Kulo
Kol ha'olam kulo
Gesher tzar me'od
Veha'ikar lo lifached k'lal.

The whole world
Is a very narrow bridge
and the main thing is to have no fear at all

Bridges have always interested me. I always enjoyed traveling over the Tappan Zee Bridge during our family pilgrimages from Cherry Hill, New Jersey to Haverhill, Massachusetts, riding in the middle seat of my dad’s brown 1977 Pontiac station wagon in unfortunate reach of my sister’s grasp from the way back. The Tappan Zee was the opposite of “gesher tzar me’od” as it felt wide and expansive as we crossed the Hudson River.

Later, when living in Pennsylvania, bridges became even more fascinating. There was a plethora of beautiful red-sided covered bridges which I enjoyed riding through on my bicycle as I traveled through the wooden hilly terrain. I imagined the days before when the first settlers in the area, Pennsylvania Germans who sought religious freedom in America, would traverse the bridges on horse drawn buggies and carriages.

Just last year, I crossed the famed Brooklyn Bridge for the first time as I marched with thousands standing up against hate and antisemitism. The Brooklyn Bridge will hold special meaning for me now.

And yet Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav taught us that the whole world is a very narrow bridge (gesher tzar me’od). During these pandemic times, we feel that acutely as all that we knew before March 2020 has been disrupted with both people and places ripped from us. Our cherished institutions have been threatened like never before. So many have been left struggling through illness and loss of livelihoods.

For the past several months, a special COVID-19 Financial Planning Task Force convened by Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven President Steven Fleischman has been working tirelessly to develop scenarios, financial models and a turnaround plan. As the committee delved deeply into the financial data, they discovered that had the pandemic not happened, the Jewish Federation/JCC would have been on its way to achieving record results never before seen in our community. Membership numbers were nearing 2,000; the budget was on target to exceed revenues by $250,000. Unheard of. But we were unable to enjoy our success.

Instead, we find ourselves knocked back on our heels with membership reductions at the JCC in excess of 50% and other revenue streams impacted due to COVID-19-era limitations.

But we are no strangers to adversity. We just marked the 4th anniversary of the fire that ripped through our community building. We overcame that challenge and executed on our bold vision to reimagine the community center as a vibrant centerpiece of Jewish life in Greater New Haven. We will do it again. The Jewish Federation’s Board of Directors, upon the recommendation of the Task Force, is embarking on a Bridge to the Future campaign of $1.45 million over the next three years to return the Jewish Federation/JCC to its pre-COVID-19 success. If anyone can achieve the goals of this plan, it’s the staff team and volunteer leaders of this special organization that I am so honored to lead.

The world may be a narrow bridge, but we should not be afraid. We are together. United we will travel across this bridge to a bright sustainable future.

With all my best for a better and healthy 2021.

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