by Judy Alperin
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven
As I write this column, I am flying back from a family vacation to Arizona. The week began with an appreciation of the wonders of nature as we visited the Grand Canyon. The American Southwest is an awesome and awe-inspiring space and one cannot help but be humbled by it. It was funny, however, that as I traveled from place to place, I could not help but notice things I never had before - and it wasn’t just the cactus and the red rocks - it was the type of toilet partitions, tile, flooring and lighting.
We are in the final stages of the JCC refit and this experience has taught me so much about construction, our community, and how dreams can become reality when people come together.
During the week, our New Haven Jewish community and our greater Jewish community were never far from me. I was fortunate to participate in a conference call with our Jewish Community Relations Council; as we struggled to square our community’s active commitment to refugees in the United States with recent steps taken by the Israeli government to deport Eritrean and Sudanese refugees who had fled to Israel to escape genocide and extreme circumstances.
This is a moment when we understand that being true to our Jewish values of welcoming the stranger may not align with the actions of the Israeli government. Support and love for Israel does not have to be unconditional. There is no question that we believe in and directly support the Israeli people and the state. However, in this situation, our JCRC is clear in its concern for the refugees and its intention to help those suffering. The JCRC will be working with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) on the ground in Israel to funnel help and will be opening a mailbox where others may contribute financially. They will also hold educational forums to help our community better understand the challenges.
Unfortunately, by midweek, what should be unimaginable horror, but sadly is happening all too frequently, occurred when a lone gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon and extinguished 17 lives in a Parkland, Florida high school. Six of the victims were Jewish; students: Alyssa Alhadeff, Alex Schachter, Meadow Pollack, and Jaime Guttenberg; and teachers: Scott Beigel and Aaron Feis—who sacrificed themselves to save others. The Broward community is reeling and I immediately reached out to my dear friends at the Broward Federation to share our sympathies and support.
The Jewish community responded to the crisis, offering places of refuge and counseling through the synagogues and Chabad, teen counselors and Goodman Jewish Family Services. In the weeks ahead, the Federation will activate the power of our collective system to bring in experts from the Israel Trauma Coalition to help those grieving and struggling in the aftermath. The ITC was formed with the help of the Federation system and the support it receives from our annual campaign in response to the rocket attacks that began with Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Shootings are a very real threat to our communities and places like schools and community centers have been frequent targets—as we know much too well here in Connecticut. As we began to plan for the future of our community building, enhancing our security efforts was of paramount importance. Fortunately, State Senator Gayle Slossberg, of Milford, sponsored legislation to expand state security funding to include JCC-based schools. Our community is the recipient of a 50/50 matching grant of up to $405,000 to strengthen our facility’s security to protect our most precious asset -our children. For us to take full advantage of the funding, we will need to raise $200,000 of funds through our current capital campaign. If you are interested in contributing your support, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (203)387- 2424, ext. 231.
Just as I was preparing to return home to Connecticut, news came of an explosion targeting an IDF patrol along the border with Gaza. Four young Israeli soldiers were hurt, two critically. Immediately, my phone buzzed with news of Israeli air response and then rocket attacks on civilian populations in southern Israel. In an instant, things change and precious lives hang in the balance.
At the same time, news headlines were streaming about flagrant insensitive comments issued by the Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki, who, on the heels of the new Polish law making criminal any statements calling the death camps “Polish Death Camps,” had now gone further to state that Jewish people were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust. The extreme rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Poland, coupled with these actions and rhetoric, not only remind us how fragile our place in the world is and how history can be whitewashed, but it spurs our determination to travel to Poland this October. When our community visits Poland, we will bring support and strength to the increasingly beleaguered Jewish community. And we will stand strong as we visit the death camps and pay respects to the memory of the six million slaughtered because, just like us, they were Jewish. Today, stating, “Never Again” is not enough.
And so, I return from vacation with a renewed commitment and determination. Our challenges will continue. Some will be new and some will be eerily reminiscent of our shared past. Let the challenges serve as a wake-up call to remind us why we must have a strong and unified Jewish collective through the Jewish Federation system. “Kol arevim zeh b’zeh” - all Jews are responsible for one another - and it is with that understanding of a core Jewish value that, for our extended family in Broward, Florida, Poland, New Haven, Israel or anywhere on the globe, we will deliver comfort and the promise of the future.
PS: If you have not had a chance yet to enjoy delicious coffee, snacks and food in the new Café 360, I urge you to do so. Having a specialized coffeehouse right here at our community’s central address is a privilege that can only be sustained with your support.