by Mark Wilf
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we add three beautiful, poetic paragraphs to our morning prayers, each of which begins with the word “uv’chein”, which roughly translates to “and so.” In each we ask big things of G-d – to make all the world revere G-d, to bring happiness to our people, and to banish wickedness. Today we’d call these “big asks”!
One of these “big asks” jumps off the page for me as the Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America: “v’ya’asu kulam aguda achat” – to unite us as “one community” in order to carry out our obligations “wholeheartedly.”
As we reflect on our obligations to G-d and to each other over the course of the coming high holidays, we will think about many things that are each of our responsibility alone – to be kind to each other, to visit the sick, to open our homes to those who need friendship and and support. But there will also be many obligations we will consider that require us to work with others to accomplish the task – educating our children, serving those in need. Some of these tasks can be done in small groups, but many more require the collective efforts of the entire community.
Doing this work together does not require us to agree on theological or political issues. That is not why we pray to become an “aguda achat.” Rather, when we pray to be united as one community, we are asking for the capacity to work together to accomplish the great and critical things without which the Jewish people cannot survive. We are asking for the collective capacity to build Jewish communities that are healthy, safe, caring, welcoming and inclusive, educated and engaged, involved in the broader community and deeply connected to the State of Israel and the global Jewish people.
This is the work of the Jewish Federation system, together with so many other Jewish organizations who contribute to the well-being of our communities. I realize it may be hard sometimes to follow the work of the vast number of Jewish agencies and institutions, but we are in fact “aguda achat” as we go about the work of communal leadership.
We have been reminded over and over again these past eighteen months how important it is that we do indeed function as “one community.” The challenges of the pandemic, of the safety and security of our people around the world and at home, of the need to deeply engage our young people in the great adventure of Jewish life – all of these have reminded us that we cannot succeed unless we act collectively.
“And so,” as we turn inward for the prayer and introspection that the holidays bring, let us ask what more we can do to be a “united community” for the purposes of serving the needs of the whole. Rabbi Efrom Goldberg reminds us that the Alter Rebbe “encouraged us to spend Rosh Hashanah not only thinking about what we need but what we are needed for.” In my role at the Jewish Federations of North America, I see everyday that we are needed for those things that no Jew can do alone – to organize and mobilize the collective action that will ensure the flourishing of the Jewish people in this moment in history.
May the year 5782 be a year of health, prosperity and peace for you, your loved ones, the entire People of Israel, and the world.
Shanah tova and Am Yisrael Chai!
Mark Wilf is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America