I am so excited to be writing to you for the first time as the newly installed Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America. It is an honor and a privilege to serve in this role.
The Hebrew word for leadership is manhigut – from the root found in the word “behavior.” For Judaism, effective leadership is about behavior and action. Mark Wilf, who concluded his term as Chair at our board meeting this past Monday, set this example for us for the last three-and-a-half years, leading with kindness and guiding us to action. I promise to do the same.
We have no time to rest. There is work to begin, initiatives that must be continued, and efforts we need to complete. I look forward to sharing thoughts on all of these priorities in the weeks and months to come. But for today, I want to express my gratitude most especially to David Brown, our newly installed Vice-Chair, Gary Torgow, our new National Campaign Chair, Suzanne Grant, our new Treasurer, and Neil Wallack, who is continuing as our Board Secretary. They are truly a dream team. And I have the blessing of partnership with our outstanding professional dream team, led by our President and CEO, Eric Fingerhut.
The Talmud teaches that one who is appointed over a community becomes the servitor or attendant of the community. Leaders must see themselves as serving the needs of their followers by enhancing their capacity, by motivating and empowering them, and by developing leadership. We are all attendants of the community – whether you are a local Federation lay leader or professional, or on one of our many system-wide boards and committees. Or both, as many of you are! Please stay connected and be our partners – we need each and every one of you.
Many of us are familiar from our synagogue services with the words we say when we take the Torah from the ark – vay’hi binsoa ha’aron - and when we return it – uv’nucha yomar. These words come from this week’s Torah reading, where the travels of the Israelites from Mt. Sinai to the Promised Land are described. When the people set out on a part of the journey, they would put the ark of the covenant at the head of the procession - vay’hi binsoa ha’aron – "and call out to G-d" – kuma adoshem – “arise O Lord” – to protect them. And when they came to rest – uv’nucha yomar – they would ask G-d to repose with them shuva adoshem – "among the myriads of the people of Israel" – riv’ve’vot alfai yisrael.
This is my prayer for us – that we will be guided and protected as we set out together on great challenges, and as we rest and recharge for the next mission we are called upon to undertake. I have no doubt that, just as my predecessor faced unprecedented challenges, we too will be called upon not only to address the issues of today but those we can not yet foresee.
Thank you for entrusting me with this responsibility – I promise to give it all I’ve got and then some.
Julie Platt is Chair of the Board of The Jewish Federations of North America