Standing Still at Sinai

Tomorrow night, we will begin the holiday of Shavuot, also known as the Festival of Weeks, in which we commemorate receiving the Torah at Sinai. For seven weeks, we have been counting the days since Pesach, tracking our journey to when we stood at Sinai and actually became “a People.” It is important to note that it is not the liberation from the chains of bondage alone that makes us free; it is the law that makes us free – and united in purpose.

There is a midrash that says that all Jews – those who were at Sinai and every one of us since – stood together at the foot of the mountain to receive the Torah. It says that all of us recited in one voice na’aseh v’nishmah – we will do and we will hear. Each one of us, therefore, continually receives the Torah, both personally and as part of a greater whole. Each one of us must act, and we all must listen.

In our board meetings and discussions this past week, we engaged in collective na’aseh v’nishmah, working together to do what is right and necessary to sustain meaningful, vibrant Federations and Jewish community, and listening carefully to each other in order to arrive at the best solutions. It was an act as sacred as that magnificent day in the wilderness long ago, when we arrived at the foot of the mountain as a ragtag caravan and emerged as a people with a common bond. In the wilderness we had our share of complications and disagreements, and today is no different. But we were no longer acting only as individuals, and that conferred upon us a responsibility toward one another and for the greater whole.

This past week, our board meeting also marked a celebration of transitions in leadership. There is no greater indication of the health and promise of an organization than the passing of the gavel from one leader to the next. We honored the extraordinary service of our outgoing NYL co-chairs, Simone Knego and Mike Teplitsky; our NWP chair, Wendy Abrams; and our National Campaign chair, Suzanne Barton Grant. Recognition was also given to Andy Groveman, who has completed his dedicated service as chair of UIA.

It is not easy to be a leader among the Jewish people, but there is also no greater honor and privilege. And these individuals have not only advanced our cause, but created a more cohesive, effective, and interconnected system for us all. The leaders who succeed them – Rachel Hoffer and Adam Miller for NYL, Shelly Kupfer for NWP, David Brown as National Campaign Chair, and Cindy Shapira for United Israel Appeal – will all begin on solid footing. We not only wish them well; we pledge to work alongside them with dedication and commitment.

We had an opportunity to recognize and thank our outgoing President and CEO, Jerry Silverman for a decade of devoted service to the Federations and all of JFNA. No one has worked harder, gotten up earlier, or travelled to more places to engage with and advance the Jewish community. Jerry has been a stalwart advocate for the North American Jewish community, always going above and beyond to make things better. We wish him health, happiness, and meaning in all his future endeavors.

We are also appreciative of the thorough and excellent work of the CEO Search Committee, led by Richard Sandler, which resulted in the hiring of Jerry’s successor, Eric Fingerhut. We were given a glimpse into the brilliant promise Eric brings to us when he addressed the board. A great deal was said about this being the hardest job in the Jewish community. But Eric showed us that, to paraphrase Spinoza, all things worthwhile are as excellent as they are difficult. Our shared devotion to that excellence is what will lift us to new heights as he begins his tenure.

We have so much to be grateful for, as we witnessed a renewed commonality among our Federations, striving to be a more unified system with a greater sense of responsibility for one another. We were once again standing at Sinai, as a People with a common destiny and purpose, ready for the rest of the journey – a journey that continues to this day and will for many years to come.

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Shavuot Sameach!

Mark Wilf is Chair of the Board of Trustees of JFNA.