What a difference a year makes. Last Passover, we were just beginning to understand the toll that COVID would take on our lives. We were hunkered down (we thought for a few months) and preparing for Zoom Seders and family events without the physical proximity of loved ones. Now, a year later, many of us are still social distancing, but there is hope on the horizon. Local and national COVID numbers are on the decline, and we have reached over 100 million vaccines - and still counting. This is cause for optimism, albeit cautious optimism.
For me, the onset of Passover brings with it a bit of self-reflection. As I busily clean out bread and crumbs, I am really shedding the heaviness of winter and all that comes with it. This Passover is especially poignant, as we have come through an experience as fraught and challenging as the pandemic. I recycle newspapers and magazines that I had hoped to read (I didn’t) and clean bookshelves and corners, and clear the accumulation of papers from this year of working at home. I feel lighter and more free with each toss.
Nestled among these papers are the goals I had set for my two years as your Federation president: grow the Federation’s impact in the Jewish community, increase the overall engagement of Federation in the community at large, and work to ensure the safety of Jewish Rochester now and for the future. Despite a once in a century pandemic and a year full of surprises and uncertainty, we have made real progress in these areas.
The Federation’s impact in the Jewish community was highlighted during two recent virtual “missions” showcasing the work of our local and international beneficiaries. Both sessions were impactful and spotlighted the innovative programming and dedicated service of our community professionals through this past year. Whether sharing activities to engage our vulnerable seniors at Jewish Senior Life, or educating our youth at Hillel School, or serving families in need through Jewish Family Services or running vital community programs at the JCC, our local agencies have met the year’s challenges with creativity and resilience. The dollars that we raise from you, our generous donors, through the annual campaign as well as the security and COVID emergency campaigns, supported our local agencies and kept them whole through this crisis.
At the same time, we have deepened our ties in the Rochester community. In addition to participating in Mayor Warren’s Task Force on Racial Equity and Justice, we were invited to sit on the United Way’s COVID distribution committee, and currently have a seat on the Finger Lakes Vaccine Task Force to help with the county vaccine roll out and public education campaign.
As part of our ongoing efforts to secure our community, we have worked with each and every Jewish agency in the Rochester community: Not only have we helped agencies secure their buildings and surroundings through ROCStrong and provided security assistance for in-person synagogue services, we have convened community leaders as needed to share updates and alerts. In addition, our programming through the Levine Center to End Hate has led efforts to address anti-Semitism, racial equity, hate, injustice and discrimination. Sadly, this week’s horrific shooting in Atlanta, and the nearly 4,000 incidents of violence against Asian Americans in the last year, are a painful reminder of how far we still need to go to eradicate hate and racism. In the next few months, the Jewish Community Relations Council and Levine Center to End Hate will be taking a hard look at racial justice and anti-Asian violence through two deep dive series.
With Passover beginning next week, I have been reflecting on the Seder, particularly the song Dayenu. Dayenu roughly translates to “enough” or “it would have been enough,” and the song details in about 15 or so lines all that would have been enough for us. What I have come to understand is that this spiritual principle of enoughness is really about gratitude. In order to be fully grateful, we have to specify our blessings - this delineation makes us realize how truly grateful we are. Renowned Jewish scholar, Dr. Erica Brown says,
‘We don’t realize how lucky we are until we speak our blessings in detail. Dayenu is a template for true thanks.”
This year has been painful, and full of loss, but despite that, and maybe because of it, I am thankful, most especially for you. I feel privileged to serve our community and be part of the exciting, dynamic, caring and collaborative work that happens here in Rochester each and every day.
It is enough, and I am truly grateful.
Wishing you and yours a happy Passover.