In March, I became executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix after serving as chief development officer for almost two years. The one thing that seems to hold true now more than ever is that the world continues to change more quickly. This is true, as well, in the North American Jewish community and right here in the Valley. At the end of the day though, in the immortal words of Simon and Garfunkel, “…after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same.”
While the basic tenet of Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – every Jew is responsible for the other – does not change, technology changes and new generations of Jews have different approaches to how to live Jewish lives. The Federation and other organizations that make it possible for Jewish people to care for each other must adjust as the realities of our new world transform.
In May, 2017, the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix leadership unanimously approved a new mission statement, “Strengthening Jewish life and identity while providing for Jews in need.” While both things must happen simultaneously, it was intentional to put “Strengthening Jewish life and identity” first. Providing for Jews in need with food, clothing, shelter, jobs, counseling and other basic and not-so-basic needs is seemingly self-evident.
The thing that has caused Judaism to be the longest running show in human history and prompted Mark Twain to ask, “All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” I would venture to say the Jewish tradition of tzedakah. Many translate it as charity, but it actually means justice. This, and our responsibility to each other, is what makes the Jewish people eternal. Others might say it is the observance, respect and appreciation for the Torah that has kept the Jewish people grounded. I certainly would never argue with that. The point I want to make is that to defy the odds of our small numbers and allow Judaism to continue to flourish; we must focus our attention on strengthening Jewish life and identity.
In addition to the new mission statement, we developed three areas of core impact to focus our mission. These areas are: engaging the next generation, enriching senior lives and supporting Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.
Through the generosity of Federation donors, we are impacting these core areas. We are engaging the next generation by funding scholarships for Jewish camp and Birthright buses. We have developed NowGen, which we modeled after a highly successful young leadership program from the Detroit Federation and are now engaging wonderful, deeply committed, Jewish young people in our Federation.
In the area of enriching seniors lives, we fund the Senior Concierge program run by our strategic partner, Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Janet Arnold works tirelessly to link seniors to vital services that help them maintain independence and Jewish dignity. Through Federation’s senior rides program, we provide transportation for seniors to health care appointments, errands and social activities, but it is about more than rides. The program creates a sense of independence for our community’s seniors while improving their quality of life and combating isolation.
Supporting Israel and Jewish communities worldwide keeps our local Jewish community connected to our brothers and sisters in Israel and 70 countries throughout the world, including the vulnerable communities within the former Soviet Union. We provide funding to our overseas partners, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). These agencies act as our “boots on the ground,” providing critical social services, food and medicine to Holocaust survivors and Jews in need, as well as aliyah assistance and support in times of crisis.
Our generous donors also fund vital programs right here in the Valley. We are grateful to our Strategic, School, Core Impact Area and Community Partners for the work they do to improve Jewish lives and the vibrancy they add to our community.
The most important piece that has sustained Jewish communities around the world for so very long is the generous and humble supporters who contribute their hard-earned dollars to fund our work and who volunteer their time serving on our board and committees.
Federation matters because our community matters. But, most importantly Federation matters because YOU matter! Thank you for all you make possible through Federation.
Marty Haberer is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.