At the start of 2022, we had a clear idea of what the year would bring — or so we thought. Though the shadow of Omicron loomed, with the wide availability of vaccines and new therapeutics, we believed the medical crisis was largely over. We expected our primary focus to be on responding to the continuing emotional and financial toll of the pandemic. Growing antisemitism was certainly a concern, but not at the forefront of the national conversation. Europe? Not particularly on our radar.
All of 15 days into the new year, a horrifying synagogue hostage situation unfolded in Colleyville, Texas. By year’s end, one of the most famous rappers in the world would use his platform to dangerously and repeatedly attack Jews, expressing his affection for Hitler and the Nazis. As antisemitic hate speech erupted on social media, it felt like there had been a monumental shift: the normalization of antisemitism that had not long ago seemed unfathomable in this country.
Just two months into the new year, all eyes were on Europe, as Russia invaded Ukraine, precipitating a refugee crisis upending the lives of millions of people, starting a war that rages on today.
New Covid cases remain stubbornly high — with a new “tridemic” of flu and RSV added to the mix. And the economic ramifications of the pandemic have come into even sharper focus, as food pantries across New York report that traffic remains 69% higher than pre-pandemic levels. Food prices are up 12% and kosher food is up a staggering 16%.
From the perspective of three years ago, it’s hard to imagine that we would find ourselves this year confronting all these crises simultaneously. But a federation responds.
Over the nearly 10 months of war, we’ve allocated $21 million in emergency funding for Ukraine — none of it part of our anticipated budget for the year. We’ve provided literally life-saving support to tens of thousands of Ukrainians.
We’ve significantly expanded our Community Security Initiative, which recently played a critical role in thwarting a potential synagogue attack in New York. We’ve worked with social media influencers, amplifying positive voices who speak up against hate. We’ve funded over a dozen trips to Israel for diverse influentials of every background.
In response to economic uncertainty, our Jack and Shirley Silver Hub in Queens, launched at the height of the pandemic, provided financial and legal counseling, employment training, and mental health support to thousands of people — and now we’re building a similar major hub in Brooklyn. We significantly increased our mental health funding for young people and continue to support the largest kosher food program in the world.
We do all this, but at no point have we allowed crises to define us.
Which is why this year also saw the opening of our Jerusalem Campus for the Arts — a vision years in the making, bringing together thousands of diverse students on a single campus in the center of Jerusalem. We continued transforming our 500-acre Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds, home to 7,000 campers annually. We significantly expanded programs aiming to bridge divides within the Jewish community, and with our neighbors. And we helped fulfill the lifelong dream for thousands of Ethiopians who’ve been waiting for many years to come to Israel — and are home, at last.
We also continue to sustain an unparalleled network of Jewish community centers, day schools, and Hillels on college campuses, where Jewish life thrives.
We make the best of times possible, even in the worst of times. Only a federation can do this — and only with thanks to your extraordinary support.
And now, before the year ends, Hanukkah comes, a chance to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. This Monday, December 19 at 5:00 pm, we’ll gather in Times Square, the very heart of New York, as part of the Shine A Light initiative, to publicly display our Jewish pride. We’ll light a menorah for all to see, and very much hope you’ll join us.
With the year quickly coming to a close, we have the humility to know that we don’t know what 2023 will bring. But as a community, and with your support, we stand ready.
Happy Hanukkah, and may the new year bring health and peace — and much more of the best of times.