Then the day took a very different turn. I headed to the Intrepid, where 5,000 volunteers had gathered to participate in what has become an annual day of service called Tomorrow Together and organized by 9/11 Day. UJA is one of the key partners, bringing hundreds of our own volunteers throughout the day. All told, we packed 1.1 million meals for New Yorkers in need, as well as 100,000 meals for communities in the Bahamas devastated by Hurricane Dorian. To witness a sea of New Yorkers who had chosen to spend the day doing good was to know we were honoring the lives of those lost in the most meaningful way.
Later that evening, in partnership with Central Synagogue, UJA brought together New York Times editor and writer Bari Weiss, in conversation with Rabbi Angela Buchdahl. Bari, as many of you know, grew up in Pittsburgh and was bat-mitzvahed at the Tree of Life Synagogue. In the wake of that tragedy, Bari shared her grief and personal perspective with the world, and shed light on how anti-Semitism has taken shape today. Her book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, was published this week.
At the event, Bari echoed a concept explored in her recent Times column, making the case that fighting anti-Semitism goes hand in hand with asserting ourselves, proudly, as Jews. She writes: “In these trying times, our best strategy is to build, without shame, a Judaism and a Jewish people and a Jewish state that are not only safe and resilient but also generative, humane, joyful and life-affirming.”
If we can’t be proudly Jewish, what are we fighting for?
To Bari’s point, despite a long history of external threats, it is precisely our particular Torah values and traditions — the very things that have set us apart — which have always moved us to look beyond ourselves, to be a source of help and healing to all who are in need.
And that’s the promise of UJA. This week that promise focuses on the victims of Hurricane Dorian. It takes the form of UJA emergency grants to two of our partners in disaster relief, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Afya, who are shipping desperately needed humanitarian supplies to the Bahamas. It also takes the form of extraordinary UJA donors, one who’s providing a private plane to send essential medicines and biomedical equipment, and another who’s donated 600 pairs of Naot shoes. And it’s reflected in people donating much-needed items at JCCs, Hillels, and other sites across our city for individuals who’ve lost everything — at the same time as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah.
Because being proudly Jewish takes many forms. It’s being counted in a minyan. Learning at a JCC. Traveling to Israel. It’s volunteering with neighbors across the city, and transforming a day of loss, fear, and incomprehensible tragedy into a day devoted to compassion, selflessness, and affirmation of life. It’s helping others in dire need who may not even know that the help they’re getting comes from the Jewish community.
That’s what we bring to the world. And we cannot let anyone ever take that away from us.