Almost two months past the originally scheduled date, the local Federation launched its annual campaign, and the Jewish community gathered to celebrate what it means to be stronger together.
To be sure, Pittsburgh is still in pain, still shaken, still not back to normal. But as they begin to heal, there’s a deeply felt recognition that their Federation was and continues to be the central address in responding to the crisis, supporting the community every step of the way.
It’s because of the Federation and its network of nonprofit partners that critical services were provided from the very first moments, beginning on the morning of the shooting and in the days and weeks thereafter. Just to name a few: The JCC, an anchor of the Jewish community, became the gathering place for family members waiting for news of loved ones. The Jewish Family and Community Services provided trauma therapists and social workers. The Federation’s security director served as a vital interface with law enforcement. Just weeks before the shooting, he conducted an active shooter training with Tree of Life. Because of that training, the rabbi was able to get people in the front of the sanctuary to safety.
All of these resources were in place before that terrible Shabbat morning so that they could do what needed to be done in the aftermath. It’s a concept familiar to us. As my wise predecessor John Ruskay noted in reference to UJA’s work following the World Trade Center terror attacks: “We were there on 9/11 because we were there on 9/10.”
In gathering together to launch their annual campaign, Pittsburgh’s Jewish community reaffirmed values we all share — the idea that nobody stands alone; we all hold up one another. On that note, I’m proud to say that we — along with Federations nationwide — came together to do our part for Pittsburgh. UJA’s professional staff spent significant time helping Pittsburgh with its launch event, knowing how much was on their plate. (The CEO there referred to us as his “Chanukah miracle,” but it was really our privilege to help.)
I was similarly reminded of the power of Jewish community coming together here in New York last week. On a Monday evening, over 2,000 men and women came to our annual Wall Street Dinner. And the theme wasn’t business. One after another, a series of extraordinary leaders reflected on the values of family, community, spirituality, and finding meaning in giving back to others.
A recurring message — perhaps best expressed by Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and former CEO of Goldman Sachs, who currently chairs UJA’s Wall Street Division — was how UJA is embedded in people’s lives. He shared that it was a UJA-supported Y and summer camp that deepened his connection to Judaism and broadened his awareness of what he might accomplish in life. Another speaker, a native of Istanbul, shared how Jewish life there always had to be under the radar, and how privileged she felt to be in a room where so many could be proudly and loudly Jewish.
In a year punctuated by too much heartbreak, these gatherings of community give us all reason to be hopeful. We are powerful when we come together. We can make a difference. And we can commit to making next year a better one for all.
Wishing you a healthy, happy, and peaceful 2019.