From Our CEO
The Ending That Is Also the Beginning
May 25th, 2023

Seven weeks ago, we reclined at our seder tables, eating matzah and bitter herbs and recounting our redemption from Egypt. From a narrative perspective, it seemed at the close of the seder like we’d reached an obvious endpoint:

Slavery. God’s outstretched arm. Ten plagues. Splitting of the Red Sea. Freedom.

The end.

But not really...

In fact, the end of the seder is just the beginning of our journey as a Jewish people. Yes, it marks our freedom from oppression — a monumental moment. However, the freedom that was given to the Israelites when they first left Egypt had no borders, no boundaries, no clear direction.

Which brings us to Shavuot. Starting at sundown this evening, Shavuot (“weeks,” in Hebrew), celebrates the moment when — seven weeks after being freed from Egypt — the Jewish people stood together as a nation at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Torah.

We mark those seven weeks from Passover to Shavuot with the nightly counting of the Omer — traversing a spiritual corridor that represents our journey from newly freed slaves to a people bound by a covenantal obligation with God to be “a light unto the nations.”

It is this covenant that binds us to one another, guides our day-to-day lives, and gives us purpose. It is freedom made holy by form and shape and responsibility.

Appropriately, we mark Shavuot by reading the Book of Ruth. After the high drama of Passover, here is a story with soft contours, a tale of individual and collective kindness. Ruth, who is not born Jewish, leaves her native land to follow and care for Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law. Both women are widowed and since they are unable to provide for themselves, Ruth goes to the fields to glean the wheat required — by Torah law — to be left behind for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

The law demands kindness (a mirror to Ruth’s kindness), which begets kindness. And that legacy of kindness makes us who we are even today: a people who care for those in need, whether they are strangers in a strange land, or our neighbors in need. 

Just this morning, it was this legacy that propelled UJA to grant an additional $1.5 million in emergency funding (in addition to the $23 million already provided), to support Ukrainian refugees still struggling to restart their lives. And this legacy is why — day in and day out — we feed the hungry with dignity. Why we provide companionship for the elderly. Why we help people of all ages cope with grief, trauma, and other mental health issues. And why we give people of all ages access to the beauty and promise of Jewish life.

Because we are all Ruth — and we are also the farmers who leave the wheat behind. We are all the slaves who fled Egypt — and also those who stood at Sinai.

We are the descendants of those who kept these stories alive, passing down the traditions and values embedded in them. And we are the ones animated by these traditions and values to write the next chapter in our people’s story — a story that never ends.

Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom