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It’s been a very busy week as we prepare to launch what is possibly the most important Annual Campaign in our community’s history. To kick off the campaign, we are hosting a virtual opening event, but it won’t be your typical online gathering.
First, the program is designed to wrap up in well under an hour. We are working with the same people who helped produce our FEDtalks, so you can expect a very polished event. (Mark September 8th in your calendar and register here for the event link.)
In preparation for the big night, we had a great conversation with one of our presenters, Nigel Savage, CEO of Hazon, the Jewish lab for sustainability. Nigel is going to be speaking about food sustainability in a Jewish context, which is an important aspect of the work we have done and continue to do in this area with our partner, Jewish Family Services. Together, we are working toward an approach to food that is based on an inclusive model rather than one that is have/have-not.
We talked about how food connects people of different backgrounds and interests, who share a commitment to the environment, sustainability, and preserving the diversity of our Jewish heritage.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that shmita (the Sabbath year or practice of resting agricultural land in a seven-year cycle) is possible. We are so excited for Nigel to bring his vision for greater innovation and sustainability to our community.
We are very proud to let you know that our Board of Directors has approved the release of $5,000 from the Overseas Emergency Fund to help our partner, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), deliver medical supplies to the Beirut Medical Center.
The JDC provides non-sectarian humanitarian aid in 70 countries, and reaching out to the people of Beirut is an important and meaningful gesture. We have been in contact with a Lebanese community organization in Canada to convey our sympathies and to let them know our community stands by them at this time of tragedy.
Our partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), invites you to join the first Virtual Global Festival for Jewish Teens, featuring a live performance by Netta. With so many summer programs cancelled, there have been fewer opportunities for Jewish teens from all over the world to connect with each other. JAFI is inviting teens to a creative, accessible platform for meeting other Jewish teens from Israel and around the globe, where they can strengthen their Jewish ties and have fun at an international event for thousands of young people—a virtual international Jewish youth festival. Teens 14-19 years old can register here.
As we close out this week and this message, we move into a very special time in our calendar—the month of Elul, when we begin blowing the shofar in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s a time of reflection and heightened awareness of ourselves, our deeds, and our purpose. On a very personal level, today has an additional special meaning for me because I am celebrating a milestone birthday: my 40th.
In our tradition the number 40 represents transition, renewal, and a new beginning. The number 40 has the power to lift you to a higher spiritual state, and your 40th year is thought to be both the age of reason and the height of a man’s life. It’s an opportunity to take stock and to thank those who have been there for me, starting with my parents, Zev and Leslie Shanken; my grandfather, Rabbi Sidney Shanken, who has been a constant source of inspiration; and my grandmother, Gloria. I want to say a special thank-you to my wife, Rachel, for her incredible partnership in life.
If you had told me when I was 30 that 10 years later I would have the privilege of serving this community as CEO of Jewish Federation, or that I would be married with three kids (and that my kids would be Canadian!), I wouldn’t have believed you.
Thank you, too, to our senior management team of Marcie Flom, Shelley Rivkin, Becky Saegert and Jeff Balin, and to the CEOs who paved the way: Steve Drysdale, Drew Staffenberg, Mark Gurvis, and Richard Fruchter. I also want to thank our hard-working Federation staff. Todah rabah to the board chairs I’ve had the privilege to serve with: Diane Switzer, Stephen Gaerber, Karen James, and Alex Cristall, and all the other wonderful volunteers and donors who have made our Federation and our community strong. I am grateful for what we’ve accomplished together, and I’m excited for the great accomplishments still ahead of us.
As I move through this milestone, I am keenly aware how this has been a challenging time for so many who are marking their own milestones. Our instinct is to gather and be together, and that isn’t possible right now. Whether it’s been the birth of a child, a wedding, or a funeral, if it has happened during COVID, we have had to find new ways to maintain a sense of connection as we mark these moments.
Still, I feel so blessed. I look forward to celebrating all our milestones in person again soon.
Ezra S. Shanken
Chief Executive Officer