This year, 5779, has been a year of learning for me. I’ve studied with Rabbis Avi Weinstein and David Glickman, dialogued with Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel and his wife Nechama, and was introduced to Tehillim (Psalms) by Blumah Weinberg. I’ve attended lectures, read books on holiday observances and traditions, and begun a tradition of celebrating Shabbat with my staff at Federation. Personally, I have incorporated new habits into my daily routine so that I am surrounded by the beauty of our traditions while understanding the deeper meaning behind each one.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because I’ve learned that the month of Elul is a time for reflection, repentance, and tzedakah (giving back), and is especially poignant. It is the time when Moses ascended Sinai and prayed for G-d’s forgiveness on behalf of the Israelites who had sinned by building the golden calf. After this, Moses ascended again to receive a new set of commandments and stayed another 40 days receiving the revelation of Torah. From the beginning of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, to the end of Yom Kippur is a 40-day period. This is our time for repentance, judgement, and forgiveness.
For the first time, I am commemorating these 40 days by reading Psalms in addition to doing teshuvah (accounting for the soul) by reviewing a list of middot or traits on a daily basis. I study each one and try to incorporate them into my daily life. Also, I understand that the shofar is blown every day (except on Shabbat) during this 40-day period. A new learning for me, but something I will not be personally taking on this year!
One might say that I’ve become “religious.” Not really. What I’ve become is more cognizant of the teachings of our faith, and I must admit, I have enjoyed this new immersion into practice and learning. I have chosen traditions that previously I have not intentionally observed, taking baby steps along the way. Each has brought new understanding and appreciation for the richness of our culture. Each has expanded my horizons.
Federation has also tried some new things this year. The success of last year’s Annual Campaign (a record $5.46 million, thanks to you!) enabled Federation, through our allocations process, to fund five new programs reaching those with special needs, college-aged students, young adults and emerging leaders. The success of our inaugural Jewish Federation Golf Classic raised an additional $65,000 to help us better serve the community.
We successfully completed the first annual Dr. Harry and Alice Statland Young Leadership Institute, an introductory program for those beginning their leadership journey in our community. Earlier this month, we partnered with Germany Close Up to take fifteen young people from the KC Jewish community to learn about and experience Judaism in modern Germany. In addition, we have hired a young adult engagement professional to get young adults more engaged in our community in general and specifically in Federation.
We’ve made a concerted effort to partner with agencies and community organizations in our programming. For example:
- We worked with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education to host a meet-up style event at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for the Nazi-looted art exhibit, as well as two film screenings, one about Jews in Cuba and the other about a group of journalists who vowed to defeat Nazi lies and propaganda with pen and paper.
- We partnered with the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Community Center to co-sponsor a Raising Charitable Children program.
- During Jewish Disabilities Awareness & Inclusion Month, we partnered with Jewish Family Services on an event focusing on best practices for working with young adults with disabilities.
In total this year, Federation has offered, sponsored or partnered on more than 60 programs!
PJ Library also expanded its horizons. We started a new pilot program, Gathering for Good, which brings together a small group of young families to engage their children in social action volunteering. We also secured a $500,000 matching grant to build a PJ Library endowment to ensure the continuation of this wonderful program.
These efforts and more are part of re-imagining what it means to be an engaged community. We are looking at new ways to not just get people together in the same room, but to help them build relationships with each other, with Federation, and with the Jewish community. We’re also thinking about how we can engage parts of our community that we have not been reaching – such as hosting our first ever Israeli Novy Goad party, which brought together our Russian Jewish community.
This year has also been a time of review and reflection. One of our stalwart programs, Sasone, went through an assessment that gave us strong recommendations for growth. We implemented these suggestions and Sasone continues to afford children with disabilities the opportunity to be involved in Jewish learning. Our review of leadership development needs has us preparing a new program for incoming agency leaders.
As you can see, we’ve had a busy and productive year here at Federation! We continue to grow the organization and convene the community. Our team is strong and committed to our mission to sustain and enhance Jewish life.
I hope, at this holiday time, your reflections are ones that give you a sense of pride and a basis for growth. My hope is that during these High Holidays, you are able to take time to remember, reflect and make amends, and give tzedakah.
I wish you a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah, a good and sweet year. May you have a year of good health and happiness, of many accomplishments and few disappointments. Remember that together we are better so reach out and do something new and exciting. Step out of your comfort zone. Make a difference. Let’s continue to work together to make our Kansas City Jewish community the best it can be!