Richard Sandler, chair of the Board of Trustees, and Jerry Silverman, president and CEO, of The Jewish Federations of North America shared the following letter on December 1, 2016.
It’s been three weeks since our General Assembly in Washington, D.C., although it already seems like months. In that time, we’ve seen an increase in hateful acts here at home, from language shouted on streets and college campuses, to swastikas painted on synagogue walls, to vandalism targeting mosques. We were shocked by death threats against Reform leaders and Women of the Wall, and by devastating fires across Israel that wreaked havoc and forced 100,000 to flee. All of these events have generated a sense of communal unease.
Amid so much fear, it's easy to look past the good. Like the 20-plus nations that sent assistance to Israel to extinguish the fires. The Palestinians, too, sent ground assistance. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for that aid.
Yes, it is possible to be at odds on some matters yet still work together on others.
That’s precisely what we do at Jewish Federations. We are the community square, where we work together to find common ground in the name of tikkun olam, making the world a better place.
Our primary mission is and will remain to care for the most vulnerable around us—senior citizens, persons with disabilities, children and at-risk youth, and immigrants and refugees—and to perpetuate a value system that has sustained us and greatly contributed to the world at large for more than 3,000 years.
At the same time, we have to fight hate at home, in Israel and worldwide. Doing so entails opening our doors to varying perspectives and having difficult discussions, not only in our Jewish community, but also in the broader community.
None of us has a monopoly on knowing the answers to complex questions. All of us have a responsibility to discuss issues civilly, intelligently and factually. The world is complicated. Those who agree with us are not always perfect, and those who disagree with us are not always wrong and certainly not evil. When we allow ourselves to talk with someone whose voice differs from our own—not superficially, but to have a true dialogue—we learn and grow and strengthen our community.
As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has frequently stated, including at the General Assembly, “When the world is divided, let us do the opposite thing and show that we are united.” As a united people, we have a collective voice that is much stronger than any one individual voice.
And as we look at our Jewish values, we must never lose sight of our mission—a mission that now includes assisting those who lost their homes and businesses in those devastating fires, and combating hate wherever we encounter it.
Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba’zeh—Jews are responsible for each other, no matter where we are situated in the world or on the political spectrum, and let’s never allow ourselves to lose focus of what’s important.
Richard Sandler is chair of the Board of Trustees and Jerry Silverman is president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America