This week, I traveled to NYC to attend the board meeting of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) along with Jewish Federation leaders from across the country. For more than 100 years, JDC has been the 9-1-1 of the Jewish People, doing humanitarian work around the world. Our JDC colleagues are like extended members of our Greater Boston Jewish family, our “boots on the ground” who enable us to care for vulnerable populations here at home, in Israel, and around the world.
In the face of so many crises, together we can address broad systemic challenges that none of us could tackle on our own.
One young JDC staff member called into the meeting from his apartment in Ukraine. As we know from our beloved friends in Dnipro, individuals like this young man have been risking their own lives to serve their communities — especially those in need, like elderly Jews and Holocaust survivors. His story reminded us that the heart of our systemic work is about individual human beings, each of whom have a personal story.
This staff member — who didn’t even know that he was Jewish until he was 15 — shared that it can be hard to get up every morning after bombings throughout the night keep you awake. There is so much darkness right now, he told us, yet he has learned to be a light for his community. In his words, “We are trying not just to survive, but to live beautiful lives and to fight to be the best versions of ourselves.” During the war, he met someone special, whom he recently proposed to. She said yes, and now he and his future wife are preparing for their wedding and looking forward to building a Jewish family. I don’t think there was a dry eye in that board room.
Saving Jewish lives and renewing Jewish life are powerfully interconnected.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union — in partnership with communities like ours and so many others around the world — JDC has played an instrumental role in the renewal of Jewish life for a new generation of Jews who are rebuilding Jewish identities and creating communities in places where it was thought that Jewish life might never flourish again. Many of the Jewish communities — both inside Ukraine and in surrounding countries — that are supporting, welcoming, and resettling Ukrainian refugees would not exist had we not invested in schools, summer camps, community centers, and more over the past many decades.
In other words, as we know from so much of our work here in Greater Boston as well, there is a powerful, virtuous cycle between creating “the joy” and combatting “the oy.” We care for the vulnerable, respond to crises, and fight antisemitism and hate, because if you are going to thrive you must first survive. Being able to live a life of safety, security, and dignity is the foundation upon which people create lives of meaning, purpose, and connection. Conversely, we fight for survival not for survival’s sake, but ultimately so we transmit the beauty and the joy of Jewish tradition, values, and culture to new generations who will find meaning and relevance in Jewish life and choose to contribute their voices to building a vibrant Jewish future and a better world.
This mission is top of mind for me as we are just weeks away from our 2023 Campaign year-end. I am so grateful to our local and global partners, like JDC, without whom we could not do this sacred work. And I am so grateful to all of you for the deep commitment and extraordinary generosity that makes all this work possible.
Rabbi Marc Baker