Last week our nation commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The allied invasion at Normandy changed the trajectory of World War II and truly transformed our world.
Years ago, my father, of blessed memory, shared with me his experience on that very day, as a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps, flying a supply plane from North Africa back to England. He recalled looking down as he crossed the Channel, and seeing the armada, manned by his fellow servicemen, approaching the French coast for the largest amphibious invasion in history.
He spoke with great appreciation about the essential role each person played in the success of this mission, and how proud we should be of their dedication and sacrifice.
The media coverage of D-Day reminded us of the incalculable human cost represented by this effort, and the profound gratitude we have for those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. It is astounding to try to comprehend what was achieved by this single-minded, focused, and aligned effort. The allies spent much time in advance strategizing, planning, assembling, preparing, and training for this coordinated assault. Less than a year later, Hitler was dead, the Nazis were defeated, and the concentration camps were liberated.
Less than three years later, the modern State of Israel was declared.
Perhaps by serendipity, I spent D-Day this year in the concluding session of a three-day international “laboratory” convened by the Jewish Agency for Israel. Distinguished communal leaders, both volunteer and professional, came together, representing 15 countries from around the world, to consider, focus, and align efforts to better connect the Jewish people.
While in no way comparing our situation today to the 1940s, our Jewish world confronts challenges that at times may seem almost insurmountable. Anti-Semitism spreads across the globe. Israel has become a toxic issue on college campuses and beyond. Often we fight among ourselves, in ever more disturbing and divisive ways. We make choices that fuel the growing fragmentation, negativity, and disconnection. We feel a growing anxiety about forces from the outside, and increased frustration emanating from within.
Participating with 150 colleagues from around the world in the JAFI Laboratory inspired me and served as a reminder of the essential role we each play in strengthening Klal Yisroel. Looking forward, I choose to remain ever the optimist.
In that spirit, let me share three examples of issues we discussed during the three days together and that our local community has started to address. While admittedly small initial efforts, they give me hope as we work to address our larger communal challenges together, and build a deeper connection with our global Jewish community.
- Safety and Security of our Communal Institutions.
Over the last few years, our community has prioritized safety and security. In particular, our Bergen County Jewish institutions have benefited from support and guidance provided by Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and Jewish Federations of North America, including grants from Department of Homeland Security. Increased federal funding will help, as will our own philanthropic investment and learning from our global Jewish communities, to provide training, site security enhancements, and a culture of communal safety.
Local synagogues have partnered with Community Security Service to train and protect our thriving congregations. In fact, on Thursday evening, Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah honored its CSS leaders and volunteers — past, present, and future — who protect our community each Shabbat. These people dedicate their time and put themselves on the front line to protect us. They remind us that we each have a role to play in the success of our communal mission.
- Connections with Israel and the Jewish World.
Addressing the growing divide between Israel and the diaspora must remain at the top of our agenda. Research confirms that a mifgash — spending time with others — fosters lasting connections. Perhaps the reason why Jewish camp has long been so effective in creating an emotional attachment to Israel is the presence of Israeli shlichim, counselors, living in the bunks and participating fully in the camp experience with campers and other counselors alike.
I have spent time in Washington, D.C., over the past few years in partnership with the American Camp Association, successfully advocating for the continuance (and expansion) of the J-1 cultural exchange visas that allow Jewish counselors from Israel and around the world to spend summers creating connections and building lasting relationships. We need to create more of these opportunities for community members of all ages to connect more deeply with Israeli and our global Jewish brethren.
- Breaking Down Barriers.
During our three days together, we listened to one another with respect and curiosity — appreciating the many complexities and shared vulnerabilities — exchanging ideas and approaches openly, with both candor and care. I felt incredibly stimulated to be in a true laboratory, with engaged, dedicated, and experienced partners, seeking strength from the collective.
Our rapidly changing world requires adaptive leadership, accelerating innovation based on an iterative process of observing and learning. On behalf of the field of Jewish camp, we try to include diverse voices and consider a range of perspectives as we design and pilot possible solutions for field-wide issues. I know that by breaking down the barriers between us, being open to experimentation, and sharing knowledge and resources, we have been able to address and overcome the similar issues we face.
While the anniversary of D-Day reminded me of the somber costs of battle, it also inspired me to consider what can be achieved by such an aligned, concerted effort. As we continue to tackle the growing challenges of fragmentation and division, I hope the smaller examples as I have shared here can help build confidences and support.
When we work together in partnership and aligned with purpose and focus, we can change the trajectory of our world and co-create a stronger, more connected Jewish future.