It is hard to believe that my family and I have been in Richmond for six months. The time has flown by, and I know there is still much to learn. I remain humbled and excited to be a member of the Richmond Jewish community and thought this might be a good time to reflect on six things that I have learned over the last six months.
1. The Richmond Jewish community has tons of pride and lots to be proud of. Everywhere you look, our agencies and Synagogues are leading the way, often serving as models for our national community.
We thrive on trying new things, making new connections and celebrating each other. We also have the pride of our rich and deep communal history, hundreds of years of caring, learning and strength.
We are blessed with generational families who have long called Richmond home. These factors are often the bedrocks of communal strength and this is surely true for Richmond.
2. You want to get somewhere … well, really anywhere … don’t worry… it’s 15 minutes away.
3. Our community is rapidly changing. I have learned is our community is expanding in ways that challenge our traditional thinking. The geography of our community is spreading with Jews choosing to live in places far from our traditional institutions and neighborhoods. Fewer-and-fewer Jews are affiliating traditionally – not joining or even involving themselves—with our community’s traditional institutions. Yet we also know this decrease in affiliation doesn’t mean they care less about “being Jewish.”
Our Navigating the Future study shows that people care deeply about being Jewish and connecting to the community. The same research that notes low affiliation also shows high levels of Jewish pride. But waiting for community members to join us will not equate to community involvement. Programs (community events and speakers) – regardless of how great they might be – will not attract unengaged people and families. The unengaged will remain on the sidelines of Jewish life if programs and events fail to add value and relevance to their busy and sometimes hectic lives.
We need to help “reweave” Jewish communities, person-by-person, so each can find that relevance in their life. It’s up to us to rebuild and strengthen our community by building relationships one person at a time. Federation is expanding our engagement and outreach work in response.
We are working to build micro communities, meaningful engagement opportunities and new and more personal connections that will help individuals and groups find pathways into the community. We will deploy funds to assist our agencies and Synagogues to do the same.
You will also see our programs occurring in new locales throughout the greater Richmond region.
4. Working with people, agencies and institutions outside our Jewish community is one of the unique strengths of our community. It’s hard not to see the impact and strength of this Interfaith outreach.
I have heard over-and-over about the special gifts our agencies provide to so many in the community. I have learned that this is a strength and positions us well in so many community conversations and issues. As Dr. Einat Wilf (former member of Israeli Knesset) mentioned in March during her speech in the community, Jews often deploy a “blowfish” strategy, making sure we are everywhere and act as big as possible to touch as many aspects of greater Richmond as possible so people don’t realize how few we actually are.
The strategy is working.
5. Israel matters. In the Navigating the Future Survey undertaken by Richmond Jewish Foundation and Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, 90 percent of Richmond Jews who responded shared that they felt deeply or very deeply connected to Israel.
The relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel is more complex than ever. Our work needs to be focused on creating meaningful people-to-people relationships with Jews in Israel and worldwide. It is why we will focus on more connections. A group of community members will travel together in April 2019 to Zaparozhe, Ukraine. In addition, you will see increased opportunities to connect and travel to Israel, building conversation and understanding.
The first such opportunity is this October at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly gathering. This surely will be a unique opportunity to talk with members of Knesset, Israel leadership and build stronger relationships with world Jewry.
We need your help to create those connections, and I hope you will join me!
6. I still have a ton to learn and many people to hear from. I have met well over 250 community members in small groups and individually over my first six months. I hope to do the same over the next six months.
If you would like to help me meet my goal, please reach out at Daniel@Jewishrichmond.org. I am ready to talk and listen.