CEO June 2014 Update

Samuel H. Asher CEO


From Slavery to Freedom

I have quoted the Passover Hagaddah many times in the Reflector.  I have  relayed that in every generation – B’chol dor vador – the Passover Hagaddah instructs us that “each person is obligated to see him/herself as if s/he personally went forth from Egypt…for God redeemed not only our ancestors, God redeemed us with them.”

We recite these words early in the Seder; they are a central theme of the holiday and perhaps a central theme to Jewish life.  We are instructed not just to remember but also to envision ourselves as active participants in the actual Exodus story of slavery and redemption.

My friend, Rabbi Irwin Kula, and his colleagues at the Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership, teach regularly about the Exodus story as the “master story” of Judaism.  We are who we are because our identity has  at its very foundation a powerful master story.  The themes of freedom, redemption, liberation, reconnection, hope and opportunity infuse our master narrative with individual and collective empowerment.  It is no wonder that our tradition instructs us to tell this particular story in a particular way,  each and every year.

The possible movement or immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union or France to Israel is immigration from a place of danger to a place of safety, or a movement from slavery to freedom.

The latest National Council on Soviet Jewry report came from community officials in Kramatorsk and Mariipolin Ukraine.  They reported a very insecure situation with violent events taking place on a regular basis.  JDC Hesed centers are receiving additional funding and have stepped up efforts to provide Jews with needed supplies of medicine and food.

In France, more Jews are considering Aliyah to Israel. The Jerusalem Post reported that a significant survey produced by a French Sephardic Jewish organization said that “Nearly 75 percent of survey participants are considering immigrating to Israel.” So, if these Jews in the FSU and France actually make it to Israel we will applaud their move from darkness to light, from danger to safety.

On May 22 we related another “master” story during the 78th Annual Meeting of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond.  We told the tale of a successful Annual Campaign that was more than 2%  over goal.  We told the story about the 68 individuals who visited Israel over the past year, under the auspices of the JCFR. The master story of connection to Israel will be incorporated in their lives and will be shared with many others for years to come.  

We shared the success of powerful community relations initiatives  at the annual commemoration of Yom Hashoah, Advocacy Day - Date With the State - with our state legislators in partnership with Hadassah and our Annual Legislative reception with local elected officials. 

We also salute 12 young professional leaders from Richmond who became Fellows of the Susan and Mark B. Sisisky Global Jewish Enrichment Fund of the Richmond Jewish Foundation on May 25 when they travelled for a week long JDC-Entwine education and service trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, in the Former Soviet Union. During the trip the Fellows  visited and discovered the significant needs of the Georgian Jewish community in the capital city of Tblisi and smaller communities of Rustavi and Kutaisi, and performed service projects for the community. This  included repairing homes of disabled and elderly Jewish community members, refurbishing a community center and networking with local young leadership deeply impacted by a devastating war and the global economic crisis. 

Through it all, JDC has been there to help the Georgian Jewish community recover and reemerge stronger than ever. 

We thanked our outgoing president Nathan Shor for his tireless service to the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and welcomed his successor, Richard Samet.  As one community we conducted the 2nd annual joint community agencies meeting by the JCFR, JFS, RJF, RTA, and the Weinstein JCC.

America has provided a fertile ground for Judaism.  The themes of the American Jewish master story resonate with those of the Passover saga.  It is a ‘rags to riches’ story from poverty and challenge to security and affluence.  We have overcome overt and subtle anti-Semitism to achieve this milestone in our communal development.  

We don’t have to tell the American Jewish master story “as if” we were the active participants for it is an ongoing tale with chapters still unfolding.  Our mitzvah does not lie in relating an age-old tale but rather in the energy we expend in fulfilling the narrative. 

Passover’s theme is clear – the real prospect for redemption in the midst of slavery.    The stories we weave today are our attempts to successfully overcome the problems that enslave us.  We must turn apathy into involvement, endow the financial future of our community, create an environment of Jewish literacy and engage a new generation of Jews in leadership capacities.

The Passover story reminds us that we can overcome adversity.  It teaches us that we can transcend the despair of exile and slavery.  We keep this timeless story alive by becoming a part of it!

So too can the American Jewish narrative affirm our vibrant and rich future.  We must infuse this never-ending story with our unique experiences and energies.

Please see the article about the joint community agencies meeting on page 1 and above, and enjoy the pictures. Rejoice in our work for Tikkun Olam. Become a volunteer for the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. As always, call (804) 545-8622 or email sasher if you are interested in joining us. 


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