From the National to the Local

Published in the January 2021 Issue of “The Reflector”

For much of the past year, our focus has been on the national landscape.  The global pandemic and the presidential election, understandably, had us concerned with our national leadership and a crisis that the entire world was facing.  Even as protests and vigils were taking place right here in Richmond, much of our conversation was about the national debate over racial justice.  In many ways, this past year was a case study in thinking globally and acting locally. 

From the first days of COVID-19, how our local officials could help us depended largely on consistency and coordination at the national level.  Wrestling with what happened to George Floyd was as much about Mr. Floyd and the Minneapolis police as it was about knowing the history of civil rights in our country and here in Richmond.  And yet, both crises created the space for local conversations that were a long time coming – and they provided opportunities for relationship building and mutual understanding.

Thinking back one year, the Jewish community was reeling from a spate of violent anti-Semitic attacks in the US and abroad.  Our community partners came out to join us in our pain - in the same we tried to be there to understand the pain evoked and stoked during this past summer.  And of course, when neo-Nazi graffiti was discovered in Richmond at cemeteries in the black and Jewish communities, that violation of our holiest of sites reminded us that hate and bigotry is a historical problem, a global problem, a national problem, and a local problem that impacts so many of us.  Too many of us. 

We focused on these important issues with our votes in November, and they were front and center during our Virginia Special Legislative Session.  As the regularly scheduled session is about to begin, we once again take our global concerns and apply them locally.  We will work with our local legislators to secure our Jewish community with the non-profit security funding we were promised before COVID-19 changed all budget considerations.  We will work with the newly formed advisory committee on diversity and inclusive education to make sure Holocaust education in our Commonwealth is enhanced and used examine the perils of weaponizing bias and bigotry of all kinds.  And we will continue to support the most vulnerable in our community as the impact of COVID-19 endures.  

And in the spirit of a year ending accounting of our global and local interests, we will continue to defend Israel as the nation state and homeland of the Jewish people – and speak out against all who would seek to delegitimize her.  We will educate, engage in conversation with those we disagree with, and we will celebrate the undeniably changing dynamics in the middle east.  We celebrate what an engaged and committed United States can accomplish by bringing Israel together with her Arab neighbors – and we will pray and hope a comparable commitment can result in similar understandings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  And locally, we will continue to press for civil dialogue within our community on all of these issues.  

There is much we can accomplish in the coming year, and it seems clear that we can accomplish more if we do it together.  “Jewish Together” is the term being used by the Jewish Federations of North America to help us address our national and local crises.  But the broader implication is that as Jews, being together may be more important than questioning each other’s motivations, each other’s politics, and each other’s Jewishness.  To borrow and re-shape a phrase from Benjamin Franklin, if we do not persevere together, we will most certainly face the consequences separately.  I for one, choose togetherness.  In this new year, we hope you join us in all that we can accomplish – together.