Say what you will about UJA Federation (and I dare you to find something original!), it is impossible not to admire its accomplishments. Each year, under shifting economic conditions and fluctuating political circumstances, UJAF collects and allocates money for a wide range of Jewish needs at home and abroad. I could end my message here with an encouragement to be among the contributors, and my case would be made.
But consider what kind of conviction it must take to attempt to redefine the mandate of such an organization. Easily, UJAF could follow the self-justifying patterns of other Jewish service organizations and pretend to lead where nobody wants to follow -- down neglected avenues of Jewish endeavor and through top-heavy bureaucracies. Instead, our Federation has taken a hard look at itself and created a renewed focus.
Last month, leaders of UJAF, local Jewish agencies and the rabbinic community gathered for a three-day conference under the leadership of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL). The purpose was to build a cooperative relationship among the arms of the Jewish community to begin the process of reimagining Jewish Washington for the coming century. The conference grew out of UJAF's concern to ensure not their intake (agency leadership will not make or break the campaign), but the integrity of their outflow to the destinations most appropriate. The level of Jewish consciousness and commitment was unparalleled, especially among the Federation staff.
The results were already being felt before the conference; new levels of cooperative programming and funding between synagogues and agencies are making the best use possible of community resources. The recognition of the centrality of Jewish religion to Jewish life has erased the former antipathy of Federation to the particulars of Jewish observance. And a new model of community which has many centers has replaced the territorialism of years past. I hope that we have the same willingness to understand the changing roles of the synagogue in Jewish communal life.
It may be that in a previous generation we gave resignedly to UJAF -- after all, what else was there? In today's world, you can be proud not only of what UJAF does, but how it does it as well. Our JCC (and the others), Gesher Jewish Day School (and the others) and the Virginia offices of the Jewish Community Council and Jewish Social Services are among the funded agencies which directly serve our population; so many others here, abroad and in Israel reflect our community 's values.
When you are offered the opportunity to be a partner in this endeavor, please do so generously and enthusiastically. Then you will be a part of an organization to admire.