If you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ve heard me say, “I have the best job in the world.” I work with an incredibly talented and dedicated staff and with the most extraordinary group of lay leaders and donors. Together, we are supporting and sustaining this Jewish community and ensuring our Jewish future. These are not slogans or catchphrases. It is in our Federation’s DNA.
Los Angeles is the most dynamic, diverse and exciting Jewish community in the world. Our Federation is committed to working with our partners from every religious, ethnic, cultural and political perspective to accomplish our shared goals and realize our common dreams.
Having the best job in the world does not mean it is not complicated or that it is not messy.
As you can imagine with more than 600,000 Jews, there are many strong and differing opinions and many voices that want and need to be heard. From my first day, I have heard and listened to the many voices in our community.
In January of 2010, two weeks after I started, my wife and I were at an event when an older man approached me and, inches from my face, started yelling at me in Farsi. While I did not understand what he was saying, I felt his anguish and pain.
Our Federation is not reactive, but we are thoughtful and driven by careful consideration and sound strategic thinking. The next day, I told our senior staff the story and we began to discuss the challenges facing our large Persian-Jewish community. We committed ourselves to broadening our outreach locally, and we reached out to our global partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to better understand the plight of the more than 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. We went back to the Persian community and we listened.
We may never know why that man was so angry but his outburst helped make positive communal change. This is how our Jewish Federation works.
We also listen to the tens of thousands of voices of those whose lives we touch and change together. Exactly a year ago, as rockets flew overhead, our deeply dedicated board chair, Les Bider, and I were sitting with traumatized Israelis in a bomb shelter not far from the Gaza border. We listened to their pain, and this summer we began providing critical psychological and social services to thousands of Israelis, including children and seniors, throughout Israel.
This summer, we also are listening to the hundreds of children enjoying camp at our growing number of amazing Jewish summer camps. Many of these children are at camp for the very first time and many come from financially challenged families.
Our reach covers every corner of our community, from the Conejo Valley to the South Bay. Our work has no boundaries. We are working with thousands of young adults and have played an integral role in the creation and development of many of our community’s most progressive and inclusive enterprises, from East Side Jews/Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center and JQ International to Moishe House and IKAR.
We are working closely with our growing Orthodox community and we continue to provide much-needed financial aid to hundreds of day school students and their families.
We care and are concerned for the safety and security of our Jewish community and for the safety and security of the State of Israel.
We respect our communal organizations and the outstanding professionals and rabbis who lead them. We encourage those who agree and those who disagree to talk with us and with each other from a place of respect and work with us as we move forward together.
We understand that there are times when decisions we make and positions we take will be challenged and our Federation will come under fire. We ask that we all be respectful and civil. We are steadfast in our commitment to our mission and our work. These challenges make us stronger and our work more effective.
We should not be judged by any one thing. We should be supported for the impact we make each and every day in every corner of our community and in Jewish communities around the world.
Jay Sanderson is president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.