By David Adelman and Gail Norry
As we prepare to observe and celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new Jewish year, we recall a timeless phrase that echoes through generations of Jewry: hazak, hazak, ve-nithazek. Be strong, be strong, and together we strengthen each other. Just as the congregations chant these words with one collective voice to signify the transition from one book of Torah to the next, we summon these words now to rally our community and herald the transitions that will help us meet this moment.
As the new board co-chairs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, we mark the end of a challenging year and look ahead to the next knowing we must summon a renewed strength and resolve. The continuing devastation of COVID-19, rising anti-Semitism, and racial tensions and violence increases the level of urgency of the work of organizations like ours, and we must continue with resiliency, fortitude and unity.
Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of our High Holy Days, a time when we reflect on our previous actions and ask to be given another year, another chance to do right and to make the world a better place. As the conveners of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish communities, we have much to reflect upon, and much to commit to, in the difficult months ahead.
We remind ourselves that these are unprecedented times. Our communities, like all those across the world, have experienced the trauma of illness and death, the emotional strain of isolation, the practical difficulties of homeschooling and telework, and the paralyzing anxiety of simple acts like grocery shopping. Our Jewish Federation was driven to rapidly reimagine its mission, moving from prioritizing programming and education to survival and connection. Across the region, more than 280,000 people, Jews and non-Jews alike, have looked to us and our partner agencies for food security and safety supplies. With record-breaking fundraising and a robust and activated volunteer network, we made it happen. And we will continue to be the pillar of support for all who need us, for as long as the pandemic lasts.
After the tragic deaths of George Floyd and so many other innocent Black Americans, we also found our strength in solidarity. We stood shoulder to shoulder with our Black friends and neighbors, sharing in the heartbreak, sorrow and anger provoked by bigotry and hate. Last month, we opened a new series of dialogues and relationship-building events with Black faith and civic leaders, where we collectively called for a new standard in community leadership and pledged to dismantle our common enemy of white supremacy and institutional racism. As Jews, it is imperative that we lead by example and build new, inclusive partnerships to lift ourselves as well as our neighbors.
Amid all of these immense challenges, anti-Semitism has continued to flourish and even expand. The hate that comes our way is horrifyingly familiar — the propaganda, conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic tropes are reminiscent of those used in Nazi Germany to justify a genocide. The Holocaust is the tragic lesson of both what happens when hate spreads without challenge, but also what occurs when society becomes indifferent to the suffering of others. Our safety as a community is contingent on standing against and actively combating anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism in all its forms. For as we say: If not now, when? If not me, who?
On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Everything we have done in the past year will be recorded. We reflect on what we can change and commit ourselves to returning to the path of righteousness. We pledge to work together, in service to our larger community, to help draft the next critical chapter of our collective book of life.
As we take up our posts as leaders and conveners of Philadelphia’s Jewish communities, we are eager to be a light for the city and a source of strength and hope for all.
L’shanah tovah u’metukah!
Gail Norry and David Adelman are co-chairs of the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.