Friday, July 12, 2013

The Twenty-Mile Radius

I have a few more things I need to write later about Minsk and Belarus. In particular there were some memorable and moving encounters with local Jewish leaders and participants in the Minsk Jewish Campus. But for now, back home, I want to reflect for a moment on the mission itself, the Campaign Chairs and Directors (CCD) Mission of JFNA.

I've always loved Jewish federation missions because the values that come out of them are the same values that the Joint believes in, and works towards – community (kehila), responsibility (areivut) and kindness (hesed). And a CCD mission is really where some of the most dedicated and articulate supporters of these values gather together. So there’s a lot of passion, a lot of dedication and … unsurprisingly …. a lot of caffeine.

It’s such an amazing pleasure to spend a few days in an inspiring and growing Jewish community, that is learning to take care of its needy and hungry, how to promote its young leaders, how to cooperate and educate, while at the same time build its future. And it’s even more of a pleasure, and a privilege, to do that with some of the most talented and enthusiastic storytellers and promoters of Jewish community life.

On one of our bus journeys inside Minsk we had a fascinating conversation about what it means to be “in” a Jewish community in North America. What does it mean when we say “domestic” Jewish needs (close-to-home) and “international” Jewish needs? What does it mean when we say there are allocations and priorities "abroad" compared to those "at home?"

And then, on a mission, you realize …

This distinction is false. It’s meaningless. It cheapens our understanding of what a Jewish community actually is. If you draw, say, a twenty-mile radius around where your federation building is located and say, “this is my Jewish community, and that’s it,” you’ll never understand the beauty, the depth, the impact of Jewish community and Jewish life.

But when you come to Minsk, or many other mission locations, you get it. You see the connections, you see the community. And then there’s a moment where you turn round, and look back “home,” several thousand miles away. And that’s when you understand what community means and what we can do. Together.

Shabbat shalom.

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