Editor’s Note: The following remarks were delivered at the Federation Annual Meeting by CEO Daniel Staffenberg.
Shalom and good evening.
A Pandemic, personal health challenges, rising Antisemitism, thousands of conversations, hundreds of solicitations, Zoom meetings, and meetings after the meetings, interfaith vigils, advocacy and even a hit original song.
It was a remarkable four years under the leadership of Ellen Renee Adams leadership as Federation President. Under her tenure, our Federation raised over $11.5 million for the Annual Campaign from our cherished donors and secured and deployed millions more in funding through, supplemental gifts and security grants.
We launched a new Security initiative, new Allocations model, expanded fundraising opportunities, strengthened relationships with our partners and even welcomed new partner organizations. We have traveled overseas, to Israel and connected in person and virtually with our global Jewish community far too many times to count. These are just a few of the many accomplishments under Ellen Renee’s leadership.
We are now stronger and better prepared for the future because of the work that has been done throughout the past four years! It was my greatest honor to watch Ellen Renee work up close, to wrestle with the big issues (and we had quite a few), and always see her lead with wisdom, passion and Yiddishkeit.
I am grateful for every moment we had and I am excited that those treasured moments will not end but simply will take on a new chapter.
Amy Nisenson, who will assume the role as president on July 1, has boundless energy and a wealth of knowledge that will be an asset for years to come.
She is the right person at the right time.
I have been blessed with some wonderful mentors and teachers in my life, including many of you in this room. There are a few special teachers, however, who that stand out.
The first is my wife, Jill, who has taught me that being part of a family means showing up, going above and beyond, stretching yourself, advocating for what you believe in and putting others first.
I have seen her accomplish miracles while working with her patients on their speech therapy, instill Jewish values in our three sons and inspire future Jewish leaders in her role at overnight Camp Nah Je Wah.
She sees everyone as the best they can be. It is a lesson our Federation lives every day.
My other guides and teachers are my sons, Kaden, Eli and Logan, who have taught me that when the challenges are greatest, the obstacles hardest and the count is against you, and that when we are most fatigued, pressured and stressed, that is when our greatest growth occurs.
I can only do my job because I have each of you in my corner and as my teachers. I love you and am proud of each of you.
Our community feels like we are at the point of greatest growth. The last few years, heck, just the last few months, have seen us face challenges unlike we have in a generation.
Some 300,000 members of our Jewish family are embroiled in a war – the robust Jewish life we have built over decades in Ukraine is at risk of extinction.
There are daily reminders of rising Antisemitism with attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions with leaflets spreading hate.
We have lived thru a global pandemic and, seen Israel attacked physically and ideologically, even as it takes exciting steps toward peace with the Arab world.
Growing division, both politically and socially, threaten our Jewish unity, allowing us to forget that Jewish history is based on conversation, dialogue, and discussion.
Locally, our agencies remain challenged by Covid and are now meeting increasing economic, demographic, and human resource pressures.
Jews in our community are seeking new ways to engage and connect, all while increasing polarization threatens our ability to be a unified community.
Far too often we revert to Social Media memes and forget the importance of Social interaction and a good Jewish conversation. We worry about what is ours, seeing only our vision, our “Type” of Judaism.
We quickly forget about the Jew who is seeking a space, a connection, a deeper meaning that only community can provide. By the way, that Jew seeking more, may be wearing a Kippah and walking to shul on Shabbos. She may be learning about Talmud from Tik Tok, or finding meaning at the JCC or be married to their soul mate from another faith. They may be gay, black, Asian or simply “Jewish,” ‘cause you know the food is pretty good here.’
They may be passionate about Israel, or maybe not. What they are and will always be, however, is a member of our Jewish family – forgetting that is the greatest of threats to our future.
WE CAN MEET THESE ALL THESE CHALLENGES Through actions, generosity, and dedicated efforts. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be by working alone.
Nothing we have accomplished ever has. Our community will thrive because we have built an infrastructure in place 24/7 that is poised to respond immediately and effectively, no matter the challenge. I believe Federation, together with each of you, can continue to lead the way.
Our Federation is poised and ready for growth and strength.
Under Amy Nisenson’s leadership, and capitalizing on the talent of our outstanding JCFR professional team, board, agency, and synagogue partners, we will soon unveil an exciting new Strategic Plan. It will be dedicated to addressing the critical issues of our time and positioning Federation and our community for a thriving future.
The plan will focus on creating a flourishing Jewish community, built on inclusion, engagement, connection, and security for every member, today and tomorrow.
We will bolster our ties to global Jewish peoplehood, support, and fund new ideas to engage Jews locally and help them explore and create their own Jewish paths, rooted in history and built for the future.
We will fight Antisemitism in all its forms, and do so with strategy, care and partnership with our entire Richmond community – recognizing that hate in any form is simply unacceptable.
This work will not be easy. It will require strategy, dedication and support. It will require Federation to grow as a convener, funder and builder. It will require a Federation that is stronger and more robust in response to the services and supports our community is asking us to undertake. It will force us to explore new avenues of budgeting, personnel, fundraising and grantmaking. It will take us all showing up.
As I said it won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, but honestly, I am not really worried about that because I have seen our community show up time and again.
Through Covid, for Israel, for Ukraine, for those in need and for each other. We have learned that when we work together anything is possible.
When the times are hardest, when the challenge seems insurmountable that is when our growth is accelerated.
May we go from strength to strength, together!
See more on the Federation Annual Meeting in the Federation section in this digital issue.