There are times when we take a pause to reflect on our history. We remember the good times, the hard times, the tragic times, and those times that were truly magical. Last night, at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, our community took a moment to reflect and to celebrate.
In recognition of our 50th Anniversary, the Jewish Federation put together a video commemorating our history. During the interview process for that video, which was terrific thanks to Adam Kilbourne and Blackraven films, I was asked to name a single achievement or watershed moment for the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas. I paused for a second and thought, 50 years of the Federation in Las Vegas…I’m pretty sure that’s an achievement. I also thought about the question relative to the Federation's role in the community. The fact is that the Federation, as an agency, doesn't have individual achievements. The Federation's successes are the community's successes as the Federation is the community.
So let's look at some of our successes. There are 70k Jews in Las Vegas; We have four Jewish day schools; We have nearly 30 some-odd congregations that represent nearly every stream of Judaism. We have a young adult group, JewEL, that attracts over 120 people every month to their programs. Every Jewish child from zero – 8 receives a free Jewish book in the mail every month through the Federation’s partnership with PJ Library and the work of the JCC as our implementing partner for PJ library. We have a Jewish Family Service that was the first private adoption agency in the State to work with same-sex couples trying to adopt. We have a very strong, historical connection to the one and only Jewish homeland, The State of Israel. We send two buses a year of young adults on Birthright. We have a thriving Hillel at both UNLV and UNR. These are all community achievements, but none of them would be possible without the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas.
The second question that I was asked during the interview was about the purpose or job of the Federation. This question was easier to answer as I see the Federation has had one main, overarching purpose - to ensure the survival of the Jewish people. To further clarify, when I say the Jewish people, I mean all Jewish people, regardless of their level of observance, family dynamic, socio-economic standing, or country of origin. This requires the Federation to be the central address for the community in strategic vision and partnerships, in funding current and emerging needs, and in ensuring that all segments of our community are being serviced.
The fact is that the Jewish Federation is the only organization in Las Vegas charged with the responsibility of assessing and addressing the needs of the entire community – as a whole – simultaneously. Accurately and effectively assessing and addressing the needs of our community will determine what we, as a Jewish community, will look like in the next 50 years. What are our priorities, what are our emerging needs, and where can we have the greatest impact – those are the questions that the Jewish Federation is and will be working on.
Yes, last night was a celebration, but it should also serve as a moment of reaffirmation. We have to ask ourselves if we are willing to do as our visionary founders did 50 years ago. Are we willing to come together from every corner of this community to ensure the survival of the Jewish people? Are we willing to live out, in deed and action, the belief that every Jew is truly responsible for one another? Are we willing to continue to be a light unto nations and not only help Jews in need but all people in a Jewish way? If we are truly looking for a way to celebrate and honor our past, we should ensure that our next 50 years is as good, if not better than our last 50.
We need to take the sense of community, history, and pride that we felt in the ballroom last night and take it home with us. We need to talk to our friends, colleagues and loved ones about the greatness of our community and the need for more people to participate in the work of the Federation, our agencies, and congregations.
In closing my remarks last night, I spoke about Sir Christopher Wren who is one of, if not the greatest, architect in British history. He is responsible for building 53 churches and several other secular buildings. Despite being so celebrated throughout the years, if you were to go to London to find a memorial to Wren, you will only find a very modest plaque on his crypt in St. Paul's Cathedral (which Wren designed).
At the bottom of the plaque, it reads "If you are looking for a monument to Wren, look all around you.”
The same can be said for our Jewish Federation and those who have founded and lead this organization. If you are looking for a monument to the work of the Jewish Federation, you need not look any further than the magnificent evolution of our community over the past 50 years. Now WE must decide what the next 50 years will look like.
I welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org