It’s no secret that the Jewish Federation of Orange County has been undergoing some unique challenges of late. Questions of transparency, financial management and focus have been coming up for some months. Doubts have been raised in some circles about the central communal leadership role of the Federation.
Jewish teachings see difficulties not as setbacks but an opportunity for growth. The Torah is full of accounts of the tests that our Patriarchs and Matriarchs endured. The Torah does not color Jewish history—even the wisest king of all, Solomon, was chastised for his missteps. Moses’ impatience was the cause for punishment. Every year during the High Holidays we read about the ultimate test, Abraham’s willingness to offer his son as sacrifice which teaches us the idea of dedication for a higher purpose. Challenges are not without reason but are Divine Providence, opportunities to reach deep into ourselves, reach new heights. This is true on both a personal and communal level.
When the Federation’s issues came to light, I too had doubts about turning the situation around. And as one who has been involved with the Federation for some time, the most recent crisis did cause me to question if the Federation could still be a strong entity in our community. But my skepticism has now been transformed to cautious optimism.
When the issues were discovered CEO Arlene Miller had the courage to confront the challenges. Others would have swept it under the rug and continued business as usual. Instead she faced the problems head on.
The recently elected president, Stephen Gordon, with a strong background in finance, has energized the board. The board has been enhanced with some new members. There is a strong sense of unity and commitment to tackle the challenges. In the first few meetings, a new budget was passed and it contains significant short- term reductions to stabilize the Federation. There was also a community meeting to get input and feedback. Now the board is charting a new course with a focus on priorities that will build a strong Jewish future in Orange County.
The task is not done and there is still a difficult road ahead. That journey will be filled with much debate and discussion. Coming from the Chabad culture, where there is always a strong emphasis on evaluation and challenging ourselves to do more, I welcome this process.
The sages of the Talmud teach that human nature is to seek more wealth; “He who has one hundred will want two hundred, and he who has two hundred will want four hundred.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe redefined this concept in a spiritual form, and says we should accelerate our efforts to serve G-d and strengthen Jewish life. The Rebbe taught, “Whoever did one hundred mitzvahs should want to do two hundred, whoever reached one hundred Jews should strive to reach two hundred.” We should always attempt to increase our efforts to enrich the community. Let us hope that the Federation with its new leadership will rise to that task.
rabbi DAVID eliezrie is a contributing writer to jlife magazine and senior rabbi at Chabad Beth Meir HaCohen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.