A Match, a Candle, and a Vision
Our tradition teaches us that just one mitzvah can change the world.
Mitzvot, doing good deeds, is the Divine assignment the Jewish People were given. Proverbs teaches, “A mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah is light.” Our sacred texts and the Rabbis’ teachings leave no doubt that the Jewish People are on a mission to bring light into the world.
Here at home, as we contemplate the promise of our Jewish future, the communal assignment is clear: in our mission to create a safe, secure, and sustainable community, we should look beyond the short-term solutions which would be analogous to lighting a match, taking delight in the fire’s flare, only for it to burn down and quickly die.
However, if we put the lighted match to the wick of a candle, the flame lives. With this longer-term idea in mind, we should be thinking about our collective future as we continue our community conversations this Hanukkah season and into 2024.
If one mitzvah—one candle, can illuminate the world, consider what our Jewish community can do to find common ground for a brighter future. During this Festival of Lights, the power of our collective light is a source of strength, knowing Jews in Michiana and worldwide are lighting candles.
In keeping with the theme of Hanukkah, I have eight community-building candles to light. Each candle offers inspiration for a brighter Jewish future. Each candle is a specific confidence-building measure to become our best selves and, yes, the best little Jewish community in America.
Together, these eight priorities will propel us forward—in our conversations and community planning.
Candle one is the Federation’s unwavering commitment to strengthening our community. We’re blessed to have a dedicated professional team at the Fed. See page 15 for staff listing and contact info. In serving our community, they are the light. Without them, the Federation’s lights would be turned off.
Candle two is you—our community partners and community members. Your support nurtures our community, builds resilience, and combats antisemitism and so much more. We need you. We are more robust and brighter together. If you haven’t done so, please give generously to the 2024 annual campaign by visiting TheJewishFed.org/2024
Candle three speaks to our security and safety. And, by extension, the programs we hold at the Fed. Safeguarding the Federation is of paramount importance to our mental and physical well-being. Equally important, a secure campus makes programming possible. Programming is the animating spirit of the Fed—the vital spark fueling our mission, vision, and values.
Look for new programming in the new year, including Sundays at the Fed. We are planning a wide assortment of activities for children, families, and adults on the first Sunday of January, February, and March. Stay tuned for more info as we bring our community center to life.
Candle four illuminates our strategic plan to meet our needs for today and tomorrow. The Federation’s strategic plan is a three-year community-building plan called Vision 2025. The development of this plan is shaped by three guiding principles.
Jewish unity. Like our Jewish obsession with light, the tremendous breadth, depth, and passionate commitment to “community” has long defined the Jewish People. Our goal is to reduce the amount of division in the community. We must find ways to connect across differences, make it easier for everyone to feel included, and create a strong sense of social equity for people to embrace unity without uniformity.
Bayit chazak (creating a strong Fed house for a stronger community). A strong home requires a sturdy foundation with rooms that provide for the unique needs required by the household. The same is true for our community and our capacity-building efforts.
In my 2023 New Year’s message, I discussed developing a “university-like model for the Fed” to best serve our diverse community. A university concept is pluralistic and inclusive. It offers a platform for learning, exploration, and connection.
Building a mighty Jewish house also entails strategic decisions for financial viability. As we continue our internal discussions at our respective congregations with the potential of cross-pollinating into a more comprehensive community plan, it will be imperative to understand our individual and collective financial health and impact information. Considering that almost 90% of Fed donations come from Temple and Sinai members, I recently ran a report based on the 2023 campaign. Then, I filtered out people over 65 (as accurate as our records are). Here is the result:
2023 campaign dollars
2023 campaign dollars without 65+
Any commentary on this analysis strongly suggests that, given our aging demographic, we are stronger together and need to find creative ways to bring young Jewish people into our community.
Strong board governance, healthy staff culture, and data-informed decision-making. I cannot understate the value of these three endeavors relative to our twin goals of increasing the Federation’s mission impact and financial sustainability. Progress is being made in each of these areas. Earlier this month, we held a one-day board retreat. The professional team remains nimble, agile, and proactive, and we are developing better data collection systems, particularly in the programming area, to support decision-making.
The fifth candle is for a Federation campus that’s warm and welcoming—where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Through its spatial and visual relationships, the campus design will enable immersive experiences for all ages. In short, the business model for developing our campus is our map to the future.
The campus has changed little over the last 20 years. A meaningful way of “unfreezing” the status quo is to introduce choices. The introduction of a new choice awakens our evaluative judgment. That is, we can look at things with fresh eyes, including the:
We have a new look at the “front door” of our campus. Coming up Shalom Way, the lawn in the circular drive is now the home for Temple’s Berman-Brenner Family Sculpture Garden, including George Rickey’s Two Open Triangles Up Gyratory IV.
MITZI CUNLIFFE SCULPTURE & PLAZA
This iconic piece of art was miraculously saved from the dumpster. It now has a conceptual rendering for its installation on the Fed campus. The renderings define an aesthetic space to enable an immersive experience within the proposed surrounds of the Mitzi Cunliffe sculpture and plaza that includes an outdoor natural amphitheater.
HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE GARDEN & EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE CENTER
The Federation seeks grants to build this Educational Resource Center & Remembrance Garden. The timely, powerful messages of the Garden will support the vital work of the Federation’s Holocaust Education Speakers Bureau, which provides Holocaust education in schools and at public events.
Holocaust education is inexorably tied to combating not just antisemitism but the growing waves of hate attacking communities across the country. By teaching the lessons of history and imparting how they resonate with the context of today’s world events, the Garden will become a community hub for discussion, events, and activities to help reverse the worrying trend of growing identity-based hate.
Candle six is our ten-year master plan. Given the scope of planning, the consensus building, and the board and community input this initiative requires, I’ll wait until a more appropriate time to provide an executive summary. Nonetheless, this is a critical candle that needs to be lit as this provides a comprehensive long-term vision for the community’s development.
Succession planning is candle seven. When my term ends in March 2026, we’ll need to ensure the organization has the right people in the right positions at the right time. For the good of our collective, may it be a present-day Jewish priority.
Candle eight is the story we’ll write together. We’re at the crossroads for how we envision our Jewish future, as we grapple with declining membership, shrinking revenue, and leadership fatigue. I’ve heard the phrase, “As Temple and Sinai goes, so goes the Federation,” given that close to 90% of Fed funding of our annual campaign comes from Temple and Sinai members.
The Fed stands ready to choose a coordinated path forward with our partners to ensure we can fulfill our mission as a communal resource for the Jewish community. In this sacred partnership, the Fed must meet the interconnected twin challenges of impact and sustainability to fulfill our mission as a communal resource for the Jewish community.
Reflecting on the Jewish tradition’s deeply ingrained spiritual metaphor of light, I’m infused with hope and confidence. In looking ahead, we need to be clear-eyed with an intelligent understanding of the multi-decade, long-term investment decisions we must make collectively as one community—including the possible structural changes that may be necessary for advancement towards a vibrant and brighter future.
As in the days of our past, may this month, and in the days ahead, usher in great miracles for our community. I believe in miracles. It begins with a vision, understanding organizational priorities, and how just one mitzvah can change the world.