Shep Englander — Federation Journal
Finding Our Balance after a Distressing Year
Each New Year, we reflect on the year we completed, take stock and consider how we will rise up to meet new challenges. This year, those challenges look very different.
Last September, for the first time in American history, Jews were gunned down in their house of worship in Pittsburgh. The same year, the FBI reported the largest spike in antisemitic incidents on record. Six months to the day later, it happened again in Poway, CA.
Our community is especially vulnerable during the High Holidays. So, a few weeks ago, the Federation’s SAFE Cincinnati program asked FBI Special Agent in Charge Todd A. Wickerham and Pittsburgh’s Director of Community Security Brad Orsini to provide a special briefing. Brad brought with him a lay leader from the Tree of Life Synagogue, who said he is alive only due to the security training he received from Brad and his team. We invited the professional and lead volunteers of our agencies, congregations, and schools to hear from them directly.
I’m proud that Cincinnati was one of the first communities in America to launch a community-wide security program seven years ago. Since then, because of incredible collaboration with our congregations, schools, and agencies, and with a generous $4 million grant from The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, the Federation’s SAFE Cincinnati program has vastly improved the security posture of our synagogues, schools, and community agencies in both readily identifiable measures and in “behind the scenes” improvements.
In recent months, our SAFE Cincinnati team, led by director Mark Dowd, has:
- Partnered with 34 of our congregations and other facilities on Annual Security Reviews.
- Launched proactive digital monitoring to detect possible threats.
- Conducted cross-training with other cities.
- Prepared all Jewish organizations to apply for new Ohio State Nonprofit Security Grants.
We also know we need to devote more resources to fighting antisemitism. We are so fortunate that the Federation has an incredibly strong Jewish Community Relations Council, which this spring created a unique summit on antisemitism and hate, named in honor of Martin Luther King’s words, called Driving Out Darkness. It sold out weeks in advance, attracting over 250 truly diverse religious, ethnic, and civic leaders.
But that was just one day. Our JCRC is there every day, responding to antisemitism, fear, hatred, and bigotry, and building relationships with other religious, ethnic, and community groups. Its crucial work is funded 100 percent by your investment.
Security and fighting antisemitism are essential. But the Federation’s main work is ensuring a vibrant Jewish future for our community. So this year we will also look to the future and determine what kind of community will make us proud and will make our families, our children, and our grandchildren want to be Jewish, want to pass this tradition on, and want to stay in or move back to Cincinnati.
This winter we’ll be rolling out a new community study, together with The Jewish Foundation, that will provide a new portrait of who we are as a community, what we’re doing, and what we need to do to be even stronger. We will be sharing that with you and getting your input so that we can build a Cincinnati 2030 vision, plan, and go from strength to strength.
Together, we can help the most vulnerable, energize Jewish life, strengthen our agencies and congregations, and connect with Jewish communities around the world.
On behalf of the Jewish Federation, I wish you and your family a meaningful and joyous new year.
Thanks for caring about our community and what we do.
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