Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings, a time to reflect on a year gone by and on the new year ahead. As is often the case with new beginnings, it is also a time of uncertainty. Last Rosh Hashanah, we wished one another a sweet year, unsure of the future but hopeful of things to come.
As we herald the arrival of this new year, we do so understanding that we control far less than we had thought. Normally, the uncertainty that comes with a new start is imbued with hope for the possibilities ahead. This year, however, it is uncertainty itself that dominates. As 5780 draws to a close, we have learned that we must seek what we can rely on: the strength of our community and our resolve to face these unprecedented challenges together.
In 5780, the challenges were many, and our community met them with an empowering, inspiring and united response.
When urgent help was needed, social service agencies and not-for-profits mobilized, delivering food, providing services remotely and offering support to those who needed it most. Jewish federations shifted their focus to emergency fundraising campaigns to meet the immediate needs of agencies on the frontlines, ensuring that the changing needs of our most vulnerable were met.
When COVID-19 hit, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver immediately released $505,000 in emergency funds to meet these urgent needs and continues working with donors to generate additional funds for community recovery. CIJA advocated for the inclusion of not-for-profits in government support programs, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and helped ensure that Jewish schools were eligible. Volunteers mobilized by the thousands, responding to calls for assistance, helping the many seriously impacted by COVID-19.
Our community was tested in other ways, as antisemitism, the crafty shapeshifter that is always on the move, found new outlets during the pandemic. With Statistics Canada reporting a rise in antisemitic incidents through 5780, our community from coast to coast continued to unite, offering support where it was needed most. Indeed, this was the year we learned the many ways we could help and, for far too many, how to reach out to ask for help ourselves.
As we renew our talk of new beginnings at the conclusion of a year defined by uncertainty, many wonder: how can we plan for the year ahead?
For 5781, we must change our approach and, instead of planning according to dates on a calendar, look at our character for the coming year. As Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz z”l, wrote, “This does not mean, however, that, on Rosh Hashanah, one should make plans for the whole year. That would be impossible…. What one should do on this day is form a general picture of what ought to be the character and direction of this year.”
For 5781, we can accept the uncertainty of what is to come and focus on the knowledge that we can rely on the tested strength of our community. And that continued strength is up to us. We can commit to volunteering our time and, if we can, donating our money. We can commit to finding creative ways to give back and offering support to those experiencing hardship. Instead of planning large events or travel, we can plan to lean on our community when in need and support it every way we can. We can plan to check in on those who are vulnerable, to be more understanding of ourselves and others, and to be more present when given the gift of company among our loved ones.
As we reframe what planning looks like for 5781, it can be difficult to determine how best to dedicate our efforts. There are many good causes that need our help. Instead of being overwhelmed, be reassured that, for whatever assistance you can offer, there is a worthy cause, organization or initiative looking for someone just like you. Federations are great starting places. Check out your local campaign and learn what their various service agencies and not-for-profits are doing.
Though much of the past year has been uncertain, Rosh Hashanah presents us with a chance to start anew. We can still hope for and work toward a better tomorrow. The coming year will be defined not by our individual wishes and schedules but by our collective character and commitment to our community. Planning for uncertainty may seem counter-intuitive, but history has shown that we have the capacity to come together and overcome even the darkest of times. As we look ahead to 5781, amid all the unknowns, one thing remains certain: our community will continue from strength to strength.
Judy Zelikovitz is vice-president, university and local partner services, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.