The Sanctity of Community Service

May 10, 2024 / 2 Iyar 5784

As the CEO of the Jewish Federation, I am frequently asked to articulate what our organization does and why such an entity is essential to the Jewish community. At its core, the Jewish Federation is more than just an organization; it is a manifestation of our communal obligation to care for one another, a principle deeply embedded in our Jewish traditions and laws. Our mission spans a wide array of activities—from supporting those in need and fostering Jewish education to enhancing the safety and security of our community worldwide.

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Kedoshim, known as the “Holiness Code,” provides a profound scriptural basis for understanding and appreciating the sacred work we undertake. It instructs us not only on individual morality but emphasizes our obligations towards communal welfare, capturing the essence of what drives the Federation’s efforts. Leviticus 19:2 sets the tone with a powerful call to action, “You shall be holy, for I, Adnai your Gd, am holy.” This directive not only elevates individual behavior but also defines our communal responsibilities, providing a profound context for the vital work carried out by Jewish Federations across the globe.

The ancient rabbis teach us that holiness is not a state of otherworldliness, but rather a commitment to act with integrity and compassion within our communities. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his 19th-century commentary on the Torah, emphasized that holiness is achieved “through the moral sanctification of daily life.” Each mitzvah in Kedoshim, from honoring one’s parents to leaving a portion of the harvest for the poor, encapsulates this blend of everyday actions with sacred intent.

Consider the mitzvah of “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Akiva famously declared this principle to be a fundamental tenet of the Torah. It calls on us not merely to refrain from negative behaviors but to actively promote the well-being of others. In a parable from the Midrash, a group of travelers are in a boat, and one begins to drill under his own seat. When his fellow passengers protest his actions, he responds, “What concern is it of yours? I am drilling under my own seat!” The sages explain that we are all in one boat; the actions of one can affect us all, thus the critical importance of communal responsibility.

This ethos of mutual accountability and collective care is vividly embodied by the Jewish Federation. By supporting a multitude of causes—from aiding the vulnerable and supporting Jewish education to ensuring the safety and security of the Jewish community—the Jewish Federation pursues its holy mission. It acts as a modern-day manifestation of the biblical commandments that teach us to care for one another, especially during times of need.

Today, amidst an era of instability, partisanship, and social polarization, the role of the Jewish Federation is ever more critical. It serves not just as a charitable organization, but as a central pillar in maintaining the unity and welfare of the Jewish community. It ensures that the ancient chain of tradition, which stretches back over 5000 years, remains strong and unbroken. Our sages taught us that each generation of Jews holds the link of that chain, tasked with the duty to preserve and strengthen it, ensuring its integrity for future generations.

As we reflect on Parashat Kedoshim and its teachings about holiness and communal responsibility, let us remember that the Jewish Federation helps us live up to these ideals. In a world marked by divisions, the Federation builds bridges within the Jewish community and beyond, promoting unity and ensuring that every Jew, no matter their circumstance, is provided shelter under its far-reaching refuge. This is truly a fulfillment of Gd’s commandment to be holy as Gd is holy—by fostering a community who cares, protects, and thrives for one-another.

Let us take inspiration from Parashat Kedoshim and strive to contribute to the holy work of the Jewish Federation. Engage with us by volunteering your time, offering your expertise, or participating in an upcoming community program. By doing so, we not only uphold the sacred teachings of our Torah but also ensure that the enduring chain of Jewish continuity remains strong, vibrant, and holy in our time. Because we are…


Shabbat Shalom.