We have all cited the joke of the waiter dealing with a table of difficult, demanding and seemingly not-to-be-satisfied Jewish diners. At other tables he checks in and asks “Is everything okay?” but at this particular table he asks “is anything okay?”
Perhaps our tradition teaches us never to be satisfied. With the joy of the Exodus from Egypt, our Passover seder recalls the plagues which befell the Egyptians., and in modern times we all know the jokes of the Jewish mother unable to relish in her son’s election to president of the United States simply because he did not become a doctor or lawyer.
Israel’s immediate past president Shimon Peres wrote a wonderful essay describing Jews as the “dissatisfied nation” and said that dissatisfaction is what characterizes the Jewish People. “From our early days,” writes Peres, “we rejected ignorance and postponed satisfaction. Jewish children are taught to question everything and the habit is never lost. It is that ongoing quest for betterment which has made us a people of research, a people of demand, a people of questions, a people of Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World), never content with the world as it is and always believing and striving to improve it.”
Is anything okay? You bet. We just need to notice.
In this issue of HAKOL we tout the closing of our 2015 Annual Campaign at $2,316,626! This achievement is in excess of our 2014 Annual Campaign and in excess of our closing projections. Kudos to our Annual Campaign leadership – Iris Epstein, general campaign chairperson, and Judy Diamondstein, assistant executive director – for leading a campaign volunteer and professional team to a fine achievement. Their accomplishment is all the more impressive since this was a year when crises required additional special fundraising efforts for emergencies in Israel and Ukraine.
There is nothing wrong with Peres’ articulation of our being a dissatisfied nation, as long as it is within the context of our achievements. Without a doubt our Annual Campaign did not raise enough to meet all of the needs of our local and international service partners, but let us not mask what we have accomplished. This year we focused funding on programs that promoted collaboration among agencies: the JCC received funding for an afterschool program being implemented in partnership with the Jewish Day School; Muhlenberg College Hillel will be engaging an Israel Fellow to promote pro-Israel understanding on the college campus and within our broader Jewish community; Congregation Brith Sholom and Bnai Abraham Synagogue will enjoy an off-site Shabbaton weekend; Jewish Family Service will grow its therapeutic services for seniors at various locations in the Lehigh Valley; and the Jewish Day School received funding to strengthen its Israel curriculum and its school twinning program with Yoav, our partnership community in Israel.
Is everything okay? Of course not! And neither should we ever think so.
It is tremendous that our fundraising efforts are as successful as they are. And we should rejoice in the diligent use of those funds as recommended by our allocations process. But, as warranted as it would be, it is hard for us to rejoice in our accomplishments without being a bit uncomfortable. Another dollar could have bought another meal for a pensioner in Odessa or Kiev. Think what another $10 could do. Another hundred. Another thousand. It’s not a game. We don’t want to raise more money so we can say we raised more money. We understand what we do with the generous funds we raise. We know how we help. We know the impact.
It’s not wrong to never be satisfied. It is challenging. It enables us to be creative. It forces us to make smart decisions. Paraphrasing Peres, dissatisfaction has led us thus far, and I am fully confident that it will carry us to new heights in the never-ending quest for enriching and enhancing our Jewish community.
Every day we have things to be proud of as a dynamic, caring, responsive Jewish people, and every day we struggle to determine what we can do better, how we can increase certain programs and how our Jewish Federation can enhance its value to our donors and our partner agencies.
Thank you for your support, generosity and confidence.