By Olga Yorish
Federation in Focus 

Join us as we shape the future


Twenty four years ago a man, a woman, and a child stood in the arrival hall of the Boston Logan airport. Tired and disoriented after a long flight from overseas, their old life in the USSR left resolutely behind, they were hopeful for a better future. In Boston, they were met by a group of people representing an organization whose name the woman didn’t know. Nor did she know that this organization would soon become her life and her passion. In April, the board of directors hired that woman (yes, you guessed right, that woman was me) as an executive director and charged me with moving this Jewish Federation forward.

During my first months, I had more than 200 individual and group meetings with volunteers, community members, agency colleagues, and Federation staff. In all these meetings, I have been impressed with a variety of opinions, strength of convictions, and passion for the community and its institutions. I have discovered that there is a lack of information and understanding of what the Federation is about; there are some hurt feelings and broken relationships; there is an opinion that the Federation is not relevant to the Jewish community; and at the same time, there is a somewhat contradictory notion that the Federation is able to and must take care of all the problems. What struck me most, however, was a recurrent theme of a lack of a unified Jewish community bound by common goals and aspirations.

What do we have to do to change it? There are a few critical components that define a strong and vibrant Jewish community. First of all, it is a commitment to our core values of Torah, Tzedakah, and Chesed – faith, justice, and acts of kindness. It is also a commitment to educate the future generations, to transmit our heritage to children and grandchildren. What also makes a community strong and vibrant are opportunities for all Jews to come together. And a key component is a central organization that keeps it all together and ensures stability and growth.

All these elements are present in the Orlando Jewish community. We have not one but two excellent campuses used by 1,500 people every day. We have thriving synagogues led by dedicated rabbis and lay leaders. We have strong agencies led by talented and dedicated volunteers and staff. We have day schools and multiple other Jewish educational opportunities. And we have the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando that is the glue that bonds the core components together.

From many of my conversations, I learned that there is a desire to rebuild and repair; there are many people who are remarkably supportive and encouraging; and there are thousands of people in this community who continue to invest their time, energy, and resources in the Jewish community locally and around the world. This is a community mandate and a vote of confidence that the Federation is relevant and needed. The Jewish Federation is the one place that belongs to every Jew, the place where philanthropy, volunteerism and shared commitment come together to make a difference in the world. Federation was established to improve the quality of Jewish life worldwide, nurture Jewish learning, care for those in need, rescue Jews in danger, and ensure the continuity and well-being of our people. We have been doing all this for many decades and we must and will continue to do it. We are the one organization that can, should, and will build a community with a capital C. A Community where agencies and leaders are fully supportive of each other; where the interests of the Community come first and individual agency and personal agendas are secondary.

I challenge our rabbinic leaders to join us in this work, to bring forth their talents and influence to achieve this goal. I challenge our agency lay and professional leadership to move beyond institutional interests and look at the big picture. Will it happen? It must. It has to, for the sake of the future of this Jewish community.

As we kick off the 2014 Shaping the Future Annual Campaign, we have established an ambitious goal to increase annual giving by 15 percent. I propose to use this increase to create a grants fund for collaborative and innovative community programs. It’s time for the Federation to get back to its business.

Every morning, as I arrive at work, I think of the privilege it is of being the executive director of the Jewish Federation. I think of how to use this day to make it stronger. I know how fortunate I am to do what I love and to love what I do.


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