By Eileen Freed
On December 28, dozens of local community members, led by Ann Arbor Chabad House, gathered to light a giant Hanukah menorah at Liberty Square in downtown Ann Arbor. A central theme of Hanukah is to be proud and comfortable in our Jewishness and to share the light with those around us. We are fortunate to live in a place and time in which we can do so safely and with the participation of community leaders like Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox and City Council Member Julie Grand.
Sadly, that same evening, the light and joy of Hanukah was dimmed by a horrific attack on a Hanukah party at the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, New York.
This attack was one of the latest in a wave of anti-Semitic activity that has shaken many of us. We’ve seen a growth in violence against Jews, such as the shooting at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey and Jews being beaten on the streets of New York, graffiti and vandalism of Jewish communal institutions, anti-Jewish tropes used by politicians in the US and abroad, and even weekly blatant anti-Semitic hate speech and harassment outside one of our own community synagogues.
The recent proliferation of such attacks against Jewish people and institutions is disturbing and infuriating. We cannot let this defeat us nor cause us to be any less proud or visible as a community.
We must be proactive in fostering positive relationships with people of other cultures and faiths. For the past year, Federation board member Decky Alexander has been laying the groundwork for a Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC), which, as JCRCs do in communities around the US, will provide a framework for engagement as Jews with the broader community. A series of “Conversations with 7” were held in which people from across all segments of the Jewish community gathered over dinner to talk about the issues that concerned them as Jews and about what a JCRC might look like in Ann Arbor. Several participants gathered in January for a “convening” to explore the common themes and begin to develop a plan to move forward.
In another effort to connect with the wider community, Federation is partnering with 2 for Seder, a project developed by the daughter-in-law of Joyce Fienberg z”l, one of 11 people murdered at the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, PA. Last year, over 1000 Jews participated by inviting their non-Jewish friends, neighbors and colleagues to their seders in this effort to “directly address biased attitudes and general ignorance – the seed of all anti-Semitism.” More information about this initiative will be available in the coming months.
We must also be proactive to ensure we have the resources to safeguard our community members and visitors. In order to augment the excellent work being done by individual congregations and organizations, in the last few months, the Community Security Committee (CSC), chaired by Dave Nelson and comprised of representatives from our communal organizations and congregations, and Federation staff have been working to advance community preparedness.
In November, community-wide threat assessments were conducted by the Secure Community Network (SCN), the national homeland security initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. These assessments will provide important recommendations regarding facility upgrades and community crisis & communication protocols. This information will be essential for applying for future Homeland Security grants.
Preparedness training opportunities are being explored and will be offered to the community in the coming months. A “Stop the Bleed” (trauma first aid) training will take place Tuesday, February 4, 9-10:30am at the JCC and is open to the public.
All of these activities, which were prioritized by the CSC this fall, have been funded by generous contributions to the Community Security Campaign. To date, over $67,000 has been raised toward the goal of $100,000 to securing and preparing our community. The Community Security Committee is convening a task force to develop allocations guidelines and processes for distributing security campaign funds where they are needed most based on the assessments from SCN.
At the beginning of this new decade, we resolve to continue to bring light into the world by connecting with one another, sharing our simchas (joyous times), and supporting each other in times of need. We will deepen our relationships with the broader community in which we live and foster understanding and connection across faith, ethnic, racial, political and economic divides. We will continue to work together with our communal partners to be a prepared, safe, and welcoming community for all. We invite you to be our partner in these efforts and welcome your involvement.
To learn more about and participate in the rich variety of programs and services offered by Federation and all our local Jewish communal organizations or to make a pledge to the Community Security Campaign, visit www.jewishannarbor.org.