Remember Y2K? Ten years ago this week, on the eve of a new year, a new decade and a new millennium, there were daily headlines everywhere predicting various forces of doom on the horizon, from computer malfunctions when 1999 slipped into 2000, to international terrorism to a full range of apocalyptic events of biblical proportions.
To paraphrase those classic 1980s TV commercials for the brokerage firm E.F. Hutton, when John Ruskay talks, people listen.
Last Tuesday, when some 500 hundred lay and professional leaders in the community came together to honor him on his first decade as executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, there was much anticipation of the speech he was about to give — he did not disappoint; more on that in a moment — and numerous references to the talk he gave 10 years ago, on coming into his post, a classic in communal circles.
I have no doubt that if the Maccabees, heroes of the Chanukah story, were around today, they would be leading the West Bank settlers’ current protests, decrying the Jerusalem government for abandoning its Zionist and religious imperative to claim all of the land of Israel as holy and non-negotiable.
Most mornings now, I wake up with the sounds of Kaddish in my head.
It’s not surprising. For the last seven weeks, my psyche has been focused on the traditional mourners’ prayer, which I’ve been reciting at least six times a day in my mother’s memory.
My life seems to revolve around, and focus on, getting to synagogue on time — morning, afternoon and evening — being prepared to lead the services, and concentrating my thoughts on the concept of elevating my mother’s soul through the recitation of Kaddish.
Anne Frank, the Dutch teenager who through the power and intimacy of her diary became the best-known of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, is most often recalled for an entry that reads: “... I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart ... that this cruelty, too, shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
One of the fascinating dynamics in American Jewish life today involves the complex and evolving relationship among three key groups: the Establishment organizations, symbolized by the federations, the primary engine that drives the organized Jewish community; the family foundations, which have generated great sums of philanthropic money in recent years; and the hundreds of emerging start-ups, or small, independent and youth-driven nonprofit ventures that have become increasingly popular in the last decade, especially among Generations X and Y.
A strong but subtle combination of admiration, support and resistance among those groups was just under the surface of a number of discussions — public and private — last week in Washington at the GA (the annual General Assembly of The Jewish Federations of North America).