As we begin to emerge from the upheaval of this past year, many of us are reflecting on our goals and values. For me, it’s the importance of participating in the Jewish community and supporting Jewish causes.
I was raised in the tight-knit community of Beachwood, Ohio, where my school was 95% Jewish. My father, a Holocaust survivor, had made me aware of our historical trauma, and I appreciated being part of a vibrant Jewish community. However, everything was established already – I did not see a personal role to play.
It was not until I was in law school and seeking an internship in Nashville, Tennessee that I encountered true antisemitism. I interviewed with a professional in my field who, instead of treating me like any other candidate, made comments about my religion and assumed he already knew me based on my culture. At that moment, I suddenly became aware that many Jewish people were having similar experiences in their local communities. That encounter led me on a path of active engagement in Jewish Federations, first in Nashville and then in Virginia Beach.
As my husband Alan and I began to raise a family and build our careers and businesses, I became increasingly aware of the importance of an active Jewish infrastructure. Organizations like Jewish Family Service do a heroic job of enabling social workers and home healthcare aides to support Jews in need, as well as assist those in the broader community. Other organizations, such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee dedicate their efforts to taking care of Jews in need throughout the world. In a different but equally important way, organizations like the American Jewish Committee work on the frontlines of diplomacy and political relations to safeguard Jews all over the world. My support for these and other Jewish causes is aimed at Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world, and of protecting the vulnerable. These are the Jewish values that I grew up with and that my husband and I worked to instill in our four children.
But Jewish philanthropy is not only about furthering Jewish values. It is also about the survival of our communities. With fresh challenges upon us – from a pandemic to growing antisemitic sentiment – we need new, creative resources. Intermarried couples and unaffiliated Jews require programs that meet their unique needs and provide support during lifecycle events. Likewise, some Jewish communities that once had thriving synagogues and community centers are now in need of vigorous outreach to the younger generation.
I’m grateful that our local community has ample Jewish educational opportunities, summer camps, and outreach programs. I want to make sure other families have this support and benefit in this way. When we support Jewish organizations, we are helping our own families and friends, guaranteeing that our grandchildren will continue to enjoy the warm embrace of Jewish peoplehood.
Perhaps it is my penchant for thinking ahead that makes me so enthusiastic about Jewish Future Pledge, an initiative that calls on all Jews to pledge that half or more of the charitable giving in their will to support the Jewish people and/or the State of Israel. When I became aware of the Pledge, I knew that it was a natural choice for my family. Alan enthusiastically agreed even before I finished explaining! We were already planning to include Jewish charities in our wills and signing the Jewish Future Pledge was an opportunity for us to start a conversation with our children and put our commitment in writing.
I want to encourage others to sit down and have a conversation about committing to the Pledge. Doing so does not mean you cannot donate to your alma mater or to other worthy causes, nor does it mean that you cannot leave generously for your own children. It just means that you also select Jewish causes that speak to your soul and earmark funds for them. Whatever you decide to do, I think the first step is realizing you can make an impact, that you can help ensure Jewish communities stay strong and viable into the future. You can accomplish some of this in your lifetime and some as part of your legacy.
As I think back to my past and look forward to the future, I want to share this message with others. Claiming our Jewish identity is just the beginning. To keep our heritage alive for generations to come, we must also be passionate givers.
- Jody Wagner