It was in the shadows of WWII that our Federation was born. The monstrous level of anti-Semitism that decimated the Jewish population of Europe drove thousands to the shores of America. Unfortunately, this land of freedom was not immune from vile and often outright expressions of anti-Semitism. In spite of these threats, we came together and organized with a "common mission to accept responsibility for one another, to create an organization that is motivated by the demands of present day life, by complex problems we face as individuals and as a community and by the burdens of responsibility placed upon us by world circumstances" (Melvin Title, President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, 1946-1948).
We took on this responsibility as individuals and became leaders, expressing our individual values, beliefs and commitments through collective action. We led from within our community, leveraging resources and support from external forces. Together, we confronted restrictive covenants that refused access to Jews and we established long-lasting institutions to care for, educate and support the growing Jewish population in Greater Hartford. We felt proud, we felt safe - until last weekend.
Last weekend's events in Charlottesville, Va., represent a turning point in our understanding of the space we occupy as Jews in America. For most of us it was a wake-up call, an alarm that sounded deep in our collective souls. It was a powerful reminder that - along with our friends and neighbors who are Muslim, people of color, LGBTQ or refugees - we continue to be targets of hate and violence. What many of us thought were small, marginal groups of neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now emerging as an organized movement.
How do we begin to make sense of this, better understand the dynamics at play and determine an appropriate response? Our default is always to look to "leadership" for the answer. While organizational, governmental and religious leaders all have important roles to play, we must consider our own personal roles as leaders, as change agents and as messengers of tolerance and acceptance.
Today, more than ever, we need the Federation - the one organization that brings together all of our individual voices - to declare loudly and without any hesitation our absolute rejection of the hate-filled agenda being perpetrated in our land. I challenge each of you to accept and embrace your own role as a leader within your families, your friendship circles, your synagogue and the community at large.
The Federation is about developing individual leadership potential. We strongly believe that everyone has a unique role to play and something special to contribute. Especially now, relying on others to lead may not be enough. That is why we are taking the lead by:
- Working closely with national and local security and law enforcement to monitor and prepare for any hate-related activity scheduled or occurring in our community.
- Reaching out to our neighboring faith communities and legislators to foster stronger bonds of unity in our fight against hate and intolerance.
- Working with Jewish Family Service's Trauma Team to offer support to families and children who may be struggling with the emotionally charged reports of anti-Semitism and hate.
- Securing additional funds from the Jewish Community Foundation to help synagogues pay for security during the upcoming holiday season.
Just as we did in 1946, we must stand together to combat this modern strand of racism, hatred and bigotry. Together, we can deliver clear and unambiguous messages that we as Americans and as Jews will not tolerate the vile sentiments being promoted by these groups. We are dedicated to speaking out when we and others are threatened. We are committed to lending support to those who are marginalized and targeted by hate and bigotry. The Jewish community of Greater Hartford unequivocally states that such hatred and bigotry has no place in our society.
This Shabbat, let us pray that we will see a new day emerge when we will celebrate the beauty of diversity and the values this country was built upon.
President and CEO
Photo caption: Federation President and CEO Howard Sovronsky speaks at the passage of Connecticut's HB 5743, one of the nation's strongest hate crime laws, in June.