Shalom Chaverim (Dear Friends),
Thank you for the warm welcome to my position as President and CEO of Jewish Federation of Orange County. In these early weeks, I have witnessed the optimism and strong sense of community that we share for the future of Jewish life in Orange County, Israel, and globally.
Through our Ukraine Emergency Campaign, we are responding to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. To date, we have raised over $200,000 from over 330 community members as part of Jewish Federations of North America, a network of Federations, that has helped raise over $44 million to provide humanitarian aid, housing, transportation, and support for aliya/refugee absorption in Israel through our overseas partners, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).
At this year’s Women’s VOICES on Sunday, April 3, we came together to celebrate and recognize Ann Moskowitz for her life of leadership, specifically all that she has done to secure Jewish identity and future leaders through the Passport to Jewish Life program. It was an honor to get to know Ann through this gathering and to be part of this milestone in her inspiring life story.
This year’s VOICES also included the special announcement of the establishment of Temple Beth Emet’s legacy gift to our community through an endowment of $500,000 to support the Federation’s Passport to Jewish Life program, which is so near and dear to Ann. If you haven’t had the chance, please join me in thanking Ann for her leadership and service to our community, strengthening it from generation to generation. We are grateful to Andrea Alfi, Women’s Philanthropy President and to Tanya Newman, our Voices Chair, for bringing some 240 of us together and for helping lift the Annual Campaign to $1.2 million.
As my fourth week in this role comes to its culmination, I want to answer a question that a few of you have asked about why I made the choice to leave academia to lead Jewish Federation of Orange County. It is, in actuality, less a leaving and more of a continuation.
I believe that Federation’s purpose is to amplify Jewish life. As an amplifier of Jewish life, Federations have three essential functions at this time: strengthening Jewish identity; developing Jewish leaders; combating antisemitism and anti-Jewish sentiment. In the coming months, I look forward to discussing how, with your meaningful support, Federation will approach these challenges and continue its work to amplify Jewish life in Orange County.
Jewish Federation of Orange County is a unique platform for building and shaping Jewish peoplehood. As I prepare for Passover with family and friends, it occurs to me that there is perhaps no better cornerstone for the foundation of Jewish peoplehood in a postmodern world than Passover. In a time when members of Jewish families live in different zip codes and in which the ways we define Jewish neighborhood are increasingly complex, Passover reconnects us to a shared sense of peoplehood by requiring of all of us to relive the story of Exodus, our shared journey from slavery to freedom. It requests of us that we gather as family, bound by our collective memory, and that we open our homes as refuge to the stranger. “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
I find one of the infinite wisdoms of Passover is that we are directed both to tell the story to our children, which indicates that we are among family, and we are taught to welcome outsiders, which hints at a broader understanding of who is familial. In doing so, Judaism asks us to recognize both kinship and fictive kinship. It uniquely conceptualizes Jewish peoplehood in inclusive terms, emphasizing the importance of the recognizable, our own family, and the unrecognizable other. To make this point, the scholar Everett Fox rather brilliantly identifies Moses’ identity as fluid. Fox states, “We learn all we need to know about Moshe’s early personality: he is Hebrew-identifying but Egyptian-looking” (p. 262). This early Moses is neither recognizable in his visage nor in his customs. Fox presents us with a Moses who is an allegory for a Jewish people that is becoming rather than arrived.
Our retelling of the Exodus story is an affirmation of our continued becoming. In a postmodern world, it is admittedly difficult to understand ourselves this way. The artificial intelligence software in the devices we use daily, perhaps even the device on which you are reading this reflection, is designed to promote a sense of curated completedness. The wisdom of Judaism is that it asks us to ignore the AI and instead engage the novel by questioning what is known and by welcoming those who may be unknown to our family’s Seder table. There is no shibboleth (password) required to gain entrance to the Seder. It requires only our faith in Jewish peoplehood and our belief that this night is in fact different from all other nights.
From my family to yours, and from all of us at Jewish Federation of Orange County, warmest wishes for a meaningful and sweet Passover.
Erik Ludwig, PhD
President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Orange County
1 Federation Way, Suite 210, Irvine, CA 92603-0174