As this year comes to a close, I find myself looking back on how differently 2023 began. I feel the dissonance between then and now most keenly in conversations with my children. In their voices, Israel is ever-present: there is a new interest in the news from Israel, there are questions about false claims that come across Tik-Tok, there is my own sense of pride in overhearing my daughter provide seemingly expert analysis to friends of other faiths. The voices of our children make clear that the October 7 attack is shaping a generation’s connection to Israel. It gives me hope. As we, the Jewish people, face a year of incredible hardship, a global rise in antisemitism, and increasing polarization in Orange County, our Jewish community remains unified and resilient—we are stronger together.
The message of strength and unity was visible a few weeks ago, when we celebrated the installation of five new members to our Women’s Philanthropy Council. The luncheon event presented a space to reflect on the accomplishments of the Council and outline a plan for the coming year. I’m thrilled to share that the Council kicked off their 2024 Annual Campaign at the luncheon, raising $90,000. As the new members take on the essential responsibility of inspiring purposeful and passionate giving, I want to express my deepest appreciation for the significant steps eight departing Council members have taken to accomplish this mission. Your approach to philanthropy honors the Jewish values of repairing the world, tikkun olam, and sustains future generations locally and globally. Women’s Philanthropy Council President Andrea Alfi and outgoing Federation Board Chair Heather Kline closed out the luncheon event by asking all members to elevate their leadership and giving to meet the growing needs of our Jewish community.
We continue to lean on our Jewish values of tikkun olam and traditions of tzedakah as a way of caring for our community and enhancing our sense of belonging. As I look back on 2023, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for our community’s response to the tragedy Israel is experiencing as a result of the Israel-Hamas war. We have shown up at rallies in Orange County and Washington DC to show our solidarity with Israel, we have listened to the painful stories told by family members of hostages and victims, and over 1,100 of us have generously contributed over $1,027,000 to our Israel Emergency Campaign. Through the national effort by Jewish Federations, the collective system has raised more than $762 million for a wide range of humanitarian organizations in Israel. Click here to learn more about specific allocation areas. I am deeply grateful to all who have donated their time and resources to this campaign. Your efforts uplift our strong community and allow us to stand united in our deep commitment to Israel. And we must also recognize, and continue to respond, to combat the rise in antisemitism in Orange County.
As I shared in the opening of this Shabbat message, our children are in many ways on the front lines of antisemitism. While most of us are aware of horrific behavior taking place on college campuses, there is less news coverage of antisemitism that Jewish students face in K-12 schooling. Federation’s Rose Project is responding to antisemitism in Orange County’s schools. We are working toward systematic change by expanding our Student to Student program (STS), a peer-to-peer education program designed to combat antisemitism by having Jewish teens visit schools to share their personal experiences, teach about Judaism, the Jewish people, our history and antisemitism. Through STS, we have trained 48 Teen Ambassadors to meet with their peers in middle school and high school, providing a deeper understanding of what it is like to be a Jewish student and how antisemitism negatively affects their experience at school. So far this school year, our Teen Ambassadors have spoken with over 1,700 students at eight different schools in Orange County. We are incredibly proud of our STS Teen Ambassadors and their willingness to take a stand against antisemitism. It is our desire to continue to build on this program in the coming year and further shrink the footprint of antisemitism and hate in Orange County.
Our 2023 Annual Campaign ends this Sunday, December 31. We need your financial support to ensure the continuation and success of programs and services that are core to the fabric of our Jewish neighborhood. When you donate to our Annual Campaign, you do more than just give – you AMPLIFY Jewish life and SUSTAIN the Jewish future in OC, Israel, and globally. Your contributions power our mission to convene, engage, and lead; to leverage resources for enhancing and sustaining Jewish life; to assist those in need; to mobilize on issues of concern to our local Jewish community; and to strengthen our bond with Israel and the global Jewish community.
While 2023 has unquestionably presented us with tremendous challenges, I’m inspired by how our community has responded and the impact we have had. Thank you for the difference you have made by living generously.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year,
President & CEO