I attended the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) along with a few of our top leaders. I have been to over twenty GA’s since I started working here in Pittsburgh, but this particular conference felt decidedly different. I think this nuanced change was best described by Eric Fingerhut, the CEO of JFNA, in his closing remarks when he apologized that this GA had more “Oy” than “Joy”. He was referring to the big topics being discussed: the rapid growth of antisemitism, the winter hardships for Ukraine’s Jews where the power grid has been damaged by Putin, the large Jewish community uneasy within Russia, the Ethiopian Jews’ wellbeing, and the need to help them leave for Israel, the polarization within the Jewish community mirroring that seen in our general society, and even more. It was clear that we have so much to concern ourselves with, but worrying alone never solves challenges. Instead, our system recognizes them and is actively planning how to address them. I have often stated that Pittsburgh excels in doing the little things now so that we are ready for the big things when they happen. There is no example of this that hits home more right now than Pittsburgh’s proactive involvement in addressing security and antisemitism.
Our Current Board Chair Dave Sufrin, our Immediate Past Board Chair Meryl Ainsman and I, along with a few individuals from other communities, broke away from the GA for a short visit at the Secure Community Network (SCN) offices in Chicago. You may have seen them earlier this fall on CNN in a special program about antisemitism. (For those interested, you can see a news piece from a Chicago television station describing this state of the art facility on abc7chicago.com.) The technology being employed there and the analysts collecting and sorting through all sorts of data represent one of the most sophisticated operations of its kind in the country. In addition, it has direct lines of communication to all national security agencies for close coordination.
Throughout our time there, we, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, were thanked and acknowledged repeatedly. Why? Because this concept was developed in partnership with several interested and skilled individuals from Pittsburgh who wanted to do something meaningful and impactful after the shooting at the Tree of Life Building. They not only gave of their business, strategic and technological skills, they also seeded the project with significant financial support. Their contribution to the protection of all American Jews, not just the ones in our area, is deserving of both our recognition and our thanks. I am proud that our Federation helped facilitate the development of the center, connecting those individuals with SCN. I hope you feel the same sense of Pittsburgh pride that I felt while visiting witnessing Pittsburgh’s role in helping lay out a protective shield over all Jewish institutions and communities throughout the United States. I wish I could say the system has not yet been needed, but unfortunately, that is not the case.
That visit to the SCN offices reinforces the idea that while we have many difficulties to face, we also have smart people and financial backing to address them. We do not merely sit and worry. We actively look for solutions and ways to improve our world. Yes, there are times where it might feel like there is more “Oy” than “Joy”, but Pittsburgh’s community is one which affirms in me the belief that we will once again rise to the challenges facing us.