I spent time this week watching the news stories about President Biden’s trip to Israel. Several specific moments absolutely caught my attention including the fact that Eric Fingerhut (CEO of Jewish Federations of North America) and Julie Platt (Board Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America) were at the President of Israel’s official residence for a reception with the President of the United States. The most personal moment for me happened at Yad Vashem where POTUS met with two Holocaust survivors. While 240 of us were on the MEGA MISSION last month, we also visited Yad Vashem. Many of the participants met with the same Holocaust survivor, Rena Quint. We were all mesmerized as she recounted how she survived ghettos and concentration camps despite being on her own at a young age. Several exceptional women, mother figures, kept taking on responsibility and care for her. President Biden, according to the Times of Israel, “took the survivors’ hands and kneeled between them. He spoke with the women for about seven minutes, kissing both on their cheeks as their conversation drew to a close.” To understand why our mission participants and President Biden were so deeply moved, you can read Rena Quint’s story in her book, A Daughter of Many Mothers: Her Horrific Childhood and Wonderful Life.
While we were with Rena Quint during the MEGA MISSION, she turned to the Pittsburgh audience and asked about our own trauma following the October 27, 2018 attack on the three congregations at the Tree of Life Building. Rena understands, better than most people, that a traumatic incident can continue to impact people forever. It was a demonstration of deep empathy and kindness on her part. In fact, Brian Schreiber, CEO of our JCC, has now developed a relationship with Rena connecting her to the work of the 10-27 Healing Partnership. Rena was a ray of sunshine at what is often perceived as a very sad place.
Speaking of rays of sunshine and hope for the future, this past Sunday I was so lucky to attend the graduation ceremony for this year’s Wechsler Leadership Institute, the Federation’s yearlong young adult leadership development course. I got to spend time with an exceptional group of devoted, caring, intelligent individuals who will be making a difference in our Pittsburgh Jewish community for years to come. While we must continue to remember our history, including horrible moments, we must always look to our destination. For me, that destination is best reflected in the Federation’s vision statement: A flourishing Jewish community where everyone feels included, supported and inspired. We can only get there by working together.