As we embark on a new year I am happy to introduce you to our revamped Federation e-Newsletter. Over the past few weeks many of us have been in shul, breaking fast, gathering with friends or finding other ways to reflect on the past year and celebrate the clean slate of a new year. Past Federation messages may have invoked the Torah (or read like a D’var Torah). In my role as CEO I am going to leave that to the rabbis. On a monthly basis I will share what I know best and what is in my heart: the important work we do at the Federation. This is what inspires us each day and what got me behind my desk. So, I will happily open my heart to all of you.
There are two, well three, (but the Philadelphia Eagles will never find their way into my newsletters), passions that I have in my life – my family and the Federation system. The former will argue that the Federation, many times, takes the lead in my life. And, sometimes it does. Like when I made the decision seven years ago to move my family – two high school aged boys and my husband to Dallas, Texas from Cherry Hill, N.J. because I wanted to move the needle on my career and the Chief Development Officer role in Dallas would do just that. They left everything and everyone they knew. My husband closed his business, resigned from countless boards and committees in the Jewish community and my boys said goodbye to family and friends. Or when I missed my niece’s wedding because I was staffing a Pacesetter Mission; not to mention, the numerous soccer games and school functions for my boys. I love this work. I love this job. Well, it’s not a job – it’s a calling. I love this Federation and the Federation system, with all of its foibles. There is still no one organization that is more empowering and touches more Jewish lives on the planet.
The Federation system is one of the oldest charitable organizations in the United States. Did you know that 18 years after it started in Boston, followed by cities like Cincinnati and Cleveland, the United Way was formed? Did you know that today the Federation system is the largest ethnic charity in the world; the second largest charity in the world? Did you know that the Federation system is the envy of so many other organizations, large and small, for the amount of money we raise every year, year in and year out? For how many volunteers and community leaders we galvanize and engage? For the community vigils and rallies we organize in just a few hours, and for the way we can march on Washington to Let our People Go or clandestinely rescue thousands of our brothers and sisters from countries in which they are no longer safe to live, like Ethiopia and Yemen? The only people who question our relevance today are ourselves. And, we need to change the vernacular. No more self-deprecating jokes at our organizations’ expense, no more giving out of guilt or through arm twisting tactics.
The power of the collective allows us to do things in Dallas, in Israel and around the world that we as individuals cannot do alone. As I attended the opening of the new Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum and saw many of our Dallas survivors on the stage to cut the ribbon, I was reminded of the many Holocaust survivors I have met around the world who are living their last years in dignity because of the Federation system. Thousands living below the poverty level here in the USA, in the FSU, in Israel and around the world, are being sustained by our support – not just food and medicine, but taken out of isolation with programming at community centers or friendly visitors. When I see my boys taking on leadership roles in their fraternity or in their new hometowns, I credit that to their Yavneh and BBYO experiences here in Dallas. Both taught them to be mensch, to question and challenge with respect and to be not only be counted but to be counted on. Birthright and Israel experience summer programs, enhanced their love and passion for the state of Israel and the Jewish people. All of these programs or institutions are funded in great part because of the Federation.
The Federation in Dallas has developed initiatives that our community and its institutions have asked for that not one institution can do alone; such as, the Community Security Initiative, Connecting Dallas (see the panel to the right for more information), P.J. Library, Honeymoon Israel, ONE Table, and host to our community’s website Jewishdallas.org. One or more of these programs touch each and every one of us and promote our Federation’s mission to help ensure the continuity of a strong and vibrant Jewish community in Dallas, Israel and throughout the world.
The Federation is like the air we breathe. We need it every day and yet we don’t think about it until someone reminds us to take a deep breath. I intend to use the next months to remind you about the work of the Federation, the power of the collective in hopes to inspire you to find the same pride, excitement and passion that I have. I intend to share more about me, who I am and what drives me. Not for self promotion, but in hopes to inspire your trust, confidence and pride in me as your new President & CEO.
Just like the yard signs around town state, the Federation and I are Here For You. Here For Good.
Mariam Shpeen Feist
President & CEO