Leading in the Time of COVID

(Photo) Staff from the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and community volunteers were honored to assist with distribution of hundreds of gallons of milk as part of the Dallas City Mayor's Milk Initiative.

In recent days, the media and community leaders have asked me how the Federation is faring on the anniversary of the tornado that devasted our campus and parts of Dallas a year ago this week. Frankly, I almost forgot there was a tornado, because the COVID-19 pandemic has eclipsed everything. When I’m asked, “How is the Jewish Federation bouncing back?” I usually respond that we’ve been bouncing forward. It’s been an amazing time. In many ways, the pandemic has ushered in an unprecedent opportunity to collaborate, rethink the meaning of community and the power of the collective.

As the convener of the Dallas Jewish Community for more than a century, the Federation has weathered many seismic storms, including the Great Depression, two World Wars, multiple recessions, an EF3 tornado, and currently, COVID-19. But we are still here . . . and through it all, one thing has not wavered: The Federation’s steadfast commitment to lifting up the essential organizations that embrace, engage and empower the Jewish community. It’s in our DNA.

Uncharted territory.
Still, most of us are not old enough to remember the last pandemic in 1918, and even if we did, the social, political and economic environments would not even come close. They say you learn from studying the past, that hindsight is 20/20. But not this year . . . not this 2020.

As a nation, we continue to grapple with the uncertainty and loss around this pandemic, as we simultaneously confront the troubling swell of anti-Semitism worldwide, increasing financial hardship in our communities and the chaos of social unrest. This is not business as usual and will not be for the foreseeable future. That’s our challenge and our opportunity—when everything is at risk. And nothing at risk.

The good news is that the Federation system was built for this.
But we cannot do it alone. Thankfully, we are not alone. We are partnering with other like-size federations to collaborate on events and programs such as our annual ONE Night and partnering with 146 Federations across North America on mega virtual events, webinars and conferences to optimize scarce resources.

In Dallas, we’ve expanded the health-crisis management team to include other senior professionals and lay leadership. We are working with two consultants, including one from McKinsey & Company, to engage in scenario planning as opposed to strategic planning and broad strategies. We are transforming the way we operate day to day in this brave new world.

Locally, our agencies have leaned into their proven expertise, providing food, shelter, medical needs, mental health services, employment assistance, childcare, education solutions and so much more. Like our courageous first responders, those who work tirelessly on the frontlines in our agencies are our Jewish community heroes.

Making an impact.
One example I’d like to highlight is our longstanding, high-impact partnership with Jewish Family Service. As the pandemic has progressed, JFS has seen an increase of almost 300% in hungry clients requesting kosher food in their drive-thru pantry. JFS is poised to meet these escalating needs due to COVID, including the challenges of deteriorating morale among educators in our schools, as well as offering counseling to address anxiety, depression and isolation among all our neighbors.

Watch This Video to witness your generosity at work:

In the coming weeks, I will be highlighting more stories of hope and help across our system—offering glimmers of light in the darkness.

This is how the collective works. This is leading in the time of COVID.
Your Federation is rising to the occasion; we’re up on our tippy toes every day, doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. We are the convener of guidance, philanthropy and capacity—committed to show up and step up when our community needs us most, in good times and in crisis. And we could not do it without you and so many dedicated leaders.

As we reflect on the high holidays just completed, I am heartened by the notion of a clean slate. Rosh Hashanah is a time to discard the concerns of the old year and start anew. The pandemic is providing a kind of clean slate, as well—a fresh start, an opportunity to envision a more efficient way of doing things. In truth, I’d say hindsight is not 20/20. Instead, 2020 is foresight—providing a new roadmap for a new way of engaging.

Never before has this Jewish community come together and leaned on each other with such conviction, vigor and passion. We are working more collaboratively than ever before. Our synagogues, Hillels, schools, agencies, lay leaders and professionals are convening and learning a new way of serving—and transforming lives.

Together, we are asking the critical questions with curiosity and anticipation: What will we look like? What will emerge? Now more than ever, the Federation is Here For the Community. Here For You. Here For Good.