Thank You, Jewish Baltimore

110113_Jaffe-MaayanThe Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore says it is “inspiring Jewish community.” Believe me, it is.

I recently returned from the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. The plenaries, which boasted some of the top Israeli officials, were packed. The dialogues — unique and interesting — were well executed.

But the best of the conference was what happened behind the scenes, in the hallways, at dinner or while shopping. It was what you don’t write about in an analysis piece, but it was the experience of being part of something bigger than you, of understanding what it means to be Jewish and knowing why that is so important.

Baltimore did not send a huge contingency to the GA this year, but the people who did go rocked the GA, stood out as leaders and stuck together. Jill Max, Katie Applefeld and Evan Goldman, for example. Beth Goldsmith and Lee Sherman. Michael Hoffman. Maia Hoffman. (No relation to one another.)

When I returned from Israel, everyone asked about the people I heard speak or interviewed, people such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Finance Minister Naftali Bennett and Jewish Agency for Israel head Natan Sharansky. I and was even the person who snapped Sharansky’s photo with the Baltimore contingency (see “Analysis: The Global Jewish Shuk,” Nov. 15) — sometimes, you have to have a little bit of guts. All of these people are amazing. And when I met the Moroccan Ambassador, it rocked my world. While I no doubt learn from every “famous” person I encounter, I believe that more learning happens just by interacting with each other; each of us has something to give, something to teach.

As we go into Thanksgiving, our iNSIDER focuses on giving. I want to say thank you to the people of Jewish Baltimore who have given me so much. Thank you for teaching me there is more than one side to every story and for reminding me that Judaism is not just a set of laws, but a way of life. Thank you for instilling in me a sense of Jewish community, for keeping me focused on Jewish unity and for inviting me to have a voice — and to hear many diverse voices.

I have a master’s degree in Jewish thought and civilization, I lived in Israel for nearly six years (I’m fluent in Hebrew) and I have learned in a midrasha. I have been working in my field in some capacity since 1995, and I consider myself smart and knowledgeable about Judaism and the Jewish people. But I have been blown away by Jewish Baltimore. And a lot of what blows me away starts with The Associated and its mission.

The Associated funds CHANA, our community response to sexual abuse and violence. When I used to hear those terms I would shudder; I didn’t want to believe anything bad happened — ever. But guess what, it does. And that’s OK. The real test is what you do about it.

The Associated funds the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which in turn is funding a resurgence of Jewish life in Poland. Why would we want a Jewish community in the heart of a society that brutally murdered our people? Without it, we are dead. The Jewish people, however, are resilient — and thank God for that.

I could go on. But I will just say, “thank you,” and please know how much I mean it.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief —

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