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Together, we can reignite the holiday lights for families in our community.
Chanukah is a beloved time in the Jewish calendar that reminds us that hope is always possible, and the tradition of lighting the Chanukah candles is a beautiful metaphor about adding light during the darkest times of the year. However, for all of us—but especially for many of our most vulnerable community members—the unforeseen COVID-19 crisis still looms with uncertainty.
This year, we will all be celebrating Chanukah differently than we're used to. As I light the candles while listening to my kids sing the Chanukah prayers and songs about miracles of the past—with grandparents watching on FaceTime or Zoom, of course—I reflect on today's miracle taking place in our community. A sense of purpose to ensure that no one is left behind in this crisis has united us as a Jewish community and has strengthened our future. And I've witnessed the true belief that Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh-La'Zeh
(כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה) —that we are all responsible for one another—right here in our own community.
Our role as Federation CJA is to continue to support our community's most vulnerable during these difficult times by bringing light, which may have been extinguished due to the pandemic, back into homes.
These past months have been some of the most challenging we've ever had to go through. The financial impact that COVID-19 has had on many of us is profound and, for some, this impact has been devastating. Today, as for the past 100 years, Federation CJA is taking the lead in providing temporarily vulnerable community members the support they need to ensure that this crisis does not become a permanent life-changing catastrophe.
Through our Gesher initiative, we have been supporting temporarily impacted families so that they can withstand the financial crisis. Our goal is to ensure that the impact is temporary and that vulnerable families do not withdraw from participating in Jewish Life, such as the real possibility of having to withdraw students from Jewish day schools.
Federation CJA, through the generosity of our donors, has been here to help ensure that our children have a safe and meaningful Jewish education this year by maintaining the ability to provide a Jewish education to all our students, regardless of financial ability. We have helped 13 Jewish day schools sustain financial pressures by offsetting some of the additional costs incurred due to the pandemic, allowing 5,451 students to attend school this year in a safe environment. Giving these Jewish institutions and their families what it takes to make it through these tough times is just one of the ways we are helping our community get back on its feet.
As Jewish people, we understand that even during the darkest days there is light. Historically, Chanukah commemorates a great Jewish military victory and the miracle that permitted a small amount of oil to burn and give light for eight days. Simple in its observance yet profound in its message, as we light the menorahs in our homes this Chanukah, we look at the miracle of light as a symbol of perseverance and hope, and are reminded that we are not alone.
Chanukah teaches us that humans can do miraculous things. What's needed right now is to help keep our most vulnerable safe and cared for. We have proven that when we take extraordinary action we can prevail in times of darkness. We can come together as a strong and vibrant community to ensure that we rise more resilient than ever.
The pandemic has changed so much of our daily lives, and the isolation we've faced over the last nine months has taken a toll on our mental health, which can affect how we respond and recover from this crisis. Rabbi Sacks zt"l has taught us that, "The ability to survive and to recover is part of what it takes to be a leader." I know that through our continued efforts, we can lead the community back to light, and come out of this even stronger.
With the promise of a vaccine on the horizon, and a possible end in sight, there's hope that next year's holidays will look just as they did in the past. Wishing you and your loved ones a Chag Chanukah Sameach. May the festival of lights bring comfort, warmth, and peace to your household, and may light triumph over darkness.
Yair Szlak, LL.B.
Chief Executive Officer