UJF President's Message: Passionate Times

“Passion” seems omnipresent. Whether the advice comes from a graduation keynote speaker or a retirement advisor, we are implored to “find our passion.” Charity Navigator suggests passion should drive our philanthropy with the search field tag line: “find and support a charity that aligns with your passions.” Yet the word passion is conspicuously absent from Federation’s mission and vision statements.

I reflect on passion as the protests in Israel over judicial reform continue. The controversy can be hard for US citizens to grasp, since our checks and balances are largely spelled out in a 235-year-old written constitution. But there is no denying the passion when so many people take to the streets so regularly for so long. It is still difficult to predict the outcome but some firsthand accounts from the front lines have been reassuring to those who fear the worst. The protests have been almost entirely peaceful and many protesters express respect for the counter protesters and vice versa. Despite the most passionate disagreement, activists like Gadi Taub and Anat Naschitz (from the right and left respectively, as featured in a recent Tablet magazine webinar entitled Israel at a Crossroads: A State for Jews or a Jewish State?) each strives to remember that the passion of the other is ultimately for the sustainable future of the country they both love.

At a recent Federation Board meeting, we discussed a controversial topic. As we went around the table, the hallmarks of passion - intense enthusiasm, strong emotions, and a deep connection to something or someone – emerged. In the aftermath, many Board members weighed in with me personally. Some worried the topic had been too divisive, while others thought it was precisely the kind of discussion we should be having more often. Like the most responsible advocates on judicial reform, people felt strongly about their opinions, but felt even more strongly about preserving collegiality in search of common ground within our diverse group.

The central part of our mission at Federation is convening our local community. Given our diversity, with underlying divisions on religious practice, politics and Israel (among other things), the conflict associated with passion cannot and should not be avoided. Avoiding our differences just magnifies them, particularly in the age of social media “outrage” and like-thinking “bubbles.” When those differences blow up, whether on the streets of Tel Aviv or in the crucible of a Board meeting, they can seem threatening. It is incumbent on organizations like ours to foster an environment in which we can continue to advocate our strongly held views, without losing sight of the underlying shared values that likely animate them.

Seen in this context, we, at Federation, are not deficient in passion after all. It is just that our overriding focus on convening community tends to redirect and disguise that passion . . . as a perhaps oxymoronic passion for moderation.

UJF's President Message by Michael Schlessinger appears in the July-August issue of The New Jewish Voice newspaper. To receive The New Jewish Voice delivered free to your home, sign-up today at www.ujf.org.