“I ask not for a lighter burden, but broader shoulders.”
The Jewish proverb flashed on the screen as an upbeat song played in the background and photos of people and events flicked by.
The video closed The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s June 22 annual meeting, which highlighted the organization’s triumphs and challenges of the past year, including meeting local and international humanitarian needs; expanding Jewish education, cultural initiatives and support of Israel; and raising millions of dollars in emergency funds for Ukrainian refugees.
Already encompassing more than a dozen affiliated agencies, on July 1, The Associated also added three new organizations: the Macks Center for Jewish Connections, Jewish Educational Services and the New Jewish Library. The new organizations were developed to enhance Jewish education and engagement, in response to the 2020 Jewish Baltimore Community Study, which showed a decline in engagement with Jewish life.
As the 102-year-old organization continues to broaden its mission, it is also welcoming Board Chair Yehuda Neuberger, installed during the annual meeting. Neuberger also chairs the Community Planning and Allocations committee and is past president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, an Associated agency.
The Jewish proverb seems apt, for as Neuberger banged the gavel to close this year’s annual meeting, The Associated was growing — necessitating those broader shoulders.
Neuberger, an attorney, is deeply involved in Baltimore’s Jewish community. In accepting his new role at the meeting, he began by noting some current relevance in the week’s Torah portion, Shelach, which tells the story of the 12 spies sent by Moses to the land of Canaan, who return with bad news.
Neuberger said the lesson from Shelach is for Jewish leadership to not focus on the bad news, or challenges, “but to go forth with an optimism and a positivity.”
“When there are significant challenges, we need to address those challenges by becoming a force for good,” he said. “As the [Associated] slogan says, ‘Here for Good.’”
He noted a number of challenges that some say shouldn’t be taken on, can’t be solved. But Neuberger disagrees, saying challenges such as mental health, antisemitism, disagreements over how to support Israel and digging into the root causes of the decline in Jewish engagement are all challenges worth embracing.
“Our goal needs to be an optimistic, positive one,” he said. “We have to believe that we can just change that trajectory, that we can create an organization who’s given a mandate that every Jew in our community at every age, and every stage, if they will it, there will be a program of quality Jewish engagement and connection for them, through our system.
“We’ve taken on that goal,” he added. “It may not happen in a year or two or five; it may not happen in a decade. It may not happen in this century of The Associated’s existence. But we need that to be our goal. And that is our attitude. That is our approach. And that is our leadership mandate, in my view for the coming two years.”
After the meeting, Neuberger said that “at the communal level, there is no limit to the challenges and needs. But, we take each one as it comes.
“More often than not, there is an address in our existing system for the particular problem. I would highlight our recent engagement with mental health,” he said. “Mental health can be hard to detect, hard to treat and often has associated stigma. While we have long operated in this field, the pandemic heightened the need and the challenge.”
He noted that The Associated addressed the challenge in a multipronged way.
Neuberger said his vision for the future of The Associated is “a careful and deliberate continuation of the past.”
“This is not to say that we will not innovate and evolve — we seek to do that every day,” he said. “But I envision a future where we remain a dominant and relevant force in our community, as we have for more than 100 years, providing a complete spectrum of activities and offerings that ensures Baltimore remains a caring and committed community, a community that is Jewishly engaged and educated, and one whose example and leadership ripples throughout the Jewish community and beyond.
“That may sound either very nonspecific or overly optimistic,” he added, “but that really is what we have been doing for as long as we have been around. I hope that I, and my fellow community leaders and professionals, can be worthy successors to those that have brought our community to where it is today.”