Opinion | The year behind us, and the year that could lie ahead

Linda A. Hurwitz
Linda A. Hurwitz (Courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore)

By Linda A. Hurwitz

Imagine you are sitting here a year ago, and I challenged you to forecast the future. How might you have responded?

Would you have looked at the introduction of vaccines and believed the pandemic was over, or would you have anticipated the rise of new variants that would lead to COVID-19 surges? Would you have predicted the exponential increase in anxiety, depression and suicide that would lead to a global mental health crisis, one that particularly affected our youngest generation?

Or who would have guessed that Russia would invade Ukraine, causing a major humanitarian and refugee crisis, one in which many in the Jewish community would leave everything behind — so many resettling in Eastern Europe or making aliyah to Israel?

For despite all our predictions and planning, we often do not know what might transpire.

It’s an exercise that makes me realize how lucky we are to have an organization like The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. Over the years, as I’ve traveled the country and volunteered in a national capacity, I’ve seen how other Federations work. And I can tell you, The Associated is like no other Federation in its ability to respond to the expected, and the unexpected, challenges.

Every year, The Associated professionals meet with its social service, Jewish engagement and overseas agencies. Together, they discuss the trends, the changing demographics and the new challenges that may impact Jewish Baltimoreans. To our professionals, their roles go far beyond their job responsibilities. They respond with their hearts and passion; they are thought agents and do what is best at that moment for our community; they are progressive, present and productive.

These conversations allow The Associated to think ahead, in order to address community concerns head-on. They then work closely with volunteer leadership, utilizing their expertise to find solutions. And they rely upon the support of community members willing to invest in our future. It is this powerful collaboration that ensures The Associated is innovative, transparent and relevant.

Yet, sometimes when the unexpected occurs, its centralized fundraising structure provides the flexibility to respond immediately, redirecting critical funds to the needs that are most pressing.

It happened during the first year of the pandemic, when the combination of quarantining and job loss suddenly resulted in the organization pivoting to address food insecurity, rent assistance and isolation.

And it happened again last year when depression and suicide reached record levels, as more people reached out to Jewish Community Services for mental health support and when even campers struggled with anxiety. The Associated responded, adding additional prevention education programs, new mental health initiatives for schools and camps and mental well-being programming for our community.

As antisemitism soared, The Associated increased security at our Jewish institutions to keep our family and friends safe. Its agency, the Baltimore Jewish Council, consulted with close to 200 synagogues, day schools and Jewish organizations across the state, providing security trainings, assessments and more.

These added programs, coupled with its ongoing work — helping domestic violence victims, supporting children with learning differences, providing services so our older adults can age in place, strengthening our neighborhoods and engaging our next generation in Jewish life — is costly.

Yet sometimes in conversations with potential donors, I hear people tell me that The Associated does not need our money. Let me tell you — that is not true.

With community needs growing and costs continuously rising, every gift, no matter how big or small, counts. The more our community participates, the more we can accomplish and the easier it is to pivot when times get tough.

I am now going to return to my initial question. If you asked me about next year, I think I could offer a few predictions that I believe probably — and unfortunately — will come true.

Mental health challenges will continue to plague us; rising inflation will put many people in our community who are living paycheck to paycheck at risk. Antisemitism will continue to grow, and we will need to invest in additional security.

But I do not know what else life will bring.

That is why The Associated and its Annual Campaign is there — for what we can plan for and what we do not see. The campaign is the lifeline and heart of our community. How blessed are we as community members to have an organization 100 years strong there for us, our great-grandparents and great-grandchildren.

For those generous donors who have already given, we thank you for your investment in our future. But even if you haven’t made a pledge yet, you still have the chance to make an impact before the campaign closes on June 30. Because any gift, no matter what the amount, makes a huge difference in shaping the community we can become and the unexpected challenges we might need to tackle for us to get there.

Linda A. Hurwitz is the former chair of The Associated, national campaign chair of Jewish Federations of North America, past president and chair of National Women’s Philanthropy and a national solicitation trainer.

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