We’ve all been asked to “Step Up” at some point in our lives. What does that mean to you? To me, it means taking responsibility - particularly for others, especially those in need.
Jewish people have historically stepped up over the millenia, and with great passion, supporting and advocating for our communities. Our 613 Mitzvot, the binding commandments in the Torah, specify actions that require us to step up. Among many Mitzvot of this kind we find ‘relieve a neighbor of his burden’, ‘feed the hungry’ and 'give tzedakah (charity) according to one’s means’.
In the late 1700s, Haym Salomon, a Polish-born Jewish businessman and financier, stepped up in a grand way, assisting in financing the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), leading to the freedom of the American colonies from the British empire. Working with Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance, Salomon loaned $200,000 to the war effort, but reportedly was not repaid.
Across the Atlantic, In 1833, Nathan Rothschild financed the compensation needed to pass the Abolition Act, ending slavery in the UK and all its territories in the amount of £15 million. This did more than any individual or country had done to end slavery until the Civil War in 1861.
HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the world’s oldest refugee agency, had its roots in the 1880s, aiding Jews fleeing the programs in Russia and Europe. Helping immigrants settle, make a living and support themselves, HIAS likely assisted the parents, grandparents or great grandparents of a number of readers of this column.
Stepping up is both a Jewish and an American value.
American Jews developed a unique model of philanthropy, which has greatly influenced the broader community's philanthropic structure. The Jewish tradition of ‘taking care of one's own’ shaped the giving mechanisms and institutions that addressed immigrant needs at the turn of the century.
Individual support for synagogues and agencies grew into a Jewish federated philanthropy where individual contributions are pooled to make the biggest impact in helping the neediest. Beginning in 1885 with the Boston Federation, the movement has grown to 146 Federations, all under the umbrella of Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA).
The Jewish Federation of Rockland was launched almost 40 years ago in 1984, Its mission today includes helping the most vulnerable, confronting antisemitism, convening collective action, celebrating Jewish community and strengthening connections to Israel.
With your partnership, Federation meets a number of vital needs in our local community, including securing our Jewish institutions, supporting Holocaust survivors, providing Kosher food for those in need, camp scholarships for those who otherwise couldn’t go, PJ Library Jewish-themed books for young children, Midreshet- adult Jewish education classes and funding for critical social services.
Meeting these challenges is a collective action that relies on the community stepping up and giving support -hands on and monetarily - according to one’s means and one’s time. Without your partnership, Federation couldn’t address all of these needs - but with it, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish together.