Alliance CEO: Working toward a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community

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These remarks were presented at the annual meeting of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. They have been edited for Jewish Rhode Island.

For nearly two years I have had the incredible privilege to serve this community and this organization.  I am so grateful for how you made my family and me a part of this community, and  how you have made us all feel welcome.

This year was a year where much work got done and much happened.  This year we cemented our relationship with the Rhode Island Foundation.  Together we are offering our donors better service. And we are allowing the Alliance to focus on what we do best, all while engaging with a tremendous partner and advocate for change in the state.

We launched our new Community Relations Council, focused on spreading justice throughout Rhode Island and throughout the world. That work will allow us to tackle big issues like climate change, poverty, combating hatred and supporting immigrants and refugees. 

We are finding ways to leverage the collective power of our community to meet new goals. We have convened agencies and synagogues from across the Jewish community and at least 10 are exploring the idea with the Alliance of getting 100% of our energy from renewable sources. 

Together, we raised over $3 million to support Jewish agencies throughout Rhode Island and around the world.  Together, we have made sure that those in need locally have a place to get support in Jewish Collaborative Services.  Together, we support communities in crisis in all corners of the world, where they struggle with great unrest and uncertainty.

While most of this year was incredibly positive at the Alliance, it was not so across the country and world.  Together we mourned the loss of life after shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway.  We mourned the horrific shootings at mosques and the attacks on churches around the world. This year we saw the rise of anti-Semitism in our society. 

But even with these horrific events, even in these troubled times, together we saw the beauty of what comes after.  More than 1,000 people came out to mourn and to declare that anti-Semitism and hatred have no place in Rhode Island. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, young, old, people from all walks of life joined us in solidarity right outside our building. And it was then that I knew that together, we are making this community stronger and more vibrant.

Because the best antidote to anti-Semitism is not retreat, but engagement, and we are going to continue to engage. We will continue to invest in education, so that people of all ages can experience Jewish values and culture throughout their life. We will continue to create thriving Jewish life in the state so we can celebrate our heritage with each other and with our fellow Rhode Islanders. We will continue to seek justice for all by teaching tolerance, by protecting our planet, by supporting immigrants and refugees. And we will continue to give people hope by helping those in need.

Bringing people together is what we do. Building community is what we do.  Building bridges is what we do. 

It’s not just what we do though, it’s how we do it. There are Jewish texts that state that “Derech eretz kadmah l’Torah.” That decency, kindness and respect come before Torah in importance. At the Alliance, we act with decency, kindness and respect. We focus on honesty and being trustworthy. We are compassionate and altruistic. In short, if the Alliance were a person, it would be a mensch. A mensch leaves a positive imprint on every life that he or she touches, and that is what we strive to do at the Alliance. Over the next year, you will see this more and more as we strive as an organization to live into that distinction. 

I know firsthand that as an organization, the Alliance is a mensch, because I’ve seen it through the eyes of my family. I’ve seen how our staff showed kindness and respect to my wife. It didn’t matter how she identified. What mattered was that she wanted to be part of this community, and because of that she was welcomed with open arms. I’ve seen the decency and compassion the Alliance has shown my daughters. Because of that embrace, my girls have embraced their Jewish roots, and more than ever, it is a core part of who they are. And our staff and Board is always honest with me about where we are, and where we need to be. So, I know the Alliance is a mensch, and a mensch is exactly what this community needs in these times.

It can feel like a scary world out there. And when things get scary, it can be tempting to retreat into our own community, and to yearn for the days that were easier, that seemed better. It can be tempting to ask for what the community was, not what it is or what it could be. But doing so would be a mistake. 

Communities are constantly evolving. That is why the work of building a strong, vibrant community is never finished. And that is our challenge and our charge here today. The Alliance is where all those who want to see a strong, vibrant Jewish community can come together. Those who know that a strong, vibrant Jewish community means a stronger Rhode Island, a stronger country and a stronger world.

So let’s pledge to come together, right here, right now, and let’s create the stronger, more vibrant Jewish community we seek.

ADAM GREENMAN is president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.