The following remarks were delivered June 17 at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s Tenth Annual Meeting and have been lightly edited.
It probably comes as no surprise, but I spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about the Alliance and our greater Rhode Island Jewish community. For my kids, my wife and some of our friends, probably a little too much time.
Much of that thought often comes back to our organizational values, the core principles that guide every decision we make as an agency.
Organizational values are a lot like your children actually, in that as the CEO, you probably shouldn’t have a favorite.
Unlike Alexandria and Norah, where my love for them knows no bounds and is equal in every way, I must admit that I do have a favorite organizational value. While tzedakah, l’dor vador, tikkun olam, klal Yisra’el and Torah are incredibly important, for me it is Hineni that stands above the others.
Hineni. Literally, “Here I am!” A purposeful statement that declares that one is present and giving full attention to the matter at hand. In the Torah, it is what Abraham, Jacob and Moses all uttered to God at times of critical importance. In each case they demonstrated their attention to be fully ready for anything God commanded. And in each case, they emerged transformed.
Today, the term goes far beyond biblical interpretation. Hineni is an acceptance of responsibility, for ourselves and for others. In today’s vernacular, it’s the equivalent of saying, “I’m all in.”
So many times this year, I have been fortunate to see people stand up and say, “Hineni. Here I am.” To serve this community. To better this community.
I think back to last June, when the Dwares JCC [Jewish Community Center] reopened. After three months of lockdown, it was a scary prospect. But our staff rose up and said, Hineni, here I am.
They came to work each day, pledging to ensure our community had a place to come together. That our youngest community members had a safe place to go for child care that parents could rely on. That people still had a place to work out and stay healthy. That community members had programming to bring them together, albeit virtually.
That community organizations and synagogues had what they needed to navigate the pandemic successfully. Whether it was virtual book clubs, virtual group exercise classes or virtual Israeli Culture Series events, the community had so much to choose from because our Alliance staff stepped up.
At so many points in the last year I needed the help and support of our board of directors. Not just to vote on the important work of the organization and our community, but to help us navigate the choppiest waters in a generation. Every single one of them said, Hineni, here I am.
Whether it was our finance committee meeting monthly to help us ensure we had the funds necessary to support the community or our fundraising committee making sure that the funds were there to support all of the work, board members stepped up.
They all dug deep, and even though they, too, had the stress and anxiety associated with the pandemic, they helped make our organization and our community stronger.
And while I hear so often how much people do not like asking for money, to be honest, it is one of the most gratifying parts of my job.
Nearly every day I ask someone for support, and I get to witness when they say Hineni, here I am. They perform the mitzvah of tzedakah, but it is so much more than that. So often I hear them say not only that they are happy to support the community, but they go beyond that and say, “How else can I help?”
Thank you to all of you who do that. You inspire me with your financial generosity and your generosity of spirit.
Today we find ourselves in a very different place than a year ago. Vaccination rates are high, case counts are low, and we are seeing each other in person again. But there is no going back to what was.
We’ve learned and grown from these last 15 months. And through all the suffering, through all of the hard times, there are aspects that emerged that will make life better moving forward and that will make our community stronger.
Last year, I painted a picture of what our community could look like if we achieved everything in our strategic plan, titled “Here for Good,” and we are well on our way to achieving that. This is only possible because so many people said, Hineni, here I am.
I’m excited for the year ahead, for what the Alliance has planned to achieve the goals in our strategic plan. To connect more people than ever to our community, through activities at the Dwares JCC and in collaboration with our synagogue and agency partners across the state, to make sure everyone from Cumberland to Narragansett to Newport has the chance to be a part of this vibrant Jewish community, giving people many opportunities, formal and informal, to engage with each other and to engage in Jewish life.
I’m excited about working with our non-Jewish partners to address hatred in all forms, whether it is anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia or any other form of hatred. The unfortunate truth is that hatred of one group usually means hatred of all groups, and we are stronger working with our partners to keep our communities safe.
I’m excited about the new ways we are connecting our community together and telling the story of our Rhode Island Jewish community.
I’m excited about changes coming to Jewish Rhode Island, our community newspaper, and I’m really excited about the podcasts and video series we are launching to tell those stories in new ways.
I’m excited that we are not only connecting our community together, but connecting our community to others around the world in new ways.
Later this year, we’ll announce the creation of three partner communities, one in Israel, one in Eastern Europe and one in Latin America. These partnerships will allow our greater Rhode Island Jewish community to create deeper connections with Jews around the world. It will allow for cultural exchanges, and it will further connect us to our brothers and sisters in worldwide Jewry.
Most of all, I’m excited that all of this work has the Alliance’s organizational values at the center. Everything we do will provide opportunities for people to uphold the values of righteous giving and justice, will provide people with lifelong learning opportunities, will secure our Jewish future, connect us to worldwide Jewry, and help us to repair the world.
All of that only happens with you. Join me in saying Hineni, here I am. Let us jointly proclaim our responsibility to our community and to each other.
If we do that, I have total confidence that we will emerge from this pandemic with a community that is not only stronger and more vibrant, but one that is truly transformed, the envy of the country, and a place where others will come to stand with us so that they too can say Hineni, here I am.
ADAM GREENMAN is president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.