Reflections on an extraordinary three years

Remarks from the Alliance Ninth Annual Meeting

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The last three months have been incredibly challenging for all of us. For many, it has meant increased stress and worry; for others, the loss of a job or reduced hours; and for some, it has meant the loss of a loved one.

I’m so grateful to Rick [Reamer] for joining us tonight to help us understand that moving beyond this moment is possible. And I know it can be hard in moments like this to think beyond the last three days, or even the next three. But as I wrap up my third year at the Alliance, I hope you will indulge some of my reflections on this journey, and join me as we look at how we can build the next three years together.

There is a certain amount of hubris that comes with being a CEO. And three years ago, when I spoke with Mitzi Berkelhammer, Sharon Gaines and the rest of the CEO search committee, I thought a lot about the things I would bring to the Alliance and the ways I could change the organization and the community. What I never thought about was how the organization and the community would change me and my family.

Some of you know that my first day at the Alliance was shared with my daughter Alexandria, who had her first day at J-Camp. In fact, that’s really the day that her Jewish journey began. Sure, our culturally Jewish interfaith family celebrated Hanukkah, and had a seder every Passover, but I’ll never forget the smile on her face at the end of that first day of camp. I’ll never forget the way she came home and said, “Mom, Norah [her sister], we’re Jewish!” 

That first day sparked a curiosity and a pride in her Jewish roots that has only grown over the last three years. In that time our family has joined a temple, participated in Jewish book clubs, read PJ Library books together, and I’m now in not one, but two, Torah study groups – and that is a sentence I’d never thought I’d utter.

There are so many in our community with a similar story. It is clear they are looking for connection, and just needed an entryway, and someone to let them know they are welcome.

This year we launched a new strategic planning process. During our conversations with people in the community, we heard so often that they were craving a greater connection with each other. That need has only amplified in the midst of a pandemic that has forced us to be apart.

We heard that people want to work together to create a better community, and they want our community’s Jewish agencies to be more closely aligned in the work we do together. They want us to address security and anti-Semitism, but they also want us to address issues that transcend our community, like racial justice. Issues that have only become more important to engage in over the last few months. We heard this in Providence, and throughout greater Rhode Island. We listened closely, and we built our new strategic plan to address these key areas.

A few months ago, we were sitting down to dinner, when my daughter Alexandria said, “I want to have a Bat Mitzvah.” In that moment, Alex was making a choice to take a big step in her Jewish journey, and we are excited to help her take it. Alex will be 13 in 2023. So, what will our Jewish community look like then? How will the changes and promises we make today impact the Jewish world that she and Norah grow into? Let’s dream for a minute together.

Let’s imagine it’s June 30, 2023. It’s Shabbat, and we can finally rest after a busy couple of years. What does that Shabbat look like? For the Greenman family, it means it is our turn to host the monthly Shabbat Book Club we are part of. Alexandria is almost 14 now, so she watches all of the kids while the adults get together, just like we have every month for the last three years. You see, what started as a conversation about reading books through a Jewish lens has turned into a monthly Shabbat tradition, and one that is replicated throughout Rhode Island thanks to the Alliance.

But that isn’t all that is happening. Across town, teens involved in the Breaking Bread program are coming together, Jews and Muslims, for Shabbat dinner, to continue their exploration of the similarities between the religions and cultures. Earlier in the day on June 30, 2023, kids participated in J-Camp throughout the state, in collaborations between the Alliance and local synagogues to provide great summer programming that focuses on Jewish values and core issues in our community. They were also provided with ideas to bring that experience back to their Shabbat dinner tables that evening.

And in Newport, the Havurah, Temple Shalom and Touro Synagogue have all gotten together at Touro for a collective Shabbat dinner, where they are celebrating the Sabbath together before they each perform the Friday night service according to their traditions.

All of this is happening at the same time that services are taking place at synagogues and congregations throughout Rhode Island.

Back to the present. This more connected, more collaborative greater Rhode Island Jewish community is possible. I know it, because I’ve seen it. In the last three months, this community has united to address COVID-19. We raised nearly $250,000 in six weeks to help our community members in need. Our staff at the Alliance worked tirelessly to develop a virtual JCC, to help local agencies, and to develop plans to make sure everyone who was in need received assistance.

I am so grateful to work with all of them every single day. Our Board of Directors under Jamie’s [Pious] leadership made clear from the very beginning of this crisis that we would do whatever we could to keep our community strong and vibrant, and they haven’t wavered in their commitment. I’m grateful for their leadership in this community every single day.

In particular, I want to thank Vince Mor, who is stepping off the Board this year, and I want to thank the new Board members who are stepping up to join us in this journey. And I want to thank Jamie for his incredible partnership this year. Jamie, I’m not sure you knew what you were getting into when you said yes to being the chair. But in the last three months, as I’ve spoken to you nearly every day, I’ve seen your leadership firsthand, and I mean it when I say I couldn’t do this work without you.

Our community’s agencies, institutions and synagogues have been incredible partners, and we have worked together so closely to make sure needs are addressed, and that a stronger community will emerge from this crisis, one that is more collaborative and facilitates greater connections between people.

We are already creating the stronger, more vibrant community that we all deserve. A stronger, more vibrant community where Alexandria, Norah, and every child and adult, can see themselves in and can flourish. I’ve never been more confident that the June 30, 2023, I talked about is not just a vision, but our destiny. And it’s possible because of all of you. So thank you for all you do today to help us build that stronger, more vibrant Jewish community of tomorrow. 

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