In November 1975, more than 1,000 Jews participated in the historic Koach Mission to Israel. This was my first trip to the Jewish State, but one that sadly, I would not remember. Why was this powerful trip so forgettable? It’s simply because I was not yet born.
At that time, I was growing for roughly five months in my mother’s belly even as she trekked down the snake path of Masada, flanked by hundreds of other young Jewish families looking to show solidarity with the state of Israel. While I do not remember this experience, it obviously left an indelible mark on me as a boy, a young man, and now as a father and husband. I didn’t know it then, but I was forever going to know that I was part of a community and part of a people.
It was the first of more than three dozen trips to Israel throughout my life – trips that included the March of the Living in Poland and Israel in 1994, as a college student in 1997, a year-long volunteer program that brought me face-to-face with the realities of living in the periphery of Israel near the Gaza Border, and on nearly two dozen trips since as an informal Jewish educator, group leader, and Jewish communal professional.
These transformational Jewish encounters complement the countless experiences I have had throughout my life, including my life-long romance with Jewish summer camps as both camper and administrator, being part of vibrant Jewish Community Centers as a teenager and youth worker, experimenting with the dynamic and constantly changing landscapes of Jewish life on college campuses through Hillel as a student and as a Hillel Director, and through two decades of working with a variety of Jewish organizations. All of this has contributed to a rich and meaningful life blessed with a strong sense of Jewish caring, identity, memory, and peoplehood.
I am now only five days on the job as your new CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego. Michael Sonduck has left very large shoes to fill and I am honored to have been given this opportunity to lead. I want to thank our Chair, Brian Tauber, as well as the Search Committee (chaired by Ken Polin) and our Board of Directors for entrusting me with this sacred charge. I’m already proud to work with such a talented team of dedicated professionals and look forward to supporting their efforts.
Some are already asking me what my vision is. To be honest, it would be presumptuous of me to come in on day one and prescribe a new future. And yet I sincerely hope to play my part in helping shape this next chapter in the Jewish Federation’s story.
I invite you to contact me with your ideas for what a strong and vibrant Jewish community looks like to you. I welcome your input as I take these first few months to listen, learn, and digest the many moving parts that make the San Diego Jewish community one of the most welcoming, vibrant, and creative Jewish communities in the country.
Thank you in advance for your partnership and for making me, my wife Laura and our precious 20-month old Eleanore feel so at home in our new home. I look forward to bringing Eleanore on her first trip to Israel one day soon so that she, too, can feel the deep connection that has inspired me for the past 42 years.