Reflections of a Retiring President

November 26, 2020 by  
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New technology caters for a JCA President retiring in the middle of a pandemic…writes Stephen Chipkin.

Stephen Chipkin addressing the JCA 2019 annual fundraising event

The camera Zooms out and the screen fades to black. The easiest exit of all.

Being an untitled member of the community again is no second prize, for this is a remarkable community and we should each celebrate being part of it. My six years as JCA President has served to sharpen my appreciation.

COVID-19 has tested our resilience and reminded us of what we stand for and what we are capable of. Responding quickly as we did – with financial help to those facing severe economic hardship, meals to those in isolation and unable to venture out, the successful protection of our elderly in aged care and emotional support for the many suffering mental stress – was a wonderful expression of our collective strength and our Jewish values.

In a recent TED talk, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (whose recent death marks a great loss to the Jewish and wider world) celebrated the opening words of the preamble to the Constitution of the United States: “We the people…” as a clear expression of collective responsibility for a collective future and an important shift away from the politics of ‘me’ to the politics of ‘us’.

Now true, the JCA Trust Deed is not as inspiring as the US Constitution, but it, too, is all about our collective responsibility for our collective future – the strong standing with the weak and meeting the needs of our community in a way that is fair, effective and inclusive.

Many have commiserated with me over the years for taking on the role of JCA President – “all the community politics and asking people for money!”, they would say.

The answer to those preconceptions lie in the answers to two simple questions:

  • Is your Jewish identity important to you?
  • Would you like to imagine that your children and grandchildren will be part of a strong, engaged and sustainable Jewish community over time?

In all my time as JCA President, I have never come across a negative answer to either of those questions. The simple fact is that the core values (and concerns) that we share far outweigh any points of difference. And so, the ability to engage people in the task of helping to cherish our Jewish identity through a stronger Jewish community (by personal or financial participation) is not a very difficult ask at all.

The 2020 Campaign, in this COVID affected year, and without any communal events to help galvanise us, demonstrates a remarkable collective commitment – we will not be far short of our 2019 fundraising result (itself the highest JCA Campaign result ever).

That spirit of generosity has helped build our community to its current position of strength and I am deeply grateful to the thousands among us who, year in and year out, stand together with JCA to support our community.

People have been kind in their expression of support for my tenure as President and I am truly grateful for the comments I have received. It has been my privilege to serve in the role.

I have been fortunate in being surrounded by wonderful talented people, including many inspiring leaders of the next generation, who have joined me on the journey.

JCA is a broad tent, covering the spectrum of Jewish identity, from the orthodox to the secular and it has given me the opportunity to reflect on what lies at the heart of our collective identity.

At the 2019 Campaign event I included in my remarks the framework that underscores the importance and beauty of our community:

  • In a time when there is a search for meaning, we carry an ancient faith so that we will have spiritual options to fill our lives with light and joy.
  • In a time of greed and selfishness – we are part of a very old tradition of caring for strangers – the poor and oppressed, children in need, the frail and the disabled.
  • In a time of forgetfulness – we are part of the oldest living chain of learning and literature in the world, inheritors of an ancient and beautiful culture.
  • In a time of rootlessness and alienation we connect to a 3,500-year-old history.

Our story and our community are our legacy to the next generations. It is their responsibility to cherish it and I am heartened that the next generation are amongst our strongest advocates and leaders. That augurs well for all of us.

I am grateful to all those I have worked with over the years – my exceptional colleagues on the JCA Executive Committee and lay leaders and professional staff across the community. Their commitment to community is what strengthens us daily.

Particular thanks to Alain Hasson, JCA’s young and dynamic CEO and the team at JCA who live and breathe the task of strengthening our community so fully and effectively. My best wishes to Alain and his team for continued success, and to Ian Sandler, the incoming JCA President, I hope he derives as much satisfaction from the role as I did.

JCA is the major fundraising arm for the NSW Jewish community

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