A D’var Torah about the Lehava Delegation

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By Barry Feldman, Chair, St. Petersburg Subcommittee

The following d’var torah was presented at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Board of Trustees Meeting on July 25, 2018.

Hello and “Pree-vee-et. ”Good Afternoon, my name is Barry Feldman. I am here today wearing two hats. One, as a Jewish Federation Board of Trustees, and, as proud chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland St. Petersburg Subcommittee.

Many of you have been frequenting a very popular play in Cleveland called Hamilton. A line from the play resonates in my mind. "When my time is done, have I done enough?" I ask myself this question, and challenge you to ask yourself the same question. When my time is done, have I done enough?

This past Shabbat, we began reading Devarim, the 5th and final book of the Five books of Moses. Devarim begins by announcing "These are the words that Moses spoke before the children of Israel..." Moses then goes on to review the events that occurred and the laws that were given. The notion that Moses had become a man identified with majestic speech is not only remarkable, but an example of fulfilling one’s potential despite seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Some 40 years earlier, at the Burning Bush, when the Almighty asked Moses to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt, Moses refused, saying "I am not a man of words." 40 years later, Moses issues a soliloquy that constitutes 20 percent of our Torah, or 11 different parshot, or Torah portions.

Today, it is my privilege to welcome the Lehava delegation – 24 young adults from St. Petersburg, Russia – and present them to you, recognized leaders of the Cleveland Jewish community.

It is my hope that meeting you – and other influencers and activists that they meet in Cleveland – can assist them in reaching their highest potential as leaders, eager and able to help create a thriving, self-sufficient diaspora Jewish community in the Former Soviet Union.

Twenty one years ago, our Cleveland community entered into a strategic partnership with the city of St. Petersburg, Russia, to help renew Jewish life where Judaism was forbidden during 70 years of Communist rule. The Jewish Federation of Cleveland, including many of you in this room, were actively involved in assisting the people of St. Petersburg to become an organized and flourishing diaspora Jewish community. We’re proud to have helped build Jewish institutions and create a vibrant Jewish community with the aim of establishing self-sufficiency so that Jewish life lives on.

Today, there are approximately 100,000 Jews in St. Petersburg and the periphery. One of our key strategies is to invest in the next generation and community building.

Lehava means “Flame.” Through the Lehava Leadership Program (which is in its tenth year), young Jewish adults in St. Petersburg are becoming more involved in their local Jewish community. We’re empowering our partners in St. Petersburg to continue their impressive feat of Jewish renewal and believe that Lehava will illuminate the path forward for the next generation.

Their visit to Cleveland – including today’s discussion with you – is an integral part of the Lehava Leadership program. Lehava is similar to the LEADS program run by our Young Leadership Division. Both Lehava and LEADS serve as great on-ramps for Jewish involvement and leadership development.

Lehava is a commitment of time and treasure. Participants in the selective Lehava program meet twenty times throughout the year to learn about their local Jewish community and to create a business, social, or volunteer projects that will positively impact their community.

In addition to 72 hours of project management and earning a diploma from the highest school of economics in St. Petersburg, Lehava participants pay for their own flights to the USA. Their visit Cleveland to is planned to accomplish the following goals:

  1. To understand the essential components of a thriving, diaspora Jewish community;
  2. To understand why individuals need to take personal responsibility within a Jewish community;
  3. To understand the importance of shared values, communal decision-making, volunteer leadership, and social responsibility;
  4. To share experiences, skills and knowledge between Clevelanders and Lehava participants to improve both communities.
  5. For young professionals to realize that they belong to a global, Jewish community.

As the Chair of the St. Petersburg Subcommittee, I have had the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg three times (and will return in October), as well as participate in six incoming missions.

To me, St. Petersburg represents an opportunity to work with a diaspora community, to help develop leadership skills and participate in the creation of a stronger, vibrant, self sufficient Jewish community as it was in past. It is history in the making.

I’ve seen how how our campaign dollars have successfully assisted in developing a thriving Jewish community of Jewish renaissance, culture, and community, maintaining Jewish life in St. Petersburg and seven periphery communities.

It is my hope that we will continue this work with our partners in St. Petersburg to develop leaders, much like our community, who will take ownership and lead to become a self sufficient, vibrant Jewish community.

Moses continued to serve as a role model, able to fulfill his potential despite challenges. Renewing Jewish life after 70 years of communist rule can be considered one of the major challenges of our lifetime. Personally, this challenge is one of the most rewarding efforts that I have been privileged to participate in, and one that I am proud to speak about.

I am grateful to the Jewish Federation of Cleveland for opportunities like today, where we have a chance to speak freely, empower the next generation to lead, and connect as a global, Jewish family! When our time is done, have we done enough? Thank you.

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