Our community is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts – A Message from our Board President

Happy New Year, Gesher community!

The beginning of a new year — indeed, a new decade — is naturally a time for reflection. The past year, as any, has had its share of highlights and challenges. For me and my family, 2019 ended on a high note. In early December, we celebrated my son’s Bar Mitzvah. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and study, a moment thirteen years in the making. Notably, his Bar Mitzvah was not his first time reading Torah, since Gesher had helped him to acquire that lifelong skill starting in sixth grade. Neither was the Bar Mitzvah a conclusion of Jewish learning; rather it was an important milestone on a lifelong journey.

A few weeks later, my daughter participated in Gesher’s Hannukah Musical — an annual highlight of the season. Like her older brother, she, too, worked hard to learn her parts and rehearse for the event, along with all of her fellow thespians. And as with her older brother, her success had roots going all the way back to Kindergarten at Gesher — through learning Hebrew, gaining empathy for others, and building confidence.

Besides drawing upon years of preparation at Gesher, both of these joyful events shared another thing in common: They were enriched by the presence of community. Northern Virginia is home to a large and diverse Jewish community. We represent different backgrounds, perspectives, and ways of engaging with our Judaism. But our community is united by common interests and empathy for our fellow human beings. There are nodes, or clusters, within this community — each synagogue, the Pozez JCC, even individual neighborhoods. Gesher is such a node, and a critical one, providing a focal point for educational excellence in a Jewish context that reaches many diverse corners of the Northern Virginia Jewish community.

Within the past week, I’ve participated in two additional moments that brought our community together. Both were Shiva minyanim, communal prayers in a house of mourning, and in this case both involved families with a connection to Gesher.

The Jewish prayer associated with mourning is the Kaddish. Liturgically, it is not a mournful prayer; it is a prayer that extolls G-d. Because its nature is publically declarative of G-d’s greatness, a minyan of ten Jewish adults is traditionally required for its recitation. In this case, the presence of community isn’t just enriching a Jewish moment; it is indeed mandatory.

The juxtaposition of the joyous occasions that I celebrated in December and the observances of mourning in January create a sharp reminder of the importance of community. Whether we are sharing our happiest moments or in our deepest times of grief, we are lifted by the presence of our caring community. Our community is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts and we achieve great things through sharing and caring for one another.

My wish for 2020 is that we continue to build, strengthen, and evolve our community in ways that are pluralistic, inclusive, and genuine. We will welcome new members and bid L’hitraot to others. We will celebrate one another’s joys and support each other through difficult times. I am grateful to be a member of this thriving community and look forward to the things we will achieve together in 2020 and beyond.

May we grow together mechayil l’chayil, from strength to strength.

-Philip Blumenthal, Gesher JDS Board President and Parent