From the moment the news from Pittsburgh broke Saturday morning, we felt a range of emotions: grief; despair; and yes, anger. And yet, as we always do, we responded with strength. Almost immediately, both the Federation and our Jewish Community Relations Council issued statements. But we knew there was much more we could do.
After the sun was down and Shabbat had passed, our agency and synagogue leaders began pulling together on a plan for a community-wide memorial service, “Stop the Hate,” on Tuesday night at Congregation of Reform Judaism. Though the circumstances were heart-wrenching, it was nonetheless inspiring to witness our community coming together Tuesday in a clear and resolute demonstration of unity and strength. With more than 1,200 people of numerous faiths and cultural backgrounds in attendance, the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis and our interfaith partners led our community on a journey of mourning, sorrow and renewal of spirit. It is our hope, as we know it is yours as well, that our community will use this opportunity to grow, to effect change, and to truly and finally say “Never Again” for the last time.
To the many members of our community in attendance, thank you for joining us. To those unable to make it in person, your presence and your prayers were still felt in the sanctuary, I assure you.
For those of us still seeking a way to act in response to this tragedy, our JCRC is proudly partnering with the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center, BBYO, the OnePulse Foundation, and many other Central Florida organizations for a collaborative day of healing through art.
Participants of all ages and walks of life will create artwork to send to Pittsburgh as well as contribute to a large, collaborative art piece to be displayed here in Orlando.
“Responding With Kindness” Thursday, Nov. 8 6 to 8 p.m. Orlando United Assistance Center 507 East Michigan Street Orlando, FL 32806
Free materials for the art projects, food, beverages, professional mental health services, emotional support animals, good music, and space to sit and decompress with friends will be available.
The Jewish Community has long been a member of the extended family of gun violence victims, and today that family grew tragically once again. As Jews around the United States participated in observance of Shabbat at their local synagogue this morning, we were devastated to learn that our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh became the latest in a long and sad list of victims of a hate crime in our country.
At this time, reports indicate that as many as eleven people have been killed and many more injured, including law enforcement personnel. Our hearts are with the families of the victims and all of Pittsburgh as they begin their journey on the road to recovery. May the memory of those lost be for a blessing.
Hate and violence do not exist in a vacuum. From what we know so far, this person acted alone, but he did not become a violent anti-Semite by himself. Anti-Semitism is nurtured by the spread of conspiracy theories and dog-whistles — something that is becoming all too common and frighteningly acceptable in the public discourse. The Jewish community knows all too well that hateful rhetoric begets hateful actions.
This was not the first such incident at a house of worship, and if our leaders do not take action, it will surely not be the last, either. The refusal to acknowledge and effectively address the scourge of gun violence in our communities is a stain on our nation. It’s no coincidence the same military-style semi-automatic weapons are used over and over again in these massacres; their purpose is death, and those who do nothing to stop the spread of these weapons of war on our streets dishonor the victims.
Ethnic and religious minorities are no strangers to hate, and we are thankful for the elected officials, law enforcement personnel, and leaders of faith and ethnic communities who have reached out to offer condolences and assistance. With our heavy heart comes a fierce determination to work together to eradicate hate permanently.
In just a few short weeks, Florida will once again play a pivotal role in determining the direction of our nation. With competitive races up and down the ballot and 11 Constitutional amendments up for consideration, Nov. 6 is on pace to be one of the most important elections in Florida’s history.
As we approach Election Day, the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council has compiled the most important information for every voter to know, and we are excited to be launching our dedicated webpage with helpful tips, links, and reminders to make your participation in democracy just a little bit easier.
We encourage you to browse the page and its links, refresh your knowledge of Florida’s voting laws, and prepare to be an educated and active voter. We especially encourage everyone to review the proposed Constitutional amendments in advance, as many of them are long and can be confusing on the first read.
As always, do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Remember: Voting is more than a privilege; it is our civic duty.
Earlier this year, our local congressional delegation led a successful effort to include Orlando on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s list of urban areas eligible for special federal grant funding. Thanks to their leadership, Orlando’s inclusion on the list provided the opportunity for local nonprofit organizations to apply for special federal grants designed to help defray the cost of security.
The process for applying was arduous and highly competitive. We received only one week’s notice of our eligibility, and applications required approval by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The reason I’m sharing this level of detail is that I want you to know how much we care about this issue. Your Jewish Federation has always considered safety and security on our Maitland Jewish Community Campus to be an important and worthwhile investment. Our community is acutely aware of the cost of security, as Jewish organizations frequently bear this burden above and beyond that of our non-Jewish neighbors.
We worked countless hours in the one-week application window to put together a strong case for our community, and I am excited to tell you that we were successful in securing a $129,000 grant! Not only was our application approved, but JFGO was the only nonprofit organization in the Greater Orlando area to be selected for a grant under this program.
We could not have done this without the help of our local congressional delegation, including Reps. Stephanie Murphy (our congresswoman here in Maitland), Val Demings and Darren Soto, each of whom personally spoke out on our behalf to support our application. It is highly likely that without this crucial political capital, we would not have been successful.
I want to take this opportunity to thank our members of Congress for going to bat for our community during this process. Their efforts exceeded our expectations, and their commitment serves as a testament to the value of a vibrant (and safe!) Jewish community.
I also want to thank each of you. This grant was designed for culturally significant institutions. The reason our campus in Maitland was recognized for its importance is the impact that each of you has here. Because of your continued support of the Federation and our campus partners, our Jewish community is strong, and our elected leaders recognize that.
The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council serves as the political advocacy arm of our Jewish community, creating relationships and access to our elected officials and those who are running for public office at all levels.
Last week, our JCRC organized a small roundtable discussion with Florida Gov. (and Republican U.S. Senate candidate) Rick Scott at the Rosen JCC in Southwest Orlando. During our discussion, we had the opportunity to engage with the governor on a wide range of issues of concern to our community, including security funding, education, healthcare and gun violence.
This afternoon, we welcomed Democratic Commissioner of Agriculture candidate Nicole “Nikki” Fried to the Maitland Jewish Community Campus. Fried shared her thoughts and heard from community members about many of the areas the ag commissioner deals with every day, including consumer protection regulations throughout the state.
We are entering a critical period of engagement with candidates for office. With the primary coming up on Aug. 28 and the general election on Nov. 6, Florida will once again be a hotbed for political activity. It is vitally important that we demonstrate our mutual commitment to advocacy during this period so that those who are elected on Nov. 6 take office with the knowledge that the Central Florida Jewish community is serious about public policy.
We have extended invitations to many candidates, including all the major candidates for governor of Florida, and I am excited to announce that three of those candidates have already committed to visiting with the Greater Orlando Jewish community:
Jeff Greene (D), candidate for governor of Florida
9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 16
The Roth Family JCC Youth Lounge
Chris King (D), candidate for governor of Florida
1:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20
The Roth Family JCC Auditorium
John Mina, candidate for Orange County sheriff
6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30
The Roth Family JCC Auditorium
We expect that these will be just some of many such events with candidates across the political spectrum, for many political offices. Remember: The more we interact with our candidates of all parties and levels of government, the more responsive they will be to our community needs after taking office. I hope that you will join me for each of these substantive discussions over the next few weeks. Bring questions, concerns and, most importantly, a commitment to civility.
Keep an eye out for announcements as we schedule more opportunities to meet with candidates, and as always, stay in touch!