marvin gottlieb talks about life

Three Men on a Desert Island: The Paradox of Federation

By Marvin Gottlieb

President, JFNM

My father (z’l), loved a good laugh. One of his favorite jokes went like this: Three men are stranded on a desert island. Two of the men are running up and down the beach in full panic yelling for help and scouring the horizon for the sight of a rescue ship. The third man, a Jew, is sitting quietly at the edge of the water in the shade of a palm tree, lazily piling up seashells dug from the sand around him. Observing his apparently strange behavior, the other two men accosted him, “How can you sit so calmly? We’re stranded. There isn’t a ship in sight. We’re doomed!” “Relax, my friends,” replied the Jew, “it’s donation call-up time, and the Federation always finds me.”

Herein lies the paradox of Federation – the ambivalence that simultaneously drives Jews toward a meaningful connection, and restrains a full commitment. The man on the beach has a definite need. He sees a solution to his problem through his relationship with the Federation. However, one can sense a touch of cynicism in the punch line. “They will find me because they will ask for money.” In this case, he may be right. The very act of Federation pursuing his money might save his life. Most connections are not so direct and transactional, but this doesn’t stop Federation from affecting, and, yes, saving lives.

Your Jewish Federation of New Mexico is not a business in the real sense. But what if it was? Could there be a business with a more desirable product than free money? Not counting the ongoing spontaneous and emergency requests, your Federation funded thirty-seven projects and programs this year, impacting Jewish life, literally, from the cradle to the grave.

There must be some people in the world who enjoy being asked for money. I think I may have met both of them. The rest of us – although Jews are among the most charitable people on earth – exhibit a healthy reluctance or skepticism when faced with the storm of requests for support that are a growing constant in our lives. Your Federation is prepared to answer any and all questions that you may have about our mission, operations, efficiency, and the scope of our community outreach. The better informed our donors are, the better we look. Please enter this dialogue with us.

As I complete the first year of my tenure as president, I am pleased that many more people in our community understand what Federation does, and what differentiates us from the other religious and secular Jewish organizations in New Mexico. Programs and events either initiated or supported by your Federation appear on the calendar nearly every week, and our impact continues to expand geographically.

The Supreme Court of the United States has decreed that money is speech. So, I am asking you to speak for the young child who reads a PJ Library book that kindles a flame in her heart who lights a lifetime of Shabbos candles; speak for the Holocaust survivor, increasingly alone, who finds solace, help, and companionship in the Jewish Care Program; speak for Jewish youth, our future leaders, as they connect, socialize, and commit to meaningful projects through Federation’s Hillel and Tribe programs; speak for the variety of initiatives that support, teach, and enrich Jewish life throughout New Mexico.

Someday, my friend, you or someone you love may be on that proverbial desert island, and the good ship Federation will be there to rescue you. Is it too much to ask that you help keep the boat afloat?

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