Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012 | 2:02 a.m.
In August, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers. Today’s columnist is Elliot B. Karp, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas.
There are many signs of a community’s greatness, including its culture of collective responsibility. How a community cares for those less fortunate, as well as its institutions of art, culture, education and service, is a sign of its compassion and concern.
Jewish tradition teaches that the mitzvot of Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, and tzedakah, righteousness, are the most important commandments. The rabbis in the Talmud teach that “saving a single life is like saving the entire universe;” and that we are commanded “not to separate ourselves from the community.” A great community is concerned with the welfare of its members and institutions and embraces a culture of philanthropy and community service. Such a community is destined for greatness.
Since arriving in Las Vegas in late 2008, I have witnessed a new spirit that leads me to believe that our valley is determined to become a more caring and compassionate community. If there is anything positive to come out of the economic recession, it is the realization that we must all work together to support one another. Not just today, as we struggle against the tide, but well into the future. I see this both in our local Jewish community and in the community at large.
This spirit is evidenced by new forums that bring community leaders together to find creative solutions to our problems and challenges. Social service agencies, faith groups and ethnic communities are working together to find ways to meet the needs of our community. The mayor’s faith-based initiatives, Nevadans for the Common Good and United Way’s Nonprofit CEO Council and Community Assessment are some of these new efforts. These initiatives are designed to increase communication among nonprofit organizations with the intent that greater cooperation and collaboration will result.
There are nearly 7,000 nonprofit organizations in Nevada and it is clear that people wish to do good in our community. However, it is important for these agencies to be effective in serving those in need as well as to demonstrate fiduciary responsibility to our community’s contributors. New efforts at collaboration may ultimately result in the consolidation of some of these agencies, not to create super-organizations but rather to better serve those in need, our donors and community. Successful nonprofits today must be concerned with doing good while being responsible, efficient and transparent.
Successful nonprofits are those with dedicated volunteer leadership, devoted supporters and hard-working professional staff. These partners must have a passionate vision and clear mission. An organization that embraces a philosophy where wealth, wisdom and work are its values will attract stakeholders, become more efficient in managing its resources, and become more effective in delivering services. It will be more successful in meeting and exceeding objectives.
However, organizational leadership cannot achieve greatness alone. It is dependent on the generosity of contributors who provide gifts and donations. Our community is experiencing a new interest in philanthropy and charitable giving. Not just by those who are blessed with great wealth and an ability to give a lot; but by many who contribute small amounts in the face of tremendous hardships caused by the harsh economy. There is a realization in our community that everyone can make a difference and that all contributions of time and money, regardless of size, make a difference toward improving life in Las Vegas. Whether one gives one, hundreds, or thousands of dollars, or volunteers one hour or dozens, there is a realization that everyone has a stake and matters.
This new spirit of collective responsibility is what makes good cities into great cities. I’ve seen it in other communities and it is taking hold in Las Vegas. It is helping to propel our community toward greater care and compassion. The indomitable will of our citizens to do the right thing is clear and can be found in our social service agencies, charitable organizations and faith communities. The citizens of Las Vegas are working together to epitomize the words of Rabbi Hillel, the ancient sage and teacher, who taught: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”