Have you ever planned meticulously for an event only to see something unexpected happen that destroyed your plans? What if millions of dollars were on the line? How would you react? I got to watch exactly that this week and I left inspired.
I traveled to Chicago on Wednesday on the day that thousands of parents across the state were expecting to apply for tuition scholarships worth up to $26,000. The new Illinois scholarship tax credit law, known as Invest in Kids, required scholarship organizations to use a first come first serve basis so a firm was hired by the Empower Illinois scholarship organization to manage the online application system.
My colleagues from Illinois, spent months planning for this day, making sure parents in the Jewish community were aware of the program, had all the necessary documentation, and had access to computers the second the application portal went live at 12:00. Parents took off of work, and two hundred Agudath Israel staff and volunteers were on hand.
Unfortunately, with more than 30,000 applicants across the state trying to log on within the first few minutes, the server crashed. Parents repeatedly tried to log on for hours with no success until Empower Illinois finally was forced to reschedule the application date.
Parents were disappointed to say the least and Agudath Israel of Illinios staff had almost no sleep in the days leading up to the big moment, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear some praying, but no screaming, no yelling. Everyone was calmly trying to help the parents with empathy and professionalism.
As parents were leaving the building empty handed I said, “I’m sorry.” They looked surprised. “Why are you sorry? Everything is in G-d’s hands.”
In the end the application window was pushed off indefinitely, and only a handful of students received a schoalrship, but I left with a lesson on what to do when you’ve done everything you can and realizing that our job is to do hishtadlus, to put in the maximum effort, but the results are, more often than not, out of our hands.
In New Jersey, Rabbi Avi Schnall and many others put in a lot of effort to beat back an anti-Orthodox ordinance that was so egregious it led to a lawsuit by the New Jersey attorney general. Thankfully, Mahwah Township rescinded that ordinance and settled the lawsuit with the Eruv Association this week (see settlement here).
And in Florida, Rabbi Moshe Matz’s efforts, together with a strong coalition of partners and the leadership of many elected officials, have generated tens of millions of dollars in scholarships and brought many other benefits to the Jewish community. If you have benefited from any of his many accomplishments, please consider attending or supporting the Florida Agudah’s 20th anniversary dinner on Tuesday.