Good morning and happy new year. My name is Alex Gillette. I’m on the board of directors at JCP and I’ve been a member of the community for the past 3 years. Many of you know my wife Jenny and my daughters Mila and Rooney.
Rabbi Jason asked me if I would be interested in speaking during the High Holidays about my Jewish journey and my relationship to JCP. I requested to do so at Rosh Hashanah. In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah we are supposed to be looking back at the year behind us and marking the beginning of the year of the year in front of us. It is the anniversary of the day of creation, the creation of humankind in community, not just woman and man as individuals. It is a good time to take stock.
This year much has changed for my family. My older daughter finished her preschool at JCP and started kindergarten elsewhere. It’s hard to believe that the same little girl that waddled into JCP just a few short years ago now takes the train to the upper east side with me every day. My younger daughter started preschool at JCP and began to build her own little community and I get to see once again how much someone grows simply by interacting with others. In March, my mother passed away. And I learned that death is deeply personal and very profound. And as I look back at these amazing and unreal experiences, I can’t help but think that this year progressed in much the same way that all years do, with extraordinary and profound things taking place as they do, and nothing is out of the ordinary. Many of these events feel momentous to me, but they are not unusual and it is their absence that would be strange rather than their occurrence.
Throughout those events and others, we were surrounded by members of the JCP community and people in this room. So much so that when I look back at the time between last Rosh Hashanah and this one, I can only come to the conclusion that this year we have taken more from the community that we’ve given back. We’ve taken Rabbi Jason’s time – more than our fair share and on many occasions. We’ve taken resources – families in this room arranged dinner for 100 on the first night of my mother’s shiva. Others sat with us, consoled us, made us laugh, made us feel good, helped our children get to and from school, helped our children get into school, broke bread with us, said prayers for us, and made our lives richer and better. I don’t recall being asked for anything in return. I’m sure I haven’t properly thanked everyone. How did we come to be in this position so that we were so fortunate in so many ways over the last year?
Like many of you, Jenny and I initially discovered JCP because of the preschool. Around the time that our daughter Mila turned two, my wife and I began to discuss sending our Mila to preschool. Jenny went to Jewish school as a child and was set on her children doing the same. I was suspicious of a religious education, and whether it might be inconsistent with my social values. And so Jenny and I did what any rational Tribeca parent of a two-year old would do. we sent our daughter to two schools: JCP and a secular preschool. It did not take long to see a difference. Whereas the secular school did an admirable job with our daughter, JCP enriched our entire family. The school has taught us how to parent with tenderness and high expectations. Kehilah has been our temple, and taught us about giving your time and whatever else you can. We’ve made more friends than we can count, and continue to make more each year. It started slowly, as we attended kids’ events like the Purim carnival and tot Shabbat. Before long, we found ourselves having Shabbat at home and attending Friday evening services from time to time. Our kids would come home singing Passover songs and blasting home-made gragers, or spinning dreidels. We bonded with other parents and spread our enthusiasm for the school to others. And when my mother was dying, we sought advice from Sharon and Isabel and Mila and Rooney’s teachers about how to explain the situation to our children, and we spoke with Rabbi Jason about how to make sense of what was taking place.
This community has been our support system during the momentous events of the past year, both good and bad. By community, I mean a group of people who have chosen to be responsible for one another’s welfare. If we’d planned ahead and thought about it, we might have come to the conclusion that momentous events will occur on a regular basis, and that when they did we would need and want support, and that therefore we should intentionally link our family up with a community. We didn’t think ahead, but we stumbled into a community in an extraordinary stroke of luck.
So this year for me is mostly about good fortune. I feel overwhelmed that in a year in which the unimaginable has happened, I can look back and feel joy, and gratitude.
Delivered Rosh Hashanah Day 1 5778, September 21, 2017