Our JCP Stories from High Holidays 5775/2014
Our JCP Stories from High Holidays 5775/2014
Delivered by Lindsay Roth, Rosh Hashanah 5775/ 2014
When I was asked to speak today, the prospect of talking about my JCP journey and the significance that JCP has in my life seemed easily accessible, as I experience JCP as something that permeates many aspects of my family’s world. From attending early Bim Bom classes in the west village, to being the parents of three preschool graduates, who now attend the Hebrew School, as well as having served on the Rabbi search committee, to now working closely with our Rabbi on spiritual initiatives, I can’t imagine living downtown, being a Jew, and raising a family without JCP. Further reflection on my JCP journey brings me to a different place, and because I am a psychoanalyst, it is my compulsion to ask why and how? How has JCP helped me find cohesion within my Jewish identity and why is JCP so special to me and my family? I think that we can all attest to involvement in different communities and social networks. These varied relationships and experiences are what enrich and diversify our lives. However I have found that having a foundation and a place of authentic belonging helps enable one to navigate all the varied components of one’s life. Today I want to share some of my reflections on the ways my affiliation with JCP has offered me the opportunity to experience a more integrated sense of community and Jewish identity.
My history of building a Jewish identity never felt interwoven with my experience of community. I grew up in a very non-Jewish town in New Jersey, which may sound strange to some, but in Princeton, New Jersey, I could count on one hand and two fingers my Jewish friends. My parents very much valued Jewish education and the importance of becoming a Bat Mitzvah, but the synagogue we belonged to in Trenton was located in a very rough neighborhood, and far from where we lived. During my parent’s childhood, Trenton, New Jersey was where their parent’s families had settled with many other Jewish immigrant families but the neighborhood changed and the synagogue became geographically inconvenient to many of it’s congregants. It was hard for me to feel that my Jewish community was accessible.
In my family, I was blessed to have numerous moments of festive and coveted experiences spent with my Bubbi and Zeyda at Shabbat dinners, holidays and Sunday outings. On Sundays my Zeyda made it a point to load all eight grandchildren into his 1970’s Cadillac, and take us out for a syrupy, breakfast of pancakes and hot chocolate. These simple rituals with my grandparents, collective with the value my parents placed on Jewish education, lead me to feel connected to a Jewish history that I would want to perpetuate and develop.
For many reasons I found myself very lucky when I met my husband Evan. But who would have thought that a Jewish guy from Louisville, Kentucky would have a larger Jewish community than someone from New Jersey? But he did, and for the first time I was able to see and experience the gift of having a Jewish community when we visited his hometown. Evan and I were not destined to lay new roots in Louisville, and much to my in-laws disappointment this Jersey girl was not going to become a Kentuckian. Evan and I would need to cultivate and discover our own Jewish community.
Evan and I started our relationship with JCP as a young family of three little kids living in the West Village. As a new mom I was so appreciative when I learned that there was a Bim Bom class being held around the corner from where we lived. This provided me with a place nearby, where my children and I could celebrate Shabbat with other downtown families before, and even leave with a challah. But my first introduction to JCP had been earlier, when I was pregnant with our second child, Sally, and my son, Emmett, was not even two years old. I attended an intimate parlor meeting in the home of a neighbor. Many of the people in the room shared similar intentions, we were all open minded and searching for a Jewish community and spiritual connection for ourselves and our families. We listened to Victoria describe her exciting vision and we each shared our own diverse Jewish upbringings. The notion that there was an organization actively forming where we could connect with other Jews living downtown, and have a place to embark on our journey of parenting Jewish children was thrilling.
Fast forward to almost ten years later. My nine year old son sits across from me at a pizza restaurant and sees footage of the unrest in Israel. His interest peaked, he asks me what is happening in Israel and why people are fighting. I explain the best I can at that moment the historical conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He thinks for a moment and says. “I wish that there was something that I could do to help Israel.”
My heart warms when I hear Emmett’s wish to help the Jewish people.
I am proud of his compassion, but his desire reflects something even larger. He has internalized the value and experience of being a part of a wider Jewish community. In turn, he is compelled to assist fellow Jews in another part of the world that he has only seen through the eyes of his Jewish education at JCP. And this is why JCP is so important to me.
We all live very busy lives and our commitments and responsibilities pull us in a multitude of directions. But in the nearly 10 years that Evan and I have been involved with JCP, I have found an extension of my home and a community. I am grateful that JCP has provided me with the sense of cohesion and a place of belonging.
I wish you and your families a happy and healthy 5775. Shana Tova.
Delivered by Liz Rosenberg, Rosh Hashanah 5775 /2014
Growing up with my family on Long Island, my Father was the guiding force behind how we practiced Judaism. Learning about and practicing our traditions were always extremely important to him. He especially loved the High Holidays and would spend the entire Yom Kippur afternoon in synagogue, very deep in thought and prayer. While as a young child I did not fully understand the importance of the Holiday, I eventually came to appreciate his devotion to Judaism and I started to keep him company on Yom Kippur afternoons. It became a tradition of ours – just he and I spending this time together.
Many years later, my Parents moved from Long Island into the City where my Brother and I were both living. We attended High Holiday services at various synagogues uptown – either where friends or other family members belonged, but in terms of my personal Jewish community at the time – I didn’t really feel like I had one.
Then, in 2007 I became engaged to my now Husband who was not raised Jewish and finding our Jewish home became very important. With the High Holidays coming up, we couldn’t just follow my Parents or my Brother to wherever they were going. My Brother and his family were living in Florida at the time, and my Parents were in Boston while my Dad was undergoing treatment for Leukemia. So we had to find someplace on our own. We were looking for something different, something new. I came across the JCP and they were holding High Holiday services on Franklin Street at the New York Academy of Art. We did not know a single person there but from the minute we walked in, the words and the music moved us. There were two things on my mind at the time – will we be comfortable here – and will the service mean something to us. The answer to both questions was yes. There was something about the service that we both instantly felt connected to. We left there with the melodies in our heads- and with very full and warm hearts. That was in the fall of 2007 – we came back the following year to attend High Holiday Services, this time with my Parents and a baby on the way.
JCP soon turned into more than just a place to celebrate the Holidays, it was where Zara and Luca went to pre-school – and over time, the JCP Community became ours, and in turn – it became my Parents’ Community as well. My Parents spent almost every High Holiday Service with us, attended Chanukah parties, and my Mom attended Friday morning Bim Bom classes with Zara and then Luca.
This past December, my Dad passed away. Although he had a successful transplant in 2008 – the Leukemia came back and this time, despite another transplant and his courageous attempts to fight it, he could not win this last battle. He was at New York Hospital for four very difficult and trying weeks.
When he was in the hospital and after he died, this Community was there for me. The friends I made here texted, emailed, and called frequently offering their homes for meals and their children for play dates. At school drop off, it was the unspoken looks of compassion from parents in my kids’ classrooms. A hug on the sidewalk or a knowing smile from a friend or an acquaintance– simply acknowledging they are here for me, if I want to talk or cry.
Since my Dad died, I’ve been searching for comfort in Judaism – a search that continues. One source of comfort has been the Friday night services with Rabbi Jason and Jacob. On one particular Friday night, we all sang Hashkiveinu – a prayer for protection and peace that always somehow stirs up my emotions. While we were singing, I quietly hoped no-one would notice the tears coming out of my eyes. But, as I looked around I saw that I was not alone, as others in the room were crying as well. It was the prayer, the melody, and the people in the room all feeling very connected. We were having a moment, together.
A few years ago, Adam and I had the honor of carrying the Torah during JCP Yom Kippur services. My Parents were there and you have no idea how proud my Dad was. His smile reached across his face from ear to ear as we walked around the room. He felt such joy that we had found a Community where we felt part of something meaningful.
I know that my Dad would also feel happy knowing that this Community has been here for me, providing support and comfort during the past year.
The people involved with JCP are what make this Community so special. Our ability to connect with one another through song and prayer, to feel compassion for each other’s pain, and to create and build a place that impacts all of our lives so positively. As someone who has felt this kindness and support, I wanted to say how powerful and meaningful it can really be.
Shabbat Shalom. Shana Tova.
Delivered by Ben Feder, Yom Kippur 5775 / 2014
Thank you, Rabbi Jason, for inviting me to speak today about what community means to me. Thank you also, Susan Silverstein and the Board of JCP for the opportunity.
When I spoke to Rabbi Jason a few days ago, I jokingly told him that I felt like I was a grandfather of JCP. Imagine my shock when he said, “Yeah, you sort of are a grandfather of JCP. “
What I meant was that I am a JCP old timer. I’ve been involved with JCP from the beginning. By now, my kids have all aged out of the JCP pre-school and, sadly, I no longer know each member family by name. Still, I have an enduring love for the organization and this community
I was on a retreat the other day with a group of men; the same men with whom I spend one day a month and a few days each year in a professional fellowship. On the agenda at this year’s retreat was an exercise to make sure that we were living our lives deliberately and purposefully. We had to come up with purpose, mission, and vision statements for our lives; to articulate to ourselves what we think we are on this planet to do and be. It was a highly personal and very difficult exercise to undertake. But hard work often pays off and in the exercise, I learned something about myself and how I view my role in community.
To give you a taste, here’s what I came up with for a short purpose statement: My purpose is be curious, nurturing, and grateful; and to be a steward of my tradition.
There was more, but what surprised me was the last bit: To be a steward of my tradition.
I grew up in Montreal, Canada. My father was an ordained Orthodox Rabbi. The community to which I belonged was comprised mostly of post-holocaust immigrants from Eastern Europe. The school I went to was a modern Orthodox yeshiva day school.
After I left Canada, I struggled with the role Judaism played in my life and that struggle continued for a long time. Truth be told, I had a lot of questions about God. I thought of Jewish community and continuity as a responsibility, even a burden. I went though periods in which I disavowed any responsibility for Jewish continuity. I certainly did not think it was my purpose to be its steward.
And then, in 2001, terrorists murdered nearly three thousand people not ten blocks from our home and this very building. Ground Zero smoldered for months but when the acrid smoke cleared, it was easy to see the need for love, kindness, hope, and, yes, community. A few families could view with clear eyes what was needed. In the aftermath of the attack, JCP was founded basically in our living room. I won’t rehash more of JCP’s history, which most of you know, but a few things were particularly important to me personally.
First, the community was pluralistic. It didn’t matter what your background was. If you had a colorable claim to being part of the Jewish community, you were in. And you were genuinely welcome. For someone like me, raised in a sectarian Jewish culture, that was a breath of fresh air.
Second, the community was connected. I happen to believe that in many ways — large, small, and infinitesimal – we are all interconnected in an array of dimensions. Everything that we are results from everything that has come before us. Our actions, even minuscule ones, will affect everything that comes after us. Our community was a microcosm of those connections. Over the years, the few early families of JCP formed a bond that went well beyond being neighbors, well beyond being parents of kids gong to the same school. We supported each other and confided in each other. Today some of my closest friends are the people who have built the Jewish community in Tribeca and are in this hall. Our children have a special connection even though they have long ago dispersed to various schools in the city.
Third and last, the community was transcendent. One of Judaism’s powerful teachings is Tikkun Olam, literally meaning the repairing of the world. Because we are all part of an interconnected world, we all have an obligation to fix it when it is broken. We have to delve in. Tikkun Olam is a concept of optimism. We can’t afford to be pessimistic about changing the world; if we only believe the world can get worse; we absolve ourselves of responsibility for doing something about it. Being hopeful and optimistic about the world is a core value that leads us to being bold and courageous in our dealings with the world and the divine.
This community is Tikkun Olam. It was borne out of a desire to heal the deep wound of 9/11. It was and continues to be a monument of repair, support, and hope. Through our community, I began to see and care for a universe that much larger than myself. I connected to a larger whole in a way that no longer felt like a burden even as I accepted the responsibility.
Just outside this hall is a photo exhibit presented by an organization called Save A Child’s Heart, which Victoria and I support. Dedicated to providing vital help to sick kids, it is an unambiguous force for good in a part of the world that desperately needs it. Save A Child’s Heart is nothing if not an expression of loving kindness and it articulates beautifully the virtue of community. It takes all that is good about community in general and this community in particular and extends it to the larger community of both Jews and non-Jews. It reminds me that I am as connected to a child from Tanzania as I am to a child from Tribeca. JCP’s sponsorship of that organization this year is a tribute to Tikkun Olam and it makes me proud.
Today, our community of families and individuals remains a profound expression of pluralism, connectedness, and Jewish virtue. It is an awareness that we — as children, parents and, even grandparents — are deeply involved with one another in an intricate web of relationships. We have taken responsibility for one another. Far from being a burden, that responsibility sets free and gives expression to core Jewish values.
So the purpose statement works not just for me alone. Through this community, we are each and all of us stewards of our tradition.
Shabbat Shalom, G’mar Tov, and may all of us be inscribed in the book of life.