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The Power Of Love In This New Year

 

I saw this on social media and it really resonated with me. While I shared it on social media and many others have as well, it’s worth sharing again here as we just finished observing Yom Kippur. There are such lessons to be learned as we enter the new year about how we treat others, our community, and ourselves. Over the past 18 months, we have all endured incredible stress and we must remind ourselves to take care of ourselves, not just others. We all need to find joy and the beauty in our lives.

“One day, a nine-year-old girl walked into a jewelry store and said, “I am here to buy a bracelet.” She looked through the glass cases and pointed to a bracelet that was $3,000. The owner, the man behind the counter, asked her, “You want to buy that bracelet?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Wow, you have very good taste. Who do you want to buy it for?”

“For my older sister.”

“Oh, that is so nice!” the storekeeper replied. “Why do you want to buy your older sister this bracelet?”

“Because I don’t have a mother or father,” the little girl said, “and my older sister takes care of us. So, we want to buy her a present, and I’m willing to pay for it.” She pulled out of a whole bunch of coins from her pocket that totaled just under eight shekels, a little less than two dollars.

The man says, “Wow! That’s exactly what the bracelet costs!”

While wrapping up the bracelet he said to the girl, “You write a card to your sister while I wrap the bracelet.” He finished wrapping the bracelet, wiped away his tears, and handed the little girl the bracelet.

A few hours later, the older sister entered the store. “I’m terribly embarrassed,” she said. “My sister should not have come here. She shouldn’t have taken it without paying.”

“What are you talking about?” the storekeeper asked.

“What do you mean? This bracelet costs thousands of dollars. My little sister doesn’t have any money! She obviously she didn’t pay for it!”

“You couldn’t be more wrong,” the storekeeper replied. “She paid me in full. She paid seven shekel, eighty agurot, and a broken heart. I want to tell you something: I am a widower. I lost my wife a number of years ago. People come into my store every single day. They come in and buy expensive pieces of jewelry, and all these people can afford it. When your sister walked in, for the first time in so very long since my wife passed, I once again felt what true love is.”

He gave her the bracelet and wished her well.”

On Rosh Hashanah, we come before God. With sincerity, we express our devotion and dedication. We recommit and renew our relationship with our dear Father in heaven, and we ask Him to bless us with another year. We empty out our pockets and try to give the little we have. We show the few good deeds we’ve accumulated throughout the year. With a broken heart we resolve to do a bit more. “I’ll pick up the phone and call someone who is lonely. I will study some Torah. I will be more scrupulous about my observance, I will be more charitable, more patient, more kind, more appreciative, etc.”

And, just like the owner of the jewelry store, God sees our broken hearts and says, “You know what? You’ve touched my heart. I feel the love. You’ve paid in full. May you be blessed with another year filled with good health, happiness, love, light, joy and success!”

The Federation partners with the Lavin Family Foundation and CC’s Wish List to provide new clothes to those in need. We recently got our second shipment and partnered with the American Muslim Community Center to get these clothes into the hands of those who need them. My friend Atif messaged me this morning, saying, “Hi Keith. I am here in Parramore Ave. The poverty here is heart breaking. Drugs and Crime ruin these neighborhoods. So your support is so essential to provide hope and self-respect to families trying to get themselves to a better place.”

As we prepare for Shabbat and reflect on the holidays that just concluded, I urge you to feel love. To focus on the positive and let go of the negative. To enjoy what you have and to reach out and help those less fortunate. Atif’s message reminds me to be grateful for the wonderful gifts in my life. The story reminds me that I get more from giving than I do from getting.

Shana Tovah U’Metuka. May you all have a happy, healthy, and sweet new year. May 5782 be a year filled with good health, happiness, love, light, joy and success.

Shabbat Shalom,
Keith

 

Powerful Memories

 

There are certain things that evoke powerful memories and emotion. The smell of frying onions and potatoes brings me back to my Grandma Esther’s kitchen. The sounds of hammering and sawing take me to my Grandpa Si’s workshop. At this time of year, it’s the sound of the Shofar that brings me back to my childhood as well as reminds me that it’s time to stop and reflect on the past year.

Last year, due to Covid, there was not the same sounding of the Shofar that we normally hear. Much was done online or virtual. Thanks to Ed and Marian Bromberg, the Federation’s Sound the Shofar program provided the gift of nearly 200 shofars to members of the community so they would have the ability to hear the shofar in person, not just virtually. In a year when nothing seemed right or the same, this gift enabled Jews in Orlando to have something that connected them from generation to generation.

This year, we were so excited about returning together to celebrate the chagim, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and hear the blast of the Shofar together once again. We would return to normalcy and have our rituals back the way we remembered. And then the Delta variant hit. Covid cases exploded and gathering together the way we wanted was put on hold. While there will be opportunities to gather together to celebrate the holidays, many people will not feel safe doing so and will once again choose the virtual option for the chagim.

Once again, Ed and Marian Bromberg stepped up to ensure we would be able to continue our Sound the Shofar program. Joining them are Brad and Eve Homburger-Jacobs, enabling us to once again provide 200 shofars to Jews in Orlando who want to blow the shofar in person but may not feel comfortable joining together in a large gathering. And just like last year, Ed will be provide online training on how to blow the shofar and the proper types of blasts to blow. All as a gift to our Orlando Jewish community.

That’s what the Federation is here to do. Identify challenges and opportunities in our community and find ways to address them. Join us on Thursday August 26th at 7 pm for our annual meeting to learn more about what Federation has done, is doing, and will be doing as well as some early highlights from our Community Study.

To get your gift of a Shofar, please click here. Pickup will be available at The Roth Family JCC, The Rosen JCC, and Hillel at UCF, Rollins, and Stetson Universities. In a time of uncertainty, this is a great opportunity to have an important piece of Judaica that you can use to welcome in the new year and a bright future.

Shabbat Shalom,
Keith

Our community is larger than you think, and continuing to grow!

 

As we come to the end of the summer and prepare for school to begin in less than 2 weeks, it’s a great opportunity to take a step back and reflect. As I do that this week, I find myself reviewing the preliminary results of our 2020-21 Orlando Jewish Community Study. In 2020, the Federation engaged the Cohen Center for Modern Judaism at Brandeis University to do this study on behalf of our entire community. The study belongs to the community and is the type of work the Federation does on behalf of the entire Orlando Jewish community. As many of you know, the study went out to the community in early 2021 and we are excited to prepare to share the results in public forums in November or December of 2021 with everybody.

The preliminary information shows some truly fascinating information. Our community is much larger than we expected, with more than 50,000 Jews living in the Orlando area (Orange and Seminole Counties and small parts of Osceola, Lake, and Volusia counties). In addition, while Winter Park, Maitland, and Altamonte Springs is the core area for Jewish agencies, more than ¾ of our community live at least 20 minutes away with most living 30-45 minutes away. This creates amazing challenges and opportunities for us. It is going to take all of us together to address them.

In addition, the Cohen Center broke down the way Jews in Orlando engage Jewishly into 5 categories. These categories are Personal, Familial, Holiday, Involved, and Immersed. They are defined as:

Personal – Participates primarily in Jewish activities that can be done individually.  Less active in communal and ritual activities.  This was the largest group.

Familial – Participates in family and home-based dimensions of Jewish life.  This was very close to the same percentage as personal.

Holiday – Participates in communal activities such as holidays.

Involved – Participates in most aspects of Jewish life at a moderate level.

Immersed – Participates in all aspects of Jewish life.  This was by far the smallest group.

Personal, Familial, and Holiday represents more than ¾ of how Jews in Orlando engage. As we plan for the future, this is critical information for everybody in our community.

This study, a significant effort by the Federation, is filled with much more information and actionable data.  I am so excited to share it in the near future and work with the many agencies, organizations, and synagogues in Orlando on how to best use it to grow engagement in Jewish life and make our community even better.

To hear more from the study and what the future holds, please plan on attending the Federation’s annual meeting on Thursday August 26th from 7-8 pm. You can register here.

Shabbat Shalom,

Keith

Honoring our Leaders

 

As we reach the end of July we are also getting close to the time for Federation’s annual meeting.  Each year, our annual meeting provides an opportunity to highlight the amazing work done by the Federation, recognize outstanding leaders in our community, and give a view into the future.  This year will be no different.

Hosted by Federation Board Member Yeosh Bendayan, this year’s annual meeting, scheduled for Thursday 26th at 7 pm, this year’s meeting will be held both in person and via Zoom so that everybody has an opportunity to attend in a manner they desire.  Some of the highlights of this year’s meeting include:

  • The Jerome J. Bornstein Leadership award will be presented to Michael and Stacey Soll
  • The Byron B. Selber Young Leadership award will be presented to Danielle Krise
  • The Jewish Communal Professional Award will be presented to Aaron and Sharon Weil
  • The Heritage Florida Jewish News Human Service Award will be presented to…… you’ll have to read the Heritage for their announcement, but I promise you it’s somebody who is very deserving.

Having a chance to celebrate and honor our amazing leaders is enough however this year will be highlighted by not only a summary of the past incredible year during these challenging times and hear about what’s coming in the year ahead.  While you may think you know about what’s happened this year with RAISE, Women Together, PJ Library, Family Engagement, Empowering Connections, the Bornstein Leadership Development Program, JTEN, the Human Service Matching campaign and more, I promise you that there is more than you realize that has happened. Even more important will be a chance to get some highlights from our 2020-21 Orlando Jewish Community Study which will be presented in full to our community by The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University later this year.  Finally we will get to celebrate our amazing Jerome J. Bornstein Leadership Development class. These leaders are impacting our community by serving on the Board of Directors of The Jewish Academy of Orlando (JAO), Jewish Family Services (JFS), Kinneret, Central Florida Hillel, The Roth Family JCC, and The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando as well as serving on committees for many other organizations.

For those of you considering the next Bornstein class, I encourage you to apply. The next class begins in January 2022, and you will want to be a part of it!!

So before Shabbat begins, take a minute to register for the annual meeting and put it on your calendar.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Shabbat Shalom,

Keith

The Impact of Camp Near and Far

 

This week for me was dominated by summer camp. I confess that I have always been a summer camp kid. The things children learn at both Day and Overnight camp are so critical for life lessons. The relationships they develop can be lifelong and I loved day camp and while my first overnight camp experience was challenging and not fun, I attribute that to being a bit too young. My second overnight camp experience was transformative and more than 30 years later I still talk to friends and even staff from that time. When my long-time camp director passed away, I was interviewed by the Baltimore Jewish Times about his impact. He was a mentor, guide, and friend.

This week I not only saw pictures and posts of friends picking up their kids from camp but also those dropping them off. I read about friends going to volunteer at my overnight camp and felt jealous that they got a week there as an adult. I walked around The Roth Family JCC and saw and heard the children attending Camp J laugh, sing, play, and smile. I watched the activity in the swimming pool and out on the back field. My heart was filled with joy. I got emails and phone calls from families whose children were having great summers and wanted to add more weeks before the summer ends. And I was blown away as I got to see and talk with a family who due to Covid had been isolating for over a year and Camp J was their first big outing. Their daughter was so excited to be able to attend Camp J and I couldn’t decide who was happier and more moved by what Camp J meant to her – the child, her parents, or me. When I got home that night I couldn’t wait to share this story with my wife. It’s why all of us who work in the Jewish world do what we do. We impact and change lives.

I decided to reach out to both Amy Geboff who runs Machane Ohev and Reuben Romirowsky at the Rosen JCC who have their own Camp J. I wanted to hear their stories and the impact of camp this year on them and their campers and families.   As expected, I heard amazing things with amazing impact.

In speaking with Amy, the most powerful words she told me were, “It was amazing! Kids longed for it.” The importance of being together was highlight for Amy, especially the unplugged time together where they could just be kids. She told me that it truly became a Kehillah K’dushah, a holy community. Almost echoing my personal experience, the campers, counselors, staff, and parents found it to be “rejuvenating, motivating, and reminded everybody why we all do what we do – bringing Jewish kids together, it’s why we do what we do.”

I love stories and my favorite was when Amy shared this one. One the last day, Amy asked one of the campers what her favorite part of camp was. The little girl responded, “Just being with my friends.’   This is the power of camp.

When I spoke with Reuben Romirowsky, the CEO of the Rosen JCC, he was just as enthusiastic about the impact of camp this summer. They were pleasantly surprised with the robust registration of older kids as lots of new, older kids wanted to participate in Camp J. One of the most important things cited was the kind and respectful culture. Jewish values in practice!   The desire to get back to normal and back in the building while also being safe and smart were important factors.

During the past year, it was easy to ask why we do what we do. We couldn’t be in person and the challenges of the pandemic were real. Just like Amy and me, Reuben was effusive about how Camp J was a reminder of ‘Why we do what we do. There were happy parents, grateful parents, and happy kids.’ Despite the challenges of the pandemic this was the largest number of campers in the history of Camp J at the Rosen JCC. Reuben said that camp brought life back to the Rosen JCC with an atmosphere of ‘controlled chaos. Lou and with an energy that has been missing. It was busy from 7 am to 7 pm.’   The other thing Reuben told me that I found significant was how Camp J provided campers with an opportunity to for them to talk about the stresses at home. The past 18 months have brought unprecedented stress to all of us and children often struggle to find the words to share their feelings. At Camp J they have found a place where they feel safe to explore their feelings and work through these stressors. What an incredible gift.

As we enter Shabbat, I hope I have given you a different way to look at summer camp. It’s not just a place to watch your kids in the summer when they aren’t in school. It’s not a place that just entertains your children and tires them out, so they sleep well at night. Camp is a transformative experience. It provides relationships, not just a transaction for care, that enable growth, development, exploration of values and Judaism. As a true camp kid myself, I long for the days at camp with my friends and often dream about finding a way to create an adult summer camp to allow us to experience the joy and relationships that our children do. Imagine how much better our lives would be if we could let go and spend a week or two immersed in joy, friendship, exploration or learning.

Shabbat Shalom,

Keith