Many of you know about the visit to our campus yesterday by a virulent anti-Semitic group. We were alerted to their presence in Florida by the Secure Community Network (SCN), a program of The Jewish Federations of North America, late last week. Along with SCN, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) kept us updated on their status. Our Campus Security Director, Jake Silverman, had been monitoring them since their arrival to Florida and was in regular contact with local, State, and Federation law enforcement to keep us safe.
On Thursday afternoon, Jake’s cell phone began buzzing as local, state, and federal law enforcement offices alerted him that this group was targeting the Holocaust Center on our Jewish Community Campus for their next location to spew their Jew-hatred. With thirty (30) minutes notice, Jake was in contact with law enforcement and within minutes, Maitland Police officers were on campus, preparing to keep us safe. Mike, our security officer, secured the entrance to campus to ensure they would not be able to enter campus. Orange County Sheriff’s officers arrived to provide support and other local police departments, sheriff’s offices, the FBI and Homeland Security offered support if we needed them. It was an incredible thing to see as our efforts to improve our security on campus were clearly shown. Jake’s leadership in keeping us safe has always been something I have valued and he truly exhibited how extraordinary he is during this incident. Mike goes above and beyond to keep everybody on campus safe and while he always makes us feel safer by his presence, his true value, experience, and passion for our campus was on exhibit. The relationships with the Maitland Police Department and other local, state, and federal law enforcement paid dividends as we had their full support.
When this hate group showed up and was denied access to campus, they parked across the street and began spewing their bigotry, ignorance, and hate. It was disgusting and heartbreaking. I was overcome with emotion seeing and hearing them in a manner that was unexpected and a bit overpowering. As I turned around and looked at campus, I was amazed at the dichotomy that was occurring. On one side of the street were anti-Semites, Jew-haters, people filled with hate and evil. On the other side were beautiful children engaged in learning, being picked up by their parents and grandparents, JCC members coming to work out or swim, seniors coming to enjoy Jewish life on our campus. It was a sight filled with love, joy, and happiness.
Anti-Semitism is real and the power of Jew-hatred was on display yesterday. Also on display was the power of community. The national Secure Community Networks and ADL helping alert and prepare us, the planning by our security team and the relationships with law enforcement, the hardening of the campus that continues to occur year after year to keep us safe. People reaching out with love, care, and concern. I heard last night from a representative of the Muslim community in Orlando, reaching out in support.
Last night was Brave Choices, our signature women’s event. We honored 28 amazing women last night and as I watched the program, I was inspired, excited, and empowered, not only by the 28 women who we honored but by the 100 women of various ages involved in the event. Hearing them talk about the Jewish community in Orlando, of the passion they have, of the future of Jewish life, and how they are inspired was beautiful. Hearing the singing in the beginning was powerful and I encourage you to watch it on our YouTube page to be inspired as well. On a day when Jew-hatred and bigotry was front and center, this event highlighted the beauty and love of our community.
We are an incredible Jewish community in Orlando. While yesterday afternoon was certainly challenging, it also gave us a chance to truly see the beauty we have. I encourage you to reach out and be a part of this special community.
I have found that the best way to navigate parenting in a world of Covid is to approach each day with love and laughter. Laughing makes light of our day to day craziness. In my family, we start our day by waking up my daughter with music as I believe this is a great way to start the day off right. A favorite in our house is Whitney Houston’s, I Wanna Dance with Somebody. Mr. Big Stuff, my daughter’s rooster, also makes for a fun and silly way to wake up and tackle the day.
After our long days at school and work, we come home to 5 acres of land. We have dogs, cows, chickens, and a chubby hamster, Charlie Wigglebottoms. As you can imagine, our evenings are filled with fun and delight. An outdoor family by nature, my daughter loves to do her homework outside in her playground castle, or on a blanket under our large oak tree while our dogs chase each other around. This is a calm way to end our day and helps everyone relax. I am truly grateful for all that we have, each new day and the health of my family.
When my son started kindergarten, I envisioned all the wonderful elementary school experiences he would have including a 5th grade year full of celebrations. I never imagined that he would finish his elementary school years taking his classes online as we continue to physically distance ourselves during Covid-19.
Today, instead of sending my son out to the bus stop each morning, I send him to the dining room table before making my way to my virtual office in the next room. At regular intervals, my husband comes out of his virtual office to check that my son is staying on task. It’s not easy having everyone working from home, and sometimes our house seems sooo small. This year, my son’s last year in elementary school, there will be no overnight school trip or 5th grade trip to Universal Studios. My son’s 5th grade yearbook probably won’t include his picture because he’s attending school virtually and won’t be there for school picture day. On the other hand, we all get to eat lunch together. Homework has become a family event with everyone pitching in. When any of us feel stressed about schoolwork, client work, or the next adult Jewish education class, we sigh and pet a cat.
It’s not exactly the year I planned, but neither is it all bad. We’ve learned to roll with whatever comes our way. My son’s time in elementary school, especially during this year of Covid-19, has reminded me that parenting is all about being flexible. Yes, we need to maintain rules and consequences. But there are also teachable moments, laughter, and the lots of practice learning how to change direction at a moment’s notice. This is the way we stay sane these days—or at least whatever passes for “sane” in the time of pandemic.
In summer 2019, I attended the Paradigm Project conference in Chicago. A three-day immersive learning experience for Jewish Early Childhood Educators. There were a multitude of workshops throughout the week, some more memorable than others. One of the sessions I attended was titled Embracing the Chaos. I was intrigued right away as embracing chaos is not a strong quality of mine. Fast forward to less than a year later, I found myself as the mom of two kids in a pandemic. Thinking back to those three days in Chicago, in my own hotel room, no children, dogs, or husband around, I certainly never could have imagined what was ahead. Now, a year into Covid-19, I am asking myself….what has protected my family’s peace? What has gotten us through almost 365 days of raising two small children who look like my husband with personalities like mine? Besides preschool reopening (thank you to the ECLC at the Roth Family JCC), we have made it through the past year by EMBRACING THE CHAOS. The mess of toys will always be there. The to-do list will never end. There will always be endless laundry and dishes and, and, and, and, and….I am (trying to) embrace it all as I know there will be a time when the chaos calms, the dishes and laundry will settle, the toys will minimize and the to-do list will be shortened. We are happy, we are healthy and we are getting through this together.