Steve McCloskey, President
OPPORTUNITY AND GRATITUDE
ABOUND DURING THE COVID-19 ERA
The devastation wrought by the novel corona virus has been mind-boggling. COVID-19 has decimated the lives of hundreds of millions around the globe, from death and life-threatening illness for victims and their families, to economic disaster for countless others. There is no aspect of our pre-COVID-19 world that has not been upended by this global scourge. A pall of grim resignation has settled upon us in a self-imposed isolation meant to keep us safe.
However, every crisis, particularly this global pandemic, creates opportunity for us and for our world. The most obvious opportunity is for bipartisan, effective leadership to emerge to forge a comprehensive strategy to demonstrate to the world that the United States is ready for this unprecedented challenge to make a better post-COVID-19 world. We have seen many examples of this leadership at the local and state levels, and even glimpses of it at the federal level with the passage of the initial stimulus legislation.
This election cycle will be over in early November; we forego this opportunity at our collective peril. In these parlous times, we crave a “we-centric,” not a “me-centric” approach from our leaders. One place to start would be a desperately needed infrastructure program, which has always garnered broad bipartisan support, but has been shelved due to the political divide. This legislation would be in keeping with Judaism’s obligation of Tikkun Olam, to repair our world.
As many of us shelter in place and slow down somewhat, this hiatus provides an opportunity for contemplation of what we want as our “new normal,” post-COVID-19. Since we cannot go back to what was, we must strive for what we hope will be. This pandemic has glaringly exposed and exacerbated the vast economic and societal inequity in America, from health care to income to available resources to justice, just to name a few. Can we really be proud of our country when the American dream has been foreclosed for a vast swath of our citizens, and the middle class--the backbone of the United States--has virtually disappeared?
In seizing this opportunity to redefine the “new normal,” let’s be guided by the heart of the Judaic creed, the precepts of justice: mercy and humility; economic, legal and societal justice; compassion and empathy as essential tools of governance, and the stark recognition that unless we value inclusion of all strata of society in our decision making, it is a sure path to what is old and stale, rather than to what is new and vibrant. Shouldn’t we aspire to making this a better world for more of our citizens, rather than fewer of them?
At NJC, this crisis has required new ways to connect with our members. We always had in-person services and events, something that has been impossible in recent months. Zoom and YouTube Live have been a godsend, enabling us to provide a more robust spiritual, educational and social (through NJC Connects) experience than usual for our members during the summer months. The lull in holding gatherings has also created opportunity for personal contact through old fashioned means, such as phone calls. These phone calls to our members in this time of safer at home have given me a chance to connect in ways not possible in a few minutes at an oneg following a Shabbat service.
Let’s be grateful for this time of strengthening our bonds with loved ones, but not squander our chance for meaningful societal change.
ACT RESPONSIBLY TOGETHER TO STAY SAFE
Because so much about COVID-19 is unknown, we will be in uncharted territory for the foreseeable future. Unless you have been tested for this novel coronavirus, there’s no way to know whether you’re infected. Therefore, we all must act as if we have COVID-19.
The principle is simple: Don’t be selfish. Act responsibly. It’s not only your well-being, but everyone else’s, too.
Avoid taking health advice from politicians and pundits. Instead, rely on our public health experts, whose job is keeping us safe and healthy. These are leaders in their disciplines who work at the CDC, the FDA, the Florida Department of Health and our local health departments. Their only agenda is our health and safety. Their advice, guidelines and recommendations are constantly evolving as they learn more about the corona virus and the disease it produces: COVOD-13. We must be vigilant, keep up with their directives and heed their advice.
Since an infected person without symptoms can still shed the virus and infect others, staying at home and sheltering in place is imperative for almost all of us. Many of us are part of the most vulnerable cohort. Limiting our exposure to others is critical. This must include family and friends. One of the blessings of current technology is that we have now so many ways to connect remotely: Skype, Zoom, Face Time, Google Hangout, just to name a few. Even though we cannot connect physically right now, we can reach out and touch each other via social media/internet platforms.
All congregations are devising methods to keep in touch with their members. Like contacts with family and friends, this effort can take many forms, including audio messages, live streaming of services and virtual meetings. At NJC, we are calling all our members to let them know we’re concerned about them and will try to help them cope with the pandemic in any way we can safely manage. We’ll leave audio messages, hold virtual services, disseminate valuable information, or just provide a sympathetic ear and voice to help members cope with this unprecedented challenge.
When you talk to family and friends, please emphasize that this the most serious threat to public health threat in 100 years, a crisis that requires all of us to drastically alter our behavior and severely limit what would otherwise be normal interaction with others.
We know that social/physical distancing, staying home and sheltering in place present many challenges, but these measures are mandatory, not optional. To do your part, don’t engage in panic buying. It is selfish and will cause shortages not just for others, but eventually for you, too. The only way to effectively address this crisis is to recognize that acting only for ourselves will harm others, perhaps irreparably.
As we go forward, stay calm, recognize that what we do can harm others we may never know and see. We should be driven by the knowledge that if we all act responsibly, we will stop the spread of COVID-19. Remember, this virus does not recognize social status, political affiliation, age, gender, occupation or geographical location. Rather, it transcends all demographics and does not discriminate among its victims. All of us are susceptible to this scourge.
Only when all of us understand that this dire threat is real can we plan collectively to halt its spread. Hopefully, by the time this is printed, the curve has been flattened.
President, Naples Jewish Congregation
STATE OF NAPLES JEWISH CONGREGATION
MARCH 2019 - MARCH 2020
Since our last Annual Meeting on April 5, 2019, we have had a productive and engaging year. Under the outstanding rabbinical leadership of Rabbi Howard Herman, we had our best year yet in terms of spiritual offerings to our membership. These included inspiring and thought-provoking High Holy Days services, as well as uplifting and informative Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, with timely and cogent messages from Rabbi Herman and beautiful music from Alla, Jane and our choir. We have the most joyous and meaningful Shabbat services in town. The appeal of our Shabbat services has also been confirmed by a number of recent guests.
I am gratified to tell you that NJC’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a three-year agreement with Rabbi Herman that will keep him as our spiritual leader through June 30, 2023. This agreement has also been overwhelmingly approved by the Congregational vote on the ballot that was recently distributed for election of Board members and officers. The annual meeting for this vote on April 3 was just one of many events we were forced to cancel by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rabbi Herman also led five intriguing adult education sessions this year, including such diverse topics antisemitism, an examination of the book of Genesis, the State of Israel and the search for civil discourse in these fractious times. Our members enjoyed the sessions, with an average of 30 to 30 members at each. This was a testament to Rabbi Herman’s thoughtful and dynamic approach to serious topics and our members’ devotion to Jewish learning. All the sessions were followed by a light dinner, arranged by Elaine Rapoport and enjoyed by all.
Our havurot were active and engaged, with many activities and events for their respective members. The havurot are just one more way that our members cement relationships with other congregants. Both Sisterhood and Men’s Club also sponsored many activities and events that strengthened bonds among our members. We celebrated Passover with a joyous Seder last spring, as well as a Break-the-fast and Chanukah dinner in the fall.
Our Artist Program drew a crowd to hear Listen Up!, the Chicago-based Jewish vocal band. The performance was a unique multimedia mix of Jewish history and song, a tour through time to connect both historically and musically with our Jewish roots. Kudos to Dan Appel for fabulous publicity, to Don Pomerantz for writing another compelling grant application, to Suzanne Paley for the delectable reception catered by St. Mathew’s House Catering and to Dick Lechtner for taking care of just about everything else for this event, including eblasts and taking reservations.
Unfortunately, Listen Up! proved to be our last NJC event, due to the sudden emergence of COVID-19 in Florida in March, 2020. We were forced to cancel the traditional Game Day, Sisterhood and Men’s Club future events and our annual Passover Seder, scheduled for April, 2020. Our Game Day Co-Chairs, Gusti Rosenauer and Patty Osheroff, worked hard to make Game Day a wonderful event and major fundraiser that we were forced to cancel by the pandemic. The same fate befell our other scheduled events. Thanks to all who worked hard and planned for activities that could not be held because of the coronavirus.
A grouof p members continued to engage in activities that fulfilling our commitment to social action/justice, a bedrock mission of Reform Judaism. Participation in food packing events sponsored by Meals of Hope was just one example of our members’ embrace of Tikkun Olam, making our world a better place, particularly for those less fortunate. This year we will seek a congregational program that will make a real difference. We had hoped to accomplish that with signing on to the Passover Project, discussed in my article in the Apr. 2020 issue of the Federation Star. COVID-19 disrupted those plans and lives and many others.
I want hank our hard working Board members this past year: Harvey Rosenfeld, David Koenig, Richard Goldstein, Sandy Demovsky, Dan Appel, Roberta (“Rob”) Obler, Don Pomerantz, Marilyn Goldenberg, Barry Goldenberg, Dick Lechtner and especially Suzanne Paley, our only departing Board member. All of our Board members make significant contributions to enhancing your experience as a NJC congregant. Kudos to our departing Board member, Suzanne Paley, for her 4 years as NJC’s President, her work as Sisterhood President, her involvement with the Artist in Residence Program since its inception and for so much more.
Special thanks go out to two Board members, Dick Lechtner and Barry Goldenberg. If Dick Lechtner were just Treasurer, the NJC Weekly eNEWS Editor and eblast maven, that would be more than enough. However, he does so much more. For instance, as I write this, he is learning the intricacies of Zoom, so that he can host our virtual Friday night Shabbat services, until we are back at the “UU.” He thinks of many things that I forget. We are in touch on literally a daily basis about NJC business.
Barry Goldenberg, in addition to being our VP, is our Ritual Chair, working seamlessly with Rabbi Herman to make our services go so smoothly. Barry is also our Clerk for Precinct 324 for 3 elections this year for NJC’s Adopt-A-Precinct Program with the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office. Barry is there to help me in whatever task we have to accomplish for NJC, whether it’s setting up the sanctuary, Thomas Hall ,or the patio or a myriad of other jobs. He is always there for me and for you as NJC members.
Kudos also to Mike Himowitz, our NJC website wizard. He redesigned our website to update it and to make it more user friendly and informative. He works hard to keep the website current with up to date information to keep our members and the general public well informed. The revamped website, coupled with the NJC Weekly eNEWS and eblasts put out by Dick Lechtner, serve our members well.
My utmost thanks are reserved for Shelley, who is my closest adviser, my sounding board and my editor, always providing me with sound advice and steering me on the right path. She always has my back. I am eternally grateful for her good counsel, her deep and abiding love and our wonderful friendship of almost 42 years. My hope is that our partnership has enriched the NJC experience.
As I indicated in last year’s State of Naples Jewish Congregation message, membership is always a challenge. It is forever two steps forward and one step back, gaining members because of our appeal as “the small congregation with the big
heart,” but losing members to ill health, moving away to be with family or just the lack of interest in formal religious affiliation. I commend Shelley and Marilyn Goldenberg, our Membership Committee Co-Chairs on doing a great job this past year. It is hard work. We will continue to strive to grow our membership because we have a wonderful Rabbi and wonderful people.
Speaking of our membership, our biggest asset is our people. While we don’t have a building, we do have one another. Everyone is warm, friendly and caring. We rally around and help our members in need. We don’t just pay lip service to reaching out; we do it. We will be calling all of our members in the weeks and months ahead to make sure that everyone has what they need and just to lend a friendly ear and listen. We will be providing virtual services by Zoom until it is safe to congregate once again at the “UU.”
I will be done with my tenure as NJC’s President in March, 2021. This next year will present challenges that most of us have fortunately never experienced. We will do our best to serve your spiritual, educational and social needs under especially trying and unprecedented times. Just know that we, your Board and Rabbi Herman are always just a phone call or email away, should you need our help.
Let us all be safe, stay well and help others when we are able to do so. Let’s be creative in ways that we connect with each other. While we can’t congregate now in the literal sense, we can innovate in how we reach out to one another. COVID-19 will pass. I hope that through this forbidding test of both our individual and collective will, we will emerge stronger, more unified, more resilient and better prepared for the next calamity.