My grandfather was active in the community where I grew up and held the position of President of not one but two synagogues. During the 1950s, he was President of the shul right up the block from where he lived and raised his family. In the 1960s, he, my grandmother, and my great-grandparents moved a few miles away to a new home and joined a newly built synagogue where he was active and took leadership as President.
At this new Jewish Center, my grandfather helped create many programs, including Wheels on Meals for our local community. He also brought an idea to our rabbi - I should say he insisted - that the girls in our congregation (not only the boys) receive a Jewish education. At ten years old, I am proud to say that I was in the first class of girls to attend Hebrew School at my synagogue.
I’m grateful for the time, energy, and forward thinking of my grandfather. His passion and commitment made sure that my friends and the young girls that followed us were given the opportunity to learn and become active members of our congregation. My family instilled in me the importance of giving back to my community. It has been important to me to make sure my daughters and the generations that follow understand the importance of giving back also.
Parashah Ki Tavo begins as the Israelites enter the Promised Land. Moses tells the people of the consequences and the laws given to them (Deut. 26.1-29.8) “When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it (Deut. 26.1) You shall take some of every fruit of the soil, put it in a basket and go to a place where the Lord your God will choose to establish his name….Therefore observe faithfully all the terms of this covenant, that you may succeed in all that you undertake.”
This parashah speaks to me in many ways. I think of the mentors and role models whose footsteps I have followed. Like my grandfather, who moved and helped to build a new Jewish community, I learned how to give back and help build and become an active member of my synagogue. When I reflect on my childhood, I remember well the first time I volunteered. My local Girl Scout troop visited an orphanage in our neighborhood to entertain and play games with the children. I remember our troop leader explaining how appreciative the children were to have us visit and how we brought some happiness to them.
At my synagogue, we were part of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). During our meeting as young women, we learned to collaborate and make decisions on how to help raise funds for the organizations. There were dances and field trips around New York City. I remember, with a smile, that many of our meetings were self-directed, and we decided what activities and events to hold for our local chapter. Our group joined with other synagogues near our neighborhood to organize a fashion show. A local pre-teen clothing shop offered to sponsor the fashion show. We sold tickets and refreshments at the show to raise money to benefit our organization.
In high school, I reflected on my participation with organizations at my school and joined with many of my friends and classmates in the first Earth Day, Moratoriums against the Vietnam War, and worked on a committee with a State Senator to improve the poor housing conditions for staff at Catskill hotels. During the 1970s, social justice became a focus of interest and concern. How many of us remember championing for the same causes? Fast forward to adulthood, settling with our families in new neighborhoods and joining a new synagogue to build a life with our families.
It was and has always been important to me to give back, whether through volunteering or contributing to the best of my family’s ability. Where better to continue showing my gratitude than at my Temple’s Nursery School, Religious School, Sisterhood and Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ.) Now my daughters could see me in action as an active participant in our community. They could see me engaged as I volunteered at the Annual Benefit, set up the Bookfair, organized the Passover candy sale, and attended Social Action events. I am proud and grateful to have learned about and to be a part of the WRJ, where I have met so many wonderful, talented, dedicated women.
My interests have grown from local community to global community. If my grandfather had not advocated for the young girls in my community and me, where would we be now?
No, my grandfather is not Moses, but like Moses, he helped to cultivate the “fruits of the soil.”