2015-11-25 / Columns

Celebrating the light to be found in our Jewish community

FEDERATION PRESIDENT’S CORNER
VICKI ZELL
Federation President

As I am writing this, the news of the terror attacks in Paris by ISIS is streaming across the television. This news follows on the heels of attacks on the Russian plane in Egypt, the suicide bombers in Lebanon, and the unconscionable stabbings and car attacks in Israel. The news around the world is frightening, ominous, and very sad.

Yet, this issue of the Voice comes out the day before Thanksgiving. In Judaism, we so often see sadness juxtaposed with happiness, light following times of darkness. I am an optimist by nature, so amidst the sadness and anxiety we feel in response to these tragic events happening in the world, there is so much for which we can be thankful.

As a past president of our Jewish Community Relations Council, I have had the privilege to work side by side with members of many other faiths— Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, and others— people like you and me, with the same hopes and dreams we share for a more peaceful world. Over many years, these individuals have broken bread with us and met for countless hours to find ways we can work together to tear down the barriers and the distrust that so often arise among religions. I am thankful to be part of a community that helps foster meaningful dialogue in pursuit of peaceful, rational solutions to these differences and only wish there were more efforts like ours throughout the world.

After hearing the news about the atrocities in Paris on Nov. 13, I went to services at Cong. Sons of Israel the next morning. My cousin was visiting from Israel and needed to say Kaddish for her 14-year-old daughter, Liora, who had died a few months ago of complications from Rett’s syndrome. As I was comforting my cousin that morning during her time of need, I was so thankful that our Southern New Jersey Jewish community is home to an impressive number of welcoming synagogues representing the wide spectrum of Jewish denominations and whose doors are open for all to benefit.

I am thankful that our JCC and JFCS provide services to individuals with special needs— like my cousin’s daughter of blessed memory—through ACHaD, Open Hearts/Open Doors, Soups & Sweets, TOPS, SAIL, supported employment, and so much more. I am thankful that our Jewish Community Foundation executive director took time to speak to my cousin earlier that day about setting up an endowment fund in memory of her daughter.

At the close of that very emotional Shabbat, I was thankful to experience joy as our social hall filled to capacity for the hysterical banter of comedienne Susie Essman, who headlined an amazing week of talented authors and entertainers at the Katz JCC’s Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books and Culture. I am thankful that our community could laugh for an hour and put aside our worries and sadness as we sat together as one.

I am thankful for all of you who are taking the time to read this article in the Jewish Community Voice—and that we are fortunate enough to have a newspaper that connects our South Jersey Jewish community. I am thankful for all of you who volunteer to stock our food pantries, to feed the hungry, and take the time to be kind to one another. I am extremely thankful that our CEO’s husband, Jim Weiss, made it through an unexpected and major surgery and is now home recovering with his loved ones.

Finally, I am forever thankful to have the privilege to serve as Federation president, and I am indebted to those who came before me, who built the agencies, programs, services, and physical structures we have here in South Jersey that make this such a strong Jewish community and the place we call home.

In the words of William Arthur Ward, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Wishing you all a wonderful, meaningful, and peaceful Thanksgiving. . jfedpres@jfedsnj.org

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