2018-06-06 / Voice at the Shore

Our community is a living, breathing entity

Executive Director Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties

Yehuda Hammer died May 22, 2018, four days short of his 102nd birthday. His son, Dr. Howard Hammer, a past-president of Jewish Federation of Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties, a mentor, and a dear friend, shared Yehuda’s life story with those of us who attended the graveside service at Alliance Cemetery in Norma. It was by every measure a fitting and moving tribute to Yehuda Hammer’s incredible life, and has remained with me since.

I have had trouble fathoming all Yehuda saw and experienced during his very long lifetime. As a yeshiva student, Holocaust survivor, Soviet labor camp prisoner, a fighter in Israel’s War of Independence, a new immigrant to the United States, and so much more, he, without doubt, saw and experienced the best and the very worst of life, as well as incredible and, at times, unimaginable change in the world.

Looking at only one aspect or period of a life like Yehuda Hammer’s does it a disservice. The context and beauty of such a life, of any life, can only be appreciated when we appreciate or understand its totality. The real impact of a single life can only be measured when we consider its entirety, and the many, many lives it shaped or influenced in ways great and small.

The same can be said of the life of our Jewish community. We often focus on the recent past and the present, without considering the impact and importance of the more distant past, and where this might lead us in the future. Who and what we are, as individuals, and as a community, are shaped by the cumulative impact of events and experiences, good and bad, we share. We are, as my grandmother used to say, the “product of those we associate with and that in which we participate.”

Our campaign theme in 2018 is ‘Life of Community,’ and the life of our community is defined by the contributions and experiences of those who preceded us, by the choices we make today, and by how the past and our choices today will determine our future. Our community is not static. It is a living, breathing entity, continually changing and evolving. It has ups and downs, but moves forward.

The life of our community is what we make it. It is shaped by how, and in what form, we participate with it. How we interact with one another. The life of our community is defined by the choices we make to either strengthen it, or allow it to wither. We determine, individually and collectively, how vibrant Jewish life is and will be. We determine whether the young have access to the programs, services, and opportunities that will shape their Jewish experience. We determine whether every Jewish senior lives a life of dignity, engaged in community, and appreciated for all he or she helped create.

It does not matter whether there are ten or ten thousand young people in our community, we owe it to them, to the future, to make living here the best Jewish experience it can be. It does not matter whether forty or four hundred attend a celebration of Jewish life and community, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to fund it and show up. There is no community of one. A community is a collective, a collaboration, a coming together to celebrate our past, our present, and to shape our future. It is never giving up. It is looking at the big picture, even when it is difficult to do so. It is a question of securing the financial resources, as well as one of participation – or celebration. This is how we perpetuate what is most important.

The course and nature of my life was influenced and brightened by that of Yehuda Hammer. One of the greatest outcomes of his incredible life was his son Howard, who made my life, my Jewish journey a considerably better one. This Jewish community has also altered the course of my life, impacting it in ways so powerful and positive that I am a different person because of it. This is the result of the people, their generosity of spirit, and the joy of being part of something bigger than an individual, of something important. It is the plurality of community that defines who and what we are, and the course of our life as a community. None of us are in it alone, nor should we be, and for this I am grateful – and hopeful that the best is yet to come, and that, unlike a single individual life, the life of our community will never end. This is, and I am sure Yehuda Hammer would concur, ‘Am Yisrael Chai!’ s

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