7.31.20 CEO Letter

by Jenn Ross

How do we focus on the positive, hopeful aspects of these challenging times and block out the noise of the polarizing anger that increases our already heavy burden? I struggle with this personally at times and work hard to quiet my inner angry and frustrated voice.

I have felt fortunate to have been able to embrace and focus on the upsides. I’m currently intentionally reading Station Eleven, a fictional novel suggested on a list of interesting pandemic tales. I have also encountered many outbreak story lines while watching TV series produced well before COVID became a threat.  Although, this public health crisis is a very real and serious threat, these fictional accounts I referenced have been so monumental that they make our “new normal” challenges seem like a walk in the park by comparison. As frustrating as it can be altering plans moments after they’ve been implemented, it is comforting knowing that we have the ability to work towards the future, albeit a different one than anticipated at the beginning of 2020. 

There are many positive signs I see every day and ways I seek inspiration.  By bringing positive moments to the forefront, we can move past the current challenges and also focus our attention on solutions.  Here are just a couple of reflections that come to mind currently:

I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of each edition of The Welcome Mat, a new email newsletter from Rabbi Friedman and KI members, introducing us to many new people who have moved to our community and reporting exciting activities such as the news that Harrisburg will have a kosher restaurant-- The Vegetable Hunter in downtown Harrisburg will be kashered soon! 

The opportunities for online learning and entertainment have been endless and many were free during the closure. Although the libraries were closed, their access to ebooks was plentiful, so I had an opportunity to read a couple books and also started a hard copy of Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander, an author who spoke at Temple Ohev Sholom’s Rose Symons Annual Book Review several years back. I will conclude that book after finishing Station Eleven, which came up on my queue on my ebook loan.

I will begin studying with fellow Community Relations Council directors under the leadership of esteemed female colleague Maharat Rori Picker Neiss of St. Louis’ JCRC. She has invited us to participate in a Hartman iEngage course entitled “Together and Apart: The Future of Jewish Peoplehood.”  In preparation for our first discussion, I’m watching a video entitled “From No Home to Two Homes” and can already tell that this was the right decision for me.  I will share more about this in the months to come.

This ongoing education and reflections help uplift me and prepare me for difficult moments.  Tablet Magazine recently published a disheartening article about the future of Jewish institutional life.  When it was shared with me, I stood by my vision in my June 19 article about a vibrant future in Harrisburg and said that will not be our future.  Even though my article was written with rosy glasses, underneath them I had the full awareness of the challenges now and ahead. 

The strengths outweigh the obstacles because of all of you. Whether in person, or on Zoom, or behind a mask at a store or at the JCC, or your kind emails, your commitment to this community shines through and gives me strength to move forward together with you.  When I get past the minutia of the logistics and breathe out the stressful moments, glimpses of our future together appear.  Presently, the phrase “new normal” is viewed with distaste, but we can work towards building a future normal where we can focus on what we have gained instead of what we have lost.

On that note, congratulations to our two new educators in our community: Jason Graf who is the new Religious School Director at Temple Ohev Sholom and Hilary Greenberg who has been appointed as the Gesher Director of Lifelong Learning at Beth El Temple and Chisuk Emuna Congregation.  Both have very impressive credentials and I look forward to getting to know them and working with them in our community.  Thank you to Lillian Rappaport and Rabbi Ilyse Kramer for your incredible service to these congregations and the countless people you both educated.  Lillian’s postponed celebration honoring her decades of service will certainly be an exciting event to look forward to in 2021.

Please let me know your thoughts for the present and the future. I can be reached at j.ross@jewishfedhbg.org and 717-236-9555 x3104. Be well!