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2015-07-17 digital edition

TODAY in the Jewish World:

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


July 17, 2015  RSS feed

Text: T T T

And now, a few words …

Emilie Socash
Executive Director, Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties

There’s one thing that you must know about me: I love words. I love reading them, I love writing them, I love chewing and mulling and digging into what a collection of words is really trying to convey. For those who were able to join us on June 29 for the Federation Annual meeting, you saw firsthand this love in my discussion of what some of Billy Joel’s lyrics have to do with building Jewish community (keep reading for a synopsis below).

It was this same love that got me so excited last December when I discovered the PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge. It presents 50 challenges to put the reader through the paces of branching out from his or her regular reading routine. Since I tend towards being a bit of a myopic reading snob, I thought this would allow me to approach my love of words in a new and exciting way.

Within the challenge? “A book your mom recommended.” “A book with bad reviews.” “A book written by an author with your same initials.” “A book with a oneword title.” And so on.

As of this writing, I have completed 24 of the 50 challenges. “A Pulitzer-Prize winning novel?” Check: All the Light We Cannot See. “A Trilogy?” Check: Youth in Revolt. “A Memoir?” Check: I am Malala.

I’ve read books I was delighted to conquer (Judy Blume’s adult piece, Summer Sisters and Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder) and even ones that were more of a slog (The Maze Runner, and The Historian). Despite the duds, I continue to find the challenges compelling, rewarding, and a road map for my logophilia.

In the Jewish community, could we use a similar inspiration to branch out, mix things up, and tackle new challenges? We could develop our own list, replacing reading prompts with tasks that would truly transform the Jewish landscape. We could even go so far as to call it the PopHalvah 5775 Jewish Community Challenge. A few of the possibly “challenges” come to mind immediately.

Some might be lighter in attitude: “Shake your lulav at Sundial” or “Organize a Sisterhood-Brotherhood dance-off.” Perhaps some let you stretch your legs as an advocate: “Write a letter to the Tampa Bay Times in support of Israel,” “Lead a holiday lunch-and-learn at your workplace,” or even “Read PJ Library Hanukkah books at a local library.” Once you get your wheels turning, I bet you can add to this collection.

But the saying goes, “A community is too heavy to carry alone,” and these individual activities are only part of what it will take to move our community forward. We need to also take a communal approach, tackling the bigger challenges on the horizon.

What would the challenges on that list include? Perhaps “Initiate a communitywide summit on Jewish leadership and fundraising best practices,” or “Drive a collaborative innovation grant to engage larger numbers of families in Jewish identity.” Maybe we would “Make a crystal clear connection between the work of our agencies and the generous donors who support them,” or “Double Jewish Press subscriptions across Pinellas and Pasco Counties.”

…or “Launch a tech-savvy program connecting our Jewish youth to those in Israel.”

…or “Infuse Jewish arts into community education.”

…or “Become a model for community planning, overseas programmatic support, Israel advocacy, and young adult engagement.”

What would you add to this list?

As I’ve been pecking away at the Reading Challenge, I’m able to tick off about one challenge per week. The context of the 5775 Jewish Community Challenge won’t likely allow for such a rapid pace, but the actions that we take collectively over the course of this year will lay the groundwork for steady and aggressive work toward these goals. Many of these topics are ongoing concerns: they have been clinging on for some time, and are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

If you joined us on June 29, you heard me discuss the chorus to the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

In the chorus, Billy Joel sings that the “fire” has been burning “since the world’s been turning,” and that even though “we didn’t light it, we’ll try to fight it.” I likened that song to the quote by Rabbi Tarfon, which reads “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.” In both cases, the message is the same: we may not be able to complete the challenge, but it is our duty to try. Will you join me in pursuing the 5775 Jewish Community Challenge?

I am proud and honored to be stepping into the role of executive director of the Federation, and to serve as a community resource in addressing our community’s challenges and celebrating our successes. I will continue to write a regular piece within the Jewish Press of Pinellas County, and hope that this spawns an active dialogue with community members just like you.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this piece, I encourage you to stay in touch with me: simply email me at and ask to be added to my “Reader’s List.” Once I’ve added you, you’ll get an email from me with bonus links/content to the most recently published column and a glimpse at the next topic to be published as well as a few links to interesting articles and news items shaping our Jewish community and worth considering. I’ll also list in there when and where I’ll be doing ongoing community meet-and-greets: casual sessions where I will be at a selected coffee shop or restaurant for a specific window and would love to meet you. This will give you a chance to get to know me a bit better, and for me to hear from our community members.

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