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2015-08-14 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 © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


August 14, 2015  RSS feed

Text: T T T

The problem with positions

“What’s your position on the Iran deal?”

That’s probably the leading buzz-kill line at any cocktail party, dinner event, or social interaction these days. But it’s not just the topic of Iran that invites a potential positional faux pas. What about a two-state solution? Or the level of kashrut at Federation events? Or women’s reproductive rights? Or the 2016 elections?

Sure, you might be willing to take a position, but would you really take a stand?

As an illustration, let’s look at another hot-button issue: gun control. Personally, my position on the matter is somewhere between mild caution and tempered concern. I recognize this is an issue of affliction that needs to be addressed. Continued shootings and data on the dangers of handguns definitely shape my position and cause me great worry, yet would I be willing to take a stand on gun control?

Solpersteins – literally “stumbling stones” – encountered on trip to Germany. Solpersteins – literally “stumbling stones” – encountered on trip to Germany. Taking a stand can be a lot harder than it looks.

A few weeks back I was sitting across the desk from Sarah Cohen Gotlieb, executive director of Temple Beth-El, when in the midst of our summer-recap conversation she abruptly said, “Wait – you took your family on vacation to Germany?” Apparently this was an unexpected and noteworthy choice.

While in Germany, I was struck by what I perceived as the absence of Jewish community. Sure, we saw the Neue Synagogue in Berlin, and here or there the occasional kosher deli or art exhibit. But what we saw more of was the complete and utter sense of a past-tense Jewish community. From the Berlin bike tour of Third Reich and Nazi landmarks to the cemeteries littering every small and charming town with plaques commemorating their long-ago existence, Germany screamed out “The Jewish people were here!” Over the course of a dozen days, I saw little to reassure me that the Jewish people are here.

Months before our trip, I had coffee with one of my Tampa Orlando Pinellas Jewish Foundation trustees, Steve Marx. Steve is someone who I consider a dear (but perhaps not always near) friend, one who is always doing interesting stuff and has a lot of wise and witty things to share. He told me about these “stolperstein” (literally, stumbling stones) that he and his wife Merrill had discovered on a recent European vacation. The stones are small brass plaques that commemorate one person at one address who was murdered in the Holocaust.

That conversation came roaring back when we were in Wiesbaden on the eve of our older girl’s 11th birthday, having just completed a delicious dinner at a vegan Indian restaurant.

The girls were still on a sugar rush from the unrestrained consumption of Fanta, and my lips burned from the assorted sauces I had mopped up with naan. We paused in a doorway on a side street, looking down at 5 brass plaques embedded flush with the sidewalk in front of a plain wooden door.

“She was only 11.”

The words tumbled out of Sophia’s mouth. We had already visited Hitler’s bunker and the Berlin Wall, passed by graffiti that read “F--k Israel,” and stood in the shadow of the last standing wall of a train station which transported 50,000 Jews out of the city in the final days of the war.

All of it came down to that one square. This one 11-year-old girl. A girl who took a stand, together with her family, in the very place we stood, and lost.

In the past month, I’ve been honored that so many of our community members have shared their positions with me on various issues. Marvin and Linda Feldman shared their position on engaging the youth (we’re just not doing enough) and Deena Silver shared her position on community priorities (focusing on supporting families in need, particularly kids). Ron Diner outlined his position on the role of the Federation (as convener of the community), while Mike White and Sue Heyman told me their position on getting more community members involved with the Film Festival (significant synagogue involvement and outreach). Steve Schwersky detailed his position on a successful JCRC (communitywide involvement and positive, proactive advocacy) and Marilyn Oxman gave me a sense of what the older adults in our community really want (opportunities to join together for social and intellectual fun). And in each case, each person didn’t just have a position, but was willing to take a stand.

There are definitely data that would indicate that the German Jewish community is on the upswing, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling upon my return that I am so very thankful that Jewish life across the counties of Pinellas and Pasco is very much in the present-tense. I’m proud to be a part of something in which so many individuals not only take a position, but truly take a stand – as leaders, volunteers, learners, doers, and givers – for the things that matter to all of us.

While it won’t be my general practice to dedicate these columns to specific people, I hope that my mention of Steve Marx will serve as an honor. He’s not just a player in my understanding of stolperstein, but also is a case study in how to take a stand and act upon it, and I will long remain in his debt for the legacy he has built of speaking up for what is right.

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