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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.


September 11, 2015  RSS feed

Text: T T T

The name game, or just call me Joshua

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

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Our friend Shakespeare said it best: regardless of what we’re named, we are just as sweet (or acrid). For my nerdy, economics-loving readers out there, we know this was proven true by Dubner and Levitt in their early Freakonomics work when they tested what role a name plays in an individual’s success. Spoiler alert: names have nothing to do with it, but it’s really parental involvement, books in the home, and cultural experience. In other words, take your son named Stupid or your daughter named Temptress to the museum, read to them every night, and generally stay involved in their developing lives, and you’ll all probably be fine.

My name and its unique spelling was the brainchild of my mother, a surfer girl who married her high school sweetheart in the late 1960s. She grew up in Simi Valley on a steady diet of short skirts, juice containers as rollers, and fast cars. The doctor had assured my parents that I would be a boy, given my slow and steady heartbeat, and they had settled on the name “Joshua.” As they drove to the hospital, my mother, in the haze of labor, panicked that they had not chosen a girl’s name.

The Bob Newhart Show had been on the air for three years at this time, and my mother was a regular viewer. “I want to name the baby Emily!” she panted, inspired by Bob Newhart’s fictional wife (played by Suzanne Pleshette). My father hated the name, but humored his wife and trusted medical science would prevail.

The punch line isn’t so much that my father never got his Joshua, but readily admits that he still doesn’t like my name. And the spelling? Mom thought it would be “pretty.”

I’ve always gotten a kick out of this story. The meaning of Joshua is “savior” or “deliverer,” and the meaning of Emilie is “industrious, hard worker” (in fact, I occasionally list this on my resume as a personal selling point). Was it just coincidence that my name matches my inner drive? Looking to the next generation, does my younger girl Hila behave as she does because of her name’s meaning (aura, energy) or in spite of it (would she have ever lived up to Hannah?)

The name of our organization – the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties – is a mouthful for sure. But each word within speaks to what we really are.

Jewish. Everything we do is under the umbrella of Jewish values. Our fundraising and community programs, our interactions with organizations, our internal operations all exist within the context of tzedakah, tikkun olam, and chesed. Whether we’re celebrating our successes or dealing with the occasional unpleasantry, we consistently treat each matter with the dignity and respect that our tradition emulates.

Federation. Merriam Webster defines it as “an organization that is made by loosely joining together smaller organizations,” or secondarily as “the act of joining together separate organizations or states.”

Our Jewish “federation” is a concept borne from necessity. Some century-plus ago, the federation system was created to attempt to help donors in the community know that their donor dollars were going where they were needed most, and to help organizations focus on the fine work they were doing in the community (and have to worry less about making ends meet and being expert fundraisers). We haven’t strayed too far from this mission, and in the last hundred years or so we’ve expanded beyond fundraising. We’re still answering the question “What is Federation?” but I find it exciting that we can work together in an ever-evolving purpose. Our response has been that we’re so much more than fundraising: beyond financial support of the community, we also seek to train and prepare tomorrow’s leaders; provide opportunities for stronger connections to Israel; respond to local matters affecting the entire Jewish community; get young families connected – in any way – with the Jewish community; and be the best partner we can to all Jewish causes in our region.

It’s far from a perfect science, as many would agree. But even with the challenges, it’s imperative that we live up to our name of being a federation, representing and welcoming all.

Pinellas and Pasco Counties. The region we serve is vast: Pinellas County encompasses 280 square miles, and our Federation’s side of Pasco County (which we service together with the Tampa Federation) adds another 370 square miles. The two counties together have more than 1 million residents, more than 700 miles of coastline, and at least eight clothing-optional parks and living communities. Pinellas is unique in that it is the second smallest county in Florida, but the most densely populated.

Luckily, our small-but-mighty staff doesn’t have to go it alone in reaching the entire region: we have a growing band of volunteer leadership willing to help build and strengthen our Jewish community wherever they may live. One of the most critical roles that our volunteers play is introducing their friends to the work of Federation and saying “acharai” – join me in building our Jewish community, today and tomorrow.

As we know from Freakonomics, it doesn’t particularly matter what your name is: your volunteer service to our Jewish community (whether with Federation or another organization) will speak volumes and you will “smell just as sweet” and that name may just be inscribed in the Book of Life.

If you are interested in getting to know me and our Federation a little better, please join me at my next open house on the town, on Monday, Oct. 19 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Simply stop by craft café (6653 Central Ave., St. Petersburg): coffee’s on me!

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