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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.


 

October 23, 2015  RSS feed
Federation

Text: T T T

Symbolism

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

“Wait, your Lion pin looks different.”

I can always count on Natalie, our Foundation associate at the Tampa Orlando Pinellas Jewish Foundation, to be an eagle eye. I had what my grandmother would have called a “sinking feeling,” that moment of dread and mild yet unnecessary guilt, briefly worried that something was wrong with the golden Lion that hung around my neck. The sensation was something akin to the day I tried to wear (the forbidden) blue mascara to school. My grandmother’s eagle eye caught me that day, too.

What Natalie noticed was far less objectionable than eye makeup: over the summer I changed my pin’s community symbol to the curvy menorah that our Federation uses, after wearing it for the past eight years with the blocky and angular menorah sported by Tampa’s Lions of Judah. The main portion of the pin – that of the Lion and its bejeweled paws, brushed body and textured mane – stayed the same, but the small symbol indicating which community I affiliate with changed.

For the uninitiated, the Lion of Judah pin is worn by women who give at least $5,000 to the Federation’s Annual Campaign. It is an outward symbol developed and adopted in 1972 by several generous women out of Miami and remains an international symbol of tzedakah and sisterhood. Each community adopts its own symbol: Cleveland Lions wear the Lion with a representation of the Federation building (that makes the Lion appear to be carrying a suitcase); Dallas Lions wear their pins with an exceptionally large outline of the state of Texas with their Lion (because everything is bigger in Texas).

Some of our women joke that these are the most expensive piece of jewelry they own: not just for the metal value and continuing addition of stones over years, but as a reminder of the investment they have made over time to their Jewish community. Mine has become an ongoing symbol of my deep and generous commitment to the Jewish community of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

If you’re a fan of Dan Brown (the guy who we can thank for The Davinci Code and other Tom Hanksesque thrillers), you’re probably as fascinated with symbolism as I am. In the arts, we can opine on why an artist selected a specific image, metaphor, color, or even turn of phrase: symbols of a greater message, a code to be broken, an intent expressed. Each day, we adopt countless symbols of our own that express the code of our lives.

My wedding ring symbolizes the bond between myself and Shane, while my other daily-worn ring is a love knot and was made for me by my younger girl, Hila, symbolic of that very special tie between mothers and daughters. Sometimes our symbols are in what we wear beyond jewelry: dresses are worn to board meetings, jeans are worn on Fridays, yoga pants are worn to yoga (and please, nowhere else). A middle-aged man driving a specific car sends a symbolic message. We’re surrounded by symbols, both positive and negative: the ties that presidential hopefuls wear at the televised debates, the spray-painted swastika, a head covering.

Earlier this week, our Federation Leadership Council met to discuss various and sundry topics affecting the community as a whole, and to identify ways that the Federation can show support. I shared with the group a new mapping tool that can be used to visualize where our community members live and can distill the data in a variety of dreamy ways: we can show pockets of our community with young kids, or determine how far someone will travel to visit the Florida Holocaust Museum, or how far and wide the Jewish Press is distributed. Through this tool, we hope to symbolize the reality of our community.

During the course of the meeting, our conversation turned to how we make sense of the atrocities unfolding in Israel right now. As I write this, the Tomb of Joseph has been set ablaze in the last 12 hours, and far too many Jews have been brutally stabbed and attacked in Israel. Rabbi Ed Rosenthal of the HIllels of the Florida Suncoast was kind enough to offer sage wisdom, noting that we must continue praying for peace. A symbol of our people is this hope, our HaTikvah, for peace worldwide.

The first Jewish job I held was with a reconstructionist synagogue in Los Angeles, Ohr HaTorah. I was fascinated at the central role the “Ohr” portion of the name played, the symbol of the flame. The fire that burns in us all, the flicker of light that it provides, the ability to be everlasting with the proper fuel. Similarly, the Lion pin can bear the flame – the Ohr latid – indicating the eternal, perpetual gift created by a Lion to make permanent her annual gift.

At the Lion of Judah lunch, Deena Silver, the Lion of Judah chair, quoted Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in her opening remarks, saying, “If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?” This concept of bettering ourselves, of looking to tomorrow, of fanning that symbolic flame so it may light the way for our children, is one of the most recognized symbols of our Jewish collective. No matter where you fall in your connection to the community, your level of observance, where you give your money and time, this caring about our communal future is a hallmark of our very existence. This symbol transcends geography, time, space: we are who we are today because of those who came before us, and our children will inherit their today from our tomorrow.


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