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2016-08-26 digital edition

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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.


August 26, 2016  RSS feed

Text: T T T

Explaining PJ Library to a 3-year-old is a difficult task

Emilie Socash

When a very young Hila asked “Where are these books coming from?,” I took the easy way out. I answered, “Alissa Fischel is sending them to you.”

At the time, Alissa was the Tampa JCC director. She was a fixture in Hila’s life, given that Hila attended the Tampa JCC preschool. Hila knew and adored Alissa, and it was the easiest explanation.

Six years later, in preparation for a move, Hila said, “Boy, Alissa sure sent me a lot of books,” as we packed up about 75 of the cherished PJ titles.

When we were preparing to depart for last week’s “Book swap and BBQ” event at the Largo Cultural Center, I told Hila and Sophia that the Federation was asking that we donate back any PJ Library books that they’ve outgrown. I feared that the two would pitch the entire shelf, but was thrilled when I heard them poring over each title. I could hear from across the house, “Not Golem’s Latkes! I love that one,” and “Absolutely not Mrs. Greenberg’s Messy Hanukkah!” “How did we end up with two copies of Jacob had a Little Overcoat? Oh I love that one!”

Ultimately, we brought back about a dozen of the titles, mostly those that were for the particularly young. All in all, 239 came back, which the Federation will redistribute to the temples and preschools as well as make available through a lending library for grandparents, those new to town, and anyone else who might wish to request them.

The girls and I were just three of more than 100 people in attendance, and went through the usual face painting, snow-cone eating, and tzedakah box making that is inherent to many Jewish family events. But one of the biggest differences was in a project that was the brainchild of our Director of Philanthropic and Collaborative Entrepreneurship, Elana Gootson: the Family Tzedakah Kit.

She proposed giving families a beautiful tzedakah box that would do more than collect dust on a display shelf. And considering that transactions of all kinds are so easy in our lives – we can spend hundreds of dollars on Amazon with just a few screen taps; we can have our charitable gifts be automatically billed to our credit cards; we can support people around the globe through GoFundMe – it’s no wonder that we’re having a tough time modeling philanthropy. These easy ways of spending money do little to teach our young ones about tzedakah. To that end, she, together with our other creative Federation team members, put together a Family Giving Pledge, asking families to consider where they are going to put their tzedakah box, when they’ll contribute, and what they will support.

A priority in our community is education. We certainly have our challenges and history, but we all are joining together to ensure that education is at the center of our radar, this year and into the future. In fact, education is the most important thing that we, as a unified Jewish community, can do.

Our PJ Library program and young family events are just one way that the Federation is participating in educational efforts. We’re also tackling the big community questions, considering if it’s possible to revive a summer camp program or institute and after-school environment. What do our adults want from lifelong learning, and how can we – as a cooperative and collaborative community – work together to fulfill the needs of everyone?

On Dec. 24, 2015, I had breakfast with my friend and TOP Jewish Foundation trustee, Louis Orloff. I’ve known Louis for years, first meeting up to talk about his vision for what would become the Sylvan and Jean Orloff Memory Support Unit at Weinberg Village. I think it was somewhat symbolic that we sat side by side at the window bar at St. Pete Bagel Company, talking about our vision for a financially sustainable Jewish community, about the state of Jewish education and family life, and how we were going to revolutionize our Jewish tomorrows. We talked about our community’s need for adult education, teen programs that teens actually want, after-school programs to make Jewish experiences convenient for modern families, transportation services needed, how the business of building Jewish community could be more efficiently managed (and save us a few dollars), and how the role of the Federation in a community like ours must be stretched to its limits – and then stretched a bit more.

We’ve continued this conversation with great energy and occasional consternation, and together with a broad group of other community leaders, are launching a task force on education for all ages under the tentative name “Lamad Center: Learning, Making, Doing.” “Lamad” itself means “to teach” in Hebrew; I find it particularly meaningful that the “Lamed” letter is both the tallest letter in Hebrew and, in place #12, is at the center – or heart – of the alphabet. Even the spelling of the word “lamed” is thought to be short for lev meivin da’at, or “A heart that understands knowledge.” How apropos!

This is an exciting time in our Jewish community, and I invite you to be a part of it. Our first Lamad Center community forum will be held on Sept. 22, and we’d love for you to join us. Just drop me a note for more details.

In the meantime, I asked Louis to jot down a few of his thoughts on Jewish education. He engaged an oft-used quote (“I have seen the enemy, and he is us”) in contemplating the changing landscape of what we’ve come to call our “Jewish Consciousness.” On page 7, please find his unique perspective that is spurring on a dynamic new conversation in our community.

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