Reflecting and Learning from 2015

I must admit I am happy to bid “good riddance” to 2015.

As an optimist, I certainly try to start each day, week, month, and year hoping to share good news, good health, and good times with my family, friends, and community.  And I want to feel that way as we begin the new secular year.  But I carry with me scars from this past year which shape how I view the year ahead.

Israel remains in the forefront of our minds and occupies our thoughts and prayers.  In 2014, my phone constantly vibrated with the “red alert” of yet another round of countless rocket attacks.  In 2015, I feared each day receiving the latest JTA alert confirming this year’s new wave of terror from knives, cars, and guns.  Yet, we can all take some solace from the solidarity and spirit of the Jewish people, exhibited in the recent wedding celebrated by the Israeli nation following the murder of the bride’s father and brother.

From the terrorist attacks in Paris in early January to San Bernardino in December, the horrors of terrorism experienced by our brethren in Israel have become a global reality for all of us.  Safety and security of Jews and Jewish institutions must now take prominence in our communal planning.  Expertise and resources will be required, as well as fortitude and resolve which the Israeli citizenry exhibit every day.

Unfortunately, the public discourse this year turned to be filled with conflict and divisiveness almost on every issue.  Within our community, the Israeli election and the intense debate over the Iran Nuclear Deal generated an unprecedented level of animosity and disrespect.  And the political rhetoric in the U.S. undoubtedly will only intensify among both political parties as we finally enter the presidential election year.

Seemingly lost amidst the acrimonious debates was any sense of “kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh”, which my Rabbi Shmuel Goldin interprets as “all of Israel are intertwined and interconnected with one another.”  At its General Assembly in November, JFNA’s President and CEO, Jerry Silverman, said it best, “We need to put aside politics, and put our energy into building bridges through dialogue, civil debate — and I emphasize civil — focusing on shared goals and mutual responsibilities toward one another.”  We may not always agree, but we must find the discipline to tolerate and include diverse beliefs and points of view in the consideration and discussion of today’s and tomorrow’s pressing issues.

Many felt this year’s heartbreaking loss of Ezra Schwartz z”l, which struck very close to our family.  My kids knew and admired Ezra as both a camper and a counselor at their summer camp in New Hampshire.  My son served as a CIT for Ezra’s younger brother this past summer, and my daughter had Ezra’s sister as a counselor two summers ago.  While visiting this incredible family in the wake of their pain and loss. the conversation focused on the power and impact of the camp experience – for Ezra and for many of those visiting – and served as common reflection and bond.  One particularly poignant moment:  a young 8-year-old camper who had Ezra as his counselor this past summer came with his parents to share his appreciation for Ezra’s outstanding efforts.

Finally, this past week our Englewood community suffered the wrenching loss of a four-year-old boy, Evan Levy z”l.  There are no words to express the sadness we feel for this young family and which permeated the over-filled sanctuary.  Evan fought his cancer so bravely.  We can learn much from the joy and smiles he carried with him each day, the many fans he engendered throughout his journey, and from the strength and dignity of his immediate and extended family.

As we reflect and learn from our collective experiences in this past year, all of us in Jewish communal life can learn much from how we handle the adversities we face.  Only by working together, sharing different perspectives and approaches, will we be able to achieve our common purpose.  For me personally, I do hope the memories of Ezra and Evan will serve as examples of living joyfully each and every day.

Despite these reflections on 2015, my optimism remains as we enter 2016 with high hopes.  We are all intertwined and we share in good and tough times.  We must remain vigilant in supporting Israel and in protecting ourselves and institutions.  We hope all of our discussions and debates can be open, tolerant, and respectful.  May we all hug all of our family members just a little longer and fully appreciate the many blessings we have.

May we share a more secure, more peaceful, and more joyful new year.

About the Author
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he had a highly-regarded 20+ year career in Consumer Packaged Goods, beginning at General Mills, Inc, then at Campbell Soup Company, where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. In 2005, he was recruited to serve as CEO of Manischewitz.