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JFEC's 2015-16 Annual Campaign: Do Good Everywhere. From Anywhere.

The Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut is kicking off its 2015-16 Annual Campaign. Once again, we are asking for your support and generosity to make this year's Campaign the best yet! Your timely donation makes you an active participant in the vital work we do every day, everywhere there’s an opportunity—a need to help our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers around the world…and here at home. And there’s more. Much more. With your donation, you are there to…

Offer comfort and relief in emergencies from New London, Connecticut to Nepal.  You house a family after a fire in New London. You shelter earthquake victims in Nepal. You rush medicine and clean water to combat a dysentery outbreak in Tunisia. You comfort children in bomb shelters as rockets fly from Gaza and Lebanon.

And you don’t have to leave your home. You don’t have to turn your life inside out. You only have to tap the spirit and kindness in your heart to support the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut. With your donation, you are participating in "Do Good Everywhere. From Anywhere."

To read more about this year's campaign and make a secure online donation through PayPal, please click HERE.

P.S. Remember, your donation today supports hundreds of ongoing efforts, plus relief for emergency situations for Jewish communities around the world. Please respond with your donation card or make a secure donation HERE (via PayPal) by November 1, 2015.

Rabbis' Footprints in the Sand

By Armi Rowe, Special to the

One year ago, Temple Emanu-El's Rabbi Search Committee conducted surveys, reviewed candidate resumes, held interviews and then reached a consensus to invite Rabbi Scott Saulson to fill the interim rabbi position for one year. Rabbi Aaron Rosenberg's retirement, after 35 years of service, prompted this special time in Temple Emanu-El's journey -- an opportunity for the Temple to reflect on who they are as a congregation and decide collectively how they want to proceed, before settling on their next Rabbi.

I was invited to succeed a very fine rabbi and enter into a welcoming and open-minded atmosphere in an appealing part of the country,” said Rabbi Saulson, who appreciates the opportunity to explore different areas of the U.S. as well as meet new people.

As of July 1, 2015, Rabbi Scott Saulson officially assumed the duties of Temple Emanu-El's Interim Rabbi, which aside from the usual responsibilities of a synagogue's spiritual leader, includes providing Temple Emanu-El's Board of Trustees and congregation with all the rabbi transition guidance he has harnessed from his past assignments as an interim rabbi. According to Saulson, his November placement was the earliest ever, as interim rabbis typically don't receive word of their next assignment until February.

"I see how I could have done things differently with each assignment," said Saulson, who admitted one of the things he enjoys about his job is acquiring new skills.

Originally from Miami Beach, Rabbi Saulson grew up with Conservative Judaism and later affiliated with the flagship Reform Congregation of Greater Miami, where his mother's family were charter members. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Michigan, served in the Peace Corps for two years and completed a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Miami. He also earned a PhD in Semitics from the University of South Africa. Ordained a Rabbi at Hebrew Union College in 1976, Rabbi Saulson engaged people with his monthly pulpits and worked in elder care mediation while serving as Chaplain to the Jewish Community of Atlanta through Jewish Family & Career Service. Temple Emanu-El is his fifth interim rabbi assignment.

Rabbi Saulson considers several aspects of his role as an interim rabbi to be thrilling.

There is a rare kind of flourishing or excitement and reflection when a congregation is on the doorstep of a major milestone in its development,” said Saulson. “The challenges of contemporary Jewish synagogue life can come into sharp relief.”

Since his arrival, Rabbi Saulson has encouraged members of Temple Emanu-El to take advantage of the coming months as a time for experimentation and self-exploration, rather than focusing solely on the rabbi search process. At the Temple's outdoor summer barbecue Shabbat in July, he began the service by announcing, “We're going to chill for a few minutes. Just sit and relax,” as the congregation meditated to a jazz tune while sitting on folding chairs on the grass, shaded by the trees. Attended by over 100 members, the Shabbat service's unfamiliar format was met with some discomfort, however, many attendees also seemed open to different service elements offered by Rabbi Saulson.

Challenging the Temple's communication practices, Rabbi Saulson has encouraged the Board to centralize its announcement process and circulate the newsletter more frequently. He injected his mail correspondence to congregants with creativity by personalizing each note's letterhead with a unique visual and spiritual inspiration. These are just a few examples of what he has in store for congregants this year. He has been working closely with Cantorial Soloist Sherry Barnes to craft his vision for the upcoming High Holiday Services.

Rabbi Saulson believes that his job as the interim rabbi and the next rabbi for that matter, is not to attempt to fill Rabbi Rosenberg's shoes, but rather to leave “footprints in the sand.” When he leaves, the water will wash away his footprints and the cycle reoccurs.

“When the Rabbi has been there a long time, it seems as though the footprints have been concretized,” said Saulson. “But my role is to help people remember that each Rabbi's footprints were made in sand all along. The key is to see what impressions were made and how the congregation contributed to them.”

At a recent new member prospect gathering at Temple Emanu-El, Rabbi Saulson introduced many members of the congregation, described the Temple's hamish culture, explained that its successful journey currently involves the search for a new Rabbi, and assured them that the heart of the Temple was reflected in the warmth of its people and community. He wanted attendees to be seated in a circle rather than auditorium style so that everyone could see each other. The event culminated in Cantorial Soloist Sherry Barnes leading everyone in song to the tune of Debbie Friedman's Tefilat Haderech; the enthusiastic energy of members and prospects harmonized that afternoon.

As Temple Emanu-El's Rabbi Search Committee leads the congregation in their mission, Rabbi Saulson believes the key to finding the ideal next Rabbi is for congregants to be introspective now about where the Temple currently is in its journey and its desired future as a community. The next Rabbi will be an individual who will have his or her own voice, but the membership is the most important voice that needs to be heeded, according to Saulson.

"The congregation has a major role to play in determining the shape and depth of the next rabbi's footprint," said Saulson.

Rabbi Saulson currently lives in East Lyme, from which he commutes about once a month to his home in Atlanta, where his wife Diane lives and works as a clinical psychologist. He has two daughters; Raelle is 26 years old, who is engaged to be married and Aliya is 20 years old, who attends the University of Georgia. He looks forward to exploring Southeastern Connecticut's “cultural gems” such as museums and theater, including hopefully visiting Block Island with his wife during her upcoming visit to the area.

Not a fan of coffee or tea these days, Rabbi Saulson recently embarked on a self-imposed fitness challenge. He said he was not into exercise until he became an interim rabbi as he has more time for such endeavors while on the road. He prefers strolling, following an exercise regimen with a personal trainer and uses a phone app called Lose It which keeps track of his nutritional intake.

“I prefer to cook rather than eat out at restaurants,” said Saulson, who once baked brownies for a Temple bake sale fundraiser which he proudly mentioned were mistaken for the Rebbitzin's. “I make all my meals; just about.”

Armi Rowe is a member of Temple Emanu-El and serves on the Temple’s Board of Directors. 

2015-16 Young Emissaries Amit and Sagi Arrive in Eastern CT

By Marcia Reinhard, Director, Israel & Youth Programming

It is hard to believe but our Jewish Federation and all of Eastern CT are about to welcome our 15th pair of Young Emissaries. We have been hosting Israeli Young Emissaries since 2001. The Emissary program is part of the Afula-Gilboa Partnership 2Gether Program of the Jewish Agency. The Afula-Gilboa partnership has been in existence since 1994. For many of the communities comprising the Southern New England Consortium (SNEC) this was a natural partnership as they had been involved in the Afula-Gilboa region through Project Renewal. SNEC is composed of 12 Jewish Federations from the area of Connecticut (9) and Massachusetts (3).

This year our new emissaries are Amit Horovitz and Sagi Zazon. Amit lives in Ram-On, interestingly, the same Moshav as Ron Peleg who just left us. Sagi lives in Tsfat. Below are their biographies for you to read and enjoy getting to know them just a little bit before they arrive here in Eastern CT on August 27.

Amit Horovitz

My name is Amit Horovitz, and I live in a beautiful small place called Ram On, in the Jezreel Valley not far from Nazareth. I am the oldest daughter in a family of four kids. My family includes my father, Ziv, my mother, Anat, my younger siblings, Tomer, Noa, and Roy and my dog, Tamuz. I studied in Nir Ha’emek high school and I majored in chemistry, physics, math and agriculture. My hobbies include running, singing and reading.

I moved with my family to San Diego, CA and lived there for my sophomore and junior years of high school. We returned just last summer in time for my senior year and to apply for this year of service. This past year, I volunteered in a boarding school for kids from troubled families, where I helped them with their studies in the learning center and I was involved in different social events in my community. I missed being involved in a youth movement for the two years I was living in San Diego, CA, but was able to volunteer there when I returned home to Israel.

I joined the Shlichim program because I love Israel and want to share with you my own view of Israel. For the two years I lived in California and far from my home in Israel, I realized how much I love and feel connected to it. I am very excited for the upcoming year. I love working with young children and I am looking forward to meeting all of you and becoming a part of your community.

Sagi Zazon

Hello Eastern Connecticut! I am Sagi Zazon and I am the new Young Emissary along with Amit Horovitz this year. I grew up and am living in Tsfat, which is the capital of the Galilee and the highest city in the country. It is an amazing place with a rich history, amazing weather and beautiful views.

My father, David, is a manager at a hotel Qeriat Shemona, and my mother, Adina, although not working right now, is awesome pastry chef by trade. I have two brothers whose names are Matan and Itay. Matan is 25 years old and an engineer in the Israeli Air Force, and Itay completed his military service, went to school for Sports Communication and is now working at Hertz. Itay is 23 years old.

Now that you know a little bit about my family, I will elaborate about myself. I majored in theater and physics in high school and enjoyed it a lot over the years. Most of my interests and hobbies involve sports such as basketball tennis, football and soccer. Besides sports, I enjoy a lot of different video games, Maccabi Tel Aviv (basketball), music, movies, roller coasters and much more.

Over the years I took part in a lot of youth movements. As a teenager, my first youth movement was Psagot in Tsfat and I was a counselor for a year to 6th graders and one and a half years to 8th graders. I was also a part of the national, country and city school students and youth counsel but my focus was in my city because that was the place I wanted to contribute the most. I was the Vice Chairman for a year and a half and the Chairman for a year through my years at the counsel. I led a lot of projects such as movie nights, work fair and many more.

I was also in Aharii, which is a youth movement to train for the army. I was there for two years during which I led journeys as well as learned and trained a lot.

The last movement I was a part of was Cnafaim Shel Krembo which is a movement for kids with special needs between the ages of 7-21. I can proudly say that I had a main role at starting this youth movement in my city as a part of the leaders' team.

I am postponing my military service and coming over to your community for a year because this work is very meaningful for me. I want to share "my Israel" with people around the world and specifically in Eastern CT and introduce the beauty of it; the people the atmosphere, the styles, the culture - everything about this beautiful and amazing country which I love so much and is really special and important to me. I want to share all of these things as much as I can with everyone so you will know what I know. I am looking forward to an amazing year with lots of exciting challenges that will be interesting, fun and priceless!!

Hope I gave you enough little bits about myself. I can't wait to get to your community!!!

Coming to Terms with All the Faces of Israel

By Jerry Fischer

I have rarely taken the privilege of penning an essay outside of my Annual Report to the community. The events and issues facing us at the moment suggest that some framing of the matters at hand would be a good idea.

I want to start by reviewing some of the issues that you can read about in this edition of the Leader.

  • An orthodox man, for the second time, wielded a knife and managed to attack 6 marchers in a gay pride parade in Jerusalem before he was subdued. He had recently been released after serving 10 years for the same offense. A 16 year old young woman marcher died as a result of her wounds, so the man is now a murderer.
  • A Palestinian toddler died as a result of a firebomb attack on his family’s home in the West Bank. The attackers have not yet been apprehended but they are thought to be religious zealot settlers because there was Hebrew graffiti scrawled on the house and the attack came 30 days after the murder of an Israeli by a Palestinian.
  • The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the shore of the Kinneret was firebombed and heavily damaged by religious zealots from Tsfat. Two of the perpetrators have been apprehended and charged.
  • Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has issued strong condemnations about all of these events and has been threatened with death. The Israeli security forces asked him to file a police complaint, which he did.
  • The U.S. and six other nations have signed an agreement with Iran that, it is claimed, will prevent Iran from building a bomb in the next 12-15 years. The Israeli government is working very hard to encourage the U.S. Congress to disapprove of the agreement. It is a Republican Congress and the Republican leadership is very close to Prime Minister Netanyahu. There is a good chance that they will disapprove of the deal, but will not get enough Democratic votes to override a Presidential veto of their bill. Several prominent Jewish Democrats have announced, with serious concerns and misgivings, support for the deal with Iran. So have many retired Israeli military officers.
  • AIPAC and J-Street have lined up on opposite sides of this issue and are mobilizing their forces. AIPAC has devoted a great deal of money to try and get Congress to disapprove of the deal.
Some thoughts on all these very troubling issues:
  • Israel must address relations within the Green Line (Israel’s borders prior to the Six Day War) and insure that LGBT, Moslem and Christian citizens of Israel will be given the same protections and rights as Jewish citizens and that the state will mobilize all its resources to protect all citizens.
  • The one man who used a knife to attack the marchers in Jerusalem’s Gay Pride march was orthodox, but he was one man. We should not tar all of orthodoxy with the sins of this one man. The Orthodox chief rabbi of Israel condemned the attack, and condemned homophobia. But we should not turn our eyes from the fact that Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, studied at the orthodox Bar Ilan University and the perpetrators of the arson attack studied at a Yeshiva in Tsfat. The Orthodox educational system, in all its multi-sectarian varieties, must do an accounting of how they are producing people who cannot follow the simple commandment “Thou shall not kill.” And all Israelis must demand that.
  • In the territories Israel will have to confront a system of justice that seems to harshly punish Palestinian perpetrators of violence but does not respond with equal diligence to Jewish law breakers.
  • The emotional tone of the debate in America over the Iran agreement must be turned down. Accusing those who support the agreement of not being “Pro-Israel” or accusing those who oppose the agreement of blindly following the dictates of the Israeli government does not leave room for a serious and dispassionate look at the agreement and the other options that may or may not be available to America, Europe, Russia, and China, or to Israel. We are not dealing with a weak and helpless Israel. We have, thanks to the great sacrifices of many Israelis, and to the strong help of the United States a very strong Israel, both militarily and economically.
  • Iran has obscured the one challenge that Israel cannot easily overcome, the challenge of the Palestinians. This must be addressed. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pre-election promise that there will be no Palestinian state established on his watch needs to be walked back not only in word but in deed.
The recent Mission to Israel reinforced for me and for all that joined me the importance, vitality, and strength of Israel. But Israelis, and I believe, Palestinians, do want peace. As a mother of one of our Young Emissaries said to her sons and me “A bad peace is better than a good war.” We should keep that in mind as we deal with all the issues presented to us by recent events.

Jerry Fischer is Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern CT.

JFEC Solidarity Mission to Israel a Success!

The JFEC Solidarity Mission to Israel departed on June 28 and returned on July 14. Every one of the five participants (Nancy Butler, Renee Kohanski, David Kohanski, Marcia Reinhard and Jerry Fischer) in addition to the two community members who joined us for the flights but visited with families (Fay Clymer and Marcia Wolman) returned inspired and transformed. Click HERE to read in detail what was experienced!