More than 250 devices tuned in to the first virtual and 53rd annual Young Israel of New Rochelle dinner on May 17. Gary and Rachel Berger were guests of honor and Yvette Finkelstein received the Distinguished Leadership Award.
Early that morning, over 200 homes received dinner packages of a catered three-course, reheatable dinner, a bottle of wine and a jigsaw puzzle of a recent picture of the shul building. Later, the honorees appeared on their front lawns for a community drive-by and received mazal tov wishes.
“In February, Michael and I wrote the presidents’ letter for this year’s dinner journal. We wrote with pride of the minyanim, classes and programming we all enjoy together in our shul building and then the world changed,” remarked Judy Friedman, YINR executive chair. “In the past two-plus months, we have been tested, ill, quarantined, isolated, reported on, inconvenienced and stressed. Our lives have been turned upside down. We made Purim and Pesach without shul, and. for many of us, without family.”
Friedman added, “There have been many bright moments. Volunteers sprouted up all over. People keep coming up with new ideas of how we can help each other. We chatted endlessly about food, grocery shopping, children, food, parents, chesed opportunities, masks, food, news reports, taxes, plasma, antibodies, and food. We chatted with people we didn’t know before and made new friends. We have made each other laugh. We have been there for each other. The YINR dinner is a time to celebrate our shul and volunteerism.”
YINR President Michael Raskas singled out two participants, Mayor Noam Bramson and Assembly member Amy Paulin. “In March, when our synagogue and our city were feeling beleaguered and constrained, we had two very strong and close friends who were there to assist us. They advocated on our behalf with the state and county health departments. They answered our calls at any time of day and late into the night.”
Mayor Bramson noted, “Every part of our city has been impacted. Young Israel of New Rochelle has borne the heaviest burden. You were first to face this crisis and in the glare of the national spotlight. The strength, resolve, maturity and compassion with which you met this challenge is all the more remarkable. People throughout New Rochelle of every faith have been inspired by your example, determination and moral responsibility. Paulin added, “This community is a wonderful example of perseverance in the face of adversity.”
“We are gathered at a virtual dinner,” said Rabbi Fink. “The word ‘virtual’ is an adjective describing something almost as described but not completely. Virtual means to exist in essence but not in actuality,” he continued, “In terms of this dinner, the food is more than almost food; it is food in actuality. The warmth of friends and loved ones is real. It’s palpable. There is more to virtual than meets the eye. It allows for creativity and ingenuity. It forces us to look for ways to make things real. We have seen in these few months, in our shul community, acts of kindness, courage, heroism, leadership, and many very real human sentiments and responses.”
“‘Virtual’ challenges us to become more real.” he added. “I have been overwhelmed by the goodness demonstrated by our community. How proud I am to be the rabbi of this community. My pride in you is without measure. Having this dinner, at this time, is critical. It sets a vital and serious message of resilience in the face of difficulty and strength at a time we realized the fragile nature of the human body. It is a challenge of pursuing life fully at a time when many essential activities have been curtailed.”
Rabbi Axelrod added, “These past months, the center of our life has continued to be our shul. The basic forum for finding information, whether food, medical care or how our friends and family are doing, has been our shul.”
In conclusion, Gary Berger expressed, “We know this a crazy way and crazy time to have a shul dinner but, as Rabbi Fink has said, part of our healing phase has to be a return to some kind of normalcy, like picking up with the dinner where we left off in March.”
Rachel Berger added, “This community has been a great place to live and raise our children, but these last few months have really shown who and what we are. Let’s look forward to staying Young Israel of New Ro’ Strong for many years to come.”
By Judy Berger