This will be my last column as president of our Jewish Federation. I want to first say how much of an honor and privilege it has been to serve our community.
It is impossible not to reflect on your time and experiences during your tenure in any leadership role. To be honest, I wish I could have done more. For two years much of our time has been preoccupied with the pandemic. In addition to figuring out how to safely operate the JCC and its important programs, we had significant financial issues to grapple with.
First, I am so proud of the team of professionals that work for the Federation. They are so committed to the importance of Jewish life in New Haven. I was inspired by their continued efforts to find ways to bring community together during these trying times. I will forever be grateful for the work they do every day.
Second, I want to tell you all how fortunate we are to have Gerry Barker take over as our next president. He has been on our board for many years and understands the importance of a strong Jewish community and I have no doubt he will be an incredible leader for our community.
Finally, we lost a wonderful man the day before I wrote this column: Tzvi Rappaport. For those of you who did not know him, he taught at Ezra for many years and ran the religious school at B’nai Jacob for years after that.
I got to know Tzvi when my oldest daughter started religious school and built a relationship with him over the years as he educated my other three kids. My relationship with him deepened during my tenure as president of the synagogue. He was like the pied piper of Jewish education. His love and passion for teaching young people and others about Jewish history, music, prayer and Israel was contagious.
I will miss him, but our community will miss him more. We need more people like Tzvi. For the Jewish community to thrive, we need more of us who embrace Judaism, who love being Jewish as much as Tzvi did. We need people who love Israel and who understand what the idea of a Jewish State means to Jews around the world. There may be debates about Israel’s policies, and people may disagree with one another, but Israel is a safe haven for Jews around the world. It is a beautiful country with a rich Jewish history dating back thousands of years.
When Tzvi spoke about Israel you could hear his deep love and admiration for the history, the people and the innovations it the Jewish state has provided to the world. We truly lost a wonderful man and educator.
With the backdrop of ever increasing antisemitism coming from both the right and the left, it is not surprising that we don’t have a lot of Tzvi’s around. However, I truly believe that now more than ever we all need to harness our inner Tzvi. To combat the hate, I think we need to lean in to our Judaism; to express our love and passion for Judaism; and to support our community with our voices and our dollars.
Thank you again for the opportunity to serve our community. I look forward to more opportunities to be together as we emerge from the pandemic. Have a wonderful summer!
Dr. Steven Fleischman
President, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven