By Rabbi Jeffrey M. Arnowitz
“Welcome to Westchester, Rabbi Arnowitz.” It is something people have been saying to me since the beginning of March, usually with a wink-and-a-nod or a roll of the eyes. “I can’t believe you have to deal with all this in your first year,” is another popular refrain I’ve been hearing. I appreciate the sentiment and the gratitude many of you have been expressing. I am glad I have been able to provide some comfort, spiritual healing, and guidance during these difficult days of COVID-19. It is good to feel that I am fulfilling my goal of sharing Judaism to make things meaningful, even under these difficult circumstances. Still, I can’t help but feel I am the lucky one here.
The Westchester Jewish Center really is a remarkable synagogue community. First of all, we couldn’t possibly be helping in all the ways we are if Rabbi Segelman had not spent the last 33 years building such an amazing community with its values in all the right places. I am so grateful to him and to Marla to be part of the sacred community they envisioned and created, and I am so looking forward to honoring them at the Virtual Spring Gala on May 17 at 4:00pm (register now at wjcenter.org/gala).
Next, one of the immediate challenges I recognized when we were forced to close our doors was the need to keep us feeling together as a WJC family. It turned out to be easier than I’d expected, because of the incredible dedication and talents of our lay-leadership and membership. It has been nothing short of astounding to witness the ways folks have stepped up—from the steady and calming leadership of our president Seth Schafler to all of our officers, trustees and committee chairs who have kept things happening virtually and in preparation for a freer future—you should be proud of yourselves, I am certainly proud to be your Rabbi. The tight-knit fabric of the WJC family has allowed us to implement successful services and meetings every day, enabled us to provide many classes and Torah learning opportunities, found new ways to stay connected, and even empowered us to host some of the events we are missing like yoga, scotch and study, and of course, the Gala. We expect to continue to offer services and programming as long as is necessary and I am so grateful to all of you helping us make it happen.
The next question was what we will do to support our members who are facing new challenges to their health and basic needs. Our SOJAC volunteers and Bikur Cholim committee did not miss a beat—we have provided food and medicine to families who otherwise would have had to compromise their safety to get it themselves—there are more of these than you might imagine. Dozens of Passover meals were distributed prior to the holiday. Hundreds of phone calls have been made to check in with every member of the WJC family and extra check-ins for those at higher health risks, and we continue to support everyone in every way we can. Please let us know if you are in need—there are those in your synagogue family who really want the opportunity to do a mitzvah and help you out!
Lastly, none of this would be possible without our incredible staff who have adapted to distance working incredibly well. They are keeping the shul running even while the building is empty, making sure that their fellow employees and that all of us are cared for and connected with. We are so lucky to have the best professionals around. I, like all of you, can’t wait to “get back to normal” and return to the regular running of our shul. In the meantime though, I will never forget my first year at WJC, when I learned how blessed I am to be the rabbi of this unique and amazing “Center of our Jewish Lives.”