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By Tanya Hochschild


In a few short weeks we will welcome Rosh Hashanah, which marks the Jewish New Year 5781. We will recite the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, “Who will live and who will die,” which at this time becomes prescient.

We are living through an unprecedented pandemic that has changed our lives: COVID-19 appeared in the early spring; almost at the same time a second crisis – civil unrest – erupted, resulting in a world-wide movement to fight against hatred, bigotry and racial injustice.


The Bat Yam Social Action Committee co-chaired by Garry Weiss and Annette Pacyga hosted the successful 2020 Social Justice Series on Zoom. We thank them for bringing to Bat Yam Temple of the Islands and the Sanibel community three impressive voices, all involved in efforts to bridge the racial and ethnic divide. Rabbi Capers Funnye’s Zoom event was on July 30. Rabbi Fuchs was the moderator.


This session had more than 100 participants. Rabbi Funnye leads African-American Jews at Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew congregation in Chicago. He spoke about the realities of Black Judaism. 


Gwyn Gittens, Lee County School Board member, spoke about “Racial Justice in Education” at a well-attended webinar on August 13. She currently serves on the School District 5 Advisory Council, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, and the Instructional Calendar Committee for 2020-21.

The third and final speaker was local activist Chantel Rhodes on August 27. She helped organize and lead protests in Fort Myers against police brutality and racial injustice. Rhodes, who lives in Fort Myers, has been involved with human rights campaigns her entire life. She first joined the Black Lives Matter movement while studying to get her master’s degree at Georgia State University in Atlanta.  


In addition to their commitments and work in support of racial and immigrant justice, the Social Action Committee organizes, with their UCC counterparts, the monthly food and paper drive for F.I.S.H. They would welcome volunteers every first Thursday of the month. Thank you again Garry and Annette and your committee members for your valuable contribution to Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.


Thank you to our Bat Yam Technology Committee, who, in the days before Zoom became an everyday happening, set up Friday night Shabbat Welcomes, Saturday morning Torah studies and classes, and Wednesday “Virtual Coffees with the Rabbi.”


We all remember Passover and the well-attended Bat Yam Annual Meeting, in which 68 congregants participated from as far afield as Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York and Ohio.

By July we were rocking the technology, and that is when Alan Fisher stepped in and suggested the 2020 Summer Speaker Series. He invited his friends to speak on subjects of their expertise.  “Surviving the Pandemic Mentally and Spiritually” on July 9 featured Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, psychologist Matthew Zilboorg and licensed clinical social worker KatherineZilboorg. Judy Adler moderated. The well-attended meeting provided valuable insights and practical recommendations.

Ken Ross, son of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, spoke on July 15. His topic was “On Life and Living, and Death and Dying.” Tanya Hochschild moderated. Kubler-Ross’s innovative philosophy about death and dying and her hospice work made such an impact that, often, other issues she was passionate about got overlooked. She was one of the first people in America to speak out about AIDS. Her life was motivated by her conscience and an innate sense of compassion.


A popular program was “Tales from our R.V. Journeys,” on July 23. Participants were Ed and Nancy Greenberg, Carl and Sandra Greenbaum and Corey Rosen. They shared their travel experiences, stories and beautiful photographs.

The grand finale of the series was “The Importance of Art as Social Commentary,”featuring painter and social activist Myra Roberts and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Walt Handelsman. Once again, Judy Adler moderated. Thank you to Alan Fisher for bringing such a high level of conversation into our living rooms. At the best of times the programs would have provided thought and discussion. More so now, while we isolate during COVID-19.


These successful webinars garnered huge interest. A member of the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties Board attended some of the webinars and asked Bat Yam if we would open up our program to the wider SWFL Jewish community. Most of the programs were recorded, and we sent links so others could watch.


Bat Yam activities were constantly in the press: an article about the Holocaust Torah was featured in Times of the Islands; Bat Yam debuted a new series about area synagogues in L’Chayim, the Federation newspaper of Lee and Charlotte counties; and articles continue to appear regularly in local Sanibel papers.


As we long for a virus-free time, we will never forget this past year, and so are extra appreciative of the strong leadership of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands. We thank especially the board and all the committees.

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs and Cantor Murray Simon will be leading us into the new year. We follow them with gratitude and optimism, thankful to be here and to be a part of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands.

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                                                     Tanya Hochschild


L’Shanah Tovah! To a sweet, happy, healthy and peaceful New Year! The 2020 High Holy Day services led by Rabbi Stephen Fuchs and Cantor Murray Simon, with piano accompaniment by Abigail Allison was conducted live and joined virtually by congregants and friends worldwide.


The 125 people attending Bat Yam Temple of the Island’s Rosh Hashanah virtual services were greeted by a Zoom split screen. On one side, the appropriate page of the Mishkan HaNefesh prayerbook and on the other, the clergy in the sanctuary. Rosh Hashanah could not have come at a better time. It is the holiday celebrating new beginnings, the anniversary of Creation, the wake-up call of whom we want to become in the new year.

There is not a person who does not want to put the last months of COVID-19, of lock-down, of social distancing and a summer rife with social injustice behind them and celebrate new beginnings.  Physically we understand we are stalled but psychologically we embrace a new year, a clean slate, an idea of a future.

We are able to entertain the idea of a future by preserving our tradition, our heritage that is handed down from the past. Sharing the service preserves these traditions. Through our togetherness we experience the strength of our religion.


On Rosh Hashanah Eve it was wonderful to see familiar faces, beaming “hellos” from their homes. We shared the optimism that a new year could bring renewal, to be together to hear again the continuous narrative of our story. To proclaim, “Today the world is born.”


And then, at the start of the service we received the news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a woman of valor, a great Justice. The deep sadness on the congregants’ faces was palpable. In these bizarre times we were collectively bearing another loss, one that felt personal.


It was comforting to be with our rabbi and our cantor and to absorb strength from the wisdom of the service. A highlight for all of us was to hear the cadence and strength of the shofar sound, being blown for the first time by a congregant who had volunteered her services. This was also a first for Temple Bat Yam of the Islands as this honor has traditionally been fulfilled by a male. It was no mean feat to produce melodic strong blasts from the notoriously difficult ram’s horn.


After the morning service on Rosh Hashanah, a socially-distanced group met at one of Sanibel beaches, in what has become our Temple’s traditional Tashlich service.


Our Tech team had cameras and audio, so the 10 minute service led by Rabbi Fuchs could be shared virtually. Bags of shells, “our sins” were available to be cast into the gulf. Atonement is not that easy to achieve, merely to throw your sins away and hope they are carried off by the water.


Ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, known as Days of Awe, as well as Days of Repentance are for the purpose of repenting, praying and giving charity, in the belief God will keep us in the Book of Life.


This year, 2020, the pandemic has made us anxious about the fate of ourselves and our loved ones. It has highlighted in an alarmingly vivid way, our fragile mortality, similar to the message of Yom Kippur. At the resolution of the day we find our way back to life.


This is our fervent wish with regards to the pandemic; when the virus disappears we can look forward to once again celebrating life.  

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