I have wonderful memories of growing up at Temple Emanuel. Of my grandmother, Bea, who loved books and worked hard to build the Temple library; of constructing a “Noah’s Ark” out of twigs and Popsicle sticks in that same education building as a small child; of listening to the beautiful voice of Leila Diner as she sang at the High Holiday services, while giggling along with her daughter (and my bff), Cheryl; of watching proudly as my brother Jon — and later my own sons — were Bar Mitzvahed here. I know what it’s like to have strong roots and to be part of a long history, and to know that there’s a firm foundation for Jewish life in Lakeland.
But I also know what it’s like to come into a new community, knowing no one. As the wife of a career US Air Force officer, my family moved every couple of years to a new town, and the first thing I would do was seek out the synagogue. Sometimes, there wasn’t one, and the small Jewish community would meet in temporary offices for the holidays. When we lived in Wales, I sat upstairs with the other women in the old wooden building that housed the orthodox congregation. My children attended their first Sunday school with other Jewish military families in the Florida panhandle. And my oldest son had his bar mitzvah in the beautiful Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I know how important it is for newcomers to find a spiritual base, where the prayers and rituals are ancient and familiar, where one can find the continuity of l’dor v’dor. So while it’s easy for me, and for the other congregants like me who have a long history here, to love Temple Emanuel and to want to see it flourish, what I wish is for the new arrivals in Lakeland to find a Jewish home here. I want them to feel the same sense of belonging within these walls that we “old-timers” do, and to make their own memories, and to be comforted that their Jewish home in Lakeland is strong and enduring.