When I think of Temple Emanuel, I think of my past, present and future. We moved to Florida and to this temple when I was four years old, which means I’ve been attending Purim carnivals in Berkowitz Hall for over 30 years. So much of my childhood centered around the temple, and the activities in which I participated in over the years – making bagel and lox boxes, building a wailing wall out of cardboard blocks, Israeli festivals – brought me so much joy. My most important element of my past were my friends I made, and the highlight of my high school career was attending USY conventions. We so looked forward to the conventions we attended, and we even had the opportunity to host a post-convention at Temple Emanuel, and so many of our temple members hosted teenagers in their home. The Lakeland chapter of USY had a reputation for being close-knit and intensely loyal, and all the other chapters wanted to emulate us.
Fast forward a few years, and the temple was still central in our lives. We hosted my parents’ surprise 25th anniversary party here, and almost 13 years ago my husband and I were married under a chuppah in our sanctuary. Several months later, four days after I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I learned that one of my temple friends had passed away. It’s something I’ve never gotten over, something I still never will get over. And once again, my temple friends and I banded together to make a memory book about her for her mother.
Now I have two children and being Jewish and having Temple Emanuel is even more important to me. I know how it was for me growing up and often being the first Jew someone had met. Unlike many other Jews living in Florida, I did not grow up in the northeast and have the experience of having a large Jewish community. For that reason, I’m used to explaining what Judaism is, and I don’t get offended by having to do so. However, it’s nice to come to a place where you don’t have to explain. It’s nice to come to a place where you have found community, a sense of belonging and Yiddishkeit.
Once in graduate school, my teacher led us through a relaxation exercise where you had to feel in your pocket and pull out something that was a symbol of where you have been and where you are going. For me, that symbol was understandably the Star of David. That’s what I want for my children, and for all Jewish children at Temple Emanuel.