Nationally acclaimed rabbi encourages community at annual meeting

By Stephanie Goodling
HAKOL Editor

On June 10, over 90 households tuned in via Zoom for the Jewish Federation’s annual meeting. Federation President Gary Fromer greeted the audience, commending them for weathering the pandemic together and thanking the community for their continued support.

“I’m more proud than ever to be a Jew living in the Lehigh Valley,” he said.

Fromer then passed the screen over to the evening’s keynote speaker, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, who is one of the most quoted rabbis and thought leaders in America.

Salkin, who shared that he had visited the Lehigh Valley many times in-person, said he was “not surprised” by the success of the 2021 Annual Campaign for Jewish Needs and the ongoing commitment of the Lehigh Valley Jewish community to one another and to Jews around the world. 

“Smaller Jewish communities around the country, like Lehigh Valley, are the beating heart of Jewish life. I’ve often found in my travels that when you go to a community like the Lehigh Valley, where generations have lived, where people really have strong roots, that the attachments are deep and powerful and really have strong roots, woven together like the strands of a Havdalah candle,” Salkin said.

Speaking on the current state of Jewish life in the United States, Salkin offered a triangular image.

“One part of the triangle is the pandemic, another is sociology of American Jewry and American religion, another part is American Jewish demography. How those three parts of the triangle are constantly interacting over the past year,” he explained.

Salkin compared the transformation that the American Jewish world had undergone during the pandemic that of the way Judaism was reinvented when the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem.

“The Temple was gone and along with it, the sacrifices. They needed new places for Judaism to happen, so they relocated to home - to the table - and to the synagogue. And this year, what did we do? In large measure, we did not have [access to] the brick and mortar institutions. In order to do Jewish, we had to move back into our homes, to our tables, to our desks, too many of us to our beds. We were on our laptops, on our phones, on our tablets. We moved Judaism to the cloud, which, let the record note, is a biblical euphemism for God.”

Salkin said that in March 2020 he believed that in some ways technology would destroy our sense of community. But now, “I’m not so sure. Is it possible that the last 35 years of the development of technology were lying in wait as a test to see if we could use these tools to adapt themselves to a moment of crisis?”

Acknowledging the losses and griefs of the past year, nonetheless, Salkin was full of hope.

“It is very hard to kill our sense of what we are. In recent weeks, there have been once a day antisemitic acts in this country. We’ve never lived through this. We will survive. The real question will be in the words of the Talmud, what will we learn from all this?” he asked in closing.

The program continued with the business meeting portion of the annual meeting, including thanking all those board members who were completing their terms. Carol Fromer was also acknowledged for her two years as President of Women’s Philanthropy and now stepping into an eight-year term on the national Women’s Philanthropy board with Jewish Federations of North America. Jennifer Oxfeld was thanked through a video for her over 10 years of leading the Shalom Baby program and welcoming over 200 babies to the Lehigh Valley Jewish community. Recognition was also given to Jim Mueth and Stephanie Smartschan for their years of service on the Federation staff (see page 3 of the July/August 2021 issue of HAKOL).

Then the awards were presented, with a video acceptance speech from each recipient: Brian Ford receiving the George Feldman Award for Young Leadership; Eric Lightman receiving the Mark L. Goldstein Award for Outstanding Jewish Professionals; Dr. Bill Markson receiving the Daniel Pomerantz Award for Campaign Excellence; and Eva Derby receiving the Mortimer S. Schiff Award for Prejudice Reduction. (See the June 2020 issue of HAKOL to learn more about the award winners.)