“For Michael Patterson, “it was simple really…”
Joining Stephen Wise Free Synagogue “was the thing to do,” says Michael, who is a principal at Ernst & Young and has been a member here for 30 years, serving as president, treasurer and trustee. “My grandfather told me, ‘You have to support Jewish institutions.’ So, when my wife Suzy and I moved to the Upper West Side, we found a Reform synagogue and joined.”
Michael became Stephen Wise’s treasurer at a tumultuous time — for the synagogue and for him personally. “Stephen Wise was short on cash and I was in the process of moving to a new firm. It was a huge amount of responsibility and the future of the synagogue was truly bleak — a classic example of ‘the darkness before the dawn,’” he says.
“We had just identified this brilliant, charismatic rabbi — Rabbi Ammi Hirsch. People started coming to hear him speak, and families started to join,” Michael remembers. “The synagogue just started to grow. It was heartening to see how stable we became after a solid dose of vision and hope.”
Part of that vision was bringing our community on regular trips to Israel. Michael and his family joined one of our synagogue’s first trips — and his children Ian and Emma celebrated their b’nai mitzvah in the Golan Heights. “It was the most amazing service at Gamla, the site of an ancient Jewish city. Being there with family and such wonderful Stephen Wise congregants was a deeply meaningful experience.”
Other trips followed, and Michael joined as many as he could. “We went to Berlin and Lesbos to help refugees. We helped rebuild in New Orleans after Katrina and in Coney Island after Sandy. And here at home, we help the hungry and the homeless. What we’ve done in our community and beyond is really incredible,” Michael says. “This synagogue helped me to raise my kids — and teach them right from wrong. The creativity of our congregants, educators and clergy is humbling and inspiring. They all work so hard and do so much to repair the world.”
Now, again, “it’s darkest before the dawn,” Michael says. “COVID was a very dark time. New York City will come back out of that darkness and into the light. That’s part of what this Spring Benefit is all about: to show that we’re starting to emerge — to celebrate new life and new hope.”
On Sunday, May 23, our synagogue is honoring Michael with the Shem Tov Award in recognition of the gifts of his time, wisdom and financial support to this community. We invite you to join us — in person or virtually — to celebrate and sustain the magic of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. To register and support the synagogue, visit swfs.org/benefit.