Gershwin, Guggenheim, and of course, our synagogue’s founder and namesake: Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. These are some of the giants on whose shoulders we stand and who are now at rest at our Westchester Hills Cemetery. Among them lies a lesser known, but equally noteworthy man: Sidney Hillman. A true Jewish leader, he helped shape our country — but he died 75 years ago. In fact, the deed to Hillman’s towering stone mausoleum is owned by the labor union he championed. “The memory of the righteous is a blessing,” says the Book of Proverbs. It’s up to us to keep his memory alive.
This has been a difficult year, full of immeasurable loss and so much sadness. “The hardest part of this pandemic for us, as clergy, has been to witness the enormous pain and suffering of so many of our congregants,” says Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch. “We felt the fear, anxiety and grief even more because we were thinking of all the people in our community who were suffering,” Rabbi Shira Gluck echoes. And with the isolation of social distancing, “we lost the physicality of mourning and the comfort that comes with it,” Rabbi Samantha Natov says.
How do you build Jewish identity? That’s the question at the heart of Rabbi Rena Rifkin’s work at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue’s Religious School. And with the release of the Pew Research Center’s most recent survey of Jewish American adults, it’s been on the minds of quite a few Jewish educators.
It’s a tradition for our Early Childhood Center’s 4s and 5s children to act as mentors to the younger students — they are “the big kids” after all. This year’s graduating Leevloov class took that role very seriously, finding creative new ways to fulfill their obligations despite the limitations on gathering with other classrooms.
Cantor Daniel Signer is as comfortable singing 18th-century classical liturgical repertoire or leading the congregation in traditional Hasidic or Sephardic melodies as he is performing Jewish pop a cappella with Six13 or singing roles with the Yiddish theater. The third cantor in Stephen Wise Free Synagogue’s history, he joined our congregation in 2006.
That word “family” says it all. One beautiful October day in 2001, I walked through Stephen Wise Free Synagogue’s big double doors and my life changed forever because I met you. How contrived is that? But it’s true!