A Serendipitous Florida Shiddach

A chance meeting of the leaders of two vibrant Jewish organizations has resulted in the development of a mutually beneficial relationship.

by Michael Brassloff

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This past fall , the FJMC’s executive committee held its quarterly meeting at the Hilton Altamonte Springs. At some point during the weekend, FJMC Executive Director Rabbi Charles Simon was introduced to Aaron Weil, who was attending a gala at the same hotel. Weil, the executive director and CEO of the Central Florida Hillel, mentioned that his Hillel was looking for two Torah scrolls. Rabbi Simon then assigned the task of finding those Torahs to Charlie Deutch, a vice president of FJMC’s Florida Region whose daughter had been very active in the University of Central Florida Hillel. It was Charlie who had orchestrated the meeting of the three men.

It turned out that two Palm Beach County congregations – Temple Emeth, Delray Beach, and Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach – were in the process of merging, resulting in the creation of Temple Torat Emet. Charlie Deutch, an active member of Temple Torah, contacted his rabbi, Edward Bernstein, Ritual Director Elliot Fagen, and it just so happens, his wife, Cheri Deutch, past president of the congregation, asking whether as a result of the merger there might be a Torah that would need a new home. He was thus able to secure the “permanent loan” of a Torah for the Central Florida Hillel. So now, the search is on for one more Torah! When the leadership of Temple Emanu-El in Palm Beach learned of Central Florida Hillel’s needs, they provided an ark to house the Torahs.

The letter that follows provides additional insight into how the efforts of the FJMC, its constituent clubs and individual members make a significant impact on the Jewish community.

Good Morning Rabbi Simon, Charlie et al,

I am thrilled to share with you that Charlie’s efforts have produced the first Torah and we are working now with Temple Torah on the necessary documents to insure and transfer the Torah.

One of the requirements is the ability to secure the Torah in a safe and appropriate space. Through Sam Friedman’s (our new director of community relations) efforts, we are securing a new donation of a beautiful ark that will be coming to us next month. This stunning wood and stained glass ark is built for two Torahs and Sam will be sending Charlie that letter you requested, in the next day or so. Rabbi Simon, true to your word and yet to my utter amazement, I am now happy to say that I share your confidence that we will indeed be able to secure a second one, not the least because we have such a strong leader like Charlie in our corner!

I admittedly knew all too little about the FJMC prior to our meeting, but want to assure you that this interaction has left an indelible mark on me going forward. If the Rothschilds were able to reach such levels of influence across Europe (beyond their “brick and mortar banks” due to their network of relationships), I can see how the FJMC is similarly not limited to the confines of any given shul.

Thank you for opening my eyes to this, thank you so much for opening this network to us in the Hillel world. At a later date, we indeed should explore how to curricularize this relationship in a manner that educates our students for years to come on just how they came to have access to their own Torahatot.

How fitting that college students from across Florida and the nation who are gathered at UCF will now have torah because of the men of the FJMC. It calls to mind the ladder of tzedekah where among the highest form is indeed giving anonymously to those who receive anonymously.

I think that we can do honor to this tradition, while still using this an an opportunity to educate our young men about the FJMC so that when they are older and ready to take their place as congregants somewhere that when FJMC comes calling, they understand the opportunity, the obligation and the joy.

Michael Brassloff is is a member of the editorial committee of CJ:Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism.