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President's Column by President Jay Hirsh

Moving Together From Darkness to Light
January/February 2023

I just received the Beth Am yahrzeit reminder for my father, Ellis Hirsh, of blessed memory. It has been 15 years since he passed away, just shy of his 70th birthday. This moment reminds me of how the Beth Am community cared for me at a time of overwhelming grief, and how I came to see the temple as more than a place to teach my children about their Judaism.

My father and I were very different people. Both of us were born in Atlanta; for him it was home, in every sense of the word, while I was a wanderer who ended up in California. As I became an adult with a family of my own, we became closer as he confided in me his hopes, fears and anxieties. When it became clear he couldn’t continue to live alone in Atlanta because of health issues, I arranged for him to move here to Palo Alto, where he eventually settled for a time at the Hyatt Vi’s assisted living apartments near Stanford Shopping Center.
I soon discovered the challenge of being a “sandwich caregiver” — someone who is simultaneously raising young children while caring for aging parents. Somehow, I managed to juggle the demands of work, patiently be my dad’s errand-runner and advocate at his doctors’ appointments, and still try to help my wife get dinner on the table at a reasonable time for our family.
With all of this going on, I wasn’t spending a lot of time participating at Beth Am. So, on that chilly winter morning when I needed Beth Am, I wasn’t even sure who to ask for. The person who called back was Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, who, like all Beth Am clergy I’ve now been fortunate enough to know, was exceptionally kind and compassionate. When it came time to have a shiva at our house, my father was still new to the area, and I didn’t know enough Jewish people to make a minyan. This is when Rabbi Yoshi made a few phone calls and within 15 minutes, there were more than a dozen congregants to pray with us and be witnesses to our grief.
This time of personal darkness eventually brought me to a place of light: our synagogue. I felt the warm embrace of the Beth Am community as I became active in Beth Am Men and got involved in volunteer projects. I experienced the unique culture of egalitarianism where we care for each other equally, imperfection is accepted and diversity is valued. I grew to appreciate the partnership of clergy and lay leaders, inspired and guided by the values of Jewish tradition, to collaborate in ways that enliven and enrich our communal experiences.

As we begin 2023 in the short dark days of winter, I encourage us to come together to create light and warmth through our mission as described by our four pillars of congregational life: worship and spiritual living; lifelong learning; acting as a caring and welcoming community; and the pursuit of tzedek.

Sun, June 4 2023 15 Sivan 5783