Dear OJC Family,
Lately I have been thinking a lot about an experience of waiting out Hurricane
Gloria in my apartment in New York City many years ago. I lived in the Chelsea district on a high floor with big windows and views of the Hudson River. It was a really nice place to live most of the time: during a hurricane, not so much. I was, at once, exhilarated and anxious and off-balanced. My room mates and I spent the morning taping the windows with big X’s to secure the windows against the high winds that were coming. Back in the 1980’s (pre-Sandy) that’s what served as hurricane prep (for city dwellers).
As the all-news radio told of the impending landfall of the storm, that unique mix of emotions and feelings were imprinted in my mind. So much so that I still, after many years, recall them vividly. While Gloria was a Category 2, the experience in Chelsea, did not disappoint; the sky darkened from bright mid-day to almost night, the winds howled, the rain pelted against those big windows that rattled from the winds battering them. After several hours sitting a good distance from the windows, I had what was for me, an amazing life experience. The eye of the hurricane came with abrupt, unexpected light and calm. I knew it wasn’t over, but I was so moved by the power and beauty of this force of nature. The rest of that once-in-a-lifetime experience will have to wait for another time… and, yes, it does include a rainbow.
This is where I feel the OJC is now. We are in the eye of the hurricane that is the Corona Pandemic. The OJC is not a Chelsea apartment but, in my mind, we could be a ship on the sea during this storm. The Pandemic arrived with darkening clouds of doubt and fear. We made an abrupt change in course to avoid the worst possible consequences. We battened down the hatches, trimmed the sails and prepared our ship for the brunt of the storm. We did not go below to wait out the storm; we steered into the wind and prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.
This is a good analogy for me; I hope it is for you. In real life terms, we reacted quickly to ensure the safety of our congregants. We watched as the virus began to affect our Rockland and OJC community in mid-March and we limited access to the OJC. We made difficult decisions to cancel or postpone the celebrations and programs that mean so much to our congregation. We began to assess the early impact of the Pandemic on the health of our community, on isolation from our families, our friends and our fellow congregants. We began to assess the early impact and the potential long-term impact of interruption of our normal business activities, and the early and potential impact on our long-term financial stability.
We changed on a dime. Even as we planned and executed the shutdown of the OJC, we were envisioning novel ways to keep our congregation safe, secure, and connected to the OJC.
In the interest of keeping the emphasis of this communication on where we are now, I will save the chapters about how the efforts and activities of our clergy, staff, trustees, volunteers and community helped to steady the ship, pointed us into the wind, and bring us to the eye of the storm in good shape for a later time. It would not honor their commitment, dedication and their amazing work to rush through the details of their efforts and the expression of gratitude and love.
Yes, these efforts have brought us through the initial onslaught of the storm in good shape and have given us the time to calmly and carefully assess our course forward and to institute measures to help us emerge at the end of the storm intact and sea-worthy. We want to emerge able to move forward with growing our congregation, providing our community with the support to recover and thrive and we want to learn from and enrich how we do those things based on how we planned for and reacted to the storm. Repairing damages that we could have prevented by careful planning and adjustments is not in our vision of emerging from this storm.
That approach means we have had to and continue to make difficult decisions to ensure our financial health. Although the magnitude of financial impact of the Pandemic and economic crisis are difficult to predict, we must assume that there will be some challenges. Our revenues will be impacted. Some of the most difficult but most essential decisions, course corrections, that we have had to make are in asking our staff and our community to make sacrifices during these challenging times to ensure our financial health and stability. Without having to ask, our Rabbis, professionals and staff have worked tirelessly, with great energy and drive, with innovative ideas and with a calm resolve to weather this storm. Beyond that, these members of our community have agreed to a very meaningful 10% salary reduction to help us prepare for the predicted and potential loss of revenue that supports the OJC. I fully realize what this sacrifice entails, and I fully realize what it says about the dedication and commitment of these members of our community to the health of the OJC. To honor this sacrifice and make sure it endures for the briefest time possible, we plan to re-evaluate the continued need for the reduction every 4 months. As soon as our financial status allows, we will re-institute full salaries.
That same dedication and commitment to our community and the sacrifices that it asks is also our obligation, our commitment, as a community of Jews who believe in and follow the values and traditions that have preserved us through other storms and worse times. The OJC survives and thrives because of our community’s willingness and ability to ensure our financial stability. For the OJC to be there, to come through the storm, we all must rise to the obligation. That means financial support through dues and donations, as well as supporting, comforting and carrying the members of our congregation that are in need. As we approach the holiday season and look to a new year while sailing through the eye of this storm, how will we help see us through; how will we steady the ship, how will we hold the course and adapt to the changing seas?
In the next days and weeks, more details of our plans for the Holy Days, more plans for our re-opening, and more plans to ensure our financial stability will be shared. I am confident that, due to our amazing staff and community, we will emerge from the storm better for the trials and challenges it has placed in our way. I also believe that for now, this is our new normal. We are in the eye of the storm and we are not ready to drop the anchor in safe harbor. The impact of the Pandemic and financial crisis will continue until we emerge with tattered sails and some minor leaks. We may have to navigate by sexton and not radar. We will find safe harbor and we will be together in community.
“The wise man in the storm prays to God not for safety from danger but for deliverance from fear. It is the storm within which endangers him, not the storm without.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.” Mahatma Gandhi