Message from the President
President Barry Fulmer
I was going to start this column with a warm welcome to fellow congregants, guests and friends as we enter the High Holy Day season after a long and climate-warming summer. But as I began to write, terrible news reports started coming through about yet another mass shooting, this time at a Walmart in Texas, by another avowed gun-toting white racist nationalist (soon to be followed by a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, motive not clear at the time I’m writing). Another, another, another…and it became impossible not to first reflect on this increasing threat to America, which is to say, of course, a threat to us as Jews.
Rabbi James Rudin was kind enough to lend me a recently published book entitled Behold America, The Entangled History of “America First” and “The American Dream” by Sarah Churchwell, an American professor of literature and public understanding of the humanities at the University of London, UK.
Churchwell covers in great detail the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, white nationalist supremacists, American fascist black shirts (who, according to Churchwell, carried a banner in an Atlanta march, proclaiming, “Back to the cotton patch—nigger—it needs you; we don’t”) and the German American Bund, all spreading their hate and xenophobia during the end of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century.
At the height of its power, with millions of members and supporters nationally, the Klan dominated local governments in five states and targeted at least six other states for political control while many politicians remained silent in the face of the Klan’s onslaught.
Churchwell warns that “the enemy of democracy is authoritarianism in the many guises Americans had been discussing for the previous thirty years [meaning 1900-30]: tyranny, yes, but also special interests, corruption, plutocracy and oligarchy, crony capitalism and corporatism, and the various forms of rising totalitarianism, as tyranny went corporate.”
She affirms that “Every generation would have to fight the battle anew; every generation would find ordinary Americans called upon to resist the impact of authoritarianism, to reclaim the democratic dream of liberty, equality and justice.”
Of course, none of the conflicting struggles about which she writes is new, especially after white nationalists have committed mass murders in this country and abroad. According to
FBI statistics, there have been eight mass shootings in the United States since 2017 in
which the shooters espoused white supremacist views. Yet, the president has said that he does not see white nationalism as a rising global threat.
So, whether we soon come together for our High Holy Days for meditation and introspection on Sanibel or elsewhere, and pray for a better year in our personal lives and our society at large, the traumas and lessons of the past are ever present with us. The old challenges remain, only dressed, if at all, in slightly different clothing. Sadly, Faulkner’s often quoted statement, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” is as true today as when he wrote it in 1951.
Cheryl and I wish you all a meaningful and contemplative High Holy Days, full of the awareness, courage, health and strength needed to face personal and societal challenges in the coming year.
President, Bat Yam
With the seasons’ change, life in southwest Florida slows down. It is beneficial to look back at some of the highlights that brought much happiness and inspiration, but also the events that reminded us of sadness, loss and the dark side of human nature.
Saturday morning classes had presentations that enlivened our spiritual and intellectual interests, some about famous and not so famous Jewish women, Jewish poets and poetry, medicine in the Bible and in Iran, researching Jewish ancestry, the history of Jews in Florida and Albany, New York, and yes, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
We also had for the first time a film presented at Temple Bat Yam by the Jewish Federation of Lee and Collier Counties as part of the Federation’s annual Jewish Film Festival. Attendees filled Fellowship Hall with a much higher attendance than organizers anticipated.
Undoubtedly, a major highlight of the year was the “Sanibel Celebration: Three Cantors and a Pastor” concert which filled the sanctuary to standing room only, with outstanding singers and musicians performing to rave reviews. As a fundraiser, it was also a success.
Also on the bright side was the celebration of the Bar Mitzvah of Ben Uslan, the grandson of two of our congregants with instruction and encouragement by Rabbi Fuchs. While the Bar Mitzvah was a rare event for Temple Bat Yam, it demonstrated the warmth and welcoming nature of the congregation and the willingness of the Temple to expand its services.
But not all was smiles and Simchas. We lost five long-time members -- Miriam Bailey, Roselyn Kraus, Barry Litofsky, Phyllis Pachman, and Linda Weissbluth. And most disturbing this past year was the terrible tragedy in Pittsburgh in October 2018. As a consequence, for the first time, Temple Bat Yam decided to use the Sanibel Police Department to provide ongoing security for our services, programs and events.
There was also compassion and hope. Temple congregants began a grief support group to share in the grieving process for those suffering a personal loss, but also for those wishing to offer support. The Temple’s Social Action Committee leaders, ever hopeful of making the world a better place, decided to focus on how to help improve immigrants’ lives. In view of the United States government’s harsher actions making it harder for this nation to welcome the stranger, the committee began to organize an effort to help educate refugee and asylum seeking immigrants about their legal rights.
The United States is certainly not alone in experiencing ignorance, intolerance and hateful acts. Almost daily reports in reputable news sources speak of the horrific attacks against mosques in New Zealand by a far-right extremist; Islamic extremist attacks against Christian churches in Sri Lanka; Hindu government targeting of Muslim and Christian groups; Buddhists persecuting Muslims in Myanmar; and the reports go on and on.
Tribalistic extremism and hate of the other know no boundaries.
Yet despite the ignorance and intolerance in the world, it is a hopeful sign when people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds can journey together with respect and the desire to increase their understanding of each other’s heritage.
Bat Yam and Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ exemplify that joint journey, both in the programs we share and work on during the year and the Israel trip our congregations will experience together in the coming days as I write.
We look forward to a year of renewed hope and inspiration. Cheryl and I wish everyone a happy, healthy and safe summer.
L’Shalom, Barry Fulmer
It is an honor to have been chosen to be your next president. In a way, like Simchat Torah, we are at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. The past years under Alan Lessack’s leadership have seen renewed vitality, an increase in membership, and greater involvement between our temple and our friends in the SCUCC. For me, personally, Alan has been an inspiring mentor and teacher, and above all, a good friend. He will be a hard act to follow, but I look forward to the challenge.
It’s hard to believe, but twenty-eight years ago, while vacationing on Sanibel with our young son, Cheryl and I saw an ad in the local paper mentioning the start of a Jewish congregation on the island. We were here for only a few days President Barry Fulmer and could not become involved then. Many years later, in 2011, when nearing retirement and having more time to spend on Sanibel, we decided to attend services at Bat Yam and were immediately welcomed by congregants. Wonderfully, this has marked our experience here ever since. I look forward to the continuation of the warm and welcoming atmosphere at Bat Yam that has helped the temple be such an inviting place, attracting new friends and visitors.
There are so many other qualities of Bat Yam that make it very special. We have members from a great variety of professional, business, and academic backgrounds and from diverse parts of the country and the world. I’ve always been impressed that our community respects the views and ideas of each and every one of its members even when there are differences among us. We value civility in our discourse. I welcome your ideas, involvement and support.
I want to thank Rabbi Fuchs for his inspiring leadership, outreach to the larger community, both on Sanibel and elsewhere in Southwest Florida, his active support for those who are less fortunate than so many of us, and the caring he has shown to those who have been ill and in need of comfort. Appreciation goes to Cantor Simon for his joyful chanting of prayers and songs on Shabbat, holidays, and other events. Last year, he presented a special program on famous cantors of the twentieth century. This year he brought together a wonderful musical extravaganza of amazing cantors and other musical performers. It can truly be said that the audience filled the sanctuary up to the rafters to enjoy the recent concert.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank the generosity of June Rosner and the Leo Rosner Foundation for coming to our assistance by helping to fund various programs, including that for Shared Scholar, the recent cantors and a pastor concert, and security expenditures.
As I write this, our annual Passover Seder at the Community House organized by Annette Pacyga and Lois Lorsch is approaching. It will be a meaningful experience. The Israel trip led by Rabbi Fuchs and Pastor Danner will leave at the end of this month. We all wish those from our congregation and members of SCUCC a safe, educational, and inspiring journey. I know we look forward to hearing stories about their experiences after they return.
Your board and officers, along with dedicated volunteers and the financial backing of many congregants, have kept our temple, the Daughter of the Sea, chartered on a course over steady seas. Hazak, hazak, v'nithazek. Together may we be strong and strengthen each other in the years to come.
L’Shalom, Barry Fulmer