A House Built by Hope

A post by David Fetterman, advisor to the Board of Directors

A House Built by Hope is a story about the Holocaust, compassion, and community and a stand against institutional racism.  It is a film about a small Jewish community in Connecticut, where I grew up.  It was special in part because many of the families were Holocaust survivors.  The synagogue, now an historic site listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the community gave them hope for a new life, in stark contrast to the atrocities they witnessed and experienced in the concentration camps.  The video is a product of the Temple Beth Israel Preservation Society.

The story differs from many others in that it highlights the support and compassion of the larger non-Jewish community.  Community members donated money and auctioned livestock to help this new fledgling Jewish community build a temple and worship according to their faith.  They welcomed people who were different on the surface, practicing another religion with unfamiliar customs.  Many spoke another language.  All too many were tattooed with numbers as permanent reminders of the inhumanity they had experienced first-hand.

It was a time when Jews were under attack and the moral order of the world in question. However, as Norman Berman, former President of the Society, explained while introducing the premiere of this documentary film and its historical context: “Anyone with a sense of decency, anyone who cares about history and truth (both of which are under serious attack these days) knows that the Jew is not the cause of problems any more than the Christian, the Muslim, the feminist or the immigrant.  They know that the Holocaust was real, and that the real problem is hatred and intolerance, antisemitism, racism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia – all stemming from ignorance.”

This film shares a story of particular poignance in light of the death of George Floyd, the African-American man killed by the police in Minneapolis.  In the spirit of the Preservation Society’s mission, they have issued a clear statement in support of social justice and against racism.

We grieve the loss of George Floyd and so many others whose names we know and so many more who are unknown to us.  We firmly believe that America’s racial and religious diversity is its strength and that we are weakened by our failure to appreciate, respect and celebrate that diversity.  Our mission at the Preservation Society is bound up with the fight for tolerance and civil rights and against discrimination and racism.  WE STAND with all who grieve.  Today, we renew our commitment to confront injustice and to continue to work for a more just and beautiful world.  

This film is a story of hope and what we as Americans aspire to be.  This 30-minute film, accompanied by a curriculum guide that is being developed, will be used to educate high school students, teaching them about religious freedom, tolerance and understanding.

Board of Directors’ Executive Committee members providing guidance concerning these efforts include Paula Rosenberg Bell, Evert Gawendo, Rosa Drobiarz Goldblatt, Sheri Abrams, Joel Rosenberg and Norman Berman.  My mother, Elsie Fetterman, helped secure support for these efforts from the Daughters of the American Revolution and a Mass Humanities grant.  Jim Lescault, executive director of Amherst Media, produced the film.  Simon Leutz, Amherst Pelham Regional High School, is leading the effort to create a cohesive curriculum to accompany the film.

WE STAND

The Temple Beth Israel Preservation Society is here today because our parents, grandparents
and great grandparents fled persecution and discrimination and found sanctuary in America.
We are fortunate that our families were welcomed to this country and the Danielson
community. We know, however, that America’s history of racism and segregation and injustice
remain sources of great pain and are a blemish on the promise of a free and just society.

We grieve the loss of George Floyd and so many others whose names we know and so many
more who are unknown to us. We firmly believe that America’s racial and religious diversity is
its strength and that we are weakened by our failure to appreciate, respect and celebrate that
diversity.

Our mission at the Preservation Society is bound up with the fight for tolerance and
civil rights and against discrimination and racism. WE STAND with all who grieve. Today, we
renew our commitment to confront injustice and to continue to work for a more just and
beautiful world.
Temple Beth Israel Preservation Society
Danielson, CT
June 2, 2020

What to Do in a Time of Pandemic

We cancelled our Community Seder.  We suspended our programing.  We have turned to Zoom for board meetings and rituals.  We are experiencing isolation, separation from friends, organizations, programs and entertainment.  Culture, information, social connection have all been squeezed into a narrow bandwidth – delivered by cable, internet or wireless signals.

For some of us, the break in our routines has focused our attention inward.  Relieved of our usual schedules, we suddenly have time and opportunity to reflect.  How did we spend yesterday, last week?  Are we making the most of this pause in life as usual?

In spiritual tradition, it is called “living counted hours.”  A ‘counted hour’ is an hour lived on purpose.  Whether we devote the next hour to introspection, spending time with loved ones, reading, exercise or binge watching something on tv, we might just take a moment to consider whether we have made that hour count.  Living counted hours can add up to living counted days.  And with the passage of each day, as we take a page off our conceptual wall calendar, we might consider whether that day gets tossed in the trash or whether it has value.  Counted days become “days that count.”

At the Preservation Society’s last board meeting, we asked “what can we do to help?”  We decided to encourage members to donate to three local food distribution organizations.  That is a start.  We will continue to ask that question and we’re confident that there will be many answers that will count.