American historian Deborah Lipstadt speaks of “Oy” versus “Joy” in the last chapter of her latest book on anti-Semitism, “Antisemitism: Here and Now” (2019). Lipstadt writes that it is critical for the future of the American Jewish community to focus on building upon the joyful elements of Judaism, and avoid the temptation to focus entirely on fighting anti-Semitism. As the Jewish community increases security measures by locking synagogue doors and posting security detail, it is imperative to avoid also unwittingly (metaphorically) locking entry to the joys of synagogue life to the Jewish community. Increased security at our synagogues must not also mean that we limit entry to the joy, light and love of Judaism.

The American Jewish community also cannot afford to further limit access to the joy of Judaism to our non-Jewish neighbors. Interfaith dialogue and efforts must be doubled as we seek answers of how to address prejudice, mental health problems and identity insecurity. At Temple Emunah, one series of programs in particular is designed with the purpose of bringing the non-Jewish community into the doors of Temple Emunah to learn about issues of universal concern, namely programs funded by the Phyllis Klein Thrope Memorial Fund.

Phyllis Klein Thrope, z”l, was a devoted wife and mother who died in 1986 at the age of 33. In her mem­ory, Phyllis’s family established a fund whose specified purpose is one that Phyllis would have embraced and endorsed and which adds value to Temple Emunah, the Lexington Jewish community and the Lexington community at large.

The purpose of the Phyllis Klein Thrope Memorial Fund is to build bridges to the general community and to promote better understanding between the Jewish community and its neighbors. Positive connections can be built by exposing non-Jews to Temple Emunah through programs that meet a general community need. All programs supported by the Phyllis Klein Thrope Memorial Fund take place at Temple Emunah.

Since the establishment of the Phyllis Klein Thrope Memorial Fund in 1988, the non-Jewish community has attended programs hosted at Temple Emunah on the following universal topics:

  • Bereavement groups: facilitated discussions and opportunities to learn about each other’s grieving customs
  • A workshop to learn essential skills for getting better health care: “The Right Question Project Strategy” with Dan Rothstein, co-director of The Right Question Project
  • “What Will I Do With the Rest of My Life? Transition in Midlife and Beyond” with Sharon Sokoloff, Ph.D., director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Brandeis University

Programs on dementia:

  • “Current Concepts in Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease” with Rebecca Amariglio, Ph.D., clinical neuropsychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor in Neurology at Harvard Medical School
  • “Can We Stop Alzheimer’s?”: A NOVA program with Kate Papp, Ph.D., clinical neuropsychologist
  • “Pathways to Prevention: Maximizing Brain-Healthy Behavior to Protect from Cognitive Decline” with Seth Gale, MD, behavioral neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Hope Schwartz, program coordinator for the Brain Health Champions Study at the Center for Brain/Mind Medicine
  • “Balancing Act: When to Step In, When to Let Go While Caring for Someone with Dementia” presented by Marjorie Sokoll, M.Ed, and Beth Soltzberg, LCSW, MBA, both from Jewish Family & Children’s Services

Programs geared toward teens and their parents:

  • “Responsible Driving: Safety and Faith Perspectives” (dinner and discussion) with speakers from Lexington Police, Hancock Church and Temple Emunah
  • A community-wide discussion of the film “Race to Nowhere,” a film about student stress
  • “Screenagers: Growing up in the Digital Age,” a community-wide screening in partnership with Lexington High School and Lexington Youth Coalition

Plans for future programming include:

  • “Master Your Metabolism” on Nov. 21, 2019, with nutritionist Courtney Little, CN, and owner of Nutrition & Whole Health Solutions
  • “Screenagers Next Chapter: Empowering Youth with Stress Resilience” in Spring 2020, a community screening in collaboration with Lexington Community Coalition

Issues related to teen and adult mental and physical health are of universal concern and interest. Programs such as the aforementioned ones can be offered annually as a small part of an overall year of programming that includes many programs with Jewish content geared toward members of the Jewish community. Combining Jewish content programming with universal programming builds bridges from the Jewish community to both Judaism and the non-Jewish community, and serves to demystify the synagogue for all involved. Using a combination of Jewish-specific programming and universal programming moves the community from the “Oy” of anti-Semitism to the “Joy” of Judaism and humanity.

At Temple Emunah, we also are able to honor the memory of Phyllis Klein Thrope, whose legacy lives on.

To find out more about adult education programs, contact Linna Ettinger, co-chair of Temple Emunah’s adult education committee. She and her co-chair, Terri Swartz Russell, can be reached at adulted@templeemunah.org. More information on Temple Emunah, a Conservative synagogue in Lexington, can be found here.

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