Let’s look back at March 2020 as we move forward in April 2021

Message from Sof Congregational President Sandra Z. Armstrong

It is hard to believe how far we have come in a year by using Zoom to keep us together safely during the pandemic. I am not saying that Zoom is the best way to gather, but it was the only way to come together as a congregation to maintain our special “ruach” that we are known for in Hawaiʻi.

At first, we were tentative, but as we picked up speed our personalities evolved on the screen. We were able to “facetime” with thirty-six to forty people weekly. The anchor that this method provided was not for everyone. We understood this, but at the time, this was a mechanism to keep an already cohesive group even tighter in some ways. I am humbled to be president of Sof. I receive much help, support and direction from all of you. Together, whether you are on Zoom or not, we sustain and grow the Conservative movement in Hawaiʻi.

I am amazed at how much our congregation has accomplished since the start of the pandemic.

Let me count the 18 ways:

1). Shabbat on Zoom allows for the interaction of our “snowbirds” and out-of-towners from around the country, Canada, and even Japan. They join us regularly, lead services and read Torah. This deepens our connection to our friends and members who are far away.

2). You can see everyone’s face and their emotions all at once. During the service, when we are muted, we can sing along with the lay leader at the top of our lungs. I particularly go for the Halleluyah in Shachrit as loudly as I can and dancing is also permitted.

3). Our Torah sessions often have fifteen or more participants. We engage in lively discussions that let us time travel with our sages looking back to their ways and moving forward to ours. Within a community, we develop a greater appreciation and deeper understanding of Torah. The interaction is powerful and even after fifty minutes, there is always more to say.

4).Talmud classes with Gregg Kinkley are extraordinary. Gregg is able to place the tractate on the screen to guide us like an arrow right to the point he is making. Whatever our Hebrew backgrounds, we are in awe as we listen to our Rabbis and sages from thousands of years ago speak directly to us. With his animated personality and his passion for Talmud, Gregg instructs us in ways that we never imagined.

5). Prayerbook Hebrew the easy way, and advanced parsha reading, with Lorna Holmes, are striking examples of what can be accomplished when there is a will to do so. Lorna prepares all the documents and sends them to us at the beginning of the week. We then study these assignments and meet after services on Zoom. So far, we have accomplished studying the whole book and are getting ready for a new one. With drive and passion, we keep getting better and better, learning more and more. Now we even surprise ourselves! In addition, Lorna is a brilliant, creative, patient, and devoted teacher of Biblical Hebrew. During her advanced parsha class, we study lines of the weekly Torah portion that she has spent hours preparing for us. The depth gained in reading and understanding the Torah is a true scholarly experience beyond words.

6). We have experienced Shiva minyans for those of us in mourning. We sustained this practice throughout the year by helping our friends with the grief of losing a loved one. Shiva minyans were held for David and Bea Haymer’s mother, Helen Haymer, and a memorial service was held for Arnie and Gale Warshawsky’s brother Eugene.

7). Peter Fritz continues to bake delicious challot with love for our congregation, while joyous pick-ups/drop-offs enhance the experience.

8). We continued to have a weekly service that is lay led. Dina Yoshimi was the first to put us on Zoom on March 21st. Lots of ruach, dancing, joy comes off the screen. Dina hosts while Les Rosenthal and I co-host. Les is also our tech support “go to guy” to call when we need help on Zoom. We have it down to a science now. We are all sharing and balancing our leadership roles like we always do at Sof Ma’arav. The beauty is that we hear many voices on Zoom and not just one voice dominating. There is an easy flow of the service with opportunities to comment in positive ways in between service segments and Torah / Haftarah readers. We have humor, fun, prayers and serious study going on every Shabbat. Our festival special services and holidays like Purim on Zoom have risen to the occasion of being exhilarating experiences.

9). We continue to have a monthly newsletter, thanks to the whole community, as well as Sid Goldstein. We had a special celebration on Zoom to commemorate our 40th newsletter! With lots of emails and notices to the congregation during the pandemic, Sid’s help with communications was a game changer. LynleyShimat Lys continues to do an amazing job with production and beautiful designs.

10). The drive to the Unitarian Church is not a problem (except for the road closures). This year, I didn’t have to hear Les and Don complain about the bumpy road conditions going down the Pali Highway on the way to shul! Although Don is out of work as facility manager, he continues to do an excellent job.

11). Our High Holidays for 5781 were off the charts great. With Rabbi Rosalind joining us from Israel, and our service leadership coordinated by Robert Littman, we came away with a feeling of euphoria that we did it! Also, we had Dina Yoshimi, Gregg Kinkley, Rabbi Ken Aronowitz, Michelle Schneider, Marlene Booth, and Avi Soifer Zoom in from the Unitarian Church on Rosh Hashanah Day two. What an accomplishment and so much of the spirit of Sof Ma’arav and the holiday were present in their voices!

12). We continue to have a Children’s Zoom time during the week on Monday afternoon to keep our special connections going with our younger generation. On these sessions, there are lots of giggles, sharing and Jewish education happening. Our children joined in and sang Ein Keloheinu with their families during a special Shabbat. We all loved this!

13). Our membership remains strong and we gain members despite the pandemic. The inquiry calls and emails were coming in too quickly during the pandemic for the Sof Ma’arav central office to manage (in other words at the Armstrong Hale). Les graciously became our Welcoming Chair (not just our Snowbird Chair).

14). Family Promise: Along with other congregations, Sof members contributed money towards the “new” family promise support for dinners being ordered, picked up and delivered to their housing unit. Enough money was collected as an overflow for this rotation to contribute to the next round of meals.

15). Sof Ma’arav continues to love books. Sally Morgan kept us abreast of new releases from the Levinson-Krupp Library. Our Sof Ma’arav Book Club continues to be led by Carolann Biederman who runs and manages it with extraordinary skill. Two books were published during the pandemic by Sof members. Sid Goldstein’s American Pastimes and Mat Sgan’s Torah and Taro were launched. The creative spirit thrives.

16). We participated with one thousand people through Congregation Kol Emeth in a spectacular Hanukkah celebration. We will be back on with them for Yom Ha’atzmaut & Israeli independence Day on April 14.

17). Fran Margulies continues to keep our drash schedule vibrant. She has no problem filling slots. Drashes at Sof are well researched, intelligent, passionate and often written up in our newsletter. Robert Littman’s drash/lectures included a powerpoint presentation on Zoom. Talk about time traveling! They were phenomenal.

18). Todah rabah to Morris Rabinko as yahrzeit notices go out weekly. Also, yahrzeits are announced twice every Shabbat morning on Zoom. Morris updated the Yizkor book for 5781 for the High Holy Days. Naomi Olstein, as Bikkur Cholim Chair continues to do an excellent job of reaching out to members of our congregation in need of healing. In addition, every Shabbat morning, we say the misheberach prayers for those among us who are ill.

We have come a long, long way in a year to maintain connections to each other and to Conservative Judaism. We have turned around a potentially dark situation and found rainbows to brighten any storms along the way. As we continue to address the evolving pandemic situation, we will maintain the same commitment to each other as we move forward.

My apologies for not mentioning each and everyone of you for the support and love you provide for Sof Ma’arav.

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