In May 1888, Rabbi Samuel Fleischman spoke to his young charges at Philadelphia’s Jewish Foster Home. Like many local institutions, the Foster Home was founded by the Gratz family. Back then, most large American Jewish communities supported a Jewish orphanage to take care of the many parentless children. Fleischman, the superintendent of the Foster Home, was a dignified man, not yet forty, with a bushy beard and imposing eyebrows that betrayed his kind and soft demeanor. On this occasion, the first day of the Shavuot holiday, Fleischman discussed “The Lesson of Thankfulness.”
Rabbi Fleischman connected the manifold themes of Shavuot. He spoke about Torah, and the responsibility to live a learned life and fidelity to tradition. He pointed out that Shavuot is also a harvest festival, a time of ripening and renewal. For this reason, he reminded his youthful listeners, many synagogues decorate their sanctuaries with greenery and put on floral pageants (sometimes as the recently established confirmation ceremony).
The accumulation of these factors compelled Rabbi Fleischman to suggest that Shavuot is a “festival of gratitude” to people and their philanthropy. “We who are nursed by the good Jewish people of Philadelphia,” he concluded, “even as a child cared for by its mother, we certainly ought to enter fully into the spirit of Shavuot.” Both elements, relationships and material resources, nurture an individual and a communal lifeforce, ripe for the harvest.
I, like Rabbi Fleischman, write at a time of renewal and with reminders of gratitude. Gratz’s work is different from the Jewish Foster Home, but we are no less indebted to our community for providing meaning and support to fulfill our sacred mission.
This week’s Learn-a-Thon and Giving Day embody the essence of Rabbi Fleischman’s teachings. Community members visited our crowdfunding campaign site and learned with us. About 150 donors contributed to the effort. Our collective investment in Gratz sustains critical scholarship funds to help our students and increases the Jewish Wisdom and Education that we share within and without the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community.
I write, then, with renewed thanks for your continued partnership with Gratz. Like Shavuot, our College is an evergreen symbol of learning, tradition, and thankfulness. Evergreen, because of your sustenance.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful Shavuot,