Spring is here and we at Temple Beth Shalom in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, saw the change of the seasons, the change to Daylight Savings Time, and the change of COVID restrictions. We also witnessed the increase of gas prices, inflation, and our grass turning from brown to green. But so did everyone one else, so let me focus on what we were doing.
Last month ended with us saying goodbye to our dear friends Marty and Betty Siegel. For more than a quarter of a century, they have been one of the strongest pillars of our community. I remember it was Marty who called me and insisted, not invited, but insisted I come out and join services. He knew the congregation was full of friendly members who welcomed all, if not overwhelmed them, whether it was for one night or for a longer commitment. Every Friday, I would watch Marty and Betty going from one person to another, greeting everyone with warmth and friendship. They leave us this month to bless the state of Tennessee with their presence. They will be missed, but they will always have a place in our hearts.
I’ve been busy with functions at Eglin Air Force Base. In desperation or total ignorance, I don’t know which, the Base Chapel asked me to be the Jewish Lay Leader. While services are not held at the base, Temple Beth Shalom in Fort Walton Beach welcomes all service members to join them in worship. As the lay leader, I held meet-and-greets to our military service members and their families to learn what I and our local Jewish community can do for them. I often get packages of holiday materials to distribute to military members and their families. Being a retired Marine, I know how important these care packages are for our service members. I was able to provide as many as twenty Purim packages to service members. Furthermore, I inform them of social events and special services taking place in our community.
Purim came and we did celebrate. We had our Rock-and-Roll Megillah performance to the tunes of Grease and the story of Ester. Many dressed in costumes or wore masks. We were blessed with a family visiting us for the first time and having their three-year-old son in a hamantaschen costume. He was the hit of the party. Michael Walker along with several others gave us a delightful presentation of the story of Esther. Our rabbi joined the performance and really got into it. This left many in the audience wondering if maybe he should have his medication adjusted. We had a pot-luck meal afterwards. As with all Jewish meals, there was an abundance of food and hamantaschen.
The base started preparations for Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance. The young man heading up the project reached out to me. Big mistake. I immediately inundated him with information about the Holocaust, life in concentration camps, the leaders of the Nazi Party, heroes of the Holocaust, and more. It’s a joy to see someone who isn’t Jewish taking an interest in the Holocaust. Most people know that more than six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. However, few realize that more than five million non-Jews were also killed. Furthermore, the Nazi reign of terror extended to more than 42,000 interment facilities, including concentration camps, slave labor factories, ghettos, prisons, brothels, and prisoner-of-war camps. (Source: Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945; main editor—Geoffrey Megargee; Publisher: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; 2013) The Holocaust Day of Remembrance Event is scheduled for 28 April at the Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.