Families spilled all over Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills on Dec. 6 at a pre-Hanukka celebration. Over 300 people gathered for a pizza dinner; as children headed to classrooms for holiday craft projects, their parents had a chance to socialize and learn about the festival, adult-style, with Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz.
All reunited for a spirited Hanukka sing-along.
The cross-generational evening was just one example of how the Florin Fund for Child and Family Programming is enhancing the lives of young families at the Reform synagogue.
Two years ago, in the midst of a renovation plan, Gewirtz approached member Thelma Florin, hoping she and her husband, Richard, would make a gift to redecorate the lobby. “I don’t do furniture,” was Florin’s response. “I don’t want my name on a lobby or a statue. That’s not my thing.” But as a supporter of Jewish causes, the former teacher decided she wanted to do something for children.
“When you follow through with young children and families, what you do will go on forever, not just a year or two,” said Florin.
The result was a $250,000 gift for children’s and family programming, drafted broadly in order to provide plenty of flexibility and creativity. The fund has provided celebrations for holidays — including the Dec. 6 festivities and a Simhat Torah program — a musical event, and programs focusing on timely issues and emotional matters, from how to celebrate holidays at home to how to talk about death with preschoolers.
“You can’t imagine what this means for us,” said Barbara Hochberg, director of the temple’s Early Childhood Center. “Can you see all these families, here for this program?”
Florin said she’s amazed at the number of people showing up. “This is not for children, not for mommies. This programming is for families,” she said. A resident of West Orange, Florin has been a member of B’nai Jeshurun for 44 years. Her children and grandchildren have become bar and bat mitzva there, with the exception of the youngest of five grandchildren, who will celebrate the milestone in March. Richard Florin is founder of a firm that makes fine leather accessories.
Thelma Florin is also an active supporter of the Rachel Coalition, which combats domestic abuse, and the Paper Mill Playhouse. She sits on the boards of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, JCC MetroWest, American Jewish Committee, and New Jersey Jewish News.
“This is the only gift for programming we have, and that’s what we really need,’ said Hochberg. “When I wake up at three in the morning with a great idea for a program, I know it will get done, thanks to the Florin Fund.”