#13: Leading Behind the Scenes (Sandra Divack Moss & Rabbi Tobias Divack Moss)
In this mother-son conversation, Rabbi Moss speaks with Sandra Divack Moss, who he labels as a Jewish non-profit superstar. Sandy shares insights and highlights from her leading roles in establishing the inter-generational care organization DOROT, saving the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue, and currently serving as executive director of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City.
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below.
Sandy Divack Moss
At that time, the value proposition was that each generation had as much to gain from the other. It wasn’t about doing for the elderly. Of course, there was a lot of doing for the elderly, but there was also mutual learning.
In my parents’ generation of American Jewish life, the focus was on assimilation. So my peers had so much to learn from the previous generation about how to live a Jewish life.
What you’re talking about is something that drew me to the rabbinate and synagogue life in particular. I think in contemporary society, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for intergenerational connection. We don’t all live in a small town with a town center where you’re interacting across generations. But at the synagogue, like you’ve been saying, there’s so much for younger people to learn from older people, and vice-versa.
Sandy Divack Moss
I came up with the idea of conference call seders. It struck me that Passover is such an important thing, and there were these homebound people that couldn’t have a seder. I remember a particular woman who had MS and was bed-bound, but wanted to be part of a seder.
So we delivered all the accoutrement, including of course a haggadah and a shankbone.
At the time, the only way you could set up conference calls was to work through New York Telephone. So we’d give them, say, the 10 numbers we needed to hook together. And I got these young people to commit to run the conference call seders so the shut-in elderly would join together for a seder and then that eventually morphed into what still exists today at DOROT, a University Without Walls.
So we pushed the conference call seders into other forms throughout the year on different topics. For example, everyone would watch Phil Donahue, which was like the Oprah of the time, and then would have the opportunity to talk together.
That sounds like a precursor to what’s been happening during this pandemic. Many synagogues have always known in some way, but really realized and materialized during this period, that there are a lot of people who can’t come to the synagogue for a variety of reasons, and we can do so much more to meet people where they’re at and leverage technology—yours that existed since the 80s and now new tech today—to bring as much Jewish life to as many people as we can.
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