Kol Nidrei Speech by congregant Flori Green
My Jewish Journey began the day I was born — in La Paz, Bolivia, to parents who were lucky enough to be one of last people to escape Nazi Germany in August 1939. Arriving in a country which they had not even heard of a few years before – with just basically the belongings they could carry, no money, and not speaking the language, they set out immediately to work, my father as a waiter in a casino/ restaurant run by Jews and my mother in a local night club as a hat-check girl. A few years later I arrived, much to my mother’s delight and my father’s dismay – not that he didn’t love me, but he had no idea how they were going to be able to raise a baby under the circumstances. It was not easy to raise a child when Dad worked most of the day and Mom worked till all hours of the night! Nevertheless we made it through with the help of our wonderful Austrian landlords who took care of me much of the time and who became life-long friends.
My father came from a very orthodox household – my mother, not quite so much. Keeping a truly observant home in La Paz under the conditions was a real challenge, but we went to synagogue as regularly as we could (mother and I sat in the balcony, while Dad sat downstairs); I went to the Jewish Day School; Eventually my parents opened a small hardware store which Mom ran while Dad kept working, now at an upscale restaurant.
Jews were not very popular in Bolivia, and the anti-semitism got worse and worse so that by 1953, with an affidavit from my mother’s brother who lived in Chicago, we were able to come to the United States. My mother, and two brothers were the only survivors out of a family of 13 children, plus countless aunts, uncles and cousins and of course her parents and my father’s parents.
We arrived in San Francisco in August, and in September with the High Holidays upon us, some friends who had come to San Francisco a few months before us invited us to join them for Rosh Hashanah services at a nice little German speaking shul lead by Rabbi Dr. Kantorovski, of blessed memory, in a small hall on Page Street. Services and sermons were, of course in German! We participated regularly and once they got established, my parents joined B’nai Emunah and this has been our synagogue from then on. In 1960 I married my husband Jeff, and we continued to come to High Holiday services with my parents, even though the sermon was still given in German (of which Jeff understood not a word – he’s always been a good sport in that respect). About the time our daughters were of Sunday School age Rabbi Ted Alexander replaced the ailing Rabbi Kantorowski, the sermons and meetings were now in English, and as soon as they were old enough, our daughters Vickie and Jennie came every week to Sunday and later Hebrew School. I became active in the then Parents Club (our version of a PTA) and before long was convinced to run for office and eventually became the group’s president, a post I held for about 5 years. That was my first experience with any leadership position – running a meeting and, to my horror, having to speak in public. The first time I gave a speech at that year’s confirmation – I think – Rabbi Ted Alexander who was sitting behind me told me later that he could see my knees shaking.
After a couple of years I was asked to join the board of directors, on which I served in a number of different positions, from head of the education and youth activities committee, to secretary, third vice president and assistant treasurer for over 25 years. Our daughter Jennie has been involved in our school for over 30 years, starting in the pre-school we once had, – a very active one in which children of all faiths were welcomed (we had more Asian children than Jewish ones,) and then in our Sunday school which she headed until our schools merger with Beth Israel Judea.
In 1996, when I was considering taking an early retirement from Prudential Insurance Company, as the company was going thru a so-called “restructuring”, Rabbi Ted mentioned to me casually at one Friday evening service that the shul secretary was leaving. I didn’t give it another thought, but on the way home my husband Jeff said to me: “Why don’t you apply? You have always wanted to work at a synagogue?” To make a long story short, I did apply and got the job! At that time most records were still kept in handwritten notebooks, all financial transactions were recorded in a notebook and then copied onto the relatively new computers. Most notices were typed on an aging typewriter with sticky keys. I was able to modernize the office, filing system and bookkeeping to a fair degree and after a couple of years was asked to be the administrator. I was thrilled! It gave me an opportunity to do not only paperwork, but to work more with people, which has always been what I like to do best. I loved the interaction with the congregants, many of whom I had known since childhood (which made it a bit challenging from time to time), but I also loved the fact that I knew every single member and felt that I could make a difference. I loved the 10 years I worked here.
I grew up in this synagogue, our children and grandchildren have grown up here. As a very young woman, having the opportunity to become active in the Parents Club and then the Board of Directors helped me grow tremendously as person, gave me confidence that I sorely lacked, and most importantly made me a better Jew. For all of that I am very grateful.
It is wonderful to see that the little synagogue founded in 1949 by Holocaust survivors who had emigrated to Shanghai to get away from the Nazis, and that over the years many times was floundering, is thriving so greatly 65 years later. I said at the congregation’s 25th anniversary celebration 40 years ago, that we had finally “become a mensch” and had grown well beyond our expectations. Seeing our Congregation now as an ever more growing, vibrant and active synagogue that is part of the fabric of synagogue life in San Francisco, I am glad and proud to have been part of it.
Shanah Tovah Tikutevu. May you all be inscribed for a good year!