Community Voices

Despite disasters and tragedies, there is still much to be thankful for

Jacob Saylors, 7, center, with his brother Jeremy Saylors, 11, finds religious figurines still intact as they comb through the rubble for personal items that survived the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 18, 2018. The family’s home was also destroyed by another wildfire 10 years ago.
Jacob Saylors, 7, center, with his brother Jeremy Saylors, 11, finds religious figurines still intact as they comb through the rubble for personal items that survived the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 18, 2018. The family’s home was also destroyed by another wildfire 10 years ago. Los Angeles Times/TNS

This is the season of Thanksgiving, when we express our thankfulness for our many blessings. It is also the season of giving, when we unselfishly open our hearts and pocketbooks to give to the needs of others. This is one of my favorite times of the year. That’s because whatever is going on around us in the world, most of us can still find a reason to be thankful, and a reason to give.

With all that has happened this year — the natural disasters, the shootings in places of worship and in places where young people gathered for fun and fellowship — perhaps some of you are wondering what is left to be thankful for. As a person who sees the world through rose-colored glasses (not a bad thing, really), I say there is still much to be thankful for.

When I was growing up, on Thanksgiving Day as we gathered around the table ladened with goodies, each of us said a Bible verse after the food was blessed. And then, we each gave a reason why we were thankful. For us children, this was a long and drawn out custom. We kept peeking at the wonderful things on the table as the smell of collard greens and turkey made our mouths water. Still, it was a warm and wonderful tradition that made us think about our blessings. It was a tradition that I passed on to my sons.

So often we take for granted the simple, but most important things in life things in life, like breathing. Or like waking up after hours of sleep. Or, when you get to be my age, just being able to know who and where you are. So, when I say I am thankful that I awoke from a deep, peaceful sleep to see another day and remember that it was nothing that I did that I am still here on this planet, I am so very thankful. I always try to remember that it is because of the grace of God, who made me, that I am still here and have all my faculties.

When I was a child, I used to hear my mom pray, “Lord, keep me clothed and in my right mind.” As I grow older, and see so many of my friends suffering from a disease called Alzheimer’s, I can understand Mom’s prayer. God honored her prayer; until the last hour of Mom’s life, she had a good mind. She knew us, her children, as we stood around her bed. So now, I pray Mom’s prayer daily. It has taught me to understand what a blessing it is to have a good mind and a good memory.

Still, there are times when we are hit so hard by unpleasant events in this life, that it might seem there is little to be thankful for. Take for instance the horrific fires in California, where many people lost their homes — and others lost their lives. Or, the terrible loss of property and life during the most recent hurricane to hit Florida, which pummeled the Panhandle. Still, through it all, there is much to be thankful for — that more people didn’t die; that people came together to help each other, regardless of color or creed or religion.

When I see such destructive things happening around us, I don’t pretend to know the whys or how comes. I don’t have the answers. But I remember to keep the faith, and that in due time perhaps God will reveal the reason to us. I try to remember to be thankful for the souls that survived; the homes and properties that were spared. I think about the first responders, who are on the front line of these disasters, even leaving their own families in peril to help others. And I am so thankful for them.

I am thankful for the folk who reach out to help, offering shelter and food to those who have lost everything. And I am thankful that there is such a thing as starting over. As a nation of mostly caring people, we will come together, crawl out from under the ashes and reach out to help rebuild homes and communities through such organizations as the American Red Cross.

So, as we enter this giving season of Christmas, let’s try to remember that although we may be going through our personal valleys, let us try to think on our blessings and see that the good times. When we do that, the blessings seem to outweigh the bad times. And as dark as it seems at times, if we look hard enough, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Believe me, it’s there. Be blessed.

Gospel concert

The community is invited to a gospel concert featuring the nationally known gospel and jazz singer Maryel Epps. The event, a fundraiser to benefit the Ancient Spanish Monastery, will be 4 p.m Sunday, Dec. 2, at the monastery, 16711 W. Dixie Hwy. in North Miami Beach.

Sponsored by the monastery board, tickets to the concert are $35 general admission, or $60 for two, and will include a reception with Epps after the concert. To RSVP for tickets and the VIP package, call Janie Greenleaf at 305-610-3840, or email events@spanishmonastery.com.

End-of-life discussions

The second in a monthly series of presentations and discussions on end of life issues will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, in the main sanctuary of Temple Beth Or, 11715 SW 87th Ave.

The discussion, “Death Over Dinner,” will feature Dr. Ken Goodman, director of the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy. He will speak on the topic, “When Enough is Enough: Medications, Mechanics, Ethics and Judaism”.

“We are encouraging all South Floridians to have these important end-of-life conversations, not just our Beth Or members,” said Rabbi Robyn Fisher, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Or. “I participated in a “Death Over Dinner” event last year with people I did not know and was surprised at, not only how comfortable I felt sharing my intimate thoughts on end-of-life issues with complete strangers, but how bonded I felt with them when we parted ways.”

She said participants in the informal dinners walked away feeling more comfortable and inspired to engage in these often uncomfortable conversations with their loved ones before it is too late to have them.

The community is invited to the event which will include an interactive presentation by Goodman, where participants will share their personal experiences, followed by a question-and-answer session. Light refreshments will follow. For more information about the series, call the temple at 305-235-1419 and leave a message for Vicki Brail, LCSW, and chair of the synagogue’s Death Over Dinner Initiative.

Two days later, Rabbi Danny Marmorstein, spiritual leader at Ahavat Olam Synagogue, and the congregation will present Rabbi Tom Heyn as the guest speaker at 7:45 p.m. Shabbat service.

Heyn will speak Friday on the “difficult and often avoided” subject of “End of Life Desires, a Sacred Jewish Conversation”. Those attending are invited to join the conversation about how to live and create a legacy. Participants will share values, aspirations, hopes and desires for the future and for the future of loved ones. The program will include music by the Ahavat Olam Choral Society. The service will be followed by Oneg Shabbat.

Ahavat Olam Synagogue is located at 10755 SW 112th St. on the premises shared with Killian Pines United Methodist Church. The community is invited.

Tree-lighting

Everyone is invited to help North Miami kick off the holiday season at the annual tree lighting ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, in MOCA Plaza, 770 NE 125th St.

There will be live music, candy canes and other holiday treats, and a special visit from Santa.

For more details and information, contact the North Miami Parks and Recreation Department at 305-895-9840.

Book sale

Also in North Miami: The annual book sale presented by Friends of North Miami Public Library begins with preview night, from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30. The actual book sale will be from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at the library, 835 NE 132nd St.

The sale will feature books and other items in more than 30 categories, and will include gently used bestsellers, non-fiction, adult and children’s books and media, games. Call the library at 305-891-5535 for more information.

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