Community Voices

Neighbors in Religion: Josie Poitier, longtime Miami police worker, dies at 70

In 2008: Josie Poitier, an office manager for the city of Miami Police Department, worked there more than 40 years.
In 2008: Josie Poitier, an office manager for the city of Miami Police Department, worked there more than 40 years. Miami Herald File

The years seem to pass so swiftly, and none of us should take for granted our time here on the planet Earth. We should live each day to the fullest, doing all we can to make our time here matter.

I became even more aware of that this past Saturday, when my longtime friend Josie Poitier died at 70. Josie and I were like hand and glove, working together on many projects over the years. She was well known in the Miami community, and until about three years ago, she had been a volunteer at the Miami Police Department for more than a half century. She loved the police department and the department seemed to love her, too — even giving her a desk in the public information department.

It was from her desk there that for nearly 30 years she planned the Good Friday/Passover brunch. It was an idea she had with the hope of bringing the community together. The annual event, which started in the living room of her home, soon grew so large that Josie had to move it to a larger venue, the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay. It attracted the religious, the politicians and everybody else. And it did bring us together, even if just for one day.

For years, I worked closely with Josie planning the function. Josie wanted to give everyone who had ever done a good deed an award at the event. When some of us who worked with her on the project thought she gave out too many awards, Josie protested. Loudly. And so we backed off, realizing that it was just one of the ways she wanted to give back to the community.

Josie’s mother died in 2011. About a year later, I noticed a change in Josie’s personality. Months later, Josie was diagnosed with early stage dementia. It was such a blow. Josie, who loved walking up to strangers, surprising them with “I love you,” then walking away, laughing at their surprised look. Or telling a strange man, “You are so handsome,” or a strange woman how beautiful she looked, often catching the strangers off guard. But that was Josie’s way of connecting with people. And she did love people.

Most of all, Josie loved her only child, Vandetta Thomas, and her three grandchildren, adult twins Harold and Vaniecia Scott, and Tellek Lockette, 11. They were the joy of Josie’s life, and nothing was too good for them. But she also took youngsters like Reinaldo “Ricky” Torres Jr. to her heart, encouraging them to be the best they can be. Torres, 25, who had a stroke shortly after he was born, is now working on his master’s degree in education. His grandmother, Catherine Loud, was Josie’s neighbor. “She always said Ricky was her boy and that she had him under her wing,” Loud said.

A few years ago, Josie was honored by Barry University for her efforts in trying to bring the community together through her Good Friday/Passover brunches. It was a big deal, and the Miami Herald wrote a glowing story about my friend. We all thought the honor was so deserving.

I watched Josie as her health started to dwindle away, often taking her for her doctors’ appointments. It was a heartbreaking task. Some days, I would pick her up for breakfast or lunch at her favorite restaurant. Loud, who had been so faithful to Josie, would come along. On such days, Josie would seem like her old self, laughing and talking, until she started remembering things that happened years ago, and thinking they just happened yesterday.

The saddest thing was that Josie knew something was wrong. One day, when I was taking her to a doctor’s appointment, she broke into tears.

“Bea,” she said through her tears, “what’s wrong with me? I can’t seem to get things together.”

I tried to comfort her by telling her that I was praying for her. But she knew it would never be the same again. It was a very sad day for both of us.

About two months ago, Josie, who was diabetic, had to have one of her legs amputated. When Josie’s daughter, Van, called me with the news, I felt like it was the beginning of the end for my friend. And it was. The last time I saw her, about four days before she died, Josie was just a shell of herself. But she knew me and gave me the old, “Hey, Bea” greeting. We didn’t talk much. Josie was in and out of sleep. So, I kissed her on her forehead and said I’d come to see her later. She looked away and said, “OK.” It was to be our last conversation.

TEMPLE SINAI TO STUDY HOLOCAUST

Michael Berenbaum, who specializes in the study of the Holocaust, will be the scholar-in-residence at Temple Sinai, Carolyn Kemelhor Campus, 18801 NE 22nd Ave. in Northeast Miami-Dade on March 4 and 5.

On March 4, Berenbaum will speak during the temple’s Kabbalat Shabbat service. His topic will be “Holocaust Fatigue” and is about why the American Jewish community has grown tired of hearing about the Holocaust. In his talk, Berenbaum will discuss how a “different memory of the Holocaust, as a tool for teaching democracy and pluralism, human dignity and decency, resilience and empowerment is more liberating and invigorating.”

On March 5, the temple will host a lunch-and-learn program after Shabbat services. The topic for the program: “How Do We Speak of God/How Do We Speak to God After Auschwitz?” The presentation will explore Jewish beliefs in God and in humanity and the language that is used to speak of God, and to God, after the Shoah.

While he specializes in the study of the Holocaust, Berenbaum does a lot more. He is a scholar, professor, writer and filmmaker. He served as deputy director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and played a leading role in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

For more information, call Veronica Evelson of marketing and communications at the temple, 305-932-9010, ext. 212.

TEMPLE SUNDAY CONCERT SERIES

Temple Beth Shmuel at 1701 Lenox Ave. in Miami Beach invites the community to its Sunday Concert Series at 3 p.m. Sunday in the temple’s main sanctuary.

The program will feature Rabbi Stephen Texon, cantor and baritone; soprano Ester Irene Brewda; and lyric soprano Alexandra Marie Barreiro. Paul Schwartz is the pianist.

Tickets for VIP seating are $36 each; general admission is $13 in advance and $18 at the door. You can purchase tickets at the temple office by calling 305-534-7213 or by sending an email to bethshmuel@bellsouth.net.

A meet-the-artist reception with wine and cheese will follow the concert.

CONGREGATION FIRE AND ICE GALA

Rabbi Mark Kula is inviting the community to Bet Shira Congregation’s “Fire and Ice” gala event at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The event celebrates the congregation’s 30th anniversary and honors Dr. Judi Gampel of the synagogue’s Early Childhood Center for 20 years of service.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, you are invited to hear Shtreimel, the leading Canadian Klezmer band. Tickets are $10 each in advance and $15 at the door. The concert is in celebration of Bet Shira Congregation’s 25 years of Tu Bishevat (Jewish Earth Day) concerts.

For more information about the 30th anniversary celebration, call the temple at 305-238-2601. Bet Shira Congregation is at 7500 SW 120th St.

UNITY PRAYER BREAKFAST

The Miami Chapter Black Nurses Association will host a Unity Prayer Breakfast at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Betty T. Ferguson Community Center, 3000 NW 199th St., in Miami Gardens.

The breakfast will address violence reduction in the community and is a part of the National Black Nurses Association’s initiative to reduce the epidemic of violence in African-American communities.

Tickets are $30 each. For tickets and for more information call 305-754-2280 or send an email to, miamibna@gmail.com

SHABBAT EN ESPAñOL

Temple Judea, at 5500 Granada Blvd. in Coral Gables, has launched a free new service called “Shabbat En Español,” and it is held at 7:45 p.m. Fridays.

The special Shabbat reaches out to Hispanic members at Temple Judea and in the Coral Gables/South Miami/Pinecrest Jewish community.

This Spanish Shabbat is a bit different and includes customs and melodies from Latin America. It is designed as an inter-generational experience, because some families come with two or three generations to celebrate. The service concludes with a Latin melody for the ritual blessing of the children, as grandparents bless a son or daughter, who is blessing his or her own children. So far, more than 100 people have attended each time the services have been held.

FANM SPIRIT OF JUSTICE GALA

Archbishop Thomas Wenski will be the keynote speaker at the annual FANM Spirit of Justice gala to be at 7 p.m. Saturday at Notre Dame D’Haiti Parish Hall, 130 NE 62nd St.

The gala will honor Solange Aurelien, Rodney Baltimore, Dr. Michel J. Dodard, Bunchy Gertner, Marlon Hill, Carla Hill, Marilyn Rousseau, and North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph.

Tickets are $100 per person. A table of 10 costs $1,000. If you are unable to attend, you may make a tax-deductible donation to FANM Inc., P.O. Box 382073, Miami, FL 33138.

Send all items at least two weeks in advance to Religion Notes, c/o Neighbors, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172 or email bea.hines@gmail.com. Pictures are accepted but cannot be returned.

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