Big Mama is a majestic pine tree that lives by a small bend on the Vernal Pool Trail at the Binghamton University Nature Preserve. My family gave the tree that name many years ago when we started hiking the preserve on a regular basis. You can’t miss its thick, twisted roots that spread deep and wide in all directions. Our tradition is to carefully touch its enormous, scarred trunk each time we pass by. This is our way of showing respect for the tree’s beauty and longevity. I don’t know how old Big Mama is, but I am certain it has been providing shade and shelter for many, many generations.
So, too, there have been many generations of Jewish people that planted deep roots in the Southern Tier of New York. These generations worked tirelessly to create an enduring Jewish community. They raised families and built businesses here. They held fund-raising campaigns and distributed their precious resources. They supported one another in both good and challenging times. They built Jewish infrastructure such as synagogues, schools and the Jewish Community Center. They created Jewish Family Service, which has, for many decades, supported our neighbors in their time of need. If you are a member of the Binghamton Jewish community or the surrounding area, chances are you have benefited from their sweat and tears.
This year, the Binghamton community has seen a considerable wave of Jewish families saying good-bye to the Southern Tier for good. Some are moving to warmer climates and some to be closer to family. Whatever their reasons, we are losing a generation of leaders. We are losing a generation that tended to our community’s financial and social needs with great care. To these people I want to say, “Yasher koach and toda raba.”
With the exodus of these Jewish families from Binghamton comes a great loss of funds. The Federation Campaign is going to suffer from these losses. Not just this year, but for years to come. Federation supports all our local organizations in some way. What does this mean? It means we have fewer resources to distribute and we will have to make difficult decisions about what organizations to support. It means the next generation will not have the same Jewish opportunities as our predecessors. It means we will, most likely, attract fewer Jewish families who want to plant their roots here.
At this critical time, I am asking all of you, and especially the middle-aged and younger generations, to think about what you want the Binghamton Jewish community to look like in years to come. Do you want to have Jewish opportunities for our youth and young families? Do you want to have a JCC and places of worship? The choice is yours. There are many ways to support the community; consider giving to the Federation Campaign or joining the JCC. Perhaps it is time to become a member of one of our local synagogues or give of your time by joining a local leadership board. I promise your efforts will be rewarded. You will create a meaningful legacy and reap the fruits of your labor. Now is the time to nourish the roots the generations before us have planted.