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Edwin & Alma N. '51 Lakin Holocaust Library & Resource Center: Tammy Mitgang's Shalom Column

Tammy Mitgang's Shalom Column

I Am Grateful

Recently, the Reading Eagle featured an article entitled, "Project grateful generation: Instill gratitude," (Entertainment, January 16, 2011). The article focused on a book by Andrea and David Reiser, "Letters from Home," a work aimed at breathing life back into sincere gratitude. Gratitude they suggest is a concept that seems to be dying out in America; but one they believe can be reversed by involved parents. "Gratitude, they say, goes beyond saying thank you -- it's a mind-set and a lifestyle."

The article mentioned a few tips on how to instill gratitude at home. One suggestion struck me as especially powerful – don’t just count your blessings – name them. Have a minute of thanks in the morning – you and your kids can each name a few things you’re thankful for.

Naming one’s blessings took on special meaning to me having lost several people over the past month who I consider to have been blessings in my life – Dan Tannenbaum, Senator Michael O’Pake and Lisa Bratt. Each of them blessed my life in a different way and although I will focus much of this column on Dan and his life’s work that helped to enrich our Jewish community, I would be remiss not to mention the Senator and Lisa.

I can add little to the beautifully written newspaper columns, editorials and sentiments shared by others in the business and public service communities in memory of Senator Michael O’Pake. Few of us would have been able to ‘do business as usual’ without the help of a champion in Harrisburg like the Senator. Having been fortunate to serve the nonprofit community for twenty years, I was privileged to have sat in his office on numerous occasions. Seeking guidance or with a grant request in hand, the Senator was generous with his time, insight and counsel. His ability to seemingly be ‘three places at once’ became of one his trademarks, a skill that further exemplified his commitment to those he served. A caring, spiritual man, Senator O’Pake, you were a blessing.

For those of us who were fortunate to know Lisa Bratt, your life, much like mine, was changed forever. Lisa was a light. A young woman who chose to make every day a blessing, her grace in the face of insurmountable challenges was a reminder to us all that we whine too much, take too much for granted and that the simplest of joys should be celebrated as extraordinary. She had a smile that could wipe the worries of the world away and inspire us all to do much more. Life is not fair to many. In Lisa’s case, it was especially cruel. But, if you asked Lisa – her life was wonderful and I was blessed to have known her.

The Holocaust Library and Resource Center at Albright College was a project that meant the world to Dan Tannenbaum and I was fortunate to have had some one-on-one time with my dear friend while working on the Lakin event that benefited the Center. He had already begun the process of ‘quietly’ retiring at the end of the year. Who knew that we would have so little time with him?

I have chosen to let the words that I shared at Dan’s funeral tell you more about our wonderful friendship.

Sunday, December 19, 2010
Funeral of Daniel Tannenbaum
September  28, 1925 – December 16, 2010

"On behalf of the Jewish Federation of Reading, I am honored to speak with you today about my colleague, Dan Tannenbaum. As a friend, I am humbled.

Dan served the Jewish community and the greater good through his work at JCC’s including Columbus, Ohio; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Poughkeepsie, New York; New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Rockford, Illinois before coming to Reading in 1981.

It was during his tenure as the Executive Director of the Reading Federation that I first met Dan and his wife, Shoshanna.

Dan was interviewing for a part-time editor for The Shalom newspaper and having left my professional career to raise our son, the job seemed a ‘perfect fit.’  Seeing Dan on a daily basis when I dropped our three-year-old at the preschool, he encouraged me to apply. The interview seemed to fall apart when our son threw his shoe at a board member interviewing me but in Dan’s gentle manner he reassured me that he (our son) was destined to be quite a pitcher.

Well, I got the job and Dan had his hands full. After all, he was now charged with helping a young Methodist mother navigate the politics of the Jewish world – nationally and locally. I believe that Dan considered me his personal project. He was patient and understanding of my gaps in Jewish tradition and formal teachings and at Shoshanna’s urgings, made sure that every recipe ever printed by JTA’s news service landed in my ‘in box’.

Although I remain a work in progress or in Dan’s words – a piece of work, I believe that Dan did a pretty good job. He joined along with my family at my Bat Mitzvah and celebrated the births and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of my children. A constant cheerleader; our lives intersected for more than 20 years.

In 1994, Dan retired from his position at the Federation only to begin a new career, one that provided him with great personal and professional fulfillment. Dan was named the first coordinator at the Holocaust Library and Resource Center, a project that he and a dedicated group of community leaders helped to establish in partnership with Albright College.

Several months ago, Dan informed me that he was retiring at the end of the year and that I would need to find his replacement. Ravaged by cancer, Dan was never its victim. He defied the challenges of his deteriorating health and even found the strength to move ahead after the death of his beloved Shoshanna this past spring.

It was time, he assured me and with a quiet understanding shared between two friends, I promised him that together “we” would find someone who would take the library and resource center to the next level. After all, no one could replace Dan.

On Thursday morning, I called Dan’s home to tell him that we were ready to hire a new coordinator and to discuss with him the transition. There was no answer.

In true “Dan” fashion, he was already ahead of me, knowing that his job was complete, having dotted the final“I” and crossed the final “T” in the extraordinary life of Daniel Tannenbaum.”

Truly blessed,

Tammy Mitgang