By Jim Norman
Sometimes, if you are looking for the silver lining in an otherwise cloudy sky, it pays to turn your gaze closer to home.
No matter how messed up our world seems to be every time we open the morning newspaper, things at our Bergen County Society offer nothing but excitement and hope, as far as I can see.
Take, for instance, the amazing re-introduction of Ethical Brew by Perry and Beth Stein in October. After two years of the monthly folk-concert series slipping further and further into the haze of Covid, the presentation of Scott Cook, right, was a breath of fresh air.
I don’t know whether Perry and Beth plan to come up with a new show every month, as they used to, but I am proud to be able to say that our little house at the corner of Larch and North—in addition to being a beacon of ethical action in Bergen County—is one hot entertainment ticket!
Creed can be an empty husk
Speaking of ethical action, earlier in the month I joined other society presidents for a weekend in Pittsburgh in what was billed as a “Presidents’ Planning Retreat,” sponsored by the American Ethical Union. I’m not sure how much actual “planning” got done, but I’m pleased to say I sensed an enthusiastic appetite for more action to breathe real life into all our talk. We can all discuss the meaning of “Deed Before Creed,” but whatever it means I think we can agree that without the deed to back it up, the creed is in danger of being an empty husk.
In connection with that meeting, it gave me a lot of pleasure to be able to wear one of our cobalt blue Bergen Ethical T-shirts, with the back bearing the motto “Putting our backs into action for justice,” and to describe the recent gathering that brought more than 20 local activist organizations to our lawn. There, they set up tables to deliver their important messages to people seeking progressive solutions.
Proud of our successes
And I was proud to be able to tell my fellow presidents how our leader, Curt Collier, was able to win grants to fund a summer youth employment program that paid four young people $600 a week each for five weeks last summer, enabling improvements and new construction at the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park and the Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook.
More than that, Curt has won grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that will cover a similar summer youth employment program this coming summer, but for eight weeks instead of five.
Every time I turn around, it seems, I find more at our Society to be proud of, and the work of the Platform Committee under the guidance of its chair, Elaine Fondiller, is exceptional. Most recently, we were able to share an enlightening presentation by Massimo Pigliucci, professor of philosophy at the City College of New York, introducing his new book “The Quest for Character.” In it, he delves into the story of Alcibiades and Socrates, but lest we are tempted to believe that a 2,600-year-old yarn has no relevance, we should pay attention: It’s really about what the classics can teach us about how to find good leaders, clearly a pressing issue of our time.
To top it off–homemade applesauce!
At the same time, those who came to the meetinghouse to enjoy Professor Pigliucci’s presentation also were able to sample cinnamon donuts, apple cider, and freshly made applesauce, thanks to our Sunday School kids under the guidance of Samantha Stankiewicz–and that applesauce was a work of art in its own right!
So, in large ways and small, our Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County is clearly the place to be, the port we necessarily depend upon in a troublingly stormy world. And the more we can do to spread our good work, the less troubling that world will be.
Jim Norman is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.