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Say it with flowers

A Mother’s Day surprise for frontline workers

Staffers hold their roses on Mother’s Day.
Staffers hold their roses on Mother’s Day.

Few things speak as eloquently of love as a single long-stemmed rose, presented by one person to another. That is precisely why Alla Fine of Ridgewood was so determined to distribute 850 roses on Mother’s Day.

“I was watching the news and hearing how much our frontline workers have been doing, putting in crazy hours, separated from their families,” Ms. Fine said. Then she explained how the simple idea of giving every member of the staff at Valley Hospital a rose became a beautiful reality.

“I thought, what can I do? I’m one person. Then I realized that Mother’s Day was coming and they would be stuck at the hospital, putting their own lives at risk. I wanted to do something for them.” And that something had to be a gesture that would both lift their spirits and let them know that they are appreciated by the community.

“I love flowers,” said Ms. Fine, who is married to Rabbi David Fine; Rabbi Fine leads Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood. “I grew up with flowers, and every day we have cut flowers in our home. Roses, especially, are incredibly meaningful to me. A rose is above and beyond special. It’s a message of love. I wanted to give that to the workers at Valley Hospital on Mother’s Day since they couldn’t be home with their loved ones.”

The delivery was the brainchild of Alla Fine of Ridgewood.

“I mentioned it to my husband and he said, ‘Let’s do it,” even if the family had to pay for it themselves. “I had no idea how many we would need. I guessed about 400.” As it happens, it was more than twice that number — and preparing roses for presentation is no easy job.

“People have no idea what cleaning roses really means,” Ms. Fine said. “It was a very big project. David got very excited about it but asked if I was sure I could do this. People say all the time that they want to do something to make people feel appreciated and uplifted, but then they don’t do it. I wanted to do it.”

“I’m an event planner by trade, and I work with low budgets. I called local places to get the price point and I settled with a local farmer for 850 stems.” The actual count was about 830, “but you don’t know with flowers. Some may not be up to par.

“You have to treat all of them,” she said, explaining why she spent nine straight hours doing the preparatory work. “We set up on the front porch with a knife, table, crates of water, and vases. I cut the stems and thorns and put the roses immediately in water, in groups of 25. That process is critical.” The flowers came as buds, and “if you don’t prep them the night before, they won’t open.”

Since this was on a Friday, and Shabbat was coming as daylight was fading, Ms. Fine did not have a lot of wiggle room. “Once I had them all in crates, my sons” — 15-year-old Ariel and 16-year-old Laurence — “moved them into the garage. It was like a rose warehouse.” All of this — in fact everything that the family did with preparing, packaging, and delivering the roses — was done while wearing gloves, according to hospital guidelines. No one at the hospital would have to worry about the possibility of infection.

She’s already bought plastic sleeves for the roses, so the next day, Ms. Fine “recruited” David and Laurence to put each rose in a sleeve, label it — the specially designed labels read “Thank You. Happy Mother’s Day” — and tie each one with a pre-cut ribbon.

Other members of the Temple Israel community were excited about the project as well. Office manager Maureen Nassan and her husband, Robert Seltsam, a printer, helped design the labels and print them. Another staff member, Tina Polen, cut the 850 pieces of ribbon. In addition, after the congregation learned of the Fine family’s intentions, contributions were made to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund, which ultimately was used to underwrite the venture.

“Overnight, my garage smelled like a flower garden,” Ms. Fine said. “You could see the love and I wanted to pass that feeling on. At least on Mother’s Day they should feel that sense of appreciation.”

Rabbi David Fine and one of his sons, Laurence, deliver the roses.

On Sunday morning, the family borrowed a truck and loaded the car at 5 a.m. They left for the hospital at 5:30, so they would be there to greet the 6 a.m. hospital shift. They brought enough multicolored roses to give everyone — both men and women — a rose.

“David was in touch with Audrey Meyers” — a Temple Israel member who also is the Valley Health System’s CEO — “who got in touch with HR to find out the number of roses. We delivered them with masks and gloves.” Bettina Daly, executive director of gift planning and major gifts at the Valley Hospital Foundation, managed the logistics of onsite distribution.

“Bettina asked us to drive around the other side to distribute roses from both entrances,” said Ms. Fine. “Laurence jumped on the truck and lowered the crates to David. It was surreal.”

“All members of the Valley family who were caring for patients in the hospital on Mother’s Day were so grateful for this lovely donation,” Ms. Meyers said. “Each and every staff member on all three shifts was presented with a flower, and all were delighted by the sweet-smelling surprise provided by the generous donations of both time and funds given by the members of Temple Israel.”

Gratified that what began as a notion turned into such a meaningful gesture, Ms. Fine said, “in today’s world most of us are sitting at home and so much talent is being wasted when we could be doing something. We can do it together.”

Her goal, she said, is for a group of like-minded people to create a group — perhaps on Zoom — to brainstorm things worth doing. “We can initiate it, and then welcome anyone who wants to come on board,” she said. “Let’s put our heads together and do something.

“It was such an amazing feeling to be part of this project,” she added, noting her pleasure at receiving photos of hospital staff receiving the roses. You could see the smiles under the masks.”

For his part, Rabbi Fine said he was “happy to participate.” Both he and his sons “understood it was an opportunity to do something good and say thank you to people on the front line.” He explained that his family met Bettina Daly outside the hospital since they could not go inside themselves. “We dropped off the roses with Bettina and her staff and left,” he said.

Somehow, he said, not being allowed to enter the hospital because of covid-19 “made it feel like a real mitzvah for its own sake. It’s unusual in today’s day and age to do something like that. Like knitting socks for soldiers during the war.”

Rabbi Fine said he has experienced a certain closeness to covid “by doing a lot of burials. It’s not the same kind of frontline work but most of the deceased were covid cases.” He also paid tribute to funeral home staff, pointing out that “the numbers of bodies being processed were extraordinary.”

“The covid-19 crisis is hitting the entire world but it’s also very local,” Rabbi Fine said. “Not only because we’re a hot zone but because we’re able to give some appreciation to those working so hard.”

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