Rona and David Proser: Celebrating and ensuring Jewish lives in Tidewater

March 20, 2020

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David and Rona Proser.

Having lived in Virginia Beach for close to 40 years, Rona and David Prosers’ lives and leadership have been interwoven into the fabric of Tidewater’s Jewish community. Rona taught at Hebrew Academy of Tidewater for 30 years, making a positive impact on the lives of thousands of Jewish children and their families. As chazzan at Kempsville Conservative Synagogue (KBH) for more than 20 years, David has offered leadership, guidance, and comfort to many Jewish families. And, as owner of a kosher market and having worked in the kosher food industry for more than 20 years, David has been a welcome and invaluable resource in the lives of the Tidewater Jewish community. Combine all of these experiences and the fact that the Prosers are a Life and Legacy donor, the couple clearly serves as an inspiration and role models of Jewish community building at its best.

Rona and David Proser met at the University of Maryland. Rona, from Levittown, Pa. and David from Baltimore, Md., were married in Philadelphia in 1970. Their move to Virginia Beach in 1972 was when David was offered a position with Ryder Truck Rental in the safety department, responsible for driver training, safety, and claims. For their early years of married life, they returned to Baltimore to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services with David’s family, then transitioned to attending services with David’s aunt and uncle in Newport News. In 1977, when Rona’s younger brother, who lived with them temporarily, asked if he could attend a church’s Bible study program over the summer, they knew it was time to seek out and join their own synagogue.

At that time, two synagogues, Kehillat Yisrael and Bet Hamidrash, merged to create Kempsville Conservative Synagogue (KBH). Shortly after joining KBH, David began leading services and was eventually ordained by KBH’s part-time rabbi, Rabbi Sobel as the chazzan. David continues to lead services and oversee life-time events; Rona is currently co-president of the synagogue, was past president ,and very active in KBH’s sisterhood.

The Prosers had considered themselves to be “Jewish by osmosis.” Rona says she was more of a “gastronomical Jew,” eating bagels and lox on Sunday mornings, staying home from school on the High Holidays, but not attending synagogue. It was expected, she recalls, that she would marry a “nice Jewish boy,” however she was not certain how she would know he was. David, on the other hand, was raised Orthodox and attended Talmudic academy for eight years. After his bar mitzvah, however, his synagogue attendance dwindled to High Holidays only, but he remained connected Jewishly and still participated in family holiday observances.

The Prosers kept kosher in their home, but not outside, wanting David’s mother and bubbe to be able to eat there. When their daughters, Maura and Michelle were three- and seven-years-old, respectively, they agreed it was time to give up all “traif.” David was brought up on Baltimore’s crabs and Rona had grown up eating bacon and sausage. In Virginia Beach, it was more complicated to keep a kosher home than it had been in Baltimore. The Prosers would drive to Baltimore, filling up coolers with kosher meats that they’d freeze. And so, the concept of opening a kosher market in Norfolk was born.

“The experience of having had to bring in kosher meat was surely in the background of my consideration of opening The Kosher Place,” says David, “but the confluence of the closing of The Silver Cleaver in 1992, with my needing a job at the time, was what actually precipitated its coming into being.”

When their older daughter, Michelle was entering the fourth grade, the Prosers enrolled her at the Hebrew Academy of Tidewater (HAT) and their younger daughter, Maura at the HAT pre-school. Rona had taught second grade for a year in Baltimore. In Virginia Beach, she worked at a daycare center, which became Kindercare, and then taught at Virginia Beach Country Day School, for one year. When HAT learned that Rona had been a teacher and that she shared HAT’s educational philosophy to “teach kids to love to learn,” it was not long before she became a substitute at HAT for one year and then taught three-year-olds full-time. Maura thrived at HAT and became the first female student at the school to wear a tallit. Both daughters graduated from HAT. The commitment to Judaism that encouraged Maura to participate in the Jewish ritual of wearing a tallit and that enabled Rona to teach young children “to love to learn” for 30 years was born and nourished in Virginia Beach.

Rona and David are secure that they have passed along the Jewish traditions and values that they hold so dear to their daughters. Both Michelle and Maura and their husbands are committed Jews, raising their daughters Jewishly, regularly attending Shabbat services, and observing and celebrating the Jewish holidays. While the Prosers have concerns for the increased number of anti-Semitic attacks and incidents, seen locally and globally – something “we have not had to think about since the 1930s and 1940s,” they are encouraged by the increase in collegial efforts and shared programming of area synagogues and the community-mindedness of the area clergy; more in recent years than when they first arrived in Virginia Beach.

“Becoming Life & Legacy donors is not only simple to do,” David and Rona say, “It will ensure that quality programs and services will be available for generations to come at the local participating agency of your choice.”

For information on becoming a Life & Legacy donor, contact Barb Gelb, director of development at bgelb@ujft.org or 757-965-6105 or Ronnie Jacobs Cohen, donor relations manager, at rcohen@ujft.org or 757-321-2341.

 

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