We all know what it means to give Tzedakah, the essential Jewish value of philanthropy and giving. We may do our best to donate here and there to the causes we care about, but eventually, we move on. For others, however, Tzedakah embodies a way of life.
Fred and Lynne Merriam of Clearwater, Florida have devoted their lives to the mitzvah of Tzedakah. They have each touched the lives of many over the course of their illustrious careers, and strive to touch the lives of many more through their philosophy of philanthropy.
Before running her own medical research company, Clinical Research of West Florida, Lynne worked as a trained nurse practitioner and taught anatomy and pharmacology. She is regarded by many as an absolute pillar of her Tampa Bay Jewish community, and a passionate advocate for Israel through thick and thin. Aside from her focused leadership in the Sisterhood at her temple, Congregation Schaarai Zedek, she has also been active for many years in Jewish organizations with broader reaches. She has been and remains to be active with the Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation, the North American Women of Reform Judaism, and the Jewish National Fund board. She has received several awards for her devotion over the years, most notably the 2013 Lenore Kessler Women’s Division Excellence Award and the 2016 Leo Levinson Award for Leadership Excellence from the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties.
Dr. Frederick Merriam started out as a pharmacist’s mate for the Fourth Marine Division in the Pacific theater during World War II. When the war ended, the GI Bill allowed him to continue his education. He studied biology at the West Virginia Institute of Technology, then went on to earn a master’s degree in zoology from Marshall University and a doctorate in Higher Education Administration from Nova University. For forty-two years, he shared his love of biology, anatomy, chemistry, physiology, and more with his students at St. Petersburg College on the Gibbs and Clearwater campuses. He retired in the early nineties, having been a program chairman of Biological Sciences and pre-med advisor for twenty-five years. Since his retirement, Merriam’s connection with his faith has only grown stronger. He taught Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes, traveled to Israel four times, and pursued his great passion for music through various local Jewish choirs, such as the Koleinu choir of Congregation Schaarai Zedek and the Kol Simcha choir. His lifetime of work rightly does not go unnoticed, as he has been named one of the “8 Over 80” honorees of Weinberg Village.
Together, the Merriams have proven to be truly unstoppable. They forged a loving family that transcends the bonds of blood relations, and the two care deeply about each of their children and grandchildren. Moreover, they have always wanted nothing more than to impart on their descendants the value of Tzedakah and the value of a strong and resilient Jewish family. And if there is one thing that the Merriams know for sure, it is that actions speak louder than words.
In May of 2018, the couple traveled to Israel with their son, Rod Keskiner, as part of the Jewish National Fund Disabilities Task Force. Rod suffers from cerebral palsy but has never let it hold him back from his dreams. With the continued support of his mother, Lynne, and his stepfather, Fred, he worked hard to get an education, build a career, and develop a deep sense of admiration and respect for his Jewish community through Congregation Schaarai Zedek. He received his associate’s degree from St. Petersburg College in 1992 and went on to study at Florida State University. Upon his return home, he found employment as a facilities worker at St. Petersburg College and continues to work there to this day.
As a mother of an adult with disabilities, it should come as no surprise that Lynne Merriam devotes much of her time and energy to the JNF Disabilities Task Force. In particular, she and Fred are involved with the “Special in Uniform” program of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which trains and helps adults with special needs to contribute to the IDF. Israel is, in fact, the only country in the world to have this kind of program, largely due to efforts by the JNF. In gratitude to the Merriams, Rod was even sent an honorary invitation to the IDF.
As part of their trip to Israel through the JNF, Rod and the Merriams went to LOTEM’s ecological park in Emek Hashalom or Valley of Peace. LOTEM, a partner of the JNF, is an organization that makes nature accessible to disabled persons through suitable guidance as well as more defined trails. They enable upwards of 30,000 people to take part in nature activities every year. At Emek Hashalom, Lynne dedicated the Garden of Peace to her husband, Fred, because they share a longtime love of nature, care for the disabled, and love of Eretz Yisrael. According to Lynne, Fred wept when he saw the plaque in his honor, and has since told her that he now feels a special tie to the land of Israel that he has come to care so deeply about. This dedication in his honor, however small a gesture it may be, is indicative of the greater works the Merriams have done in service of their community and the Jewish people in Israel and around the world.
Tzedakah can come in many forms. Some people donate large sums to international organizations; some people leave a coin in their Keren Kayemet (KKL) box every Shabbos. Still, others donate something potentially much more valuable: their time. Fred and Lynne Merriam do both, and their dedication truly cannot be measured in dollars. Their patience, their love, and their devotion to what is right has strengthened not only a small country a world away. It has brought a community of Jews in Florida that is much closer to the concept of Tzedakah.