The Temple Retreat - a time to get away, recharge, connect and reconnect, learn and relax, sing and eat. All these activities and more were part of this year’s OPT congregational retreat in March. While many congregations in the Chicago area use OSRUI as the site of their various retreats, our retreat is one of the few that fill the entire camp with not just programming for the religious school but also separate adult programming to make it a multi-purpose and multi-generational retreat.
The first retreat I attended was when Shawn was 5 years old and I'll never forget getting in the car to leave. As we pulled away from the camp, Shawn started to cry. I asked him what was wrong, to which he replied, "I don't want to leave."
"It's ok, sweetie. We'll come back," I remember answering. And we did. We came back year after year. Shawn grew older and progressed from babysitting to religious school to teacher assistant to teacher. I stayed the same age and participated year after year in interesting discussions, fun skits and inspiring worship. I remember the year our retreat theme was about Shabbat and someone remarked that the retreat weekend was the most complete Shabbat experience they had each year.
Since we always hold our retreat in March, we never quite know what season we'll have for the weekend. This year as we trudged through the rain on icy and muddy paths, my mind flashed back to last year and the memory of sitting outside in T-shirts with the sun beating down on our backs.
Each time I leave a retreat I am both exhausted and exhilarated. Each year I meet people I didn’t yet know, and spend wonderful quality time with those that I do know. And each year I leave thinking what an incredible way to spend a weekend, and knowing that I will return.
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all who made this year’s retreat weekend such a huge success – the retreat committee, the workshop leaders, the song leaders, the babysitters, the teachers, the counselors and the bagel boys (because we’d starve without that late-night deli, you know). Also a big thank you to Jerry Kaye for leading our opening session and the OSRUI staff for taking such good care of us.
If you’ve never gone to a retreat, put it on your bucket list. Our next retreat will be in March of 2014, no matter what the season.
At the first Master Plan meeting in January, our congregation met with Newman architects to start discussing our vision for the future physical needs of Oak Park Temple. As this was the kickoff meeting for the architects to get to know us and what we think about our building, they asked us five questions which were then discussed in the meeting. The fifth question is one I've been thinking about since this meeting.
The question: Aside from the Torah, if the building were leveled (demolished), what would you most want to save?
Or in other words, what exactly is closest to your heart in this building? My first thought was actually in keeping with something that Rabbi Rick Jacobs said to a group of us about a month after Hurricane Sandy struck
the east coast: "Your congregation is more than your building". I'd want to make sure all the PEOPLE were out of the building!
Beyond that - after knowing that the people and the Torahs were all safe? Well, for me, that would have to be all the wonderful items in our chapel that have been lovingly made for this congregation by incredible congregants.
First we have the Torah Table - made by Dr. Warren Green from wood he picked out himself at the lumberyard. Hand carved letters on the front proclaim, "Emet, Dayan,Shalom" - Truth, Justice, Peace.
And once the table was complete, Warren started envisioning the ark that would sit behind it. We teased him for many years about when the ark would be ready, but I doubt anyone was prepared for what a work of art it
would be. I saw an early version of the stained glass laid out in his garage, and yet I was still blown away when I saw it again in the final product. And I'm still blown away, each time I sit in the chapel, both by how beautiful
and how special it is. As someone who has attempted to cut glass before, I see that impossibly small sliver of glass near the opening. At different times I see water and music notes, tallit, moon and sun, twelve tribes. And always I see a work not only of beauty but of love.
And next we have the Torah inside this ark. This Torah was purchased by Cantor Yugend-Green and her family in memory of her parents, Jerome and Marcia Yugend. And covering this Torah is the mantle made by Alene
Goren-Taylor. The mantle picks up on the same colors as the stained glass, and evokes the image of a river, inspired by Psalm 98:Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy.
And finally, our latest addition to this room is a tablecloth and a cover for the Torah stand, both made by Sue Blaine. The swirling of colors on the tablecloth represents the different colors of a day - from early sunrise to
bright mid day to sunset to darkness. The perfect complement to the colors in the ark and the stained glass windows in the room.
We are incredibly blessed to have such talent in our congregation and to have a room with items not only beautiful but also lovingly created just for us. This is a room that truly embodies love.
We are in the chapel for most Friday night services, Saturday mornings when there is not a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and Sunday mornings at 9:00am for minyan. If you haven't experienced a worship service in this room,
you've missed a wonderful part of Oak Park Temple! Come join us to marvel in the special atmosphere we have here.
PS: Click here
if you would like to give us your input to the five questions asked at the Master Plan Meeting.
I remember the first time I walked into Oak Park Temple. It was 1985 and I had just moved to Oak Park the week before Rosh Hashanah. I walked into the building for services and was completely overwhelmed by how many people there were, not a single one of whom I knew.
I grew up in West Virginia where there are not very many Jews. In fact, our membership at Oak Park Temple is rather close to the total population of Jews in the entire state of West Virginia. Lest you think that is an exaggeration, I googled it - the 2011 Jewish population of WV was 2335. We have over 500 “membership units” (households) here, in the neighborhood of 2000 individuals!
All my life I had taken for granted that when I walked into my synagogue, every single person there knew each other, knew me, and knew my siblings, my parents, and my grandparents. And that first year here in Oak Park, as I worshiped with an entire room full of strangers, I was homesick for the very first time in my life.
Since that day I've worshiped, studied, celebrated, mourned, served on committees, served on boards and even travelled with so many of you. I've attended High Holiday services, Shabbat services, auctions, parties, dinners, retreats, baby namings, b'nai mitzvot -- unfortunately also funerals and shivas. Along the way that homesickness quickly turned into the feeling that this was my home.
My son was born here, attended Glasser Preschool and religious school, celebrated his bar mitzvah and was confirmed here. He was an officer on the OPTY board, a teacher’s assistant, a Camp Shalom songleader, counselor, and then head counselor and is now a religious school teacher. And later this year he will be married here! Many of you with young children know me through Shawn and let me tell you it gives me no greater pride than to be referred to as "Shawn's mom".
Not long ago at a Friday night service we were discussing important stories in the Torah. I mentioned the story of Moses appointing 70 elders to help him. The rabbi astutely pointed out that it sounded like I was contemplating my upcoming presidency, which was entirely correct! It is a story I think about when I start to wonder what I was ever thinking when I agreed to be president. When I start to panic and wonder how I can ever fill the footsteps of those that have come before me, I relax and remember that I don’t have to do it all on my own.
We are so incredibly blessed here at Oak Park Temple. It is a truly special place. I am looking forward to working with an amazing board and executive board, exceptional clergy and dedicated staff. I'm also looking forward to meeting those of you who might be as overwhelmed as I was at first and helping you to make Oak Park Temple your home as it has become mine.
"Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”
- Gilda Radner
As I write my very last "message" for The Messenger as President of Oak Park Temple, I find myself feeling nostalgic. Such reverie is a thing that happens to us as we face certain endings: moving out of a space (homes, jobs, towns, relationships, developmental stages of life, schools, etc...) in which we've spent important parts of our lives. I am not leaving OPT, to be sure, but this will be a change of roles.
For the past six years, first as Chair of the Rabbi Search, then Executive Vice President and most recently as President, I have had the privilege to connect with members of our congregation individually and collectively. I have acquired a greater understanding of Oak Park Temple's place in the larger Jewish community in North America. I've begun a more serious study of Torah than at any other point in my life. And, I have worshipped with a regularity that I never imagined was possible for me. I did not expect these things.
Judaism "connects" us to God, to one another, to a rich history, and to values. During these years of intense involvement in our community, I have been nourished and energized by these connections, and I have grown.
This growth and nourishment could not have occurred if it were not for the many wonderful people who devote themselves to our community. Our clergy are nothing short of amazing. Rabbi Weiss, Cantor Green and Rabbi Emeritus Gerson have provided advice, counsel and friendship for which I am truly grateful. Our entire community benefits from their spiritual, intellectual and emotional guidance. We are truly blessed.
Our Temple Administrator, Danielle Sandler, Temple Educator, Robin Arbetman and Glasser Preschool Director, Marci Sperling-Flynn are devoted, talented professionals who, supported by our skilled office staff members, Cindy Evans, Alene Goren-Taylor, Suzanne Dubin and Beth Butler-Del Rio reliably keep our increasingly complex community humming along. As one who has spent countless hours working with them, I know first-hand how fortunate our community is to have this team.
It has been my honor to have had Sheri Gilley as a colleague at every step along the way. She has been a terrific Executive Vice President. Oak Park Temple will benefit from her leadership and experience as she steps up to be our next President. I know that the Board of Directors, Officers and committees will be supportive to her, just as they have been to me. We have been on a journey together and what we have achieved, we have achieved as a community.
I'd be a liar if I didn't say that there weren't a few moments of intense aggravation and irritation along the way. Fortunately, there really were not that many of those occasions. When my patience wore thin because my version of ‘the right way to do things’ clashed with the versions of others, I hope that I didn't behave too badly. It has been very clear to me that when there has been conflict, it has been between people who are passionate about what is best for Oak Park Temple. It is this very passion within our community that allows me to feel excited and optimistic about the years to come.
A year from now, Oak Park Temple will begin to celebrate having been a kehillah kedoshah, a sacred community, for 150 years. It is a truly amazing thing. We are arriving at this auspicious occasion because of the many, many people who have given of their ruach (spirit), energy, resources and passion to make it so. Be one of those people who move this congregation into a bright and thriving future. The rewards for doing so are many.
In my very first “message” in the February 2011 issue of The Messenger, I said, “I am excited to be on this Jewish journey with all of you. Together, I believe that we can find a special kind of joy that none of us can find alone.” Two years ago, I said that I believe that we can find that joy. Now, I know for sure.
Whether it seems a cliché, or not, I really have gotten more than I've given. Thank you for sharing this Jewish journey with me.
“Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives.”
- Senator Barry Goldwater
Jeff Blaine quoting Barry Goldwater? Strange. On this issue, I agree with Goldwater’s position entirely. Religious belief, and its expression, is a matter best left to the individual. Government has no place in regulating religious affairs. This is a problem in the United States and it is a problem in Israel.
A few days before Rabbi Miri Gold came to Oak Park Temple to speak to us about the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel, her colleague, Anat Hoffman, was arrested at the Western Wall and, Hoffman claims, was subsequently strip searched, dragged across the floor, thrown in a cell and later transferred to different police stations throughout the night. She was subsequently taken to court in leg shackles, where she was forced to agree to not visit the Western Wall for 30 days.
Her crime? Reciting the Shema aloud in a prayer shawl at the Western Wall.
The laws governing Israel’s holy site, bar women from praying while wearing a tallit prayer shawl or tefillin, or from reading aloud from the Torah. Hoffman is the leader of Women of the Wall, a group that has been organizing monthly prayer services at the Kotel for the past 24 years to fight this prohibition. The religious authority that monitors the holy site is the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Hoffman said, “We want to dismantle this body. If the Wall belongs to the Jewish people, where are the Reform, Conservative, secular?”
Chanukah begins this year on December 9th. It is, of course, our festival that celebrates the successful military campaign of the Maccabees to throw off religious oppression of the Jews by the Syrian-Greeks. In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple, the site of the Western Wall, was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. In the following year, the observance of Judaism was made an offense punishable by death. Almost 2,200 years later, we’re still fighting about the use of this space. Sigh…
The struggle for religious freedom continues today. The matters in Israel are complex and deserve careful study and investigation. Stay informed. Let your voice be heard on this and on other issues of conscience and justice.
Join us when Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), comes to Oak Park Temple on February 3, 2013. His is an outstanding “voice” of Reform Jewish conscience in matters of social justice.
As Rabbi Tarfon said: “It is not your obligation to complete the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist [from doing all you can do]…
"... I vow to enter into dialogue with other faiths and their followers to appreciate
and experience more fully the depth of human spirituality, insight, and
-Rabbi Rami Shapiro
When I was a kid, I thought Thanksgiving was a Jewish holiday. My parents and I would drive from New York City to my Uncle Bill's house in New Jersey for a large gathering of Jews devouring a holiday feast. To my young mind it fit the quintessential Jewish holiday formula - they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat! Of course, in the case of Thanksgiving, they hadn't tried to kill us. But, during early Thanksgivings, Jews did feel excluded.
As we learned in grade school, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, attended by 90 Native Americans and 50 English Pilgrim settlers. That Thanksgiving mirrored many ancient harvest feasts such as the Jewish Sukkot. The Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving was not an annual event, and did not become an American ritual for more than 200 years. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
As with many things in our country, some ideas are slow to take hold. Acceptance was gradual. Governor John W. Geary of Pennsylvania, in 1868, issued a proclamation to the citizens of his state calling on them to celebrate Thanksgiving. The terms which Geary employed roused a unified protest from Philadelphia’s rabbis because, in the words of America’s first English-language Jewish newspaper, The Occident, Geary "apparently intended to exclude Israelites" from the celebration.
By 1868, Philadelphia’s Jewish population was the nation’s largest, numbering as many as 4,000. According to The Occident, a week after Geary’s proclamation the "Hebrew Ministers" of Philadelphia "deemed it their duty" to draft a powerful petition against it....
The rabbis condemned Geary’s proclamation as "an encroachment upon the immunities we are entitled to share with all the inhabitants thereof; and we appeal to the sense of justice which animates our fellow-citizens..." In other words, theysaid, "Hey, what about us!"
Thanksgiving is quintessentially American. It is deeply religious without being denominational and it is based entirely on one of the most important, and noble, traits a human being can have — gratitude.
Thanksgiving is the one day of the year in which we Jews celebrate the same religious holiday with the rest of America. By definition, Jews do not share a religion with the non-Jewish majority of Americans. But we do share our God (the God of Creation and the God of Israel) with the Christian majority and with Muslims, alike. This holiday is a clear affirmation of our common beliefs.
Oak Park Temple is a proud member of The Community of Congregations, an interfaith organization serving the greater Oak Park -River Forest, Illinois area. Come and celebrate all that we share as a community at the Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, one of the oldest such programs in the Chicagoland area.
Interfaith Thanksgiving Service
Sunday, November 18, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
460 Lake Street, Oak Park
Modim anchnu lach, We acknowledge with thanks…..
“Hope is a commandment. Hope is a mitzvah … even in times when we don’t see the future looking bright, or we don’t know if we’ll ever see a victory, we have to work as though it will happen.”
-- Rabbi Miri Gold, URJ Webinar, May 30, 2012
Last month, here in The Messenger, I shared the good news that the State of Israel had authorized payments to non-orthodox rabbis for the first time in history. This historic event occurred only four months ago, on May 29th, when it was announced that Rabbi Miri Gold, a Reform/Progressive rabbi in Israel would be paid for some of her services as a rabbi. The following day, I participated in a URJ Webinar with Rabbi Gold, Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ).
This month, I have more good and exciting news. Rabbi Miri Gold will be coming to speak at Oak Park Temple. In a turn of events that I did not anticipate, due to Oak Park Temple’s strong support for the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) and for our enthusiasm about these recent events in Israel, we were offered the opportunity to host Rabbi Gold on Sunday, October 21st at 7:00 p.m. This is a remarkable privilege and a wonderful chance for us to hear, firsthand, from Rabbi Gold about the important work to create “true religious pluralism and democracy in Israel.”
Make no mistake about it. This is a very small, but important, step in a long process. Reform and Conservative, i.e., non-orthodox, rabbis in Israel will still not be permitted to perform many typical rabbinic duties, including officiating at weddings. As a matter of fact, between five to ten Israeli couples fly to Cyprus every day because the Jewish state does not allow mixed marriages. Some Jewish couples make the trip because they object to lack of separation between state and religion in Israel.
For many of us in the Reform movement in the United States, this is hard to understand. But, as Rabbi Gold pointed out in the webinar, the orthodox respond to these changes with fear that would be comparable to seeing someone who has not attended medical school putting out a sign to open a medical practice. Speaking of her “Orthodox colleagues,” Rabbi Gold said, "remember that they, too, are created in the image of God and let’s try to keep our sanity and compassion in what is for them a very difficult and shocking time…” We would all be wise to emulate her humanity as we approach those with whom we passionately disagree.
I feel fortunate to be a member of a congregation in which we are able to hear directly from people who are changing the world. In October, we welcome Rabbi Miri Gold. In February, we will host Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC). Let us be inspired in our work of repairing the world, tikkun olam, by these pioneers.
President's Remarks - Yom Kippur 2012/5773
For the last 33 years, I have walked into this sanctuary during the High Holidays and greeted people I have seen at no other time of the year at Oak Park Temple. Sometimes the reason I had not seen those people was because I wasn’t here very much and, at other times, it was because they hadn’t been here very much. I’m not pointing fingers. There are people in the sanctuary today who were not born when I first entered it to worship for the High Holidays at Oak Park Temple in 1979. There are too many people who were here then who are not here now. These facts are incontrovertible evidence both of the passage of time and of the finiteness of my life.
The High Holidays, the Days of Awe, are a time of serious reflection. Few other prayers attract our attention as that which begins,
On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
On Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be; who shall live and who shall die….
I, and probably many of you, have a keen awareness of the absence of members of our congregation who may have performed a particular High Holiday honor year after year after year, and then, no more. I remember them today. We remember many people in our lives who are not here today. The High Holidays are a powerful reminder of the continuous chain of which we are a part.
In my psychotherapy practice, I have a client who is in recovery from addiction to alcohol. He doesn't drink, attends AA regularly, has a sponsor and he sponsors others. As we say, he's “working a good Program." He works hard to be the person he wants to be and knows that he can be. If it's not clear, I have a great deal of respect for him.
I canceled our regular appointment today and he asked if I would be doing anything "fun." I said that that wasn't exactly how I would describe my time away from the office on this particular occasion. I told him that I would be observing Yom Kippur. He said he'd like to know more about the meaning of the observance. I gave him a brief explanation. He's an observant Catholic and when I finished my explanation he said "like confession, but only once a year? That must be really intense!" I told him that the observance is like a serious Fourth Step. For those of you not familiar with The Twelve Steps, the Fourth Step reads: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. To me, that sounds a great deal like what Yom Kippur, and indeed the entire season of the High Holidays, is about. It is a time for us to measure our lives.
In business there is the well-known maxim, "you get what you measure." If you are not measuring something, it is likely that you’re not paying attention to it and you will not get the results you want. One of the many functions that the Days of Awe, the High Holidays, serve is to measure ourselves.
Great spiritual traditions, all over the world have rituals of self-examination. Yom Kippur is one of ours. But make no mistake, Yom Kippur is not the only opportunity for self-examination and self-improvement that we have here at Oak Park Temple. For the past two years I have participated in a very thought provoking study of Pirke Avot, a Jewish “how to be a better person book” that has been around for more than 50 generations. The study has been led by Rabbi Weiss most Saturday mornings before services. Beginning on October 13th our group will turn its attention to studying Musar, a discipline of Jewish moral conduct and discipline from the 19thCentury. I think that it is not possible to engage in such study without simultaneously measuring ourselves against this Jewish wisdom. Am I living a life that is in keeping with the values that I profess? Our many Torah study groups wrestle with this every week. Every worship service that we have is an invitation to, and opportunity for, self-examination, not just on Yom Kippur. We can take our inventories,measure ourselves and improve, all year long. It makes the work on Yom Kippur easier. And, we can do it at Oak Park Temple.
A few months ago, I was given a book by a friend, who told me that it was a must read. It is a memoir called My Dyslexia by Philip Schultz. Philip Schultz won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He poignantly and eloquently describes the painful struggles that he experienced as a child and in adulthood due to his being dyslexic. I tell you this because Philip Schultz is Jewish and, because of his dyslexia, he said that he often has felt isolated by his own ignorance in the synagogue. I suspect that each and every one of us here today has felt overwhelmed at some time by all that there is to know about being Jewish.
So, being one for simple explanations, I would like to end with a poem written by Philip Schultz. I think that I will also share it with my client to better answer his questions about this day. It is called, appropriately enough, “Yom Kippur”:
You are asked to stand and bow your head,
consider the harm you’ve caused,
the respect you’ve withheld,
the anger misspent, the fear spread,
the earnestness displayed
in the service of prestige and sensibility,
all the callous, cruel, stubborn, joyless sins
in your alphabet of woe
so that you might be forgiven.
You are asked to believe in the spark
of your divinity, in the purity
of the words of your mouth
and the memories of your heart.
You are asked for this one day and one night
to starve your body so your soul can feast on
faith and adoration.
You are asked to forgive the past
and remember the dead, to gaze
across the desert in your heart
toward Jerusalem. To separate
the sacred from the profane
and be as numerous as the sands
and the stars of heaven.
To believe that no matter what
You have done to yourself and others
morning will come and the mountain
of night will fade. To believe,
for these few precious moments,
in the utter sweetness of your life.
You are asked to bow your head
and remain standing,
and say Amen.
G’mar chatimah tovah. May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life...
I had remarks prepared, well in advance of today. But something very dramatic occurred five days ago that I wish to share with you.
Last Tuesday, a group of temple leaders including Sheri Gilley, Randy Gillett, Leah Vergotine and Sue Blaine joined me in attending a Union for Reform Judaism Central Region meeting at which URJ Senior Vice President, Danny Freedlander spoke on “Membership in Reform Judaism 3.0” We all met downtown and drove to Homewood in one car. Road trip! It was a terrific meeting and we had great fun planning the future of Oak Park Temple during our drive back to Oak Park. After dropping everyone off at their homes, Sue and I returned to our house on Tuesday night at about 10:40 p.m.
We entered the back door and found a window screen on the floor of the kitchen. When I went upstairs, I found our bedroom had been completely ransacked. It looked like a bomb had exploded. All of the dresser drawers were out and the contents were thrown hither and yon. Stuff was everywhere. My empty jewelry box was on the floor. The top drawer of my dresser, EMPTY. I immediately recognized that the watch that my parents had given to me when I graduated from the University of Chicago, and which was engraved, ‘Jeff, Love, Mom & Dad' – GONE; a watch given to me by my boyhood friend of 54 years, Barry, who died two years ago – GONE, my passport – GONE, my bar mitzvah ring – GONE, and then I realized, my father’s dog tags and service medals from WW II... All gone....
And in the midst of the chaos, shock and sadness, I kept on thinking, ‘It’s only stuff.. Nobody got hurt, nobody’s dead. It’s just stuff..” And I really felt that. Violated, angry, yes, but despairing and lost, absolutely not. "It's just 'stuff”.And, you know what? I was surprised at how clearly I knew and was comforted by that thought. I know what you're thinking - DENIAL & SHOCK. He’s completely kidding himself. I was suspicious of my response too, but it was what I felt. As Sue and I embraced, I knew that we had one another, our wonderful family and our friends. The rest was just stuff. To be sure, stuff that connected me to people and places and times and feelings of great significance to me. But, the really important things remained in our possession.
The police arrived quickly and were dusting for prints when I looked in the corner of the bedroom and noticed that my iPad was also missing. I said, aloud, “They took my iPad!” The officer said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “No! “They took my iPad!!! There’s a feature on it called Find My iPad!!!” He immediately got it and said, “Was it activated?” I said “Yes!” I was able to log into the iCloudvery early on Wednesday and the map popped up with a pulsating red dot that showed the precise location of my iPad in Chicago. Jeff Blaine’s iPad is HERE!
So, the iPad was THERE. Where are you? Where are we?
There are two ways to say “here” in Hebrew. Poh and hineni
"Poh ani" means I'm here, or I'm present, or just present. It’s what we say in response to roll call. “Poh ani.”
The more formal or deeper expression is "Hineni.” It means "Here I am," and is mostly used when God personally calls on someone in the Bible to do something difficult and important. Abraham? Hineni, "Here I am." Moses? Hineni, "Here I am." It's very complete and emotionally charged, and implies, "Here I am: ready, willing and able." Last night we listened to the "Hineni prayer," "Here I am in deep humility . . ."
Hopefully, today, your response to the question of where are you is Hineni.
Here at Oak Park Temple, we share many connections:
We are Reform Jews.
We live in or near Oak Park, Illinois where we are decidedly a minority. Sue and I attended a family wedding "on Long Island” two weeks ago. It was 'Jewish dense.'
We embrace connections with other Jews (through our involvement in the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism), ARZA (the Association of Reform Zionists of America, Echad al Echad (our teen exchange program with our sister congregation in Kiryat Tivon, Israel), URJ Biennials, congregational trips to Israel, Eastern Europe, the Jewish South, our congregational retreats and summer camp experiences at OSRUI.
We struggle with our ideas about God. We had a wonderful congregational retreat this year to discuss God, The Elephant in the Room (retreat topic). Some people weren’t sure how that would go… the things that we shared were amazing, frank and, to me, personally affirming.
We value dialogue, for in the process we grow, learn about ourselves and connect. Our dialogue is Jewish. Our stories are Jewish.
We yearn for connections, for why else are we here? We yearn for connections with our ancestors, future generations, others who want to engage in acts of Tikkun Olam... Repairing the World, and repairing and improving ourselves.
It used to be that Oak Park Temple was off the beaten path of Chicago Jewry. Some complained that we were ignored by the Jewish Federation of Chicago. Some might still complain. But, over the years, in my humble opinion, that’s changed somewhat. OPT is on the map.
Earlier this year we hosted best-selling Jewish author, Anita Diamant. Next month, Rabbi Miri Gold, the first non-orthodox rabbi to be paid by the State of Israel will be here. In February we will welcome Rabbi David Saperstein, the Director of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism. And, there is so much more. Oak Park Temple is definitely on the map.
We seek ways to connect with our Jewishness, with one another and to stay 'connected' to something beyond ourselves. Something more than ‘stuff.’ Whether it is through prayer, study, discussion, debate, the arts, music, food or laughter and tears, Oak Park Temple is place where our we can find our Jewishness.
So, the post script of that very dramatic set of events on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at the 'Blaine house' is that the police were able to find the bag with EVERYTHING that had been stolen from us and to make an arrest. The person who did this is in custody and has confessed to the crime. Within a few weeks, all of those cherished possessions will be back in our home, where they belong.
The “Find My iPad” application was responsible for allowing us to regain what was ours. Just think what we could do with an application called “Find My Jewish Home!” Press a button and a map of 1235 North Harlem Avenue, Oak Park pops up on the screen with a glowing Star of David pulsating on the site of our synagogue. Actually we do pulsate at times. Check us out on Sunday mornings!
Finding things that we’ve lost is rarely as stunningly easy as it was for us on Wednesday. More often than not it takes searching and effort. I invite you to make that effort here.
Oak Park Temple is "on the map". Put it onto YOUR map. Let's enjoy Oak Park Temple together. Let’s appreciate Oak Park Temple as the treasure that it is.
My family and I wish you L’shanah tovah tikatevu. May you be inscribed for goodness in the year ahead and may your reflections during these Days of Awe provide you with comfort and peace.
"Involvement. That's the key to everything."
--Rabbi Max Weiss
The Rabbi and I were speaking the other day about Life, the Universe and Everything, when he said something very profound. He said,"Involvement. That's the key to everything." As with many things, the Rabbi and I are on the same page.
A week later, I briefly joined Alan Fox, our Israel Chair for ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America), and two representatives from ARZA regional and national. When I mentioned our desire to support the 26 Progressive Judaism congregations in Israel (that's what Reform congregations are called in Israel), I was corrected that the number is now 36! Two years ago, Rabbi Corrie Zeidler of our Echad al Echad sister congregation Ma’alot Tivon in Kiryat Tivon had informed me of the small number (26) of Progressive Jewish congregations in Israel. In the largely Orthodox controlled country, being a Progressive Jew has been an uphill battle. But, through the 'involvement' of Reform Jews in the United States, including the many ARZA members here at Oak Park Temple, Israel and throughout the world, progress is being made. In two short years, the number of Reform congregations in Israel has grown 38%. And, on May 29, 2012 Israeli Reform Rabbi Miri Gold learned on the radio that she will be the first non-orthodox Rabbi to be paid by the State of Israel, under a ruling by the Israel Attorney General. When she heard this historic news, Rabbi Gold said, "This is a big
step for religious pluralism and democracy in Israel. Israeli Jews want religious alternatives and with this decision the State is starting to recognize this reality. There is more than one way to be Jewish, even in Israel.”
At Oak Park Temple, too, there are many ways to be Jewish. Our congregation is composed of people from a variety of backgrounds with many different interests. Our congregation offers a veritable cornucopia of ways to express our communal and individual Jewishness. Whether it is through worship, formal and informal study opportunities, social action initiatives, music, art, havurot, Sisterhood, Bagel Boys, engaging in dialogue about pressing issues of the day, sharing our joys and sorrows, or just schmoozing on Sunday mornings, Oak Park Temple is a community that encourages us to be actively Jewish.
Get connected. Join in the activity. Become a part of the energy. The connections are not in your living room. They are here at Oak Park Temple. All you have to do is show up and get involved. Rabbi Weiss says that that’s the key. I agree with him.
May you be inscribed for a wonderful, involved New Year. L’shanah tovah tikatevu…