As we first realized during the High Holidays, the Jewish calendar is very early with respect to the secular calendar this year. Rosh Hashanah came only days after Labor Day, Simchat Torah was in mid-September. And now it is time for a very early Chanukah - the first day (and 2nd night) coincides with Thanksgiving.
There's been lots of buzz about this online - I've seen recipes for Latkes and Turkey
, there's a Thanksgivukkah
Facebook page, and a 9 year old in New York has created and is now selling a Menurkey
- a turkey shaped menorah.
What I haven't seen mentioned as much though is that these holidays share a common theme. What we celebrate on Chanukah is religious freedom. And we are here today to celebrate Thanksgiving in this country due to that same idea of religious freedom that caused our ancestors to immigrate here in the first place. The relatives I talked about last month didn't make it here, but their children (including my grandmother) did. Because of their quest for freedom, here I am living in a country where I am quite thankful that I am able to celebrate both Chanukah and Thanksgiving on the very same day.
When Shawn was young, I heard an idea for celebrating Chanukah that I embraced. I don't really remember where I read about it, quite possibly it was in the Messenger. Instead of giving presents each night, the idea is that you give your children money each night: half of which they keep and half of which they donate to some charitable organization. This idea was a big hit at my household - both for Shawn and for me. Instead of receiving small things that he didn't really want just to have something every night, now Shawn had money each night. He could plan what he wanted to buy as well as research and plan how he would share his wealth. From my point of view, I could stop looking for things to buy "just because" and also teach the invaluable lesson of giving to others. (Not to mention, I liked the appropriateness of giving gelt, a most traditional Chanukah gift.)
I think this year the Food Pantry
would be a good choice for the tzdekah
portion of our Chanukah Gelt.
Shalom & Hag Sameach!
By now you should all have seen flyers to save the date for the event of the year - our Oak Park Temple / Glasser Preschool Auction on February 1, 2014. The committee has already had an especially fun and energetic kickoff meeting, and is on the lookout for more members. If you are interested in being part of this committee contact the office, Sarah Schutov or Kaye Pomeranc White - I can promise you it will be a fun and worthwhile experience.
Here's an interesting fact about those postcards. The "old world" people on the card aren't stock photos - they are my relatives. Here is a little bit of my Jewish Geography.
The man is Efrayim Mazur. He was my great-grandfather. Next to him is Leah Mazur, my great-grandmother. And finally, we have Leah's mother, my great-great-grandmother Sima Tetievsky. They lived near Kiev in a town called Stavishche (Stavisht), Ukraine (which was Russia at the time). And due to the magic of the the internet, I found their photos and can read about them at JewishGen.org
Efrayim was a bookkeeper, and in the words of Y. Rubin: "[he] was a person of good understanding, logical and loyal and upright, before God and people. You could trust him and you did not have to bribe him. It is hard to find such honorable and fine people nowadays."
Efrayim's sister, Sureh Mazur, married Shloime Loyev. Shloime’s brother Elimelech Loyev had a daughter named Olga, which means Efrayim was Olga’s uncle. Who, you might ask, was Olga Loyev? She was Sholom Aleichem’s (writer of many Yiddish stories, including the stories that later became Fiddler on the Roof) wife! I have no idea what that makes me in relation to Sholom Aleichem, but it seems in the realm of possibility that some of his characters may have been based on some of my relatives.
So that's a small piece of my past and a prime example of the always-fascinating lesson in Jewish geography. And now, my relatives are helping us to celebrate this year's auction!
It amazes me how I'm continuously surprised at how fast things appear when I thought they were so far away. It's a cliche that time goes faster and faster as you age. In fact it is such a cliche that country songs have been written about it - Kenny Chesney's "Don't Blink
" or Trace Adkins's "You're Gonna Miss This
", to name just a few. (By the way, both of these are great songs, click the above links if you've never seen their music videos or heard the songs! You'll have to watch a short commercial first but hang in there, it's worth it!)
I've been experiencing it myself for years, each year spins faster and faster than the one before. So why does it always surprise me when yet another summer is over? This year I can blame it a little on how early the holidays occur - we are barely through Labor Day before it is Rosh Hashnah!
While the temple's sesquicentennial celebration is still a whole year away, that year is going to fly by far faster than we anticipate. In this next year, we will undergo serious planning for events to help us celebrate this momentous milestone.
There will be many different events to plan in this next year. I encourage each of you to watch for upcoming notices from the sesquicentennial committee to find the event(s) that are most meaningful for you and to volunteer your time to help make it happen! And this time next year (which will be here in about a minute), we'll start a joyous year of celebration and pay homage to all those who came before.
I can't help but think of those people whose names I see around our building and the lives that they lived, wondering what they would think of the incredible thriving congregation we are today? I also can't help but think of how we wouldn't be here today without them and feel a great debt for the many ways that they volunteered their time and their money to leave this legacy for us. And it heightens in me an awareness that what we do today will be there for the next generation. L'shanah tovah tikatevi v' taihatemi
- May each of you be inscribed and sealed for a good year,
Over the last few years, the worship committee and clergy have been exploring ideas for changes to Shabbat services. A few years ago we introduced 4th Friday Kabbalat Shabbat services - with a 6:00pm oneg followed by a 6:30pm short service. These services have been a great success and will continue to take place.
The second change was to have a 2nd Friday community dinner and service - Shabbat Kehillah - with dinner at 6:00pm and the service at 7pm. The dinners were lovely but many were not as well attended as we had hoped. And while trying desperately to offer dinners at a low price to encourage more to attend, we found ourselves not always covering expenses for these events.
So starting this month, we are changing the 2nd Friday format to be more like our 4th Fridays. "[The 2nd Friday services are] similar, but not exactly the same as the one on the 4th Fridays", explains Kathy Bezinovich, chair of the worship committee. Like a 4th Friday, there will be a kiddish/oneg at 6:00pm and service at 6:30pm. The second Friday services will also be musical, however it will feature different musical groups and the service formats may vary month to month.
This change will make our schedule more predictable - 6pm oneg/kiddish and 6:30pm services on all even weeks, 8pm services followed by an oneg on the odd weeks.
We haven't abandoned the idea of holding community dinners, in fact just the opposite. It’s now possible to schedule a dinner for any of the odd Fridays (dinner at 6:30 followed by an 8pm service), which will give us more time to enjoy the Shabbat meal without feeling rushed.
It will also be possible to schedule a congregational dinner after a 6:30 service time, although this will incur some additional expenses. Contact the office for more information.
If you're a Saturday morning “regular” you will have noticed another change we've made for Shabbat morning services. As a way of welcoming the bar or bat mitzvah young adult into our community, all the members of the congregation present are now called up to the bima for the first Aliyah. This underscores the idea that Shabbat is a time for us to all celebrate as a community, and to be present as a community to help families celebrate their life events.
In our service we often read the words of Abraham Joshua Herschel:
"The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world."
I hope the changes we've made in our various services will help make it easier for you to come celebrate this special time with us.
In April, Cantor Julie Yugend-Green led 32 congregants and related friends on a 12 day, 3 country adventure through Eastern Europe. We are back in the US now, but I've been joking that my mind remained in Europe. It's not exactly a joke - there are so many sites and experiences from the trip that are now part of my being, many that I'm still trying to understand and process. Julie told us that this trip would be transformative, and it most certainly lived up to that promise.
I could fill a book with details of what we did and what I learned on this trip. In this column I will attempt to share with you a few scattered moments from the 2-3 days we spent in each country.
We walked in present day Warsaw, rebuilt after the demolition of the war (85% of Warsaw was destroyed). It is sometimes hard to know which buildings survived and which were built to look like those that were destroyed. We saw the small remaining section of the ghetto wall, walked through both small and large ghetto areas, saw the spot where the famous bridge stood between the small and large ghetto, witnessed the construction of juxtaposing new apartment buildings raised over ghetto ruins, and saw monuments of the resistance. Everywhere I felt the ghosts of the Jews who had been living much like we do today until the events that changed the world forever.
In Kraków, where more buildings survived the war, we visited the newest of the synagogues, built between 1860–1862, and the oldest one, built at the beginning of the 15th century. We also visited the Kraków JCC, where a large green sign outside proclaims “Building a Jewish Life in Krakow”. The director of the JCC proudly boasts that the building is open with no guards and no metal detectors, and is welcoming and inviting to all. He tells us he hears stories every day of people who are just finding out that they are Jewish. He asserts that interest in Judaism is growing everywhere in Kraków and expounds on the public popularity of the Jewish Festivals. He proclaims that Jewish life is being revived, very slowly to be sure, but growing nonetheless.
We spent a day at Auschwitz and Birkenau. While I knew plenty of facts about these places, the experience of being there was chilling in a way I can't yet describe other than to say it is far bigger and more encompassing than I could ever have imagined. We said Kaddish near the ruins of two of the crematoriums in Birkenau. That moment will forever be a part of me, and I will never again recite Kaddish without remembering it and feeling the souls of all those who were cruelly murdered there.
In Budapest we celebrated Shabbat with the congregants of Bét Orim after passing guards and walking through metal detectors. The next morning two of us went to the Dohány Street Synagogue for morning services, again passing through a metal detector with armed guards in attendance. Later in the day Peter, our Hungarian Jewish guide explains that being Jewish in Hungary today is quite difficult and challenging, anti-semitism a constant concern. We wandered through the Castle District of Buda and the river banks of Pest. Many from our group joined the incredible “March of the Living” walk along the Danube River together with tens of thousands of people, many of whom had travelled to Budapest solely for this event.
Finally, we arrived in Prague, the city that looks like an incarnation of a storybook. As I'd been there before, for me it's the first familiar city on the trip. On our first night as I attempted to lead a group from our hotel to the town square, a sudden rainstorm forced us to duck into a doorway for shelter. As luck would have it, we found ourselves a wonderfully welcoming bar, which became “our” bar for the remainder of the trip.
We visited Theresienstadt, the town built to house 7,000 which at one time contained almost 60,000 people. This town was used as the waiting room for transports and staged for a Red Cross visit to show how “well” the Jews were being treated during the war. We toured the museum and saw incredible and haunting artwork made by artists and children prisoners.
This trip has changed me in ways I can’t fully articulate, don’t yet fully understand. It has given me a deeper understanding and simultaneously confused me even more. It is a trip I could never have taken on my own. I am profoundly grateful to both Cantor Yugend-Green for organizing it and to my fellow travelers for sharing in this journey with me.
PS: You can view our photos online at http://travel.oakparktemple.com/eastern-europe.html
A little over a year ago, the decision to replace our front Harlem doors became not so much of a decision as a foregone conclusion. They had gradually become harder and harder to open fully and the automatic closing mechanisms were no longer working. Then last March a gust of wind blew one of these very heavy doors shut, and we were extremely lucky that the child standing there was not injured. The two middle doors were permanently locked after this incident and we started the process of planning to finally replace our lovely but unusable doors.
Being a homeowner, I've lived through various home restoration projects over the years - window replacement, basement rehab, new kitchen, new bathroom, new roof, new water pipes.... My rule of thumb is to double both the time and cost estimates in my head before starting. Then when the work drags on and extra costs pile up, I'm at least mentally more prepared for it.
Our original plan was to have new doors by the 2012 Holidays. And just like a home project, it didn't quite work out that way. Construction began in early-March and should be complete shortly after you read this.
Because of the urgency and significance of this project, $120,000 was borrowed from our Endowment Fund with the intent to pay back the loan over the next couple years. If you are interested in learning more about underwriting this important building improvement, please contact Matt Tushman or me.
From inside the building, you may not notice much of a change, other than the color or finish of the doors. From the outside, you may also not notice a difference, although the new doors will extend out further in order to be both zoning and ADA compliant. These new doors will be safer as well as fully handicap accessible. During the day, you will be able get inside the first set of doors before being buzzed in, rather than waiting out in the cold.
May these new doors open easily, close gently, and welcome those who enter. And may they further possess all the characteristics of our Shabbat prayer (Mishkan T’Filah, p.124):
May the door to this synagogue be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for fellowship.
May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express, hopes to nurture.
May the door of this synagogue be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity.
May its threshold be no stumbling block to young or straying feet.
May it be too high to admit complacency, selfishness and harshness.
May this synagogue be, for all who enter, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life.
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.