Monday, May 22, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger; Lakeside's Refugee Project #1 Post

Pre Moving breakfast, 8:30 am Sunday 
This is the week that we have been waiting for at Lakeside Congregation as we welcome Makanja, a refugee from the Congo to live in Chicago.  We have learned together as a congregation how best to welcome him and I am sure we have more learning ahead of us.   I will start with some of our preparations that began long before he was scheduled to arrive at O'Hare. 

For the better part of the last year we have been working with HIAS to prepare as a congregation to welcome a refugee.  Most refugees coming to the United States spend their life or most of their lives, 17-25 years waiting to get the clearance and visas to immigrate. It is a rigorous process and when  people ask for more "vetting" I don't think that is possible.   In Makanja's case he is 27 years old and has spent his whole in a refugee camp.

Loading the truck
At Lakeside we started by raising funds which will help Makanja pay rent for the first few months he is here.  This is what we know about him:  

On his application it lists “barber” as his occupation. He has been living in a mud hut without doors, without running water or electricity.  We know that he doesn’t speak English, might speak a little French, but Swahili and possibly some Bembe will be the language most likely spoken.

Makanja's new apartment
The new apartment is in Albany park near transportation and classes Makanja will take to learn English. 

On Sunday a group of dedicated volunteers got up early and began to move all of the assembled furniture and goods we have collected for him.  Thank you to the Guttman/Valentine household for not just providing breakfast but also storing furniture for Makanja for many months.  Also special thanks to the Bagdade family for driving the truck, providing muscle power and for all of the organization this took.  Special thanks to Zach Auerbach for getting up early on Sunday morning and adding his muscle power, we couldn't have done it without all of you.  

When Makanja comes from the airport on Wednesday he will have a furnished apartment, a refrigerator full of cooked food, some clothes and other necessities.  Our Refugee committee has worked hard to make this dream come a reality.  We hope to keep you updated as we welcome Makanja to Chicago.  

We will let you know what donations of materials and donations of your time we will need.  We know as a congregation this is the right thing to do and expect that it will not be an easy task.  We will need many different resources to make sure Makanja has a successful transition.  Do not hesitate to contact me if you want to help or Lakeside's office.  Watch for more as we wait expectantly for Makanaja's arrival on Wednesday May 24th.  

(Special thanks as always to Lakeside's social action committee, they are always looking for more volunteers just let us know if you are interested.)

And the Eternal had said to Abram, “Get out from your country, and from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Ike Serotta on 20 years at Lakeside Congregation!

Shabbat to celebrate Rabbi Ike Serotta
From my words to Rabbi Serotta last Friday night on the occasion of his 20th year at Lakeside Congregation:

We learn in Pirke Avot, the ethics of our fathers

 יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר, וֶהֱוֵי דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת: 

Yehoshua ben Perachia says, "Make for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend and judge every person as meritorious."

The first time I met Rabbi Serotta was at Olin Sang Ruby Union institute a favorite place of ours, and when he then came to Lakeside I was very happy about his selection as our Rabbi.  

During these last 20 years, he has been a teacher, mentor Rabbi, and a good friend to me and my family and to all of us in this room.  I could not have asked for a better partner for all things concerning lifelong learning and Lakeside Congregation.

I invite you to stand if Rabbi Serotta has officiated at your:

Baby naming
Became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah
at a marriage or other life cycle event
taught you at Torah study
Adult education class
Adult enrichment class 
Hearing a sermon…any sermon by Rabbi Serotta.

We have all learned from Rabbi Serotta, and I think I can safely say he has judged all of us with merit.  

We have a presentation from our current student body and I invite them up here to sing a special song with Todd Kessler for Rabbi Serotta.  Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sara Shapiro Z"L Mentor Extraordinaire

Right before the first seder was the funeral of an extraordinary woman, Sara Shapiro.  This is from Chicago Jewish Funerals:

Sara was a woman before her time. She worked for the Board of Jewish Education for over 60 years where she rose to become acting superintendent and at the same time raised a family of three children, each of whom are successful in their own rights. She was a giant figure in Jewish education in the greater Chicago area. She taught and mentored countless numbers of students. Her great love was the development of teachers. Her kind words and constructive suggestions, impacted generations of teachers and their supervisors. She was active in her community and at the Ner Tamid synagogue, where she served on numerous committees and on the Board of Directors. A true lover of Zion, she visited the state of Israel on dozens of occasions. She was involved and supported numerous Jewish causes.

When I came back to Chicago after college at the University of Michigan I was lost in terms of what I wanted to do with my life.  I even took the LSAT and thought about Law School for a minute in time.  I fell back on an old skill as I had in college and began teaching Religious school in Evanston. After  6 months I was plucked by my Educational Director to participate in the Board of Jewish Education first ever Master Teachers program which Sara not only administrated but had also conceived of the entire program.  I thrived in that environment and soon after found myself working at the BJE in the High School program and I am sure that Sara helped me get that job.  
Master teacher certificate from 1984 Vanessa Michaels

After working at the BJE a job opened up at Emanuel Congregation for Educational Director and Sara encouraged me to apply for the job. I know that in my heart of hearts that Sara is the reason I got that job.  She not only referred me for this job but also was my mentor after I got the job and I had many questions as I was supervising a teaching staff, setting a curriculum, sitting on every committee that the synagogue could put me on and crafting a budget and all for the first time.  I would not have made it past the first year without Sara's advice.

She not only helped me but many other area educators.  She was a pioneer in Professional learning and secured grants to be able to create learning experiences for Supplementary Educators from Reform and Conservative synagogues in different locations on different themes.  We traveled to Israel, New York, Brandeis, University of Illinois, Stanford University in California.  I was not able to go on all of these but those that I attended were full of learning experiences and lasting friendships.  Remind me to tell you the story of one of our colleagues about WHY she could  not suspend a student from Sunday school.  It is a classic story which even after 30 years brings a smile to my face.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to know Sara Shapiro as a young educator and see her legacy in her grandchildren who went to Solomon Schechter with my children.  Her daughter in law, Lori Stark has carried on the Jewish education gene and is the Director of Ramah Day camp in Chicago. I will miss the Sara of days gone by.  Her legacy of many Chicago educators, educators all over and her family is one that is not easily surpassed! May her family be:
 המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
"May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

Friday, February 24, 2017

Desecrated Graveyard: What would Grandma Hetty say about this?

I am sure by now that you have read/saw on TV/viewed on the Internet about the graveyard in St. Louis which was vandalized this week.  Over 100 grave stones were pushed over and trashed.  My extended family lives in St. Louis; my mother grew up in Madison across the river.  My grandparents, great uncles and cousins are buried in that cemetery it took me a minute to put it all together to realize my family's gravestones were at risk. All at once my sister and my cousins began a flurry of emails:

Are our graves ok?
What can we do?
How can we help?

VP Pence cleaning up
We felt relieved when we heard all of our relatives graves were untouched.  It seems the vandals chose graves close to an inner cemetery road.  Our graves were deep in the cemetery.  My sister sent me pictures of our graves. There was a massive outpouring of help from the Muslim community to the Christian community and even Vice President Pence made a stop there to help clean up and say a few words.

I have been thinking about this event all week and I finally realized what was bothering me.  I was very close with my Grandma Hetty Diamond.  She lived a long time and as you can see from her grave she outlived my Grandfather Wolf, who I never met and for whom I am named.  If she knew what about the events of this week that the graves in this graveyard were vandalized because it was a Jewish graveyard I thought at first she would be incredulous.  She had come to America and became a citizen and she believed  that she lived in a great country.  My mom said I was mistaken and not for the first time corrected me: my grandmother was ahead of her time and she would not be surprised at this latest act of anti-semitism.  She read the newspaper everyday and loved whatever first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had to say; there was a picture of FDR in their house; however she lived in the small town and was aware of anti-semtisim and had probably experienced it as well.

Diamond, my grandparents
Both of my grandparents became citizens in the early forties.  My grandmother came here in 1919 after WWI and my grandfather, Wolf had come earlier and both grandparents were originally from  Manchester, England.  My grandfather died very young and my grandmother was a working mother her whole life.  She supported my mom and her older brother Louis through camp and college with help from some of the Uncle's.  Family helped family. That is the way it was.  They had only been one generation in England as my great grandparents were born in Russia.  My family kept moving from place to place to do the best for their family.

Perhaps I keep thinking about the desecration of the graveyard and my ancestors as we discuss the status of refugees in the United States today.  I am proud that at Lakeside Congregation with the help of HIAS  are sponsoring a refugee family.  We have collected all of the money, furniture, clothes and other items and we are just waiting for the travel ban to be lifted.  It is with a heavy heart I see my country putting up more road blocks for families seeking asylum.

As I talked with my mom today she said we live in troubled times, with a capital T and I agree.  We must continue to work to do what is right.  This may mean calling your representatives, marching to protest the travel ban or cleaning up a cemetery where your grandparents, great grandparents and other relatives are buried.
Grandma Hetty Diamond and me: 1972 at my Bat Mitzvah

Friday, February 10, 2017

No time like the Present: Get out and do something

This Sunday, February 12 @12:15pm  Lakeside Congregation along with Beth Am will be hosting a rally to encourage our current government to welcome Refugees.  I am proud to say that with all of the protests over the past 13  days at airports, in the streets and now at synagogues has made a difference.  The 9th circuit court of Appeals has said this travel ban (or Muslim ban) is not legal.  I am not sure, and don't think that anyone is sure how this will play out in the future.  For now we must stick to our Jewish values and realize what it is to welcome the stranger.

I have heard many "talking heads" speaking about stricter vetting.  I have learned much about the vetting process since Lakeside decided in the fall to host a refugee family.  Most refugee families have been in refugee camps for 17-20 years or longer.  They have been on lists and been vetted many times over.  When the executive order came down banning refugees the heartbreaking stories of family after family who had sold all their possessions as little as they may be  and left the refugee camp, bought winter clothes to come to America and now are even more destitute than before.

This American Life has a recent podcast on exactly what is happening with refugees trying to come to America.  It is heartbreaking to listen to and I can't imagine what it would be like to see pictures of these families devastated by the capriciousness of our government.  I have more hope now that the 9th court of appeals has lifted the ban.  My maternal grandparents came from Manchester, England via Russia and my paternal great grandparents were from Germany and Russia.  What would have happened if they had been denied access? I hope if you can't make our rally you can make another HIAS rally this weekend!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Did you know? Adult Education 25 years and counting at Lakeside!

Missed my article in ARJE Achshav?  Read it here:

For over 25 years a group of dedicated, devoted, and enthusiastic adults meet every Sunday morning at Lakeside Congregation for Adult Enrichment. We begin the morning with a small group for weekday t’filah. We also host a lox and bagel brunch and then we get down to business as we meet for 90 minutes; we have about 30 speakers over any school year. Sometimes we have a theme that takes us through a whole year and occasionally we just have monthly topics.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, we hosted Jim Kenney from Common Ground in Deerfield, Illinois, who spoke about “Reflections on the 2016 Election.” We had over 100 people in attendance and for our small congregation of 300 families that is a great turnout. How did this adult education solidify and continue to grow over the years? This is not an easy question but one I can attempt to answer.

• We call our Sunday morning lectures “Adult Enrichment” which we hope will signal to our congregants and community attendees that these lectures are not meant to be a class. You can come one week and miss the next 3 weeks because our classes do not build one upon the other. Occasionally we have a series of 2 or 3 sessions on one topic but all Sunday mornings can stand on their own.

• We depend on dynamic speakers and if they are enjoyed one year we bring them back, if not the next year, perhaps in a few years.

• We set the calendar for Adult Enrichment 8-10 months in advance. Speakers are sometimes surprised that we are full for the year in September.

• We plan our topics and speakers by September and then have a bookmark with all of our speakers ready to pass out at the High Holy Days.

• We budget for the speakers.

• We ask our participants to help defray the cost of the lox and bagel brunch by being a “sponsor” once or twice a year.

I am very proud of our program and excited every Sunday morning to see so many adults coming into the building to participate in this program. Both my rabbi and I do one or two Sunday mornings and then we find exciting speakers in our community. This adult study has fostered friendships, spearheaded social action projects and helped us to move forward many different agendas including ritual or even taking a trip to Israel.

 One of our upcoming Adult Enrichment Sunday programs is “the Plight of the Refugee; how you can make a difference in the refugee crisis.” We are planning on sponsoring a refugee and working with HIAS and what a great way to start this campaign. I am getting ready even now to plan more Adult Enrichment programs as I look forward to 2017-2018.

If you have not tired Adult Enrichment out at Lakeside please stop by this Sunday at 10:30 am to meet Rabbi Michael Balinsky from the Chicago Board of Rabbis:

 Come for the lecture and brunch; stay for the friends!

Friday, November 11, 2016

November 9, 2016

I make "to do" lists and nothing makes me feel better than crossing off tasks from my list.  Wednesday morning I put many items on my to do list which may not be crossed off for the next 2-4 years.  I was deeply stunned by the result of the election on Tuesday. I am still not sure why so many people were stunned by the outcome. How did the pollsters get it wrong?  Why didn't we read the country better?

12 year old Vanessa
I grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois and I was the only Jewish student in my school besides my sister.  We were the "other" and we routinely talked about being Jewish, visiting Israel (which we did in 1973) and disagreeing with the war in Vietnam.  I don't know if I changed any minds, never mind votes but I do know that there are 100's of fellow students many of whom still live in Crystal Lake, a republican bastion, who remember the funny Jewish kid they knew in grade and high school.

My sister and I in the Old City, 1972
I loved public speaking and took every chance I could to bring up Jewish history and cultural references.  In my American history class when the teacher began in 1492 Columbus discovered America, I promptly and loudly pointed out that this was also the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition where thousands of Jews died and were tortured because they were Jewish.  High Five to my Religious school studies at Congregation Knesset Israel in Elgin who taught me that factoid.

I had an English teacher who when teaching us Shakespeare used the phrase "to Jew someone down" and I immediately told my parents, who called the High School's administration and had me transferred into another class.  (The teacher denied saying it by the way).  I mention all of these incidents to bring to light how being Jewish in a small town can affect other people.

I chose to live in Deerfield, send my children to day school and live in the beautiful bubble of the north shore.  I know from my travels and professional growth opportunities that Jews are leaving small towns by the droves.  As the big box stores come in the Jewish owners of the small personal dry good stores are no longer there.  We no longer have dialogue with the "other". I think that as we go forward for the next 2 to 4 years we must not only work for our candidate, read just OUR facebook feed but we must look to engage with the "other" so we can empathize and hope they can empathize with us.  It is not as easy task to put this dialogue on our to do list but it is going on mine. 

Attending an educator meeting on Wednesday November 9 many of my younger colleagues were wondering how to talk to their young children and tell them about the election; how could they explain to their children when they were very sad themselves.  I was thinking about what to tell my children, all in their 20's and especially to the one who was working for someone who did not get elected and he does not have a job now.  I think my husband put it best when he wrote/texted them the following:

My kids, helping right before Pesach
Good Morning,

 It is OK to be sad and a little depressed, but do not let it control you.  Life always has its ups and downs, and I do think (after first going through my own internal rants and vents and worries about the world and country being doomed.   OK, got that out of the way now), that really,  that life always goes on.  

 . . . So, DON’T EVER LET GO OF YOUR IDEALISM.  Lital, I think your principal is correct and I see you guys and all your friends as the future.
You  must be ready to move forward with your goals and convictions intact.  Mom and I thought the country was lost when a previous candidate prevailed back when we were in college.  We are all still here and the pendulum swung to get President Obama.  We love you, Dad

My Kids

I am looking forward to praying together this weekend and coming together for Religious school and talking to friends and family as together we move on.