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. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

#Blogelul 26 Create (the State of Israel)

Shimon Peres, Z"L (Zikron L'vracha, may his memory be a blessing) died this week in Israel.  He was instrumental in creating the state of Israel, preserving it and making sure it exists through 5777.  With his death we witness the end of an era which includes the founding generation of chalutzim, pioneers in Israel.  He was a warrior for peace and served his county selflessly.  It is to his credit that President Obama, former President Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry are traveling to his funeral in Jerusalem on Har Herzl, Friday September 30, the 27th of Elul.  Also in attendance they have announced President Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority will be in attendance as well.  President Obama has also ordered that flags fly at half mast at government buildings this week in the United States.  That is quite a statement.  It shows us not just the importance of Shimon Peres on the world stage but also that he was very well liked.

Here is a very short bio:

Born Szymon Perski; (August 2, 1923 – September 28, 2016) was an Israeli statesman and the 9th President of Israel, serving from 2007 to 2014. Peres served twice as the Prime Minister of Israel and twice as Interim Prime Minister, and he was a member of twelve cabinets in a political career spanning nearly 70 years. Peres was elected to the Knesset in November 1959 and, except for a three-month-long hiatus in early 2006, served continuously until 2007, when he became President, serving in the role for another seven years. At the time of his retirement in 2014, he was the world's oldest head of state. He was considered the last link to Israel's founding generation.
This is a youtube video made only 2 years ago after Peres retired from the Presidency, which is mostly ceremonial as opposed to being the Prime Minister who runs the government.  It is Peres retiring and then looking for a job.  It is very funny and there are sub titles and if you think of all the peace conferences and all of the government jobs Peres has done over the years it makes it even funnier.  

There are many articles, pictures and quotes on line about Peres and I am sure there will be more this weekend.  Take a read, pick just one.  I admire Peres' generation for what they did for the Jewish people in Israel and all over the world.  He will be missed.  Shana Tova.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Kickoff 5777-2016 School Year; What do I understand?

We are now in the month of Elul, which precedes the month of Tishri; the month of the High Holy days.  During Elul we are to prepare ourselves for the upcoming holiday season.  There are many different ways to get ready and as usual I am personally preparing for the High Holy days by preparing our educational program at Lakeside Congregation. School this year will look a little different and a little like it has in the past.

On the first day of school we will have a Kickoff for Lakeside which will feature a Firetruck bouncy house, a police car, an opportunity to say and write thank you notes to our local first responders.  music, making s'mores, and information tables by our Lakeside affiliates.  It will be a fun morning for the whole family and for prospective new members. I hope to see all of you at our opening program.

We are also very excited to launch our new Lakeside Academy for grades 5-10.  Students will be able to chose from a list of electives for the 2nd half of class.  Students will have a core curriculum from 10:30-11:15am and from 11:15am-Noon they will be able to chose an elective.  Here is a video with some of the electives we will be offering. Lakeside Academy Electives

Other ways to get ready during the month of Elul is to #BlogElul.  I hope to start blogging shortly and here are the topics that I will participate in Rabbi Phyllis Sommer of Am Shalom.

It is daunting to try and blog every day and I have never been very successful.  It does push me to think, prepare and get ready in many different ways.  Today's blog is understand.  I think to understand you must first know what you don't know.  After opening school for over 30 years (27 here at Lakeside) I almost always have butterflys the night before.  I have come to understand that I can't always anticpate everything that will happen or 100% accurately predict how the day will turn out.  I can do all the hard work before hand over the summer to insure there will be a modicum of success and continue to build on my understanding to make next year even better.  I look forward to blogging Elul and preparing for the High Holy days. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Mikvah before the wedding

I have always regretted not going to the Mikvah before I got married in 1984.  At the time I was preparing for the wedding in Crystal Lake, Il with my parents. The only mikvah I knew about was on Touhy in Chicago; the one we use today, especially for conversions and for other Lakeside members is located at Beth Hillel in Wilmette and called the Community Mikvah; it had not been built. As Lital's wedding approached I asked her if she was interested in going to the Mikvah before she got married and I was happy that she did indeed want to go.  To best explain about Mikvah I want to share an explanation of  Mikvah from their website:

The word “mikvah” means “a gathering of waters”. A mikvah is built according to precise rules of location, dimension and source of its natural water. The mikvah looks like a small pool, is about four feet deep, and is filled with warm (92 degree) water. This “mayim chaim” – “living waters” – reminds us of the pure waters of the Garden of Eden. The ritual of immersion in a mikvah is a means of spiritual purification, helping us to prepare ourselves for events in our lives of great spiritual importance. In the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, the high priest immersed himself in the mikvah five separate times during the services for Yom Kippur. According to the Talmud, if a new Jewish community is established, it is incumbent upon the community to build the mikvah first, even before building the synagogue. Performing the rite of circumcision and immersion in a mikvah are the two oldest rituals in any religion, having been performed continuously for almost 3,500 years.

Before we went to the mikvah Lital had a list of preparations which included bringing a new tooth brush, taking a shower before she came and taking off all nail polish.  You must take another shower at the mikveh as well.  When you submerge nothing is to come between your body and the waters.  Your hair must be combed and you examine yourself to make sure you have nothing else on your body.  You submerge one person at a time.  There are wooden shutters which allow friends to hear as the person in the Mikvah says their Hebrew prayers out loud.  Wedding mikvah visits in Wilmette are done at night in a more private time.  Mikvah is a personal decision and I did ask Lital first if I could write about her visit and she gave permission.  It was beautiful moment for her and I wanted to share and teach about this sacred moment. 

Traditional Blessing:
Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kid-shanu b'mitzvo-tav v'tzi-vanu al ha-tevilah.

Blessed are You, Adonai, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with the mitzvot and commanded us concerning immersion.

Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam she-heche-yanu, ve-ki-y'manu, ve-higi-yanu la-z'man ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Source of all Life, Who has kept us alive and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this day.

Carol our mikvah attendant explained that the water from the shower symbolized the past and the water from the mikvah was the future.  I am not sure what the water from my tears symbolized as I listened to Lital immerse in the water.  Lital was presented afterwards from her friends present with thoughtful gifts including a WATER bottle. After this Jewish ritual of Mikvah we were prepared to enter the Wedding weekend. 
I am thinking about Mikvah for myself to celebrate the change of life.  I would like to feel the waters around me as you dunk and jump up at the same time so the water touches every part of you.  Men use the mikvah too before they get married, Shabbat and on Chagim. 
I think Mikvah is a meaningful ritual and one which I encourage you to research and if you have any questions please feel free to ask.  For more on the wedding weekend stay tuned.