Wednesday, December 10, 2014

B'nai Mitzvah: It is never too late; Ask these women!

Torah Sisters
Last Shabbat 3 women became B'not Mitzvah at Lakeside Congregation.  They had studied together for a year and lead a beautiful t'filah including chanting Torah and each giving a D'var Torah. Janet Friedman, Denise Goldberg and Blair Waddick all brought their different life experiences and Jewish traditions to our service.

I can tell you that they worked hard for over a year to get to last week.  They were a support for one another and got to work and study with Rabbi Serotta, Cantor Davis and myself.  They learning to read Hebrew, chant Torah, talk about their Judaism and write a D'var Torah.

I am the proud teacher of Kitah aleph not only for students in our Hebrew school but also Kitah Aleph for adults.  It is not easy for adults to learn to read and then sing in a new language.  All three adult students had gone through the B'nai Mitzvah process with their children and had seen first hand the joy and the tears that a simcha can bring to a family.  When they first began their process I don't think they realized how transformative this experience would be from reading Torah to addressing their congregation/community.
At the top of our Ark we have the words: Torah, T'filah, Tzedakah and Kehillah.  Our adult B'not Mitzah embodied all 4 words of these value laden words.  They chanted Torah with grace and poise and lead us in T'filah by leading prayers and reading their d'vrei Torah.  Their Tzedakah component included tzedakah center  pieces of pasta, tomato sauce, and other food to donate to a food pantry at their extended Kiddush lunch. They also donated much needed table cloths to the congregation which will be used many times over in the future.  Their Kehillah was evident in our sanctuary which was filled to brimming with parts of their shared community and our Lakeside family.
Denise's hand made Tallit with pictures of her family

I addressed the 3 B'not Mitzvah on the bimah as I do every week at Lakeside and was able to tell them I was proud of them as role models and as active participants in many different areas of our congregation.  Janet has 2 children going through our Religious and Hebrew school program and often volunteers in the school office, Denise has been a teacher in our Religious school for over 20 years and her children are involved in our program as well.  Blair joined Lakeside when her daughter was grown but she and her husband come to services, adult education programs and classes.  We could not have asked for a better class.

I will need a new class though and I started looking for the next Adult B'nai Mitzvah class last week when  announce from the bimah we will start one soon.  Please if you have any interest in learning to read Hebrew, chant from Torah and find a new place in the Lakeside family just let me know.  We haven't set a start date for the new class but we are always looking for new members.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Women of the Wall: Can Women pray at the Kotel?

Kotel 1979
I have been to Israel many times and the place I always return and visit is the Kotel, the Western Wall.  There is something spiritual and you could say there is something in the air.  Physically the Kotel has changed since the first time I was there in 1973 for a Bat Mitzvah trip.  In fact the archeological finds are so impressive they are a NOT to be missed part of any trip to Israel. Even when I have been to Israel for business it is not really a trip until I visit the Kotel.  The last 2 times I have been I have also been able to put notes from my students in the wall.  It never fails to move me and I can't wait until I can go back.

Kotel 1968
When my parents first visited Israel in February 1968 (6 months after the 6 day war in June 1967) and went to the Kotel it was not as it is today.  The war and ripped through this area and you could see the bullet holes, some of which are still evident today as you enter the old city.  These are bullet holes from both 1948 and 1967.  From 1967 until today there are two sections at the Kotel, one for men and one for women.  There is a discreet separation between the men's and women's side and the men's side has always been bigger.

Jews have been in Jerusalem since the time of the Bible.  In fact at certain times there has been no separation between the sexes.  In Israel since the only State recognized Judaism is Orthodox, women are not allowed to read Torah at the Kotel, wear a tallit, (unless it looks like a shawl) and pray like the men are allowed to pray.  

Hotel between 1900-1920, Men and Women together

This Sunday at Lakeside we will be discussing Women of the Wall and here is there mission statement:  
As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.
Over the past few years the arguments and legalities around the Kotel have intensified with regards to letting women pray at the Kotel.  There are many other political issues as well regarding the Temple mount but we will be focusing on the Women of the Wall.  I hope that you can join on us this Sunday, December 7 at 10:30 am for a good discussion on this lively topic.

From the song: Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shemir:

The mountain air is clear as wine
And the scent of pines
Is carried on the breeze of twilight
With the sound of bells.

And in the slumber of tree and stone
Captured in her dream
The city that sits solitary
And in its midst is a wall.

Jerusalem of gold, and of bronze, and of light
Behold I am a violin for all your songs. 
English Translation from the Hebrew

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

We Give Thanks

Thanksgiving Sukkot and Chanukah, which is it?

Last year at this time the Jewish world was in a frenzy as we were celebrating Chanukah and Thanksgiving on the same evening.  Because of the Hebrew calendar and the fixed date of Thanksgiving this will not happen in our lifetime, not for many year to come.  

As we prepare for Thanksgiving this year I go back to connecting Sukkot and Thanksgiving as I think these 2 holidays have more in common than Thanksgiving and Chanukah, let's say.  Dr. Jonathan Saran, a professor of American History at Brandeis University tells us that, "The Puritans did not believe in fixed holidays, If it was a good season, they would announce a thanksgiving, but it’s not like the Jewish holiday which occurs on the 15th of the month of Tishrei (Sukkot). They did not believe in that. So in that respect it’s different.”

Sarna goes on to explain that, “They knew what they called the Old Testament, what we call the Hebrew Bible, they knew it, and they were influenced by it,” Now they didn’t go out and build huts, obviously. But the notion that one would be thankful for a bountiful harvest was certainly one they would have learned from the Hebrew Bible.”

In fact if we look back in secular American history  we find that Thanksgiving did not become a fixed holiday in America until President Abraham Lincoln established it in 1863. The holiday also did not have a fixed date until Congress established one—the fourth Thursday of each November—in 1941. Ask your parents and grandparents who remember Thanksgiving before 1941 when they celebrated the holiday.  

I know that we are all thankful for the having food, shelter, education and living in a wonderful community.  I do get phone calls at this time of year asking what we can do to help those who are not as fortunate as we are.  I first respond that during November and December most food banks and soup kitchens have more than enough volunteers.  However you can always donate to local food pantries!  Here are a few:  

    6450 N. California
   Chicago, IL 60645 (773) 973-1000

 Northfield Office and Pantry Hours.
     Passport Plaza Building
     3801 West Lake Ave
     Glenview, IL 60026, Phone:(847) 724-8300
Deerfield Food Pantry
     601 Deerfield Road      
Highland Park Pantry 
     777 Central Avenue,847-432-3240 
Cool Food Pantry
     121 W. Water St.
     Waukegan, IL 847-662-1230

I would also remind you that by February these same soup kitchens, food pantries and food banks which are full to the brim now are looking for volunteers again.  I will try to remind everyone that this is the time to go out again and lend a hand.  I hope everyone has a good and meaningful Thanksgiving.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

OSRUI: Retreat builds Kehilah,community, Kehilah (clap)

Our 5th and 6th grade retreat was last weekend with Or Shalom.  We had a wonderful time and I think as a result more students are thinking about making the jump to chanichim (campers). They also deepened their friendships with Lakeside friends and met new Or Shalom friends.  This weekend a few of our students will be joining Or Shalom on their Youth group trip to Dave and Busters.  It's all a win-win for us.

 I am always happy and excited to see how our students connect with one another, the other congregation and just connect with camp.  It was a cold weekend but we enjoyed ourselves.  From camp-like T'filot, to eating in the Chader Ochel, (dining hall) and running around on a scavenger hunt it was a packed weekend.  We went with Micah Brandhandler our URJ Camp Fellow and he was also able to program and connect with all of our students.  Both Micah and I get questions about how families can help pay for camp.  Here are some FAQ's about OSRUI:

  • When you register for camp with OSRUI, you must put down a deposit.  The standard deposit is $400 per camper per session and may be paid via credit card or check.  If you are applying for a scholarship, you may pay $200 per camper by check only.  OSRUI cannot confirm your child’s enrollment or hold his/her spot until they receive the check.

  • For campers attending a session for the first time for 19 days or longer (even if you’ve attended a shorter session in the past)you can apply for a grant from One Happy Camper. These grants are not need based.  See their website for more information and to apply:  /

I hope this helps set you on the path to camp.  If you have any questions please feel free to call me.  Here is the the link to the iMovie about our weekend.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What's going on in Hebrew school?

Every Tuesday from 4-5:45pm at Lakeside Congregation our students from  Kitah Aleph through Kitah Dalet learn, read, drill, sing, play games and sometimes even pose for pictures and an iMovie.  I am the Kitah Aleph teacher and watching my students go from knowing no written Hebrew at the beginning of the year to being able to recognize all the letters and vowels and to read simple prayers is a wonderful feeling.

Kitah Aleph 2014
Teaching Kitah Aleph also gives me the opportunity to get to know students who are in our program.  As they get closer to B'nai Mitzvah I am also the staff person who works with them on their D'vrei Torah, speech for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  Watching as our students grow into young adults is a perk of the job.  I take great satisfaction in watching them go through our system and  learn to read Hebrew.  I tell new parents that although our curriculum concentrates on Hebrew needed for t'filot, (prayers) we do teach some conversational Hebrew along the way.  Our students will not be able to get off the airplane in Tel Aviv and get directions to your hotel but they do all have a working knowledge of Hebrew.  Most of our students have the opportunity to take Hebrew in our local High Schools and I know that our Lakeside Students have done well in these programs.

This year we also welcome Todd Kessler, our song leader who is leading song sessions during Hebrew school.  It gives us more time to learn how to sing prayers and Hebrew songs.  This week we concentrated on learning the prayers and melody for the Havdalah ceremony.  
Kitah Aleph 2014

If you want to see a time lapse video of my class and all we do in one afternoon here you go.  There are some pictures of my class as well as regular video.  It's not long and I hope you have a taste of what we do on almost every Tuesday during the school year.

Time Lapse Video of Kitah Aleph.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shabbat and Halloween 2014: Challenge or Not?

Halloween and Shabbat
This year Shabbat and Halloween are on the same night.  This may not pose a problem for some families as they will trick and treat and then light Shabbat candles (or not).  At Lakeside we made a strategic decision to have T'filot at 7:30 pm and hope that more people will be in attendance.

There are many articles on this topic including a great article by Edmon Rodman in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.  How do I feel it is a complicated topic.

The first year I was an educator and Halloween fell on Hebrew school date I was determined have Hebrew school.  I had less then 10 students out of 100 attend that afternoon.   Thank goodness Halloween has not been on a Tuesday for a few years.  Now with the hours of Halloween not just strictly recommended by each local city but most families adhere to these hours.  I have watched Halloween over the years become not just a much bigger American celebration but it also heralds the beginning of the Christmas season as well.

Challah with Candy
We do not celebrate Halloween at Lakeside or at any synagogue or Jewish pre-school.  We don't come in costumes or give out candy.  We certainly acknowledge that our students trick or treat and are part of American culture in this arena.  Could we add a Challah filled with candy as seen in Tablet Magazine?
Purim 2014-5744
I hope that you remember that our holiday with costumes is Purim.  The rule in my house was whatever you wear for Halloween you wear again at Purim.  Enjoy Halloween and keep those costumes for Purim 2015!  If I don't see you at Halloween I will see you at Purim!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Social Action Shabbat and Welcoming New Members

 October 24 at our 6:00 pm T'filot we will welcome our new Lakeside members and highlight our social action committee.

Lakeside Congregation has a very active social action committee which has just passed the torch of Leadership from Joyce Lyon to Len Solof.  Looking for a new mitzvah project check out our Lakeside Social Action page and find projects for all ages.  I refer many of our B'nai Mitzvah students to this page and  they find all the information they need to complete 13 hours of Mitzvot.

7th and 8th Grade at Northern Il Food Bank
The social action committee meets monthly to discuss new projects and to bring meals to different homeless shelters in our community. The social action committee is also committed to visiting our Lakeside members who are homebound and they enjoy these visits.

Lakeside's Religious school is also very busy with monthly social action projects.  We pack for our local PADS shelter every 3rd Sunday and ask different grades to bring in the food we need to pack 50-100 lunches.  Thanks to Jill and Michael Klee, Missy Pos and all of the volunteers who help organize the packing of all of the lunches to those who help schlep the lunches to Waukegan.

On the 2nd Sunday of every month we have one grade go the Northern Illinois Food Bank and we carpool with parents for an intergenerational experience.  We pack, sort or do whatever the food Bank needs us to do.  This is and was a favorite project of Rabbi Isaac Serotta's and he was instrumental in having the food bank open on Sunday so our families and congregants can experience this mitzvah.

Jill Klee also spearheads our visits to the soup kitchen at Beth Emet which is in Evanston.  On Wednesday afternoon's we bring the ingredients, cook the meal and serve it to over 100 people in their community room.  Many of our B'nai Mitzvah families have participated in this mitzvah and it always make a deep impression on them.
Beth Emet Soup Kitchen

Our annual mitzvah day will be May 3, 2015.  We will again have numerous opportunities to do Mitzvot in our community including participating in the Chicago Walk for Israel.

Looking for some social action projects?   Click on this links or come in to Lakeside and I can give you even more ideas.