Monday, June 26, 2017

Google translate, a trip to McDonalds for ICE CREAM and a drive along Lake Shore Drive!

Guest Post from Lisa Fisher about our Refugees:

As I drove to visit Makandja and Bobasha yesterday, I had a plan mapped out in my head. I 
would walk with them to the library, in hopes of sharing not only a place to retreat in insufferably hot summer days, but a place to get books, music, DVD’s once they have their documents in place. I envisioned picking up where Marcie left off, working on “W” words, “Who, What, Why and Where”  Once I arrived I immediately sensed that although appearing settled in, perhaps Bobasha was feeling alone. I practiced one of the “W” words…  “ Where is Makandja?”  Bobasha responded, “Makandja.” 
 Makandja was most likely with his friends in Rogers Park.  My so called plan would have to wait for another day.  I had stopped at the Jewel and bought a bucket of fried chicken, corn tortillas, salsa, eggs ,butter ,cherries, mango juice, lactaid milk, and few soft drinks. As I unpacked the groceries, Bobasha was glued to his smartphone ( actually his friend Ruti’s phone), watching a soccer match streamed live.  I so wish we could have translator for our visits, because once he put down his phone, we were passing my phone back and forth trying to communicate. 

  I now understand why people say,” Google Translate?  it’s not always reliable…”    At one point I asked, Bobasha, “what do you want to study?” Bobasha’s translated message came back, “ I give you a shale and I am Bozena”. After talking about Ruti working at O’hare,  his response to my question about what kind of job he hopes to find, “Any popular world promises promise.”  I can only imagine what was going on at his end from my English to Swahili…As I explained fried chicken being an American favorite, I was also explaining the mix of ethnic foods we as Americans love. Salsa for example, and tortilla’s, being Mexican food.  I don’t know how much he was able to take in from that little lesson on American food, but I do know he was hungry, considering how quickly he wolfed down two pieces of chicken, ( which he dipped in Salsa ), followed by four soft pan friend corn tortillas dipped in more  salsa.  

 Every time I asked, “ where is Makandja?”  Bobasha repeated, “Makandja”.   I had also purchased  a few cans of both ginger ale and coke. Bobasha had no interest in the Mango Juice. He requested, “Coka”   We walked to Hollywood park at the end of the block. There was a group playing basket ball.  In a different section were families with small kids on swings. Bobasha motioned that he wanted to sit in the park, which we did, still passing the phone back and forth relying on Google translate as our only way, “ I miss my brother and my baby” came through clearly. One can only imagine how shocking it is to suddenly be transported to such a different strange new place, where you’ve always heard there is opportunity and hope and yet everything and everyone is an alien.  He looked toward the structure that housed two bathrooms and asked what they were. I explained and he said, “ I go”. Unfortunately they were locked. Lucky for us, across the street from the park stands a Mc Donalds.  After using the facilities, 

First time having soft serve from McDonald's
Bobasha was intrigued by the strange white whipped turrets served in cones.  I asked if he’d like to try one. He did and I don’t know if  Lumba lumba means it tastes good or that that’s the name for a soft serve ice-cream cone. He finished it with a smile. As we walked back I said, “lets see if you can find your way back, and then you will always know how to get here if you like.” He did it with ease, and asked to sit in the park again, which we did.  After realizing that he was probably lonely not knowing what to do by himself, for the rest of the day,  I decided to show him Chicago by way of Lake Shore Drive. Obviously I couldn’t use Google translate while driving and so there was just a lot of pointing and naming of landmarks:  Lake Michigan,  Lake Shore Drive, Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, Hancock Building, Oak Street Beach. He pointed and repeated “boat”.

We made it back by 4:45 and I was relieved to find that Makandja was not only home, but standing over the stove stirring food in a pot.  You might all remember there had been no gas, and no refrigerator until two days ago.  In closing I just want to say that despite the hits and misses with Google Translate, even when there were long stretches of silence while sharing a park bench, we are laying down a foundation of trust and sense of safety in this new adventure for our new friends. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Happily Reunited: Makandja and Bobasha, welcoming our Refugees!

 This week our second refugee, Bobasha, arrived at O’Hare airport on Tuesday afternoon, June 20, National Refugee Day! HIAS and JCFS made sure Bobasha was escorted to the baggage area where we arranged to meet him. There was a group of Lakeside members at the airport as well as a translator who has been working with Makandja. The translator  brought Makandja to the airport to meet his dear friend. Everything went smoothly and we were all able to witness the joy and relief that these two young men experience when they were reunited.
Makandja and Bobasha grew up together as brothers in the refugee camp in Tanzania. Although they are not birth brothers, as Makandja tells it, they ate side by side at the same table, they slept side by side under the same roof, they played together, they went to school and they shared a history that none of us can imagine. Now, they are happy to be together again.

Bobasha will share the apartment with Makandja. He will have the benefit of learning what Makandja has already learned; how to take the bus, how to use food stamps, how to get around the neighborhood, how to find his way to World Relief for English classes and other resources. They will enjoy traveling together to visit friends from home who live in the Rogers Park area and together they will be able to branch out and explore the city.

In spite of the many challenges they face they will have each other to lean on and talk to. Makandja and Bobasha will surely be happier and safer together than apart. If you want to volunteer or get involved with our Social action committee please email me:  Join us tonight for Refugee Shabbat, Friday June 23 at 6:00 pm!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Running into Summer: 2017

Many people ask me what I do over the summer.  Do I have vacation all summer?  No, how would Lakeside get all the books, curriculum, calendars and even pencils get put into place if not but over the summer.  We don't have Religious school or Hebrew school but we do have students who are tutored over the summer as they prepare for B'nai Mitzvah.  Of course we have weekly outdoor and special themed Friday Night Shabbat T'filot and Shabbat morning Bible study. 

This year I started off the summer season by attending the American Jewish Committee's Global Forum.  This year it was held in Washington D.C. and this is what the AJC does:

The AJC Global Forum is AJC’s annual policy and advocacy conference. The program includes a mixture of large plenary sessions featuring headline speakers and smaller breakout sessions designed to explore the key political, strategic, and social concerns affecting the future of world Jewry. At this unique gathering you will not only experience what it means to be part of a global people, but also engage in meaningful advocacy to advance the well-being of the Jewish community.

We heard many different speakers from Senator Chuck Schumer, U.S. National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed and many other speakers.  There were videos from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to winners of different awards of courage and unity.  I studied about Black-Jewish relations, Israel: BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions) and how to handle that on the college campus.  The conference was interesting and appealed to different types of learning with videos, speakers and smaller lectures.  Next year their conference will be in Jerusalem for a celebration of Israel's 70 Birthday.  

Today I went to OSRUI for the day during staff training week.  I worked with our madrichim, counselors to help them lead our Limudim, educational programs and Hebrew.  I am passionate about working with campers over the summer and am inspired by our madrichim's dedication to camp and our campers. 

Before I leave for camp I look forward to working on our upcoming year of programs and school at Lakeside.  Any new ideas give me a call.  I know we will have some surprises for you when school opens on Sunday September 10!  Enjoy your summer and come and visit us!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Has it only been one week since Makandja arrived in Chicago?

How can it be only a week since Makandja arrived?  There is so much to report and if you missed Makanja's welcome you can read it here

One of the most encouraging facts to report is that Makandja has friends from the refugee camp in Tanzania who are now in Chicago and who have been here four or five months already. Makanja and his friends were extremely happy to be connected to each other by the translator from JCFS (Jewish Child and Family Services). These friends will be great company and help to Makanja as he navigates his way through our complicated public transit system, food stamps and learning new language skills. 

Studying English with a snack.

There has  been a visit from his case manager at JCFS who brings a translator with her. Her name is Barbara and she will help Makandja to enroll in an English as a second language class (ESL) as well as help to get him food stamps, a medical check up, bus pass and other support necessities. Barbara is a social worker and is well trained to monitor Makandja, and to take responsibility for things we are not trained to do.

We have a core committee of volunteers in place and when Makandja's schedule is set for classes and he has done the things he needs to do to get food stamps etc, we will begin to look for more volunteers who may be interested in joining this core group of volunteers to perhaps become substitutes, alternates, or volunteer partners. 

This week Makandja had a Saturday visit from Jackie Cohen, her husband, Gary and Susan Gottlieb. They taught him how to use his microwave and his hot plate. They brought a runner that will protect his cabinet from the hot plate and toaster oven. They were happy to make this first important visit and to meet some of Makanja's friends from the camp in Tanzania.  They reported that the friends were nice, and that they were making great strides in learning English. 
At the French pastry shop in the neighborhood,
from the Left: Makanja, Barbara, Marcie, Ruti and Lisa

On Tuesday, May 30, Lisa Fisher and Marci Bearman visited Makandja and reviewed the use of appliances. We taught Makanja to use his appliances by supervising as Makanja  cooked the food himself. 

Then Makandja and his friend Ruti worked with us as we taught lessons about the names and values of currency and how to make change, as well as basic language phrases such as "may I have the book" and "I would like to buy water."
We all had lots of laughs and fun with us trying to use google translate and to speak Swahili,  while they tried to use their new English skills.   

We visited local markets, and stopped in for tea, coffee and drinks at a French coffee shop where two amazing women work. Makanja and his friend Ruti speak French as well as Swahili and these woman offered their support, friendship, and their help in case of an emergency.

Then we drove the boys to a grocery store that was better stocked than the neighborhood stores and took a longer walk around Makandja's neighborhood exploring parks and meeting a pastor at a church down the street. We taught Makanja how to look for addresses on buildings as we walked past them, how to read the names on street signs and the meaning of a few traffic signs.

Then, we went back to the apartment where Lisa made more delicious food and with Ruti's help; Marcie addressed an envelope to Makandja's camp in Tanzania and showed him where to put the Universal Forever World Wide Stamp on the envelope. Then we waited while Makanja wrote a long letter home which I took to the post office and mailed this morning. 

Makanja knows how to read and write very well in both French and Swahili and he is an earnest student. I am certain he will make fast progress not only in learning English, but in learning how to conduct himself and share the gifts which are his;  a smiling, friendly personality, which he balances with a serious and sensitive disposition. He is an exceptional young man. 

Exploring the neighborhood 

He has friends from home, and will make many new friends in his neighborhood, but I hope we can find a way to bring Makandja into all of our lives. We are hoping to have a picnic in the park near where he lives this summer with soccer or football as they refer to it and we will let you know the time and place.

But first, the basics necessities need to be taken care of for Makandja,  and we at Lakeside will need to wait to establish a steady schedule of volunteers. Please let Marcie  and Lisa know if you have free days, and what your free days are if you are interested in working with Makanja. If you want to be a volunteer and work with a partner you must fill out a background check from HIAS.  Please email Vanessa: and she will send you the forms.

Makandja could use a friend closer to his age to play soccer with, or a friend to take an adventure by bus or train to somewhere in the city that he would not know of or be comfortable traveling to alone. The possibilities are endless especially once he is more settled. 

We will be happy to share the experience with you with our updates as they come out.  An early Shabbat Shalom and we hope you had a Happy Shavuot.  

Marcie Bearman  and Lisa Fisher

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The long wait is over! A fruitful new chapter has begun; Welcome Makanja

Waiting to welcome Makanja
Last night, Wednesday May 24 Lakeside Congregation welcomed the stranger as Makanja arrived from the Congo.  As a congregation we will be supporting Makanja as he learns to live in Chicago.  

Here is a guest post from Marcie Bearman who was the airport as part of the welcoming committee.  Special thanks to the committee and our members who went to O'hare to welcome Makanja. Thanks to the Bagdade's for taking these pictures!  If you want to volunteer feel free to email me at  At this time we are looking for a simple flat screen TV for Makanja's apartment.

We will keep you updated as Makanja experiences Chicago and we welcome him.  

Guest Post by Marcie Bearman

Makanja arrived!
A group of us waited with signs and much excitement at the baggage carousel area where Makanja was expected until the last bag, Makanja's bag, stood alone.

Makanja had still not found his way to the baggage area and we began to worry in earnest.
And then he came towards us escorted by a few from our group  who found him near an entrance to the baggage area. The  TSA was trying to help him but there was no language that allowed understanding. Then Makanja saw a sign with his name on it and was released to Lakeside members who brought him to the larger group. 

Makanja was clearly exhausted but managed to smile, shake hands and thank each one of us with extreme sincerity. He is a small, thin young man with a  kind face. We all felt an immediate bond and  the desire to help this man gain back his strength and find independence, safety and happiness. 

Our job lies ahead of us, but I do not think there was one person  at the airport tonight who was not willing to meet the challenge. I feel certain that this evening will never be forgotten by Makanja, or any of us.

    Marcie Bearman

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