I was born in Somerville, Massachusetts. My family was active in the Somerville temple. When I was about 5 years old we moved to Medford, the next town over. We became members of Temple Shalom, a conservative congregation. I went to Hebrew School every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for two hours. I went to Sunday School every week. I went to Saturday morning youth services every week, and became leader of those services around the age of 11.
Here at OPT, every time I sing “v’Ne’e mar…v’Haya Adonai…L’melech al kol h’a aretz....” I am instantly transported back to the bima at Temple Shalom, an 11 year old kid and my stomach growls and gurgles and I get hungry and tired and anticipate the oneg on a Saturday morning so many years ago! A Pavlovian thread of my Judaism.
Temple Shalom was built next to Victory Park, a big, beautiful park with soccer field and baseball field and tennis courts and swings, right on the edge of the MDC forests. And for more hours than I care to remember, I looked out the windows of my Hebrew School classrooms oh so longingly at Victory Park. Sometimes seeing my friends at play. My main teachers were Cantor Lew and Mrs. Lew. And I remember our talks about yahweh, and learning that God is everywhere and everything – in the grass, in the trees, in the clouds. And as I looked out at the grass and trees and clouds at Victory Park this all made sense to me. What has never made sense to me is the anthropomorphization of yahweh, of the un-knowable, of the un-namable. God is not the old white guy with a flowing white beard sitting on a throne up in the sky. I don’t even think God can be referred to as the One. To me, God just is. This is another thread of my Judaism.
One of the first sermons I heard Rabbi Weiss give here at OPT, he made some reference to Quantum Physics, and it really caught my attention. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the Rabbi explored some of the same concepts and ideas as I did because of the strong thread of always questioning and always exploring and always examining that is a foundation of Judaism.
As I grew up Jewish in the suburbs of Boston, I learned about the Holocaust and about anti-Semitism. I learned about the singling out of a minority group for extermination, or for just plain unfair treatment. I quickly learned that I was “different”. Whether being uncomfortable buying “different” Jewish foods at the supermarket, or fielding anti-semitic epithets, or having anti-semitic confrontations. It didn’t matter so much to win a fight every time, but it did matter that I fought. My Judaism taught me that sticking up for the marginalized was actually sticking up for myself. Which was a direct thread to my being an Assistant Public Defender here in Cook County. Sitting right next to my client, who everybody else in the courtroom didn’t want to be anywhere close to – not the judge, prosecutor, clerk, sheriffs and certainly not the jurors - because of what he was accused of having done, sitting there close to him and putting my arm around his shoulder, and being that one person in the whole world showing him the basic human respect to which we are all entitled. My Judaism helped me do that for 30 years.
The importance of living out and passing on the values.
The importance of not breaking the thread that stretches back 6000 years. 6000 years – longer than just about anybody else! So, a part of that being different is about being special.
Having children concretized the importance of not breaking that thread. I fell in love with and married Dorie – a “mixed” marriage. In fact, Dorie’s father, the Rev. Dr. Charles Ellzey, was a Methodist minister. Dorie always got the essence of Judaism, and she helped me keep the thread of my Judaism even when I stretched it pretty thin. And I thank you for that. (Dorie)
We tried to expose our kids to both Judaism and Christianity. Our idea was to prepare them for when they could make their own decisions about what to believe and who to be. That made sense on paper……..
Until the day our oldest, our daughter Jamine at around the age of 8, told us:
“When I go to church with Mom I’m supposed to believe in Jesus. When I go to Temple with Dad I’m not supposed to believe in Jesus. This does not feel right”.
And shortly thereafter, our son Evan, at around age 4 or 5, thumped his fist on the table and said: “Just tell me what I am!”
CLEARLY WE WERE JUST A BIT BEHIND THE CURVE ON THAT ONE!!!
This was all at the time of our 10 year wedding anniversary, and it kind of galvanized a lot of issues for us that had been “percolating”. We started joint counseling with Rabbi Gerson from OPT and Rev Greg Dell from Euclid UMC, where Dorie attends. They both helped us see that our crisis was less about religion and actually about bringing our full selves, with ALL our differences, to the marriage, and viewing differences as a strength. And also that in a mainly Christian culture it was important to actually emphasize the ‘minority’ Jewishness. This process led to our renewal of vows ceremony and to our raising our 3 kids Jewish. Jamine, Evan and Mara, all bat/bar mitzvah here at OPT.
A few years later, Charity Cooper, one of the other moms in our Havurah, doing car-pool for Hebrew school, reported overhearing Evan in the back seat say, “My mom is Christian but I came out Jewish”.
About 24 years ago we joined with 6 other OPT families, and now 7 other OPT families, to form a Havurah – a community of caring and support. Another thread and connection here at OPT. The Allens, Ansell-Grablers, Blaines, Coopers, Karrows, Sterns and Woods. We break the fast at Coopers, we went camping with Karrows, we do 2nd night Pesach at Blaines, we’ve done bat/bar mitzvahs, graduations, weddings, and now we do grandchildren with our extended Jewish families.
And today, the thread of my Judaism continues here at OPT as our oldest daughter Jamine and our son-in-law Tino and our granddaughter Athina have recently moved to Oak Park from Seattle. I watch Jamine with her own child and see how she just loves being a mother. And how naturally she has reached out to OPT as part of her mothering. Jamine and Tino have met with Rabbi Weiss. Jamine takes Athina to tot Shabbat and they attended family services at High Holy Days. Tonight, as I say yahrzeit for my mother, my daughter and her family are connecting with OPT.
And one last thing. The Bagel Boys. I am one of the original bagel boys. One reason we started Bagel Boys was because we wanted something to do as we hung around waiting for our kids on Sunday mornings, and we all loved food! And this year at Yom Kippur services, I heard OPT member Jen George speaking about her first time visiting OPT, and the energy in the rotunda, and how this must be a special event, and about eating a bagel with a schmeer……. a bagel with a schmeer! The original Bagel Boys had no clue we were starting another thread!
So I want to thank Rabbi Weiss and Rabbi Gerson, and Cantor Yugend-Green and Cantor Katzew, and all the educators and staff. This reflection on my Judaism is important to me. It comes at a time in my life of many endings and many beginnings. And through it all I see the threads of my Judaism, the threads of my family’s Judaism, the threads of my community’s Judaism, revolving around OPT. And I can glimpse how these threads wind together and sometimes form a string, and sometimes even form a rope, but always form the fabric of my Jewish life.