It is quite a privilege to go with my father to shul. I have not been to services with my father since arriving in Peoria earlier that year. In California, we went to services at a Reform temple where everyone sat together. This dilapidated ancient shul has a second floor where the adult women and their children are seated but my mother has refused to attend such a synagogue.
At home, my mother and father argue about a Yom Kippur pledge. I hear the arguments. But I do not yet know that my father will be competitive with the other businessmen, most of whom are very well established and that he will not honor his promise to my mother to keep his mouth shut. I also do not know that, for the first time I too, influenced by my mother’s heated arguments, will be embarrassed by my father when he shouts out a sum of money he cannot pay when the other men shout out their pledges.
I do not know exactly what transpired or how my mother found out about his braggadocio. But I did hear part of the argument when she did discover his largesse – my father was convinced that the other men were bragging too and that their pledges were no more likely to be paid than was his. My mother took the opposite tack – those other businessmen made lowball tenders. They gave lots less than they were capable of according to her. I tend to believe my mother’s acumen in this case. She knew all about men and how they competed in every arena. My father was a sportsman and he was also unrealistic about his prospects. My mother was a pragmatist of the greatest shrewdness. She knew exactly how much money each and every man in the Jewish community was able to give, including her husband.
“How,” you may ask, “does this make possible my decision to become a member Oak Park Temple?” If you indeed have been a member of OPT and have gone to High Holiday Services, you will know that it is with the utmost gentility that money is asked for. In fact, some years, the Yom Kippur appeal from the bema seems only to be “kindly read the fund raising letter you received in the mail.”
A second reason was that as soon as I entered the rotunda and the sanctuary I found that the congregation was made up of every shade of person – the big machers were in evidence and so were pishers. Variations of race and color were front and center especially among the children, so that I knew that my own halfbreeds would not seem out of place nor would I have to make excuses for them or for their lack of knowledge about Judaism. In fact, one of the first questions I asked Rabbi Gerson (and I attended the first service he ever gave) was whether my children would be welcome, especially since my oldest child would be entering into the Confirmation Class. She had never attended any religious school except for one summer day school session of a Baptist Church which quickly got dumped by a disillusioned kid who thought she was going to play dominoes with her little boy friend but instead was taught a catechism.
Rabbi Gerson’s answer to my question about my children’s acceptance? The classic “pintele yid.” He assured me that each of my children had a pintele yid that would make them feel at home. And he was right – my oldest daughter fit right into the class and in fact, I kinda felt like she was a “star” when she was asked to play her flute as a part of her participation in the Confirmation ritual.
Other reasons why I felt at home at OPT? As a single parent, I was one among many single parents. As a divorced mother of three, I was one among many divorcees. As a working woman of limited means, I was welcomed nonetheless. I seemed to find community where I never had ventured on my own before – certainly not since I had left home at age 18 had I once been to a Jewish religious service of my own volition. But here in this community I was one among many and that made me not only want to nourish my children in the ancient rituals and learning but also, as I soon found out, my own self needed this nourishment and it was to be found and encouraged at Oak Park Temple.
It’s more than 35 years now and I continue to find and build that sense of community and acceptance and ritual and peace and accomplishment that I desired for my children. They themselves may or may not ever choose to find what I have found here but it was a propitious trek from La Grange that, because it was too long a trip to go back home and return again to pick up my children, brought me to choose and to continue to choose Oak Park Temple as my sacred home ground.