Love Through Actions - Diane Rayor

Hello, I’m Diane Rayor, serving on the Ahavas Board of Trustees, and I am on the Membership Committee with Sandy Freed and Abe Cohen (and hopefully with a few more people by October). I’m also a Classics professor at GVSU with a specialty in translating ancient Greek poetry and drama. I often see parallels between the ancient Greek languages and culture that I study and ancient Hebrew and contemporary Jewish life.

“Now you are to love [Adonai] your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your substance!” (The Five Books of Moses, translated by Everett Fox, 2000:Deuteronomy 6:5).

In his D’var Torah (8/17/19), Rabbi Krishef said that “loving God,” in Deuteronomy 6:5, is more about love in action than simply emotion. At least that’s what I understood. I’ve always mulled over this line, trying to comprehend the nuances of loving with all one’s heart (lev) and soul (being/nefesh). According to Fox’s notes, “heart” often means “mind,” and the meanings of nefesh include “life,” “breath,” and “self,” not separate from the body (p.881).

Interestingly, Greek terms for emotions also include the actions they trigger rather than simply feelings. For example, hubris is not “pride” but “arrogance that leads to violent action.”

I view actively loving God as a command to do good actions, such as welcoming people into our congregation or helping to mitigate the damage of climate change to the Earth. For the latter goal, we at Ahavas can support the Corners of the Field Garden to feed the hungry (email Allyson Cole-Strauss at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for information) and to sequester carbon. We can also advocate in our communities for planting productive food trees (like chestnuts) or bushes (like currants) and moving to renewable energy as quickly as possible, among other things.

As for welcoming people into our congregation, loving God in action is loving the stranger (ger) among us (Deut. 10:18). This includes a whole-hearted embrace of interfaith couples as an integral part of our congregation, as well as, welcoming immigrants (as we used to be) into our community. The Greek word “xenos” (as in xenophobia—fear of strangers or foreigners) does mean stranger or foreigner, but it also means guest. If people see the other person as a guest—a friend or fellow citizen—rather than a stranger, we can break bread together as guests to each other’s traditions and differences. For our congregation to remain vital and relevant, we need our current members and their families to know they belong. And we need to encourage new people to join us, even—perhaps especially—people who may be different than those we have traditionally welcomed into our family.

Volunteers needed! What is your special skill or interest?

Do you like working outside, administrative work, one-time tasks, on-going committee work, shopping, working with food, working with people, working from home, driving, daytime, evenings, helping with minyan, leading services, reading Torah, teaching …? Tell us what you like, and we’ll give you something to do. Contact Barb Wepman, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Rabbi Krishef, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 616-949-2840.

From The President - September 2019

It is my pleasure to greet you this new year with your first “Message from the Board.” There have been a few changes over the last year. Here are the major ones:

  • First, we have a new custodian -- JaQuae (pronounced “Jah-kway”) Denard; he joined us about a year ago, and we are so glad he did! If you haven’t met him yet, please introduce yourself and welcome him when you see him.
  • At our Annual Meeting in June, we elected new board members. Let me introduce all our board members to you: Ann Berman, Abe Cohen, Guy DeJager, Doug de Lange, Toby Weiner Dolinka, Jack Finn, Melissa Hillman, Shoshana Jackson, Judy Joseph, Diane Rayor, Ken Strauss, Lanny Thodey, Pat Weller, and Barbara Wepman.

Once again, I look forward to a successful year with lots of communication between board members and congregation members, lots of participation in the many religious, educational, and social activities offered, and lots of volunteering from our members to make things happen and to get them done.

To accomplish this, I have given each board member a list of several congregation members to contact. They will keep you updated on what is going on and where we need your help. It also offers you a channel to contact them with your thoughts, questions, concerns, ideas, and suggestions.

This is YOUR shul; we want you to be involved and participate in any way you can. Step up -- work with us on any of our committees, help plan programs and activities. We welcome your ideas and help. And, of course, your participation as well!

You have already received your dues letter and pledge form. Please be generous when you make your financial commitment to Ahavas Israel. We can only accomplish things, provide services and activities, and maintain this building with your help. When you think about your pledge, could you add a few more dollars to help make Ahavas Israel productive and prosperous?

As our High Holy days approach, and we welcome in the New Year, 5780, remember that the synagogue is here for YOU; I hope you will be here for us and help make this a pleasant, peaceful, positive year, and successful. Let’s work together for a happy, healthy, sweet 5780. We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at our Shul.

Wishing you a very happy New Year

L’shana Tovah Tikateyvu,

Barbara Wepman, President

Teamwork - Doug de Lange

Everyone knows what teamwork is. We have been inculcated with the doctrine and importance of teamwork since we were children.

Some examples of teamwork, which readily jump to mind, are basketball teams, baseball teams, football teams, NASCAR pit crews, and relay teams. All these teams have a unifying factor that most people would say is an obvious essential to any definition of teamwork: these teams all pull together to achieve a desired goal. You will never see a relay runner grab the baton and take off across the infield or a water polo player suddenly begin to swim the ball to the goal they are defending.

Recently I decided to binge watch every episode (452) of an old TV classic, “Death Valley Days.” Somewhere along this journey were a couple episodes, which actually talked about the “Twenty Mule Teams,” and I learned a lot about these mule teams. This piqued my curiosity to know more, and I was not disappointed in what I discovered.

Mules are not stubborn. They are just too smart to do something stupid. Mules have an abundance of common sense and a natural self-preservation from harm. Mules get their physical prowess from horses and their intelligence from donkeys in a rare genetic triumph, which bestows the best qualities from each contributing breed in severable desirable ways.

The ore train itself was comprised of two freight wagons 16 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 6 feet deep, weighing 7800 pounds each, empty. A third tanker wagon holding 1200 gallons of water brought up the rear. An 80-foot logging chain was used to hitch the first 9 pair of mules. Six categories of mules made up the mule team. The “leaders” were the first pair. Intelligent and large, they knew their names and responded to the input of a jerk line from a Driver 9 teams back. The next 10 mules comprised the “swing” team. All they needed to know were the commands “stop” and “pull.” Following them were the “sixes” and “eights” and “pointers.” These were highly intelligent and highly trained beasts. They knew their names and could respond individually to orders from the driver; it is their function on which I wish to elaborate. The final pair were the “wheelers,” the largest and strongest pair; they also knew their names and were responsible to begin the movement of the wagon train. They were the only ones hitched to the tongue of the wagon, which of course gives direction to the 7’ tall wheels. Two humans went along, a driver (commonly called a “Muleskinner”) who used both verbal instruction and the rein with a 22’ whip for sound effects, and a “Swamper” who cared for the animals and rode the second wagon to put on the brakes on downgrades so the Team wouldn’t be overrun.

The entire assemblage weighed about 73,200 pounds and stretched a whopping 180 feet, nearly 2/3 the length of a football field! There was one mule for each 3,660 pounds! Quite impressive numbers indeed. The route was 172 miles from Furnace Creek, CA, in Death Valley to Mojave, CA. It has steep stretches and some substantial corners to maneuver. How does this team, assembled on a chain, pulling a heavy load, change directions, and go around several hairpin turns?

If they all pulled in the same direction, they would eventually pull the wagon right into the valleys, and the mules would be swept off a cliff on inside turns or into the embankment on outside turns. One way would result in death, the other way disaster.

Here’s how they did it: Some of the mules had an even more highly developed sense of self-preservation than a normal mule. These mules, the sixes and the eights, were perfectly suited to be trained to actually jump the logging chain and pull in an entirely different direction than the swing team and the leaders. They were also trained to pull while sidestepping. The pointers performed the same function differently as they actually “pointed” the wheelers to the desired direction of the wagons. 

The sixes, eights, and pointers had to go against their natural inclination, break formation, jump over a chain, counter the movements of the 12 mules in front of them, and either pull towards the embankment or towards a precipice! At any given time, up to four different directional forces were acting to get the freight wagons to proceed in the direction they had to go. Even though this breaks every normal definition of teamwork, everyone working together in the same direction to the finish line, it fits perfectly with the goals of teamwork as it pertains to achieving their goals successfully.

There’s a lesson I learned from this example of teamwork, which pertains to our Ahavas Israel community as members of a Kehilla: not everyone has to be pulling in the same direction at the same time to have success as a team. Walking in lock step with a group can even destroy the way the group needs to work to progress successfully from one point to another.

Finally, as intelligent beings, like the more intelligent mules, we should not be afraid to jump the chain and walk in another direction to reach our goals. It is my sincere hope that as a Congregation all of our members will realize the many ways we can work together as a team for the greater good, even if it means that at times we may seem to be walking alone towards our destination.

Vice President,

Doug de Lange

Ahavas Israel Board Member

Ed Miller

As a fourth-generation member of our synagogue, Ahavas Israel has always been a very important part of my life. From Hebrew School through bar mitzvah, from participation in USY locally and regionally, and now as an adult, I have served on many different committees.

My wife Paula and I raised three wonderful children at Ahavas, starting with their baby Naming/Brit Milah, their Bnai Mitzvahs, Lindsay and Danielle having their Weddings at Ahavas, and Sam having his Aufruf at Ahavas. This has given us such joy and Nachas over the years. Together we raised our three children at shul and impressed on them the importance of active synagogue life.

I have served on the Board of Trustees for over 35 years, including 4 years as President. It has been my honor to serve for many years on the Hevra Kaddisha (burial society) committee and now serve as its chair. I also have served for many years on the Cemetery committee and now am the chair of this committee as well. Currently, I serve as Chair of the 25/125 Celebration Committee.

We are planning a very special community-wide celebration at the end of May, beginning of June. Rabbi Krishef has been leading our congregation for 25 years, and our congregation will be celebrating 125 years as a Kehillah Kedoshah (holy community) in Grand Rapids. Please save the weekend of May 31st – June 2nd as it promises to be a weekend to remember. We will have a very special Shabbat morning service followed by a luncheon. On Sunday will be a festive community celebration “under the big top” in our own backyard. We will present opening ceremonies at 11 am sharp, a Klezmer band, a Glatt kosher food truck, and kids’ entertainment. If you have not made your reservations, please do so today.

Ahavas Israel has been the center of my life for so long, but I could not have done it without the support of my loving wife Paula.

As much as I’ve given to Ahavas Israel over the years, it has given me so much more in return. I highly recommend for all of you to get involved in the richness that our synagogue life has to offer you. You will be highly rewarded through your participation.

Eddie Miller

Ahavas Israel Board Member                                                                                                                                                                              

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