Judy Joseph's journey

I have been a member of Ahavas Israel since 1973, as long as I have lived in Grand Rapids. When I arrived in Grand Rapids, I didn’t know anyone.  I had very little experience in volunteering.  I was invited to a Sisterhood luncheon meeting.  I joined sisterhood and became Ahavas Israel librarian.  I had previous experience in the library of my children’s elementary school in Wayne, New Jersey.  Serving as librarian put me on the Sisterhood Board.  I made many friends in the Sisterhood.  I got involved in serving on a Circle.  There were circles for each month, from September to May.  The circle of the month prepared the lunch for the monthly Sisterhood meeting and was responsible for the Shabbat Kiddushim during that month. 

I served as Sisterhood President from 1976-1978.  During my term I attended the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism Convention at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, where I attended the Creative Handicrafts sessions.  That experience led to the creation of the Twelve Tribes wall hanging in the Social Hall, which was professionally designed, but executed by members of Sisterhood.  Many years later I was involved with the banners of the Hebrew Month project.  I created one and helped produce two others.

 When Ahavas Israel became egalitarian in 1977, I was the second woman to have an Aliyah. I became a regular member of the Wednesday morning minyan that year to ensure that my husband had a minyan to say kaddish for his father.  I am still a member of that minyan.  A Sisterhood learning group sharpened my Hebrew and led to my having a Bat Mitzvah in honor of my fiftieth birthday.

I became involved at the congregational level and served as the second female President of the congregation in 1986.  I have served as a board member and vice president since that time.  I have served on the renovation, finances, and acquisitions committees.  I have happily worked on the grounds and in the kitchen on many occasions.

I feel that I have benefited greatly from serving by making friends and seeing the lasting effects of the projects I’ve participated in. Although I understand that times have changed and there is less time available,  I urge everyone to step up and volunteer.  It’s fun, and your efforts will be appreciated greatly.

Abe Cohen - My Chanukah memories

As a child some of my fondest memories of Chanukah, was as I am sure many young people were, the receiving of gifts for 8 days.  At such a young age I was not able to explain a reasoning behind it to my non Jewish friends who were very jealous, but I simply knew it was because I am Jewish, and that allowed me this special time for me and my family.  As I grew I learned it was so much more than that, and I learned to experience all of the pieces that were so special to me, the sights and sounds of Chanukah live deep in my memories.     I remember opening up my Chanukah gifts that were wrapped in aluminum foil or newspaper, nothing festive about that, nor did I care.     I also loved the lighting of the menorah; it was super special, like getting hypnotized by a wonderful flame.  The other sights and sounds of those special days included, playing the dreidle game.  Seeing and hearing that spinning sounds and landing on the Gimmel, which was beyond wonderful.  Who doesn’t like chocolate or pretend gold?  Of course, who can forget the sensory experience of potato latkes?   This is a particular favorite of mine, even as an adult.  I enjoy the steps of the recipe, the time it takes, measuring, and effort of making them.  They were so good, and still are!   I love this process and routine of making them; I even enjoy how the smell remains in the house for days after, though my wife does not appreciate that as much as I do.  I have also learned it is much harder to relive the same experience now with young kids at home, they are much harder to cook with and create a much messier kitchen, but it provides a whole new experience.

A lot has changed as a parent celebrating Chanukah with the family. We as parents have to think about how to celebrate the festival of lights with our kids a little differently than before. What party will we attend, who to invite, or maybe even when to leave?  We always want to make a quick exit before a dramatic scene may arise of a toddler meltdown over too much chocolate, or being over stimulated, but it is always worth it even if that does happen.  I now get to be the one to think about gifts for them, what type of surprise and special moments will they have when they unwrap one of those gifts? I now get to share the lighting of the candles and saying the prayers with my children, and listening to them sing the songs that I once did as a young child.  It is a whole new experience.   I now see and hear the excitement in their voices and on their faces going a million miles per hour   For eight nights we get to celebrate Chanukah and relive our youth memories through them, with a whole new passion, and a great reminder of the specialness of this time.  So for this time of you I always try to think about how to make the moment last.  These memories will stay with you and your children for years to come.   It doesn’t have to be expensive, or formal, it just has to be you and the people around you, taking in the moments and the sights and sounds of Chanukah.  I hope to see you at Ahavas when we celebrate as a congregation at the end of December, and take a moment to connect with one another with our entire Ahavas family.     

Shoshana Jackson - Thankfulness and Forethought

“For everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)”

My name is Shoshana Jackson. I am new to the Board as of this summer. Our family has been a member of Ahavas Israel since moving to the Grand Rapids area in 2015. I have been teaching 5th/6th grade Hebrew for United Jewish School since that time. With my husband Ben, who is an examiner for the NCUA, we have four children. The two of us love language and have formally studied nearly ten languages between us! If you count the languages of music and mathematics, we have even more! In this harvest time of year, we are often moved to give thanks: both Sukkot, which we celebrated last month, and Thanksgiving, which is coming up presently, provide excellent occasions for counting our blessings. This has been a season of hardship for our family, in which it seemed like everything that could go wrong did: both cars in the shop, a roof leak, two different appliances giving up the ghost, and a foundation issue. But thanks to my mate’s insistence on thoughtful planning, we have been able to weather the storms with only moderate inconvenience. I am thankful for his fluency in money matters; it complements my literacy in matters of running a home. Proverbs 21:5 says “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” As the new chair for the Strategic Planning Committee, it is my fervent hope that we can plan diligently for the long-term health and development of Congregation Ahavas Israel. It’s often easy to see what we need in the short-term (new entry doors, updated lighting) but it’s sometimes more difficult to make these decisions with an eye for long-term goals. Not all of these goals are neatly categorized, so I urge you to consider joining me on this committee! Bring the language you best understand, be it financial, social, cultural, procedural, architectural, spiritual, or ephemeral; I want to hear your thoughts! “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).” I am thankful for this opportunity and for your counsel.

Barbara Wepman Kol Nidre "Change Makes Us Stronger"

Last year at this time, I spoke to you about my relationship/journey with Ahavas Israel over the past 70 plus years. How it began with the focus on my needs and what the synagogue could do for me and ended with my realization of the synagogue’s needs and what I could do to make it strong, successful, and stable for all of us now and for future generations.

After my speech last year, I noticed that many of you increased your Kol Nidre pledge. Thank you for that. Your help last year was very much appreciated and enabled us to have a good, strong, successful year. But now we are in a new year and have new needs. One is to fix our front doors that were blown out from that storm a few weeks ago. Not only do we have to replace them, but also we have to make our entrance very secure. Security is an important issue that many congregations throughout the country are worried about and working on.

In addition, I am also looking further ahead toward another change - a United Jewish community - and what we all can do to make the total Jewish community stronger and more successful.

There are many Jewish organizations in our community. There is A. I. of course, and Temple Emanual, The Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, Chabad House of W. Michigan, United Jewish School, Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids, and Shir Sholom Choir, and Jewish Cultural Council. These organizations provide a lot of activities for us to participate in and support.

The leaders of the 3 main organizations (A. I., Temple, and Federation) have been meeting for a year or two to work to unite the Jewish community.   When I was much younger, the relationship between the synagogue and the Temple was basically them and us. We each did our own thing. Not much seemed to bring us together. It took a long time and a lot of work to finally get the United Jewish School up and running in 2004. We have been averaging about 140 students a year; there are 22 teachers this year. The 3 major organizations equally support UJS financially. They all came together to make the school successful.

Now it seems that whenever an organization plans a speaker or a big occasion or event, it is open to the whole community, like the 25/125 celebration of Ahavas Israel. This was led by Ed Miller where everyone worked together for a very, very successful event! Now we are working together more for everybody. And to make our united Jewish community strong and stable, we have to work together, to collaborate, to share, and help pay the bills. These changes make all of us stronger.

This does not mean that we will lose our identity or give up who we are or what we have. We would still maintain our values, customs, traditions, and practices of our Conservative movement.

The hope of the leaders working toward a United Jewish Community is to eventually have one Campus where all the organizations have a place to practice everything they do individually as well as a place to do things together. If we do unite on a single campus we still would never give up our own practices, customs, traditions, Rabbi, or identity. We would be together and save dollars by sharing the costs of utilities, maintenance, security, and anything else we do jointly, like special speakers for the community or any activities/events designed for the entire community. In a unified campus, we would have our own facilities for our services and conservative events, but there would be communal facilities for events open to the entire community.

You may be asking why am I bringing all this up now, on Kol Nidre? Well, that’s because I have the largest audience here to introduce and communicate this idea to you. We are in the planning stages and want all our congregants informed about what your leaders are thinking about for our future. We would also like your cooperation and support as we work together to unite our Jewish community. If you have any questions, concerns, ideas, or suggestions, feel free to contact me & I will certainly bring it to the committee.

Keep in mind this is not going to happen overnight, but we would like everybody on board. And when it does go through, we, the members of A. I. have to be united and strong and able, with everyone actively on board. We have to be financially stable in order to uphold our part of the process, commitment, participation, and to make us a strong partner. That’s why I’m mentioning this now during Kol Nidre. That’s why I am asking you to add a few more dollars to increase your Kol Nidre pledge. And not only your Kol Nidre pledge, but also your membership dues, and down the road, think of us when you plan a legacy or an endowment to ensure our future. Our strength enables us to be a valuable partner in the untied Jewish community we all would like to create.

Ahavas Israel wants to be here for you now, and in the future, while we stand alone as well as when we become part of the United Jewish community with all the Jewish organizations in Grand Rapids.

Thank you, and let me wish you all a very Happy, healthy, and sweet New Year. Lashonah Tovah.

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.

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