When I was younger, 60 + years ago, I grew up in Skokie, Illinois. I grew up hanging out at the local Synagogue with my family and friends. Classmates were 95% Jewish, and I remember a few friends who lived down my street who were not Jewish. 

My parents have always belonged (and still do) to the Reconstructionist Synagogue where they had been founding members in 1953.  They had immigrated to Skokie from their home in the area still referred to as the “Chicago Great Vest Side.”

I played basketball for the synagogue, belonged to the local JCC, and ate at Sam & Hy’s Deli. The Chazzan played poker with my parents in the basement; at 7:00 a. m. my father would wake me to attend minyon for morning services before school. I not only grew up Jewish, but my life revolved around Jewish centers and Jewish friends. 

After high school, I went to Washington University in St. Louis and joined a Jewish fraternity where one of my good friends was Greek — not Jewish. After finishing my education, I later joined a mostly Jewish law firm.  As the years went by and my life changed, I rarely attended synagogue except for services on Rosh Hashanah.

Then, three years ago, I moved to Grand Rapids. Instead of having a law partner named Deyoung, I now lived in a place with Deyoungs everywhere. I have mostly non-Jewish neighbors with whom I have wonderful friendships. I do not see any discrimination in my everyday life. 

So how is my life different now? 

I find myself having a newfound desire to not only find, but also involve myself in what I call a “Jewish community.” I volunteered to serve on the Board of the Jewish Federation because it is the umbrella organization that brings together and supports all the Jewish life in Grand Rapids. I attended Federation activities and became a member of Ahavas Israel while also regularly attending Temple functions. More recently I was honored to accept a position on the Board of Directors of Ahavas. 

So now, I am proud to call myself a member of Congregation Ahavas Israel of Grand Rapids. For me Judaism revolves around not only attending Jewish functions, but also being a member of one or more of the local Jewish institutions.  It is no longer enough just to be a Jewish lawyer; I need to be part of a Congregation and community. When asked to sit on the Bimah or have an Aliya, I am honored to accept. As a Board member of Ahavas, I encourage our members to attend activities with me that we are currently planning at the synagogue.  

Now I have also become a part of the Ahavas Membership Committee because I want to encourage Jewish neighbors, who are NOT affiliated with one of the three local facilities, to reconsider their choice. Just having a Jewish mother is just not enough. I also want to be proactive and encourage non-affiliated Jewish families to not only attend Federation activities, but also to become proud Ahavas Israel members.

So that recaps my Jewish journey up to this point. Ahavas has already started introducing new activities to Members, and exciting new plans are currently coming to fruition. I look forward to seeing Congregation Members attending not only religious services, but also bringing their family to social activities to hang out at the Synagogue with me, just like I used to do, a long time ago, when I was growing up in Skokie.

Cary Fleischer

Ahavas Israel Board Member

What's A Mitzvah

With the High Holidays just behind us, what better time is there to think of Mitzvahs?  There are many opportunities to perform a mitzvah in our area.  A good start would be joining the Corners of the Fieldgarden team. They supply vegetables to Temple Emanuel Food Banks well as the Baxter Center Food Pantry (where canned and paper goods are also always welcome.)  Another worthwhile cause is Meals on Wheels; they can always use volunteers.

There is no shortage of places to volunteer in Grand Rapids. Additional organizations that provide help and assistance to many Grand Rapidians include Habitat for Humanity, Family Promise, Michigan Home for Veterans, Gilda’s Club, God’s Kitchen, Kids’ Food Basket, and Women’s Resource Center. Ahavas Israel Members have been and still are involved in helping most of these organizations.  Don’t be afraid to join your fellow congregants and get involved.

If you want to stay closer to family and friends, then visit the young and old, help those who need help with grocery shopping, getting to doctor and/or dentist appointments, or just bring them a treat -- fruit, dinner, or a dessert.

If you would rather help them while staying in the comfort of your own home, instead of spending hours at different locations, then all you have to do is mail out a donation.  One good place to start would be Ahavas Israel for Operation Isaiah, which provides Thanksgiving baskets to needy families. Last year over 40 families received a Thanksgiving basket.  In addition, all the above organizations are certainly worthy recipients of any donations you would like to make.

So, what’s a Mitzvah?  My answer is that a mitzvah is a blessing to those who receive as well as those who give.

Mort Hoffman, Ahavas Israel Board Member    

President's Letter, September 2018

As most of you already know by now, I am the current President of Ahavas Israel. My term of office will run for two years. It is an honor to serve as your president; however, along with this honor comes quite a responsibility … one that includes making sure things get done and everything runs smoothly.  One can’t do it all; I can’t do it alone.  As the saying goes, it takes a village…. Ahavas Israel’s village is composed of our staff, board of trustees, and congregation members. 

Our staff includes Rabbi Krishef; office manager, Deb Johnston; and custodian, Tin Geiger. 

Board members are  — Ann Berman, Guy DeJager, Doug de Lange, Jack Finn, Cary Fleischer, Mort Hoffman, Mark ‘Moishe’ Jesin, Judy Joseph, Ed Miller, Diane Rayor, David Reifler, Leah Sauer, Kenneth Strauss, Lanny Thodey, Robin Turetsky, and Patricia Weller, and you are our congregation members. 

The key to success is communication.  I am hoping for a two-way communication between members of the board and members of the congregation. In order to help achieve this goal, every board member has been given a list of about five congregation members that they will be calling on a regular basis. This is your chance to communicate with us while we communicate with you. 

We would like to hear any questions, thoughts, concerns, requests, suggestions, or ideas that you may have for us.  This is your shul; we want you to make use of it by communicating, contributing, volunteering, and participating with us in any way you can. Step up and work with us on any of our committees, help plan programs and activities.  We would welcome your ideas, help, and participation.

Ahavas provides a wide range of religious, educational, and social activities for you. As we move forward this year, I hope it will be a successful year with participation, communication, and involvement from all of you to make it a valuable year for all of us.

As our High Holy days start, and we welcome in the New Year, 5779, remember that the board is here for you; I hope you will be here for us.  Let’s work together for a happy, healthy, successful, sweet year. We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at Shul.

Wishing you a very happy New Year

L’Shona Tovah Tikateyvu

Barbara Wepman, President

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