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.

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

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