Oak Park Temple Voices

Oak Park Temple members contribute their unique Jewish stories.

Our Journeys
Rick Barrett: My Jewish Journey

Good Shabbos. Thank you very much for the opportunity to share a bit about my Jewish journey, particularly my journey to Oak Park Temple. Since my journey is intertwined with my family’s journey, I’d like to share with you some of my family history. I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit long winded, and I’m sure Brian is quietly saying, “Why should this night be different from any other night.”

The following is a letter written by my great-great-great-grandfather Leopold Kaufman to his nine children. It’s dated June 16, 1915, and was written shortly before he died. I haven’t seen the original so I’m not sure if it’s in Czech or German; it could be either. Leopold lived in Humpolec, Bohemia, about an hour southeast of Prague, which at the time was part of Austria-Hungary and is now part of the modern-day Czech Republic.

My dear Children:

I am sending you the last words of your father, as I am convinced that my days on earth are numbered. For that reason, I wish to direct this document to you.

I hope and pray that the Almighty will guide you in the ways of righteousness, that He will never deny you his protection, just as He has never failed to be my Redeemer in time of need. I furthermore hope that He will grant you and your descendants His assistance at all times. Be steadfast and honorable as I have been. I had many chances to enrich myself at the expense of others, but I have ever refused to prosper in that manner. My industriousness was the sole source of my rise in this world.

Do no overburden yourselves in your ambition to become wealthy, because nothing will do you any good if your mind is not at ease. Stand together and do not forsake each other even as G-d has willed it in the Ten Commandments. I need not dwell on the hardships that I encountered raising you, because you are familiar with them, having children yourselves, and you therefore know how the hearts of parents ever beat for their children. It was not my good fortune to be surrounded by my children in my old age, but nevertheless, I am grateful to the Almighty that He has endured me to this day. Consider now what I would have suffered if you had been home at this time. You would not have been in each other’s company as you are now. Thus the ways of providence, while oftentimes not readily understood, are always for the best.

And now I send you my last blessing. May G-d bless you and be with you always and never let you stumble. May His countenance always shine on you, may He be gracious to you all the days of your lives, and grant you Peace and Happiness.

And to you, dear Heinrich, and to your bride, I send you my fatherly benediction and I pray for your happiness. May you be successful in all your undertakings. That is the fervent hope of your father.

Do not forget your mother. She was ever loyal to me and suffered much for my sake. Remember your uncle Adolph.

I feel my end is near. My pains tell me that.

Your father, Leopold

I wanted to share it because I think that, even 100 years later, there is still wisdom to be found in his words. He wrote this letter to his nine children, all of whom had emigrated to America by the time it was written. While I can’t tell you where they all settled, I can tell you his two eldest sons, Rudolph and Sigmund Kaufmann, ultimately settled in the Chicago area. Sigmund, my great-great-grandfather, helped lay the corner stone of the Washington Boulevard Temple. His eldest son, Richard, in whose memory I have the honor of being named, grew-up in the B’nai Abraham community, and when he married my great-grandmother Rose Kohn, Rabbi Schwartz officiated. They would go on to build a house on Kenilworth Avenue at a time when Jews in Oak Park could only live on certain streets.

My grandmother Carol and my great-uncle Donald both grew-up in the Washington Boulevard Temple community and can be seen in the confirmation class photos of 1943 and 1950, respectively. I still have a book of prayers my grandmother received as a confirmation gift. And when Carol marriied my grandfather Norton Freyer, Rabbi Schwartz officiated again. They’ve been married for over 66 years. We should all be so lucky. Carol and Nort, or as I call them Granny and Papa, had two daughters, my mom Wendy and my Aunt Jill, both of whom grew-up in Oak Park Temple and can al Save & Exit so be seen in the confirmation class photo gallery. Since my mom’s here tonight, I won’t say the years. She would ultimately be introduced to my dad Fred, whose grandparents Lena and Julius Barrett were also members of the Oak Park Temple community. Now, before you think we’re the long lost Jews of Ireland with a name like Barrett, let me tell you a bit about my great-grandfather. Julius emigrated to the United States in the early 1910s from Kiev. He arrived at Ellis Island as Julius Barriott, and left as Julius Barrett. So much for family history. Happily the name worked out, and if you were to ask his wife it was even preferred, as evidenced by the phrase, “Barrett, you’re tired, we’re going home,” a phrase that has taken on new life recently in another Barrett household. Just ask Brian. Anyway, back to my folks, they were introduced, fell in love, and got married in 1971 at the Blackstone Hotel in downtown Chicago. Rabbi Mervis officiated. 40 years later, Brian and I had the pleasure of hosting their 40th anniversary brunch there. After living in Ames, Iowa while my Dad finished school and Roselle in their first townhouse, they moved to an up and coming community in 1979 called Vernon Hills. At the time, the biggest thing there was a cornfield. When Granny and Papa drove there the first time from River Forest, they couldn’t believe anyone would live that far north. But the village grew, and I grew with it. Given where we lived, I didn’t grow-up in the OPT community. We were members of a local congregation, but we didn’t feel any particular connection to that temple, and I really didn’t enjoy Hebrew or Sunday school. As a result, shortly after we celebrated my Bar Mitzvah, we left. We had no particular reason to stay, and no one made any effort to reach out to us and ask why we were leaving. For the next several years, I was more culturally Jewish than particularly observant. If I was in temple, I was most likely in Denver at a family wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration. Fast forward several years to 2003. As I mentioned in my bio, I’ve been a performer at the Bristol Renaissance Faire since 1993, and on a Sunday afternoon in February of 2003, I happened to be at my tailor’s apartment in the city, when his roommate came home. I had heard about Brian but never met him until that point. When we were introduced, although neither of us were wearing wool or rubber- soled shoes, when we shook hands there was, quite literally, a spark. The rest, as they say, is history. Something else happened as well. As we started our life’s journey together, that journey increasingly became a Jewish journey. We found a Haggadah online that spoke to us and started hosting Seders. Pesach has since become our holiday. We started lighting candles at Hanukkah, and I started making latkes. I had more than a few failures at first, including an unfortunate sweet potato latke that just didn’t, but now I’ve got a recipe that works quite well. We even hosted the occasional Shabbat dinner. Now we regularly light candles on Friday night. Given our busy lives, we really appreciate those few minutes together to mark the end of the week. In the summer of 2006, when we were deciding if we wanted to travel to Toronto and get married with an actual marriage license, which at that point in time wouldn’t have had any legal meaning in Illinois, or a local celebration where we could include all of our friends and family, we chose the latter. And when it came time to consider an officiant, we looked no further than Oak Park Temple. After we joined, we felt welcome and accepted and as though we had come home. And when we did have our commitment ceremony in March 2007, Cantor Green officiated. When we renew our commitment on our 10th anniversary anniversary in March 2017, this time with the benefit of legal recognition, we look forward to doing that here at OPT, our temple home It’s an honor to be the 5th generation of my family as a part of this special community and to have had an opportunity to share these thoughts with you as we celebrate 150 years as a community. G-d willing, when we’re together to celebrate our bicentennial fifty years from now, a 6th, or perhaps even a 7th, generation temple member will be here sharing his or her Jewish journey. What a blessing that will be. Thank you to the Oak Park Temple community for being a part of my Jewish journey and letting me be a part of yours. Shabbat Shalom.[/learn_more] My grandmother Carol and my great-uncle Donald both grew-up in the Washington Boulevard Temple community and can be seen in the confirmation class photos of 1943 and 1950, respectively. I still have a book of prayers my grandmother received as a confirmation gift. And when Carol married my grandfather Norton Freyer, Rabbi Schwartz officiated again. They’ve been married for over 66 years. We should all be so lucky.

Carol and Nort, or as I call them Granny and Papa, had two daughters, my mom Wendy and my Aunt Jill, both of whom grew-up in Oak Park Temple and can also be seen in the confirmation class photo gallery. Since my mom’s here tonight, I won’t say the years. She would ultimately be introduced to my dad Fred, whose grandparents Lena and Julius Barrett were also members of the Oak Park Temple community.

Now, before you think we’re the long lost Jews of Ireland with a name like Barrett, let me tell you a bit about my great-grandfather. Julius emigrated to the United States in the early 1910s from Kiev. He arrived at Ellis Island as Julius Barriott, and left as Julius Barrett. So much for family history. Happily the name worked out, and if you were to ask his wife it was even preferred, as evidenced by the phrase, “Barrett, you’re tired, we’re going home,” a phrase that has taken on new life recently in another Barrett household. Just ask Brian.

Anyway, back to my folks, they were introduced, fell in love, and got married in 1971 at the Blackstone Hotel in downtown Chicago. Rabbi Mervis officiated. 40 years later, Brian and I had the pleasure of hosting their 40th anniversary brunch there. After living in Ames, Iowa while my Dad finished school and Roselle in their first townhouse, they moved to an up and coming community in 1979 called Vernon Hills. At the time, the biggest thing there was a cornfield. When Granny and Papa drove there the first time from River Forest, they couldn’t believe anyone would live that far north. But the village grew, and I grew with it. Given where we lived, I didn’t grow-up in the OPT community. We were members of a local congregation, but we didn’t feel any particular connection to that temple, and I really didn’t enjoy Hebrew or Sunday school. As a result, shortly after we celebrated my Bar Mitzvah, we left. We had no particular reason to stay, and no one made any effort to reach out to us and ask why we were leaving. For the next several years, I was more culturally Jewish than particularly observant. If I was in temple, I was most likely in Denver at a family wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration.

Fast forward several years to 2003. As I mentioned in my bio, I’ve been a performer at the Bristol Renaissance Faire since 1993, and on a Sunday afternoon in February of 2003, I happened to be at my tailor’s apartment in the city, when his roommate came home. I had heard about Brian but never met him until that point. When we were introduced, although neither of us were wearing wool or rubber- soled shoes, when we shook hands there was, quite literally, a spark. The rest, as they say, is history.

Something else happened as well. As we started our life’s journey together, that journey increasingly became a Jewish journey. We found a Haggadah online that spoke to us and started hosting Seders. Pesach has since become our holiday. We started lighting candles at Hanukkah, and I started making latkes. I had more than a few failures at first, including an unfortunate sweet potato latke that just didn’t, but now I’ve got a recipe that works quite well. We even hosted the occasional Shabbat dinner. Now we regularly light candles on Friday night. Given our busy lives, we really appreciate those few minutes together to mark the end of the week.

In the summer of 2006, when we were deciding if we wanted to travel to Toronto and get married with an actual marriage license, which at that point in time wouldn’t have had any legal meaning in Illinois, or a local celebration where we could include all of our friends and family, we chose the latter. And when it came time to consider an officiant, we looked no further than Oak Park Temple. After we joined, we felt welcome and accepted and as though we had come home. And when we did have our commitment ceremony in March 2007, Cantor Green officiated. When we renew our commitment on our 10th anniversary anniversary in March 2017, this time with the benefit of legal recognition, we look forward to doing that here at OPT, our temple home

It’s an honor to be the 5th generation of my family as a part of this special community and to have had an opportunity to share these thoughts with you as we celebrate 150 years as a community. G-d willing, when we’re together to celebrate our bicentennial fifty years from now, a 6th, or perhaps even a 7th, generation temple member will be here sharing his or her Jewish journey. What a blessing that will be. Thank you to the Oak Park Temple community for being a part of my Jewish journey and letting me be a part of yours. Shabbat Shalom.

Jonathan Franklin: My First 30 Years as a Wandering Jew

In the mid 1950’s my father was asked if he would be interested in joining a team of engineers doing a comprehensive traffic study in a country called Vietnam.  Vietnam? Where’s Vietnam?  My mom’s like, “Venice, Vienna, Vietnam.  Let’s go!”   So they sold the house, gathered up their three young boys, and off they went into the unknown.  In Saigon I learned to ride a bicycle, tie my shoes, to swim, and to use chop sticks.  I even went to a small  French  Catholic school, complete with nuns.    As you can imagine there were not a lot of Jews wandering around Vietnam back in the 1950’s.  But in spite of this my parents made a point of organizing seders with fellow travelers that they met along the way.

A couple years later we returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan where my parents joined the city’s one conservative congregation.   Grand Rapids was a wonderful town, but it wasn’t exactly Jewish country.   At school I once remember making Christmas decorations for the school Christmas tree, and rehearsing Christmas carols to be sung at the Christmas assembly, and my teacher was surprised that I didn’t seem to know any of the Christmas songs.  Meanwhile my friends didn’t understand how I didn’t  celebrate Christmas and worse, that  I didn’t ‘believe in Jesus.    Or why I always had to go to ‘church’ on Saturday mornings and then a couple more times a week for Hebrew School, not to mention Sunday School.  And to be honest, I wasn’t so thrilled about it either

A few years later my father was approached about another project that would take him yet again to the other side of the world, this time to a country near India, called East Pakistan, now called Bangladesh.  So once again, my parents packed us up, sold the house, and set sail for sites unknown, this time with my younger sister who had been born while we were in Vietnam and my 77 year old grandmother who was this short, rotund, Jewish bubbe, from the old country, unschooled, and yet she spoke three languages:  English, Polish, and, of course, Yiddish (or Jewish as she would say),  which she sprinkled liberally in every conversation.  Whether sitting in the front of a jeep or in the back of a rickshaw, she’d speak Yiddish to the drivers, they’d answer her in Bengali, and somehow everyone seemed to understood each other just fine.

Once again, my mother organized seders.  Even though seders were nice my mother was still concerned about us being so far removed from a Jewish community.  So on a two month home-leave when I was almost fourteen my mother wondered, “wouldn’t it be nice for you to have a bar mitzvah when we’re back in the States?”  A what?  A bar mitzvah?   Me?  As a child, I remember attending bar mitzvahs at the shul in Grand Rapids and being totally terrified at the thought of ever having one.   Nonetheless, my mother found an old man, probably close to 90, or at least that’s how he seemed to me, who proceeded to cough and hack his way through my lessons.    And low and behold, after about three or four weeks, bing, bang, boom, we managed to pull off a modest version of a bar mitzvah.  And to celebrate afterwards, we went out for  corned beef sandwiches.  For a boy from East Pakistan, this was heaven.  Somewhat related to this, my mother managed to teach our Bengali cook how to make numerous Jewish delicacies that included kugel, bagels, blintzes, chopped liver, gefilte fish, and, of course, chicken soup with matzah-like balls.  Who knew?

Next we moved to Djakarta, Indonesia where l finished high school and once again, more seders.   I returned to the States at this point to attend art school and during that time my father took yet another job, this time in Khartoum, Sudan.   This was now our third Muslim country.    As Jews in Muslim countries we didn’t exactly live secretly, but we never felt the need to broadcast our affiliation. Once we were passing through the Suez Canal on a ship and had the opportunity to spend the day in Cairo.  But before we could disembark we had to fill out a form that requested our religion.  Admitting to being Jewish at that time and place might not have been a good choice.  So, on the spur of the moment, my father  decided to invent a new religion.  He decided we were going to call ourselves Early Christians.  And from then on that was how we identified ourselves if and when anyone ever asked us.

My parents were the only Early Christians in Khartoum and a few months after their arrival there, the Saudi Arabian Embassy was hosting a farewell reception for the departing American ambassador to Sudan, who was an avid Arabist and spoke the language fluently.  Suddenly eight gunmen from Black September (an offshoot of the PLO) crashed the party, took hostages and demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, Jordan, and some other assorted terrorists from around the world.  In the end, they shot and murdered  the US ambassador, his second in command, as well as a Belgian diplomat.  My parents, by coincidence, lived only a few hundred feet away from the Saudi Embassy and the international press corps set up shop right outside their house.  The irony in all of this is that after it was all over, the official US citizens, that is, those people that worked for the US government, were assigned security guards.  My parents, who lived closer than anyone else to the Saudi Embassy and virtually the only Early Christians in Sudan, were not affiliated with the US government, and therefore not entitled to a security guard.

A couple months after this event, my brother and I headed out to Sudan to spend the summer with my parents.  We were supposed to change planes briefly in Cairo but through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings we were detained.  They asked us for our passports but we were reluctant to produce them because they were sprinkled with Israeli stamps, and with Israel’s rather unpopular status in the Arab world, we thought  it might not be such a good idea to offer them up to the Egyptians.  To make a long story short, suffice to say that we managed to bluff and sweat our way out of Egypt, boarded a Syrian Airliner and finally arrived in Khartoum where we stayed for the next couple of months when my mom suggested that, since we were all so close to Ireland (that was our code for Israel), why not drop in for a visit?    So off we flew —-from Khartoum to Saudi Arabia, to Beirut, to Cyprus, and finally to Tel Aviv.

We had passed through Israel numerous times over the years but only for a few days a time.   But in 1973, we had a chance to spend at least a couple months there.   Shortly after I arrived I met some guy on a bus who said he was going to visit a kibbutz, and asked if I wanted to join him.  Until then, the only things I knew about a kibbutz was that it was a kind of farm, everyone drove tractors, the  girls wore short shorts, guys wore funny hats, and everyone danced the hora around orange trees.  The next day, for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to join him on his trip to the kibbutz.  Then a few days later I decided to try again on my own but by then could not remember the name of the kibbutz.  I knew it was somewhere in the South.   So with a very sketchy idea of where I was going I set out.  And after a long, blistering, exhausting hot day of buses, hitchhiking, and walking I did end up on a kibbutz in the south, along the Gaza Strip.

I was directed to the secretary of the kibbutz. She welcomed me and then asked me what she could do for me.  And I said, ‘nothing really’ but since it was getting late how much would it cost to spend the night?   She politely informed me that there was no charge but without prior arrangements they didn’t ordinarily accept strangers who appeared out of nowhere and just walked onto the kibbutz, like me.  So she called a number of neighboring kibbutzim to check whether they had room for me, and after much discussion it appeared that they did not.  So she took a deep breath and asked me if I would be interested in staying on at the kibbutz as a volunteer—which I understood to mean, whether I would like to help out in the kitchen or something like that and then leave in the morning, which, of course, I agreed to do.

Realizing that there was a disconnect between what she meant by volunteer and what  I thought she meant by volunteer,  she explained to me very carefully once again that I could Be-A-Volunteer,  that I could work and live on the kibbutz in exchange for room and board, for free, as a ‘volunteer,’ for as long as I liked, for free.  You mean, stay here and live for free? For as long as I like?   Ohhhh.   And then she asked me again if I would I be interested?  And I said…. ‘Yes, please’.. And it was at that moment, by saying yes to that question, that the entire course of my life changed.

I ended up staying and working on the kibbutz as a volunteer for the next couple months, until it was time for me to go back to school.  I had been living in this place whose fields literally bordered the Gaza Strip.  It was rustic, rural, exotic, exciting, adventurous, different, and very romantic.  And these were real-live kibbutzniks,  Israelis. Suddenly I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I finished  school.  I wasn’t just going to be an artist.  I was going to be… a kibbutznik.

And then within a month after I was back at school, the Yom Kippur War erupted.  My brother and I then and there decided we were going to go back to Israel to do god knows what,  and promptly sent a telegram to my parents in Khartoum informing them of our big plan.  My parents, understandably, were just a ‘bit alarmed’.  But phones were limited in Khartoum so my father couldn’t just pick one up and call us back.  Fortunately, at the last minute, before we could do anything crazy, we received a very terse telegram from him.   ‘Do Not Go!’ , which ultimately turned out to be the wiser decision.  But I did decide to accelerate my studies so that I could finish school early and within a month after I graduated I made aliyah to Israel, back to the kibbutz.   Ironically as I was moving to Israel, my parents finally moved back to the States.

I was now an Israeli, but only in name.   I didn’t speak the language, I knew very little about the culture or the history, and I was lonely and felt very much like an outsider. On the other hand, it was inevitable that as a young newly minted Israeli, I would at some point be required to serve in the army, and who would have guessed that a bit over a year after I finished art school, I would be running around with a gun in the desert, defending the Jewish people, as a paratrooper in the IDF, the Israeli army.  Stranger things have happened, I’m sure.

The Israeli army is completely unique because of whom and what it represents.    For many Israelis, the army is a ‘rite of passage’.  For me, it was a ‘point of entry.’  Its diversity is probably unparalleled.   I served with people from literally every corner of the world:  The US, Canada, England, France, Holland, Austria, Australia, Argentina, Chile,  Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, India, not to mention all of those whose parents came from the other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It was a life changing experience with both good stuff and not so good stuff to remember.  But, in the end, I was very proud to have served.   And what was the glue that bound us all together?  We were all Jews.  And our common language was Hebrew.

Just as the five years I lived in Bangladesh helped shape my adolescence, Israel formed, and defined my young adulthood, and has oriented everything in my life since then.  It is now well over 30 years since I left Israel.  I was struggling as an artist in Tel Aviv, and with frequent stints of army reserve duty I was wearing down fast and getting more and more stressed out and frustrated.    A friend suggested that I return to the States for a year or so to recharge my batteries and be with my family again after almost 10 years of being away from them. It sounded like a pretty good idea to me and I intended to spend it in NYC but instead had a slight detour to Chicago where I had an art exhibition downtown, and where, just by chance, I met my future wife, Linda, and then ended up remaining in Chicago to raise my three kids.  Aside from a couple of brief trips, much to my deep regret and disappointment, I never got back to Israel.   But never a day goes by when I am not thinking, reading, or reminiscing about it in some shape or form.  It colors everything in my life.  Israel, with all of its amazing  wonders and nagging problems, flaws and warts, was and is my point of reference.

During the time I lived in Israel, and this is not meant to be a boast and I hope I won’t be offending anyone, I never once set foot in a synagogue.  I never felt the urge, interest, desire, or need for it. It’s not hard to be Jewish in Israel.  Jewishness in Israel  is obviously religious, but it is also  social, cultural, and secular.

So, what has kept a nice unobservant, secular, humanist Jewish boy like me part of this synagogue community for so many years?   Just that, the community, and everything it represents.   And the strongest and most enduring hub of this community has been a merry band of people, a group of 7 or 8 families, that I’ve hung out with regularly for well  over 22 years. We call ourselves the Hungry Havera.  Our children have grown up together and become young adults, some have married, and even begun families of their own.  Our Havera has never had any agenda except to celebrate life together.   But over so much time we have created our own unique traditions, Jewish and otherwise, for almost every occasion: the very happy ones, the painfully sad ones, and everything in between.  And what is the one thing we all have in common, besides eating?  We are members or former members of this synagogue, OPT.

At home Linda and I nurtured our children Jewishly but OPT fostered them. In my life I have been affiliated with only two synagogues, one as a small boy in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the other one is here, OPT, as an adult and a parent.   The two synagogues stand like bookends for me.   And in between are my three children now well into their 20’s, and beginning their new lives as young adults.  When I think about it, I realize that they are around the same age my parents were when they first got married, moved to Michigan, joined  a synagogue, and began their long lives and world traveling adventures together.  It really is true:  What goes around, comes around and my hope is that when my kids come running by me as they forge their own separate paths in life, I can pass onto them my own modest but sincere version of a Jewish torch.

More Jewish Journeys

Click on the following audio files below to hear “Jewish Journey” stories from Oak Park Temple members.

Read Jonathan Franklin’s “My First 30 Years as ad Wandering Jew.

See how Oak Park Temple members answer the question, “What Do I See When I See Oak Park Temple?

What I See When I See Oak Park Temple

On Yom Kippur 5775 (2014), Rabbi Max Weiss invited Oak Park Temple congregants to answer the question, “What Do You See When You See Oak Park Temple?”  The following page is a collection of responses from Oak Park Temple’s community.

Contribute to the conversation with your own observations via the form below.

Tamara Jaffe-Notier

At Oak Park Temple I see part of my real family. I see myself, along with my brothers and sisters, striving to live lives that are brilliant, beautiful, great, and good.

Kathy Bezinovich

When I see Oak Park Temple I see my second home. OPT is someplace I visit frequently for companionship,intellectual stimulation, spiritual stimulation and emotional refueling.

It a place where I always feel safe and where I know I can get support for anything going on in my life; good or bad.

When I feel sad or depressed I know that if I attend Shabbat services and become fully immersed in the prayers and songs, I will be filled with happiness and peace.

I attend so many events and activities at OPT that if I am not at home or at work, my family assumes I must be at Oak Park Temple. From the moment I enter Oak Park Temple I am greeted by friendly faces, a feeling of love and acceptance,and a comfortable sense of being at home.

Bonnie Wieczorek

When I see Oak Park Temple I see a place of community where I have met new friends, learned new things, shared thoughts and ideas. I have worshiped with fellow Jews and experience holidays and rituals that are meaningful to me.

I would like to live closer so I may participate more with temple events and become more involved.

Karen Muriello

What do I see? I see most of my adult lifetime, 26 years of my life as a wife, mother, friend and student. I see women and men who have shared life cycle events with me: babies, pre-school, religious school, b’nai mitzvah, weddings. Now these dear friends are sharing post-child life with me, trying to rediscover the self and our purpose. They are dearer to me than rubies. This special group of friends have become my family-by-choice, since my own Jewish family is on the east coast. I see Oak Park Temple as the house of my heart, where people are glad to see me, and seeing them makes me smile.

When I see Oak Park Temple, I see the place where much of my adult life has taken place. Since 1989 when my oldest son started nursery school, this has been a place of comfort, beauty and enrichment. I remember my first meeting with Rabbi Gerson when I cried about my feelings of guilt at having married a non-Jew. His acceptance and reassurance helped me to understand I had found the right congregation, and that my family would have a place in Jewish life at the Temple. Over the decades my children and husband have been given many rich opportunities to participate. Just as my knowledge and understanding of my Judaism has matured, the Temple evolved into an ever more wonderful, modern place for worship and study. When I see Oak Park Temple, I see a place where I have been permitted to make a difference, where I belong, and where I find my closest friends.

Sheryl Stoller

I see light that radiates from each individual and from each of the relationships and interactions between them. The result is a brilliance from the community that is breath-taking, life-giving, and vibrantly in the service of tikkun-olam.

Shari Schindler

I see familiar faces, some not so familiar.
Smiling, laughing.
Intense emotions and crowds during high holidays.
Quiet, pensive, reflective individuals on summer nights.
Kids playing and hiding in secret passageways.
Studying, meeting, kibitzing, eating.
Extended family.

Gary Wood

Friends, Family, Legacy, Community, Social Action, Sacred Space, Elders, Children, Leadership, Journeys

Michele Revsine

My Jewish home.
My children’s connection to our history.

Marc Blesoff

My Jewish Journey
Oct 17, 2014
Oak Park Temple

I want to start sometime in the mid-1930’s, at a shul in Malden, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. A young Mary Tobe, sitting in the balcony where all the women and children had to sit, was looking down to the first floor, where only the men sat, and Mary made eye-contact with a young Benjamin Blesofsky. And the story goes, as I heard it from my mother, that she knew then and there she and Ben would marry and raise a family. And they did. And here I am. Carrying on the thread of Judaism from that first eye-contact in the shul between Ben and Mary. And tonight is Mary Tobe Blesoff’s yahrzeit.

I was born in Somerville, Massachusetts. My family was active in the Somerville temple. When I was about 5 years old we moved to Medford, the next town over. We became members of Temple Shalom, a conservative congregation. I went to Hebrew School every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for two hours. I went to Sunday School every week. I went to Saturday morning youth services every week, and became leader of those services around the age of 11.

Here at OPT, every time I sing “v’Ne’e mar…v’Haya Adonai…L’melech al kol h’a aretz….” I am instantly transported back to the bima at Temple Shalom, an 11 year old kid and my stomach growls and gurgles and I get hungry and tired and anticipate the oneg on a Saturday morning so many years ago! A Pavlovian thread of my Judaism.

Temple Shalom was built next to Victory Park, a big, beautiful park with soccer field and baseball field and tennis courts and swings, right on the edge of the MDC forests. And for more hours than I care to remember, I looked out the windows of my Hebrew School classrooms oh so longingly at Victory Park. Sometimes seeing my friends at play. My main teachers were Cantor Lew and Mrs. Lew. And I remember our talks about yahweh, and learning that God is everywhere and everything – in the grass, in the trees, in the clouds. And as I looked out at the grass and trees and clouds at Victory Park this all made sense to me. What has never made sense to me is the anthropomorphization of yahweh, of the un-knowable, of the un-namable. God is not the old white guy with a flowing white beard sitting on a throne up in the sky. I don’t even think God can be referred to as the One. To me, God just is. This is another thread of my Judaism.

One of the first sermons I heard Rabbi Weiss give here at OPT, he made some reference to Quantum Physics, and it really caught my attention. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the Rabbi explored some of the same concepts and ideas as I did because of the strong thread of always questioning and always exploring and always examining that is a foundation of Judaism.

As I grew up Jewish in the suburbs of Boston, I learned about the Holocaust and about anti-Semitism. I learned about the singling out of a minority group for extermination, or for just plain unfair treatment. I quickly learned that I was “different”. Whether being uncomfortable buying “different” Jewish foods at the supermarket, or fielding anti-semitic epithets, or having anti-semitic confrontations. It didn’t matter so much to win a fight every time, but it did matter that I fought. My Judaism taught me that sticking up for the marginalized was actually sticking up for myself. Which was a direct thread to my being an Assistant Public Defender here in Cook County. Sitting right next to my client, who everybody else in the courtroom didn’t want to be anywhere close to – not the judge, prosecutor, clerk, sheriffs and certainly not the jurors – because of what he was accused of having done, sitting there close to him and putting my arm around his shoulder, and being that one person in the whole world showing him the basic human respect to which we are all entitled. My Judaism helped me do that for 30 years.

The importance of living out and passing on the values.

The importance of not breaking the thread that stretches back 6000 years. 6000 years – longer than just about anybody else! So, a part of that being different is about being special.

Having children concretized the importance of not breaking that thread. I fell in love with and married Dorie – a “mixed” marriage. In fact, Dorie’s father, the Rev. Dr. Charles Ellzey, was a Methodist minister. Dorie always got the essence of Judaism, and she helped me keep the thread of my Judaism even when I stretched it pretty thin. And I thank you for that. (Dorie)

We tried to expose our kids to both Judaism and Christianity. Our idea was to prepare them for when they could make their own decisions about what to believe and who to be. That made sense on paper……..

Until the day our oldest, our daughter Jamine at around the age of 8, told us: “When I go to church with Mom I’m supposed to believe…

Karen Daniel

I see engaged, loving people of all ages doing amazing things in the world and in our community.

What Do YOU See When You See Oak Park Temple?

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