New OPT President Shari S.

Hi, I’m Shari!

OPT President Shari S.I have been a member of OPT since 2004, when I enrolled my then 1st grader in religious school. It had not even dawned on me that non-members couldn’t attend.  In around 2008, then President Lauren Levrant asked me to join the board. Since I was already a room parent in the classroom and an officer of the Longfellow PTO, I figured, “why not!”

My real world job is leading a team of forensic accountants who investigate white-collar crime. When I get time, I enjoy reading, biking and laughing with friends.

I Love Oak Park Temple because…

I found some of my closest friends here. I get to be openly Jewish and gay.  I can be counted towards a minyan as a woman. I can have stimulating conversation with folks who share my values but not necessarily my opinion. I can believe in both religion and science. If only I had time to take advantage of all the cool Jewish learning that the Rabbis teach.

New President Deborah Holdstein

Oak Park Temple has been a home to me and to my family since the mid-1980s, and we have observed not only the holidays, for instance, but also life-cycle and other significant events such as these:  my children’s naming ceremonies; my parents’ funerals and Shiva observances; my children’s each becoming B’nai Mitzvah; my own (rather late) Bat Mitzvah; and my own later-in-life remarriage.  My children, Emily and David, attended the Glasser Preschool as soon as they were old enough after “Moms and Tots.” (And, in fact, David was one of only three children in the first class for two-year-olds while Emily was enjoying the class for three-year-olds.) They continued in the preschool until it was time to attend Whittier school and then began religious school with Gan Katan, continuing all the way through. 

As do many of you, I try to contribute to our community in a variety of ways–some big, some small. My first major stint as a volunteer came about when I became a member of what was then called the Beatrice Glasser Nursery School Board; I then served twice as secretary to the Board of Directors (during the presidency of Michael Cooper and then again during the presidency of Jeff Blaine); and, for a number of years, I was a fixture just about every Sunday morning as a librarian in the Shure Memorial Library, working alongside the wonderful Eileen Matthies, Margot Hamburger, and others.   

I am deeply honored to be assuming the Presidency and to be working with you and our outstanding clergy, staff, and Board as together we sustain and continue to build our wonderful community.  In the next months, I may be calling on a number of you–and I hope to meet with members of our committees, as well–to better understand your own commitments to the congregation and to hear your thoughts.  Please do feel free to call on me, as well:

I have been privileged to work with Sheri, our clergy, staff, and an excellent Board of Directors and Executive Committee for the past two years. Sheri Gilley is a remarkably dedicated, smart, generous, and gracious person who has served us and our congregation well; I am very pleased that she has to stay on as Immediate Past President, as there is much to learn.  There is much to learn from all of you, as well.


Deborah Holdstein

Sheri’s Last Message

This is my last monthly message to the congregation as your president.  

In my role as president, I have had the opportunity to meet presidents from many other congregations. Inevitably, the conversation would turn to the challenges we face.  And each time, I’d hear some horror story that would reminded me how very lucky I have been during my time as president.  

While it is true that serving as president is a huge undertaking, it has also been hugely rewarding.  I would like to take this opportunity in my final address to thank all of the many people whose hard work and dedication have made my job so easy – the people who take care of us, our children, our money, our building, and our spiritual lives.

During the week, Cindy Evans and Alene Goren-Taylor juggle hundreds of tasks both small and large to keep our office running smoothly.  On Sunday mornings & Wednesday nights you’ll see Arielle Gilley or Abigail Kaberon helping you with whatever you need. They are our face, eyes, and ears. As president and member, my mind is put at ease just knowing that anyone who calls or walks into the office will be taken care of by these wonderful people.

Robin Arbetman and Marci Sperling Flynn take superb care of our children in their diligent and loving management of our religious school and preschool, respectively, and Zak Wainer engages our young adults in OPTY.  With them, I have felt confident that our children, both young and old, always have someone looking out for them at OPT.

Our bookkeeper, Grace Varga, takes care of our money. Thanks to her, I can breeze in, sign the checks, and know that our accounts and bills are in order.  

Miguel Ramirez, Mario Villafuerte, Jorge Castaneda, James Crowder, Brenda Edwards, and Shonna Hyles take expert care of our building and do a fabulous job of setting up our many events.  We have kept them especially busy this year with all the extra sesquicentennial celebrations.

And I’m sure I don’t have to tell each of you this, but Danielle Sandler takes care of everyone and everything! Her wise counsel and advice have been especially invaluable to me during my term.

Our temple hums and my term has run even smoother because of the incredibly large group of volunteers among us who put in hours and hours of work to make our events and programs so successful.

I have felt supported every day as your president. It truly takes a village.

Last but not least is my compass. As president, I could not have served you as well without the amazing clergy that guides our spiritual lives daily. Rabbi Weiss, Cantor Green and Rabbi Emeritus Gerson are the heart and soul of our congregation and keep us focused on living a meaningful life.

Guiding me also has been our board.  I am so proud of the care and respect the board members have shown each other as we struggled and deliberated through critical issues and decisions.  

When I first started this job, I was prepared for the occasional issue or complaint.  What I was completely unprepared for was what I heard much more often. “Thank you. Everything is going so well.”  This sentiment echoed by many over the last two years is a testament to what a wonderful home we have here at Oak Park Temple. So my final thanks is to all of you reading this for granting me the privilege of serving as your president.

I am keenly aware that the time is quickly approaching when I will assume the coveted role of Immediate Past President.  In this new role I will continue to reap the benefit of all the amazing people here, but thankfully with a little less of the responsibility.  I look forward to supporting Deb Holdstein who will take over as president. I hope I can do as good of a job in this new role as Jeff Blaine has done for me.


Present, Past, Future

We didn’t plan it this way, but it seems that our first three months of Sesquicentennial Celebrations have naturally fallen into the monthly themes of Present, Past, Future.   
November was our celebration in the Present – an incredible concert by David Broza (with an even more incredible appearance by guest star Shawn Gilley – not that I’m at all biased on this subject), followed by a visit from URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs.  
Now it’s December, our month of celebrations dedicated to the Past.  We will honor our history with the Scholar-in Residence program with Gary Zola from the American Jewish Archives on December 5-7, followed by a weekend of history and art of Oak Park Temple December 12-14 by Rabbi Gerson & David Sokol. 


And in January, we’ll turn the focus to our Future, with programming for our youngsters,   ShirLaLa – Outrageously Hip Jewish Kiddie Rock – will be at OPT on January 10.  This program promise to be enriching and inspiring for children and their families.  I‘ve had the pleasure of seeing Shira Kline at two or three biennials and can tell you that she is quite a talented and engaging performer, and I am very excited that she will be here at Oak Park Temple. And not to worry, we aren’t leaving out the adults – on January 11, she will host an Adult Meditation session.  

I want to continue to express my gratitude to our sesquicentennial chairs, our staff and all of our many volunteers for their hard work in the staggering number of tasks involved in planning and staffing these events, as well as our angels who have contributed funding in order to keep these events as affordable as possible for everyone. 

I hope you are all able to enjoy as many of these events as possible as we celebrate our Present, our Past, and our Future.


We are now in full swing with our sesquicentennial celebrations.  It was so wonderful to see everyone in our big tent for our Rosh Hashanah oneg, a perfect way to start our year of celebration.  I suspect that by the time you see this, the David Broza concert will be just a few days away. 

Next up is a visit from the President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.  On Rosh Hashanah I spoke about  Rabbi Jacobs and his challenge to practice “Audacious Hospitality” in our synagogues.  In fact, earlier this year, fresh from the biennial, I wrote about this topic as well, wondering how we can practice Audacious Hospitality here at Oak Park Temple. 

And now, here is your chance to meet Rabbi Jacobs yourself, and our chance to demonstrate that we have taken his challenge seriously here at Oak Park Temple.  On November 21, Rabbi Jacobs will join us and speak at our 8:00 Shabbat service.  We will start the evening with a community dinner at 6:30pm, free of charge thanks to our Sesquicentennial Angels.  (Make sure to reserve your space for the dinner either online or by calling the office.)  

Rabbi Jacobs is an energetic, inspiring and dynamic speaker.  It is a real honor that he is visiting us, I hope to see you all there.  Let’s show him what an incredible community we have created.  As I mentioned on Rosh Hashanah, you’ll have no trouble recognizing him – he’ll most likely be the tallest person in the room.  

Following these celebrations in November, we’ll turn to looking back in time, starting with A Scholar-in Residence program with Gary Zola from the American Jewish Archives on December 5-7, and then following that with a weekend of history and art of Oak Park Temple the following weekend, December 12-14 by Rabbi Gerson & David Sokol.  

Meeting David Broza


I still vividly remember the first time I heard his music.  It was at a Greater Chicago Jewish Folk Arts Festival.  I don’t remember the year, but I do remember standing only 20 feet away as I heard the most amazing music originate from a single person sitting on the stage.  Had I not been standing right there I would have sworn there was a drummer onstage as well.  David Broza manages to create layers of sound with his voice, his hands, his guitar.  The effect is nothing short of spectacular. 

I’m not the musician in the family.  That distinction belongs to my son Shawn. Sadly, he was not with me that day, but when I brought home Broza’s Masada Live CD, Shawn fell in love with his music just as I expected. He would play the CD over and over again, following along with his guitar and harmonizing with the songs.

Over the years, I was able to attend many Broza concerts in Chicago, but for one reason or another Shawn was never able to be there with me.  Finally, in 2011, Shawn saw Broza perform live for the first time at the URJ Biennial in Washington DC. By this time he knew the music well but had still never seen him perform live.  I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, watching Broza perform or watching Shawn watch Broza perform.

I was thrilled when we decided to bring David Broza to Oak Park Temple.  And I was so beyond thrilled when we were able to arrange for Shawn to meet him this past spring. Broza was in Chicago to play for a pre-Passover Seder at City Winery.  He had a 5:00 sound check at the Winery so he arranged to meet us at 4:00.  I asked if Shawn could bring his guitar along and he replied “Sure 🙂 Great. Looking forward.

David Broza was soft-spoken, warm and charming, He and Shawn chatted about guitars for awhile and then he said “Let’ go into one of the dressing rooms and play a little.”  Shawn started out by performing a few of his own songs.  Then the two of them played a few of Shawn’s favorite David Broza songs, Shawn singing harmonies just as he had along with the CDs all those years ago.  

I sat in the corner saying as little as possible, pointing my iPhone video camera at the two of them in hopes of capturing the magic that was unfolding before me.  And I succeeded -see below for the videos from that incredible afternoon.  

Around 5:00 I said we should probably go and Broza said “Don’t worry, they’ll come get me when they need me; we’re just getting to know each other musically.” 

Not only is Broza an wonderful musician, I now know that he is an incredibly kind and caring man.  Oak ParkTemple is so lucky to have him perform here on November 1 as part of our Sesquicentennial Celebration.  It’s an event you should not miss -  purchase tickets at  I hope to see you there. 

Getting to Know You, Part II

Occasionally Danielle or I receive requests to publish an item that is not actually related to Oak Park Temple in any way other than it is about one of our members.  Our guidelines for publishing content on all our current channels make us regretfully decline in these circumstances.  

Each time, I agree the guidelines are both necessary and correct, but I wish there were a place we could promote the item nonetheless. In late July, I got another such request, one I really wanted to announce – it was about ourkids, two of them, who are engaging in an exciting and creative endeavor.  And again, it didn’t really fit within our current guidelines.  

I spoke with Lee Kantz, head of our Communications Committee.  We decided to create a second Facebook page, the Oak Park Temple Community Corner. This new group is all about you.  It’s a place to let the community know more about you and what you’re involved with outside of Oak Park Temple.  And it’s a place to come if you want to learn more about your fellow congregants.  

Unlike our main Facebook page, this new page is for content not directly related to Judaism or Oak Park Temple.  The only relationship to our temple for this new  content is that it is something that you would like to share with your fellow congregants.  

My thanks to Nina Stoller,  whose request to publish information about a show that she and Drew Lewis were involved with was the motivation behind creating this new communications channel.  

If you are on Facebook and have not yet been invited to the new page, send a message to me or to Lee Kantz.  Make sure to read the guidelines and then add your own posts to the page, a place where we will all get to know a little more about each other. 

Getting to Know You

Do you know your Oak Park Temple board representatives?  Who, for example, would you contact if you had a great idea for an adult education program?  Who would you talk to about a new potential activity for social action?   

Hint: All board representatives are listed here each month in the Messenger.  Our names are also listed on our website.  But what if you don’t really know the person associated with a position?  Or if you think you know him/her but aren’t quite sure… wouldn’t it be nice if you had photos and bios available so you could get to know your board members a little better?  

It turns out you CAN learn more about our board since many of us have posted our bios online – just go to  At the top of this page are links for Officers, Committee/Affiliates, and At-Large bios.  (You can also find these in the menu: About>Bios> to view each of these links.)

These bios give you a chance to get to know us a little better.  We hope you’ll read something that will help start a conversation the next time you see one of us.  

Getting to know our board members is nice, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could also get to know you?  It turns out this too is available online!  One of the many activities going on in preparation for our sesquicentennial is the collection of stories about you, our congregants.  It is our attempt to document a tiny piece of who we are here at Oak Park Temple 150 years after the synagogue was formed.  

Many of these stories are about the paths that led a congregant to join Oak Park Temple.  Some are also stories about paths to Judaism.  Other stories are about meaningful experiences here at Oak Park Temple.  All are wonderful accounts that help us all get to know more about the individuals who have contributed their stories.   

You can find these stories at  And at the top right of the page there is a link for you to submit your own story, to give us all a chance to get you know you a little better as well!   

Not sure you want to write a story?   Another initiative associated with the sesquicentennial is a video project for us to record more of our stories as a snapshot of our 150th year.  If you are interested in being interviewed on video, please contact Deb Spector.  The videos will be available later in the year.

So go online now and get to know your board, get to know your fellow congregants, and give us all a chance to know more about you through your online story or video interview!  


150 Years Ago This Month

Let’s step back in time to 150 years ago this month – June 1864.  

President Abraham Lincoln is running for re-election against George B. McClellan.  The civil war is still ongoing, with battles this month in West Virginia, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi.  Arlington National Cemetery is established this month. In November, Lincoln will be re-elected with 25 states voting – votes were not counted from the 11 remaining southern states.  

Oak Park is a subdivision of Cicero.  The Great Chicago Fire won’t occur for another 7 years.  And in Chicago, public meetings were convened to establish the fourth Jewish congregation in the city.  About fifty men attended and established the Zion Congregation of West Chicago.  The first service will be held a few months later, on September 30, 1864.  This service will take place in a Baptist church in the west loop.

Now let’s jump forward 150 years to today.  We will kick off the celebration of our sesquicentennial year with our own High Holiday services this fall, to coincide with that first service 150 years ago.  We will begin the year with a special celebration at Rosh Hashanah and continue the celebration throughout the year 5775.

 We have a wealth of activities planned for the year, hopefully something for everyone.  There will be concerts and special lectures and visits,   In November Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza will perform a concert you won’t want to miss.  Also in November Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ will join us for a Shabbat service.  In December, we will have scholar-in-residence weekends –  Gary Zola from the American Jewish Archives the first weekend and Rabbi Gerson and David Sokol presenting a series on the history and art of OPT the following weekend.

That’s just the  first few months!  Highlights for 2015 include Pajama Havdalah with ShirLaLa, Adult Meditation with Shira Klein, Jewish Lawndale Dinner, Oy Vey it’s a Purim Party, Cantors Concert, Bagel Boys Old Fashioned Breakfast, and a Sesquicentennial Formal Celebration.  

Make sure to visit throughout the year for more information and to keep up on the various sesquicentennial celebrations. 

I wonder what those 50 men would think of us today if they could join us for some of these events?  Or if they could drop by for a Friday night service, a Saturday morning service, or hang out with us on a Sunday morning? I imagine they would be overwhelmed by the incredible atmosphere we’ve created here at Oak Park Temple. 

Our Bald Rabbis


Cancer patients demonstrate bravery daily as they face a daunting array of scans, infusions, procedures, surgeries as well as an overwhelming regimen of injections and medication. It is all the more horrific when that patient is a child.

On April 1st, the St. Baldrick’s 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave event was held in Chicago to raise money for childhood cancer research. This event was initially conceived in honor of “Superman Sam” Sommer, an 8-year-old with acute myeloid leukemia; tragically, it became an event in his memory instead. The original goal of the event, as the name suggests, was to gather 36 rabbis to voluntarily shave their heads to raise money and show solidarity with children who unwillingly lose their hair. This goal was quickly surpassed, by the time of the event more than 60 rabbis and other volunteers participated.

Two of these volunteers were our very own rabbis, Rabbi Weiss and Rabbi Emeritus Gerson. Each dollar raised goes toward research to find better ways to treat and cure today’s cancers that are prematurely ending the lives of our children. The looks and comments they may get now that they are bald will provide additional opportunities for them to explain why they have done this and help raise awareness that much more research is needed on childhood cancers.

I am the mother of a child with cancer. My son Shawn is battling metastatic carcinoid cancer. While he just turned 25, and his cancer is not one of the “childhood cancers” that this particular event is targeting, this topic nonetheless touches my family at a very personal level. I have seen firsthand the horror and pain that cancer leaves in its wake. I have stood by helplessly as my son suffers, hoping each day that someone, somewhere, will find some magic that can turn around his cancer’s insidious, destructive path.

I have prayed in waiting room after waiting room after waiting room, in doctor appointments, and during scans and procedures and surgeries. The helplessness is more than a parent should ever have to endure. I would dearly love to think that the research dollars raised for this event will help to prevent future parents from ever having to experience such helplessness and despair, and prevent future young patients from having to withstand such torture.

I would like to extend my own personal thanks to our rabbis and to express my gratitude to all the other participants in this event – those whose heads were shaved as well as those who donated.   Finally, I’d like to extend my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the parents of Superman Sam, rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, whose blog has been a tremendous help to me in my own daily struggles.

The Talmud says, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Babylonian Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 37a). It feels particularly relevant to childhood cancer, as each child is connected to a “world” of people who are also deeply impacted by that child’s disease. I pray that the money and awareness raised by all these bald rabbis will help save many such “worlds.”

Share This