Retreat 2014

Q: What did the dyslexic old Jew say?  A:  “Yo”.

This year’s retreat theme was “JEWISH HUMOR: SARCASM, STORIES AND SHTICK”.  And as you might have guessed, many jokes were exchanged throughout the weekend.  A few of them were even clean enough to repeat here.

Four rabbis are walking along. One of them remarks that while they hear so many secrets from their congregants, they don’t usually get a chance to confide their own indescrecions to anyone. One rabbi confesses that he has a huge gambling debt.  The next rabbi confesses that he has a bit of a drinking problem.  The fourth rabbi confesses he likes to visit prostitutes.  Then the first rabbi chimes in with his vice – he is a terrible gossip.

As I mentioned last year, having a retreat in March means it sometimes occurs in the spring and other times in the winter.  Like last year, this year’s retreat was a winter one, with just enough sunshine to melt the snow and ice before freezing back up at night.  This year’s retreat also unfortunately occurred the weekend that our clocks changed, which made Sunday morning a little more challenging than normal.

But we didn’t let something like weather or clocks get in the way of having a wonderful time.  We once again filled the camp, something that makes our Oak Park Temple retreat unique.  While there are a now a few other congregations that book OSRUI for a family retreat, no other group fills every single bed the way we do.  In fact, due to frozen pipes in one of the buildings, we had some attendees this year stay at nearby hotels.  

Each year the retreat has a different theme, different programming.  And yet some parts of the retreat are the same year after year –  it’s a great way to get to know fellow congregants and celebrate a true Shabbat away from the hassles of daily living. 

A huge thank you to the Retreat committee who once again outdid themselves in creating a magical weekend for us all.  

Audacious Hospitality

“Genesis teaches us the power of practicing audacious hospitality.

Early in Genesis, Abraham and Sarah set the standard. On a blisteringly hot day, Abraham runs after three desert wanderers, insisting they come inside for nourishment. What makes his act so memorable is that he doesn’t wait for the wanderers to knock on his door; instead, he goes out to meet them where they are and invites them in.”

The above quote is  from Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ presidential address at the URJ Biennial this past December in San Diego.  He went on to describe arriving at a congregation where he was greeted by someone with a name tag who had a less than enthusiastic greeting for him until she recognized that he was the guest speaker, at which time she turned on the warmth.  That, he concludes,  is not audacious hospitality.  

Rabbi Jacobs challenged us to each go home and spread the word to our congregations – to every member of our board, our staff, our committees, all our members – to make it their job to be as welcoming as Abraham and Sarah.  

What would audacious hospitality look like at Oak Park Temple?  It would start with each of us spending a moment looking around when we’re in the building, and noticing others.  As I mentioned in my Yom Kippur speech, try to find someone you don’t know, especially if they are standing alone, and make it your job to greet them.   A simple “Hello” or “Shabbat Shalom” can go a long way to making someone feel comfortable and welcome here.  (“Shabbat Shalom” works best when it is in fact Shabbat.  It sounds a little odd otherwise.  Gut Yuntif works much better during most holidays, and Hello or Good morning is a pretty good bet on Sunday mornings! )  

But as Rabbi Jacobs notes, it doesn’t end there.  To make Oak Park Temple truly a place of audacious hospitality, we need to not only say hi but get to know one another.  One of the wonderful things here is the staggering number of ways that can happen, in ways both big and small.  

Join a committee, or a study group, and get to know the other people in the group.  Chat with a stranger over coffee and bagels on a Sunday morning, or wine and cheese at a 2nd or 4th Friday, or cookies at an oneg on other Friday nights.  Come to a 2nd Thursday Culture Salon or a Sisterhood dinner or movie, or Mel’s movie on a Sunday afternoon.  And while you’re here, whenever you’re here, make it your job to find someone you don’t yet know and get to know their story.  

Rabbi Jacobs goes on to say:

“…Audacious hospitality isn’t just a temporary act of kindness so that people don’t feel left out; it’s an ongoing invitation to be part of a community where we can become all that God wants us to be – and a way to transform ourselves in the process. Audacious hospitality is a two-way street, where synagogue and stranger need each other. Hospitality is not just our chance to teach newcomers but, just as important, an opportunity for them to teach us.”

Let’s make Oak Park Temple a place of audacious hospitality.  In November, Rabbi Jacobs will be visiting Oak Park Temple to help us celebrate our sesquicentennial.  When he arrives, instead of seeing a greeter that growls at him, I hope he can witness audacious hospitality, not because you recognize him from a poster, but because we are all in the habit of welcoming the stranger.

Constitution Changes

Pop Quiz: Oak Park Temple’s Constitution should be reviewed and amended:
A.  Never – it is a document that should never be changed.
B.  Every 150 years.
C.  Every 10 years.
D.  Every 5 years.
E.  Every other year.
F.  Any year when the temperature in Chicago drops below zero or soars above 100.

The answer to this is D, which can be found in the constitution itself:

  • Article XV Section II ­ Review of the Constitution  At least once every five years, the President shall appoint a committee to review the Constitution and make recommendations for any necessary amendments to it. 

Last year was our fifth year and a committee was appointed by then-President Jeff Blaine.  The committee was chaired by Marsha Cooper, and included Lauren Levrant, Jeff Blaine, Mark Segal, and myself.  During the year Deb Holdstein was added to the committee.  Besides regular meeting of the committee, many of the issues were discussed at last year’s board retreat and most recently at the November board meeting.  

All of these many hours of meetings produced the proposed amendments listed on our website in November.  A few additional issues were raised from congregants and a final meeting of the committee in December resulted in a few more minor changes.  The final proposed amendments may be found on the front page of our website.

Many amendments are simply clarifications  and word-smithing.  In one case the clarification was incorrect and reversed during the December meeting.  

The substantive changes have to do with board committees.  The proposal adds one committee and removes one.  

The Fundraising committee began as an ad-hoc committee and is now being moved to a more formal board committee.

Finally, the Outreach committee is being combined with Membership, in recognition of our desire for Membership to focus on the recruitment and retention of many aspects of a diverse population.  What was once considered separate programming for interfaith couples might be just as attractive to someone born Jewish.  Our goal is that the combination of Interfaith programming with the Membership committee will strengthen that committee to serve all our current and potential members.  

These amendments will be voted on at our annual congregational meeting at which time we will also elect new board members.  Please join us at 10:00 on February 16 for a free brunch and annual meeting.  Hope to see you there!

Buying Happiness

One of my favorite internet sites  to browse is TED -  TED started in the early 80’s as a conference to bring together people from Technology, Entertainment and Design.  Its scope has expanded and the conferences multiplied.  The mission of TED is to promote “Ideas Worth Spreading”.  When I have a few minutes to spare, I look through the many talks for one that catches my attention.  Each time I find myself having a little more hope for humanity after watching one of these videos.

Recently, one such TED talk caught my attention.  The talk was by Michael Norton from Harvard Business School and was titled “How to buy happiness“.

Norton challenges the conventional wisdom that “money can’t buy happiness”.  He states that “if you think that, you’re actually just not spending it right.”

He performed a  simple experiment.  He gave out envelopes of money to random strangers, with that stipulation that they first answer a few questions and then follow the instructions in the envelope.  

Some envelopes contained money with the instruction to spend this today on yourself.  Other envelopes said to spend this money on someone else.  He then followed up with both groups and asked what they purchased along with a few questions to measure their level of happiness.

The amount of money varied – some got $5, others got $20.  You might think that those getting the most money to spend on themselves would be happiest at the end of the day, but you would be wrong.  It was those who spent money on others that reported feeling the most happy.  And the amount didn’t really matter all that much.  

The message here intrigues and inspires me.  I especially like the idea that charity doesn’t always have to be a large amount of money.  It reminds me of the Jewish teaching that even one who is dependent upon charity is obligated to give to those less fortunate.

My New Years resolution is to try to find ways of incorporating this idea of small charity into my life.  Along with the big donations I choose to make, I want to increase those small donation opportunities as well.  

I wish you each a happy secular New Year and hope that you too might find more ways in which spending your money can make you happy! 


Giving Thanks


As we first realized during the High Holidays, the Jewish calendar is very early with respect to the secular calendar this year.   Rosh Hashanah came only days after Labor Day, Simchat Torah was in mid-September.  And now it is time for a very early Chanukah – the first day (and 2nd night) coincides with Thanksgiving.

There’s been lots of buzz about this online – I’ve seen recipes for Latkes and Turkey, there’s a Thanksgivukkah Facebook page, and a 9 year old in New York has created and is now selling a Menurkey - a turkey shaped menorah.

What I haven’t seen mentioned as much though is that these holidays share a common theme. What we celebrate on Chanukah is religious freedom.  And we are here today to celebrate Thanksgiving in this country due to that same idea of religious freedom that caused our ancestors to immigrate here in the first place.  The relatives I talked about last month didn’t make it here, but their children (including my grandmother) did.  Because of their quest for freedom, here I am living in a country where I am quite thankful that I am able to celebrate both Chanukah and Thanksgiving on the very same day. 

When Shawn was young, I heard an idea for celebrating Chanukah that I embraced.  I don’t really remember where I read about it, quite possibly it was in the Messenger.   Instead of giving presents each night, the idea is that you give your children money each night: half of which they keep and half of which they donate to some charitable organization.  This idea was a big hit at my household – both for Shawn and for me.  Instead of receiving small things that he didn’t really want just to have something every night, now Shawn had money each night.  He could plan what he wanted to buy as well as research and plan how he would share his wealth. From my point of view, I could stop looking for things to buy “just because” and also teach the invaluable lesson of giving to others.  (Not to mention, I liked the appropriateness of giving gelt, a most traditional Chanukah gift.)  

I think this year the Food Pantry would be a good choice for the tzdekah portion of our Chanukah Gelt. 

Shalom & Hag Sameach!

Jewish Geography

By now you should all have seen flyers to save the date for the event of the year – our Oak Park Temple / Glasser Preschool Auction on February 1, 2014. The committee has already had an especially fun and energetic kickoff meeting, and is on the lookout for more members. If you are interested in being part of this committee contact the office, Sarah Schutov or Kaye Pomeranc White – I can promise you it will be a fun and worthwhile experience.

Here’s an interesting fact about those postcards.  The “old world” people on the card aren’t stock photos – they are my relatives.  Here is a little bit of my Jewish Geography.

The man is Efrayim Mazur.  He was my great-grandfather.  Next to him is Leah Mazur, my great-grandmother.  And finally, we have Leah’s mother, my great-great-grandmother Sima Tetievsky.  They lived near Kiev in a town called Stavishche (Stavisht), Ukraine (which was Russia at the time).  And due to the magic of the the internet, I found their photos and can read about them at  

Efrayim was a bookkeeper, and in the words of Y. Rubin: “[he] was a person of good understanding, logical and loyal and upright, before God and people. You could trust him and you did not have to bribe him. It is hard to find such honorable and fine people nowadays.”

Efrayim’s sister, Sureh Mazur, married Shloime Loyev. Shloime’s brother Elimelech Loyev had a daughter named Olga, which means Efrayim was Olga’s uncle. Who, you might ask, was Olga Loyev? She was Sholom Aleichem’s (writer of many Yiddish stories, including the stories that later became Fiddler on the Roof) wife! I have no idea what that makes me in relation to Sholom Aleichem, but it seems in the realm of possibility that some of his characters may have been based on some of my relatives.

So that’s a small piece of my past and a prime example of the always-fascinating lesson in Jewish geography. And now, my relatives are helping us to celebrate this year’s auction!  



Another New Year

It amazes me how I’m continuously surprised at how fast things appear when I thought they were so far away. It’s a cliche that time goes faster and faster as you age.  In fact it is such a cliche that country songs have been written about it – Kenny Chesney’s “Don’t Blink” or Trace Adkins’s “You’re Gonna Miss This“, to name just a few.  (By the way, both of these are great songs, click the above links if you’ve never seen their music videos or heard the songs!  You’ll have to watch a short commercial first but hang in there, it’s worth it!)

I’ve been experiencing it myself for years, each year spins faster and faster than the one before.  So why does it always surprise me when yet another summer is over?  This year I can blame it a little on how early the holidays occur – we are barely through Labor Day before it is Rosh Hashnah!  

While the temple’s sesquicentennial celebration is still a whole year away, that year is going to fly by far faster than we anticipate. In this next year, we will undergo serious planning for events to help us celebrate this momentous milestone.  

There will be many different events to plan in this next year.  I encourage each of you to watch for upcoming notices from the sesquicentennial committee to find the event(s) that are most meaningful for you and to volunteer your time to help make it happen!  And this time next year (which will be here in about a minute), we’ll start a joyous year of celebration and pay homage to all those who came before.  

I can’t help but think of those people whose names I see around our building and the lives that they lived, wondering what they would think of the incredible thriving congregation we are today?  I also can’t help but think of how we wouldn’t be here today without them and feel a great debt for the many ways that they volunteered their time and their money to leave this legacy for us.  And it heightens in me an awareness that what we do today will be there for the next generation.

L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’ taihatemi  -  May each of you be inscribed and sealed for a good year,

Sheri Gilley

Celebrate Shabbat!

Over the last few years, the worship committee and clergy have been exploring ideas for changes to Shabbat services.  A few years ago we introduced 4th Friday Kabbalat Shabbat services – with a 6:00pm oneg followed by a 6:30pm short service.  These services have been a great success and will continue to take place.

The second change was to have a 2nd Friday community dinner and service -  Shabbat Kehillah – with dinner at 6:00pm and the service at 7pm.  The dinners were lovely but many were not as well attended as we had hoped.  And while trying desperately to offer dinners at a low price to encourage more to attend, we found ourselves not always covering expenses for these events.

So starting this month, we are changing the 2nd Friday format to be more like our 4th Fridays. “[The 2nd Friday services are] similar, but not exactly the same as the one on the 4th Fridays”, explains Kathy Bezinovich, chair of the worship committee.  Like a 4th Friday, there will be a kiddish/oneg at 6:00pm and service at 6:30pm. The second Friday services will also be musical, however it will feature different musical groups and the service formats may vary month to month.

This change will make our schedule more predictable – 6pm oneg/kiddish and 6:30pm services on all even weeks, 8pm services followed by an oneg on the odd weeks. 

We haven’t abandoned the idea of holding community dinners, in fact just the opposite.  It’s now possible to schedule a dinner for any of the odd Fridays (dinner at 6:30 followed by an 8pm service), which will give us more time to enjoy the Shabbat meal without feeling rushed.

It will also be possible to schedule a congregational dinner after a 6:30 service time, although this will incur some additional expenses.  Contact the office for more information.

If you’re a Saturday morning “regular” you will have noticed another change we’ve made for Shabbat morning services.  As a way of welcoming the bar or bat mitzvah young adult into our community, all the members of the congregation present are now called up to the bima for the first Aliyah. This underscores the idea that Shabbat is a time for us to all celebrate as a community, and to be present as a community to help families celebrate their life events.

In our service we often read the words of Abraham Joshua Herschel:

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

I hope the changes we’ve made in our various services will help make it easier for you to come celebrate this special time with us.



Eastern Europe


In April, Cantor Julie Yugend-Green led 32 congregants and related friends on a 12 day, 3 country adventure through Eastern Europe.  We are back in the US now, but I’ve been joking that my mind remained in Europe.  It’s not exactly a joke – there are so many sites and experiences from the trip that are now part of my being, many that I’m still trying to understand and process.  Julie told us that this trip would be transformative, and it most certainly lived up to that promise. 

I could fill a book with details of what we did and what I learned on this trip.  In this column I will attempt to share with you a few scattered moments from the 2-3 days we spent in each country.

We walked in present day Warsaw, rebuilt after the demolition of the war (85% of Warsaw was destroyed).   It is sometimes hard to know which buildings survived and which were built to look like those that were destroyed.  We saw the small remaining section of the ghetto wall, walked through both small and large ghetto areas, saw the spot where the famous bridge stood between the small and large ghetto, witnessed the construction of juxtaposing new apartment buildings raised over ghetto ruins, and saw monuments of the resistance.  Everywhere I felt the ghosts of the Jews who had been living much like we do today until the events that changed the world forever.   

In Kraków, where more buildings survived the war, we visited the newest of the synagogues, built between 1860–1862, and the oldest one, built at the beginning of the 15th century.  We also visited the Kraków JCC, where a large green sign outside proclaims “Building a Jewish Life in Krakow”.  The director of the JCC proudly boasts that the building is open with no guards and no metal detectors, and is welcoming and inviting to all.  He tells us he hears stories every day of people who are just finding out that they are Jewish. He asserts that interest in Judaism is growing everywhere in Kraków and expounds on the public popularity of the Jewish Festivals.   He proclaims that Jewish life is being revived, very slowly to be sure, but growing nonetheless.  

We spent a day at Auschwitz and Birkenau.  While I knew plenty of facts about these places, the experience of being there was chilling in a way I can’t yet describe other than to say it is far bigger and more encompassing than I could ever have imagined.  We said Kaddish near the ruins of two of the crematoriums in Birkenau.  That moment will forever be a part of me, and I will never again recite Kaddish without remembering it and feeling the souls of all those who were cruelly murdered there.

In Budapest we celebrated Shabbat with the congregants of Bét Orim after passing guards and walking through metal detectors.  The next morning two of us went to the Dohány Street Synagogue for morning services, again passing through a metal detector with armed guards in attendance.  Later in the day Peter, our Hungarian Jewish guide explains that being Jewish in Hungary today is quite difficult and challenging, anti-semitism a constant concern.   We wandered through the Castle District of Buda and the river banks of Pest. Many from our group joined the incredible “March of the Living” walk along the Danube River together with tens of thousands of people, many of whom had travelled to Budapest solely for this event.  

Finally, we arrived in Prague, the city that looks like an incarnation of a storybook. As I’d been there before, for me it’s the first familiar city on the trip.  On our first night as I attempted to lead a group from our hotel to the town square, a sudden rainstorm forced us to duck into a doorway for shelter. As luck would have it, we found ourselves a wonderfully welcoming bar, which became “our” bar for the remainder of the trip.

We visited Theresienstadt, the town built to house 7,000 which at one time contained almost 60,000 people.  This town was used as the waiting room for transports and staged for a Red Cross visit to show how “well” the Jews were being treated during the war. We toured the museum and saw incredible and haunting artwork made by artists and children prisoners.  

This trip has changed me in ways I can’t  fully articulate, don’t yet fully understand.  It has given me a deeper understanding and simultaneously confused me even more.  It is a trip I could never have taken on my own.  I am profoundly grateful to both Cantor Yugend-Green for organizing it and to my fellow travelers for sharing in this journey with me.   



PS: You can view our photos online at  

Harlem Doors


A little over a year ago, the decision to replace our front Harlem doors became not so much of a decision as a foregone conclusion. They had gradually become harder and harder to open fully and the automatic closing mechanisms were no longer working. Then last March a gust of wind blew one of these very heavy doors shut, and we were extremely lucky that the child standing there was not injured. The two middle doors were permanently locked after this incident and we started the process of planning to finally replace our lovely but unusable doors.

Being a homeowner, I’ve lived through various home restoration projects over the years – window replacement, basement rehab, new kitchen, new bathroom, new roof, new water pipes…. My rule of thumb is to double both the time and cost estimates in my head before starting. Then when the work drags on and extra costs pile up, I’m at least mentally more prepared for it.

Our original plan was to have new doors by the 2012 Holidays. And just like a home project, it didn’t quite work out that way. Construction began in early-March and should be complete shortly after you read this.

Because of the urgency and significance of this project, $120,000 was borrowed from our Endowment Fund with the intent to pay back the loan over the next couple years. If you are interested in learning more about underwriting this important building improvement, please contact Matt Tushman or me.


From inside the building, you may not notice much of a change, other than the color or finish of the doors. From the outside, you may also not notice a difference, although the new doors will extend out further in order to be both zoning and ADA compliant. These new doors will be safer as well as fully handicap accessible. During the day, you will be able get inside the first set of doors before being buzzed in, rather than waiting out in the cold.

May these new doors open easily, close gently, and welcome those who enter. And may they further possess all the characteristics of our Shabbat prayer (Mishkan T’Filah, p.124):

May the door to this synagogue be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for fellowship.
May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express, hopes to nurture.
May the door of this synagogue be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity.
May its threshold be no stumbling block to young or straying feet.
May it be too high to admit complacency, selfishness and harshness.
May this synagogue be, for all who enter, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life.


Sheri Gilley

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