Shana tovah!

I had remarks prepared, well in advance of today. But something very dramatic occurred five days ago that I wish to share with you. 

Last Tuesday, a group of temple leaders including Sheri Gilley, Randy Gillett, Leah Vergotine and Sue Blaine joined me in attending a Union for Reform Judaism Central Region meeting at which URJ Senior Vice President, Danny Freedlander spoke on “Membership in Reform Judaism 3.0” We all met downtown and drove to Homewood in one car. Road trip! It was a terrific meeting and we had great fun planning the future of Oak Park Temple during our drive back to Oak Park. After dropping everyone off at their homes, Sue and I returned to our house on Tuesday night at about 10:40 p.m.

We entered the back door and found a window screen on the floor of the kitchen. When I went upstairs, I found our bedroom had been completely ransacked. It looked like a bomb had exploded. All of the dresser drawers were out and the contents were thrown hither and yon. Stuff was everywhere. My empty jewelry box was on the floor. The top drawer of my dresser, EMPTY. I immediately recognized that the watch that my parents had given to me when I graduated from the University of Chicago, and which was engraved, ‘Jeff, Love, Mom & Dad’ – GONE; a watch given to me by my boyhood friend of 54 years, Barry, who died two years ago – GONE, my passport – GONE, my bar mitzvah ring – GONE, and then I realized, my father’s dog tags and service medals from WW II… All gone….

And in the midst of the chaos, shock and sadness, I kept on thinking, ‘It’s only stuff.. Nobody got hurt, nobody’s dead. It’s just stuff..” And I really felt that. Violated, angry, yes, but despairing and lost, absolutely not. “It’s just ‘stuff”.And, you know what? I was surprised at how clearly I knew and was comforted by that thought. I know what you’re thinking – DENIAL & SHOCK. He’s completely kidding himself. I was suspicious of my response too, but it was what I felt. As Sue and I embraced, I knew that we had one another, our wonderful family and our friends. The rest was just stuff. To be sure, stuff that connected me to people and places and times and feelings of great significance to me. But, the really important things remained in our possession. 

The police arrived quickly and were dusting for prints when I looked in the corner of the bedroom and noticed that my iPad was also missing. I said, aloud, “They took my iPad!” The officer said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “No! “They took my iPad!!! There’s a feature on it called Find My iPad!!!” He immediately got it and said, “Was it activated?” I said “Yes!” I was able to log into the iCloudvery early on Wednesday and the map popped up with a pulsating red dot that showed the precise location of my iPad in Chicago. Jeff Blaine’s iPad is HERE!

So, the iPad was THERE. Where are you? Where are we?

There are two ways to say “here” in Hebrew. Poh and hineni

“Poh ani” means I’m here, or I’m present, or just present. It’s what we say in response to roll call. “Poh ani.” 

The more formal or deeper expression is “Hineni.” It means “Here I am,” and is mostly used when God personally calls on someone in the Bible to do something difficult and important. Abraham? Hineni, “Here I am.” Moses? Hineni, “Here I am.” It’s very complete and emotionally charged, and implies, “Here I am: ready, willing and able.” Last night we listened to the “Hineni prayer,”  ”Here I am in deep humility . . .” 

Hopefully, today, your response to the question of where are you is Hineni.

Here at Oak Park Temple, we share many connections:
We are Reform Jews.

We live in or near Oak Park, Illinois where we are decidedly a minority. Sue and I attended a family wedding “on Long Island” two weeks ago. It was ‘Jewish dense.’ 

We embrace connections with other Jews (through our involvement in the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism), ARZA (the Association of Reform Zionists of America, Echad al Echad (our teen exchange program with our sister congregation in Kiryat Tivon, Israel), URJ Biennials, congregational trips to Israel, Eastern Europe, the Jewish South, our congregational retreats and summer camp experiences at OSRUI.

We struggle with our ideas about God. We had a wonderful congregational retreat this year to discuss God, The Elephant in the Room (retreat topic). Some people weren’t sure how that would go… the things that we shared were amazing, frank and, to me, personally affirming.

We value dialogue, for in the process we grow, learn about ourselves and connect. Our dialogue is Jewish. Our stories are Jewish.

We yearn for connections, for why else are we here? We yearn for connections with our ancestors, future generations, others who want to engage in acts of Tikkun Olam… Repairing the World, and repairing and improving ourselves.

It used to be that Oak Park Temple was off the beaten path of Chicago Jewry. Some complained that we were ignored by the Jewish Federation of Chicago. Some might still complain. But, over the years, in my humble opinion, that’s changed somewhat. OPT is on the map.

Earlier this year we hosted best-selling Jewish author, Anita Diamant. Next month, Rabbi Miri Gold, the first non-orthodox rabbi to be paid by the State of Israel will be here. In February we will welcome Rabbi David Saperstein, the Director of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism. And, there is so much more. Oak Park Temple is definitely on the map.

We seek ways to connect with our Jewishness, with one another and to stay ‘connected’ to something beyond ourselves. Something more than ‘stuff.’ Whether it is through prayer, study, discussion, debate, the arts, music, food or laughter and tears, Oak Park Temple is place where our we can find our Jewishness.

So, the post script of that very dramatic set of events on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at the ‘Blaine house’ is that the police were able to find the bag with EVERYTHING that had been stolen from us and to make an arrest. The person who did this is in custody and has confessed to the crime. Within a few weeks, all of those cherished possessions will be back in our home, where they belong.

The “Find My iPad” application was responsible for allowing us to regain what was ours. Just think what we could do with an application called “Find My Jewish Home!” Press a button and a map of 1235 North Harlem Avenue, Oak Park pops up on the screen with a glowing Star of David pulsating on the site of our synagogue. Actually we do pulsate at times. Check us out on Sunday mornings!

Finding things that we’ve lost is rarely as stunningly easy as it was for us on Wednesday. More often than not it takes searching and effort. I invite you to make that effort here.

Oak Park Temple is “on the map”. Put it onto YOUR map. Let’s enjoy Oak Park Temple together. Let’s appreciate Oak Park Temple as the treasure that it is.

My family and I wish you L’shanah tovah tikatevu. May you be inscribed for goodness in the year ahead and may your reflections during these Days of Awe provide you with comfort and peace.

Jeff Blaine

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