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Monday, March 26, 2018

We Shall Not Be Moved




Dear Family and Friends:                                                    March, 2018

“I watched the news last night, oh boy…”  I did indeed watch the news last night and it was OH BOY.  Through an optimistic eye I saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest.  In 1968 we sang, “We shall not, we shall not be moved.  Just like a tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved.”  And just like that old gospel song turned into a protest song, I  witnessed what it said, “young and old together, we shall not be moved; black and white together, we shall not be moved; gay and straight together, we shall not be moved; all religions together, we shall not be moved.”  It was an emotional news day, yesterday. And I certainly was moved.

But with a pessimistic eye I recalled those days of marches and sit-ins in the late 60’s.  I remember holding the representatives of Dow chemical, manufacturers of the  Vietnam war chemical weapon agent orange, hostage (if only during working hours that one day) so they couldn’t hold interviews on campus in Champaign/Urbana.  I remember smelling tear gas on the streets of the University of Wisconsin.  I remember feeling like I was part of a Movement that was going to change the world.  Yes, that war ended five years later, but not because of anything I did.

It’s true that we couldn’t communicate (read organize) then the way these kids can today.  We didn’t have Facebook pages or events, tweets or instant this and that.  But even so, pessimistically  I can’t help but think that summer’s coming, and with that,  jobs at McDonalds, camp, resume building internships, all of which may get in the way of this generation's great momentum. 

But there definitely is energy and commitment to an obtainable ideal.  Something more doable than ending a war thousands of miles away.  Here’s the ray of light.  I heard chants and saw signs to the effect of, “We will vote you out.”  Many of those kids out on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday and hundreds of thousands more will be 18 by 2020.  Our voting statistics are deplorable. Maybe this swell of activism will lead to a million more registered voters.  And maybe those registered voters will actually vote for candidates that will represent them. 

I think that should be the goal of this “Movement.”  Maybe we can help.  Maybe somehow we, the older folks, can continue to articulate the message, “GO AND REGISTER TO VOTE,” and then, “GET OUT AND VOTE.”  I don’t exactly know how to do this, but I am going to try and keep this message alive here at Indiana University, and at the high schools in Bloomington.  I’m going to call the League of Women Voters and see if there isn’t a way to bring voter registration to the schools.  Let’s register a million voters, even more, so we can vote them out and vote them in.  Politicians care more about votes than they do demonstrations.  Let’s vote them out!

Ron  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

And Now for Something Completely Different




                                                                                                February, 2018

Dear Family and Friends:

One of my rabbinic journals recently included an article about Israeli poetry, written by women.  I can’t say that I know much about poetry.  I wrote some while I was in college and pretty depressed, and read a bit while studying in Jerusalem.  Yehudah Amichai taught in our school there so I was introduced to his work.  This article in the CCAR Journal really caught my attention.  The author, Dalia Marx, introduces it by telling us that the poets she will present, “ …are not part of any organized religious community or observant of Judaism in any traditional sense.”  Yet the poems speak of God, are quite personal and spiritual. 

I had heard the name Leah Goldberg before, but never read any of her poetry.  She was born in Germany in 1911 and made Aliyah in 1935.  Eventually she moved to Jerusalem and was a literature professor at Hebrew University.  The author of the article refers to Goldberg as, “a praying poet,” and tells us that much of her poetry consists of prayers and negotiations with the desperate need and quest to pray.  I thought that was strange for a non-practicing Jew.  One of the poems cited is:

I Saw My God at the Café

I saw my God at the Cafe
He revealed Himself to me through the cigarette smoke
gloomy, remorseful, and frail
He signaled to me: "life goes on!"

He did not look anything like my lover
He was closer than him, and miserable,
As a translucent shadow of the starlight
He hardly filled the void.

To a Pale-reddish twilight
as confessing a sin before death,
He kneeled down to kiss the feet of man
and to beg his forgiveness.

Of course the Hebrew is beautiful, but the translation is right on.  When I read this I immediately thought of my days at Machon Greenberg in Jerusalem, 1969.  The coffee houses Leah Goldberg refers to still existed then.  Navah on Rehov Yaffo, and Atara on Ben Yehudah.  These were the places poets, writers, and intellectuals met to drink their tea through sugar cubes, smoke, and discuss.   I remember so well sitting in Café Atara on cold Jerusalem nights, loving the Ugah Gvinah (cheese cake) and Café Afooch (coffee with steamed cream) and trying to overhear and understand the Hebrew of the conversations at nearby tables.  And the last time I visited Atara, before it disappeared, with my mentor and colleague Arie Gluck.  Arie was an Israeli Olympic champion in the 1950’s, but I knew him half-way through and to the end of his career as the Director of our URJ Camp Harlam. 


The rest of the poem is remarkable to me in the way it describes God; frail, gloomy, remorseful and repentant.  This is certainly not the almighty, omniscient, master of creation we usually hear about.  Seeing God in this light stopped me in my tracks. And the poem was actually written before the Holocaust. 

BUT, in “Poems of the End of the Journey,” Goldberg writes:

Teach me, my God, to bless and to pray
Over the secret of the withered leaf, on the glow of a ripe fruit,
Over this freedom:  to see, to feel, to breathe,
To know, to wish, to fail.

Teach my lips blessing and song of praise,
Renewing your time each morning, each night,
Lest my day today be as days gone by
Lest my day become for me simply habit.

In the first poem Leah Goldberg is telling us about God, here, the poet is talking to God.  Using the language of believers (“bless and pray,” “blessing and song of praise”) she is asking for the proper language to express her awe of nature and recognition that each day is unique (“Lest my day become for me simply habit”). 

When I read the following quote from Leah Goldberg’s diary, I kind of understood how she could write two almost opposite views of God:

“How happy is the person who has his God, he does not have to look for Him.  How happy also is he who believes that there is no God, and indeed that he has no need of Him.  I, I know nothing.  I am miserable, I need some faith.  I shall not be able to live without such.  However, I am skeptic, and therefore I feel cold.”

Happy is the one who has faith.  Happy is the one who has none.  Most of us are somewhere in-between. 

Ron



Thursday, January 4, 2018

Just Plain Happy New Year

                                                                                                     

                                                                                                               January, 2018


Dear Family and Friends:

I don’t mean to sound like the old Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame, but…We Jews are a funny People.  And I don’t mean funny Ha Ha.  Most of us celebrate two new years each year.  The first is in the fall around September or October.  That’s Rosh Ha Shannah, literally “The head of the year".  It comes from our Torah, Leviticus 23:23.  This Jewish New Year begins the ten days of Awe in which we reflect and repent and by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement are ready to confess our sins and try again.  So this Jewish New Year is not celebrated with fireworks and Champagne; it’s a bit more solemn.   On Rosh Ha Shannah Jews greet each other saying, “L’Shannah Tovah,” for a good year, “Shannah Tovah,” a good year, or “Good Yom Tov,” literally good, good day, but meaning, good holiday.  No one says Happy or good JEWISH New Year.  We know the Jewish…no need to say it.

So I’m wondering why many Jews greet each other after midnight on December 31st with, “Happy SECULAR new year.”  Is there someone out there that might be confused and think that the January 1st holiday might be the Jewish holiday so we have to define it with the word “Secular?”  I don’t think so.  Although on New Year’s Eve some people might wear funny hats and blow horns like we Jews do in our synagogues on Rosh Ha Shannah (we may wear a Kippah and blow a Shofar) but they don’t party like it’s 5778 (thank goodness, because we don’t party at all). Do people want to emphasize that this is not the “real” New Year, it’s the Secular New Year?  That the real one happens in the fall? Do those “Happy secular New Year” wishing folks give that same greeting to non-Jews on December 31st? Or is it just a Jew-to-Jew thing?   I think we should celebrate the holiday without the label.  Sure, when we explain to a non-Jew what Rosh Ha Shannah is we say, “It’s the JEWISH New Year.  Everyone knows that the other New Year, the one that’s not Jewish, is the January 1st one. 

This year the Chinese New Year falls on February 16th.  I’m sure Chinese people will not be wishing each other, “Happy Chinese New Year.”  And I imagine that any Chinese folks celebrating on January 1st will not be saying, “Happy non-Chinese New Year.”

In a few days I will celebrate my birthday.  Now I don’t know what the Jewish calendar date was 72 years ago when yours truly made his inglorious entrance into this world.  We didn’t pay much attention to the Jewish calendar in my family.  We were happy if we could remember the correct day in January.  So I would be astonished if anyone would greet me next week with, “Happy secular birthday.”  That would be so weird.  So why the ‘Secular’ New Year?

Now here’s another thing.  We are told in the Torah to celebrate this holiday of the sounding of the horns on the first day of the 7th month (Tishrei) of the year.  Go figure.  The beginning of the Jewish year comes on the seventh month of the year.  I guess it makes sense.  You could designate any day to be the beginning.  Rosh Ha Shannah is said to be the birthday of the world …when the world was created.  So it is just like when a person is born.  That’s the beginning of their counting.  We live a year and then turn one.  The world just had its 5778th birthday and we called it Rosh Ha Shannah.

So why is January 1st the New Year?  Maybe someone 2018 years ago decided we needed another winter, darkest- time- of- the- year holiday to cheer us up.  “Hey, let’s do New Years on January 1.  We could shoot off fireworks, wear funny hats, have a few drinks, etc.?”  But what if someone else said, “No.  Let’s do it in June…say June 12th.  Yah, that’s the ticket. That’s a good day.  And that way no one will have to stand out in the cold to watch the ball drop (or in Indy the race car drop).”  But obviously January 1st won out.

So probably, if you are one of the “Happy Secular New Year” wishers, this blog doesn’t sit right with you.  This is such a small point I’d say, “Forget about it.”  Better to say happy secular New Year than to say nothing at all.

But if anyone comes up to me and wishes me a happy secular birthday, I’ll say back, “Thank you.”  But I’ll be thinking, “Bah Humbug.”

Happy new year to all…and to all a good night.

Ron

PS.  And to everyone in Israel, Yom Sylvester Sameach!”

PPS.  And I was also wondering; if they drop a ball in New York and a race car in Indianapolis, what do they drop in Boston?  Beans?  In Chicago?  A huge deep dish pizza?

 (I clearly have to get out of the house more).

Friday, December 15, 2017

You Gotta Love Your Work

A friend asked me about this old blog entry, so here it is again.  Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom.

Ron
                                                                                        November, 1989


Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:


I happened to catch about twenty minutes of the Phil Donohue show yesterday,
the guest was the famous entertainer George Burns.  Mr. Burns is 93 years old
and has been in the entertainment business since he was a boy.  You might have
seen some of the old George Burns and Gracie Allen TV shows, usually rerun at 2
or 3 a.m., I was raised on them.  When asked by someone in the audience
yesterday about how Mr. Burns maintained his interest in his profession over so
many years he replied, "Whatever you do in life, you gotta love your work."  In
one short sentence, George Burns summarized many thoughts I have been having
over the past few years. 


I have often been asked by my Rabbinic collegues, and by others who have known
me for some time, how I can keep up my enthusiasm for camp after so many
years.  Next summer will be my sixteenth here at the Goldman camp.  But, I've
really been involved in Union Camping all my life.  It all began when I first
went to Union Institute (now Olin-Sang-Ruby) in Oconomowoc, Wis. as a camper in
1958. That led to fifteen summers at that camp before I came to Zionsville. 
I've been a camper, Machonick, Counselor, Waterfront Director, Unit Head (for
six summers), Program Director, Assistant Camp Director, and Camp Director. 
While many of the people with whom I graduated H.U.C. in 1977 have changed jobs
two, three, and four times, I began my directorship at Goldman Camp while still
studying in Cincinnati and here I have stayed.  I guess they consider me
strange (no doubt so do some of you).


Well, George Burns answered the question.  "You gotta love your work."  I am a
very lucky person to have a job I love.  Each summer has been different,
challenging in its own way, and above all never boring.  Sure every job has its
negatives, I spend many weekends on the road for camp, summertime backyard
barbecues are unknown to my family, I eat, sleep, and breathe with 300 other
people for eleven weeks each summer, I work when other "normal" people are off
(weekends and summer) so my family's social life is difficult.  Never-the-less
I'm lucky because I love my work.

                               
I just returned from the U.A.H.C. Biennial in New Orleans.  Four thousand
Reform Jews convened for this convention.  Personally, it was an exhilarating 
experience.  In addition to just being a part of this great gathering, I ran
into so many camp people from all of my years in Union Camping.  Among them
were Rabbis Jim Bennett, Jon Stein, Jon Adland, Steve Foster, Sam Joseph, Lewis
Kamrass, Gerry Walter (Gerry and I were co-counselors in 1965), Chet Diamond,
Billy Dreskin, Sol Greenberg, Steve Fuchs, Steve Fink, Michael Zedek, Danny
Gottlieb, Gary Zola along with Mark Glickman, Joel Block, Sherri Oppenheim,
Stacey and Jeff Linkon, Debbie Morgan. David Barrett, Ronnie Brockman, and
Sharon Katz.  There were many, many more.  My heart swelled every time someone
recalled their fond memories of time spent in camp.  So many good feelings and
warm memories.  I'm lucky to have a job that brings me in contact with
wonderful people.  And I'm lucky to have the opportunity to be creative, and
help others.


Most of you will be starting your careers in the next few years.  The choices
you make are among the most important of your life.  I hope you'll be as lucky
as I've been.   As you venture out into the world remember that money is
important, but its not everything.  And remember George Burns, 93 years old,
sitting with his cigar, telling it like it is; "Whatever you do in life, you
gotta love your work."


Ron

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

3,000 Chanukah Candles in July...No Problem

                                                                                     December, 2017


Dear Family and Friends:

Our Indianapolis community and The Goldman Union Camp Institute lost a good friend last week.  From the time our kids Jer and Mike attended the Hasten Hebrew Academy we knew the Batelman family.  Our kids were friends and the Klotz family shared our neighborhood, Greenbriar, with the Batelman family.  Gideon, who passed away last week, and I worked together all the years I directed the camp.  He sold the camp paper goods, kitchen supplies and a variety of other things over the years.  But our relationship was unlike any other vendor and customer.  I think the camp reminded Gideon of his birthplace, Israel.  He didn't just sell to the camp, he took care of the camp.  I'll give a few examples.  Before each summer I would order the entire summer's worth of paper goods.  Gideon knew that the camp had very limited storage space.  He would bring half of the items and keep the other half in his garage.  Then throughout the summer he would come to camp, take inventories and replace whatever needed replacing (it's possible he also liked seeing his kids who were campers and camp staff members). 

 I remember one time he showed up with an industrial fan.  If you visited the camp’s dining hall today, you would see two dozen ceiling fans, two big warehouse fans and several wall mounted fans.  It gets hot at camp.  But in those days we didn't have those fans and Gideon thought we could use one.  He just showed up with it; and it was great.  Whenever he found anything at a good price that he thought the camp could use, he would call me, and we would have it.

But here's the best Gideon story.  I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, "The Great Escape."  In that prisoner of war movie James Garner plays the part of "The Scrounger."  The prisoners are, of course planning an escape.  Whatever they need The Scrounger finds.  Need a camera?  What size lens?  They tell the Scrounger and he'd somehow find it.

Well one July we were studying the history of Jerusalem in our camp's educational program.  That summer Jerusalem was celebrating its 3000th anniversary.  We came up with the bright idea to culminate the program on the last night of camp by floating 3000 candles on Styrofoam boards in the pool and have a birthday party for Jerusalem.  Not only that, we wanted to use Jewish candles, so we decided Hanukkah candles would be perfect.  One problem.  Hanukkah is in December and this was July.  Enter our James Garner.  I called Gideon with this wild idea.  I expected him to say that it is impossible to find any Hanukkah candles at that time of the year let alone 3000.  But no.  Gideon tells me that he knows someone in Brooklyn and let him make a couple calls to see what he can do.  No lie; the next week 3000 Hanukkah candles arrive at camp.  I still do not know how Gideon did it, but I certainly remember it well all these years later.  By the way, the Jerusalem culmination program was a complete disaster, but we did get all of the candles lit.

Susan Dill will testify to the fact that our great G.U.C.I was lucky to have many people who helped us over the years and were completely in the background, unrecognized.  We were lucky to have  Gideon Batelman on our side.  Gideon and I had great talks whenever he came into the office.  He was one of the really good ones.

That's the way I see it.

Ron



                                                                                 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ella My Love 2


       
                                                                                             Nov.  2017

I went back in the archives to find this piece about Ella Fitzgerald.  Today I found out that Verve records discovered an Ella tape recorded live 60 years ago.  It was stored and forgotten.  On December 1st it will be released.  This is  surely a buried treasure.  I pre-ordered it from Amazon.  "Ella at Zardi's."  I haven't been this excited about getting a CD in a long while.  Check it out, it's bound to be great.


                                                                                        February, 2010

Dear Family and Friends:


It just occurred to me that I’ve never told you about Ella (well, my family certainly knows about her).  Ella and I have been on a first name basis since I fell in love with her when I was fifteen.  I took my senior prom date to hear her at the Empire Room in the Palmer House Hotel (fancy, schmancy) on Wabash Ave. in Chicago, and I  remained faithful to so many of her recordings over the years.  Oh, I’m sorry, it’s Fitzgerald, Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song, I’m talking about.  I’ve been a jazz fan all my life; have a favorite player for every instrument, and a few favorite singers.  There’s Mel Torme (nice Jewish boy from Chicago), Sinatra, even Diana Krall and sometimes Jane Monheit on the short list, but no one even comes close to Ella. 

No bio here.  You can find that on your own if you want to read about her incredible sixty year career (buy anything recorded before 1975 for Ella in best voice).  I just wanted to go on record as saying that no one should leave this world without having heard two Ella Fitzgerald albums (CD’s), “Ella Fitzgerald at the Opera House,” and “The Intimate Ella.”  Ella made dozens of great recordings, live and in the studio. But these two should not be missed.

In 1966, while studying at the University of Illinois, I was happy to be invited to spend a Shabbat with Rabbi Larry and Jan Mahrer at their home in Peoria, Illinois.  We had become close friends (sailing and water skiing partners, actually) the summer before at camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.    Jan was a great cook.  Larry and I loved to sip a beer and talk into the wee small hours of the morning (also a great Sinatra album).  And I loved playing with Jeff, Debbie, and Scotty, the Mahrer kids.  So, I was thrilled to be invited.  

One of those weekend nights, after everyone else had gone to bed, when the hours had become pretty wee and small, Larry told me he wanted to play a record for me.  He took out Ella at the Opera House.  The recording was of two almost identical concerts recorded in 1957 at the Opera House in Chicago (hence the name) and in LA.  That’s the night I rekindled my torrid affair with The First lady of Song.  Backed on the ballads by the Oscar Peterson trio and Ella’s drummer, and then by an all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic band on the last two tracks, Ella takes us on a moody and lyrical tour of Jazz standards.  After leading us down the garden path to romance and emotion, she cuts it all loose singing Stompin’ at the Savoy and Lady be Good, with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Stitt, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz and Flip Phillips in the all-star band.  You won’t believe Stompin’ at the Savoy.  It will bring tears to your eyes and stop your heart.  That’s how intense is Ella’s scatting.   I’ve listened to it 100 times, maybe 200.  I can’t hear it enough.  But here’s a hint; start the CD on track number 10.  The first concert, the one recorded in Chicago, is not as outstanding as the second.  Listen to the LA recording which begins at number 10.  And, it’s not just the Savoy that is mind blowing.  It just hits you in the guts and leaves you breathless.  The nine or so tracks leading up to Savoy are amazing in their sheer beauty.  There is one particular note I listen for in the ballads that pulls at my heart strings each time it floats out of my speakers.  See if you can find it.  What a treasure. 

The second Ella recording that's a "must hear" is called” The Intimate Ella.”  It was recorded in 1960; just Ella singing and Paul Smith at the piano.  Three or so of the songs were included with Ella as a bar singer in the movie, “Let No man Write My Epitaph.”  This is the CD to listen to late at night with most of the lights off, preferably with someone you love. The Intimate Ella is a collection of the most beautiful jazz standard ballads you can imagine.  Ella sings them all with such style and warmth.  Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday each recorded many of these tunes on various records, but (and I love both of them) never with the feeling that Ella gives to each.  Ira Gershwin often said about her interpretations of his songs..."I didn't know our songs were good till Ella sang them!"


Ella Fitzgerald recorded over fifty albums in her near-sixty year career.   At the Opera House and The Intimate Ella, two very different recordings, are two of her best.  No one should be deprived of hearing these two recordings sometime in their life.  You never know, it could be the start of something big; you might just fall in love.


Ron

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Just Trying to do a Little Something



                                                                                                      October, 2017

Dear Family and Friends:

If you've been reading these blurbs you might remember that I used to volunteer at our local homeless shelter, the Shalom Center.  It's not a Jewish outfit.  The folks that started the shelter liked the word "Shalom," so they used it.  So for five years, once a week I communed with their old Hobart dishwasher (you GUCIites will relate).  If someone would have taken a snapshot of me at my post it might have been titled, "Two Old Dishwashers."  But as the adult Hebrew program that I started grew to four classes and as additional responsibilities at Hillel arose, I decided to "retire" from the Shalom Center.  That was last June.

At our Rosh HaShanah, Jewish new year service I had the opportunity to speak to about four hundred college students.  It is an awesome responsibility when you come to think of it.  You have ten minutes to say whatever you want to hundreds of young adults. In my opinion it is a one shot deal to try and be meaningful and inspirational and it comes and goes in a blink.  Well this year, among other things I talked about how we might react to the negatives and even horrors occurring in our world.  One reaction could be simply throwing up one's hands and thinking, "what can I do, I'm just one person?" The situations we face are overwhelming. I'm talking hurricanes, flooding, mass shootings, etc. etc.  What can any one person do? 

 I suggested that we could each take a look at our own little corners of the world and devote ourselves to doing something...some small thing to make it better.  Help a friend.  Be a friend to one who doesn't have friends. Become a mentor.  Volunteer a bit of time...Whatever.  Do a little something.  If each of us did so, I'm sure this would Tikkun our Olam; make our world a better place. 

Last week I read in our local paper about an Indiana man who, at eighty years of age, has dedicated himself to building water pumps in his garage.  He packs the pumps into suitcases and flies them down to Guyana in South America and installs them in the shacks of the locals there.  He has installed over 800 pumps.  What a great undertaking.  Most would say that an eighty year old should be sitting on his porch falling asleep while reading old Ed McBain mysteries.  But this old Hoosier isn't buying any of that.  He's building pumps in his garage and bringing drinking water to hundreds of people.  He's doing a whole lot of good.  What an inspiration.

I remarked to my wife, Juca, "Here's a fellow doing so much, and I'm reluctant to give two hours a week to the Shalom Center because I have an extra Hebrew class?"  Doesn't make much sense.  

Today I returned to my post at the Hobart at the Center.  I'll be washing dishes in my little corner of the world... and thinking about water pumps in Guyana.

That's the way I see it.

Ron