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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.


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.

                                                                                        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."


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.



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.


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.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Praying for Peace

 Friends.  Here's a post from the past which, I am sorry to say is quite appropriate today.  As we begin 5778 we need all the peace we can get.  Shannah Tovah to one and all.


Dear Friends and Family:

A ways back I participated in a camp-style Shabbat service along with Danny Nichols at Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, Ohio.  It is always uplifting for me to see campers conduct T’fillot in their home synagogues and hear their perceptions of camp.  But in this particular service, because of all of the tumult in our world, one of the prayers that Danny sang jumped out and pulled at my heart.  The Hebrew words, “Shalom Rav Al Yisrael Amcha, Tasim L’olam,” never seemed to have more meaning.  It’s sung in a melody that pleads for God to give God’s people, Israel, a great and everlasting peace.  I really sang it out last Friday, as if saying the words could or would make it happen .  

I don’t know how you feel about prayer, but I’m usually pretty cynical.  Don’t get me wrong, I love going to services, I always find some new idea in the liturgy or come up with some new thought (sometimes not even close, I admit, to what’s happening in the synagogue, but new, nonetheless) that stays with me long after I’ve brushed the crumbs of the Oneg off of my tie.  But, for me, the power of prayer moves in an inward rather than outward direction.  I don’t expect God to grant peace.  I know that we have to make peace if peace is to happen at all.  Yet I say the words and they have power.  How is that?  How can that be?   I’d like not to think of myself as a hypocrite, so how can I reconcile having a feeling of contentment and even joy in prayer, while not expecting prayers to be answered?

The answers to these questions don’t come easily.  I’m sure that the communal environment of a Shabbat worship service is part of it.  Being together with other Jews, saying and singing together, knowing that others around the world are doing the same, all bring me a feeling of comfort and belonging.  And in the case of praying for peace, during these dangerous days here and in Israel, perhaps simply the joining of voices in a group wish is enough to reach in and tug at heartstrings.  I find that sometimes prayer can have a great impact on me.  It often does here at camp where I sit surrounded by children and listen to their prayers.  That definitely gives me strength and hope, and makes me smile.  

But there was something in that Shalom Rav last Shabbat that went beyond the group wish.  There was some distant hope I felt…as if by singing the words with full Kavanah, devotion, just maybe there was an outside chance that it could happen.  Like I said, I don’t expect prayers to be answered.  But maybe, just this once, just this once. SHALOM RAV AL YISRAEL AMCHA TASIM L’OLAM.  

Maybe just this once!  Let it be.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

From Crying to Crackers; A Drama in four (or five) Loops

Dear Friends and Family:                                                                July, 2017

Most mornings I trek over to the local YMCA to walk circles around its four basketball courts for 45 minutes or so.  This seems to help get the blood going and loosen up seven decade old knees.  But I have to tell you that walking the indoor track is one of the most boring things I do. One could get loopy from making loops around the courts.  You know, round and round you go and after each curve you see the same old stuff; other old guys and gals stretching, walking, and even shooting baskets.  Not today.

For me, the best days on the track are rainy summer mornings.  You see, on rainy mornings the throngs of little kids that attend the Y’s day camp programs take over the four courts for their programs and games.  Wow, there is a lot to see on my loops around on mornings like this.  I guess it is my nature to search out staff when I see such a gathering.  I can’t help but look to see who is watching the kids, how the campers are being led, how attentive the counselors are being.  Hey, I was a camp director.

So my first loops today were filled with those kind of sights, and I have to tell you that all looked good.  But as I rounded a curve and one of the courts came into view this morning, I saw a little girl walk by another camper (a boy, both about five years old) and kick over some kind of plastic structure he was building.  I don’t know if she was being mean or if it was an accident.  In the few moments it took me to pass by I saw the boy’s face crumble into a frown and from there to a full blown cry. That’s all I saw.  I walked on.  But it gets better.

Next loop there’s the boy, still crying but a counselor is sitting with him.  I, of course, couldn’t hear what she was saying to him, but she was on it in just the time it took me to make the loop.  Good sign.  In my day at GUCI we used to call that "Coverage."  A good insurance term (probably got it from my dad).   The counselor was huddled over the boy in what looked to me like a very comforting manner.  By the time I looped again, the cry had somewhat subsided.  On that second or third time around I also noticed that another counselor had joined in and the three of them sat off to the side together.  Good stuff.

Another loop…no more crying.

 Another loop brings me to a scene of the boy, sitting with the counselors, shoveling crackers into his mouth.  So I witnessed some good work on the part of these two counselors.  I imagine they are just high school students.  But the important thing is that they were quickly on it with their camper, showed appropriate compassion, and comforted him as he needed.  Now I’d like to say the drama had a Hollywood ending with our star camper finishing his crackers and smiling as he joined the other kids in activity.  That didn’t happen.  He was happy to hang with the staff and start to rebuild his plastic thing.  Maybe that’s Hollywood enough for five loops around the gym.  I was just happy to see these high school students taking good care of their campers.

Forecast for tomorrow is for sun.  Another boring forty-five minutes of loops.  Oh well..