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(You Gotta) Accentuate the Positive and Eliminate the negative...

Pay no attention to the number by the month.  Here's a good thought for the New Year.  Shannah Tovah. Ron                        ...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who Cries at Christmas?

OK.  I admit it.  I love Christmas.  It’s not a theological, religious or faith thing.  No, it’s more sociological, psychological, and nostalgic, I believe.  Nevertheless, I love it.  My friend and colleague Rabbi Ben Kamin wrote that Jews are outsiders at this time of the year, outside looking in, or something to that effect.  How not true for me. 

I never wanted a Christmas tree.  I never asked to put lights up on the house (although we always lived in apartments in Chicago).  I never wanted to go to midnight mass (although I did go several times with high school buddies, all of whom were Christians).  But I certainly remember riding around Chicago with my dad looking for the best light displays.  And, later on when he lived in Deerfield Beach, Florida, driving over to the National Inquirer’s headquarters to see their world renowned Christmas light display. When Juca and I were first married we lived on Addison on the North side (just a few blocks from the cathedral…I’m referring to Wrigley Field) and would love going downtown to the Loop at this time (Ba’yamim Ha Hem, Ba’Zman Ha Zeh) to see all of the store displays and marvel at the shoppers on State Street.  Good times. 

But I expect that that’s not it; not the real reason that I love Christmas. It is the sentiment, the warmth of the holiday.  It’s the hope and wish for peace on earth goodwill toward men.  Christmas is Pesach.  It’s family time; family history; family stories; it’s over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.  That’s Christmas.  How great to think of kids excited to wake up on Christmas morning to see what is waiting for them under the tree. 

Thank God Judah Maccabee and his gang saved the Jewish People so that Jesus could be born 168 years later so that we could have this wonderful holiday. 

So the real confession here is that whenever I hear Bing Crosby sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” or “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” or The Weavers sing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” or especially whenever I hear Judy Garland sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,”  the tears come.  (I cry whenever I hear Judy Garland sing anything…even “The Trolley Song.”  But I digress) Right, so who cries at Christmas?  Me, that’s who,.  Right Ben, it’s not my holiday, but it means a lot to me and in my own way I’m right in the middle of it.  I don’t feel like I’m on the outside looking in.

The Weavers and Pete Seeger add a line after the goodwill toward men sentiment.  They sing, “Why can’t we have Christmas the whole year around?”  With all that’s going on in Connecticut, Israel, Afghanistan, etc. etc. we certainly could use it. 

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas.


Friday, December 14, 2012

A Must See From TV's 60 Minutes

You may have seen this on 60 minutes.  If yes, you'll still find it interesting and like many second viewings will see missed information.  If no, I think it's a must see.

The Holocaust List 2012 has finally opened up to public
Subject: Incredible The Holocaust List found. This story was aired on CBS on "60 MINUTES" ** about a long-secret German archive that houses a treasure trove of information on 17.5 million victims of the Holocaust. The archive, located in the German town of Bad Arolsen, is massive (there are 16 miles of shelving containing 50 million pages of documents) and until recently, was off-limits to the public. But after the German government agreed earlier this year to open the archives, CBS News' Scott Pelley traveled there with three Jewish survivors who were able to see their own Holocaust records. It's an incredibly moving piece, all the more poignant in the wake of the meeting of Holocaust deniers in Iran and the denial speeches in the UN. We're trying to get word out about the story to people who have a special interest in this subject.
It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended.
This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests...............who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated with the Germans looking the other way.  Now, more than even, with Iran, among others claiming the Holocaust to be "a Myth" it's imperative that world NEVER forgets.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Brubeck is Dead

No words can express how I feel at the passing of Dave Brubeck.  

Ronald Klotz has shared a video with you on YouTube
Blue Rondo A La Turk - Dave Brubeck
by muzbey
First track from the best Dave Brubeck album Time Out. Name comes from the 9/8 turkish rhythms as 2+2+2+3 and 3+3+3 which are played consecutively in this piece.

Ronald Klotz has shared a video with you on YouTube

1966 in Germany

Dave Brubeck - piano
Paul Desmond - alto sax
Eugene Wright - bass
Joe Morello - drums

                                                                                                December 29, 2009

Dear G.U.C.I. Alumni:
I've been thinking lately about the year 1960.  It was a big year for me.  I entered high school that year, I saw Pete Seeger for the first time that year, I put on a football helmet for the first time.  It was in 1960 that I would hear the jazz album that would direct my musical interest for the next fifty years. 

A couple of years earlier my parents moved us from the north side of Chicago back to the family reservation on the west side of town.  But, I still got on the El often to return to Rogers Park to see my best friend Gene and spend time in the old neighborhood.  It was on one of those trips that Gene told me that his uncle had left him the keys to his apartment and that he wanted to go spend the weekend there.  It was a different world then and my parents had no problem letting me go with Gene.  So, two fourteen year olds go off to spend a weekend alone in an apartment on Waveland Avenue in Chi town.  Perfectly normal, right?  Well it was kind of normal.

My buddy Gene was a budding jazz fan and brought a few albums for us to hear on his uncle’s record player.  That’s when I heard it.  I’ve been listening to it ever since.  Gene showed me an album cover with some weird abstract art on it and said, “Wait ‘til you hear this.”  The album was “Time Out” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  I never heard anything like it.  It was thirty-four minutes of energy, improvisation, changing tempos, swinging and not swinging and then swinging again, jazz.   I’d soon learn that Paul Desmond was the alto sax player in the quartet whose unique sound would uplift and haunt you at the same time; and that Joe Morello was the drummer who could actually play a melody (in any time frame) on the drums.  We must have listened to that album twenty-five times that weekend.  I had the two best known numbers, Blue Rondo ala Turk, and (of course) Take Five, embedded in my psyche by the time I caught the train home. 

Later I bought the album.  I wore it out, literally.  I bought it again, then once more before it finally came out on CD.  Last month “Time Out” was re-mastered and re-issued along with a DVD of the Brubeck Quartet to mark the fiftieth anniversary of its first release.  It’s magnificent!  It’s the music that led me to investigate and fall in love with jazz.  It started with “Time out” and expanded chronologically in both directions from traditional jazz to swing to be bop to modern; from Armstrong to Goodman to Basie, to Davis, Pepper, Getz, Rich, et al.  It started with that abstract art album cover and my buddy, Gene saying, “Wait ‘til you hear this.” 

Brubeck is being honored tonight on the Kennedy Center Awards program.  I owe him a deep debt of gratitude; and to my buddy, Gene.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Eppes Essen.

No mention of Shapiro's or Corky and Lenny's or The Rascal House...but here's a great little video.  Our People are something else!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I wrote this article seventeen years ago.  I'm sorry that it still has meaning today.

                                                                                                            January, 1995

Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:

The day before yesterday we delivered our son, Jeremy, to the airport as he began
a great adventure, five months of study and travel at Tel Aviv University.  It
was with mixed feelings that I said my good-byes to him.  As any parent would,
I shared his excitement, yet I couldn't deny my feelings of sadness at seeing
him leave for so long a time at so great a distance.

That night, I heard the news of the suicide bombing at an intersection north of
Netanya.  Nineteen Israeli soldiers murdered and many others injured.  Jeremy,
along with several other camp kids landed in Israel amidst another tragedy, at
a time that I'm sure will temper their excitement and feelings of freedom and
adventure with the harsh realities of life and death in our Jewish State.  Many
years ago, I traveled to Israel to study at the Hebrew Union College.  It was
actually my second year of study there.  I was at the Machon Hayim Greemberg
for the '69-'70 school year and was returning to begin my rabbinic studies in
September, 1972.  A few weeks after we arrived, my class took a trip south into
the Negev.  It was on that bus, with forty or so other rabbinic students that
we heard the news on the radio of the massacre of eleven Israeli Olympic
athletes in Munich, Germany.

My group of students, which had only just formed, was an energetic, boisterous,
good humored bunch.  But in an instant we were silenced and numbed by the
news.  It was like a scene from the Twilight Zone; Rod Serling would have taken
note of it.  We asked the driver to stop the bus.  Our tour guide translated
the Hebrew language news for us so that we were sure to understand what had
happened.  It was a very silent time.  Slowly we each got off the bus and stood
on the side of the road in the middle of that hot and stony desert thinking
about and feeling the "Alone-ness" of Israel.  As I think of that moment twenty-
two years later, I remember the quiet of it all.  As I recall, no one cried.   
No one spoke, either.  I stood together with my classmates, and after a few
minutes someone began reciting the Kaddish.  We all mumbled the ancient words. 
It was all that we could do.  It was not enough, but it was something.

After a little while, we boarded the bus and continued on our way.  It's what
we all do when tragedy strikes; we continue, we go on.  It is what Israel has
done time and time again; it survives, it learns, it grows stronger, as do we
all.  These experiences change us.  They certainly never leave us

Jeremy, Jeff Kuhr, Stacey Walter, Kareen Batelman, Stephanie Katz, Jessica
Stein, Julie Levinsky, join Josh Steinharter, Phil Jacobson, and others of our
camp family and our extended Jewish family in a trip back to the future; to rub
elbows with our ancient past, our tumultuous present, and to become the future
of our people.  They have gone to study in Israel.  I do believe that many of
their lessons will be learned outside of classroom.


Friday, November 9, 2012


                                                                                                                     March 1994

Dear Friends and Family:

I've been thinking a lot lately about my Uncle Roy Levy.  He wasn't really my uncle; I just called him that.  He was my father’s best friend.  Roy and Arnie (my dad) grew up together in Chicago and remained the closest of friends for over fifty years.  The two of them were like night and day, personality-wise, but so enjoyed each other’s sense of humor and companionship.  They were inseparable, and I might add, lucky to have each other. 

The Talmud teaches us that a good friend is a treasure more valuable than gold.  As time marches on, I have come to understand that thought more and more.  It is so easy to make friends and have friends when you are in school or in camp, when you’re a kid.  But it is much harder when life separates you from people, by filling your time with career and family.  The funny thing is that, as with most things, we don’t appreciate what’s happening to us and around us until we miss it.  How many of us take our friendships for granted, almost as if they were guaranteed to us?  Then life takes us away from each other and we realize a loss.

As art imitates life, I think about many of the famous pairs of friends I've come to know through my television set and movie screen.  Norton and Kramdon, Stan and Ollie, Lucy and Ethel, Butch and Sundance, Dobie and Maynard, Thelma and Louise, Letterman and Schaefer, even Rocky and Bullwinkle live on through the years because of their special relationships.  Sure these characters entertain us as we laugh or cry at their particular trials and tribulations.  We relate to the stories they tell us in their weekly episodes, their humor and pathos.  But these couples really live on in our hearts because above all else they remain friends.  Their friendship is always stronger than the plot.  When all is said and done, and the credits roll, we know that the friendships live on.

I know that we are, for the most part, friendly people and, as such, cultivate many relationships.  But, how many really close friendships are we allotted in our lifetime?  Not too many.  I’m not talking about the “Hi, how are you, what’s new?” kind of friend.  I mean the person who really knows you, who you can count on, talk to about the real thinks, get mad at.  The person whose advice you listen to, whose opinion really counts.  How many of those never-ending, no-masks-needed-to-hide-behind friendships do we get in a lifetime?  We are lucky to have any, and indeed fortunate to have two or three.

So what’s this all about?  It’s about appreciating and going out of the way to continue cultivating that special friendship.  It’s about making that phone call or writing that letter, it’s about keeping the “Kesher,” the connection, it’s about being there for each other.  My dad and “uncle” were each, in their own way, a blessing to the other.  Hey, the greatest compliment anyone can give you is calling you their friend.  You can’t take that to the bank, but its value is beyond counting.  Be good to each other.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The High Holidays and G.U.C.I.

Here is an old article I just came across.  The High Holidays were over a month and a half ago, but I thought I'd share it anyway.  

      (or at least Ron’s)

Well, it’s that time of year again.  Looks like footballs are flyin’, leaves are about to change their clothes, the Cubbies are anticipating another long vacation…it must be fall.  Most importantly, as I write this little message to you, Jews around the world are about to celebrate Rosh Ha Shannah and Yom Kippur.  At first glance, we might not see much of a link between the High Holidays and GUCI.  But look again, because it’s there. 

We created a substantial link between these holidays and the 40 Avodanikim who cleaned out camp, shared their great Ruach, planned special programs, and lounged on their porch last summer.  Two weeks of their Limud program centered on the Torah portions we will be reading in each of our synagogues.  I hope these Torah readings will have added meaning and significance for Avodah 2005.

But even for those of us who were not in Avodah, the link between camp and the High Holidays is strong.  These ten days are all about helping us to become better people and making the world a better place.  Isn't that what GUCI is all about as well?  We learn to live together, solve our problems, help each other, and practice Tikkun Olam, improving our world. 

I hope the sound of the Shofar will stir all of those good thoughts in our minds and hearts.  Shannah Tovah U’Mitukah.  A happy and sweet new year to you all.

See you next summer.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Oh The Places You'll Go, and the People You'll Meet

                                                                                                            November, 2012

Dear Family and Friends:

I know its been a long time since I've written.  Retirement life can be quite busy.  I'm lucky to have the opportunity to work with, teach, and celebrate Shabbat with some pretty wonderful college students (I think they are starting to like me too).  I am teaching a class called "Storytelling and Torah-telling."  There are only a few students in the class, but they are great.  We started the semester with me telling them stories and then looking at stories in Genesis.  We talk about the structure, style, drama and characters in the stories.  Now we are beginning to create our own stories.  It's an interesting class.

One of the Storytelling students is from China.  Her name is Whu He, pronounced, "You He."  Indiana University has literally thousands of foreign students, many from Asia.  Whu is very quiet and thoughtful.  She asks questions but usually waits for me to ask her for her thoughts on anything we are discussing.

Last week we had a Shabbat Rocks Erev Shabbat service.  It is like a camp song session, six or seven guitarists ( two are G.U.C.I. kids...I boast), no readings, we just go from song to song to prayer, to song.  Very cool.  We get a lot of kids to each month's Shabbat Rocks.  There is a lot of spirit in the room and Shabbat dinner (and blessings) downstairs afterwards is always full and lively and ...well, wonderful.  I wasn't surprised to see Whu at Shabbat Rocks.  There are usually several non-Jewish students who attend.  Some may be boy or girlfriends of Jewish kids, some just come because they are interested.

Today, parents' weekend on campus, I was invited to do a Shabbat intro at a Fraternity house on campus.  After a welcome, a story, and leading the table blessings I returned to Hillel for dinner.  There was Whu.  I sat next to her so we had a chance to talk.  I asked her how she found Hillel at the beginning of the semester and she told me she looked up "Jewish life on campus," and there we were.  She enrolled in the class and started coming to services and Shabbat dinners.  "What made you interested in Jewish life on campus?" was my next question.

Sometimes a person or a sentence or a conversation can be so inspiring.  Whu told me that on her way home from school in China everyday she passed what she called an underground Jewish group.  She started to stop by to see what they were about.  She also told me that her father used to tell her bible stories and even knew some teachings from other Jewish books.  She said that all of this was outlawed in her country.  Then she very quietly, kind of turning down her face, said, in a quiet voice, "I couldn't believe how lucky I was to find out that I could participate in Jewish life here in Bloomington."  Whu He is not Jewish.  Well, maybe she is, in her heart.

I can't believe how lucky I am to be able to meet people like Whu He.  And ain't freedom grand!!  No joke.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012


IU Hillel Hosts Holocaust Survivor and Candles Museum Founder, Ms. Eva Kor and Holocaust archivist, Mr. Daniel Spungen for Three Days of Special Programming
Bloomington, Indiana – The Helene G. Simon Hillel Center for Jewish life at Indiana University invites the Bloomington community and IU community to attend a variety of thought provoking programs presented during the week of October 21.  “The Holocaust, Who Will Be for Me?”  begins on October 21st with a showing of Eva Kor’s documentary depicting her own Holocaust experiences and their aftermath.  Following this dramatic documentary, participants will be able to express reactions in small discussion groups.  Throughout the program week, Mr. Danny Spungen’s exhibit of holocaust artifacts will be on display for the public at the Hillel building, 730 East Third Street. 
Other major events during the week include:

4 PM Sunday October 21 Opening Program, Eva Kor documentary film and discussion.

October 121 - 24, Danny Spurgen exhibit at Hillel, open to the public

 4 PM. Tuesday, October 23, at Hillel; A special Eva Kor presentation for Bloomington community religious leaders.

7:30 PM Tuesday, October 23 at the Kelly School of Business; Ms. Eva Kor.  OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

7 PM Wednesday, October 24 at Hillel; Exhibit and presentation by Mr. Danny Spungen, OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Eva Kor
In learning about the Holocaust, the most precious, educational material we have are the survivors.  Eva Kor  is a remarkable woman who is a living testament to the Holocaust era. Eva Kor endured unfathomable hardships during her time in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Eva and her twin sister, Miriam, were subject to Dr. Joseph Mengele's atrocious human genetic experiments during their time in the camp. Being victims of the Mengele experiments meant almost certain death, but Eva and Miriam's strong willed spirits, persistence and hope kept them alive. Today, Eva Kor resides in Terra Haute, Indiana where she founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center and has authored two books, Auschwitz: Dr. Mengele's Twins: The Story of Eva and Miriam Mozes and Surviving the Angel of Death. Eva Kor is a revered public speaker, but more importantly she is a true hero and inspiration to the Jewish people.
CANDLES Holocaust Museum
Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiment Survivors
In 1978, after a show about the Holocaust aired on NBC, Eva Mozes Kor began to wonder what had happened to the children in the libera­tion pictures. How did their lives turn out? How had the trauma of Auschwitz and the ex­periments affected their lives? She searched for six long years with the help of her sister, Miriam Mozes Zeiger, who lived in Israel and is now deceased. Kor founded CANDLES in 1984. The Mozes twins located 122 individual survivors of Dr. Mengele's experiments across ten countries and four continents.

The CANDLES Museum is dedicated to tell­ing the story of the Holocaust and the stories of the Auschwitz twins. We need to note that the Mengele Twins are still searching for their Auschwitz files.
 Visitors to the Museum are given a per­sonalized tour and have the opportunity to ask questions and/or wander throughout the mu­seum viewing the many displays. It also serves as a resource center for teachers and provides tours for schools and groups.

Danny Spungen, Collector and Philatelist

In 2007, Danny Spungen, a collector and philatelist, on behalf of theSpungen Family Foundation, acquired arguably one of the best known collections of Holocaust materials related to stamps, covers, postcards, letters, bank note forgeries, and manuscripts from concentration camps & Jewish ghettos. Formally known as "The NAZI Scourge: Postal Evidence of the Holocaust and the Devastation of Europe," the Spungen Holocaust Postal Collection is being made available to the public, to view in Bloomington at the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center.

From Monday, October 22-Wednesday, October 24, Spungen's traveling Holocaust Postal Collection will be on display at Hillel, for students and the IU and Bloomington  community to learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust through this unique collection. 

The Helene G. Simon Hillel Center at Indiana University provides a welcoming, warm, vibrant Jewish community and a “home away from home” for over 4,000 Jewish students on IU’s campus, the 13th largest Jewish population among college campuses. Hillel’s mission is to build a dynamic, creative, and exciting Jewish community for students; to reach out to Jewish students on campus; to build leadership skills in IU students, to provide diversity education and programming to the IU campus.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Here's an old one I think of at this time of the year...one of my favorites


                                                                                             November, 1998

Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:

All families have their special traditions.  Mine is no different.  Every year my mother comes up from Florida for the High Holidays.   Sometime between Rosh Ha Shannah and Yom Kippur, we usually make a pilgrimage back to the old neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago.  Ours was a very ethnic family, three of my grandparents from Czechoslovakia, one from Poland.  My mom and dad, all of my aunts, and of course all of my grandparents spoke fluent Czech.  We called it Bohemian.  At our holiday dinner table, there was as much Bohemian flying as there was English.  So Mom and I (the remnants of the family, except for a cousin in California) pack up the car each year at this time and head back to Cicero and Berwyn with three goals in mind.  1.  To visit the relatives in the Free Sons Cemetery (and they are all there).  2.  To buy several dozen kolatchki (fruit filled Czech pastries), and a few containers of frozen durshkovah (tripe soup).  And 3.  Have the heaviest Czechoslovakian dinner possible at the Plaza Bohemian restaurant in Berwyn.

But this time around, we decided to add a ride past our old home in Cicero, just to take a look.  The neighborhood had changed ethnic groups, but looked almost the same.  Yes, the Czechs had been replaced by Hispanics, most of the restaurants and bakeries replaced their Bohemian signs with ones in Spanish.  When we rode by our old place, we saw an old lady outside cleaning.  My mom wanted to tell her that she had grown up in that house, so we stopped the car and she got out.  She tried to explain that my grandfather had bought the house in 1921 and it had been the family meeting place until well into the 60’s, over 40 years.  My mom and both of her sisters, my cousins, my father, grandparents, and even yours truly had lived in that house.  As my mom left the car, I said that I hoped the lady spoke English. 

While they spoke, pictures of my childhood in that house crept into me.  There was my cousin Ralph and me wrestling on the couch in the front room (the room that looked out on the street, we’d probably call it a living room today).  There was my cousin Judy getting ready to go to a dance.  I remembered vividly the many nights I slept in the front bedroom and watched the lights of the cars going down 60th Court as they reflected off of the ceiling and moved across the walls.  And there was my grandfather, sitting on the front porch on a warm summer evening.  Pictures came of family dinners (Thanksgivings always offered a turkey for the family and a goose for my father and me), and sleepovers on winter Saturday nights, and everyone trying to get into the bathroom on Sunday morning so we wouldn’t be late for Sunday school.  I saw the bathtub, a big iron job on four clawed feet, and the mantel in the front room with the pictures of my grandparents on it.  In my mind’s eye I remembered those pictures, oval, old-fashioned looking, black and white with some kind of sepia painted backgrounds.  I was flooded with a herky-jerky, 8mm-like, remembrance of times long gone. 

I looked over and saw that my mom wasn’t getting too far with the lady on the sidewalk in front of our old place, so I decided to give it a shot and went to talk to her too.   She didn’t speak any English, but I was able to communicate to her that my mother had been a little girl in the house that was now hers.  When she understood, she became very excited and to our surprise invited us in.  We hadn’t been through that front door since 1963 or so.  What a trip to do so now.  The last time I stood in that kitchen and looked out into the alley in back, I was 17 years old, my Mom 50.  Now we were there again, and little had changed.  The old bathtub was gone, replaced with a modern one, but the rooms were very much as I remembered them, down to the dark wood trim that ran along the walls and ceiling in the dining room and in the front.  The wood cabinet where my Aunt Lil kept all of her good dishes remained in place, now holding their good dishes.  Not a whole lot different than it was 35 or even 50 years ago. 

The old lady called her daughter from the back.  It turned out the house belonged to her.  She spoke to us in English and was happy to hear a few funny family stories about the house.  We met her two children who attend Burnham elementary school, the same school my mother, aunts, and cousins attended.  Her older son had graduated from Morton High School, like my parents, my aunts, my cousins, and I had.  It was quite the same, only the tune had a Latin beat to it. 

I felt that we had completed our family remembering day in a wonderful way.  We started where they (my family) had all ended, and ended where we had all lived.  What a great way to remember.

When it was time for us to leave our old house, the old lady, the grandmother hugged and kissed my mother.  Neither could speak to one another, yet there was some bond there.  We walked out to the front door and I turned for one last look at the front room and the mantel with the gas fireplace and the dark wood trim.  There on the mantel were pictures of grandparents from the old country, Mexico.  They stood in the same spot my grandparents’ pictures had stood.  I told the daughter of the old lady, “Take the sombreros off of the people in those pictures, and they could easily be my grandparents.”  She smiled.  We smiled.  

What a way to start the New Year, eh?


Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Yom Kippur Laugh

                                                                                       September, 2012

FOR ADULTS ONLY  Please skip this if you are offended by certain language

Dear Family and Friends:

Well, footballs are ascending and leaves are descending.  Must be Fall.  Almost everything about this time of the year is great, except that the Cubs are 34 games out of first with just a few games left in the regular season .  In Chicago we like to say, "Wait 'til next year,"  but maybe this time we should be saying, "Wait 'til the Messiah comes."  But we'll keep the faith for the boys in blue.  All Northsiders and Northside refugees (like me) will, I expect, be wearing our  Cubbies caps, blue with the red C, next April when spring training once again ignites our  hopes and fills our daydreams with visions of post season victories.

Shannah Tovah, hopes for a sweet new year to all of you who celebrate at this time of the year.  the High Holidays are a wonderful time in the Jewish community.  But we don't go to parties or shoot off fireworks to mark the new year, we begin to redirect our lives in order to be better people in the year to come.  That all culminates on the most solemn day of the year, Yom Kippur,  our day of atonement (ten days after Rosh Ha Shannah, the Jewish New Year).

I had the honor to lead synagogue services again this year for Hillel here at Indiana University.  Hillel is the Jewish Students organization on campus.  Literally hundreds of students attended our High Holiday services.  

It is not unusual for me to get up early on Yom Kippur morning, have a cup of coffee (strictly against the rules, I know), and read the paper just to quietly get my head ready for the heavy morning worship service soon to commence.  This is the day of our confession.  Pretty solemn.

I once told a Ba'al Shem Tov story called "Why the Ba'al Shem Tov laughed three times."  As a matter of fact when Danny Nichols and I were editing the great camp music CD we called, "L'Vracha, For a Blessing," and realized we had space left over on the CD, I recorded that story into a mic sitting in his living room.  Anyway, it's a great story about how looking at the brass buttons (one was missing) on a rich man's coat reminded the great rabbi of his parents and their love for each other, and it caused him to laugh several times during Shabbat services.  This Yom Kippur I laughed more than three times.

Just prior to leaving for Hillel last week to lead Yom Kippur morning services, my wife handed me a red envelope that had just come in the mail.  I knew it was a Rosh Ha Shannah card, and I was right.  But the front cover of the card rocked my world.  To paraphrase, it said in bold red letters, F*CK YOU, YOU F*CKING  F*CKER.   Inside was the nicest wish for a Shannah Tovah  a sweet year for me and my family. The card was from a friend, a young rabbi, someone who had worked at camp for years....AND IT MADE ME HOWL.  All day long, whenever there was a break in the reading at the synagogue, I thought of that card and could not suppress a smile.  I felt so like the Ba'al Shem Tov, but on the opposite side of the fence.    Irreverence at its best.  Hey, whatever floats your boat, you know...that floated mine.



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Sweet New Year to All

                                                                              September, 2012

Dear Readers:

In each of the Jewish studies classes I teach here at Indiana University though our Hillel program, I try and begin sessions with one or more quotes from Pirke Avot, Sayings of our Ancestors.  Pirke Avot, is a book in the Mishna which was redacted around  the year 200 after being handed down orally from generation to generation.  Laws and discussions in the Mishna became the subject of larger rabbinic debates and comments which are known as the Talmud.

As Rosh Ha Shannah, our Jewish new year rapidly approaches, beginning ten days of personal introspection and redirection, I submit this as food for thought:

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written (Psalm 119:99) "I have gained understanding from all my teachers." 
Who is mighty? He who subdues his passions, as it is written (Proverbs 16:32) "One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city." 
Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion, as it is written (Psalm 128:2) "You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you." "You shall be" refers to this world; and "it shall be well with you" refers to the world to come. 

Shannah Tovah, A Happy and Sweet New Year to all.


Friday, August 31, 2012

This great story is about Casey Lenhart, one of our Goldman Union Camp Institute staff members and a student here at Indiana University.  WAY TO GO CASEY!

When 21 year old Casey donated bone marrow to a 57 year old woman with chronic leukemia, Gift of Life's Donor Services Director described her as a spirited young woman who showered every nurse, doctor and coordinator with hugs and expressions of gratitude. Selfless and inspiring are two adjectives that describe this heroic young lady.

Casey’s story with Gift of Life began in 2011 when she was a camp counselor. A student from Indiana University visited the camp to speak to the counselors about his experience as a Gift of Life donor and immediately captured Casey's attention. “After hearing his story and how he was able to save a life, I knew this was something I wanted to be involved in,” she explained. Once the summer passed, Casey returned to school and her everyday life until one afternoon the following May, almost a year after she registered, she received the call that would forever change her life. Casey immediately agreed to donate, saying it was “unbelievable to think that out of all of my friends who registered alongside me at camp, I was the one who was given this rare opportunity.”

In July 2012, Casey flew to Boston to donate, accompanied by her mother. She explained that her family went into “research mode” when she was first called as a match, reading every book they could about bone marrow transplants and watching videos featuring donors and recipients. “I would absolutely recommend that others register,” Casey exclaimed. “Donating has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I don’t think there is anything more powerful than to be given the chance to save a life.” Serving as a bone marrow donor was not Casey's first experience with cancer patients --- grandparents and family friends who have battled cancer added momentum to her dedication to get involved with Gift of Life.

Wise beyond her years, Casey explains that “sometimes it’s easy to live your life on autopilot. As a junior at Indiana University, I was coasting through life, going to class, hanging out with friends, and overall just getting through each day.” She feels now, after her donation, that she has received a “sneak peek” into what life is about. Casey not only learned a valuable lesson during her donation, she also hopes to give others the opportunity to learn that same lesson. The eager college student hopes to run a drive on her campus in Indiana for every student, “I feel if given the opportunity to register, most students would be more than willing to join.” She hopes to open the registration process on her campus soon.

To run a drive in your area, contact info@giftoflife.org.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

( 1.3 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13 mile run) , BENTON HARBOR, MI.   AUGUST 19, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Part Two

                                                                                                            August, 2012
Dear Friends and Family:

 Juca and I love to stay at a small hotel called the Eden in Talpiot on Jerusalem’s south side.  From there we can walk down to Baka, our old neighborhood, or further to the restaurants on Emek Refaim.  In the evenings it is beautiful to walk nearby on the Tayelet which overlooks the entire city, old and new, as well as Abu Tor and east into the desert. 

This year we seemed to be catching the 172 bus on Derech Hevron almost every day to travel downtown to Ben Yehudah Street.  One day we jumped on the bus as unusual, never expecting to experience a scene from “The Russians Are Coming.  The Russians Are Coming.”  Soon after we got on, the driver announced that because the Russian President Alexander Putin was visiting Jerusalem at that very moment, the government had closed all of the main streets going downtown.  He announced that he would get us as close as he could.  It was funny that no one seemed to think that this was too unusual; we got on the bus expecting to go someplace and it simply was going to take us someplace else.  The driver couldn’t tell us exactly where he would let us off.   Although Israelis often yell and complain about any little thing (like the woman who gave the driver hell for stopping a bit up the block from her usual spot), at this major change, it was no problem, and all seemed to accept that we were not going to end up downtown.  Oh those pesky Russians.  

 We finally stopped down near the Jaffa Gate of the old city, quite a distance from where we thought we would be getting off the bus.  But just before we stopped, Juca noticed an old man who was quite upset and confused by this change in route.  Juca asked him if he would like to get off the bus with us so that we could help him.  He was a 92 year old American who had made Aliyah because his son and grandchildren were now in Israel.  He spoke no Hebrew, was wearing a WWII. U.S. Navy Vets cap, and was trying to reach the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem (we were nowhere close). 

 We all got off of the bus, and were slowly making our way up the street when a cab driver approached.  Strange things happen in Jerusalem.  Once I saw an Arab kid wearing an   Olin-Sang-Ruby tee shirt.  (I couldn’t find out how he had gotten it as he spoke no Hebrew.)  So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that the cabby was wearing a Chicago Cubs cap.  Did it matter to him that our beloved Cubbies were almost already out of the race and it was just the end of June?  I imagine not. He probably didn’t even know who Chicago’s North side heroes were.  Nevertheless, I immediately noticed the Cubs cap and commented to him in Hebrew that I liked the cap and that it was my team.  The cabby wanted fifty Shekels to take the old man to the synagogue.  Our companion refused him saying, through us, that it was too much money and that he couldn’t afford it.

So up the street in the hot sun we trudged; up Rehov Yaffo, toward downtown.  About two minutes later we heard that same cabby yelling at us.  He called out “Hey Chicago, Chicago” (he pronounced it She-caa-go, not the correct way, Chi-caw-go… but I digress).  Of course he got our attention.  When he caught up to us he said that he would just take the old man to the synagogue.  When I told him that he would have to take care of the gentleman, not just give him a ride, his reply was priceless.  With hands outstretched and palms up, giving me an isn’t-it-obvious look, he said, “C’mo Abba Sheli, C’mo Abba Sheli.”  " As if he were my own father, as if he were my own father.”

You see, Israel is family.  Things like this happen there. 


Monday, August 6, 2012

This is an email I just received from long-time friend Doug Passon.  Give a click to hear and see a great Danny Nichols treat (treat for me).  Anyone interested in supporting this great project can find out how by going to the 2nd link below. 

doug passon dpasson@dmajorfilms.com

                                                                                                                   Aug 3

Hi Ron - Shabbat Shalom.  When last we spoke you said you would be interested in seeing some footage of you and Dan playing.  I just put together "Peace Will Come"  and posted it on Vimeo:  https://vimeo.com/46847430

I put a plug in there for the launch of our Indiegogo fundraising campaign (http://www.indiegogo.com/roadtoeden)  We are trying to raise 30k in the next 60 days.  I would appreciate it, if you are so moved, to do what you can to publicize this to your network, maybe even post it on your blog?

In any case, the footage from st. louis is some of my favorite.  it was so pretty in that park and you guys sounded soooooo good!

be well,

Friday, August 3, 2012


When we got our dog, Kasha, we were living in Memphis - I intentionally gave her that name, so that when we were walking with her in the street, and a stranger would come up and comment about how cute she was, and then ask her name, I would reply: "Kasha".... Their response immediately told me something - The non-Jew would always say "What? What 's that name? What does it mean?", and anyone Jewish would respond with: "Oh! What a great name! My mouth is watering just thinking about it!" (or something similar..It was my way of immediately finding out, there in the heart of Memphis TN , if the person was Jewish or not!)
Anyway, read on - 'tis a great story!

It all started when my friend -- who wears a kippah -- was back in college and suffering through a tedious lecture. As the professor droned on, a previously-unknown young woman leaned over and whispered in his ear: 'This class is as boring as my Zayde 's seder. ' You see, the woman knew that she did not 'look ' Jewish, nor did she wear any identifying signs like a Star of David. So foregoing the awkward declaration, 'I 'm Jewish, ' the girl devised a more nuanced -- and frankly, cuter -- way of heralding her heritage.

This incident launched a hypothesis which would henceforth be known as the Bagel Theory.  The Bagel Theory stands for the principle that we Jews, regardless of how observant or affiliated we are, have a powerful need to connect with one another. To that end, we find ways to 'bagel ' each other -- basically, to 'out ' ourselves to fellow Jews.

There are two ways to bagel. The brave or simply unimaginative will tell you straight out that they are Jewish (a plain bagel). But the more creative will concoct subtler and even sublime ways to let you know that they, too, are in the know. (These bagels are often the best; like their doughy counterparts, cultural bagels are more flavorful when there is more to chew on.)

Bageled at Boggle
I suspect that Jews have been bageling even before real bagels were invented. And while my husband and I may not have invented bageling, we do seem to have a steady diet of bagel encounters.

An early bagel favorite occurred when my kippah-wearing husband and I were dating, and we spent a Saturday evening at a funky coffee house with friends. We engaged in a few boisterous rounds of Boggle, the game where you must quickly make words out of jumbled lettered cubes. Observing our fun, a couple of college students at a nearby table asked if they could play too. After we rattled the tray and furiously scribbled our words, it was time to read our lists aloud. One of the students, who sported a rasta hat and goatee, proudly listed the word 'yad. ' Unsuspecting, we inquired, 'What 's a yad? ' He said with a smirk, 'You know, that pointer you read theTorah with. ' Yes, we were bageled at Boggle.

On our honeymoon in Rome , we were standing at the top of the Spanish steps next to a middle-aged couple holding a map. The husband piped up in an obvious voice, 'I wonder where the synagogue is. ' My husband and I exchanged a knowing look at this classic Roman bagel and proceeded to strike up a conversation with this lovely couple from Chicago . After we took them to the synagogue, they asked to join us at the kosher pizza shop. As we savored the cheeseless arugula and shaved beef pizza -- to this day the best pizza I have ever had -- this non-religious couple marveled at traveling kosher and declared they would do so in the future. A satisfying bagel to be sure.

Holy Bagel
In the years since, our bagel encounters have become precious souvenirs, yiddishe knick-knacks from our family adventures in smaller Jewish communities. Like the time the little boy at the Coffee Bean in Pasadena, California , walked up to my husband, pulled out a mezuzah from around his neck, smiled and ran away. (A non-verbal bagel!) Or our day trip to the pier in San Clemente , California when an impish girl in cornrows and bikini scampered over to say 'Good Shabbos. '
We have been bageled waiting at airline ticket counters, in elevators, at the supermarket checkout. And I myself have been known to bagel when the situation calls for it, like the time I asked the chassid seated a few rows up on an airplane if I could borrow a siddur.

On a recent trip abroad, however, we did not get bageled even once. That was in Israel where, thankfully, there is just no need.

We bagel in a quest to feel whole.  Ultimately, why do we feel this need to bagel? Does it stem from our shared patriarchs, our pedigree of discrimination and isolation, a common love of latkes or just the human predisposition to be cliquey? I maintain it is something more. Our sages say that all Jews were originally one interconnected soul which stood in unison at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Now scattered across the Earth, as we encounter each other 's Jewish souls, we recognize and reconnect with a piece of our divine selves. The bagel may have a hole, but we bagel in a quest to feel whole.

So the next time a sweaty stranger at the gym says to you, 'I haven 't been this thirsty since Yom Kippur, ' smile. You 've just been bageled -- adding another link in the Jewish circle of connection...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Part One

July, 2012
Dear family and Friends:

 It never ceases to amaze me that whenever we are in Israel family-like things happen.  I wrote an article in 1990 titled, “Israel is Family,” and here I am writing about the same idea twenty-two years later.  You can find that old article by looking back in the blog to that year.  Israel and I had a rough start together.  Back in 1969 I ventured to Machon Hayim Greenberg for a year of Ulpan.  Jerusalem was very small city back then and there were not many Americans there.  Growing up in a non-Jewish neighborhood in Chicago, and always feeling like the “Jew” in the crowd, it came as a shock for me to actually go to Israel and suddenly feel like the “American” in the crowd.  But it was a case of adjustment on my part, and once I made it, I began to feel at home in that dusty stone-build ancient city.  Learning Hebrew made all the difference. 
Juca and I lived in Jerusalem for two years.  I traveled back several times over the years and we were lucky enough to spend part of last and this summer back in Jerusalem.  When I step off of the plane at Ben Gurion airport I find the Hebrew signs and announcements welcoming rather than strange.  It is like coming home.  And, Israelis are family.  Not that we like everyone in our family or want to spend time with every family member.  No, there are family members we would rather avoid.  Same with Israelis.  But most are like cousins, and there is certainly a family connection.

Two family-like experiences happened on our last visit.  We decided to travel to Haifa to visit one of Juca’s lifelong, Brazilian, childhood friends.  Michelini (now Michal) was born in Egypt, immigrated to Porto Alegre, Brazil where she and Juca became close friends, and then made Aliyah to Israel.  We were going to spend an afternoon with her in her home in Haifa.  To go, we had to travel to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, a place with its own tempo and rush of people.  Let me tell you, that tempo ain’t no waltz.
I negotiated the tickets and found the gate where we waited for the particular bus that would take us on the 1½ hour ride to the particular station where we would meet Michelini.  A woman approached me at the gate.  She excused herself and asked if she could speak to me in English.  I am never mistaken for an Israeli and took that as a compliment.  She asked me if that was the right gate for the bus going to that particular station in Haifa and I assured her that she was in the right place and that she could sit and wait with us for the 30 minutes until the bus came.  When the bus arrived, I nodded to her to come on board and she followed is on.

When we were about to arrive in Haifa, I called Michelini on the cell phone, spoke to her for a few seconds in Hebrew and gave the phone to Juca.  Juca, of course spoke to her old friend in Portuguese.  When we got off of the bus, that same woman who had asked me about the bus in Jerusalem came up to Juca and spoke to her… in Portuguese.  That was a surprise.  What came next was even more surprising.  It turns out that the woman was born in Egypt, immigrated with her family to Porto Alegre Brazil, later made Aliyah, and was now living in Haifa.  Her story was Michelini’s story, exactly.  As we heard her tell her tale, Michelini approached us on the platform.  The family scene now played itself out as Michelini, Juca, and the woman connected all of the dots and exchanged phone numbers.  What a mix of languages, continents, and family histories.  It was as if long lost sisters had found each other. 

Hey man; like I said, Israel is family.