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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Save Soviet Jews…N.F.T.Y. Social Action in the 1970’s

I wrote the following article and submitted it to the NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) at 75 series.  Whether they publish it or not, I wanted to share it with you.  In addition:  Happy holidays to all.
Save Soviet Jews…N.F.T.Y. Social Action in the 1970’s

Jerry Kaye, who it seems, has been the Director of Olin-Sang-Ruby since before Moses descended with the tablets, and I actually started out together in the U.A.H.C. camp business in 1970.  I was the Assistant Director of the camp but also the Advisor to the Chicago Federation of Temple Youth (CFTY).  That summer, David Forman rambled through camp with a troupe of performers presenting songs and dramatic readings to raise awareness of the plight of Soviet Jews.  My awareness was raised…to a very high level.  I wanted to carry that ball to CFTY.  As I look back on it now, I recall that along with that emotionally dramatic presentation at camp, I also attended a Soviet Jewry rally in Washington D.C. with a few CFTYites.  In any event, we, in CFTY caught the Soviet Jewry bug and decided to create our own Soviet Jewry Caravan, to carry the message to the Chicago area Jewish community. 

In communications with the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, an organization from the  West Side Temple in Cleveland, OH. I gathered material on the backgrounds and stories of Soviet Refusnikim.  These were Jews who stood up for their rights and were refused exit visas to Israel.  Many were jailed.  For the first time we encountered names like Anatoly Sharansky, Ida Nudel, and Boris Kochubievsky.  My wife Juca and I listened to recordings of Theodore Bikel singing in Russian and Hebrew and an album of underground Russian songs smuggled out of Russia and recorded in Hebrew in Israel.  We transcribed the words so we could learn the songs.  Some of those songs, Adpusti Narod Moi (Let My People Go), Kachol V’Lavan, Ani Ma’amin, Artzi Artzi, B’Dumiah, and Bo’i Ruach would become the mainstays of our Chicago Federation of Temple Youth Soviet Jewry Caravan presentation.

I enlisted Rob Weinberg, then a CFTYite, and his brother Michael to develop and create the caravan’s music.  Both Rob and Michael would go on to be seminal camp song leaders at Olin-Sang-Ruby and at the Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, IN.  Don Rossoff helped as well.   Don was a Northwestern U. student at the time and a terrific flautist. 

In total, eight CFTY members joined the caravan and we put together a forty minute presentation of songs and dramatic readings.  Somehow along the way someone donated a spotlight, so the group included a tech person to run it.  The goal was to encourage synagogues to take up the banner for Soviet Jewry.  We thought we would be presenting our “show” to youth groups and schools in the area but soon found ourselves invited to perform for all sorts of adult audiences.  I even recall performing on the 60th floor of the John Hancock building, surrounded by glass windows overlooking Lake Michigan while a thunderstorm outside underscored our songs. 

In all, during the years 1970 through 1972 we presented over forty Caravan performances in and around Chicago.  Our experience culminated at a North Shore Congregation Israel event where we sang and the recently released Boris Kochubievsky appeared.  We had presented his story during all of those performances, and there he was in the flesh.  Deep down we knew that we really had not been a major factor in his gaining freedom, but I think we all shared a bit of pride anyway. 

And who do you think laughed the hardest when Gilda Radner proclaimed on Saturday Night Live, “What’s all this talk about Soviet Jewelry, anyway?”  Only to be told, “It’s Soviet Jewry, not Jewelry…Jewry.”  And she replied, “Oh.  Never mind.”  I’m pretty sure it was the members of the Chicago Federation of Temple Youth’s Soviet Jewry Caravan.  Pretty sure.

 Rabbi Ron Klotz, N.F.T.Y. Life Member

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let Me Introduce You to My Old Friend, Ed

                                                                                             November, 2014

Dear Friends and Family:

Winter’s come early around these parts.  Not all bad.  Yesterday it was cold and blowing enough to motivate me to build a fire and rekindle my relationship with Ed.  That’s Ed McBain.  I never really met Ed McBain (although we exchanged emails a few times) and never will, as he’s no longer among the living.  But, I’ve read about everything he’s ever written.  He is my favorite all-time author and there isn’t even a close second. 

I was introduced to Ed in the most roundabout of ways.  Several years ago my wife, Juca, came home from her teaching gig at the Indianapolis Bureau of Jewish Education, excited to give me a book she found in that school’s library.  It was a mystery (I’m all about mysteries) written by a Northwestern University professor, Stuart M. Kominsky.  The reason Juca knew I would love it was because it was about an old Chicago detective named Abe Lieberman.  His wife was the president of a fictitious synagogue.   Most important though, Liberman lived on the North side of Chi-town in an area called Rogers Park.  That is the neighborhood where I grew up.  Kominsky knew every street in the neighborhood and so did I.  I did love the book and several “Liberman” sagas that followed. 

Then I discovered that Kominsky also wrote a series of mysteries about a Russian Chief of Detectives whose name was Rostnikov.  They were great stories.  The Jewish tie was Rostnikov’s wife.  There was always something Jewish in those two Kaminisky series.  In addition, Chief Rostnikov loved reading books by a fellow named Ed McBain.  I had no idea that McBain was a real-life person.  Imagine my surprise when I went to the mysteries section in the library and discovered a whole shelf devoted to McBain.  I thought to myself, “Hey, that’s Rostnikov’s McBain.”  Well, he became Klotz’s McBain too.

Ed McBain’s first great success was a book made into a movie, called “The Blackboard Jungle.”  He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”  But Ed McBain’s most popular books were his Eighty-Seventh precinct series.  He wrote over fifty of them, and they are all terrific.  The 87th is a precinct of detectives in a fictitious city that closely resembles New York.  Over the years I’ve come to know these detectives very well.  These books are called police procedurals.  They really take the reader through the process of solving crimes, as seen through the detectives’ eyes. 

But here’s the thing.  Within each book McBain intersperses essays on any number of subjects, which are masterfully written.  If you want a great example, pick up the book “Kiss.”  From pages 23 through 26 we are treated to an incredible description of the title character, Steve Carella’s Italian family celebrating New Year’s Eve.  It is beautifully written, detailed, and very human.  As usual such essays are not essential to the story.  But they certainly help the reader better understand the characters and see their behind-the-scenes stories.  McBain’s detectives are very ethnic.  There’s a Jew, an Italian, an African-American, a Japanese-American, and several just Americans (but never just plain Americans); all with interesting histories and quirks.  Fat Ollie Weeks is a good example.  He is actually from a neighboring precinct but likes to drop in at the 87th.  Weeks’ unique characteristic is that he is a slob, who often has a bit of an odor about him, but isn’t a bad detective.  The cops, along with the bad people (certainly not all guys) give McBain ample material for colorful side essays.  He’s a master at painting pictures with words.  When you read Ed McBain’s words you see the scenes unfold in your mind’s eye.  That’s good storytelling.  It’s like listening to a good announcer describe a ball game on the radio. 

So I owe Juca a big thank you for bringing Abe Lieberman home; and another to Lieberman for leading me to Rostnikov.  I certainly should thank that very clever Russian Chief of Detectives for solving mysteries and loving books by Ed McBain. 

What a pleasure yesterday afternoon, to sit by the fire with an old friend, join an Italian family for New Years, and get back into the eighty-seventh precinct, as gritty and real, and human as ever.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Family Really Matters

                                                                                                                        Sept. 2014
Dear Family and Friends:   

Monday afternoons for the past three years have found me at my post at the dishwasher in the Shalom Center homeless shelter kitchen.  For most of that time I’ve worked with a really nice fellow named Mike.  Mike has worked at the Center for years and knows everyone.  He is my source for info about the guests we encounter there.

Last month I read an article in our local newspaper about a homeless man who died in one of our city parks.  He was a dedicated alcoholic and those who knew him conducted a mini memorial at the spot where he was found.  Mike told me they poured a bottle of vodka on the ground in his memory. The next week I overheard Mike talking to others in the kitchen about the memorial service that was held in a nearby church for this person. I asked Mike about the church service.  He told me that the church was packed.  Everyone in the homeless community was there. I told Mike that I’d read the article about the man’s passing, being found in the park and the memorial with the bottle of vodka and then remarked that the deceased must have been very well liked to have had a memorial in the park and a packed-house service at the church.

Mike shocked me with his response.  “No” he said.  “As a matter of fact most people very much disliked that person.”  Mike went on to tell me that he was a real S.O.B, drunk and belligerent almost all of the time, banned from the Shalom Center for picking fights, often in jail for fights etc. 

“How is it possible,” I said “that so many people turned out for memorials for a person they disliked and were even afraid of?” 
Mike looked at me as if anyone would know the answer to my question…and said, “Are you kidding?  He was part of the family.”  With that Mike turned back to the dishes at hand and went about his work.  

“He was part of the family.”  It occurred to me that everyone’s had a distant cousin or uncle twice removed who was not particularly liked in the family but, nevertheless, had his seat at every Passover Seder and every High Holy Day meal.  He was part of the family. 
Family really matters; even in a community of homeless where no one is really related and yet all are related.  Family really matters.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Still Learning from My Elders

Dear Friends and Family:

I posted this three years ago.  I am sorry to say that it seems to take on added importance today.


Please find below the latest blog from AJC’s Executive Director David Harris. This blog was published in The Huffington Post and The Jerusalem Post.
By David Harris
(This blog was published in The Huffington Post and The Jerusalem Post.)
When my mother turned 80, she spoke out for the first time in “Letter from an Octogenarian.”
At the time, she wrote: “I never thought I would live to see the day when ‘Death to the Jews’ was again heard, as it has been heard in Europe, the Muslim world, and even North America, much less read the unsettling cover story in New York magazine (December 15, 2003) entitled ‘The New Face of Anti-Semitism.’”
Now, 11 years later, she feels the need to speak out once again. Here’s what she has to say:
My name is Nelly Harris.
I was born on August 4, 1923, in Moscow.
My parents, Ida and Lova, had moved there from Belarus, when it became possible for Jews to leave the Pale of Settlement and live in a major Russian city. Their hope was for a fresh start after the fall of the czarist regime and the end of the Romanov Dynasty.
But it wasn’t to be. The Bolsheviks imposed their own tyranny, and the Jews, among others, were to face daunting new challenges.
In 1929, at the age of six, I left the Soviet Union with my parents and older brother, Yuli. We were among the last to leave before Stalin totally shut the exit doors.
We arrived in France as refugees.
We had to start over – new language, new culture, new everything. And not everyone was especially welcoming to a Russian Jewish child, as I quickly learned in my new school.
Still, we were away from communism, and being Jewish became a personal choice, not the government’s decision.
All went more or less well until 1940, when the Nazis invaded France. Those who believed in the power of the French military and the invincibility of the Maginot Line were quickly disabused of their trust.
Once again, my family and I were on the road, this time trying to stay ahead of the advancing Nazis and their Vichy French allies.
For 17 months, we fled, feared, hid, waited, and hoped.
In the end, after knocking on the doors of the American consulate and countless others, we were lucky. We were able to get entry visas for America, when so many others could not.
In November 1941, we boarded a ship from Lisbon for New York.
We arrived in America on the eve of Pearl Harbor, refugees for the second time. Again, we had to start over.
But it didn’t matter. Most important, we were free, even as we worried about the fate of those Jews, including family members, still in Europe.
I’m not sure a native-born American can fully appreciate the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. When we saw it for the first time, it wasn’t the stuff of tourism. Rather, it was like a protective blanket, a message to us that we were now home and welcome.
Within months, I went to work. I learned English wherever I could, and continued working for the next 65 years. It wasn’t always easy, but not a day passed that I didn’t give thanks for the blessing of America.
Sure, this country has its flaws, but there’s no other nation that holds out as much hope for humankind. I only wish more Americans realized the gift they’ve been given by the chance to live here.
So, if all is so good, why do I now write? For the same reason I did 11 years ago.
The world is a more dangerous place and I fear for the future – not my own, as my life is nearing the finish line, but for those who follow me, including my precious grandchildren.
True, I’m a Jewish grandmother and worrying is part of the job description. But I also worry because I lived through some of the most tumultuous events of the past century. Even though America too often gives short shrift to the elderly, believing instead in a cult of youth, there’s one advantage older people have – real-life experience.
I know the world needs American leadership. Without it, a dangerous vacuum is created and bad actors step in.
I know the slippery slope that begins with anti-Semitic rants and chants in the streets of Europe. If allowed to continue, the path to dehumanizing the Jews becomes all too familiar.
I know what happens if Jews try to bury their heads in the sand, wishing to believe there’s no danger, or if there is, it’s about “other” Jews, not them.
I saw it in France. When the warning bells began to sound in 1940, some Jews tried to convince themselves it was about foreign-born Jews, not French-born Jews, or about religiously observant Jews, not assimilated Jews. How wrong they were!
Since the war, I’ve seen some Jews try to shed their identity, just make it go away. I can’t understand why. I’m proud to be a Jew and won’t give anyone the satisfaction of disappearing voluntarily because of their irrational hatred.
And I see much of that irrational hatred now directed at Israel. It’s a new form of an old disease. Israel has as much right to live in peace as any other nation, yet it’s not allowed to. Moreover, it’s judged in ways no other country is.
Oh, and by the way, the Palestinians are not the world’s first and only refugees, though from listening to the discussions and reading the newspapers, you might think so.
The Arabs started wars. What wars don’t create refugees? But unlike other refugees, including my family, the Palestinians, it seems, would rather wallow in self-pity than build new lives. How sad!
Those newspapers, incidentally, include the New York Times, the paper I’ve read daily for over six decades. No longer. I just cancelled my subscription. There’s not a lot I can do at my age to fight back, but that’s one small gesture. I’m not paying for a newspaper that has a strange obsession with Israel, and fails to grasp the true nature of its enemies.
But then again, my neighbor’s daughter, Laurel Leff, wrote an entire book, Buried by the Times, on how shamefully the paper dealt with the Holocaust 70 years ago.
I don’t know where I’ll be on August 4, 2023, my 100th birthday, but I can only hope there won’t be the need for another cri de coeur.
Instead, I pray the world will look back on the past century, learn its central lessons, and ensure that others, Jews and non-Jews alike, don’t have to endure what we did.
Wouldn’t that be a worthy legacy to pass on to future generations

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Yom Sport Break to Remember

Dear Family and Friends:

Last week our beloved Goldman Union Camp Institute once again held Yom Sport, a one-day program of competition (some camp's call it "Color War," at G.U.C.I it 's more like a skirmish).  Yom sport always begins with a surprise "Break."  Perhaps the most famous break is described below by now Rabbi Jay Mosses, then G.U.C.I. Program Director, during his rabbinic school days.  Hope you enjoy it.


A Barenaked Yom Sport
How the Rabbi and the Rock Star Went From Zion to Zionsville

By Jay Moses (Unit Head and Program Director, 1990-95)

I guess you’d have to say this story starts with Marc Lerner’s parents, if you wanted to take it back as far as that. You see, Freda and Michael Lerner were surely responsible for sending Marc to Camp Blue Star in North Carolina as a kid, long before his GUCI days.
Or I suppose you could take it up with his shrink, because those of us sitting in Unit Head meetings with Lerner were sure he was suffering from delusions of grandeur.

In the early 90s, Marc was camp administrator for a couple of summers, and as such was responsible for Yom Sport (which we used to call “Yom Unit Heads Go Have Lunch at Shapiro’s Deli,” since it was the only day when we weren't in charge, but that’s another story). The key to Yom Sport wasn’t the countless hours of preparation the captains would put in. It wasn’t the counselors who expended a month’s worth of energy in one day whipping up ruach for their teams. It wasn’t even keeping the date a secret—since it was always the worst kept secret in the state of Indiana. No, the key to Yom Sport was the break—that dramatic (and usually anticlimactic) ten seconds when whatever ruse had been concocted by the staff would give way to a burst of red, yellow, green, and blue in the form of the captains racing in from nowhere, marking the official start of Yom Sport, and lifting the haze of obliviousness from the three Shoresh kids who still had no clue it was coming.

Friends, I do not exaggerate when I tell you that Marc Lerner lived his life haunted by the specter of the perfect Yom Sport break. Every session, when the Unit Head meeting agenda rolled around to the upcoming Yom Sport and how we would break it, Lerner would launch into the same routine.

“White horses at dawn!” he would say dreamily. “That’s what I remember from Camp Blue Star. The captains came riding in from the horizon on white horses at dawn, marking the beginning of Color War. That was the greatest. That’s how we should break Yom Sport, man. WHITE HORSES AT DAWN!!”

Well, in Zionsville we never got any closer to white horses than the cows that grazed on the farm next to camp. Sure, we always managed to scrape something together—after all, in our little Midwestern camp with no lake, we created magic from nothing all the time with our spirit and our imagination, right?—but even though we kidded Marc about it, the elusive image of that perfect Yom Sport break had been planted in our collective consciousness. White Horses at Dawn.

So by 1995, when Lerner had long since flown the coop to become a camp director himself in Arizona and I was back in Zionsville as the Program Director, it was there in the back of my mind.

I guess the other part of this story starts in 1987. My first trip to Israel—a NFTY summer tour. Stuck on a remote kibbutz for two weeks with only about a dozen compatriots and nothing to do for the twelve hours after our early morning work shifts, I bonded with Steven, a shy kid from the group who, once you got talking to him, was really smart and funny. Then we discovered we loved a lot of the same music so we passed the time picking weeds in the fields by singing Simon and Garfunkel songs. He was a budding musician who had played around with recording some songs in his basement, and I was the Jewish-leader-type in the group. “My friend the rock star,” I’d joke. “My friend the rabbi,” he’d shoot back, just as jokingly. He was the one person from the trip I kept in touch with.

And life has a way of playing interesting jokes on us. By 1995 I was three years through rabbinical school, and damned if Steven wasn’t making a living in a band. They had hit it big in their native Canada, but had mostly a smallish, rabid cult following in the States. So I was only mildly surprised to notice, while flipping through the Indianapolis newspaper that summer of ’95, a small ad for an upcoming concert in Indy by Steve’s band—a modest Broadripple club gig. My first thought was: can I get that night off? because I loved his music and would go see them any chance I could. My second thought, however, sent a shock wave through me, as I did a double take at the date of the concert, then frantically rifled through my clipboard to confirm the impossible alignment of the stars: Steven Page and Barenaked Ladies would be in town on the same day as Yom Sport.

At the next day’s Unit Head meeting, we hatched the plan. Its only unusual feature was that we decided that since this was so special, and since so many staff members were Barenaked Ladies fans, we would keep it a secret from them too. The staff usually knows about the break, but we thought, they work their tushises off on Yom Sport. The counselors deserve the occasional fun surprise too. Let ‘em feel like kids again for a few minutes.

When the morning arrived, I left camp before 6:00 am to drive a half hour across town to the hotel where Steven and his band mates were staying. I stood in the lobby waiting, eventually guiltily calling up to his room. After a while, Steven and Ed Robertson, his songwriting partner and fellow front man for the band, shuffled into the lobby. These guys were living life on the road, working hard and playing hard, sleeping mostly on a bus. If they were seeing six a.m. at all, it was the end of the night, not the beginning of the day. I have never asked Steven for many favors like this, but nothing I could have or ever will ask for will be as difficult as dragging himself and Ed out of bed that day.

We got to camp, and everyone was already in the Chadar Ochel for breakfast, just as we had planned. We had worked out how the break would go during the car ride (quick Hebrew pronunciation lesson for Ed…) and I left Steven and Ed out on the Chadar porch to “rehearse.” The captains were in the kitchen, getting dressed up and preparing for their big moment. (Of course, since they were the surprise, the captains were the only people who could not witness the break—they had to stay hidden in the kitchen--a fact for which some of them will still not forgive me to this day).

As the meal was ending, I took my usual perch in the middle of the room for hoda’ot. There was a unique combination of tensions in the room—the campers who had figured out or suspected the day’s events were poised and ready for a “surprise,” and the counselors were nonchalant and still half asleep, dreading the excitement they were about to have to generate and prepared for some generic Yom Sport break.

I launched into a story about the Israel trip and “my friend the rock star” and “my friend the rabbi,” making sure to emphasize that the moral of the story is GO TO ISRAEL EARLY AND OFTEN because you never know how your life will change and who you will meet. Then I revealed that I had a special treat, as “my friend the rock star” from that trip was here to share the breakfast song session with us, and I introduced Steven Page and Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies.

The next few minutes were surreal. The energy in the room was strangely muted considering the two levels of excitement that we were expecting to generate. Here’s my theory (and counselors who were there that day can confirm or refute this): I think that the staff members who didn't know this was coming were so shocked that they weren't sure it was for real. People who were big fans of these guys were caught so off guard that by the time they realized this was one of the coolest moments they’d ever experienced at camp—one they would normally go nuts with excitement about—it was over. When you’re at camp, you are so fully ensconced in that all-consuming world that if something from your “outside world” comes in totally out of context, even something that you would normally get really pumped about, you have this lag-time before the worlds can reconcile themselves and fit together in your mind somehow. Anyway, a few people understood right away that this was really who I said it was and that these rock stars were really leading the breakfast song session at our Jewish summer camp. Others were genuinely confused. For a moment, I think everyone even forgot about Yom Sport!

Steven and Ed got right down to business: they launched into their crowd-favorite single, “If I had $1,000,000.” Steven ad-libbed something in the middle of the song about receiving care packages at camp as a kid—with “all kinds of cheeses in there.” By three minutes into the song, it had begun to sink in, and the staff was rockin’ along. The song reached its climactic final line, normally rendered “If I had a million daah-ah-ah-ah-ler-er-er-ers….I’d be rich!” but the GUCI remix I had planned with them yielded “If I had a million daah-ah-ah-ah-ler-er-er-ers….IT’S YOM SPORT!!!!”

With that cue, the captains came bursting out of the kitchen and we were off to the races. Not wanting to derail the energy of camp’s most important ruach day, I immediately whisked Steven and Ed back into the car and out of sight, returning them to their hotel with our eternal thanks.

Ok, so it wasn’t exactly “white horses at dawn.” But no horse ever had a #1 single on the Billboard charts. Yom Sport, 1995—the greatest, barenakedest break of them all.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Mafia and Me

Friends.  For whatever reason this entry came to mind today.  It is one of my favorites.  Thought I'd throw it out there again for anyone who might have missed it.

                                                                                                June, 2014
Dear Friends and Family:

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited to Kansas City where long-time Beth Torah Director of education and long-time G.U.C.I. faculty member Marcia Rittmaster was retiring.  I was to be one of the speakers at the Shabbat service honoring her.  It was a great evening for a wonderful person.  There were many current and former campers as well as parents of former campers present.  I was a surprise guest so many wanted to talk to me about camp, retirement, Jewish education etc.  But what usually happens at events like this is that the time of the informal dinner buffet also becomes prime schmooze time.  I talked away the dinner and never got to the food.  (More about that in a minute).   I’m fortunate that people associate me with those positive Jewish experiences their children had at camp.  So the schmooze/camp talk flowed…and I loved it.
  After the formal Shabbat service, the congregation had set up an artificial campfire in the lobby.  Kids and adults sat around the “fire” while Charlene Gubitz led a song session.  In the middle I told a story.  Then more songs.  As the song session was just beginning to wind down a girl, maybe fourteen years old, came up to me to tell me how much she loved camp and that she wanted to, someday, be a counselor and help other kids love camp.  Then, with a bit of an embarrassed smile she said, “But, it’s not G.U.C.I.  I go to camp Schwayder with my cousins from Denver.”  I think she expected me to say something like…too bad you didn’t come to our camp.  I didn't.  Our conversation went like this:

Ron: “Is that a Jewish camp where Jewish kids sing Jewish songs, say Jewish prayers, and have a wonderful time with each other?”  (I knew that it was that kind of camp)

Camper:  “Yes, that’s why I love it.”

Ron:  “Well, if you can help other kids love being Jewish with their camp friends, you will be doing something great for the Jewish world.”

She looked at me for a second, I guess surprised by my comment, and then gave me a great hug.  We finished the song session together and she was gone.  I didn't even get her name.
So I walked out to my car after the whole shebang and realized that I was famished.  I never got to the buffet or to the Oneg food after the service.  On the way back to the hotel I spotted a small pizza place called, “Mafia Pizza.”  I loved the name and I stopped.  I half expected to see pictures of Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, or at least Marlon Brando on the walls.  But quite the contrary, greeting me at the door was a very Middle Eastern looking gentleman who shook my hand and introduced himself as the owner, Mohammed.   I kiddingly asked if Mohammed was an Italian name.  He joked back telling me that it was not, that he was from Ramle in Palestine, but that he knew a few Italians.  That started us off.  When I told him that I had been to Ramle and had lived for a few years in Jerusalem he invited me to sit and have a lemonade with him.  I ordered a cheese pizza to go and sat down.
Enter Mohammed’s cousin, who sits with us.  We talked about Israel (they were quite complimentary as to Israel’s’ great accomplishments in building the country and quite angry with their fellow Palestinian leaders for not following suit), Chicago, where they had lived for several years, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Green line, but all in a very friendly way (this was before they knew I was a Jew).  I took a chance when they asked what I had studied in Jerusalem and told them that I was a rabbi.  Just as we were getting into what that was all about my pizza arrived and I got up to pay and leave. 

“No.”  Mohammed said, “You can’t pay.

“Come on,” I replied, “You already treated me to a lemonade, I’m paying.”

“No!  I can’t charge you.  You’re my cousin.  We’re family.” 

He gave me hug (my second of the night) and handed me the pizza.  I was a bit stunned to find out that I was actually a family member of the Mafia…the Islamic, Kansas City branch of the family.  What could I do?  He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse…kinship.

It was an interesting trip to Kansas City last month. 

Until next time… Arivederci.  Ciao Bambinos.  And Salaam Aleykem.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring, Camp, Jeremy, Earl


For you G.U.C.I. people, it is Spring again and camp is coming.  Now our son Jeremy is the Director of the place we all love so much.  Jeremy's wife Melisa is so involved in the success of G.U.C.I. as well. Earl's fern is growing and thriving in our backyard.  Can it get better than this?  I don't think so.  Well, read my blog about Michael and Steph's wedding.  That's pretty terrific too.  

Well it is Spring.  Camp's around the corner.  That brings a smile to everyone; those who will be at G.U.C.I. and those who have been there in the past.                                                                                                                            May, 2014

Dear Family and Friends:

It's Spring; when an older man's fancy turns to....well, summer camp.  I can't help it.  It's three years since I retired but camp is still in my head, heart and even my dreams.  I guess it  is understandable when you think that I spent all or part of fifty-six summers in camp; various camps.  I was a camper for ten years, a staff member and Assistant Director at Olin-Sang-Ruby in Wisconsin for ten, and Director of the Myron S. Goldman Union Camp Institute (G.U.C.I.) for thirty-six.  As I often say, "That's a lot of macaroni and cheese."

As springtime rolls around, a camp director's life-pace quickens.  It's not just the anticipation of the coming summer with all of its challenges and victories, it also has to do with getting camp ready in the narrow time frame that comes between the melting snow, the spring rains, and camp's opening day.  The pace of life starts to feel like driving the pace car at the Indy 500 (it's a pace lap, but everyone knows what is soon to follow).  I guess it is a natural part of my internal clock because, even though I'm no longer involved in the stress of it all, and the excitement of it all, I still feel it at this time of the year.

Allow me to interject at this particular juncture in time (thank you Broadway Danny Rose), that I am extremely proud of the fact that the Klotz family is still very present at G.U.C.I.  Our son Jeremy is the chair of the camp board, and our granddaughter Zoe is a regular (of course nothing is regular about her, but...) four-week camper.

But I have another springtime reminder of camp, Earl Beeler's fern.  Sounds crazy, no?  Not as crazy as a fiddler on the roof; but almost.  Earl was the long-time caretaker of Union Camp Institute and then the Myron S. Goldman Union Camp Institute (one and the same).  He worked for the camp for just under forty years.  Camp's old timers knew him as Uncle Earl.  He was certainly Uncle Earl to our kids, Jeremy and Michael.  I was fortunate to work with him for his last ten years at camp and in life.  I learned so much from Earl I'd be hard pressed to recount all the life lessons he taught me.  Stories still linger at camp about Earl's farm, now the camp's Midurah, fire circle; Earls' pigs, and his many talents.  I worked with Earl during the week and usually visited him on weekends (often with Jeremy and Michael).  There was always something interesting happening at his place.  He drove an 1954 big, old, black Buick.  He had another exactly the same parked in the barn that he used for parts.  There was nothing Earl couldn't do with motors.  He fixed Danny Gottlieb's car (temporarily) by shoving a quarter into the electrical system.  He devised a wood splitting system that ran on conveyor belts attached to the jacked-up back axle of his tractor.  He built an elaborate barbecue with rotating spit out of the old Hobart dishwasher we replaced.  I could go on and on.

One spring day Early walked me out to the side of his house where he showed me a long row of ferns.  He asked if I wanted any and I took a few home.  Juca planted them on the side of our home in Indianapolis where they grew and spread.  When we moved to Bloomington we took one with us and planted it in the back yard.  It didn't do very well.  Juca is the one with the green digits around here and she decided to move the fern to a different spot.  Now Earl's fern is back in all of its glory.  We look for it each spring.  Maybe that's one of the reasons camp is present in my mind, especially now.

I think about Earl a lot.  He was very quotable.  He'd just throw out a line that would stay with you forever. Once, walking through the woods at camp where he knew every kind of tree and how it could be used, I noted that it was too bad that one had died and fallen over.  Earl said, "Us old trees got to move over and make way for the young ones coming up."  Ain't it the truth.  Thanks Earl.

Now one last thought.  For years I spoke with families about the benefits of a session at G.U.C.I.  It's not just hype.  Camp may be the best present anyone can give a child.  If yours is not yet signed up for this summer, there may still be time.  Call G.U.C.I.'s Director, Jeremy Klotz and get your kid to camp. The number is 317-873-3361.  Look at the camp's website, it's all true.  Like the man from the Men's Warehouse says on TV, "I guarantee it."  And I know that if Uncle Earl heard your child singing in the dining hall with all the others, he'd have a great big smile on his face, toothpick sticking out of the side of his mouth.

That's the way I see it.

                                           Earl Beeler                                                   Earl's Fern

Friday, February 7, 2014

"Close Your Eyes and I'll Kiss You..."

Dear Friends and Family:

In 1964 I was a senior in High school when I sat on the floor at my cousin Judy's house and watched the Ed Sullivan Show.  I also became an instant Fab Four fan.  Below is an article written by my friend and colleague Rabbi Jon Adland.  I couldn't say it better and I'm happy to share it with you.  

Pirke Avot 1:2— Shimon the Righteous was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly.  He used to say: On three things the world is sustained: on the Torah, on the (Temple) service, and on deeds of loving kindness.

February 7, 20147 Adar 1 5774Shabbat T’tzaveh Exodus 27:20-30:10

Dear Friends,

  “Ladies and gentlemen—The Beatles!”  On Sunday evening February 9, 1964, Ed Sullivan uttered those immortal words and my life changed.  I had actually heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” a month or so earlier before that historic night.  I was riding in the back of my then best friend Bobby Bredhoff’s mother’s white Oldsmobile.  We got into the car, Bobby in the front seat and me in the back, and Bobby turned on the radio.  Within seconds he said, “You've got to hear this,” as the DJ announced the new hit song that was taking America by storm.  The guitar chords started to play and I was hooked on rock n roll and The Beatles.

 Unlike Pete Seeger, who I wrote about last week, The Beatles didn't push me to march or protest against the ills of the world.  Their music wasn't always easy to dance to like the Motown sound that we heard soon after.  But their sound was fresh and crisp.  The words were easy to sing.   They—John, Paul, George, and Ringo (whose names were always, and I mean always, said in that order)—were new, different, exciting, and ours.

I was just nine when I heard them in that Oldsmobile and around sixteen by the time they broke up as a group, but what a joyous ride those seven years were.  Like so many others, I anticipated the release of every new album and the ones I bought I played over and over again on my terrible record player.  Rubber Soul was released when I was 11 ½, Sgt. Pepper when I was 13, and Magical Mystery Tour when I was 13 ½.  Something was changing in the music and something was changing in me.  Their music was becoming more sophisticated and the words were touching on new themes and new ideas.  As The Beatles grew musically, I was growing right along with them.  This was rock n roll in its heyday and I loved every minute of it.  These four lads from Liverpool’s music wasn't loud (though I think our parents thought it was—but they hadn't seen anything yet, nor, evidently, had we.)  Their music was creative and complex.  It was just something else, something that doesn't happen much today.

 Only two of The Beatles are still with us today.  John Lennon was murdered and George Harrison died of cancer.  Paul McCartney is married to a Jewish woman and has accompanied her to Yom Kippur services (so we are told.)  He continues to make music and tour.  Ringo, Richard Starke, is, well, he continues to be Ringo.  He is married to Barbara Bach and is quite involved in the entertainment business.  The members of The Beatles have been in the public eye for 50 years.  For those of us who have grown up with them, they are a part of us.  Their music is our music and most of us can sort of sing along when we hear the music played by an orchestra, in an elevator, or on the radio.  It only takes a few notes of “All My Loving”, or “She Loves You”, or “Yesterday” or “Hey Jude” to get us going.  And how many of you when you turned 64 didn't think about The Beatles?

 So as you walk down memory lane thinking about the first time you heard “Well she was just seventeen” or “Last night I said these words to my gal” it is hard to believe that fifty years have passed since Ed Sullivan introduced us to The Beatles and the screams in the audience began.  Our baby boomer journeys have taken us to many places on our Long and Winding Road as we've mourned and celebrated and danced and graduated and loved.  It may have been a Magical Mystery Tour or A Hard Day’s Night as we crossed our own Abbey Road.  At times we may have asked for Help, but “in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  So let me just say that when I hear the words, “Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something, I think you’ll understand, When I’ll say that something, I wanna hold your hand”, it still makes me feel like a teenager and that yesterday doesn't seem so far away.  It is easy to smile.  It was a great time to be alive.

 When you light your Shabbat candles this evening, light one for the memories that bring a smile to your face or a toe to tap or a song to sing.  Light the other candle for John and George and all those who've shared with us some of their creative genius to make our lives filled with a bit more joy, but are no longer here today.          

 Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jon Adland

Friday, January 31, 2014

Dear Friends:

We are having a hootenanny on Feb. 9th from 4 to 5:30 at Hillel 730 East 3rd street, Bloomington, IN.  YOU ARE INVITED.  Hootenannies are informal folk song singing gatherings.  You don't need to have any experience with folk music or music at all.  We will have all of the words to all of the songs and we sing together in a group.

But, if you play an instrument (we have had banjos, guitars, violins, mandolins, drums, bass, etc at various hoots) please bring it along.  It should be great fun.  

Also, bring friends; the more the better.  We will meet upstairs at Hillel in one of the big rooms at 4 on Feb. 9th.  This is all American folk music, no religion, no preaching, one size fits all.  We will certainly honor Pete Seeger at this get-together.

SO COME.  Hope to see you then.

Ron Klotz

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nothing But Net(s)

Dear Family and Friends:

I hate February. Thank goodness it is a short one.  It’s not because of the cold, and the days are certainly gaining momentum compared to January.  But once the Super bowl is over there is nothing, really nothing... but basketball.  I must be the only non-basketball loving Hoosier in the state of Indiana.   Basketball makes me nervous.  The score changes every ten or so seconds (you really only have to watch the final two minutes of a game anyway).  Give me a good football game any day.  They call it a game of inches, but it usually takes several minutes for a team to march down the field to score.  And give me baseball, the ultimate game of strategy where, if you can stay awake in between pitches and spitting, you really see some great stuff.  Basketball is so fast you hardly have time to eat three or four hotdogs and drink a few cups of beer and you’re out of there.  It’s uncivilized.

I've found that it is impossible to escape from basketball here.  I don't go to games or even watch them on TV, but I do go occasionally to the local YMCA to walk on the track.   At the Y, the track surrounds two basketball courts so I am constantly watching those games as I walk. 

One morning I watched what must have been a vacation camp for young kids.  They were dividing up into teams with several high school age leaders.  I'm a camp person so I see things through programmatic and group dynamic eyes. That morning on one of my loops around the court I saw a small boy, maybe ten years old, leave the group crying.  He went and sat by the wall alone.  I wondered if anyone noticed that he was gone from the group.  Next loop I see one of the high school boys sitting next to him.  From the little I was able to overhear I gathered that the leader was telling the boy that he was not going to make him play, but that he was going to take care of him.  I loved that message.  I wanted to give that high-schooler a hug.  One or two loops later the ten year old is playing basketball and it is quite obvious that he has no idea how to play the game.  Last loop around the track and the Hollywood ending to the story; I see the boy take a shot and, my goodness, the ball goes through the basket.  I don't care much for the game, but that kid's smile, well, I‘d say it was worth a March of madness.  It stays with me.

Last week I find myself looping the courts once again.  This time I see a group of Asian boys playing b-ball.  It was easy to notice that one of the kids was quite a bit smaller than all the others.  He must have been a younger brother that tagged along.  But the older boys included him in the game and even occasionally passed him the ball.  That boy also was all smiles.  I watched him play on each loop of my loops around the court.  He didn't make any baskets but was happy nonetheless.  I thought, “He’s at quite a disadvantage because he's so much younger and shorter than the others.”  Later I noticed that the boy had no right hand.  He played with his left hand and the stub of his right arm.  I hardly noticed it.  The other boys paid no mind.  The kids just played. 

Maybe basketball isn't so bad after all.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life

Dear Friends and Family 

I’ve been thinking lately of a song I’ve always loved.  It’s called, “What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”  Sinatra, Streisand, Sting (what’s with all the S’s?), Bill Evans, and best of all Sarah Vaughan all recorded it and recorded it well.  You can find it on You Tube.  This is a beautiful love song.  Its chorus goes:

What are you doing the rest of your life?
The North, South, East and West of your life.

The song came back into my head, not because of its great love theme, rather because of the enormity of the concept, “the rest of your life.” In the past year or so I’ve had several conversations with Indiana University students who have come to me to declare that they have no idea what they are doing with their lives.  They personalized those lyrics to read “what am I doing the rest of MY life?’  Some talked of leaving school (“it’s all bullshit, you know”) and making Aliyah.  Others were simply lost and/or frightened by the thought of making their way in the world.  That’s usually about it for the students’ part of the conversation.  Then there is silence.  Then they look at me as if I have answers.  How to respond?

Well, I’ve thought a lot about where I was at when I was twenty-one and how much I had no idea of what I wanted or where I was headed.  And I’ve thought about my wife Juca in this regard.  How would Juca, living in Brazil, working for Ha Shomer Ha Tsa’ir (a socialist, Zionist youth movement) have responded if, at that age, someone told her she would be married to a guy from Chicago and living in Bloomington, Indiana?  I can almost hear her Brazilian accented laugh from here.
What I learn from these thoughts is that these students are asking themselves the wrong question.

So I respond by saying that it is unfair to ask one’s self a question that cannot be answered and then become depressed when no answer can be found.  Perhaps no one can answer the question, “what am I doing the rest of my life?” because life happens, things change, life takes you along, you just use your paddle to try and stay in the middle of the stream.  It is overwhelming to think in terms of life.  Not so overwhelming to think in terms of, “what do I want to do now?  What do I want to pursue in the next part of my life, two years of my life, five years?”  Those are the questions.  I encouraged those students to try and figure out how this semester can be the best possible, next summer, the rest of his or her time here at IU.  “First the socks and then the shoes” was a cartoon that hung in my office at camp for many years.  
It is interesting rubbing elbows with Jewish college students.  I’d almost forgotten how difficult it is to grow up and start out in the world.  Also interesting that as wonderful as it is here at Indiana University in 2014 (this is a great campus, great town, great spirit, great community) compared to how terrible it was for me at the University of Illinois in 1965, students still ask themselves the same questions.  So it’s not the time or place, it’s the coming of age, the growing up.  Whereas I used to think that Vietnam, Nixon, the threat of the military draft was the cause of all the stress, now I know that the stress is within us and comes with the age. 

It’s hard to tell a kid to lighten up; to not take it all so seriously; that it will work out (I can hear those words coming out of my own father’s mouth).  But I’m hopeful that I can help a college student discover what might be the appropriate question to be asking; a question that might actually present an answer.
Nevertheless, growing up is not easy.  The questions are tough and often the answers difficult to come by.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Frank Capra? Forgetaboutit…

Dear Family and Friends:

Christmas is a special time for everyone, even us non-Christian, Jewish types.  I like most things about Christmas except for the Capra, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart, bells ringing for Clarence the angel stuff.  This Christmas was the best of all.

Juca and I joined about twenty other members of our synagogue, Beth Shalom in serving a Christmas dinner at the Shalom Center.  The Shalom Center is a non-denominational, non-religious (started by the Methodist church here in Bloomington.  They liked the meaning of the word Shalom, so they used it) daytime homeless shelter.  Juca and I have worked off and on in their kitchen for the past two years.  Our synagogue, as it has for many years, took over the entire food operation of the Center for the Christmas meal.   In addition to those who came to work, others prepared food at home and dropped it off.  You should have seen the turkeys, trays of stuffing, green bean casseroles, mashed potatoes, bowls of gravy, even a couple hams.  The two hundred or so people who showed up for the dinner had a great one.  Best of all, those who came to work really worked.  Our fellow congregants sliced and served and cleaned and interacted with all of the guests. 

As you might have guessed I was on the cleanup crew.  I ran the Hobart dishwasher most of the day while Rabbi Brian scrubbed pots at the next sink.  I guess you could call that Jewish holy water.  We cleaned up a storm.

But the real best of the best happened throughout the meal in the lobby of the Center.  That’s where the Newmans, husband and wife, accordion and piano player, set up their instruments.  The Newmans are in their 80’s.  They are a wonderful couple who play music all over town, usually standards and Broadway tunes.  This day it was all Christmas music (they did manage to slip a “Sunrise, Sunset” into one of their sets).  Joining the Newmans were a violinist and one of the opera professors from IU’s Jacobs School of Music.  You should have heard the music.  Traditional Christmas carols to Jingle Bells, it was beautiful.  I wandered out there at one point to see what was what.  There they were playing beautifully and the lobby, filled with folks who had finished dinner singing with them.  It really reminded me of a Frank Capra film.  Like Curly would have said, “My goose bumps got goose bumps.” What I think of as the spirit of Christmas certainly hovered over the Shalom Center last Wednesday. 

And now we are into a new year, 2014.  That’s 7 + 7 + (7-1) = 20, and 7 + 7=14.  Good thing I don’t live in Las Vegas.  Here’s hoping it’s a year filled with health and happiness for all.  No war, no poverty, no more need for a Shalom Center. “Halavai,” it should only be so.