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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                        ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rainy Days and Mondays Never Get Me Down

                                                                                                                        May 2017

Dear Family and Friends:

Sounds crazy but when I was a kid I used to hope for rain on Saturdays.  We lived on the Northside of Chicago, on Greenview Avenue, a couple of blocks from the lake.  There was always plenty to do when the sun shone.  I could ride my bike up to Gale school on Ashland and find a ball game to play, or ride down Sheridan Rd with a few buddies all the way to Northwestern U. or the Bahai Temple.  But rainy Saturdays were special.

My dad, Arnold, loved to play golf.  He played every Saturday morning until the snows came.  I can’t remember waking up on a warm Saturday morning to find my Dad home.  He’d be out on the course.  I think he used to get up around five so he could make his foursome way out south on a course somewhere around 95th and Cicero.  He’d come home around one.  Dad’s usual routine was to eat lunch, put on the Cubs game and fall asleep on the couch.  If I changed the channel he’d bark…”Hey.  I was watching that.”  So of course, I’d go out and play…something.  But when it rained on Saturday afternoons the routine changed.  We’d grab our raincoats and hike down Howard Street to the Howard Theater to see a movie.  In my imperfect memory I remember doing this every time that rain came down.

As I think back, I don’t remember doing many things with my father, just the two of us.  Maybe that’s why those afternoons were so special.  There are two other summer father/son outings I remember.  Once each summer my dad would take me horseback riding and once a summer we’d go to Riverview Park to ride the roller coasters.

 At Riverview we’d ride the Silver Streak and the Blue Flash, and never miss the Shoot the Shoots.  Shoot the Shoots was a boat ride through dark passageways and then on to an elevator and then down a steep incline.  At the bottom it plunged into a small lake, water splashed up everywhere.  Everyone got wet.  We loved it.  On the roller coasters we’d usually sit in the last two seats if we could.  That’s where you get whipped around the most (at least that’s what we thought).  Except when we rode the Bobs.  The Bobs was the fastest coaster at Riverview.  On the Bobs we’d wait in line until we could sit in the first two seats.  With nothing in front of you, that first drop and first turn would scare the you-know-what out of you.   Both my dad and I always laughed from start to finish on the roller coasters.

Riverview trips were great, but I seem to have more of an emotional memory of going to the movies on rainy Saturday afternoons.  So today it’s late in May, university students gone for the summer, Hillel closed, the perfect time to get out on my boat and sail, but for the rain.  I’m sitting here looking out the window at a rainy day and thinking of my dad.  It’s good.  I’d love to sail, but thinking of those days long gone is OK too.

Karen Carpenter sang, “Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down.”  She didn’t have those rainy Saturday afternoons with my dad, Arnie.  I’m glad I did.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Being Jewish In your Heart

Dear Family and Friends:

Well, this blog of mine seems to have reached a sort of milestone.  As of today it has been opened 60,540 times.  Thanks to Linda Ross Brenner who started me on this path a couple of years ago (she argued. "you need a blog to preserve all of your 'Staff Letters' for your grandchildren."  How could I refuse?). So for the sake of nostalgia, even though it isn't throw back Thursday, here's the first old Staff Letter...or the oldest i could find.  


                                                                                                September, 1989

Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:

Now that most of us are back to it in the world of school and work, footballs
are (thank goodness) finally flying, and thoughts of last summer surround
themselves with a hazy glow, it may be an appropriate time to consider our own
personal religious connections.  For me, the autumn (perhaps my favorite season
of the year) is a season of conflict.  On the one hand, it is such a colorful
season and vigorous time of the year that I feel uplifted, kind of ready to
start tackling the challenges and opportunities of the next camp year.  On the
other hand however, I most certainly feel a Jewish letdown with the ending of
camp and all of its intensity and spirit.  These mixed feelings have led me to
thoughts concerning our ongoing Jewish connections and commitments.

I have often heard the saying "It's hard to be Jewish," and accepted it as a
matter of fact.  Now I wonder if that acceptance isn't just an excuse to lay
off some of the burdens of Jewish living.  It is hard to be Jewish because we
have to go out of our way to be it.  I think this is especially true for those
of us living  on campus.  As I recall, my undergraduate years were almost a
complete vacation from Jewish activity.  During those years,  camp was my
"Jewish fix" and had to last me from one summer to the next. My new found
college "freedom" allowed me to exercise a certain rebellion against anything
"organized" and/or "institutional" like my synagogue, or even Shabbat services
on campus.  Looking back on that time now, I realize that those feelings
created a void in my life that even camp couldn't fill.

The Rabbis tell us that one cannot be Jewish alone; that a Jew must be a part
of his or her Jewish community.  The great Rabbi Hillel taught, "Do not
separate yourself from the community."  I would argue that one must be able to
first be Jewish alone, before he/she can really connect with the community. 
Being Jewish in your own heart and mind, carrying with you a sense of
Jewishness, yes, even "Looking at the world through Jewish eyes," is the first
essential ingredient in that catch-all phrase we use so often, "Jewish

I hope that the spirit and sense of community we built together at
camp this summer helps each of us feel Jewish in our hearts and minds.  But I
also agree that this is not enough.  Ultimately the Rabbis are correct.  Jews
need other Jews.  Consider sharing your Jewishness with others.  Just as it is
at camp, your own spirit can be renewed and enhanced when it is shared. 

As the High Holy Days approach, I hope you will think of the warm and wonderful
Jewish community we created together this summer at G.U.C.I.  I also hope that
same spirit will move you to make your place among our extended Jewish family. 
Along with many of the important things life has to offer us, being a part of
Klal Yisrael can be most fulfilling.  When it is, being Jewish ceases to be a
burden and becomes a gift.

I wish you and your family all the best in the coming new year. L'Shannah Tova,