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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                        ...

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Poet (revisited)

I've been going back to old posts (don't ask me why).  I am blown away at seeing that the blog has been opened over 75,000 times.  People have visited from all over the world.  

Here's a post from almost 30 years ago.  Brings back a warm memory on a cold January day.

                                                                                                   March 1991

Dear Family and Friends:

It has been a long time since I've written, I'm sorry.  This winter's been
rather rough and depressing, filled with the dread of war, a classmate's serious illness, you get the picture. But the promise of spring is almost in the air and I am encouraged by the
thought that in a short time the little yippers will be back, noisy, messy,
full of life and hope, and laughter (and maybe even a few tears).

Yesterday the Indianapolis community lost a unique member.  He was a black poet
named Etheridge Knight, 61 years old who died of cancer.  I normally would not
burden you with such sad news, but Mr. Knight was an acquaintance of mine, an
unusual and uplifting sort of fellow, whose life and words bring me a feeling
of joy even at this time of loss. 

I met Etheridge last year in a downtown bar called the Chatterbox.  It's a
place I used to frequent to hear local jazz musicians jam late into the night.
It was anything but high class (kind of a wide hallway with tables and a
postage stamp sized bandstand), but the music was hot and the beer was cold.  I
often went to listen to Jimmy Coe, a favorite tenor sax player who, at 62 years
of age, could blow with the kids, had played with the greats including Charlie
Parker, and represented (to me) the totality of the history of black jazz.  But
he should be the subject of a letter all his own. 

 One night very late, I'm listening to the quartet, Jimmy Coe introduces Etheridge Knight who takes the mike to read poetry against the background of a quite blues number.  I kind of laughed to myself, thinking we were flashing back to Greenwich Village in the
late 50's, when beatniks held poetry readings to jazz accompaniment (I admit to
spending time on the north side of Chicago, in my youth, in such coffee houses
listening to existentialists, and wishing I was old enough to grow a goatee).
At first, as you can tell, I didn't take this scene very seriously. 

But when Etheridge began to speak, his words commanded an immediate respect.
It was apparent that the audience felt it was hearing something important.
Knight recited poems that he had written while in prison.  He'd spent seven
years in a federal penitentiary (I never had the nerve to ask him about his
crime), and spoke of the freedom of the soul and the shackles of society.  From
the midst of despair, drug addiction, incarceration, he wrote of life and love,
music and creativity.  He blew me away.

Later, I was lucky enough to be able to sit and talk with Etheridge.  We had a
drink.  He got a kick out of the fact that I was a Rabbi wearing gym shoes and
an old army jacket.  As parents always do, we started talking about our kids.
Then a bit of magic happened.  The poet leaned over and, in a lowered voice,
told me that he had something special to share with me, a poem that he had
written to his daughter, while he was still in prison.  He paused, and then
recited to me personally a heartbreaking poem of the anguish he felt as a
father, deprived of seeing his child grow up.  He blew me away again.

I saw Etheridge Knight many times after that night, always at the Chatterbox.
As he walked by my table he would usually nod and say "Rabbi..." To which I
would reply, "Poet..."  We'd smile at our "titles."  Now that he is gone, I
can't help but think of his style, his spirit, undaunted, wounded, smiling
through the tears.  It makes me think of spring and the coming onslaught of the
little yippers and how happy I am that this place will once again be filled
with them.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Shomrim Al Ha Kesher...Keeping the Connection

Parents are now signing their children up for camp for next summer.  A simple thing; a camp session for your child.  But look what it might lead to.  Check out the Myron S. Goldman Union Camp Institute, 9349 Moore Rd.  Zionsville, IN.  46077

Dear Friends and Family:                                                                       Jan. 2020

We like to start off each Shabbat (Friday evening) here at Indiana University Hillel, before we light the candles, sharing any good news from the past week.  You can imagine that, with a sanctuary filled with IU students, people are somewhat reluctant to share.  But as soon as one student breaks the ice, the good news flows.  Last week one of our G.U.C.I. alums, Tony Satryan announced that he had been accepted to Johns Hopkins grad school.  That’s REALLY BIG news and great to hear.  Congrats to Tony. Tony’s sharing was followed by others telling that they would be studying abroad next semester, that one had landed a much-desired internship and on and on.  It’s a great way to end the week and a great way to begin Shabbat.  

My own good news was years in the making.  I shared a smidgen.  Last month I traveled to Atlanta to officiate at the Bar Mitzvah of Linda Ross Brenner’s son Josh.  I started rubbing elbows with the Ross family from West Virginia in the mid 70’s at what was then Union Camp Institute (good old UCI).  Linda was a camper, a member of camp’s first Avodah crew, staff member and finally my administrative assistant.  So she was mainstay at camp.  With a most dynamic personality, everyone knew Linda.  She was a force (or maybe I should say the force was with her…and maybe a bit intimidated by her).  Not only was it emotional for me to “rabbi” the Bar Mitzvah, but Ian Silver led the music.  Ian preceded me at camp.  He was already entrenched in UCI when the Klotz’s arrived in 1975.  Subsequently Ian spent many summers song leading and teaching drama.  Ian was a major player in the music of our camp.  Assistant song leader under Mike Weinberg and then mentor to Lee Freedman (In a musical way, Weinberg begot Silver, Silver begot Freedman, Freedman begot Cincinnatus, and on and on).  Ian helped lay the foundation for the great music and singing that has always been an integral part of G.U.C.I.  Years after he left camp he returned to visit and ended up marrying my then administrative assistant Judy Benjamin Abramson.  You see how connected all of these lives are.  I officiated at Ian and Judy’s wedding, which took place in the outdoor chapel at camp.  

So I am participating in the Bar Mitzvah of the son of a very long-time friend, standing next another very long-time friend (and his guitar).  How good is that?  I wouldn’t have been able to do it justice sharing it in a sentence or two at Hillel.

Last weekend I journeyed to Dallas to take part in the installation of long-time staff member and former program director, Rabbi Dan Utley.  Dan and I worked together for years, created programs, played music, solved problems, and always laughed a lot.

 It seemed to me that, just a minute ago, Dan was just a kid.  Now it’s Rabbi Dan Utley.  That’s another wow moment.  In addition Alan Goodis, who began coming to camp when he was just three (his mom was on faculty) did the music and Jacob Pactor was in the congregation.  I spoke that night about core values we learn at camp.  The service was followed by a song session complete with slides on a screen so all could sing along.  At one point Alan came up to me and asked if I was ready to tell a story.  Dan had asked in advance if I might do so.  When I told Alan it was a go, well, the next slide was a picture of a campfire.  Perfect.  By the way, Dan, Alan, and Jacob met in cabin 11, their first Shoresh session (Shoresh is the youngest unit at camp).  They were each eight years old.  That’s friendship.  

Wait, there’s more.

I left Dallas and flew to Chicago to meet up with Dr. Lee Freedman, Rabbi Jim Bennett, and Rabbi Sandford Kopnick for our yearly Chicago Bears celebration.  Sandford was also in that first Avodah group with Linda and Jim was their unit head (I’m talking 1979). Sandford and Jim were each multiple-year program directors; Lee was long-time song leader, unit head, and even returned years later to be camp doctor.  It is hard for me to remember a time when I didn’t know these fellows.  Our friendship is golden.  They are a treasure, period.

Watching kids grow up, working side by side with other staff members, bonding is all part of the magic of camp.  I’m sure this relationship building happens at every camp.  It is certainly a main course at G.U.C.I.  This month has been special for me to see my staff members grown, doing good work, being good for each other.   I was a part of each of their formative years.  Our joint camp staff experience cements the bond.   There are many more of you out there.  But these were the people that I met up with in just one month.  It means a lot to me to see our kids succeed and to see how they remain close friends over the years.  In Hebrew we call it Shomrim Al Ha Kesher; guarding the connection.  Makes me proud.

Starting off Shabbat by sharing good news is a nice thing to do.  I’m sure we will continue to do so.  This week I could have shared a lot more, but it would have taken me all the way to Havdalah (Saturday night) to tell the whole story.  

So let's all be “Shomrim Al Ha Kesher,” treasure these old friendships, and keep in touch.