Featured Post

(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                        ...

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.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Passover in Three acts---revisited



The other night I dreamt of a Seder long gone. My restless sleep carried me back to the days of my childhood. There we sat around the candle lit table, white napkins, unleavened squares, white-hot horseradish, cool red wine. And the rowdy group of us gathered there to laugh and remember, to pay tribute, and to argue and even doubt. In the midst of that foggy dream sat my uncles and aunts, sneaking bits of matzo before it was time, recalling lost family members and their antics at Seders of old. My cousins and I sat at the far end of the table. In a dreamlike way we smirked at the nostalgia of the older folks, watching my Papa hold up the bread of affliction and tell our story. It was a good dream, and now that I'm the Papa I'm beginning to understand most of it. 

When we sang our slightly off-tune, out of sync Dayanu in my dream, I came to realize that, although I joined in and sang out, I did not feel that it really was "Enough," for me, that is. My Jewish journey had been but a short hop at that point. I felt little connection to the Israelites wandering in the desert. Heck, I was more interested in the unfolding season at Wrigley Field than the journeys of our people. But on a long winter's night there's ample time for the mind to play. With no regard to my desires, my dream dragged on, like a blender mixing family memories with the Haggadah's stories of our people in the wilderness. 

My rebellion and rejection of the simple connectors of that holiday became my walls of identity. I was ME, different than any who had journeyed before. In dreamlike fashion, I drifted away from my family scene, still smelling the Seder smells, and hearing the Pesach melodies. I'd become a participant at a distance, a half-hearted, gefilte-fish-eating skeptic. I remember thinking that this night was not so different from ALL other nights. There had been Seders for centuries. Other doubters sat with their families wondering how they fit into the grand scheme of our wandering ancestors. Maybe that was my connection. I was heir to the Jewish throne of alienation, bound to all those who had come before me who had sat on the sidelines, unable to take the step and get out there and play in the Jewish People game. Tossing about, as my dream became nightmare-ish, visitors began to appear.

My visitors looked like any of the other kids in the neighborhood. One of them, the girl, had a bright knowing gleam in her eye. The other two were just regular kids; a simple boy and then the very quiet one, who seemed to just be tagging along. Staring me down, my bright-eyed female all-of-a-sudden companion challenged me. "Don't you realize that God has given us these laws and observances?" she scolded. 

I defensively countered with, "What do you mean 'Us?' Maybe God commanded you, but certainly not me! And, how can you be so sure anyway?" 

"Why, look in your heart." She said, "Do you think your life starts with you?" 
With that, a light flashed and a fog descended. We were floating on a cloud. A breeze began to blow, dispersing the cloud. My hostess, her companions and I had been transported to a barren and rocky place. With an outstretched hand she presented a most unusual scene. I witnessed a line of people following an old man through the desert. They looked disheveled. I heard their grumbling, saw the fear in their eyes. The old man stopped. He turned to speak to them.

"My dear ones," he said. "I know that you are weary, and frightened. We have left all that is familiar to us, our homes, our friends, our old ways. Be strengthened in the understanding that it is the one God who has commanded us to build new lives in a new land. Know that because we have faith, because we are brave, because we have each other, we will endure. We are the birth of a new People. Our new homeland lies before us. God protects us. Because we have begun this journey, the world will never be the same. Our ancestors will remember what we have done. We shall be the inspiration for future generations of Jews in their own journeys. So begins the greatness that will be; a free people, living in their own land, speaking their own language, in covenant with the one God." 

I tossed in my sleep. I wanted to shout out to that band of ragged pioneers. "We do indeed remember the words that God spoke to you." I wanted to show them all that I understood the words "Lech Lecha," and that those words still held meaning to millions of Jews (maybe not so much to me on this day of advanced skepticism). In my heart, in the midst of my dream, I wanted so to encourage that band of ancient freedom fighters. My frustration was enormous and my hosts sensed my discomfort. The smart one understood.
"You're beginning to get it. Hold that feeling," she instructed. "This is just our first journey. There are others to see." 


The simple one asked, "Where to next?" The other one followed quietly along. 
The wind kicked up. Our magic fog-carpet floated us along, depositing us in a large auditorium. This was a familiar place. I tossed and snored and looked around. Slowly, while the lights were dimming, I realized I was in the Chicago Theatre. The movie was about to begin. I'd been there so many times with my mother, I could smell the popcorn right there in my bedroom. The plush seats and ornate sculptures on the walls of this old, magnificent theater comforted me. Turning to my hosts to ask just what the heck was going on, the wise one signaled me to "Shush and watch the screen." 

But as dreams would have it, the movie reels were out of order. It didn't start at the beginning.

We saw a ragged bunch of European Jews walking slowly across the screen, pushing carts filled with belongings. They sang of Anatevka, their village, as off they marched to unknown destinations in new worlds. I remembered the saga of Tevye the dairyman. He had problems with his daughters Tzeital and Hodel. I remembered Golde and her dreams, and the tailor, Motle. I remembered the Pogroms. "But what has any of this to do with me, I thought? It's a movie. Ancient history. After all I'm dreaming of the Chicago Theater." 

Now the most incredible dreamlike thing happened. Tevye turns to talk to the Jews behind him, but instead he’s looking right at me. 

"Nu, nudnik?" He said. "You think you're not part of this poor journey? Why this is the very community that gave birth to your great grandparents. Our trouble, our experience, our faith and nostalgia are the cornerstones of your Jewish life. Like you, I sat at my family's Seder table and heard the story of our Peoples' flight from Egypt. I never expected to lead my own community from a kind of slavery to a hope of freedom in new lands. We lived in a little Jewish town…not exactly a suburb, but a very Jewish place. When Shabbat or Passover, or any other holiday descended on our village, everyone shared the warmth of the holiday, every family, every person. We could hear the family in the next house singing Dayanu, a few moments before or after we sang it. We were each other's echoes. We wore the warmth of those communal feelings like a suit of armor to protect ourselves from the outside world. But the armor proved thin. It couldn't keep us safe."

"As you can see," he continued, "My family and I are forced to venture out into the unknown. Who knows what will be? One has a cousin in New York, another, an uncle on a Kibbutz in the Galilee. But what we do know is that this is not the first time our People have journeyed forth from their homes. What we do know is that we have faith in our God and the love of our families. Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Maimonides, many generations of Jews, no different from this one, have learned to face the trials and anxieties of challenges like ours. You'll face them too, in your own way, in your own time. God only knows what will happen to us …and he's not telling. But whatever happens to the poor Jews of Anatevka, the story of our journey will be etched into the identity of your generation."

Then Tevye turned his eyes to heaven. "Dear God. You have made me a poor milkman, but one who now understands the anguish of Abraham, the dilemmas of Moses. Give me the strength to lead my family as they led theirs…and if, along the way, we find some nice new Shtetle… like Shaker Heights or New Rochelle…even Skokie…well, who would mind?"

The old velvet curtain that once opened and closed the vaudeville shows of its time descended over the screen, ending this historic, if nightmarish, performance. My restless sleep had carried me over centuries and continents. But my hosts, the smart, the not so smart, and the quiet one were hardly done with me. Slowly they turned, inch-by-inch, it seemed, they raised their eyes to mine, silently questioning, "Now do you see your own connection to the journeys of our People?" 

I must admit the skeptic in me had weakened. Even I was a sucker for the Sunrise, Sunset nostalgia of our more recent past. But, there still lurked a question or two in my, “This-is-the-twenty-first-century,” and, “I'm-a-modern-Jew mentality.” I said, “I can relate to the journeys you've shown me. I can see how they have built the character of my generation. I can appreciate being a link in the chain of this tradition." They flashed a glimmer of a victory smile in my direction, until I added, "But what journeys are REALLY mine?" I still wondered. "Where is the drama and the challenge, and the hope of my generation's future? Do we have a 'Lech Lecha,' a Sinai, an Anatevka of our own


And so I returned in my dream to that Seder of my youth. There my grandfather sat during the meal and told us of his younger days, coming to America. I heard him tell of the orthodox lifestyle his family had maintained in the "old country," and how America became his religion. The Yiddish, and the Jewish, he explained, was the old way, the greenhorn's way. He wanted to be "an American." We sat and listened to him admit to leaving all his Jewish practices behind him in Europe. He laughed as he recalled that even his name changed when he passed through the gates of Ellis Island. They couldn't pronounce his Jewish sounding name and he was happy to take on the new, Americanized pronunciation as his introduction to the New World. My grandfather's eyes always twinkled when he told this story.

"So Nu? How come we sit together tonight at a Seder table, if I left our Judaism on the boat?" he asked. We all knew, but would wait for him to answer his own question. "It wasn't that America could be our religion," he'd come to realize. "We needed to be Jews even in America. But what kind of Jews? That was the question." My grandfather was the wisest man I ever knew. He was the bridge from Anatevka to my Seder table. Now I remembered how he taught us. "We needed a new Judaism; special made for the modern world." He said. "That's how I came to talk to the Reform Rabbi at our synagogue, and that's why we are sitting at the Seder table tonight.”

When we opened the Haggadah in my dream that night, I had a minor revelation. We read of the four children, the wise, the simple, and one unable to ask. My dreamy hosts described to a "T."  "But what of the wicked one?" I thought. "What happened to the one who says "You," and not "We?" Well, there I was, to round out the foursome. And so the lesson was well taught.

I'd come a long way during that restless night. I'd dreamt of a Seder long gone, and the hardships and faith of our People. It was a good dream, one of my ancestors and my grandfather and me. It was a dream of OUR journeys, not someone else's. Now that I'm the Papa, I'm beginning to understand.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Hoping to, Once Again Raise the Blue "W"

Friends.  It's Spring training, MLB about to begin.  Here's an old post about my Cubbies.  I hope to be able to write a reprise soon.


Dear Family and Friends:

I have never in my life had the opportunity to say, “Tonight the Chicago Cubs may be World Series champions!”  Being a born and bred Chicagoan, Northsider even, and having been on this earth a long time, it’s remarkable that tonight might just be the night. Let’s see.  The last time the Cubbies were in the World Series was four months before I was born, 1945.  The last time they won the Series was two years after my Grandfathers arrived at Ellis Island from Eastern Europe, 1908.  I’m sure my grandparents couldn’t have cared less about the great American pastime, but I sure wish my Dad could be sitting next to me watching tonight, along with his best buddy (whom I called uncle) Roy Levy.  How many times they snuck away from work on weekday afternoons to catch the last few innings of games at Wrigley Field?  Impossible to calculate.  How many times my Dad fell asleep watching The Cubs on TV on Saturday afternoons?  Also impossible to estimate.  I remember once, Cubs playing on TV, Dad asleep in the couch, I changed the channel.  Dad immediately woke and said, “Hey.  I’m watching the game.  The Cubs are up by two.”  He was right.  He could watch the games in his sleep.  Remarkable.

Yesterday the editor of our local paper, Bob Zaltsberg of the Herald Times wrote a column about singer/songwriter Steve Goodman, z’’l.  Goodman, a native Chicagoan of my vintage and, I believe, a fellow camper at Union Institute in the early ‘60’s, wrote several songs about Chicago and the Cubs.  He’s best known for his “City of New Orleans.”  But these days his, “Go Cubs Go” is his biggest hit.  Zaltsberg wrote that “Go Cubs Go” is not Goodman’s best work.  He prefers “Last Wish of a Dying Cubs Fan.”  Also great.  But I’d like Bob Zaltsberg to think of this (maybe I’ll send him this letter); how do you measure “Best?”  Cub’s fans fly the blue “W” and sing “Go Cubs Go” after every win at Wrigley Field. Two nights ago the Cubs came back to win a squeaker 3 to 2 to keep them in the Series.  Afterword, approximately 50 thousand fans stood in the friendly confines of Wrigley and sang it.  How many were singing out on Sheffield Ave or on Clark Street is hard to guess.  I think when over fifty thousand people join together to sing one of your songs, well, that’s a lot of votes for best in my book. 

A friend invited me to watch the game tonight at a local watering hole, Nicks.  I can’t do it.  For some reason this is a personal thing.  I’d hate to be in a crowd if the Cubbies didn’t win (don’t want to use the “L” word), and I kind of want to relish in the moment (like a moment of silence) if they do.  I guess that’s not very baseball-like, since the sport is so communal.  But that’s how I feel.

So, Steve Goodman.  To quote your “Last Wish of a Dying Cubs Fan,” Yes they still sing the blues in Chicago.  But not this year and not for this Cubs team. And hopefully tonight Chicagoans and expatriate Chicagoans will hoist the blue “W” and join in the refrain, “Go Cubs Go.”   Win or lose, I’ll be singing a solo rendition and be most happy for a great season.



Friday, January 18, 2019

A Rose by Any Other Name...

                                                                   January, 2019

Dear Family and Friends:

I imagine that most of you have heard of this group in Israel called “Women of the Wall.”  They are fighting the noble fight for religious equality at one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem, The Western Wall (the last remnant of biblical King Solomon’s Temple).  In opposition to the ultra-orthodox who run the show there, the Women of the Wall want to be able to pray freely, wear religious garments (Kippot, religious head coverings, and Tallitot, prayer shawls), and read from our holy scroll, The Torah.  I am with them all the way.

But one of the things I do not understand is the name they have adapted in Hebrew.  They call themselves “Nashot HaKotel.”  In Hebrew, as in most languages other than English, words are identified by gender as well as number.  The word for man is ‘Ish’.  The word for woman is ‘Isha’.  The plural of Isha is Nashim not Nashot.  I understand that in Hebrew most IM ending words are masculine and most OT ending words are feminine.  So Nashim sounds like a masculine word even though it is not.  I guess the Women of the Wall wanted to feminize the name, therefore OT instead of IM.    My father used to say that you can call yourself anything you want.  You can spell your name Brown and call yourself Smith.  The Women of the Wall have the right to call themselves whatever they want, even by creating a new word.  We create new words all the time.  For example, if I would have told you to google something in 1970, you would have sent me off the funny farm.  Not so today (if you don’t know what a funny farm is, Google it).

 But I don’t understand the logic.

Yes, words in Hebrew have gender.  But that doesn’t mean that the things they represent have that gender.  The word for book in Hebrew (Sefer) is masculine.  But the book itself has no gender, only the word.  The word for hand in Hebrew (Yad) is feminine and even though the plural has the masculine sounding ending IM, it is feminine.  But hands are not masculine or feminine…they are just hands.  The word has the gender. To take this thinking to its illogical conclusion one could say that we should take the ‘man’ out of the word woman and the ‘men’ out of the word women.  And I guess we could take the ‘male’ out of female.  We would need to create some new words in order to make everyone happy.
So, here’s another question (or three).  Why does this even bother me?  And, what does it matter?  Also, how come you are still reading this?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  Nashot HaKotel is OK with me.  But I imagine Mr. Ben Yehudah, creator of the modern Hebrew dictionary, might just be rolling over in his Kever (grave), which by the way is masculine.  Go figure.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Here's one from last year. Still fits. (Last year's numbers)

                                                                                              January, 2018

Dear Family and Friends:

I don’t mean to sound like the old Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame, but…We Jews are a funny People.  And I don’t mean funny Ha Ha.  Most of us celebrate two new years each year.  The first is in the fall around September or October.  That’s Rosh Ha Shannah, literally “The head of the year".  It comes from our Torah, Leviticus 23:23.  This Jewish New Year begins the ten days of Awe in which we reflect and repent and by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement are ready to confess our sins and try again.  So this Jewish New Year is not celebrated with fireworks and Champagne; it’s a bit more solemn.   On Rosh Ha Shannah Jews greet each other saying, “L’Shannah Tovah,” for a good year, “Shannah Tovah,” a good year, or “Good Yom Tov,” literally good, good day, but meaning, good holiday.  No one says Happy or good JEWISH New Year.  We know the Jewish…no need to say it.

So I’m wondering why many Jews greet each other after midnight on December 31st with, “Happy SECULAR new year.”  Is there someone out there that might be confused and think that the January 1st holiday might be the Jewish holiday so we have to define it with the word “Secular?”  I don’t think so.  Although on New Year’s Eve some people might wear funny hats and blow horns like we Jews do in our synagogues on Rosh Ha Shannah (we may wear a Kippah and blow a Shofar) but they don’t party like it’s 5778 (thank goodness, because we don’t party at all). Do people want to emphasize that this is not the “real” New Year, it’s the Secular New Year?  That the real one happens in the fall? Do those “Happy secular New Year” wishing folks give that same greeting to non-Jews on December 31st? Or is it just a Jew-to-Jew thing?   I think we should celebrate the holiday without the label.  Sure, when we explain to a non-Jew what Rosh Ha Shannah is we say, “It’s the JEWISH New Year.  Everyone knows that the other New Year, the one that’s not Jewish, is the January 1st one. 

This year the Chinese New Year falls on February 16th.  I’m sure Chinese people will not be wishing each other, “Happy Chinese New Year.”  And I imagine that any Chinese folks celebrating on January 1st will not be saying, “Happy non-Chinese New Year.”

In a few days I will celebrate my birthday.  Now I don’t know what the Jewish calendar date was 72 years ago when yours truly made his inglorious entrance into this world.  We didn’t pay much attention to the Jewish calendar in my family.  We were happy if we could remember the correct day in January.  So I would be astonished if anyone would greet me next week with, “Happy secular birthday.”  That would be so weird.  So why the ‘Secular’ New Year?

Now here’s another thing.  We are told in the Torah to celebrate this holiday of the sounding of the horns on the first day of the 7th month (Tishrei) of the year.  Go figure.  The beginning of the Jewish year comes on the seventh month of the year.  I guess it makes sense.  You could designate any day to be the beginning.  Rosh Ha Shannah is said to be the birthday of the world …when the world was created.  So it is just like when a person is born.  That’s the beginning of their counting.  We live a year and then turn one.  The world just had its 5778th birthday and we called it Rosh Ha Shannah.

So why is January 1st the New Year?  Maybe someone 2018 years ago decided we needed another winter, darkest- time- of- the- year holiday to cheer us up.  “Hey, let’s do New Years on January 1.  We could shoot off fireworks, wear funny hats, have a few drinks, etc.?”  But what if someone else said, “No.  Let’s do it in June…say June 12th.  Yah, that’s the ticket. That’s a good day.  And that way no one will have to stand out in the cold to watch the ball drop (or in Indy the race car drop).”  But obviously January 1st won out.

So probably, if you are one of the “Happy Secular New Year” wishers, this blog doesn’t sit right with you.  This is such a small point I’d say, “Forget about it.”  Better to say happy secular New Year than to say nothing at all.

But if anyone comes up to me and wishes me a happy secular birthday, I’ll say back, “Thank you.”  But I’ll be thinking, “Bah Humbug.”

Happy new year to all…and to all a good night.


PS.  And to everyone in Israel, Yom Sylvester Sameach!”

PPS.  And I was also wondering; if they drop a ball in New York and a race car in Indianapolis, what do they drop in Boston?  Beans?  In Chicago?  A huge deep dish pizza?

 (I clearly have to get out of the house more).

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saying Goodbye to Gert

November, 2018

         Dear Family and Friends:

         Usually a trip up to Indianapolis from Bloomington is an extremely happy occasion.  Usually those are family visits.  Today’s visit was a sort of family visit in a completely different way, bittersweet.  I went to attend Gert Cannon Beeler’s funeral.  

    You UCI old timers will remember Gert as the  commander-in-chief (or should I say chef) of our kitchen.  Gert ran camp’s food service for over thirty years.  My family met her when we first came to camp in 1975.  She and her uncle Earl Beeler had already worked for the camp for many years.  We spent the next twenty or so years working together.  I came to the camp to be its Director, but never really felt that Gert actually worked for me.  I ran the camp and Gert directed her domain, the kitchen.  She bought the food, hired the staff, cooked, etc.  She’d call me in if someone needed to be fired.  I could go on and on about her baking; rolls, breads, 7 layer cookies, Congo bars, chess pie, sweet potato pie.  Friday night Gert’s fried chicken was the best of the best.

         My experience today at the funeral was remarkable.  I was asked to speak.  I talked about all of the above but also told of Gert’s love of children.  Over 800 Jewish kids each summer knew Gert and many gravitated to her.  Those who worked in the kitchen became her children, especially if there was a teenager who was a bit lost, or unhappy.  There was always room under her wing.  She loved our boys Jeremy and Michael, always making special things for them.  She married Harrison Beeler, Earl’s nephew.  Harrison and I shared two things, our birthdays and our love of Count Basie.   Earl was a legend in his own right. All of them taught me, their 29 year old Director, so many life lessons along with the practical things a camp director needs to know…how to run a commercial kitchen, how to mow 50 acres of grass, what kind of side-view mirrors are best on a pickup truck, how to run a swimming pool, and much, much more.

         But during and after the funeral today it was impressed upon me over and over just how much the camp meant to the extended Beeler family.  There’s an entire community of African-American folks in Indianapolis who have deeply warm feelings for Goldman Union Camp.  Neecy (Gert’s niece whose name is Denice) even told the congregation that she spent so much time at the camp that she learned many of the Hebrew songs we sang, and a few Israeli dances.  She said that her family referred to her as their Black Jew.

 After the service ten or so older family members lined up to each give me a hug, thank me for coming, and tell me how much the camp meant to them.   Some of them (Iyeva) worked at the camp, many of them, as did I, attended the yearly Beeler family reunions held on the athletic field, and all came often to Uncle Earl’s and Aunt Hazel’s home at the camp on Sundays to schmooze, play Tonk, and, of course, eat.  I was blown away by their warmth.  Even the woman who ran the nursing home where Gert lived her last nine years told everyone that she had grown up at UCI and was there during Gert’s time at camp, and that now her grandchildren attend GUCI.

Gert will always have a huge place in GUCI’s history.  Today’s event was a celebration of Gert Beeler’s life and an expression of love between the Beeler family and our camp.  It was indeed a family affair.