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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Talking About Fear at Rabbi Hours

                                                                                                                         Jan. 2017

Dear Family and Friends:

Every Thursday afternoon I venture out onto the campus of Indiana University.  I head over to the Indiana Memorial Union where I camp out at Starbucks for a couple of hours.  I have a little table tent sign that I put up which announces that, "The Rabbi is in....ask me anything."  I have been holding these Rabbi Hours for a few years now.  Sometimes I have no customers and sometimes several students come by.  Occasionally a professor will find me.

Rabbi Hours conversations have covered a wide variety of topics.  More than one student has come to talk about boyfriend/girlfriend problems.  Others have asked my opinion about changing majors, studying abroad, Jewish views on life after death, Last month a professor dropped by to confess that he had been raised Jewish but stopped participating in any Jewish activities.  It was more an announcement than a question.  I asked if he was interesting in re-connecting with the Jewish community and he replied that he really didn't have the time.  "OK.....(long pause), thanks for dropping by.  I will be here every Thursday if you want to talk about anything."  Not a very good response, I know.   He caught me a bit off guard.  I hope he comes back sometime so we can really have a conversation. 

Lately it seems that more non-Jews come over to talk than Jewish students.  There certainly is a curiosity about us mysterious Jews.  Some want to hear about Israel, but most ask religious, theological, Jewish practice type questions.  Last week I encountered one out of left field.  The boy began by explaining that his question had nothing to do with religion or Judaism.  I understand that sometimes people need to talk, especially to someone removed from their social circles, someone objective and non-threatening. My sign says ask me anything and he was taking me up on the offer.  His question:  "how do people deal with fear?"  I have learned over the years that sometimes the first question is not THE question.  Sometimes there is a question behind the question.  I was not quick to offer an answer in this case.

I asked the boy what brought up this question.  Was he just thinking about this or had something happened to which he was reacting?  He explained that he was the kind of person who took no chances in life.  He was doing fine in school, everything was good at home.  It was like Paul Simon said in "One Trick Pony," he walked down the middle of the road, slept in the middle of the bed...etc.  It seemed to me that perhaps fear wasn't what we were really talking about.  It was more about risk.

I told this fellow that everyone has to deal with fear on their own, and that facing one's fears might be best done a little at a time.  Small steps before big ones.  First the socks and then the shoes.  Then I asked if he might really be talking about stepping out of his comfort zone...was risk the fear?  He nodded.  I asked if he thought he would be able to take a small risk just to see how he felt about it.  I explained that I thought that often we learn a lot about ourselves when we do things directed outward with no personal gain intended.

"Have you done anything to help others?" I asked.


"Maybe you have been too absorbed in yourself and your safety.  How about considering a small step outward?

"What kind of step?"

"Think about volunteering for a day at a local homeless shelter or food bank?  Maybe try it one time and see where that leads.  See how you feel about it. See if it doesn't turn your attention outward, broaden you field of vision.  It might even feel good."  I told him about my experiences working at the Shalom Center here in Bloomington washing dishes.

"I never thought of that.  Can I come back and tell you about it, if I can pull it off?"

'I'm here every Thursday and would love to see you again."  I hope he takes that small risk and that he's better off for it.  I also hope he comes back to Rabbi Hours to let me know.  I have the feeling that he will.

Since I began writing this post I received an email from this student.  He wrote how much he appreciated our short conversation and that he was thinking of ways to challenge himself over the coming winter break.  I think he's going to discover how good it is to step a bit out of the comfort zone, take a little risk, and beat that initial fear.  Small steps. That's the ticket.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Camp Directors' Kids, +'s and -'s

                                                                                                               Dec. 2016

Dear Family and Friends:

Last night I happened upon a podcast (thank you Katy for putting it on FB).  Micah Hart, son of long-time Director of the Jacobs Camp Institute in Utica, Miss, Macy B. Hart, has instituted a pod cast called" Campfires and Color Wars."  Micah's brilliant idea is to create 45 minute segments all based on experiences at summer camp.  Well, last night's centered around what it is like being the child of the Camp Director.  Micah hosted his sister Leah Tennen and my son Mike Klotz.  It was so interesting for me to hear Mike talk about camp and being my son at camp.

At first I was a bit apprehensive.  My first thought was, "Oh god, this could be a real bitch session where the kids unload about how unfair it was to be in that position and how difficult their fathers made it for them."  But that was not the case.  My wife and I listened to the entire show and it was...heartwarming. I don't want to paraphrase what was said; but I do want to encourage you all to listen to the show and to subscribe to the podcast as I have done.  Cut and paste the following into your browser to tune in:

It's funny.  Macy and I were best camp director friends for over 25 years.  We met the first winter I was hired to direct what was then called Union Camp Institute, before I'd even had a summer under my belt.  the Camp Directors' meeting that February was held at Jacob's camp where we were shown Macy's newly poured kitchen floor and heard a lecture about portion control (how big should a cutlet be, anyway?).  I thought, "What did I get myself into?"  I was studying to be a rabbi and wanted to run a Jewish program centered camp.  I'd never thought about kitchen floors or the size of portions.  Over the years I learned so many practical lessons which enabled GUCI to be that Jewish program centered camp institute.   Macy and I immediately hit it off.  We would spend the next 25 years rooming together at every UAHC biennial, NFTY convention and UAHC staff meeting.  I cannot over state the amount I learned from Macy...about camping...and about life.  We talked about everything.  And we conferred about things when we hit the rough spots that all camp directors encounter.

Now our kids are great camp friends and are talking about their dads.  Give a listen.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sharing the Good News

Dear Friends and Family:                                                                      Dec. 2016

We like to start off each Shabbat (Friday evening) here at 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.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Who Cries at Christmas?

Dear Family and Friends:                                                                        2016

It is that time of the year again.  I kind of love it (except I'd like to see more sunshine).  So every year we see the same cartoons on TV, hear the same carols, get the same sale ads.  Why not a rerun of a blog I wrote about four years ago.  I still feel the same.  If you missed it the first time, I hope you lke it.  

To all; here's wishing you a wonderful holiday season ...have yourselves a merry little whatever you celebrate.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas.