May God bless you with success and achievement and enable you to fulfil your highest hopes.May God favour you, giving you strength, patience and courage, and imbue you with the spirit of humility.
May God bless you with success and achievement and enable you to fulfil your highest hopes.May God favour you, giving you strength, patience and courage, and imbue you with the spirit of humility.
By Hazzan Harold Messinger
My recent whirlwind trip to Bejing, China started with an email from a former student last December. Alison Klayman was at Akiba Hebrew Academy when I taught there in the late 90’s, and she and I have remained in touch over the past decade or so. I knew she was living in China, working as a filmmaker, an interpreter and English coach for Hollywood films and filing occasional stories for NPR. What I did not know is that Alison had also been moonlighting as a Bar and Bat mitzvah tutor in the city of Beijing, working with members of the now twenty year-old Kehilat Beijing. Kehilat Beijing was founded when Beijing was transforming from a sleepy communist town into a colorful, vibrant commercial powerhouse, currently home to 16 million persons, 9 million cars and approximately 4 million bicycles.
Alison emailed to say that she was working with two girls, originally from just outside Seattle, Washington and now living in Beijing. They were 13 and 12 respectively, and were being Bat Mitzvahed on May 8th. Would I be interested in coming to Beijing to perform the ceremony?
I was so surprised by the idea that I really didn’t think it would come to anything. I assumed that there must be someone in Beijing to function in a clergy capacity, and at the very least, someone whom the family knew that could officiate. It turns out that the family had moved around over the years, and as such had not formed a bond with the clergy at their own shul back home. In Beijing, the only full-time clergy was at Chabad, and their Rabbi does not officiate at Bat Mitzvot. The family wanted the girls to read from the Torah and Haftara, lead part of the service and give divrei Torah to their community.
Over the last three years, the family had become an integral part of a community-led Jewish center for all those seeking an alternative to Chabad. Kehilat Beijing (http://www.sinogogue.org/’) counts about 30-40 households in their week in, week out community. This group swells to over 150 adults at High Holidays. The Kehilah includes ex-pats from all over the world, mainly North Americans, many of them academics, computer specialist, medical experts and businesspersons in Beijing. When the Bat-Mitzvah family moved to China they were looking for a way to connect Jewishly and at the same time participate in the spiritual life of their community. The Kehilah was a great fit. The one catch was that aside from occasional visiting Rabbis, the Kehilah is more or less on their own. The Kehilah meets each Friday Night for Kabalat Shabbat services and dinner. Since 1996, The Kehilah has their own Torah, allowing them to do Shabbat morning services.
Services take place at the Capital Club Athletic Center, an upper-end fitness and community center catering to the ex-pat community and well to do Chinese Nationals. While the Kehilah uses the facilities on Friday Night, on Sunday a local Church group takes over. They use siddur Kol Haneshama and Eytz Hayyim as their primary Humash (sound familiar?) Members take turns leading services thereby contributing their personal knowledge to each service. It is haimish: warm, inclusive and deeply cared for. The Kehilah is also struggling to grow, not just in numbers but spiritually and Jewishly as well.
There are diverse sub-groups in the Beijing Jewish community, who apart from Chabad have not fully embraced Kehilat Beijing as an alternate center for “doing” Jewish. The Israeli community represent one such group who, like most Israelis, are secular and have a marginal interest in Jewish ritual life and certainly not on a weekly basis. Coming from yet another place is the Jewish student and 20-something population of Beijing. While Alison sought a place to pray and meet other like-minded Jews, most 20-somethings were not seeking that type of connection. Recently the advent of Moshei House, an International organization, has brought a new source of potential energy and of collaboration with the Kehilah.
Moshei House (http://www.moishehouse.org/) is the brainchild of the Shushterman Foundation, Jewish Philanthropists seeking to bring otherwise disconnected 20-somethings to “Do Jewish”: This might include a Shabbat dinner, hosting a cultural event, or a Jewish-themed party. If two or more Jews are sharing a living space, they can apply to be a Moishe house. In return for putting on these events, they receive a living stipend and money towards programming. Alison heads up Moishe house in Beijing with her roommates, and has put on events over the last year as part of this endeavor. Still it is not surprising to find that 20-somethings tend not to want to party with 30 and 40-somethings with little kids, preteens, and the older set. However, there is a strong feeling that with the right professional or semi-professional leadership this could change, and Kehilat Beijing could expand its reach to include a wider segment of the already small Jewish community.
Back to the Bat Mitzvah: When the family formally contacted me in January, they described the person they were looking for (actually they were describing me, but I suspect Alison had told them what to say): a person who is comfortable in an egalitarian Jewish setting, has liberal Jewish views, who drives on Shabbat, eats vegetarian options if provided, plays guitar, and loves infusing a service with music and ruach. Except for the last two things, I seemed to fit the bill. With the blessing of wife and Beth Am’s leadership (and a written promise not to stay), I made the arrangements to go.
Over the months that ensued, I SKYPed with the two girls to get to know them, hear them chant their Haftarah and Torah parts and to ask the million and one questions that a visit to the other side of the earth entails. Remarkably, I was just one of over forty overseas guests attending the Bat Mitzvah. In a feat that would leave the greatest party planner in awe, the girls’ mom had overseen the arrangements for each one of us, arranging hotels, meals, tours, travel, busses, taxis, thoughtful and personal gift “tote bags” with maps, sweets, guide books, etc, AND planned every detail of the simcha down to the Oriental Trading ‘SWAG’ for the party that I personally transported from Merion Station to Beijing. (Stuff literally “Made in China,” was shipped to my house and then brought right back to China, where glow-teeth, plastic sunglasses and fake “bling” are apparently not for sale!) The girls’ father, who works for Microsoft oversaw the creation of the siddur used at the ceremony, itself a painstakingly detailed process. He crafted a siddur that was personal and user friendly, one that included many traditional elements but highlighted the prayers and readings that were significant to the family. It was a true labor of love.
As I arrived in Beijing on the Wednesday before the Bat Mitzvah, a driver holding a sign with my name on it greeted me. I was told to expect this, but was not aware that this very sweet gentleman was not hired just for picking me up at the airport, but was in fact the family’s personal driver! It seems it is less expensive for American companies to pay for a car lease and hire a driver for their employee and family, than have the family purchase a car. (And much safer: the driving in Beijing is perilous!) We drove from the airport in an American mini-van and made our way to a beautiful high rise in downtown Beijing, complete with security guard and gate, pool and health club.
The family’s 19th floor apartment had a panoramic view of the Beijing skyline that was remarkably clear for any city, almost flawless for pollution-ridden Beijing. I decided to not even worry about what time it really was (Yesterday? Tomorrow? A week from Thursday?) and just kept moving. Meeting up with their old friends from Seattle, eight of us dined at an off-the-beaten-path restaurant called “Black Sesame Kitchen”, (http://www.blacksesamekitchen.com/) where we had a delicious seven course meal (they substituted tofu for pork just for me!) capped off with deep-fried apples and homemade sesame ice-cream. The entire meal was less than nine American dollars per person. Now that is the true happy meal.
The next day we visited Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, ate at some wonderful restaurants, and made our way to a five-story mall called Silk City, for some high-pressure shopping, where the shopkeepers grab, insult and guilt you into making a purchase. They make the Shuk in the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem look like a Saturn dealership. Shopping completed, the extended family arrived en masse, pizza (ever the universal dish) was eaten, and eyes were shut.
The family who hosted me has lived in Beijing for the better part of 20 years. Both academics, the husband is a leading expert in Economics, while the wife heads a think tank on the Environment, and they were part of the original crew who started Kehilat Beijing. In one of our conversations about the Kehilah my hosts discussed that one of the main challenges facing the Kehilah is finding a professional or semi-professional leader who could sustain themselves in Beijing while being part time clergy. Ideally the Kehilah seeks someone who has skills to teach, daven and read Torah but who also leads another professional or student existence. Alison represented a rare find for the Kehilah in someone who has the skills from her Schechter and Akiba Day School backgrounds, combined with the personality, charisma and inner desire to be a part of a community like Kehilat Beijing. As I got to know the Kehilah more I was struck by how much they have done and continue to do on their own, but also how much sustained Jewish leadership is desired, and as wonderful as Alison has been, as a young woman with no roots in Beijing, she and they know her time with them is limited.
On my second day in China, we visited the Great Wall. I have to say, it really is quite great. 6000 klm long, taking over 200 years and over 200,000 people to complete.
We took a ski lift up the mountain to reach the wall, where walked a tiny part of it, and then “alpine slide”-ed on a metal track, luge style.
Shabbat arrived, and Friday night I met more families from the Kehilah. There was a mix of ages, of boys and girls, of American and Chinese children and children from mixed families. Everyone spoke English and many knew Hebrew, certainly enough to be able to go through several prayers and songs. Kabalat Shabbat was a wonderfully joyous service where I introduced many of our favorite B.A.I. melodies. At dinner I discovered that I knew several of the people in the Kehilah from my years living in Israel and attending Camp Ramah, which by this point in my life should not surprise me, yet somehow it always feels great to reconnect and play Jewish Jewography every time.
The Bat Mitzvah was truly lovely and reminded me of the best of B.A.I: Each girl gave an intelligent thoughtful devri Torah, the parent’s blessing was heartfelt, brief, meaningful and directed at the future. Family and friend participated, and the community was eager to sing. [Note: there was no musaf, candy was thrown at the girls, and then in a retaliatory strike, the girls fired back. All in good fun, and no one was sent to the emergency room. ]
The festivities came to a crescendo that evening as all the guests left by bus for the Great Wall of China. Yes, you read correctly, the party was just below the Great Wall. Now you might say, “You’re kidding me?” It was as you can imagine, an incredible event: It was lavish, yet tasteful; it was festive, but not at all overdone. We did havdallah together mid-way through the party and it was beautiful. All the friends and family gathered around the girls who held the candles, the spices and wine. When I told everyone they should extend their hands when we say the candle blessing, everyone put their hands out, and kept them there for several moments. There was a true kavanah to this act, and I suspected that many were doing this for the first time. I looked up at the Great Wall hidden in the darkness, and thought how great it would be if like Boathouse row they could light up the wall. I promise you that not five minutes went by and “Ping!” a huge section of the wall lit up. It was amazing.
Sunday morning I had the chance to teach in the Kehilat Beijing Hebrew School. The Kehilah rents space in the Chabad House outside of the city center and for two hours each Sunday morning embrace small classes for kids ages 6-14 and give the kids a rich and meaningful Jewish educations. I saw first hand the love and care that went into their rich and meaningful programming. I was able to lead a family service, introduced some more melodies, and led a prayer writing exercise using the Lecha Dodi as a model for personalizing prayer. After my morning at the school there was time for a quick lunch before getting back on the plane to America. Somehow I landed just two hours after I left.
It was a very special trip, full of new faces, new experiences and wonderful community. It was also a time for me to appreciate home, my immediate family and my home community. There is a great opportunity given the similarities between our own Congregation and that of Kehilat Beijing, to explore ways in which we can communicate, share resources and build relationships. I look forward not just to maintaining contact with my new friends in Beijing, but to fostering ways for our communities to interact and collaborate. Next year in China, anyone?
In my job I speak with, and provide service to people of all walks of life and all levels of income. My job as a loan officer in a bank is simple. Listen to what the customer is saying and provide them with the mortgage product that they need. (P.S. This is not an advertisement.) Several of these people have left a lasting impression on me.
BB is 72 years old and he wants to move to Florida and retire. The weather in the Delaware Valley had been brutal in the last few weeks and he was sitting in front of me wearing a aged, worn overcoat with a an old sweater. His face was not necessarily elderly looking, but I could tell that life had registered its toll on his face with wrinkles around his eyes and on his forehead. From time to time during the interview he leaned forward placing his elbows on my desk and his head in his hand. His knuckles were out of proportion to his hands. Maybe due to arthritis. His fingers angled off to one side. I saw concern and stress in his face. But it’s self imposed. Financially he is OK. Not great, but OK and better than many. Helping him to get to Florida poses some challenges, but they can be overcome. Helping him to realize that he is OK …. That’s another story. BB has a thick accent. I asked him where he originally lived. He said Lebanon. He came here in 1986 to escape the civil war in his country. He lost everything. His clothing business. His possessions. He came here by boat with his son and his wife because he couldn’t afford the airfare. Now 21 years later, after having become a US citizen and purchased his home, he is financially able to retire. Generally as a rule I have to keep politics and religion out of my business conversations. So I gently move the conversation back to his financial affairs and helping him attain his goal of moving to Florida. BB lives around the corner from my office, and in the days that follow this initial interview, he comes into the bank to make a deposit and say hello and find out about the progress of his application. One day he asks me if my last name is Russian. “Yes. It has Russian roots. My grandparents came here from Russia. I’m Jewish” I respond, holding my breath. There seems to be a pregnant pause, but it’s in my mind as I wait for him to respond. He says “Jewish people are honest and fair. The man I am selling my home to is Jewish.” I let my breath out. I tell him that I know that during the civil war in Lebanon, Israel was passing medical supplies through fences at the boarder to Lebanese people. Our eyes meet and he blurts out “And doctors, too” as if he had first hand knowledge of this. Not wanting to get too emotional and stuck on this subject, we move back on point to help him retire to Florida. This man, who lost everything at age 51, whose story I now see in the wrinkles on his face, who rebuilt his life in a new country, is now retiring in America as a US citizen.
GV came to this country 25 years ago from an island country with $19 in his pocket at the age of 20. He finished 9th grade in his country. He’s been working full time as a bartender for 20 years and part time in construction. He’s putting his daughter through college. After I finish conducting my interview and gathering his financial information and listening to his goals, GV tells me that he is sad and depressed. Why? He feels that he can’t get a break. He feels that in this great country, he should be able to accomplish more. GV owns 7 investment properties and has mortgages on all of them!! His net worth is 7 figures! Yet he feels that here in America he should have been able to accomplish more at his age. How can I tell him that his ‘old school’ work ethic is what built this country?
ET came here from a small country on the east coast of Africa 16 years ago with very little in his pocket. He works 7 days a week. Full time in the maintenance department for a local college and part time as a cashier on the weekends. ET has 2 investment properties and is buying a home for his family in a neighborhood that will enable his son go to a good school. His son is 8 years old.
I began this essay three years ago as I sat at my father’s gravesite on the eve of what would have been his 83rd birthday. At that time the next Yahrzeit candle that I lit would mark the 25th anniversary of his passing. Now, it has been 28 years since I was able to look into his eyes, kiss him on the cheek, give him a hug and say “I love you, dad”. Compared to the customers I see, my family’s story in America goes back a long way. My grandparents came here a little over 100 years ago. They fled war and civil strife to make a new life for themselves. They worked hard, sometimes holding two jobs at once. My grandmother had to take in a boarder to help pay for food and rent for her family. They lived through the Great Depression. Both of my grandfathers managed to get the equivalent of a high school diploma and both became US citizens. This was a great accomplishment for them. While they didn’t harp on the past with stories of life in the old country, my parents and my aunts and uncles had instilled in them how great this country was. And how this new beginning had to be cherished. It wasn’t an easy life. It was a life that gave them a chance, and an opportunity.
My father left college to enlist in the Army to fight in World War II. There was never a question about if he would go. It was a question of Army or Navy. My father knew that the fight to preserve freedom had to be stopped over there, not over here. My grandparents’ America became my father’s America. All 4 of my uncles joined the fight as well. And thankfully all 4 returned home physically unharmed. After the war was over my father married and started his own business. Many, many, many months he worked 7 days a week. Many, many nights my mother would bring him food and fresh clothes because he didn’t have time to come home to rest. He had his opportunity and his chance to succeed and he grabbed it and he didn’t let go. Thanks to his efforts and the struggles of my grandparents, my family has a better life. That’s what this part of the world is about. America is a chance. America is an opportunity. It’s a land where you can practice your religion and speak your mind. America is a melting pot. As long as we respect our neighbors, this country works. My father’s America is still the greatest country in the world. A land of opportunity and a chance to succeed. My father’s America is now my America and the America of my enterprising customers from many lands.
I honor my father this day on his 28th Yahrzeit by re-dedicating myself to practicing those values that he exemplified and those values that I have been able to practice here in My Fathers America. Providing for my family both fiscally and physically and with leadership, especially during times of strife. Helping to fix the world by helping those less fortunate than me. Perhaps this is a good place to stop listing resolutions and go back to work!!
This past March, with the support of their teachers our sixth grade students engaged in project based learning endeavor. When a generous donation to restore and hang BAI’s World War II memorial plaque was given, it made sense that our sixth grade students should be involved in a rededication ceremony as their teacher, Ali Cutler, is the granddaughter of Len Cutler, a founding member of Beth Am Israel who is a World War II veteran.
With the support of Ali, groups of sixth grade students researched different wars in which BAI veteran’s served. The students then wrote questions they had for the veteran’s about: serving in an army; war in general; the war they fought in; and what they did during the war. An intergenerational dialogue took place as the students interviewed our veteran’s and as the veteran’s shared their experiences. The sixth grade students then prepared a moving presentation for our rededication ceremony and took the lead role in honoring the war veteran’s in our community.
Here is what they said:
“We, the sixth graders, are here to honor the veterans in the Beth Am community, and specifically three very special veterans who took the time to come in and share their stories with us. Their names are Leonard Cutler, Abe Beer, and David Soskis. Would you please come up here with us? [pause while they walk up front]. From them, we learned about each of their experiences in war. These men put their individual agendas aside and risked their lives by fighting for our country and ideals like freedom, fairness, and a better world. In a few minutes, you will all be able to view the plaque which honors the dedicated World War II veterans from Beth Am, but symbolically it stands to represent all Beth Am veterans, for their bravery and commitment to causes bigger than themselves has left high shoulders for each of us to stand on. As you walk by, take a moment to observe and commemorate the lives of those who came before us, whose actions and decisions have allowed us to become what we are today.
We interviewed Mr. Abe Beer and he told us many interesting stories. For example, in France, he saw his neighbor a few days before an attack. Sadly, that neighbor died in the attack. In another battle, Abe had to carry his teacher from a previous training. Abe’s cousins and brothers fought in the war with him. His stories show the horror and loss that American families suffered during this war. People lost brothers and cousins, sons, and grandsons, teachers, neighbors, and friends. Abe is a good person, whose story carries much sorrow, and from his loss, we know that we are lucky to not have to experience this kind of war.
I also heard Abe speak. His story is very interesting and I learned a lot from him. Before he came in, I didn’t understand how violent World War II was, but then Abe shared a story with us. When Abe was in London, England, he met a friend who took care of him. Abe was called to France, but he told his friend that they would stay in touch and write letters to one another. When he arrived in France, he wrote this friend a letter but the letter was returned with the letters KIA written on the envelope: Killed In Action. I think this was a very sad experience for Abe, and it taught me how personal and bad the war was for so many people.
When Abe got home from the war, his grandmother came downstairs to greet him and offered to take his heavy bag upstairs. A few days later, his grandmother got sick and the family called the local doctor. When the doctor got there, he took off her hat and she began to murmur. The doctor thought she was not making sense, but Abe’s mom said she was reciting the Shema, because she knew she was going to die. She died an angel. So today, we honor Abe because he is one of our angels. Through his story, we learned about sacrificing ourselves to protect the ideals that we value. Thank you Abe, for sharing your story and teaching us so much about honor, sacrifice, and family.
The next person you are about to hear about is a Vietnam war veteran. He made many sacrifices like going against his mixed feelings regarding the war; he signed up when he was 29 years old because he believed that everyone should give duty and service to their country. His job in the Vietnam War was to nurse patients back to health who had been emotionally or mentally harmed. He helped to treat many veterans who had suffered trauma so severe that they were experiencing symptoms of PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After the war, when he returned to America, he was disrespected, looked down upon, and even blamed for the war by some anti-war protestors. But, throughout the war, he made life-long friends who he relied on to pass through hard times. Thank you, David, for coming to speak to our class, and for teaching us about the complexity of America’s involvement in Vietnam as well as the effects of PTSD and the bravery of fighting in a war that was many times unpopular at home.
On December 7th, 1941, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor. The next day on the radio, the President told everyone about Japan’s attack and Americans knew we were about to go to war. That week, Germany declared war on the United States, and the US was officially at war. At the time, Leonard Cutler was 19 and a half, and he volunteered for the army, wanting to defend his country from further bloodshed. Before he went into combat, he was both excited and frustrated, but not nervous. He went to 17 weeks of basic training, where he learned about weapons and hand to hand combat, and was then shipped off to the South Pacific.
As Len was on the boat going to the South Pacific, he slept in a room with many other men, in beds stacked 6 people high. The boat was unescorted and traveled through Panama and then on to New Caledonia. The men aboard knew the danger they were headed in to, as fighting the Japanese in the jungle was rumored to be a very difficult task. After six weeks, Len arrived in New Caledonia, and ran into his next door neighbor from Philadelphia. He felt God was watching over him, because his neighbor was able to transfer him to the air force, a much safer way to fight than the jungle war he had been ordered in to. He was pleased that his new job provided less of a chance of death, and knew that his life was saved by this miracle.
Now that the program is over the essential question is: was the program a success? If you were with us the Shabbat morning when we rededicated the plaque you may remember how the presentation moved you and the congregation. The students’ learning took place throughout the course of a month; the students were accountable each week to their peers for work done in class and out of class; the presentation informed the entire community in a meaningful way; anecdotal feedback from the parents leads me to believe that the community valued the students’ work and finally, the students asked for more. Parents have shared with me conversations that were opened up in their homes with family and friends who are war veterans and many of the students are now engaged in a study of the conflicts and wars Israel has fought since 1948 in which personnel are being highlighted.
Finally, I am pleased to share with you that next year our Beit Sefer program will be based on this model. It’s exciting for both the students and educators to be involved in educational opportunities that integrate and bridge multiple constituencies in our community and value and support student learning.
Rebecca was born March 3rd to Liz Lowenthal and Jeff Hafkin, and welcomed to the world by big sister Miriam.
The Lowenthal-Hafkin family had a beautiful baby naming at Beth Am on May 1st. She was proudly introduced to our community as Rivkah Bat Lea v’Shmuel Chaim. Grandma and Grandpa were even there to participate.
Liz says, “How wonderful it was to have the support of the BAI family after Rebecca’s birth. Still being relatively new to the community, we don’t know many people in the area. Having people from BAI visit and bring us meals with such love really made things easier and helped me to appreciate what a special community we have joined.”
|Name||High School||College Attending|
|Feldman, Hannah||University of Pennsylvania|
|Goldberg- Morse, Hannah||Lower Merion High School|
|Goldberg- Morse, Meredith||ower Merion High School|
|Gottesman, Talia||Lower Merion High School|
|Harris, Dan||Lower Merion High School|
|Jacobson, Maxine||Lower Merion High School|
|Rubin-Garfield, Hannah Aviv|
|Schoenberg, Elizabeth||The Baldwin School||Vanderbilt University|
|Weilbacher, Hannah Zoe||Lower Merion High School||Oberlin|
|Berkovitz, Robin||Northwestern University|
|Conn, Allison Belmont||Penn State University|
|Friedlander, Arielle||University of Rochester|
|Kass, Matt||Cornell University|
|Sack, Myra||Dartmouth College|
|Taylor, Erin||Tufts University|
|atman, Allison||Muhlenberg University|
|Grimes, Randi||Saint Joseph’s with an MS in Elementary Education|
Beth Am Israel wants to thank Gregg Eskin and Esther Cohen- Eskin for the beautiful hand made cabinet created out of hickory and walnut that Greg Eskin designed and built in honor of Rabbi Ackerman, to welcome him into his new home with something made from their home.
Mazel Tov to:
May the Holy One Comfort:
On an evening in November, 2009, at a reception for those new to Beth Am Israel at that point in time, I had the good fortune to meet fellow congregants who were equally excited about their new synagogue and filled with fresh experiences to share.
Grace and Art Gerskoff had graciously invited us into their home to greet and welcome new members and, of course, give us the opportunity to meet the clergy and the board and make new friends.
I knew why I had joined Beth Am but not what drove others to do so. I haven’t been shy about my enthusiasm and eagerness to be part of this incredible community.
Stories abounded about who we are, our families, what we do and our range of Jewish backgrounds – education, experiences, religious observance. Some brought objects precious to them because they were part of their family histories and evoked special feelings about their connections to Judaism. How varied and yet similar we were!
As we went around the room, what struck me most was our common reason for seeking out and joining Beth Am Israel – we wanted and had found our community, our Jewish home. It was that theme that prompted me to interview a couple of other new members as well. A decision about synagogue membership is a deeply personal one and yet I was not one bit surprised that other new Beth Am members were ready and willing to share.
For Lorri Bernstein, who with her husband Ted and their family, relocated in June from Harrisburg to Villanova, the highlight moment was our Yom HaShoah remembrance ceremony. “It was a beautiful evening – very real, moving and egalitarian. It was such an intimate event and I was surrounded by such warm, bright people.” They sought to recapture the warmth and intimacy of their former shul and are thrilled to have found it here.
Jackie Faiman and Jon Spanier were taken by the diversity in our congregation. They are proud that “diversity is welcome, discussion is encouraged and learning is a central component.” And, they added, that . . . “volunteerism matters. Every time we walk in, the dress code runs the full gamut. It doesn’t matter how you appear. It matters who you are. There is a place and a mood for everyone. This is the place for us.”
Thank you, Beth Am Israel!
The Beth Am Book Group is a wonderful way to get together to discuss a variety of books with Jewish themes. Remember that the group meets every other month so NO PRESSURE – plenty of time to read.
All sessions are on Sundays at 10:15 am at the home of members. Here are upcoming meetings:
We had an excellent turnout at our recent sessions and welcomed several new members. We hope that many will continue to attend the upcoming programs. Please mark your calendars with these dates – new members are always welcome. This is a fantastic group of readers and discussion is always intelligent and enlightening.
A cumulative book list since the start of our book group in January 1999 is now posted on the BAI website if people are interested. To view it, CLICK HERE
For questions, please contact:
What a year to be Green at Beth Am! New rabbi, new Ed Director, new members, and a new focus for our efforts. Our Green Group, aka Ha-Yerukim, has expanded with the addition of new and energetic members Mona Sarfaty (co-chair), Irene Glickman, Deb Aronson, Lynn Gottlieb and Beth Pisk. (They join our prior members including Mike Weilbacher, David Feldman, Marjorie Marenberg, Tanya Sweet, co-chair Fred Baurer, and our Board Liaison Linda Heller.) We have re-focused our efforts in these directions:
Our major focus is Greening the Shul. This year has brought:
We have sponsored environmental learning programs to coincide with Shabbat Noach, Tu B’shevat and secular Earth Day. We plan to continue to mark these (and possibly Sukkot) events in the Jewish calendar with learning programs.
We have joined with MIGG, the Main Line Interfaith Green Group, to co-sponsor a Tu B’shevat Seder at Main Line Reform Temple as well as other regional programs including a Green contingent in this year’s Memorial Day parade in Wayne.
Using a No.2 pencil, please fill in the bubble below next to the noun that does not go with the others:
O New Joy-zee
WRONG!!! On Sunday, April 18, two-dozen BethAm- Israelites wandered through the farmlands of southern New Jersey toward Vineland, the Promised Land.
THE ANSWER: Yes, yes Virginia – I mean, New Jersey – there really is a Synagogue – in fact quite a few synagogues, surrounded once upon a time by jumping Jersey-Jewish chicken farmers. Betty Greene served as our Moses, our tour-organizer extraordinaire, schlepping us from hither cornfield to yon flat horizon.
THE BACK STORY & STOP #1: Russian Jews fled to America to escape the pogroms after the assassination, in 1881, of Tsar Alexander II. Some rejected the steaming tenements of the Lower East Side of New York for the open-air and self-sufficiency of agricultural life. In 1882 twenty-five settlers responded to the offer by the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society to build Alliance Colony in Norma, New Jersey. By that summer, each of 70 former shopkeeper families received 15 acres of would-be farmland which they first had to clear of forests. Within one month, they had planted corn. The Aid Society erected large buildings for several families each with provisioned common kitchens until they could build their own homes. Within 20 years, this agricultural colony, starting with no knowledge of agriculture in sandy south-Jersey soil, was the thriving home to 512 Jews who also winter-worked manufacturing cigars and shirts. Alliance also became the training ground for transient immigrants who later settled and chicken-farmed surrounding settlements. By 1900, Alliance touted two synagogues, a brotherhood, a library, a Benevolent Society, a Lodge, a cemetery, and a Zionist Association. So, what else is new?
Let’s see – how many synagogues does it take to cover the disagreements of a community of Jews ?
SECOND stop in the desert: Garton Road Shul rising up from the flatlands of Deerfield Township like a skinny white one-room school house, 18’ feet wide, with a car-stopping huge blue Magen David painted above the door. A short distance, but a thickly-wooded hike from Norma, this second colony began collecting money for its shul in 1890 by successfully soliciting a loan from owners of the NY Yiddish Theater which came periodically to entertain the settlers.
The Garton Road community was Sephardic, and ardently Zionist, and after learning in 1897 of the first Zionist Congress, this poor-to-do community’s women formed “The Sisters of Zion” to discuss the world-wide plight of Jews and raise funds for the Zionist cause. With no rabbi, this 150 member community strictly observed Shabbat and brought a teacher from Europe for their children’s Jewish education.
Entrepreneurs to the core, they sent the children out to the barn and rented their rooms in summer to “Pleasurenikers” escaping New York’s heat and humidity, and one among them eventually built a landmark 150-person hotel with a kosher dining room.
Helen and Morris Ostroff, who live next door and lovingly care for the building, spoke to us inside this synagogue, so small that it was hard for just our group to fit. Their Ostroff forbearers had come in the 1890s from Kiev, penniless, but carrying their brass candlesticks, Tefilin and prayer books.
MANNA appeared for us at stop #3, Temple Beth Hillel – Beth Abraham, in Carmel, where a turn-of- the-20th-century once orthodox Beth Hillel and the once conservative Beth Abraham from Bridgeton joined pews two years ago as a Reform congregation for the sake of survival. The original settlers of this Carmel chicken-farming colony, some from Romania and some from Russia, could not even lie together in death and so built side-by-side cemeteries, which now, like the synagogues, are finally joined. Just to clue you in on how rough the original undertaking was in the 1880s, the land the Jews finally cleared for chicken-farming was first offered to the Amish who tried and failed!
REFRESHED from our fressing, we energetically cycled our car engines east to #4, the big BIV – Beth Israel, a conservative congregation in Vineland well known as the Bar Mitzvah shul of Joe Finkelstein, who once again ascended the bima, this time to ask his father Sol to tell a few stories.
Sol told about coming home to his $35 a-month walkup in New York to tell his wife Goldie, that he had bought a parcel of land in Vineland where they could feel free, where they didn’t have to speak English, where nobody would tell them what to do or what not to do. He and his brothers bought 10 acres with little houses and borrowed money to buy chicken coops. “It was like a kibbutz,” he said; “soon 400 Holocaust refugees came to Vineland to be chicken farmers!” Joe inserted: “My family was six survivors growing up in three bungalows raising seven cousins always eating in each others houses.” Everyone had an accent. Everyone had a tattoo.
In this Egg Capital of the United States, Sol helped establish the JPFA, the Jewish Poultry Farmers Association, which met weekly on the Alliance beach in Norma where the men played cards and mothers watched their kids play in the sand. He became a political power and got appointed city planner. He arranged for the first Yom HaShoah service, and started a theater with actors from Vilna playing in Yiddish. The kids learned English and grew up there, 80% of them becoming professionals, and almost all moving away.
Sol said life as a chicken farmer was not a great science. You bought baby chicks, you built a fence, you gave heat and water and food. You got up early to feed the chickens, then fed yourself, collected the eggs, washed and graded and packed and sold them. Goldie, he said, was Secretary of Transportation, taking the children 8 miles to school and back. Sol became the first on the eastern seaboard to package frozen eggs for Manischewitz. He recounted the story of his making his rounds to bakeries and restaurants to whom he sold these frozen eggs, including a bakery in Bethlehem, PA where he got to talking to the owner about his having been liberated from Mauthausen in 1945. The baker told Sol to wait a minute. He made a phone call. And then the baker’s son came into the bakery. A U.S. Army officer in Patton’s 11th Armored Division, the son had liberated Sol from Mauthausen.
LAST STOP – #5, back to ancient history. Wandering to Woodbine, where the NJ Legislature had amended its laws in the 1880s to permit Jews to work on Sundays, our Beth Am Israelites of 2010 stepped into a large red brick synagogue consecrated in 1896 and now on the National Historic Registry.
Its members came originally from the 5300 acres in Cape May County that the Baron de Hirsch Fund purchased as an “agricultural experiment,” for which it issued mortgages for homes and barns to encourage Jewish immigrants first to get out of the way of the Russian pogroms and then to “return to the soil.” Each settler family was given a house, a horse and some chickens. The Fund also built the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School, the first agricultural secondary school in the United States.
The first public building however was a bath house, not to serve as a mikveh, but because the summer was unbearably hot!
Unlike other rural Jewish communities, Woodbine thrived on a unique harmony of Jews: Poles, Ukrainians, Italians, everybody. It survived as an active congregation until the 1970s, and now houses a museum which teaches the timeline of Jewish rural settlement in New Jersey and promotes Holocaust education.
According to the New York Times of June 24, 1984, “In 1903, special legislation created Woodbine Borough, resulting in Jewish self-rule (the first anywhere in the world since the destruction, 1,833 years ago, of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.)…. Israel as a unit of Jewish self-rule was preceded by Woodbine, N.J.”
SO. WHO KNEW? In the middle of the Jersey Pine Barrens, Jewish Russian immigrants arrived in the 1880s to build synagogues and lives as Jewish chicken-farmers. Immigrants fleeing pre-War Germany and then refugees from post-Holocaust Europe, revived these communities. But only briefly.
OK: NEXT JEWISH IQ QUESTION: Using a No. 2 pencil, fill in the bubble below next to the noun that does not fit with the others:
O Eastern State Penitentiary
ANSWER: See next issue of Kol Ha’Am!
We want to remind you that Beth Am has entered into a partnership with the Kaiserman JCC. Any member of Beth Am who wants to join the JCC will receive a 10% discount on their 1st year of membership. (Please remember to mention your synagogue affiliation in order to receive the discount). We will also be offering any JCC members 10% off their 1st year membership dues to Beth Am Israel. For Beth Am, this gives us a access to a large number of potential members. We have begun a bi-monthly flyer distribution to the JCC preschool families, as unaffiliated families with young children are among our prime targets for membership in Beth Am Israel. Families who send their children to the JCC preschool clearly have an interest and an attachment to Judaism and Jewish education, but may not yet be affiliated with a synagogue.
As part of the JCC partnership, the JCC is giving all of our Bar and Bat Mitzvah children a free 3 month membership to the JCC.