Once Upon A Time I Grew Up in Skokie, and Now I Settled In Grand Rapids - Cary Fleischer

When I was younger, 60 + years ago, I grew up in Skokie, Illinois. I grew up hanging out at the local Synagogue with my family and friends. Classmates were 95% Jewish, and I remember a few friends who lived down my street who were not Jewish. 

My parents have always belonged (and still do) to the Reconstructionist Synagogue where they had been founding members in 1953.  They had immigrated to Skokie from their home in the area still referred to as the “Chicago Great Vest Side.”

I played basketball for the synagogue, belonged to the local JCC, and ate at Sam & Hy’s Deli. The Chazzan played poker with my parents in the basement; at 7:00 a. m. my father would wake me to attend minyon for morning services before school. I not only grew up Jewish, but my life revolved around Jewish centers and Jewish friends. 

After high school, I went to Washington University in St. Louis and joined a Jewish fraternity where one of my good friends was Greek — not Jewish. After finishing my education, I later joined a mostly Jewish law firm.  As the years went by and my life changed, I rarely attended synagogue except for services on Rosh Hashanah.

Then, three years ago, I moved to Grand Rapids. Instead of having a law partner named Deyoung, I now lived in a place with Deyoungs everywhere. I have mostly non-Jewish neighbors with whom I have wonderful friendships. I do not see any discrimination in my everyday life. 

So how is my life different now? 

I find myself having a newfound desire to not only find, but also involve myself in what I call a “Jewish community.” I volunteered to serve on the Board of the Jewish Federation because it is the umbrella organization that brings together and supports all the Jewish life in Grand Rapids. I attended Federation activities and became a member of Ahavas Israel while also regularly attending Temple functions. More recently I was honored to accept a position on the Board of Directors of Ahavas. 

So now, I am proud to call myself a member of Congregation Ahavas Israel of Grand Rapids. For me Judaism revolves around not only attending Jewish functions, but also being a member of one or more of the local Jewish institutions.  It is no longer enough just to be a Jewish lawyer; I need to be part of a Congregation and community. When asked to sit on the Bimah or have an Aliya, I am honored to accept. As a Board member of Ahavas, I encourage our members to attend activities with me that we are currently planning at the synagogue.  

Now I have also become a part of the Ahavas Membership Committee because I want to encourage Jewish neighbors, who are NOT affiliated with one of the three local facilities, to reconsider their choice. Just having a Jewish mother is just not enough. I also want to be proactive and encourage non-affiliated Jewish families to not only attend Federation activities, but also to become proud Ahavas Israel members.

So that recaps my Jewish journey up to this point. Ahavas has already started introducing new activities to Members, and exciting new plans are currently coming to fruition. I look forward to seeing Congregation Members attending not only religious services, but also bringing their family to social activities to hang out at the Synagogue with me, just like I used to do, a long time ago, when I was growing up in Skokie.

Cary Fleischer

Ahavas Israel Board Member

Finding a Spiritual Home - Leah Sauer

David and I moved to Grand Rapids in the winter of 2011. According to old time Grand Rapidians, it was a particularly bad winter, and I was not used to driving on snow and ice. David was working about 50 hours a week so it was a hard move for me.

We went “shul shopping,” and at Congregation Ahavas Israel we found a home. I am grateful for all the people who made us feel welcome.

I began volunteering, and my first job was Kiddush prep, set up, and clean up. I immediately felt part of the community. I found that it was easy to get involved here which was not my experience at other synagogues where we were members. The ability of getting involved so easily is one of the advantages of belonging to a small Synagogue.

Next I was approached by David Reifler to be a board member. As I thought about what my particular talents were, I remembered that I was good with numbers and enjoyed them. I, therefore, told him that I would like to be Treasurer. This was quite a bold step on my part as we were brand new to the community. I expected him to agree and suggest I wait a few years. However, he was enthusiastic about the idea. My next step was to talk to Bill Lewis who was Treasurer at the time. He asked me what experience I had, and I told him not much. However, he accepted me and said he would be willing to train me.

And train me he did! For the next year or more, he met with me once a week and took my many phone calls. It was a long learning curve, but I really enjoyed it and will always be grateful to Bill. I consider it a privilege to have served as your Treasurer for these past seven years.

Recently I have begun to branch out. When I read that Rabbi Krishef wanted to start a book group, I contacted him and have become the coordinator of this group. I also became the chair of the Acquisitions Committee as well as starting a Zentangle art group that is a combination of drawing and meditation.

Congregation Ahavas Israel has offered me many opportunities for growth, and I am glad I have been able to take advantage of all of them.


Leah Sauer

Ahavas Israel Board Member

My Family’s Legacy of Service to Ahavas Israel - Robin Turetsky

The Turetsky Family Legacy of Service to Ahavas Israel began with my grandfather, Abram Turetsky, of blessed memory.   He was one of the Founding Members of our synagogue. My grandfather’s service started when there was a synagogue on the West Side and then continued at the shul on 44 Lafayette N.E. He was also President on two different occasions.  

My parents, Lewis and Gertrude Turetsky, of blessed memory, volunteered many hours to the synagogue.   My father gave his time to the Men’s Club, as well as other activities as needed, and was on the Board of Trustees. My mother’s service to Ahavas Israel included being involved with Sisterhood and helping cook meals for various events for over 20 years.    

I began my service to the synagogue after my mother passed away. I started attending Shabbat Services a couple of times a month, and then it became every Saturday. At Kiddush one Saturday, I started helping with the cleanup. Then it was on to the Hanukkah Dinner and the Purim Party. All this volunteering helped me through the grieving process. In March of this year, I was nominated for the position of Secretary for the Board of Trustees, which also made me a member of the executive board. I accepted and am proud to say that I am the third generation of the Turetsky Family to give service to Ahavas Israel in many capacities.

Giving service to our synagogue is an enjoyable way to become more involved in our congregation and meet new people.


Robin Turetsky

Ahavas Israel Board Member


What's A Mitzvah - Mort Hoffman

With the High Holidays just behind us, what better time is there to think of Mitzvahs?  There are many opportunities to perform a mitzvah in our area.  A good start would be joining the Corners of the Fieldgarden team. They supply vegetables to Temple Emanuel Food Banks well as the Baxter Center Food Pantry (where canned and paper goods are also always welcome.)  Another worthwhile cause is Meals on Wheels; they can always use volunteers.

There is no shortage of places to volunteer in Grand Rapids. Additional organizations that provide help and assistance to many Grand Rapidians include Habitat for Humanity, Family Promise, Michigan Home for Veterans, Gilda’s Club, God’s Kitchen, Kids’ Food Basket, and Women’s Resource Center. Ahavas Israel Members have been and still are involved in helping most of these organizations.  Don’t be afraid to join your fellow congregants and get involved.

If you want to stay closer to family and friends, then visit the young and old, help those who need help with grocery shopping, getting to doctor and/or dentist appointments, or just bring them a treat -- fruit, dinner, or a dessert.

If you would rather help them while staying in the comfort of your own home, instead of spending hours at different locations, then all you have to do is mail out a donation.  One good place to start would be Ahavas Israel for Operation Isaiah, which provides Thanksgiving baskets to needy families. Last year over 40 families received a Thanksgiving basket.  In addition, all the above organizations are certainly worthy recipients of any donations you would like to make.

So, what’s a Mitzvah?  My answer is that a mitzvah is a blessing to those who receive as well as those who give.

Mort Hoffman, Ahavas Israel Board Member    

What Does It Mean To Be A Jew - Ken Strauss

What does it mean to be a Jew? To believe in “The One”? To do God’s will? To observe and celebrate the 10 Commandments? To pass Torah from generation to generation, preserving our ancestors’ wisdom? To set an example that others may follow? To work for Justice, Peace and Tikkun Olam (repair the world)?

At many levels, being Jewish is a privilege. Although many Jews in the past paid a steep price for that privilege, our very survival as a people, as a culture of knowledge and wisdom, proves its worth and value to humankind — especially in light of the plethora of societies and cultures that have perished in the interim. We are privileged to have been given the Torah and Commandments that direct us on the straight path, the path toward Tikkun Olam. 

Even so, the ancient writings CLEARLY show that we are, as every other people, stiff-necked and stray from that path at every juncture. God has given us commandments and prophets to remind us of our duties to ourselves, our communities, and our world. Our stories tell of our strengths and of our weaknesses, show us great role models as well as their foibles and faults. What other compilation of a people’s history airs their dirty laundry as openly and liberally as ours? Our Jewish experience, our culture and folkways emphasize education and awareness. Repeating these stories of bygone days encourages T’shuvah (returning to the right path) so that we may be less inclined to repeat the errors from our people’s past in our own lives. 

Is this a perfect, all-wise system? Not by a long shot. As Winston Churchill remarked, “[this] is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried…” Nonetheless, we have been the leaders in rule-of-law and protection of individual rights. For example, our writings emphasize that we don’t take advantage of the vulnerable; we do right by the stranger in our midst, the widow, and the orphan. We humans are all children of God, gifted with intelligence and the free will to use it. Our Jewish heritage teaches us that how we use our gifts – intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual – makes a difference in the lives around us, ripples through space and time, positively affecting the world tomorrow and the world to come. 

So, what does it mean to be Jewish? To learn about our past, to emulate our role models, and to avoid our ancestors’ errors; to live and work for Justice in the present, to do deeds of loving-kindness; and to have faith that setting a good example moves our future, even if only infinitesimally small steps at a time, toward a just and peaceful world, built with our own hands this time. Hallelujah! 

Past President,

Ken Strauss

Ahavas Israel Board Member

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