My Story by Diane Rayor

I come from a blend of Jewish traditions. My mother grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Denver where they walked to their Orthodox shul. Then she raised our family kosher Reform. My confirmation teacher at Temple Micah instigated my love of ancient history and language by teaching Torah as a history of ideas. (I just retired from the Classics department at GVSU in my 30th year.) As a young adult, I rarely attended any synagogue. However, I kept the holidays and became a pescatarian in college as a way of maintaining kashrut. 

Moving to such a Christian region as Grand Rapids in 1991, and having a child, crystalized a strong need to belong to a Jewish community. Initially, I joined Temple and--for one year--even taught Sunday School there (high schoolers are much tougher to teach than college students!). Today, I’m Secretary of the Board of Trustees and Membership Chair for the second round since I found my community here at Ahavas Israel in 2004. 

My personal journey to this point helps me consider with excitement the possibility of Ahavas, Temple Emanuel, and the Jewish Federation in one building. Ahavas, as others have said before in their pieces for the Voice, is now at a crossroads. Will we cling to this building or isolation in a smaller building--and diminish? Or can we embrace this opportunity to collaborate with Temple and Federation, drawing strength from what we can do together? 

We will continue to practice our own religious traditions wherever we are located. Hopefully, we can discover ways to enrich our social and religious practices to help us now and for the future. During this pandemic, we all long for contact, fellowship, connection. Community and tikkun olam are values central to Judaism. My hope is that joining together in a larger community will lead to new ways to center social justice and environmental justice within our traditional practice.

Now is an opportune moment to move forward in this collaboration. The word “synagogue” means “bringing/leading/gathering together” in Greek. What can we do together to help our Jewish community and the broader communities we live in?

Thank you, Diane Rayor

Caring for Our Democracy by Lanny Thodey

Boy!  What a year 2020 has been so far … so much happening in our world – from Bush Fires in Australia (yes, I even was surrounded by one while I was there … very scary!) to the arrival of the CoVid19 Virus all over the planet … From Forest Fires on our West Coast to Hurricanes in the East … and Strange Windstorms in the middle of our country! … From an incredible Rate of Unemployment to a Recession atmosphere … from Political Divisiveness to Protests in our streets … We will all remember 2020!

Why am I writing about this?   Easy … there is something we ALL can and should do … and our Jewish morays and traditions point the way for us.  We all have an obligation to “make things better”. 

  1. Community – we ALL have an obligation to contribute to the welfare of our community; locally, nationally, and globally.  What can we do?
  • Reach out to our neighbors, friends and relatives … some may be hungry, some may need help finding a job, some may need special help or care in their home, some may just need someone to  “talk to” … make yourself and your resources available to them!
  • Reach out to Organizations that are filling some of these needs as well … donate to a food bank, to a service organization, volunteer at a non-profit … offer to make phone calls, drive those who need transportation, and more.
  • Take advantage of our precious Democracy … Write letters, make phone calls, sign petitions to ensure that our government leaders act responsibly in the face of all this.
  1. Organize – If you see a need out there that is not being addressed, do what you can to organize others to help provide a service that is needed.  Become that resource.
  1. Remember your Civic Duty … this is an important election year … and this message reaches you just days before our Nation officially casts its votes for our next leaders and policies.   


Yes, EVERY VOTE counts! … make sure yours is there … no matter what side of the fence you are on, please make sure your voice is heard … and, if you are ON the fence, be pro-active! … Get informed so you can responsibly make a decision!

Wishing Good Health, Peace, Safety and Happiness to you all … 

Lanny Thodey, Board Trustee, Congregation Ahavas Israel

From The President

I would like to thank the many people who have wished me well in my second journey as President of Ahavas Israel. The world is quite a different place since my first term in 2002.

Security was not an urgent matter then. However in 2020 it is a very pressing one. We have done many things to protect our building and attendees, we have an active security committee, good relations with Grand Rapids Police and, thanks to Ken Strauss and Doug deLange, a grant was awarded to Congregation Ahavas Israel that will allow us to further harden our building and create a safer environment.

In 2002, a few people were thinking about how the Grand Rapids Jewish community can be better served by considering how collaboration between Ahavas Israel and Temple Emanuel might work. In 2020, there is a sizable committee of community members who are actively working to define what collaboration between Temple, Ahavas, Jewish Federation, United Jewish School and Jewish Theater might mean. You will be hearing more about this in the months ahead. If you have any questions now, you can contact me, Barbara Wepman, Lanny Thodey, Shoshana Jackson, JudyJoseph, Diane Rayor or Rabbi Krishef.

The coronavirus has created many challenges. After a short reopening of our Shabbat services, they have been paused for the time being. Weekday minyans are held online on Zoom at 8:00 a.m. and last 30-35 minutes. We have a consistent group that meets Monday-Friday. There is room for more so join in. Please consider starting your day in a prayerful way. The Zoom settings are published weekly in the eVoice or you can contact Rabbi Krishef or Deb. 

Our office is open with limited hours during the week. If you want to talk with Deb or Rabbi, please call or email to make an appointment. Once you arrive, you will need to wear a mask and keep a six-foot distance from others in the building.

As High Holidays approach, different variations on possible in-person or home-based streaming models are being considered.  It is too soon to say (it is early August as I write this) what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will look like. We have purchased a professional quality camera and set up streaming technology in our building. In addition to streaming, Rabbi is also considering other ways to make the Holidays meaningful to you. You will be hearing more as we get closer to September 20.

Have a safe New Year.

Sanford Freed


Breaking News from Jack Finn

Israel Goldman, my great, great uncle, was born in Russian Poland in 1841. He immigrated to Muskegon, MI in the early 1860’s. According to his obituary in the Muskegon Chronicle on February 6, 1918, he “was one of the pioneer clothing merchants in Muskegon…and was among the first to establish a business of any nature in the city.”

Two decades later beginning in the 1880’s, eight of his nieces and nephews, the children of his sister and my great, great, grandmother, Rebekah Goldman Goldberg, followed and joined him in Muskegon. Four of them, siblings of my great grandfather, Abraham Goldberg, later married and moved to Grand Rapids, MI. Clara Goldberg married Abraham Silverman and together they were early members of Temple Beth Israel, the first Jewish orthodox congregation in Grand Rapids. In 1911, some serious differences in religious and business practices resulted in some orthodox members leaving Temple Beth Israel and forming a new, more orthodox congregation called Ahavas Achim. Congregation Ahavas Israel traces its roots back to this early group of worshipers.

Descendants through birth and marriage of the original Goldman/Goldberg families have been active members of the Grand Rapids Jewish Community for more than 125 years.  Familiar names include: Berkowitz, Boorstein, Goldberg, Remes, Silverman, Shapiro, Wilson, and now me - Jack Finn.

Beginning with Israel Goldman, I am the fifth generation of my extended family to be involved with and/or a member of Ahavas Israel. The synagogue is recognized and respected in the Jewish, Christian, and wider communities. Our membership has always included distinguished business, professional, and community leaders. We have a history of strong and responsible families, and we have been honored and blessed with intelligent, thoughtful, and gifted religious/spiritual leadership.

There have been many changes that have occurred during that 125 year history, and we are now at an important and pivotal point in our continuing history. What happens to Congregation Ahavas Israel now and for the future is important to me! Regarding our membership, we have an attrition, not a growth rate; it is a mature membership, and some significant demographic, political, and social issues need to be addressed. How we choose to resolve these challenges will determine that future of Ahavas Israel for us and the next generation.

As I look ahead at the path forward, we must review and choose from the following strategies. Will we…

1) Continue what we are doing now?

2) Reimagine, rethink, and retool how we experience a  conservative Jewish life and Shabbat Service?

3) Downsize?

4) Spend down, shut down over a period of time?

5) Merge/share space with another congregation? 

And finally we must also ask ourselves - does Torah matter? If yes, why? If no, why? What gift does it offer us and the rest of the world? Today we have considerable assets: valuable real estate, a strong financial position, and hopefully a congregation that is willing not only to look to the future but be an active part of it. 

So where do we go from here? 

Why the title “BREAKING NEWS?  I had to entice you to read this message. Now that you have, any comments and feedback you may have are welcome. Get involved and help direct us.

Peace, love, and blue skies forever….

Jack Finn

Ahavas Israel Board Member

Esther Bookbinder - Renewal and Reflections

Hi, my name is Esther Bookbinder.  As of the summer of 2019, I am new to Congregation Ahavas Israel as well as the Board of Trustees.  This month it is my turn to send a Message from the Board.

Before I begin my reflection, a little about me.  I grew up in South Haven, left when I was 19, and moved to Phoenix, AZ where I met my husband Dennis.  We were married in South Haven and in 1985 settled in Los Angeles.  Now, I find myself back in Michigan, with my brothers and sisters. 

My late husband’s uncle Morris Weinstein, was a member and president of Congregation Ahavas Israel in the 1960’s.  I knew I wanted to join a congregation when I moved back to Grand Rapids, and Congregation Ahavas Israel seemed like the perfect choice.  And I was right.  I’ve met truly wonderful people at Ahavas, all of whom were very welcoming and made me feel right at home. 

As I write this message a few days before Pesach, the world is being turned upside down because of the corona virus pandemic. Currently as I practice safe social distancing, staying at home, washing my hands, and just trying to make the best of it, I’m reminded of all the people who are helping ensure this country keeps running: the doctors and nurses, all the medical personnel and First responders, stores that are open and their workers, truckers and delivery people.  I think of them and I thank them. 

I have a feeling that this is a time of reflection and renewal, not just for our community, or even our country, but for the entire Earth, for all of humanity. Will the world be a better and kinder place? Will we focus more on helping each other and helping our planet?  I don’t know, but I hope that we will. 

Whether shul is open again or whether we’re still distancing, when you have the chance to be a part of our community, please do so and join us. Make a commitment to attend services, even once a month, if that is all you can do. Taking care of ourselves is more than just spa days and Netflix-binging, it’s also being a part of a community that supports you and holds space for you. By coming to services on Saturday mornings you will recharge your mind and spirit, which we will all need, and you never know, you might even feel good that you came. 

As you’re reading this, we will hopefully be entering the warmth of summer. Let me remind everyone  that the annual meeting will be on June 14th (if we are not still quarantined by then). At this meeting we will be voting for our new officers and board members.  And of course, there may be a nosh along with our fundraiser – The Cadillac of Raffles. We would love to see all of you there to share in the excitement of the raffle and the business of the meeting!

When you come to shul, for services, holidays, or activities, please ask around to find me and introduce yourself! I want to get to know as many of you as I can.

I am wishing everyone a wonderful summer, even if we are still quarantined. Stay healthy and stay safe. And I’m hoping for sure that life will be back to normal in the fall, and we will see all of you at our High Holiday services. 

“Community is the human expression of Divine love. It is where I am valued simply for who I am, how I live and what I give to others. It is the place where they know my name.” – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Esther Bookbinder

Ahavas Israel Board Member

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