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