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

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