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

Judy Joseph's journey

I have been a member of Ahavas Israel since 1973, as long as I have lived in Grand Rapids. When I arrived in Grand Rapids, I didn’t know anyone.  I had very little experience in volunteering.  I was invited to a Sisterhood luncheon meeting.  I joined sisterhood and became Ahavas Israel librarian.  I had previous experience in the library of my children’s elementary school in Wayne, New Jersey.  Serving as librarian put me on the Sisterhood Board.  I made many friends in the Sisterhood.  I got involved in serving on a Circle.  There were circles for each month, from September to May.  The circle of the month prepared the lunch for the monthly Sisterhood meeting and was responsible for the Shabbat Kiddushim during that month. 

I served as Sisterhood President from 1976-1978.  During my term I attended the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism Convention at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, where I attended the Creative Handicrafts sessions.  That experience led to the creation of the Twelve Tribes wall hanging in the Social Hall, which was professionally designed, but executed by members of Sisterhood.  Many years later I was involved with the banners of the Hebrew Month project.  I created one and helped produce two others.

 When Ahavas Israel became egalitarian in 1977, I was the second woman to have an Aliyah. I became a regular member of the Wednesday morning minyan that year to ensure that my husband had a minyan to say kaddish for his father.  I am still a member of that minyan.  A Sisterhood learning group sharpened my Hebrew and led to my having a Bat Mitzvah in honor of my fiftieth birthday.

I became involved at the congregational level and served as the second female President of the congregation in 1986.  I have served as a board member and vice president since that time.  I have served on the renovation, finances, and acquisitions committees.  I have happily worked on the grounds and in the kitchen on many occasions.

I feel that I have benefited greatly from serving by making friends and seeing the lasting effects of the projects I’ve participated in. Although I understand that times have changed and there is less time available,  I urge everyone to step up and volunteer.  It’s fun, and your efforts will be appreciated greatly.

Abe Cohen - My Chanukah memories

As a child some of my fondest memories of Chanukah, was as I am sure many young people were, the receiving of gifts for 8 days.  At such a young age I was not able to explain a reasoning behind it to my non Jewish friends who were very jealous, but I simply knew it was because I am Jewish, and that allowed me this special time for me and my family.  As I grew I learned it was so much more than that, and I learned to experience all of the pieces that were so special to me, the sights and sounds of Chanukah live deep in my memories.     I remember opening up my Chanukah gifts that were wrapped in aluminum foil or newspaper, nothing festive about that, nor did I care.     I also loved the lighting of the menorah; it was super special, like getting hypnotized by a wonderful flame.  The other sights and sounds of those special days included, playing the dreidle game.  Seeing and hearing that spinning sounds and landing on the Gimmel, which was beyond wonderful.  Who doesn’t like chocolate or pretend gold?  Of course, who can forget the sensory experience of potato latkes?   This is a particular favorite of mine, even as an adult.  I enjoy the steps of the recipe, the time it takes, measuring, and effort of making them.  They were so good, and still are!   I love this process and routine of making them; I even enjoy how the smell remains in the house for days after, though my wife does not appreciate that as much as I do.  I have also learned it is much harder to relive the same experience now with young kids at home, they are much harder to cook with and create a much messier kitchen, but it provides a whole new experience.

A lot has changed as a parent celebrating Chanukah with the family. We as parents have to think about how to celebrate the festival of lights with our kids a little differently than before. What party will we attend, who to invite, or maybe even when to leave?  We always want to make a quick exit before a dramatic scene may arise of a toddler meltdown over too much chocolate, or being over stimulated, but it is always worth it even if that does happen.  I now get to be the one to think about gifts for them, what type of surprise and special moments will they have when they unwrap one of those gifts? I now get to share the lighting of the candles and saying the prayers with my children, and listening to them sing the songs that I once did as a young child.  It is a whole new experience.   I now see and hear the excitement in their voices and on their faces going a million miles per hour   For eight nights we get to celebrate Chanukah and relive our youth memories through them, with a whole new passion, and a great reminder of the specialness of this time.  So for this time of you I always try to think about how to make the moment last.  These memories will stay with you and your children for years to come.   It doesn’t have to be expensive, or formal, it just has to be you and the people around you, taking in the moments and the sights and sounds of Chanukah.  I hope to see you at Ahavas when we celebrate as a congregation at the end of December, and take a moment to connect with one another with our entire Ahavas family.     

Shoshana Jackson - Thankfulness and Forethought

“For everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)”

My name is Shoshana Jackson. I am new to the Board as of this summer. Our family has been a member of Ahavas Israel since moving to the Grand Rapids area in 2015. I have been teaching 5th/6th grade Hebrew for United Jewish School since that time. With my husband Ben, who is an examiner for the NCUA, we have four children. The two of us love language and have formally studied nearly ten languages between us! If you count the languages of music and mathematics, we have even more! In this harvest time of year, we are often moved to give thanks: both Sukkot, which we celebrated last month, and Thanksgiving, which is coming up presently, provide excellent occasions for counting our blessings. This has been a season of hardship for our family, in which it seemed like everything that could go wrong did: both cars in the shop, a roof leak, two different appliances giving up the ghost, and a foundation issue. But thanks to my mate’s insistence on thoughtful planning, we have been able to weather the storms with only moderate inconvenience. I am thankful for his fluency in money matters; it complements my literacy in matters of running a home. Proverbs 21:5 says “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” As the new chair for the Strategic Planning Committee, it is my fervent hope that we can plan diligently for the long-term health and development of Congregation Ahavas Israel. It’s often easy to see what we need in the short-term (new entry doors, updated lighting) but it’s sometimes more difficult to make these decisions with an eye for long-term goals. Not all of these goals are neatly categorized, so I urge you to consider joining me on this committee! Bring the language you best understand, be it financial, social, cultural, procedural, architectural, spiritual, or ephemeral; I want to hear your thoughts! “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).” I am thankful for this opportunity and for your counsel.

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