Monday, August 14, 2017

On Charlottesville

From Rabbi Isaac Serotta

The tradition tells us that the ancient city of Jerusalem was destroyed because of "baseless hatred." As I saw images of people carrying torches, brandishing swastikas and waving confederate flags in Charlottesville this past weekend, it reminded me that people often have a baseless hatred of those that they do not know or understand. Just as Judaism teaches that this baseless hatred led to the destruction of Jerusalem, it is corroding and destroying our society as well.

Our thoughts and prayers are surely with those who were injured, and with their families, and the families dealing with the murder of loved ones in an act of blind hatred in Charlottesville. We should also take note that bigoted hate speech has turned into brutal attacks over the last few months. Hate crimes have increased against Jews, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants of all kinds, LGBTQ people, and women, so this is not an isolated incident.

The president’s first reaction, to blame individuals on “many sides,” does nothing to put an end to this violence. When it comes to ignorance, bigotry, and violence, there are not “many sides.” In tacitly accepting the support of racists to achieve a narrow political victory, the president turned over a rock that no politician wanted to touch. What has crawled out from beneath that rock is what we saw in Charlottesville.

At Lakeside we are going to be doing a lot in coming days and months to make sure we understand what is happening and how we can help to reduce ignorance and the bigotry that allows hatred to flourish. I will be heading to Washington D.C. in a few days along with thousands of members of the clergy from across the country to stand against violence and for civil rights. I will speak about it from the pulpit, and we are dedicating our Scholar-in-Residence weekend and some Sunday morning programs to counteracting hate and hate crimes.

Reducing ignorance will help reduce hatred. The hope of Judaism remains that Jerusalem will one day fulfill the meaning of its name; that it will become Ir Shalom, the city of peace. That remains the goal in our nation as well, that we will judge people by the content of their character, that baseless hatred will end, and Charlottesville, and every town across the country can be a haven and stronghold of peace.

Monday, August 7, 2017

August 2017 Visit with Makandja and Bobasha

The highlight of today's visit was to present a bicycle to Makandja and Bobasha which was donated by Roberta Heinrich. Smiles and joy radiated from both men. The bike was immediately test driven by both men, who gave their experiences a double thumbs up. (Unfortunately, I left my phone charging at home, so I was unable to get a photo to include.) Even though the bike came with a lock, Bobasha insisted it be kept in the apartment for safe keeping. The men are delighted that they can use the bike to get to some places rather than their dependency on the Chicago bus system. 

We located the nearest library and plan a return visit to apply for library cards and explore all of its offerings.

To date, the men have not found a nearby full service grocery store. Thus far, volunteers have driven them to chain stores to stock up. There is one small market that we found today within a couple of blocks of the men's apartment that they can use for convenience items.
Jackie Cohen

Friday, August 4, 2017

Who eats chocolate in the Congo? Read on!

Sunday evening 7/30/17: Brad and I drove to Albany Park to drop off some items that Marcie had left for them. We were welcomed by Makandja who introduced us to three friends.  One was a young lady from their camp named Abby who was sitting still at the kitchen table as Bobasha skillfully attached curly hair extensions to Abby’s hair.  The other young men listened to Congolese music while chatting. There was a clear sense of happiness and camaraderie, and …the apartment was  quite clean!  (Thanks to Jackie and Gary who have worked miracles. ) We asked if they had dinner, and when they said they hadn’t, we decided to take them to a Taco restaurant in Albany Park called T&B ( tacos and burgers). While there, we practiced ordering food, Bwya, Makandja, Bobasha had never tried Tacos. I showed them recipes and pictures, and hope to cook with them in the near future.  An assortment of chicken, vegetarian and fish tacos were brought to the table, as well as cheese burgers ordered by Makandja and Bobasha.  Everyone sampled the different choices but it was clear that the all time favorite food was guacamole and chips as well as
french fries.  As much as we love our Chocolate, it is not high on the list with our Congolese friends. Ruti, who joined us for dessert, explained that adults don’t eat chocolate in Congo, only children.  (There’s a little tidbit we didn’t know before!)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New experiences in a new place!

Today's visit with Bobasha and Makandja was jam packed. We started out discussing American currency. The lesson was a review for Makandja, and a fun initiation for Bobasha. They seemed to take a lot of pleasure identifying coins and paper money and doing the math for some mock purchases and trying to stump their teachers.

Gary demonstrated to the men when and how to use deodorant. Both Makandja and Bobasha have small neatly trimmed beards, and aren't too interested in shaving, but they got a kick out of learning about shaving cream and razors.

The four of us spent time cleaning the kitchen. Makandja started calling me "mom", when I insisted the entire kitchen be cleaned. (Seems like Bobasha and his attitude towards cleaning is like most young men with their first apartment.)

Going grocery shopping was our next adventure. Fresh fruit is very high on their list, as is meat and fish. The cashier at the store was fascinated by the men and went out of his way to accommodate them. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mitzvah Day Meals Shipped to Mozambique

We are delighted to announce that the 10,081 meals we packed with Rise Against Hunger (RAH) on Lakeside's 17th Annual Mitzvah Day have been shipped in a container with a total of 285,120 meals to be distributed in Mozambique!

Rise Against Hunger in collaboration with ADRA International and Islamic Relief are spearheading a 3-year school-feeding initiative in the Southern African countries of Mozambique, Malawi, Madagascar, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. While these countries have made considerable advancements towards achieving stronger food security, the most powerful El Nino on record has stretched the livelihoods and safety nets of many households in the region. Seeing the existing need in Southern Africa, RAH along with its implementing partners is responding with life-saving aid through region wide school-feeding programs. 

The expected outcomes of the initiative are to improve nutrition for school going children, increase enrollment and attendance rates at schools, and further involvement of staff, the local community, and private sector in the project. Overall, for 2017 school year the project is expected to support more than 20,000 school age children by delivering over 14,200,000 RAH meals to more than 70 schools in the 5 Southern-African countries. In Mozambique, RAH will be delivering 2,851,200 meals to feed 5,922 school-age children attending 19 schools in Boane and Maputo districts.

Thank you to everyone who volunteered their time with the Rise Against Hunger project and we look forward to continuing our dedication and commitment a world without hunger.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Further Adventures of Makandja and Bobasha visiting Lakeside and the Botanic Gardens

On Tuesday Makandja and Bobasha spent  part of the afternoon at Lakeside Congregation where they met Vanessa, Rabbi Ike and people who work in the office who have been so helpful encouraging and supporting our refugee project.
From Vanessa:  We enjoyed meeting Makandja and Bobasha as we showed them the sanctuary, the Ark and the Torah.  They had many questions and wanted to know what prophet we prayed to and asked if it was Jesus or Mohammad and I quickly said Moses. They have only been here for 6 weeks and can speak some English, it is amazing. 
Besides the tour of Lakeside, we spent time walking through the Botanic Garden. Exploring the farm area of the garden gave us the opportunity to see many fruits and vegetables growing; some familiar and many that were not familiar, but that we have seen in the grocery store, like blueberries and  strawberries.   
Makandja wanted to know if there were crocodiles in the water. I told him we do not have crocodiles here and showed him photos of turtles that can be spotted on the sunny rocks. We saw many ducks and birds. When we walked through the rose garden Makandja and Bobasha asked about snakes, and were reassured that poisonous snakes are not really a concern in our area.

After touring the garden we had plans to go to Gillson park, but the rain interfered with our plans. Instead we stopped in to see the beautiful Baha'i temple where we translated the words around the edges of the interior dome of the temple that explain the core beliefs of this religion.    
At the end of the day we stopped into the grocery store near the apartment to get some supplies they needed, including, soap, lotion and nail clippers, and then we headed to the apartment to put away groceries. We stored bulk grain and rice that they keep under a sink in large plastic bins. We repeated instructions about emptying the garbage, washing fresh produce, what foods need to be secured in containers and what needs to be stored in the refrigerator. 
We showed them on their calendar what time they will have a Saturday visit. As they began to cook dinner, we told them how much we enjoyed their company and said good bye.

 Marcie and Rob Bearman

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Crack in the Western Wall

A crack in the Western Wall
Rabbi Isaac Serotta
July 7, 2017
Lakeside:Western Wall 2013 for B'nai Mitzvah
Political promises are often broken. Somehow it hurts a little more, when the one who makes the promise, and then breaks it, is the Prime Minister of Israel.  When I moved to Israel for rabbinic school, the first time I met one of my classmates, she was in tears.  She had just come from the airport and realized that the taxi driver had cheated her on the fare. She was angry and sad, and so disappointed to find out that Israel has crooks, just like any other country. She couldn’t believe that a Jewish taxi driver would take advantage of a Jewish student like that.  I tried to console a new friend, even as I smiled inwardly, knowing that whatever kind of person you can find in America you can find in Israel, too.
So it shouldn’t be any surprise that Prime Minister Netanyahu, like most politicians, will do whatever he thinks is necessary to keep himself in power, rather than do what he knows is right. Sixteen months ago he agreed to a deal to open a section of the western wall plaza where men and women can stand and pray together, where women can read Torah, or wear a tallit if they choose. It may seem like it’s not such a big deal, but if there is no freedom of religion for Jews in Israel, no equality for Reform and Conservative Judaism, it is abundantly clear that Israel has a problem that extends not only to Jews, but Christians and Muslims in Israel and in the occupied territories.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence says that all faiths will have equal rights. When it comes to Jews it seems that some Jews are more equal than others. While Orthodox rabbis are paid by the state, Reform and Conservative rabbis have to make a living on their own.  There is no level playing field. The Orthodox rabbinate refuses to consider weddings or conversions performed by liberal rabbis as valid in Israel. The language they use to vilify us is unconscionable. To quote a bill posted in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, “The Reform movement intends to sink its claws in the wall of Jerusalem…we must hurry and fight the Lord’s battle against this hemlock and wormwood movement that has brought the fall of many and taken a huge, deathly toll….This monster brings chaos into the world and increases the power of satan.” All we want is the freedom of worship that Israel’s Declaration of Independence promises.  We want what the Israeli government promised sixteen months ago.
The Israeli government is a parliament. You must have more than 60 votes to pass any legislation.  To build that coalition, the Prime Minister, like many before him invited the Orthodox parties that make up a small block of Knesset members to join his coalition. That means that in exchange for their votes, Netanyahu backed down from an agreement to build an egalitarian space at the wall. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, “Orthodox theocracy has effectively excommunicated Reform and Conservative Judaism while insulting their members endlessly.”
This is not a new insult.  200 years ago Orthodox leaders in Europe said, “new is forbidden by the Torah” in an attempt to snuff out Reform Judaism. That’s why the ultra-orthodox wear clothes that were the height of Jewish fashion in Eastern Europe two centuries ago. It got so bad back then that Orthodox Jews actually poisoned a Reform Rabbi and his daughter. 
 But the fault is not with the ultra-orthodox alone. Haaretz points out that “even completely secular Israelis, those who haven’t seen a synagogue since Bar Mitzvah and make a point of eating pork with milk on Yom Kippur, ridicule Reform Jews as if they were members of the most fanatic Hasidic sect. What kind of observance is this, Israelis ask, in which you pray in “temples” for the welfare of the State of Israel as you treat women equally, work for social justice and tikkun olam, embrace intermarried couples, ignore 613 ancient mitzvot and are undeterred by mingling with goyim? To borrow a famous saying of our current prime minister - have you forgotten what it means to be Jews?” The complacency and misunderstanding of secular Jews in Israel is also responsible for driving a wedge between American Jews and Israel.  With the majority of Jews in Israel living completely secular lives, the opportunity exists for Reform Judaism to bring many of those secular Jews back to a new and vital Judaism for the 21st century.
When Netanyahu’s cabinet cancelled the plan for the Western Wall, they heard loud and clear from American Jews that this is unacceptable. As one person said, Israel reminds them of the teenager who say, “Mom, stop butting in on my life. But first can you give me twenty dollars and drive me to the mall?”
Of course, Israel doesn’t like to be told what to do, but reneging on this agreement could be dangerous for the connection between Israel and America. The Jewish Agency's Chairman of the Board of Governors, Michael Siegal, told newspapers that his organization will reconsider its relationship with the Israeli government. A delegation from AIPAC immediately went to Israel to see Netanyahu, and while not making a public statement, they will explain that their funding comes from liberal Jews in North America and the Netanyahu government will make it hard for AIPAC to do its work.
Of Netanyahu, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, leader of the Reform Movement in America said, "leadership is always about taking a principled stand. I understand that there are pragmatic considerations, but leadership on any level - local, national and international - is also about being able to stand firm on matters of principle." Instead of acting on principle, Netanyahu claimed this week that every Israeli prime minister would have acted the same way. 
That is simply not true, Ariel Sharon, no liberal, personally dismantled the Ministry of Religious Affairs, fired Orthodox ministers from his cabinet and found new coalition partners. Ehud Barak stood firm that an electric turbine should be moved on Shabbat. He may have lost his post because of his principled stand.
There is one example. In 1988 Yitzhak Shamir allowed the Orthodox in his coalition to change the definition of “who is a Jew” and who gets to define Jewishness. As a result, American Jewry sent high-level delegates, including leaders of AIPAC, to warn Shamir that his move threatened their donations and support. Shamir quickly capitulated and set up another national unity government with Labor instead.  It is in our hands whether our outrage over this situation will echo 1988 and create an even playing field for all Jews.
This week, the sense of betrayal felt by Reform and Conservative leaders is palpable. We have been patient through Netanyahu’s constant maneuvers and delays, by his promises that never came to anything and by his festive declarations that meant nothing. Surveying the American scene HaAretz says, “This disappointment is fueling their current resentment no less than the actual revocation of the Kotel agreement. Even though they were warned in advance not to trust Netanyahu or his promises, his American Jewish interlocutors gave Netanyahu generous leeway and room to maneuver, during which he told them they could trust him and things will be all right. When the Kotel deal was approved in January 2016 the Reform and Conservative leaders rejoiced, feeling their patience had paid off, despite the warnings.”
And I do not think it is a coincidence that there are only two countries in the world that prefer Donald Trump over his predecessor Barack Obama. They are Russia and Israel. I can’t help feeling that Netanyahu believes he has a partner in the White House, so maybe he doesn’t need AIPAC or the Jewish Agency (which distributes 25 million dollars of Chicago Jewish contributions annually). Netanyahu, like Trump and Putin, believes that only he can lead his nation to the promised land. History is full of leaders who thought they were indispensable. All of them have been replaced. One day the same will happen to Netanyahu. If he doesn’t figure a way out of this mess, it might be soon.
The denial of rights to Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel is just one example, of how Israel is ill-served by its current governing coalition. Some of the parties in Netanyahu’s government, even conservative parties like Israel Beiteinu, with its large support of secular Russian immigrants, may bring the coalition down and force new elections. One can hope.
Meanwhile, as American Jews, we have many issues to work on at home and abroad.  It would be a mistake to focus on only one. There is injustice in America, there is a climate crisis, there are human rights violations near and far. It is up to us to continue to fight to make the world a better place  A promise from our own people, from the leader of a nation we hold dear, should have been an easy one. Instead, it is one more piece of bitter fruit.   Yet even the bitter can turn sweet. There are two lakes in Israel, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. One is sweet, full of life and life giving. The other is so salty that barely anything can survive in it. What is the difference? There is water that feeds into the Sea of Galilee and tributaries that flow from it, while water descends to the Dead Sea and it has nowhere to go.
The Sea of Galilee is teeming with life because it shares its bounty. The other sea is dead because it shares nothing.  The western wall can be a symbol of sharing, of all that is good about Judaism. It can be life affirming. Or it can be like the Dead Sea, and become devoid of meaningful life. The Torah teaches us which way to go, “Choose Life, that you and your children may live.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Walking in their Shoes: Another Lakeside Congregation Refugee Story!

Refugee Family Update

Before Makandja and Bobasha arrived on the scene we were given the opportunity to help out another family.  Here is there story:

Visiting the Beach
Agnes (age 41) and her three children are refugees originally from The Congo. George is 15, Daniel is 13 and Jennie is 11. Both George and Daniel were born with the debilitating disease of Sickle Cell Anemia. In their more than 8 year journey through Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, they have experienced hardships that we have only read about in books.  With babies and toddlers literally on her back, Agnes single handedly lived with her babies in refugee camps with no food, running water or electricity.  She worked in whatever capacity she was able so that her family could survive and get to America and often had to make hard choices between food, medicine and school for her children.  She is one of the strongest women and dedicated mothers we have ever met. 

Jennie's 5th grade Graduation
The family has now been in Evanston for 18 months. All of the children are in school and Agnes has a  job cleaning at a hospital making $11.50/hour.  We have been volunteering to help Agnes and her family and through the generosity of so many, we have managed to get them out of their roach infested one bedroom apartment into a clean, safe, two bedroom apartment. 

We have also been able to get paperwork in place for their Green Cards, communicate with the children's teachers, get the children involved in activities, help the children begin to catch up in school, take the children to doctor appointments, help Agnes learn to read English and drive in order to become independent, help Agnes change her shift from the night time to the day time so that she can be home with her children, food shop, write checks  and generally navigate the new and often confusing culture of America. Frankly, the list is endless and the learning curve can be steep. 

 Those gorgeous smiles you see are what we see every day we are with them. Despite their difficulties,they are some of the most loving and appreciative people we have come across.  Agnes, George, Daniel and Jennie have become like extended family to us. They have made permanent imprints on our hearts. 

Agnes and Jennie making new friends

George loves soccer, video games and is interested in the Galaxies.  He has seen the most heartache of the three children and has had to look after his siblings from a very young age. George is quiet, contemplative and very kind.  When you gain George's trust, you will have a friend for life. He is a rising sophmore at Evanston Township High School.  Due to lack of opportunities, George reads at a second grade level but is working hard to close the gap. 

Daniel is a gregarious, curious and resourceful rising 8th grader.  Daniel always has a huge, infectious smile on his face that lights up a room.  Daniel  enjoys soccer and wants to learn how to play piano. He makes friends wherever he goes.   Daniel also reads below grade level but when Daniel sets a goal, he will  work hard to achieve it. 

Jennie is an adorable, exuberant rising 6th grader.  Jennie has a beautiful voice and will begin singing in the Evanston Children's Choir in the fall. Jennie is very responsible and bright girl who is deciding whether or not to be a doctor or a teacher. Jennie has had little math instruction and is working on foundational skills. 

Daniel enjoying a treat at Highland Park Water Park
Agnes will do anything for her children. She is very smart, strong  and creative. Agnes has held many jobs over the years and is an incredibly hard worker. Agnes loves to sew and she makes beautiful clothing. She is learning to read English and would like to take more advanced English classes at Oakton Community College one day. Agnes has the equivalence of a 12th grade education.
Many of us see stories of refugee families on the news that tug on our hearts and think we would like to help. If you want to get involved let us know.  

Thank you for your kindness,

Melissa Cook and Susan Gottlieb

Monday, July 10, 2017

First 4th of July and thoughts of the winter that is coming!

Now that the utilities are working properly in in the apartment and Makandja and Bobasha have settled in to a schedule of English classes, we are able to have more relaxed visits and find opportunities to explore Chicago. 

This week, after a brief cleaning lesson in the apartment and a few other logistical things that needed to be taken care of, Lisa and I took our new friends to the Art Institute where we spent a long time in the African galleries. There was a large map on a wall that showed all of the African countries. Makandja and Bobasha read the titles on the information cards to discover which region each piece came from and they seemed proud and happy to find the work from Congo and Tanzania. 

Add caption

We took them through the French Impressionist wings and through the western religious art galleries where they stopped.  Where they stopped to look, we stopped to look with them and tried to answer questions with google translate or sometimes goofy sign language. We spent the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening taking photos outside, at their request, in front of the museum, in Millennium Park and at the Taste of Chicago. 

We talked about the winter ice skating rink at Millennium Park and showed them photos of winter snow that will come to Chicago. They looked surprised and maybe a little horrified! It is hard to know what they were told before they arrived and what they expected life to be like in Chicago. Lisa and I took the opportunity walking together through the park to discuss winter needs for Makandja and Bobasha and to plan a volunteer strategy.

We are hoping to involve new volunteers from Lakeside who might want to join or form knitting or quilting clubs. We will need people to buy and collect winter clothing. These men are both small and the clothing will need to fit properly  to be useful. There is very little storage space in the apartment   so we will need the collection to be well coordinated and focused. 

Please get in touch with me or Lisa if you want to help with this winter effort. Call the office at 847-432-7950 and we will get the message! We will not begin to collect winter items until sometime in September. Thanks so much for your continued interest.

Lisa and Marcie

On Charlottesville

From Rabbi Isaac Serotta The tradition tells us that the ancient city of Jerusalem was destroyed because of "baseless hatred." ...