29 November 2016
Today marks three weeks since we arrived back home in the USA. Before I write one more word, however, make no mistake- SAMS became our “second home” during the six weeks that I served as your rabbi. Judy feels exactly the same. You quickly made us feel part of your community. We rejuvenated long-time friendships and made so many new friends among you. So many of you welcomed us into your homes for delicious meals and drove us around. You did it all with such warmth and kindness. I have never experienced a more welcoming community.
We are also impressed with your empowerment. The numerous dahveners and Torah and Haftarah Readers, the speed with which you laid out the Kiddush after services, the very special Sunflowers program open to the entire community, your extraordinary Mitzvah Day, the seriousness with which you take security, etc. I could go on and on. Even though you were blessed with a wonderful rabbi for many years, you still believe in DIY when it comes to the synagogue. Of course, all of this made my job easier and more pleasant. I even got to sit with Judy during services!
We heard from some of you soon after we returned. In those e-mails you expressed concern about how we were doing after our election.
The crux of it all is the uncertainty about the future which must not be unlike the concern so many of you have about Brexit. One of many worries circulating in the Jewish and general communities is whether we can still talk to each other despite our differences. I am not just talking about the halls of Congress, but around the dinner table. There was a good deal of talk about what kind of conversations would take place around the Thanksgiving table. This American holiday may be the only holiday to be taken in a more serious context. It may be one of the few times that Americans sit as extended families for a festive meal accompanied by serious conversation.
Remembering what happened within the American Jewish community around the Iran deal, I am worried. People could not talk to each other with civility and respect about their significant differences. That issue has raised its ugly head again and the media was full of advice for having a polite conversation around the Thanksgiving table. The Wall Street Journal suggested embracing the Buddhist approach of “divine listening” which means listening with kindness, listening in order to listen. The Chicago Jewish News suggested “a ritual modeled after the Native American tradition of a talking stick, in which everyone is allowed to speak- without being interrupted, comforted or told they’re wrong, but only if he or she is holding the stick. Ground rules are essential.”
It is all the harder to do this when our Presidential campaign was filled with vicious and insulting rhetoric. Dr. Ismar Schorsch, past chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, where I was ordained, has made reference to the “degradation of civil discourse”, a destructive phenomenon widespread in both the public and private domains. The future of the US will depend on doing something about this crisis and so many others. We Jews as well ought to remember that we are as guilty as others of being intolerant of different opinions, especially when it comes to Israel. Our Talmudic tradition reveres lively debate and reminds us in the Ethics of the Fathers that any argument for the sake of heaven, “l’shem shamayim,” any argument which serves a sacred and noble purpose will have a positive result.
I think that is enough venting for now. The Wolkin family is doing well. I think many of you know that our son Joshua became engaged to Aurelia before we came to SAMS. Our son David and wife Keeli who live in Maryland continue in their non-profit work, David in the Jewish community and Keeli for a domestic anti-human trafficking agency. Josh also works as a counselor in a local Jewish agency and Aurelia is seeking a new position which may necessitate them moving far from Chicago. As long as they are happy and healthy and we remain the same, we don’t mind getting on an airplane.
Judy continues her many exercise classes several days a week and after a long break has resumed teaching cooking classes through the synagogue. I continue to be involved in several organizations within our Jewish community and enjoy teaching both at the synagogue and at a Jewish Seniors Residence close-by. We are therefore keeping busy, but there is not day that goes by without SAMS being on our minds and in our conversations.
In addition, I am going to do everything I can on this side of the pond to help you find a terrific new rabbi which is what you deserve. Moreover, from now on when we come to the UK, St. Albans and SAMS will be number one on our list of communities. Most of you know that we started our love affair with the UK over 40 years ago. Our many prior visits, however, were to see places. This last visit was to see people. What could be better! Seeing people lead to new relationships, and there is nothing more important in life than relationships. By opening your synagogue, your homes, and your hearts you have shown us that SAMS truly is “A Home for Jewish Herts.”
We are truly blessed and look forward to our next visit!
Judy and Rabbi Carl