Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hi Friends,

I have a new url for this blog.  Please find the new address at  Ayin Tova: To See The Good 
Thanks!  See you there soon! ~Lisa

Friday, November 2, 2012

Going into Shabbat

Going into Shabbat I am thinking about the many different ways we define 'power'. For all those without electrical power, may it be restored quickly and allow us to return to our daily routine we sometimes take for granted. And for all of us, may the power contained within us, continue to surface and grow in courage. Here's to the splendor, light and strength that remains deep within us all. Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Elul--To Return

Shavua Tov and Hodesh tov!  a new week and the Hebrew month of Elul began today.  During Elul we focus on returning... returning to the one whom we are meant to be and returning to the Holy One.  I am however also noting that i have several bags of clothes, toys etc to return to Target.  I will feel so good to get that off my to-do list!  Ah, returning is good--any way I look at it!! 
Returning takes effort.  May we have strength to pause for a moment (or more!) and begin the process of returning to the goodness, holiness and light that is within us waiting to be re-discovered. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Chance To Be Themselves

Early one night last week while walking to the dinning hall I overheard the following conversation between a camper and her counselor.  The camper was clearly upset.  And I heard the counselor say, “Let me tell you.  You are a good person.  You are special and important and there are people who love you.”  
This snippet of conversation was with me all night and still, to this day.  What the wise counselor said to her camper is what we all want to--need to hear sometimes.  It is a value of OSRUI and all URJ camps to recognize that each one of us is created Btzelem Elohim, in God’s image and thus at our very core--we are good, special and deserving of love and appreciation.  The activities and programs at OSRUI reflect this value so that whether on the soccer field or in the Ivrit (Hebrew) camp-classroom, in tefillot (worship), on a field trip and in the cabin or tent, our children are seen and treated as children of God, as holy human beings.   We all want to feel like we belong and we want our children to know and feel that they have a place in the world and that they are part of a People who care about them.  We want our kids to know that they are okay just as they are and that they don’t have to be anyone other then themselves to be loved.   
The school year is rough for so many of our kids and the level of stress and pressure to succeed that so many of them feel is almost unimaginable. Camp is a place to recharge, to unplug and to get back to the core values of  seeing the holiness within us and all around us.  
This is my first summer in many years at OSRUI. My ten year old daughter is a first year camper here and when I asked her how she likes camp this summer her response was not only that she was having a great time, but also,  “OSRUI helps everyone make friends. I feel good here.”   How priceless.   That a child can feel so taken care of and ‘okay’ is not to be taken lightly or for granted.  It takes an enormous amount of work and effort to accomplish such holy work.  I  have witnessed staff diligently working long past after the campers are asleep to ensure, to the best of their ability, that each camper is taken care of, and gets what he or she needs, day by day and moment by moment.  
I am writing this a bit before Shabbat.  Soon the camp will usher in Shabbat with singing and dancing, we’ll wear nice clothes and greet each other with a ‘Shabbat Shalom.” We  will share a more peaceful schedule and take in the beauty of both this holy place and of being together.   May we continue to be blessed with a most special and competent village to help us raise our children.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Change is Never Easy: Opening Remarks at a Congregational Meeting

These last few months I have thought a lot about the idiom "the only thing that is consistent is change." Beth Am has been going through a period of spiritual growth and renewal for sure, yet we know that change is imminent for us and that is never easy.  I have spent much of these last few months reflecting on what a change of great magnitude might mean for Beth Am.  The following are my reflections and remarks given at our special congregational meeting to discuss the future of Beth Am. 

Rabbi Lisa Sari Bellows
Congregation Beth Am
Opening Remarks at Congregational Meeting
April 19, 2012
It is an auspicious time for the Reform movement in general and for our congregation in particular.  Beth Am was founded in 1979 by a small group of people who conducted services in the basement of a members home, using the late Debbie Friedman’s first album, Sing Unto God, as accompaniment to the liturgy until 1981 when we moved to share space with Kingswood United Methodist Church.  At Kingswood, we developed and grew. We engaged talented clergy and staff to serve the community and we began to define and develop ourselves into a synagogue where joyful worship was a priority and music was enhanced and embraced. We began to see ourselves as part of the larger Jewish community and engaged on a course of action that led to refining our mission to include the study of Torah, worship and acts of loving-kindness.  People heard our message, more joined and as you know, eventually we outgrew the space at Kingswood. In 1985, we moved to Jenkins Court and chavurot--smaller communities of families and friends within the larger community, were formed, social action programs were taking off, music and tradition within the context of worship became part of the fabric of our community and friendships grew.  Our community reached out to each other and we welcomed each other into our lives.  By the late 90’s it was clear that we were outgrowing Jenkins Court, and most importantly, there was a growing need for our kind of synagogue community in the northwest suburbs.  We needed a larger building to accomplish our mission and goals.  More and more Jewish families were moving into the neighborhood. The northwest suburbs were experiencing a population explosion. The rabbi, leadership of the congregation and its members had to make a decision to move to a larger sacred space. A thorough and exhaustive exploration of potential relocation spaces in the Buffalo Grove area was conducted and our current location was found. In 1999, after debate and much discussion, anxiety and fear expressed, the decision to move was made and it was the right decision.  There are some of us here today that remember when we walked with the Torahs from the Jenkins Court space to  225 North McHenry Road.  It was a day of great joy.   We  knew that in order for us to be the best Beth Am we could be, a move was necessary. We remember back to the good ole days... The days when the Jewish population was so great here that when we opened our doors on McHenry Road,  there were people waiting to join us and to enroll their kids in our school, to get a B’nei mitzvah date.  The demand was so great that we could not even accommodate all who wanted to join us.  These were great years for us and for the Northwest Suburban Jewish community.  We flourished and grew both in spirt and in numbers. New staff was hired, our activities and programs expanded, educational opportunities increased and we pursued our purpose of developing connections, fixing this broken world and worshiping with grace and beautiful song in this wonderful facility. In 2003 and 2004, demographics of the area were just beginning to change and for reasons known and unknown, our synagogue membership numbers were no longer increasing, but sadly, they were diminishing. The numbers continued to decrease and we were in a pattern of losing more members than we were gaining, although each year we had many families join us, some years 20 or 30 families joined some years up to 45, but still we experienced negative growth.  
And now, a decade later, we find ourselves with the demographics not in our favor, the economy not in our favor and we live in an era in which more than 40% of liberal Jewish families choose to not affiliate with a congregation.  We are, of course, not alone in this struggle.  There is not a congregation in the Chicagoland area who is not facing hardships. 
Indeed, we are living in difficult times and yet, we are still asking similar questions.  We are here tonight to discuss the answer to the same question that we asked ourselves in the late 1990’s but for a different reason.  The question -- how can Beth Am be the best it can be -- the synagogue it is supposed to be -- given our reality today? The reality that we cannot afford our beautiful building. Guided by our own research, number crunching, debate and discussion, leadership and staff have come to know that we can not change the facts or reality--as much as we would like to or have tried to do over the last several years. So with strength and courage, the heart-wrenching decision to put our building on the market for sale was made.  
I have had a small window of time to process this decision. I have come to terms with it and think it is a bold move consistent with our history and who we are.  This bold move will allow us to pursue our core values of connection, doing acts of loving-kindness, worshipping and studying.   We can do more, be more, offer more if we are not tied to the mortgage and the maintenance and upkeep of a sacred space that is far too big for our needs and is substantially too expensive.  The reality of affording the space in which we live is a reality that too many of us have been familiar with for several years now.  
Beth Am is my spiritual home.  It is my home away from home and you--our members, are an extension of my family.  And yes, the building is sacred to me, too.  My children were named here, we come as a family to worship here, I have prayed alone in these chairs and with you in this sanctuary.  I remember the first time I entered this space.  It was during my second round of interviews with the congregation and my tour guide, Linda Sonin, explained what seemed to be every detail of the ark, the sanctuary and the building to me. The why’s and how’s of putting this sacred space together were clearly articulated, and it was obvious to me that indeed this building was built as an act of love.  With willing hearts you offered your skills and talents in service to our members, the community and the Jewish People.   But ultimately, our community, our practices, our beliefs, are what make Beth Am--what differentiates Beth Am from other congregations.  
We have defined and built this building and made it all that it is.  Not the other way around. 
And it is to this point that I want to turn to.  In the next stage of our history, we will bring all of our talents, skills, knowledge, power, care and warmth with us to our next home.   We are moving.  We are not closing.  People who choose to belong to Beth Am choose to associate themselves with others who are friendly, caring, non-pretentious, talented and personable.  They want a worship service that offers not only a sense of connection to others, but the self as well.  A worship experience that can bring one’s busy week a measure of calm and joy.  You want a life-long learning program that cannot be beat--where the quality of the curriculum, the depth of knowledge of the teachers and Educator is top-notch and where the students have access to and interact with their rabbis and cantors.  You want a high school program where the students come to socialize in a Jewish context, to hang out with their peers, do mitzvot and great work, all while guided by caring and fun youth advisors who are the best role models for them.   And you join because you feel your clergy is accessible, understanding, knowledgeable and authentic.    You join Beth Am because we are involved in Gemelut Hasadim--acts of loving kindness.  We are the only Jewish congregation in the vicinity with a food pantry and that food pantry is completely run by you--our volunteers.  People join because our lay-leadership is dedicated to maintaing our core values which help us find meaning and purpose in our lives.   People join because the Senior Rabbi and Cantor officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies if the couple desires to establish a Jewish home.  Couples and families join because they feel welcome here and they know that whether both partners are Jewish or only one of the partners is Jewish, they have a home here. And single members join because we are about family and community.  I am confident that people will continue to join and see our greatness in our next home. 

Despite our building on the market, I want to share with you some recent facts with you: 
  • For the first time in 3 years we have had single K, 1st and 2nd grade classes and not double grade classrooms.
  • For three years in a row, between 20-35 children enroll in our school.  This number is consistent with other congregations in the Northwest suburbs.  
  • Based on sponsorship and early ticket sales, this year’s Cantor’s Concert is expected to exceed last year’s financial profit. 
  • Our Purim Ball was successful both in turn-out and funds raised. 
  • Still, despite our building on the market, in the last two weeks, six families have inquired about membership and membership season has not yet officially begun. 
Those who seek to belong to a Jewish community of meaning and purpose will seek us out whether it is in our current beautiful sacred space or at our next location.  For we bring our willing hearts, skills, talent and spirit with us, wherever we go. 
Our Kehillah Kedosha, holy community, is about study, healing, friendship, ritual and tradition, service and prayer.  For these are the pathways to living a life in relationship and connection--to feeling the sparks of holiness that are within us and amongst us all.  
I look forward to continuing with you all our worthy endeavors.  May we be be blessed with strength, courage and fortitude to continue building our sacred community. May all our efforts be a blessing for our children and the generations yet to come. 
Ken y’he ratzon ~ may this be God’s will. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Arab Market, Yoga and Tel Aviv!

This morning Rev. Gramely and I went the Arab Market, walked into one of the shops, saw goods that we wanted to purchase and began the bartering process.  As soon as I asked "Kamah Zeh?" 'How much is this?" I noticed that this shop was different. It felt different--less pressure, the shop keepers were more knowledgeable and easy going.  We began talking--it turns out the Omar, the store owner went to UIC--where I did my undergraduate work and is a Jeweler and his brother Yosef, who also is a Jeweler and in the family business, lived in Naperville for a few years.  We shook hands.  Omar asked Yosef, to show me "the well."  We walked through the large store and Yosef flipped on a light switch, I looked down on the floor and there, I saw a laminate cover over an ancient well, clearly from antiquity, was illuminated.  Unreal.  I learned from the brothers that they had been born in Jerusalem and their family just celebrated 384 years on the same property.  They should us pictures of his relatives and the home that has belonged to his family for generations.  Eventually, we spoke about our respective time at UIC and after a while, I shared with him that as a student, a Palestinian friend and I organized a student group on campus called PEACE--People Encouraging Acceptance Through Communication and Education.  Jews and Muslims came together for dialogue, programs and activities.  Actually, Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary gave us the seed money for the group!  Anyway, we talked some more and discovered that we share a favorite Persian restaurant (Rezas) and a fondness for Greek town.  Finally, I purchased a small piece of Jewelry and as we shook hands and said good-bye I realized my interfaith study/tour of the Holy Land had already begun.

From the Shuk (Arab Market) I walked to meet one of my yoga teachers, who lives in Jerusalem, for lunch.  Diane is one of the best teachers of Torah I have ever encountered and the Torah we shared over Moroccan vegetable soup and whole grain bread was brilliant and beautiful.  One of the teachings she offered to me seems so obvious, but I had not heard it before and was happy for the teaching.  She told me that in Hebrew the word Yehudah (Jew) is spelled with the same 4 letters that spell Adonai + 1 more letter--a daled.  Daled in hebrew is often the letter that symbolizes humility.  Diane thus offered a reflection on how the Hebrew word Yehudah (Jew/Jewish) contains both the idea that there is strength in Faith, and we must also be humble and remember from whence we came etc.

After our time together, I walked back to the hotel and met up with Rev. Gramely to begin the ride to Tel Aviv. Our official program begins in an hour.  It is cold, dark and rainy--thunderstorms and all.  Jerusalem and all of Israel need the rain, yet i am cold and miss seeing the sun over the Mediterranean.   I am thrilled that Nathan reminded me to bring an umbrella to Israel.  Yes, before I left, N spoke to me in Hebrew saying, "It is winter in Israel. There is rain in the winter.  Bring an umbrella."  Let's hear it for our tuition dollars at work!!

With Love.