MRJ’s On-Line Storytelling Project: Jewish Men… Our Stories Each of us is on a unique Jewish men’s journey, yet we often share mileposts with other men that have come before us, journey along side us, and with men who will come after us. MRJ’s On-Line Storytelling Project wants to hear from you with short articles (approximately 500 words). We want to give you, our brothers, the opportunity to tell your personal stories, to share with your brothers some of the memorable transformative events in your own lives, both positive and negative. We want you to share your story.
Please submit your story to MRJwebmaster@urj.org
South Dakota in February 2002
Adrian S Juttner
The I flew up to Rapid City, South Dakota in February 2002 to take the job of "Tree Doctor" for the state department of Agriculture. It was cold and there was snow all over the place. I booked a cheap, spartan motel room on the north side of town. Not wishing to spend Friday nights in a bar-room, I looked for a synagogue that might be near me and found The Synagogue of the Hills on 40th street nearby. It was a small place, lay-led, with barely a minion there. A stocky fellow shook my hand and introduced himself as Art Janklow. "Wasn't that the surname of the Governor of South Dakota?" I thought.
My job with South Dakota forestry was connected to a grant from the US Forest Service to work on the Mountain Pine Beetle. This forest pest had a long history in the Black Hills. The town of "Deadwood" located in the northern Hills was named after a beetle kill that occurred in the 1870s. Indeed, one of its most famous residents, Wild Bill Hickock, was shot to death in a bar room as his poker hand cascaded to the floor. He was holding a pair of Aces and a pair of Eights, which has since been referred to a "the dead man's hand". Since my college nickname was "Ace" and the Hebrew word "Eits" means trees - I saw this as a bit of an omen. In 1906, the first government-sponsored study of pine bark beetles began in the Black Hills. To this day, One-hundred and nine years later, there has been very little progress for practical control of this insect, which is killing millions of acres of Ponderosa pine in the American and Canadian west.
While a student at the Duke School of Forestry in 1969, I prepared a report for my entomology professor, Dr. Roger F. Anderson, about a group of fungi that can act as an insecticide. A deep journey into the library stacks revealed that this group of organisms, the Entomophthoraleans, was a highly specialized and fast-moving killer of insects. One particular species was easy to grow and devastating to termite populations. By 1997, I was routinely growing and using this fungus in my pest control work in New Orleans. I hauled active cultures up to the Black Hills and began performing Koch's Postulates with the Mountain Pine Beetle. By April, I was able to show that my fungus was capable of penetrating inch-thick pine bark and killing the beetle grubs that were growing in the cambium. Predictably, my job situation deteriorated, so I packed my bags and left in July 2002. I was so bummed out returning to New Orleans, that I decided to take up the study of Hebrew for my adult Bar Mitzvah. Hearing this, Art made the same journey for himself.
Seven years later in October of 2009, I got a phone call from Art Janklow II. By this time, the Mountain Pine Beetle was on the move, swallowing thousands of acres of pine trees and threatening the 40 acres of pure Ponderosa that made up the tree cover of Art Janklow's Mystery Mountain Resort. Art was offering to pay my expenses to save his trees. So, I rented a Chevy HHR cruiser, loaded it with gear and set off on a 3-day, 1600 mile trip to Rapid City. There were about 60 infested trees on the property. Each one was capable of spreading new beetles to 200 new trees and destroying them - and bankrupting Mystery Mountain. Art's options were poor: fell and haul the trees off the property of spray the entire stand with expensive, nasty chemicals - annually. I sprayed them with my concoction of fungus + a parasitic roundworm mixed with a bit of oil and molasses. Most of the trees recovered and 2 years later, I returned and had to spray only 40 new beetle "hits". Art and I would spend evenings talking about Kabbalah, or dining at the Alpine Inn at Hill City, SD and other watering holes. (The Alpine Inn sports a Magen David on the roof.)
In August of last year (2013) I heard that Art had suddenly passed away. Well - that's the end of this story, I thought. The connection with the Janklow family has been cut and I'll never return to Mystery Mountain again. In October, I got a phone call. It was Art II's oldest son - Art III. He was booking another treatment for the pine trees of Mystery Mountain. This time, I took a plane, landing at the Rapid City airport just as an incoming snowstorm shut it down. My old friend, Darrell, picked me up in his pickup, we loaded with groceries and drove up to Mystery Mountain. A big snow had us holed up for 2 days, while we cruised the timber outside. After I treated the trees again (only 13 new hits this time.) Art III and I drove up to Sturgis, SD. Sturgis is the location of the famous August motorcycle rally that brings in a million Harleys every year. It is also the location of a big National Cemetery. Art II and his brother, Gov. Bill are both buried here. Art's marker is decorated with the Star of David - one of very few in South Dakota. Art II told me that, as his father was dying, he was carrying on a conversation with brother Bill, who was already dead. After Art II died, he told his son, Art III to call me. Art Janklow I was a lead prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials of 1945.
Time to remember those we loved:
By Robert Silberman
At this time of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we as Jews ask God for forgiveness of our sins and to remember us and our loved ones in the Book of Life. When coming to Temple for these High Holidays, wear something of a loved one who has passed – a pin, a scar, a necklace, or bring a small picture in your pocket. In doing so, that will make their light shine again. We remember our past and look to the future. We look to the past by remembering them, and look to the future by showing them what has gone on in our lives since they have passed.
By bringing something of theirs’ to the Temple on the High Holidays, we can do both. We remember our family and friends, who have passed and keep them alive not only by coming to Temple for Yahrzeit , but for services too.
My wife wears her mother’s necklace; I wear my dad’s pin. In this way, they are never far from us and their light does shine again.
The Akedah - It is all our stories
The approach of the New Year brings so many emotions and
memories. One memory many of us struggle
with is the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading of the Akedah; the binding of
Isaac. The story troubles us as we read
of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son in answer to God’s test.
Commentators have wrestled with the emotions of the players;
the turmoil of Abraham, the angry bewilderment of Isaac; the silent torment of
Sarah. As we seek to make ourselves anew
this High Holiday season, so must we make anew this story for our own
selves. This is a story for every Reform
Jewish man, for that matter, every modern man.
Like Abraham we have regrets over sacrifices made for the sake
of our careers and our egos. Few of us
are strangers to the bemoaning of our own spouses and children over our
distractions as they are bound on an altar built of our endless quest for
achievement. Too often though, we make ourselves blind to the pains and
yearnings of our loved ones and deaf to their pleas.
In the story of the Akedah, an angel called out of heaven to
Abraham halting the sacrifice. Hearing
the voice, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a ram caught in the thicket and
offered it instead of his son for the sacrifice.
The voices of our spouses and our children are the voices of
the angel. I learned this when I heard
the voice of my son when he was eleven.
I had taken him to visit a URJ camp that he was thinking about
attending the following summer. We
traveled up the night before our visit and checked into a nearby hotel. We went swimming in the hotel pool and tossed
a ball around in the water for a while.
After going into town for dinner together we returned to the hotel for
the night and sat in the lobby and played backgammon for an hour before heading
back to our room.
As I bent down to tuck him in for the night, he said to me,
“thank you for a nice trip daddy.” I was
astonished that he found the day all that notable. I told him that we didn’t really do anything
special; we just went swimming a bit, had dinner and played some
backgammon. My angel replied to me,
“yeah, but I got to be with you.”
I went to bed with my tears in my eyes realizing how often I
had sacrificed him. My son didn’t know
it, but he had caused me to lift my eyes and see his pain for the endless hours
of aching for the moment his father would spend some time with him. I anguished over how many times I must have
been deaf to his pleas for his father. I
treasure that night in my life as a time when I was able to see the world
through his eyes.
This Rosh Hashanah, let us strive to hear the voices
of the ones we love. Let us lift our
eyes to see the ones right in front of us, the ones who want more than anything
for us to be a meaningful part of their lives, every moment of every day. Then we will have made ourselves anew.
MRJ’s On-Line Storytelling
Project – Jewish Men
Joel Batalsky, Member of the Brotherhood, Temple Emanu-El,
I was born to Jewish parents in Philadelphia, Pa in August 1940. This event has had a major influence on my
life. My father died when I was 5 years old and he left
no money or financial resources so that my brother and I were placed in a free
private boarding “Christian” school in Philly.
It was at this school that I learned that there were people on this
earth who hated and despised me because I was Jewish. Some even wished I was dead. Imagine, there are people in the world who wished
all Jews were dead!
I never attended Hebrew school or Jewish school. The only Jewish holidays we observed were
Passover where the family got together to have a very simple Seder and Chanukah
where we exchanged gifts. When I became
13 years old, my mother had a Jewish man teach me a few lines of Hebrew so I
could chant my Torah portion for my Bar Mitzvah. We were never members of a synagogue. We only went to a synagogue to attend weddings
or a Bar Mitzvah. These events were few
and far between when I was growing up.
The Jewish religion played little or no part in my life until after I
graduated from college and I found myself in the military stationed in a Muslin
country. It is here that I started
asking questions about the meaning of life and I turned towards Judaism to find
answers. I began my Jewish journey of learning
and questioning by studying the Torah and Talmud and asking questions from
Rabbis. I also began practicing and observing
the Jewish holidays and rituals. I tried to observe the Shabbat regardless of
where I was at that time. I wanted to find
answers to life’s most fundamental questions, such as, “Is there a God?” “What
happens after you die?”, “How did I come to this place?”, and finally “Now that
I am here, how should I conduct myself?”
I have learned that when a person accepts the principle that you should
love your neighbor as yourself, there is no difference whether you are Jewish
or a Christian or a member of other religions.
I believe all people have a moral sense and are “Our Brother’s
Keeper.” I believe in tolerance and compassion,
qualities found equally in Buddhism. I
prefer to stress what unites people, not what separates them. In fact my family Passover Haggadah that I
edit every year reflects this central
theme. I am proud to belong to a
religion that gave to the world an ethical code by which humans can live.
I am a member of the Brotherhood at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas. This has allowed me the opportunity to
participate in Jewish-oriented activities for Jewish causes and charities. This I do for my soul whether it is cooking
meals for area shelters or for the homeless, or ushering at the High Holy Days
services, or writing and editing the monthly articles and taking pictures
for input to the Temple’s bulletin from
brotherhood. These deeds have added to
the quality of my life as well as developed quality relationships with other
Jewish men. In summary, being Jewish
means to me the following: helping
others, being honest, caring for your neighbor and enjoying the gift of life.
Is Premature Emasculation a Bad Thing?
By Dave Oney
Member of Temple Beth Orr, Coral Springs, FL
and Temple Beth El, Boca Raton, FL
Vice President, Men of Reform Judaism
I attended a Men’s Seder last night at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton. This was the second Men’s Seder conducted by my Brotherhood at TBE. This year’s theme was Father::Son relationships. We used the MRJ Men’s Seder and some of its texts as a guide. I found that following the format of the Seder, with some added questions to facilitate the Father::Son theme, resulted in some very personal ideas and reflections. Ideas I had mulled over for some time, but never had the opportunity to crystalize into words.
We started the Seder by introducing ourselves with the caveat we do not mention what we do for a living, as we should not be identified by what we do, but rather who we are. I realized near the beginning of the Seder that over the last few years I made several decisions, which while perhaps not within the “normal male” realm, were the appropriate decisions for me and my family. For me, two of the Seder’s four questions were slam dunks:
1. Why is it because I am a man, I have to be the bread winner?
2. Why was it so much easier to make friends when I was growing up?
3. Why is it so important to me that I am still able to compete athletically at the same level I did as a teenager, even though my doctors and body tell me I can’t.
4. Why is it no matter how old I get, I still don’t understand women.
Question #1 became irrelevant when several years ago I made a paradigm shift in my career. I went from being a very successful technical sales and marketing manager to work in the non-profit field. That shift resulted in a major change in finances and lifestyle. Since then I have again reconsidered my “career” and taken another step down a very different path. Was it a shock to my ego to no longer be the family bread winner? Yes, without a doubt. Did this change positively affect my health, happiness and definition of being successful? Yes, without a doubt.
Question #2 was more difficult and I didn’t formulate with my answer until the day after the Seder and my answer was formulated in part by answers to the four questions that we discussed in small groups relating to Father::Son relationships. Who was your father? What lessons did you learn from your father that most directly influenced who you have grown to be? What did you find frustrating about your father? In what ways did you need him to be different? What do you think a man needs to be a good father?
Question #3 is fairly simple. I listen to my body. It tells me in no uncertain terms that I can no longer and it will no longer allow me to do the things that I did 40, 30 or even 10 years ago. Of course being a man, and a native Vermonter to boot, I tend to let my doctor know all the aches and pains I have well after they have prevented me from those youthful activities. Don’t get me wrong, I will and do tell her… eventually, when I am ready, if there is a need.
Question #4 is simple. NO ONE understands women, not even other women. Sometimes, natures complexities are not meant to be understood my mortal beings. Deal with it.
I found the four questions initiating the discussions about Father::Son relationships to be the difficult ones. Who was your father? What lessons did you learn from your father that most directly influenced who you have grown to be? What did you find frustrating about your father? In what ways did you need him to be different? What do you think a man needs to be a good father?
My father was a simple, honest man with simple needs and desires. Above all that, and perhaps most importantly he was a kind, happy man and from him, I learned to be honest, sincere and content with myself. Of course, I did not learn that lesson early or quickly, but rather, slowly sometimes painfully and eventually. My father loved me. I have no doubt about that. He loved spending time with me, for any reason. Why could he not say that he loved me? I heard the same comment from almost every man I spoke to at the Seder. Why is it so difficult for men to tell their sons that they love them?
It took my sons to teach me to say those words. One day, after school my then middle school age son came home, gave me a hug and told me he loved me. Nearly every day one or the other, or both would ask how my day was. They would always say thank you for something, no matter how momentous, or how trivial. I believe being a good father means remembering what it was like to be young, to treat everyone, including your children with respect, honesty and love. Talk you your children as adults, not equals, but adults with adult conversations and consequences for their actions.
My sons are my heroes. They taught me to say “I love you.”
Finding a Way to Belong
by Robert Ingrum
Member of Temple Ahavat Shalom, Northridge, CA
Like many couples, my Jewish wife and I got married without much discussion about religion. It was the birth of our daughter that raised the question. My wife asked if we could raise her Jewish. I agreed with the understanding that we join a temple, because we needed help to raise a Jew.
As we joined Temple Ahavat Shalom, we found a home for our daughter, but I felt outside the circle. We were active with the Nursery School parents, but everything was new to me. Even the term "Jewish Standard Time" was completely unknown to me. I really felt the need to find a way to belong. Two things helped me down the path to Judaism, Adult Education and the TAS Men's Club.
Adult education helped me become a Jew. The Men's Club helped me become a Jewish man. Through the Men's Club I met other Jewish husbands and fathers. I found Jewish men who revered their religion and Jewish men who considered themselves totally secular. I developed an understanding of their passion for social justice even as some were staunch conservatives while the majority was politically liberal. I learned about how important families were to them. I found that some were athletes and some could care less about sports. I found that some were rich and some were poor. I found that most were educated, but all wanted their children to have the best education possible. Most important, I found that they accepted me.
It wasn't long before I too was a Jew.
by Dave Oney
Member of Temple Beth Orr, Coral Springs, FL
Vice President, Men of Reform Judaism
My family joined our synagogue in 1989. Even though I was not Jewish at the time, the men in our Brotherhood were among the first to welcome me and make me feel part of their community. Shortly thereafter, our Brotherhood began a serious decline for a variety of reasons. While I was able to maintain the friendships I had made in Brotherhood, I missed the camaraderie of the organization.
In 1996, I converted to Judaism and the next day, as I felt Brotherhood was such an important part of our temple, re-established the club and became Brotherhood president. When re-organizing the Brotherhood, I kept to one strict rule: this club would be chartered to foster brotherhood and grow the membership.
While no longer president I am very pleased to note that any funds we raise during the year is a result of a "fun event", not "fundraising event". All men of our temple are welcomed by Brotherhood with their first year of Brotherhood at no charge. They are personally invited to attend events and meetings, and we try very hard to welcome all and not allow our Brotherhood to become cliquish. I remember what Brotherhood meant to me and enjoy sharing that with those entering our synagogue now.
Whats the Matter with Men?
by Maury Goldstein
Member of Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun, Milwaukee, WI
We’ve been talking a lot lately about why members of the male persuasion aren’t taking part in activities within the synagogue or the Jewish community at large. I was reading one of the Federation newspapers recently and when I finished, I had to go back and see that I wasn’t dreaming. In fact, I wasn’t. There was not one activity listed that was either designed for men or run by men. The majority of the women’s groups of Federation or within the synagogues had something going on. Whether it was a lecture, a book discussion, a support group, or a cooking class, the women within the community had it going on! Where are the guys?
I don’t think it’s a matter of not wanting to participate or plan activities, but I think the real reason that men don’t have any of these groups to call their own is because of the culture in which most men grew up. We’ve always been seen or see ourselves as the bread winner in the family and therefore we’re too busy “earning a living,” “putting food on the table,” or concentrating too much on “putting a roof over our (families) heads.” Isn’t it time to break the mold and start putting men on the map? Let me suggest an exercise for everyone to try.
The next time you are planning an activity for your Brotherhood or want to have some guys get involved in a planning meeting, reach outside of your comfort zone and advertise it to the community at large. You may be surprised who responds and it may lead to men’s programming finding its way into the community’s press.
Spreading the Message
By Rick Kruger
Member of North Shore Congregation Israel, Glencoe, IL
An interesting phenomenon is taking place of late. Brotherhood/Men’s Clubs in our region (Great Lakes/Chicago Federation) are reaching out to MRJ. There is real interest in both learning more and joining our National organization.
So I ask, why this phenomenon?
These synagogue based groups are looking for ideas and help in three specific areas which will come as no surprise to most of you who are involved in Brotherhood.
First, they are looking for help in the Membership area. How do we engage our congregants? “We have 200 families, but only five men who will “give us the time of day.” Those of us who are active and have dealt with this problem are able to spew out ideas on how to change the trend. It is always key to remember that it is as good to reach one man as it is twenty. Show them one on one that what your group does can be a great avenue to get involved in the synagogue and more importantly to set an example for children and grandchildren. If done right, it can be contagious. No one answer suffices for a particular Brotherhood, but somehow within the multitude of answers MRJ offers lies an answer or answers that will meet the needs of the local organization.
Second, they ask how we can create better programs to meet the needs our constituents. “We do the same things every year and have become “the lox and bagel kings” of Beth El. MRJ offers our chapters a multitude of programming. Programs touch on Worship, Study and the Social…touching lives of all children, adults and seniors, lives of men & women and most importantly the life of the congregation. Programs deal with every aspect of Jewish life from birth through death and of course the paths we all take in between.
Lastly, MRJ is being asked “how do we bring men back into synagogue life”? Although the answer is not completely clear, MRJ is taking steps to make sure we are at the forefront of this issue. Our President and Executive Director at the regional biennials spoke to how important we believe this issue is and we are hearing just that at the local level.
Brotherhoods/Men’s Clubs want to lead. We have taken a backseat to so many other areas in synagogue life for so long. The renewed interest in our National organization can be directly related to the recognition that the local organizations want to be leaders again. MRJ’s leadership is committed to just that and is working hard to support local leadership with the tools to do just that!