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Written from the Consultation on Conscience; A Response to the Arson Attempt at ASBI

Shalom Chevrei:

Like you, I’m angry and sad about the arson attempt on Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, and I want you to know that I’ve extended a hand to ASBI’s Rabbi, David Wolkenfeld, and his community with wishes of resilience. As a show of solidarity, I hope you will pay a visit to ASBI for a minyan (524 W. Melrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60657). To view their calendar which includes service times, click HERE.

I also reached out to our own Rachel Weber, the Director of JCC Early Childhood at the Florence G. Heller JCC, which is housed at ASBI. Rachel wanted me to let you know her learning community is “holding up and standing strong!” With great appreciation, she also asked me to let you know that they can feel the community support! Let us keep Rachel, her faculty, their students and the Heller families in our prayers.

In the words of Rabbi Wolkenfield: “Attacks of this sort are intended to frighten and intimidate us, and it is quite natural to feel fear or anxiety.” If you feel this way, please let me know. I’m just a phone call away: 860-966-5669. You can also text or email me at if you prefer.

In addition, you can count on Jessica Katz, our Director of Operations, and our security team which includes our CPD officers to continue figuring out how to keep our people and our synagogue safe and secure day, night, and overnight. Let us be thankful for their watchfulness.

As I sit here in Washington D.C. at the 2019 Consultation on Conscience, my heart is in Chicago with our neighbors at ASBI, with all of you, and with peace-loving people everywhere. Like you may, I feel overwhelmed by this ongoing gauntlet of hatred. It’s seems so hard to keep going.

But then again, maybe feeling overwhelmed means that we’re paying close attention, that we’re not ignoring the work ahead—no matter how difficult. I found inspiration this morning in the words of Zoe Terner, Social Justice VP North American Federation of Temple Youth. Invoking Pirke Avot (the Wisdom of Our Ancestors), Ms. Terner reminded us we don’t have to finish the work, but we’re not allowed to sit on the sidelines. We can’t stop waking up every day because people are counting on us. Maybe feeling overwhelmed means “we’re doing it right.”

On that note, one way we’re “doing it right” is Tikkun Chicago, which will bring our teens together with fellow youth at ASBI and Anshe Emet for learning and community-building. I’m grateful for the leadership of Tani Prell Epstein, our Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement, and her collaborators for their vision and plan to draw our youth closer together in shared Jewish purpose.

I close with another recollection from this morning’s plenary session at the Consultation. We took a precious moment to remember Rabbi Aaron Panken, z”l. Two days before his tragic plane crash, Rabbi Panken, at the time the Rosh Yeshivah of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, spoke to his students at graduation. He spoke about particularly painful and challenging times, but he also encouraged the rising leaders in the room with words that apply to all of us: “We are a people of action, and we value the dignity of all.” May Rabbi Panken’s legacy remind us that our collective courage, innovation, endless creativity, and enduring adaptability help us shine healing light through the shadows of hate and destruction.

Make it a day of blessing and be a force for good!

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