Anshe Moments

Updated February 6, 2024

Abigail Kelman, Esq, is a St. Louis–based attorney who specializes in placement of clergy candidates with prospective congregations and negotiation of clergy contacts, both introductory and renewal. Her father, Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, was the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly. Her sister, Rabbi Naamah Kelman was until 2023 the Dean of the Jerusalem Campus of Hebrew Union College and her brother, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, was the founder of Congregation Kol HaNeshamah in Jerusalem. Abby’s daughter and son-in-law Hannah Barg and Peter Fogel are current members of the Rose Crown minyan and Abby’s granddaughter, Ruth Miriam Fogel, is one of Anshe Emet’s newest members. Abby and her husband Peter Barg have 3 other grown children, Alex, Emma, and Adina.

 While I am not a member of Anshe Emet Synagogue and do not live in Chicago, I have a unique Anshe Emet story to share. During the early-to-mid 1960s, my father, Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, would assist Rabbi Seymour Cohen during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur by officiating at what was called the “overflow service” held in what is now the Blum Auditorium. My father took this High Holiday position because my mother was a Chicago native and her sister Suzanne Basinger lived on Castlewood Terrace in the Uptown neighborhood. My grandfather, Rabbi Felix Alexander Levy, had been the longtime rabbi of Emanuel Congregation in Edgewater. My aunt and her family would go to Emanuel and we would go to Anshe Emet. I have vivid memories of the service, including a unique HaYom melody that I have never heard anywhere else. I don’t have any memories of my father’s sermons as I suspect my siblings and I were busy running around the building.

The other coincidental event was lunch. After services, our family would join Rabbi Cohen’s family at their home for the meal. Their home was 3750 N Lake Shore Drive which is the current home of one of my closest friends and editor of this series, Elaine Seeskin.

Many years later, Hannah (and then Alex and Adina) moved to Chicago. On one of early those trips, I visited my cousin Rabbi David Russo at Anshe Emet. He took to the Blum Auditorium, which brought back sweet memories of my High Holidays spent at Anshe Emet as a child. Since then, I’ve been back to Anshe Emet many times, where I continue to feel that deep connection made so long ago.

Amy Karp has served Anshe Emet as Director of Engagement, The Malkin Family Program Director, and Director of Adult Education for 11 1/2  years. Amy and her husband Dan are active Anshe Emet members and have 3 out-of-town sons, 1 daughter-in-law, and 3 grandchildren. This spring, Amy and Dan will be moving to Denver to be closer to kids and grandkids and Anshe Emet will miss them immensely.

Amy shares an “aha” Anshe Moment of program inspiration:

Since arriving at AES, my job has been to create a myriad of events, programs, and educational experiences for all ages—creating opportunities for congregants to engage with the shul and build connections with one another, all in a Jewish context. There have been literally hundreds of programs over the years but for me personally, there is one program that truly speaks to me in defining what AES is all about: Connecting the Expecting.

On a trip to Denver 10 years ago to visit our kids and new grandson Asher, I arrived on a Friday morning and was told that we would be having Shabbat dinner with some of their friends. As I entered their friends’ house, there were 9 couples each with a child ranging from 3 months to 6 months. These couples had been complete strangers when they met in a class designed for first-time parents—but now were experiencing Shabbat together with their babies. It was a joy to see and experience so when I returned, I told Rabbi Siegel I wanted to replicate the concept but change some of the format to meet our needs. Jbaby, a project of the JUF, was just starting and through that, funding for our program Connecting the Expecting, was granted. The first cohort of Connecting began in April 2014 and in December 2023, we completed Cohort 37. We recently celebrated the 300th baby with a huge program reunion attended by more than 350 people. During the tenure of this program, 329 babies have been born, numerous friendships have been formed, terrific relationships with our clergy and staff have been implemented, and an increase of participation into other AES programs has been seen. Connecting is the epitome of what AES is all about—friendship, community, Judaism. This program is my “baby,” and I couldn’t be prouder.

Barry Gross and his wife Merle are long-time Anshe Emet members. They were married in Merle’s parents’ home with Rabbi Seymour Cohen officiating and Uncle Ben Aronin assisting. Rabbi Cohen also officiated at the brit milah and pidyon ha’ben of their firstborn, Adam, and brit of their second son, Daniel. Their sons and three granddaughters attended the Anshe Emet Religious School and became b’nai mitzvah in the sanctuary. But, Barry also recalls sitting in the sanctuary with sadness as they attended the funeral services for Merle’s parents and his own. Barry has served the congregation as President, Vice President, Board Member, Endowment Fund Trustee, and as a member of various committees. He is also coordinator of the congregation’s men’s Chevra Kadisha.

Asked to write about a “memorable moment” at Anshe Emet, I signed on immediately, thinking it would be a simple task. However, I failed to grasp the vast number of Anshe Emet moments that I had experienced during my close to sixty years of membership: life cycle events, lay leadership decisions, worship services, and more. I initially dismissed the idea of considering a worship service as a memorable event as I have participated in literally hundreds of Shabbatot at Anshe Emet. That notion changed with the events of October 7, 2023.

I attended services on that date as it was Shemini Atzeret, a holiday on which there is a Yizkor service. Driving to Anshe Emet, I heard early reports of the massacre in Israel. There was a constant murmur throughout the service of congregants trying to glean more information from each other. All of us were experiencing confusion, fear, anxiety, and helplessness. Rabbi Siegel tried to keep us focused and current. The recitation of the Mi Sheberach prayer, the Prayer for the State of Israel, and Kaddish took on deeper meaning that day.

On the following Shabbat I felt the need to attend services. I did not attend to hear the Torah portion, the Rabbi’s sermon, or to join with the Cantor in the repetition of the Amidah. While the clergy’s role was important, I was present because I felt the need to be with my fellow congregants who were also grieving and deeply concerned over the well-being of the hostages, the State of Israel, and the Jewish People. On that Shabbat, communal gathering was more important than the religious service. Prior to that Shabbat, I perceived my community as Klal Yisrael, the people of Israel. I saw the Anshe Emet community as a group that worshipped, studied, and celebrated together. While we comfort each other in times of need, I never dreamed of a time when everyone would be in need. In the presence of other grieving congregants, our interdependence became apparent. While my grief and pain was not substantially eased, my ability to cope was strengthened. My recognition of the heightened importance of the Anshe Emet community made this Shabbat my most memorable moment.

Rabbi David Russo served as Rabbi at Anshe Emet Synagogue from 2011-2022. A native of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, he is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Rabbi Russo is currently the Director of the Wexner Heritage Program. He and his wife Rebecca live in Lakeview with their sons Natan, Leor, and Lev, and are proud members of Anshe Emet Synagogue. 

Rabbi Russo reflects on his first meeting at Anshe Emet: 

It was March of 2011. My flight from New York to Chicago was delayed. I was already anxious enough leading up to my first interview at Anshe Emet Synagogue. The driver picked me up, brought me to Anshe Emet. I ran to the bathroom, I looked down, and…my belt was gone. I had left it at security at LaGuardia Airport in New York. 

I was able to conceal this fact for my first few interview that Tuesday evening. Afterwards, I sheepishly asked Rabbi Siegel if someone would have a belt to lend to me. Brian Nagorsky generously took the belt off his own pants and let me wear it for the remaining 36 hours. 

Such was my first interaction with Anshe Emet. The remainder of the interview process was representative of Anshe Emet in every way. I felt like I met every person in the synagogue, although it was just a fraction. Clergy, staff, and community members, every committee leader, representatives of partner organizations. Anshe Emet represented everything that I was looking for: an urban synagogue with a traditionally observant community that celebrated diversity in all its forms. 

One of my favorite discoveries at Anshe Emet was the gym. It sparked a vision to recreate the joyous afternoons of my own childhood Shabbat afternoons when family and friends would gather to eat and play sports and board games. This led to the creation of Shabbat is Awesome. To this day, my family often call me on Friday afternoons, teasingly asking me: Is Shabbat awesome this week, or just average? 

When I first began at Anshe Emet, I was most nervous about officiating at lifecycle events. I had rarely done so before and was nervous at the prospect. How could I capture somebody’s life while officiating their funeral? How could I encapsulate a couple’s love under the chuppah? And what if I make a mistake? Rabbi Siegel and the other clergy over the years offered me wisdom and guidance, and it became the most meaningful and rewarding aspect of my professional career. The privilege and honor of being present during families’ greatest celebrations and their most challenging moments allowed me to form profound connections and deepen my understanding of the human experience.  

Serving as a rabbi at Anshe Emet for over a decade was an honor and a privilege. And for my family and me, we are lucky to continue as members, feeling the support and vibrancy of our Anshe Emet community as a critical pillar of our lives. As we sing on the High Holy Days, “Anu kehalecha, veatah chelkenu—we are your community, and you, God, are our special portion. I pray that 150 years from now, someone will be able to look back at 300 years of Anshe Emet as a community that has been a pivotal center for Jewish life and look forward to another 300 years and beyond to further deepen the already significant impact that this portion makes on our world. 

Susan Weininger served on the Anshe Emet Board for many years, including a term as President. Her children attended the Anshe Emet Day School. She has been an active member of a Jewish Women’s group that has led yearly services for many years and is still meeting regularly. She is Professor Emerita of Art History at Roosevelt University where she taught for 37 years before retiring. 

It was really difficult to think of one Anshe Emet moment—there have been so many over the years!  And while this is not a moment but a series of moments, it stands out especially because of the special congregational anniversary we are celebrating this year.   

For many years, my friend Lois Hauselman, of blessed memory, and I were the “curators” of the glass cases that were in the entry lobby before the recent beautification of the space was done.  We had art exhibitions, student shows, presentations highlighting activities at the synagogue, and even celebrations of some of our congregants’ interesting careers and lives.   

Twenty-five years ago we were tasked with organizing an exhibit to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Synagogue.  We combed through the archives, learning an enormous amount. We found photographs of our founders, our Rabbis, our Cantors, and congregational meeting places before the current building at Pine Grove and Grace. From these, we created a history of the synagogue in words and pictures. It was a wonderful experience in which I learned about the people whose names I had seen around the building (Malkov! Reich! Cummings!), celebrated clergy (Solomon Goldman! Ben Aronin!), as well as more about the illustrious leaders whom I actually knew (Rabbi Moses Silverman, Cantor Seymour Cohen). Along with our wonderful Anshe Emet School intern Belina Mizrahi, who acted as our videographer, we made a video that included interviews with relatives of former clergy and Synagogue leaders, long time members, current clergy, leaders, congregants and others. It was a great learning experience and helped us understand the rich history that underpins the great institution that we have today.   

Finally, working with Lois for all of those years was a true gift—she was a dear friend whose talents were boundless, who had unlimited numbers of “best friends” for whom she was always available, and was consistently so funny that she brought tears to my eyes from laughing so hard. If she was here to write her own “moment” it would not only be beautifully written and serious, but would have you falling off your chair and catching your breath at its wittiness. And as the first woman President of the Board of Trustees, she paved the way for those of us who followed. Everyone who knew her feels the emptiness where she once was.   

Steven Silk became a member of the Anshe Emet when he married longtime member Linda Weil. Steve grew up in an Orthodox shul in a kosher home in “arguably the most religious Jewish community in America (Borough Park, Brooklyn).” Steve served as President of Anshe Emet from 2014-2018. Steve and Linda have an 18-year-old son Gabriel, who attended Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School and now attends Tulane University.  

Steve’s Anshe Moment is his first meeting with Rabbi Siegel, which was the beginning of a close, long-term friendship:  

I met Rabbi Michael Siegel as he interviewed Linda and me before our wedding. He needed to “play catch-up” as he was co-officiating with my longtime friend and former rabbi, Dan Pernick. As we got to know each other, Rabbi Siegel was interested to hear that I had previously been CEO of Hebrew National and that I had helped raise millions of dollars needed to rebuild my former synagogue. The Rabbi seized the moment and asked whether I might consider joining the AE Board of Directors. I declined at that time, noting my desire to “feel religiously comfortable” in the shul first. But Michael was not going to take “no” for an answer. He took me on as his project enrolling me in Melton School and Hartman Institute programs, encouraging me to learn trope and become a Torah reader, and giving me opportunities to do research and offer divrei Torah in the sanctuary. After a few years had passed, he asked me to help create an AES funeral plan and to once again consider becoming a member of the board, which I did. I tried to listen and learn the workings of this vast institution until one day, the Rabbi called and asked me to become Treasurer which I flatly declined…until the Rabbi insisted. Two years later, after having joined with Jay Goodgold to create an improved level of financial position, I became President. I can say with great confidence as someone who has served as a CEO for 30+ years, that I was never better prepared for any role as I was for the AES Presidency, thanks to Michael. By then, we had developed the trusted friendship and partnership that would support me in my tenure as President and for the rest of my life. But it was Michael, who read his audience and seized the moment…and I was lucky enough to gain a lifelong rabbi, friend, and confidante. 

Judith Eisenstadt Horwich is a lifelong Anshe Emet member. She describes her connection to Anshe Emet as “beyond strong” and “part of my being.” She reports that the leaders, facility, and structure were part of the puzzle pieces that formed her Jewish identity.  “Anshe Emet is fundamental to me and continues today with my extended family. My attendance at Shabbat services was always a family gathering that included my folks, aunts, and Grandma.” Judy is married to Arnie Horwich and her daughter, Wendy Horwich Kline, is a current member of the AE Board of Directors. Following her introduction to art described below, Judi had a lifelong career as a professional photographer. 

I was four years old when I had my first experience with art in a nursery school class.  It was the early 1940s. There were not many responsible choices for childcare for my full-time working mother. There was not yet an Anshe Emet Day School. However, Mother’s oldest sister, my Aunt Frieda Goldman, was President of the Anshe Emet Sisterhood and that just might have played a role in how I ended up at Anshe Emet nursery school.   

I still remember the first day I was brought to Anshe Emet.  We climbed to the top floor. What a hike it seemed!  The classroom had desks with attached seats. I put on my father’s old shirt—it was a cumbersome smock that became a huge dress on me.  

My folks kept a very tidy house.  I knew I was not supposed to make a mess. Having a sense of order was expected. My teacher put down a piece of oilcloth to cover the desk. That said to me that I was not to make a mess at school either and I was right at home with that order.   

With everything protected, I was given a piece of paper and some liquid paints. Finger Painting!!!!! Oy! I was terrified of getting anything dirty. As the teacher walked off, I dipped my tiny pointer finger tentatively and pushed some paint around slowly and very carefully. When the teacher came back, we had a chat. She told me finger painting was freedom.  What an awakening!!! Art was a language in which I could pour out communication freely and I had permission to do so!!!!  It has remained a passion from that moment on and I only wish that I remembered that teacher’s name.  Bless her!!! 

Debby Lewis started coming to Anshe Emet in 1986 but her daily involvement with the congregation really began in 1999 after the death of her Mom, Lil Roth.  At that time, she started coming to morning minyan to say Kaddish and essentially never left.  She found her “Jewish voice” and the Hazzan Sheni at the time, Cantor Shelley Kaszynski, taught her how to leyn, chant haftarah, and lead the morning service. Debby was hired as the Anshe Emet Ritual Director in 2001 and remained in that role for 15 years. She continues to tutor Bar/Bat Mitzvah students and adults and to participate in services. Debby met her husband, Gabor, at morning minyan in December of 2001 and they were married in 2003. They have 4 grandchildren: Nellie, 9, and Leo, 7, in Berkeley, and Noah, 4, and Elliott, 1-1/2, in Salt Lake City. They travel OFTEN to visit the grandkids.  Debby loved her life as the Ritual Director of Anshe Emet but equally loves retirement! She is most grateful for all the meaningful and loving relationships she made as a result of years in service to others.

This Anshe Moment reflects on her introduction to Anshe Emet as a newly single mother:

The Friday night service at B’nai Emunah Synagogue in Skokie in the 1950s and early 1960s was THE big service of the weekend. It began at 8 PM and the full choir would sing each week. I loved Cantor Stearns’ beautiful voice and I loved the little petit fours at the oneg afterward. So, when I found myself as a newly single mom in 1984 living in Lakeview, I decided to attend the Friday night service at the nearest Conservative synagogue to my apartment. I wanted to introduce a non-Jewish friend to the amazing Friday night service that I remembered from my youth, so we went to Anshe Emet on a Friday night in August 1984. I was skeptical about the 6 PM start time for the service but was even more surprised when we walked into the Malkov Chapel where there were—at most—15 people. Rabbi Siegel immediately walked up to us, introduced himself, and asked me if I was set for the High Holy Days. “How much are the tickets?” I asked. “Don’t worry about that,” he said.  How could I not worry about that??  As a single mom, I had no discretionary money to spend!  After the simple Friday night service (clearly NOT the service of my childhood!) Rabbi Siegel asked me to come into the office with him. He handed me two tickets for the High Holy Days. “I am going to give you these two tickets with the condition that you use them,” he said. Use them? I was thrilled to be able to attend.  When I sat in Blum on Rosh Hashanah and Cantor Silverman begin to sing, I started to cry. THERE was the sound and spirit of prayer that I remembered;  I knew I had “come home” and found my synagogue. My subsequent involvement and life at Anshe Emet began with that simple act of hospitality and kindness by Rabbi Siegel and I will be forever grateful to him for reaching out to me.

Joy Baum Horwich has belonged to Anshe Emet for nearly the entirety of her life. Her family moved to Pine Grove Avenue when she was a young girl so that they could be within walking distance to the shul. Joy’s father, Sidney (“Shimmy”) Baum, was a well known Torah scholar and teacher and is particularly known for teaching Torah to groups of young women. Joy started Hebrew school at Anshe Emet at 6 years of age at and remembers begging to go to Sunday school as well as she watched other children trooping past her house on Sunday morning. Anshe Emet was an integral part of her young life. She was recognized as the Kallah of the Torah in this, Anshe Emet’s 150th year.

Her Anshe Moment deals with the time around her bat mitzvah and her confirmation:

I was in the first class of b’not mitzvah at Anshe Emet. Rabbi Solomon Goldman started the bat mitzvah program. When I came home and told my parents that I would be having a bat mitzvah, my father (who was very traditional) said, “No, you’re not!” but my mother said, “Yes, she is!”

After our b’not mitzvah ceremony in 1943, the synagogue wanted the girls in our class to serve Sunday breakfast to the boys who were attending morning minyan. They were called the Tefillin Group. We organized ourselves into a club (the Bat Mitzvah Club) and the girls wanted me to be president, but I decided to be the recording secretary.

The most vivid memory I have of coming-of-age moments at Anshe Emet, though, is my confirmation. We were all in tenth grade and there were nearly 100 of us being confirmed at one time. The girls all wore beautiful white dresses and the boys wore blue pants and white shirts. We sat in the center of the congregation and our families surrounded us. One by one, each row got up and we carried bouquets of flowers onto the bimah and laid them down around the ark. Rabbi Goldman blessed each one of us and then we returned to our seats. In the background,  שאו שער’ם (Sheu Shearim) was being sung. The chorus was magnificent! It was the first time in my young life I remember being overcome with tears at a joyful event. To this day, my memories of the confirmation ceremony are so vivid; it was a wonderful day in my life!

Tessa Brown was a member of Anshe Emet until she left Chicago for college and beyond; she also attended the Anshe Emet Day School from nursery school through eighth grade. Her parents, Matt and Debbie Brown, are still members; Debbie has been a lifetime member and was herself a Day School attendee as a child. Tessa now lives in San Francisco.

Tessa’s Moment describes an opportunity to study and sing with Cantor Alberto Mizrahi:

Somehow word had gotten to Cantor Mizrahi that I was an overachiever. In addition to learning my Torah and Haftarah portions and writing my d’var Torah with my bat mitzvah tutor Eli Berkman, I ended up in the Cantor’s office to learn the Shacharit service as well. It was the late 1990s and I was a student at the Day School; I spent a lot of time in that building back then

After my bat mitzvah I was recruited to sing niggunim with the Cantor on the High Holidays. I remember sitting in his office as he went over the melodies—challenging for me, so simple to him. It was humbling, but I recognized it as a gift—not just to sing with him on stage, but to have such access to his talent, to sit as an audience of one while he riffed and trilled, remarked on this performance or that, pulled a book of sheet music from this esoteric Sephardic cantor or that. I would go home with his tapes and listen, practice, relisten, repractice—it was hard work, to learn these melodies until they were part of me, as they were for him.

We all recognize Alberto Mizrahi’s talent. Perhaps what is less commented on is his warmth, though we know that, too. But I want to recognize it because to me, it’s central to what makes him so special. He was born with his talent, but he chose to use it for us—to bring us to awe, the center of spirituality. Singing with Cantor Mizrahi was an honor, but I didn’t prefer it to standing in the back of shul on Kol Nidre with my parents and siblings as he emerged from the back doors, in white, a capella, filling the whole sanctuary with his soul.

Debby Lewis was the Anshe Emet Ritual Director from 2001-2016. She continues to tutor Bar/Bat Mitzvah students and adults, and participates in services by leyning, chanting Haftarah, and occasionally leading morning minyan. Debby met her husband, Gabor, have 4 grandchildren:  Nellie, 9, and Leo, 7, in Berkeley, and Noah, 4, and Elliott, 1-1/2, in Salt Lake City.  She is most grateful for all the meaningful and loving relationships she made as a result of years in service to others.

This is Debbie’s second Anshe Moment, a unique “wherever you go” moment:

On Rosh Hashanah Day this year (2023), my husband Gabor and I were standing on the Metro platform in Madrid, Spain, after having attended services at Comunidad Bet El, a Masorti Synagogue.  A man asked me something that I couldn’t quite hear. “Se hable Ingles?” I asked in my best high-school Spanish. “Oh, you speak English!” he said. “Were you just at Rosh Hashanah services?” he asked. I replied that I was. “WE KNOW YOU” he said. With that, his wife stepped up and said that she and her husband had been graduate students at the University of Chicago years ago and would come to services at Anshe Emet when Rabbi Abe Friedman was there! “Well, I was there…I’m Debby Lewis; I was the Ritual Director” I said. “We know who you are! We recognized you and remembered you from our days Anshe Emet!” said his wife.  Now THAT’S an Anshe Emet moment!!! 

Saralyn Levine’s legacy in Anshe Emet is unique among our membership. Her great-grandfather, Lazarus Levy, an immigrant from Great Britain, was one of the founding members of Anshe Emet. Her grandmother Sara Levy (for whom Saralyn is named) was confirmed at Anshe Emet in 1886. Her mother Julia Dry, the youngest of 3 sisters all confirmed at Anshe Emet, was herself confirmed in 1915. Saralyn was confirmed in 1948. She was married at Anshe Emet and her two sons became B’nai Mitzvah in 1977 and 1979. She has maintained a lifelong membership in Anshe Emet.

Her Anshe Moment reflects on her relationship with Rabbi Solomon Goldman, who served Anshe Emet from 1929-1953 and was a guiding influence in Saralyn’s young life:

Rabbi Goldman was very beloved in the congregation. He was particularly admired by young people and made young people feel welcome and valued in the membership. He was larger than life, but yet approachable, partly due to his soothing voice and calming influence. He was always at ease when he spoke with the community. I remember that when he spoke from the bima, he never stood behind a lectern or spoke from notes. He always leaned on the lectern from the side and spoke from the heart. His sermons were always focused how one should conduct one’s life and he and his wife were wonderful examples for our community.

Rabbi Goldman was interested in making Judaism modern and relevant. I didn’t realize the full impact of the moment, but I remember the High Holiday sermon in which he advised the congregation that it was acceptable to ride or drive to synagogue on Shabbat. He emphasized that the important thing was to attend, and it didn’t matter how one got there. This announcement was revolutionary at the time and definitely caused a buzz in the congregation.

I also remember his extraordinary funeral. It was during the time when Anshe Emet owned the Sheridan Theater (later named the Solomon Goldman Auditorium). It was standing room only with crowds on the street. The speakers were noted rabbis and authors. I remember attending and feeling bereft at this passing. Rabbi Goldman is the rabbi against whom I compare everyone who came after.

Saralyn Levine

Elaine Seeskin and her husband Barry have been part of the Anshe Emet since moving to Chicago from St Louis in 2017. Their son Zach, daughter-in-law Lindsey, and grandchildren Ari and Naomi are also members of AE.

I’d like to share an Anshe Moment that occurred in early 2022. At that point, we were almost 2 years into the COVID pandemic. Community-wise, we had been separated for most of that 2 years with few intermittent breaks. Immunizations had allowed us to have live services for the fall (2021) holidays and there was some hope that in-person services with distancing and masking might become the new normal. However, at this point in early 2022, we were in the throes of yet another COVID variant—Omicron—which public health officials estimated might be the worst yet. Infection rates were climbing and the recommendation was made that we again isolate in our homes. In-person gatherings were discouraged and in-person services were once again abandoned for the time being.

Let me embellish on this picture just a little bit more: It was mid-January, it was dark and it was cold. Whatever excitement we felt from the fall Jewish holidays was long over.  The isolation and uncertainty—and frankly fear—we had experienced from COVID was reintroduced in a big way. COVID had gone on for a very long time, it felt.

It was Friday night, Erev Shabbat. The particular Shabbat I remember being in the depths of—despair is too strong a word—but dread works, related to the darkness and the cold. We were alone, again. During the pandemic, however, Barry and I had started the practice of tuning in to the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat streaming service. We found that the service provided some comfort and warmth.

The Torah portion for that week was Parshat Bo. We had read about the first half of the plagues in the previous week and in this parsha we read the last three, included the plague of darkness—a darkness that was so enveloping that no one could see each other. What a metaphor for the way I was feeling!

Interestingly, though, on this weekend, both Rabbi Russo on Friday and Rabbi Siegel on Shabbat morning focused their divrei Torah on one sentence:

ולכל בּני ישׂראל חיה אור בּמושׁבתם : But in the homes of the children of Israel, there was light.

Light is an interesting metaphor in Judaism (and in most cultures)—it can mean wisdom, freedom, inspiration, a lot of really lofty concepts—the “light” of Torah, the “light” of learning. At that particular moment, though, what I needed was for light to just be light. I realized, though, that “light” in this instance meant community. Unlike the Egyptians who were trapped in their muddy darkness, the Jews could see each other clearly. They had the support and sustenance of their families and friends.

On that Shabbat evening, Jews everywhere were lighting candles. We were setting tables, singing songs, participating in the ritual that provides the meaning for our weeks. Even with COVID, these rituals supported us. When Barry and I approached our Shabbat table that night, I knew everyone we knew from Anshe Emet was doing the exact same thing. We could see each other, even for the darkness.

What are my best Anshe Moments? Participating as part of my community. At this particular moment, the realization that our community was together in spirit, even when we could not be together in person, sustained me.

ולכל בּני ישׂראל חיה אור בּמושׁבתם : But in the homes of the children of Israel, there was light.

Elaine Seeskin
AES Member

Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg served Anshe Emet from 2005-2010. He is a native of Niles, Illinois, and is a graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. Rabbi Burg and his wife, Rabbi Miriam Cotzin Burg, and their family currently live in Baltimore, where he is the Alexander Grass Rabbinic Chair at Beth Am Synagogue.

Looking back at my five wonderful years with the Anshe Emet community, I recall so very many powerful moments—on the Sanctuary bimah, strumming my guitar in the Rose Crown Room and Malkov chapel, holding congregant hands in hospital rooms, the solemn work of the Chevra Kaddisha, and the joy of standing with couples under the chuppah.

One Anshe Moment that stands out happened three years before I was ordained and six days after my own wedding. Miriam and I were married in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we were spending the following weekend with my parents in Niles. On a whim, we decided to attend Shabbat services at Anshe Emet. During kiddush lunch, a number of young adults from the shul who heard that we were newlyweds offered to organize a sheva berachot. It was the last day for this tradition, before we as a couple would officially move from the concentrated bliss of our wedding week to the enduring joy of shared partnership.

We sat in chairs in the Blum Social Hall as complete strangers passed a kiddush cup, each to the other, and chanted the words we had heard the previous Sunday under the chuppah. We felt seen, held, and valued by a congregation to which we did not belong, in a city I had always called home but in which we didn’t currently live.

Years later, when considering which congregation I might serve in my first pulpit after rabbinical school, I remembered that experience. There are many reasons I felt honored to serve as an Anshe Emet rabbi, but first among them was the spirit of community and hachnasat orchim, welcoming the stranger. In the years since I have worked to foster that spirit in my Baltimore congregation. That Anshe Moment became a powerful memory and has since become a central mission in my rabbinate. Moments to memories to mission. Not a bad legacy!

Happy 150th Anshe Emet!

With love and gratitude,

Rabbi D’ror Chankin-Gould has served Anshe Emet Synagogue since 2015. He has been instrumental in all aspects of the life of Anshe Emet but most notably led for Anshe Emet to write its own cutting-edge religious school curriculum, “The Beverly Goldstick Curriculum for 21st Century Jewish Education.” He serves on the Executive Council and the Administrative Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly and as a co-chair of the RA’s Gender and Power Committee. He previously served as president of the Chicago Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi D’ror and his husband, Cantor David Berger, are the proud parents of Matan and Avi Berger-Gould.

His Anshe Moment focuses on a program that paired young Jewish and Black Chicagoans on a civil rights journey:

In 2018, I was privileged to take a group of teenagers from the Jewish community and from the African American community (and those who come from both communities) on a trip to through major civil rights sites in the Southern United States (Memphis, Little Rock, and St. Louis). This trip was in partnership with Bright Star Church, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish United Fund, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Chicago Urban League.  Our teens on the “Let’s Get Together” trip learned about their shared history and values, struggles with racism and anti-Semitism, and the tools by which they could collectively advocate for a brighter future.  Anshe Emet’s leadership—thanks to Rabbi Siegel’s vision and commitment—made it possible for these teens who barely knew one another to bond in extraordinary ways.  I remember sitting in Little Rock, just outside Central High School, the site where the impossibly courageous Little Rock Nine integrated their school in the most dangerous of circumstances, and seeing our Anshe Emet youth engage independently in nuanced conversations about identity, systems of power and privilege, and how to fight for a future brighter than the past. I have never been more proud of our youth, our community, and the way in which we realize our values not just in word, but also in deed.

Rabbi D’ror Chankin-Gould
Anshe Emet Synagogue

Judith Hausler Duckler was born in Israel in 1946 (Interestingly, her birth certificate does not list a country of birth, but rather “Jerusalem”). She immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of 11. Her father, Dr. Ephraim Hausler, was a Hebrew teacher at Anshe Emet Day School and later became Educational Director at Anshe Emet. Judi’s mother, Lotte Hausler, was also a Hebrew teacher. Judi and her brother became b’nai mitzvah at Anshe Emet; “Uncle Ben” (Ben Aronin) was their teacher. In 1967, she married Harold Duckler at Anshe Emet in a large wedding officiated by Rabbi Seymour Cohen and Cantor Moses Silverman. Judi has remained a lifelong member of Anshe Emet. She and Harold live in Edgewater.

Her Anshe Moment describes her entry into Anshe Emet Day School upon arrival in the United States:

My parents left Europe to go to Israel before World War II; my father was from Germany, my mother from Poland. After the war, they toured Europe to find relatives but sadly, no one had survived. During this period, we lived in Germany, England, Switzerland, France, and Belgium. My father’s friend, Hans Erman, worked at Anshe Emet as a Hebrew teacher. He wrote to my father and invited him to bring our family to America. When we arrived, my father was immediately hired by Anshe Emet and my younger brother Jay and I started at Anshe Emet Day School. I was put in the sixth grade and my brother started Grade 1. I was immediately moved to the eighth grade because my education in Europe was extensive and I was more suited to a higher grade. I spoke Hebrew, German, and English, and my mathematics background was more akin to high school math at that time. We also started attending Anshe Emet  Synagogue on Friday night, Shabbat morning, and Hebrew school to help us get integrated into the American mainstream.

My first days at school were a bit challenging: Although I spoke English, it was British English—not American English—and I spoke that English with a heavy-duty accent. I dressed in short skirts as was the style in Europe at that time and here all the girls were wearing saddle shoes and longer skirts.

On my first day, everyone asked, “Who’s that?” and “Where’s she from?” I introduced myself as Judith Hausler from Israel, but was immediately identified as “Dr. Hausler, the Hebrew teacher’s, daughter.” Unfortunately, from then on, I was known to everyone as merely “Dr. Hausler’s daughter,” not Judith, Judi, or even Yehudit. This went on for years. Finally, I had a good friend who was a jeweler make me two necklaces, one in English (Judith) and one in Hebrew (Yehudit).  From then on, I would point to these necklaces and say, “this is who I am.” Dr. Hausler is my father, but I am Judith.

Little by little, though, I became used to American customs and became integrated into the community. I later taught kindergarten at Anshe Emet Day School. I am still very involved in Anshe Emet and attend each Shabbat—it is an integral part of my life. 

Judith Hausler Duckler 
AES Member

Cantor Elizabeth Simon Berke has part of Anshe Emet since 2011. A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, she completed her Masters in Sacred Music, received her Diploma of Hazzan, and graduated with a Masters in Jewish Education in 1994.  Cantor Berke is President of the Community Mikvah of the Conservative Movement in Wilmette. She is also a contributing author for an assortment of publications, including a Rabbinical Assembly document on Rabbinic Installation. She is married to Hazzan Steven Berke; they have two adult daughters, Eden and Aviva.                                                                                              

My husband, Steven, and I moved to Chicago with our daughters in June of 2011. We chose Chicago for a variety of personal reasons, but we chose to live in Lakeview because we knew of Anshe Emet. We knew that its vibrancy would provide us and our daughters (who were in 4th and 7th grade at the time) a place to be the Jewish family we wanted to be.  As two cantors, we wanted to listen to Hazzan Mizrahi interpret the texts of the siddur and we sought a place of rabbinic scholarship with an engaged laity. We knew Anshe Emet would fulfill all of these hopes.

After we arrived in Chicago, Steven and I met with several Jewish leaders across Chicago to see how we could connect into the Jewish professional scene of the city. One of those meetings was with Rabbi Siegel.  He was generous with his time and ideas and introduced me to Leah Conley, director of the Religious School.  My first position at Anshe Emet was as one of the 3rd grade Religious School teachers. A seminal moment for me happened, though, as Rabbi Dena Bodian left her position overseeing the Jews By Choice program.  Working with those who have chosen Judaism has been one of my profession interests; in fact, I wrote my MA thesis on conversion programs and had experience teaching adults as well.  With great trust, Rabbi Siegel offered me that position and it has been the one of the most fulfilling in my time at Anshe Emet. It is a true blessing to facilitate spiritual journeys for all participants. I am awed by the history of AES and that I am a small part of its journey as an institution.  

Cantor Elizabeth Berke
Anshe Emet Synagogue