Friday, September 24, 2010

(NEWS) Judaism Expanding In Geneva, Illinois

"Last week’s first ever Yom Kippur service in Geneva gave Susan Jensen a reason to celebrate.

'I love just to be able to walk to service,' Jensen said.

Yom Kippur is a day of atonement for people of the Jewish faith, a time when they reflect on the previous year and vow to make changes to improve in the coming year.

More than 100 people attended Geneva’s first Yom Kippur service led by resident Rabbi Fred Margulies at the Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors center, 121 S. Third St. A week earlier, the center hosted Geneva’s first Rosh Hashanah service celebrating the Jewish New Year with 45 participants.

Organizers were surprised by the number of people who attended services.

'It proved to me that there’s a need for something like this,' Margulies said. 'People are looking for a spiritual home.'

Jensen said the local Jewish community has come a long way since she first came to Geneva.

'When I first moved here, I didn’t know any Jewish families in town,' Jensen said.

She supports the center and its efforts to provide services, including the Jewish school that started this month and is designed to help future generations retain Jewish culture.

'They’re trying to get a sense of Jewish community,' Jensen said. 'It’s not easy to do out here.'

Margulies estimates between 150 and 200 Jewish families now live in the Geneva area.

New blood

Participants at Friday’s Yom Kippur service included newcomers to the group. Jenny Lorsch of Elgin learned of the event by signing up for the Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors e-mail list.

'I’m hoping to become more active,' Lorsch said.

A Reform Jew, Lorsch said the two synagogues in Elgin are more conservative and she appreciates that Geneva’s Jewish school accepts children of interfaith couples.

It also was South Elgin resident Mindy Kaplan’s first time at the center.

'It’s always good to meet new people,' Kaplan said.

Mike Weinberger has lived in Geneva for two months and is a member of the group.

'I think we’re hoping to be more established, at least, better organized,' Weinberger said about the local Jewish community.

He also said some people want to look into building a temple in the Geneva area.

'We’re kind of in the middle of a lot of synagogues, but there’s nothing here,' Weinberger said.

Margulies said he believes there is need for some sort of center in Geneva, but not necessarily a synagogue.

'I just think we need a place where we can gather,' Margulies said. 'What we call it, I don’t know.'

Spiritual emergence

Some notable Geneva residents of the Jewish faith include Mike Simon, owner of the Little Traveler and Merra Lee Shops, and Scott Lieben, chairman of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and former Citizen of the Year. Lieben attended the Yom Kippur service in Geneva. He commends the city’s acceptance of all faiths.

'It’s wonderful,' Lieben said. '(Geneva) embraces all religions and all points of view.'

Simon said when he was growing up in Geneva, there were only a handful of Jewish people living in the city. In school, Simon said, his teacher would talk about Christmas during the holidays and would briefly mention Hanukkah and ask Simon to tell the class about the Jewish festival of lights.

He said the growth of the Jewish community in Geneva has been humbling and gratifying and he appreciates what is offered by the Jewish Neighbors.

'To me, it’s completely overwhelming,' Simon said.

Margulies explained the meaning of Yom Kippur to the packed room between songs of worship and readings from a special prayer book. He said on Yom Kippur, Jewish people wear white, which is similar to a burial shroud, as symbolism for a brush with death or a last chance to atone for the previous year’s sins.

After support grew for the Jewish school, Margulies said he decided to try the new services to continue the momentum of spiritual emergence in the area.

Upcoming Jewish holidays this year include Shemini Atzeret, Simhat Torah and Hanukkah." (source)

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