Behind the Scenes at Virtual High Holy Days Services 5781

(From the October 2020 Temple Bulletin - Written by Beth Zweig)
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Everyone had a front-row seat this year for the Temple’s High Holy Days services. Yet creating a sacred space through a screen involved a major behind-the-scenes effort.

Producing meaningful holiday services in normal times requires choreography and planning. But designing a virtual worship experience during a pandemic involves even more finesse and fortitude.

Rabbi Meir Bargeron describes the whole experience as a little surreal, especially when looking out at more than 200 empty seats in the Sanctuary on Erev Rosh Hashanah except the one occupied by his husband, Jon Tam, who also watched on an iPad.

“The energy in the room is definitely different,” said Rabbi Meir, who joined Achduth Vesholom as spiritual leader in July and is serving his first pulpit since ordination in May. “Our challenge was to bridge the gap between spirituality and production.”

Also in the room where it happened were a producer, two cameramen with four cameras, and Temple Executive Director Samara Sheray, who served as technical director (providing guidance about the rhythm of the service and cues for when Hebrew parts ended).

Cantor Yvon F. Shore and Maestro Robert Nance were safely distanced from each other and Rabbi Meir on the bimah – bringing the reality of modern-day worship for Indiana’s oldest Jewish congregation on display.

Yet as the congregation and guests embraced the new normal in watching our Reform services on YouTube, the warmth and meaning of the High Holy Days came through, even with a few small hiccups with sound and the introduction of a 15-minute intermission between the morning and Torah services.

“There’s nothing intimate about video-production, but, despite the challenges, the result was that we could have High Holy Days services this year for members of our community,” said Rabbi Meir. “We haven’t done this before and there was some measure of making it up as we go along…but many congregants have told me that they felt the connection and services felt inclusive.”

Rabbi Meir said the production team – Cinematographer Ty Black from Bokeh Film & Video and Producer Joe Collins – and Cantor Shore and Bob Nance provided guidance in developing the plan.

In addition to the Reform services broadcast on YouTube from the Sanctuary, the traditional services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were livestreamed via Zoom led by Ron & Pam Friedman in the Goldstine-B’nai Jacob Chapel and guest shaliach tzibor Michael Small in Chicago. Temple members Lee Pomerantz and Jay Zemmol assisted with the Zoom broadcast.

Planning for online services began in July soon after the Temple Board made the decision that the start of the New Year 5781 would be virtual. Rabbi Meir, Samara, and Ritual Committee Chair Denny Reynolds began looking at options.

After doing much research and interviewing four production companies, Samara said the decision was made to utilize YouTube for Reform services. Given the COVID-19 situation, she said, we needed the flexibility of pre-recording some parts of the service and the ability to reach a large number of people. Copyright rules and licensing agreements came into play.

Livestreaming of holiday services allowed for out-of-town congregants and guests to join us. These included members of Congregation Olympic B’nai Shalom in Port Angeles, WA, where Rabbi Meir previously served as student rabbi for the holidays.

Zoom worked better for traditional services because the service leaders were in different cities. Pam said planning the virtual service was more work than in-person services. They mapped out the service page by page, eliminating some readings and paring down what is typically four to five hours to less than three.

“We anticipated that sitting straight through looking at a computer screen was taxing and that is why we broke up into sections,” Pam said. “We did not include shofar blasts in the building because of COVID and that’s how the idea of the outdoor (Shofar) service came to fruition.”

During the traditional Torah service, aliyot were read by congregants after unmuting themselves. Pam said nothing was pre-recorded other than Rabbi Meir's D’var Torah for the traditional service on Yom Kippur.

While worshippers were able to see each other on the gallery view, some did not have their cameras on. Other modifications during the season included changing the Torah covers before Selichot and instead of chanting the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur afternoon, a YouTube video on a related theme was utilized.

To keep members informed on plans, Administrative Assistant Marie McFadden and Communications Chair Beth Zweig worked on creating e-newsletters and other informational pieces for members with and without internet. Denny reached out to those who are not online to check on suitable options. Rabbi Meir created DVDs and CDs that went to those without computers so they could have a holiday experience even if they were unable to connect to services.

At the same time, other traditions were being reimagined. The Social Action Committee adapted the annual food drive into a drive-up and drop-off effort and a plan was formed for members to borrow machzorim to follow the services at home.

After Rabbi Meir planned the service and Denny determined participant parts, spreadsheets were developed outlining who was reading, page numbers, and production notes on camera angles for pre-recording. Timing was carefully worked out by Rabbi Meir and Cantor Shore with hard choices to try to ensure that no segment of the service extended past 1 hour and 15 minutes.

On September 10, members were scheduled 15 minutes apart throughout the day to record their parts. A sanitizing station outside the front door and a staging area in the Social Hall were established, along with safety protocols for those coming in the building or using prayer books.

The most intricate part of the production came for Kol Nidre when six congregants each held a Torah in a line on the bimah though they never actually were in the room together. They were recorded at different times and united by an intricate plan and seamless editing.

Spaces were blocked out in advance so that each person would eventually be in height order holding the Torah on the appropriate side for the shot to be successful. Each was recorded from three different angles at 40 seconds per angle and then edited together to look like they were next to each other.

“Everything was carefully planned for the recordings,” Samara said. “Lighting was a big deal. Blocking and cues were figured out. Even the candles on the bimah were monitored so their height was consistent throughout. This was a big undertaking.”

Rabbi Meir said every congregation was in the same boat this year due to the pandemic.

“We needed to find a way to do it and make it feel as special as we could,” he said. “Some wonderful things happened that we didn’t plan for. In addition to the quality of the Torah readings (by Bruce Colegrove and Shai Hadashi), we had an ‘action shot’ over the shoulder, giving the ability to see the yad move across the scroll. That doesn’t usually happen. This was very special.”

Despite the circumstances, Rabbi Meir said the holidays created an unusual and important moment for us as a congregation and for him in his first season with us.

“It was special because we were praying in the Sanctuary,” he said. “Even though we weren’t together physically, we were connected as a community.” 

Doris Fogel: "Harbor from the Holocaust"

Temple member Doris Fogel shares details of the eight years she spent in Shanghai as a young refugee from Germany as part of a new documentary airing on Tuesday, September 8 at 10 p.m. on PBS-Fort Wayne called Harbor from the Holocaust.

The hour-long film depicts the story of nearly 20,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe to the Chinese port of Shanghai during World War II. It explores the relationship of these Jewish refugees and their adopted city of Shanghai, even through the bitter years of Japanese occupation from 1937-1945 and the Chinese civil war that followed.

Doris, 86, said she has not yet seen the documentary. She was flown to New York to be interviewed, describing the questions as “never ending” about her experiences from the time she and her mother left Berlin in January 1939 when Doris was 4 ½ years old.

She said she talked about her schooling in Shanghai’s Jewish Ghetto and living in one room with her mother and close friends she considered her “aunt,” “uncle,” and “cousin,” who was five years older. After the war, they were sponsored by an American couple. Doris said she boarded a ship for California on her 13th birthday, weighing 65 pounds, later settling in Peoria, Illinois.

“What was most meaningful about this project was to let the world know what happened – most people don’t know there were 20,000 Jews at Shanghai,” she said.

When she volunteers at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Doris said she speaks to visitors who have no idea that “Shanghai was the port of last resort.”

“That’s why I do what I do – to let the world know that we are survivors from a ghetto rather than a concentration camp and we went through hell and back,” she said.

After living in Fort Wayne for 52 years, Doris moved to the Chicago area to be near her three children and grandchildren. She is a past president of Achduth Vesholom and past Executive Director and president of the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne. She spoke last April about her experiences, via videoconferencing, at the Temple’s Yom Hashoah service.

The Federation is a sponsor of the documentary on PBS-Fort Wayne
Bruce Colegrove: The Girls in the Auschwitz Band

From the June-July 2018 Temple Bulletin.

Temple member Bruce Colegrove describes the girls’ band at Auschwitz-Birkenau as the “most eclectic, the most unique, the most controversial, and, without any question, the most zealously documented gathering of female musical talent the world has ever known.”

Their story, he says, also is one of the most inspiring. Bruce recently developed a new website dedicated to sharing his extensive research on the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz, which was founded in the concentration camp in April 1943.

He calls them “the Girls in the Auschwitz Band” on his website (, influenced by the title of a memoir translated from Polish to “One of the Girls in the Band.” Bruce also notes that the majority of band members were extremely young and the ensemble bore little resemblance to what we would consider an orchestra.

“We have a sacred duty to remember the Holocaust,” said Bruce, who teaches Hebrew to students in the Temple’s Religious School and has been a b’nei mitzvah tutor for nearly 18 years.

“This story needs to be remembered. There are so many inspiring stories of survival. This also is a way to remember who they were and where they were from. The more I find out, the more I feel this is a memorial to them, their parents, siblings and spouses who did not survive.”

He traces the stories of the women from 30 cities in 12 countries who faced barbaric conditions and death at Auschwitz. The musicians were aged 14 to 58. At first, the SS refused to consider including Jews in the band, but later relented to utilize their musical talents.

The band’s primary job was to play when prisoners were marched to and from their daily work details at the camp gate. They gave concerts for prisoners and the SS. They played for prisoners in the infirmary and sometimes when transports arrived or during selections.

Bruce, 64, said he’s been interested in Holocaust literature for many years. A colleague at Canterbury High School, where he teaches Spanish, suggested he read Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved, which talks about a moral “gray zone” between good and evil.

From there, he taught a course called Films of the Holocaust that included “Playing for Time.” The 1980 made-for-tv movie stars Vanessa Redgrave as Fania Fenelon, a classical pianist and singer in Paris, who is arrested during the Nazi occupation for her support of the French underground.

She is sent to Auschwitz, where she becomes part of the camp’s all-female orchestra led by conductor Alma Rose. Rose, a well-known violinist, came from a distinguished family. Her father, Arnold, was the concertmaster for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and her uncle was composer Gustav Mahler.

Bruce became fascinated with the story and the controversy provoked by the film. He still teaches the films course each spring at Canterbury, but he no longer shows “Playing for Time” because he says it misrepresents the story.

His language skills extend beyond Spanish. Bruce learned German while serving overseas in the U.S. Army, adding Ancient Greek upon his return. He has studied a half-dozen other languages as well. As part of his research for the website, he translated information from Ladino, German, Spanish, French and Hebrew. He said he wishes he knew Russian and Polish to help with his project.

His motivation for the website includes the desire to write a screenplay someday to correct the inaccuracies of the film. It’s also a fascinating story, Bruce said, including the murky circumstances around the death of Alma Rose. He has a theory about what happened to her that he continues to research.

“The story of the girls’ band is compelling because something like this could happen again,” he said. “We need to be aware. We can’t let this go unremembered.”

Leonard Goldstein: Write To Make Right

Our Member Spotlight in the February 2015 Temple Bulletin recognized Leonard Goldstein, who was an active member of our congregation until his death in April 2018.

Every day when Leonard Goldstein picks up the newspaper, he reads something that disturbs him. That’s when he gets the urge to write a letter to the editor.

“I’ve always felt Judaism is based on justice,” said the 95-year-old chair of the Temple’s Social Action Committee. “Injustice always raised my ire. I could write every day. Rikki (his wife and sometime editor) calls me ‘the last angry man.’”

By his estimates, he’s written about 4-5 letters a month, primarily to the Fort Wayne newspapers, since the very first note in 1948 when he shared his thoughts about a local judge who made anti-feminist remarks about women “trolling on the street.”

Len said he feels everyone should try this effort at tikkun olam, “repairing the world.” “When someone tells me they liked my letter, I thank them and say ‘why don’t you write?’”  he said. “That’s why we have the politicians we have today because people don’t write, though we do have other Jews with opposite views of mine who also are active.”

Larry Adelman, a past president of the Temple and chair of the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne’s Community Relations Committee, said he always looks forward to Len’s letters because of their clarity.

“He is, and always has been, the conscience of our community,” Larry said. “Whether readers agree or disagree with his position, he is universally respected in the community for his passion, his commitment, and his willingness to be heard publicly.” 

Len acknowledges that he doesn’t always write when he’s irked and not everything he writes is printed. However, The Journal Gazette twice has given him the monthly Golden Pen Award for most effective letter under his name and a third time when he wrote under a nom de plume for a fellow congregant.

Len, who serves on the Temple Board, has a stack of file folders with copies of his letters to the editor. So what’s he passionate about? Jewish issues. Education. Liberal politics, economics, and Israel. Church-State issues. Women’s Rights. Health Care. Same-sex marriage.

“Letters about education get the most responses,” he said.  

What makes a good letter? “It gets published,” he said with a smile, adding that letters should be thought-provoking and motivate action.

While Len does get comments on some of his letters, including during Oneg Shabbats, he said the impact of sharing his opinions this way is immeasurable. “I do it,” he said, “because I’d be frustrated if I didn’t.”  

Len said he would like his epitaph someday to read: “I hope I made a difference.”

Celebrating Leonard and Rikki Goldstein

After nearly 71 years calling Fort Wayne and Achduth Vesholom home, Leonard and Rikki Goldstein have relocated from Fort Wayne. During a Shabbat service in September 2016, we offered our best wishes and gratitude to them for their involvement, generosity, and commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world). (News-Sentinel on the Goldsteins: Giving Back to Fort Wayne)

We also congratulated Len on being named to the 2016 Hoosier Jewish Legends – A Hall of Fame, which was inaugurated this year by the Indiana Jewish Historical Society as part of the Indiana Bicentennial. Len was recognized at the IJHS annual meeting in October for making “a significant and lasting impact to their profession, community, and the fabric of our cultural heritage in Indiana."

In nominating Len for the award, Congregation Achduth Vesholom, the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, and Congregation B'nai Jacob jointly submitted the following thoughts:

Leonard Goldstein is an extraordinary role model of philanthropic leadership. He is a tireless public servant, dedicated to higher education, to Jewish culture, and to developing the next generation of leaders. Len has been a strong voice in support of Israel, in favor of human rights, and promoting public education. Giving and volunteering is tradition to Len Goldstein. He is a generous donor, as well as giving equally of his time and talents. Leonard Goldstein is a mensch in every sense of the word and a true model of the person we should all aspire to be!

Leonard Goldstein is a major reason why the IU Jewish Studies program at IU Bloomington has kept growing in the last decade. Not only did Len spearhead the campaign to establish an endowed chair for the Jewish Studies department, but he and his wife also established the Leonard M. and Ruth K. Goldstein Matching the Promise Scholarship in Jewish Studies, a four­-year scholarship that was initiated in the fall of 2010 to be awarded to an incoming freshman at IU. 

Giving and volunteering is a tradition to Len Goldstein. He is a longtime board member of the Indiana ACLU, and was honored with its Founders Award in 2004, ‘given to a person who has seized an opportunity to make exceptional gains in the enhancement of civil liberties.’ As a civil rights advocate and community elder, Len has been honored by numerous civil and human rights organizations including the Fort Wayne Urban League as an Urban League Lion. He also is a well­-known activist in the Jewish community. 

He has served on both the Temple (Congregation Achduth Vesholom) and Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne boards and been a very generous donor to both, as well as giving equally generously of his time and talents. He has been a strong voice in support of Israel, in favor of human rights, and promoting public education with frequent, articulate letters and op-­ed pieces in both Fort Wayne newspapers, averaging about 4 or 5 a month since 1948. Although not everything he writes gets printed, The Journal Gazette has given twice Len the monthly Golden Pen Award for most effective letter under his name and a third time when he wrote under a nom de plume for a fellow congregant.

Len served on the Fort Wayne Community Schools Board and was, in fact, board president in the late 1970s. It was a tumultuous time, including a lawsuit filed against Fort Wayne Community Schools over segregation; and under Len’s leadership, the district established magnet schools that helped resolve the dispute and desegregate the schools.

Over the years Len has contributed his time, talent and resources to many, many Jewish organizations, as well as other organizations in the community, including the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Arts United, Allen County Public Library, Rotary, FAME (Foundation for Art and Music in Education), and Fort Wayne Center for Learning, to name a few. Leonard Goldstein is passionate about tikkun olam, “repairing the world” and once said that someday “I hope to make a difference.” We know that he has already made a difference and are proud to nominate Leonard Goldstein​for The Hoosier Jewish Legends – A Hall of Fame 2016.

Rikki, too, has made innumerable contributions to the Jewish and larger community.

For many years, she taught cooking to our Religious School students and served on the Temple Board of Directors. She recalls that when she was vice president years ago, the nominating committee told her that “there had never been a woman president because women didn’t have secretaries to do that work so I wouldn’t be asked to move up.” Rikki received her bachelor’s degree at age 50 from IPFW.  

She was a founding mother of the Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau in 1976, where she worked as Director of Peer Counseling for 20 years. She moved to the Neighborhood Health Clinics in 1996 as Coordinator of the Social Services Department. She just retired on Friday, August 12. She and Len also were jointly appointed Sagamores of the Wabash by then-Governor Evan Bayh.

The Goldsteins have four children (Michael Goldstein, Steven Goldstein, Jan Goldstein, and Lisa Post), eight grandchildren, and two great-grandsons.

Bruce Colegrove: Multi-Lingual Mensch Finds Meaning in Torah

Bruce Colegrove’s passion for language couldn’t be missed when he read Torah on Yom Kippur morning at the Temple. His enthusiasm for finding deeper meaning was clear as he translated the passage from Deuteronomy directly from the sacred scroll. At one point during the reading, a visitor turned around in his seat to tell a board member: “This guy is amazing!”


 A Hebrew teacher in our Religious School and a b’nei mitzvah tutor for most of the past 14 years, Bruce began preparing for his aliyah several weeks ahead of time after accepting Rabbi Cattapan’s invitation for the Day of Atonement. Bruce said he read through the passage, consulted a grammar book and materials in his collection, and reviewed the Hebrew to make sure he knew the meaning of all the words.


 “For me, knowing what it means is crucial,” said Bruce, a native of Elmira, New York. “When I prepare kids for their bar or bat mitzvahs, I want them to know what the passage means. As a language teacher, that’s number one.”


 In addition to working with students at the Temple, Bruce teaches Spanish at Canterbury High School. He studied Spanish as a kid and learned German while serving overseas in the U.S. Army, adding Ancient Greek upon his return. His subsequent language studies included Sanskrit, Latin, French, Old Irish, Old Icelandic, Hittite, Lithuanian, and “a little Persian.” He said he dabbled in Italian and Dutch, and taught himself Hebrew.


With a bachelor’s degree in Classics from Elmira College, Bruce completed most of the work toward a PhD at Cornell University in Classics with a concentration in Historical Linguistics and Indo-European Languages. Drawing on his knowledge of the spoken and written word, Bruce notes that “verbs in Hebrew are challenging, but they are nothing compared to Old Irish or Ancient Greek.”


Bruce, 61, has two children. His daughter, Rachel, 21, is a junior at Indiana University who currently is studying in Lima, Peru. His son, Jack, 15, is in 9th grade at Canterbury High School.


A Jew by choice, Bruce said he’s always enjoyed studying Torah and found it inspiring because “it’s the world's wisest poetry.” He said it’s particularly meaningful to study the text directly rather than a translation because the nuances are so important. The discussion prompts him to explain particular illusions that appear in the passage and why he needed to clarify the meaning of a verb. He also patiently explains lexical themes and poetic figures of speech such as anaphora (repetition of a word or phrase) that help to fully appreciate and comprehend the portion.


By his estimates, his Yom Kippur morning 5775 reading is the fourth time he’s had the honor of reading Torah on the High Holy Days at Achduth Vesholom. Bruce praised Rabbi Cattapan’s “genuine love of Torah” and wishes more people would embrace the challenge of reading Torah.


 “When I’m standing there, my prayer is ‘Adonai, use me to speak to the people,’” he said. “Ultimately, we’re only as good as Adonai lets us be. All the wisdom and good comes from Adonai. This is Jewish tradition. Only when we cling to the Tree of Life can we impart it. I try to explain to the kids that we have no comprehension of Divine Nature - that it’s beyond the abilities of the human mind to understand.”

From the November 2014 Temple Bulletin

Matthew Katinsky: Reaching Out To Care For Congregants
The containers of homemade lentil soup in the Temple's freezer are just one sign of Matthew Katinsky's desire to tend to the needs of the community. So are the phone calls he regularly makes to check on congregants who have had surgery and the offers of meals to families facing a challenging situation.

In the time he's chaired the Caring Committee, Matthew has offered computer assistance that enabled a hospitalized member to watch a webcast of his son's band competition. He connected an elderly member with someone who could assist in hauling paint and other chemicals in preparation for a move. And he helped encourage members to send jokes to cheer an ailing congregant.

"Offering meals and rides and minyans are standard things to help each other and are important," said Matthew, a Temple board member and co-advisor of the Junior Youth Group. "The odd things we do along the way -- you never know when or what will help -- have incredible impact."

Matthew stresses, though, that he doesn't do it alone. He notes that our members have been helping others within our Temple family for a long time when aware of a situation. One reason he said he got involved is to give back for the outpouring of support last year when his wife, Nola, and daughter, Hannah, were in a car accident.

What is new, he said, is that the Caring Committee now is trying to fill the gap to reach out to the elderly or those whose families aren't nearby or whose needs may not always be visible. He's also growing a team of those who are ready to help.

So far, Matthew has enlisted 55 volunteers who are "on-call" to respond if the Caring Committee identifies a need. He said he'd "love for everyone to be a volunteer" and is looking for people who have the enthusiasm, desire and time to help makes calls.

Melissa Kessel also continues her long-time commitment to sending cards and notes to Temple members who are celebrating a simcha or facing a challenge. Matthew also stays in touch with Rabbi Cattapan to support his efforts.

To Matthew, who moved to Fort Wayne about five years ago with his wife, daughter and son, Joseph, one of the keys to living a Jewish life is the focus on communal responsiblity. That desire to tend to the needs of the community as a whole is what inspired him to get involved.

"I think it's an important part of what defines being Jewish," said Matthew, who is a Geographic Information Systems programmer. "It's difficult to do in this modern age when we don't all live next to each other and don't always know what's going on in each other's lives and we are always concerned about privacy."
Jan Sarratore: Living An Active Jewish Life

Since arriving in Fort Wayne nearly 30 years ago, Jan Sarratore has lived an active Jewish life with her family. In fact, her husband, Steve, said they bought a house near the Temple so distance would never be a reason to say “no.” Jan has been involved in just about every activity at Achduth Vesholom for as long as she’s been a Hoosier – and she shows no signs of slowing down.

Jan was honored for her service to the congregation in June at the Temple’s Annual Meeting with the William Brosler Award for Outstanding Volunteerism. A few days later, she also was recognized by the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne with the Goldie DuBow Award for her many volunteer contributions.

“I don't do any of the things I do for recognition,” she said. “I enjoy every organization I work with and hope that I'm contributing positively to their mission in some small way. I've learned so much from each one and have met so many interesting people.”

A member of the Temple board and chair of the Adult Education Committee, Jan also creates the educational items for Thoughtful Thursdays and works regularly with the Temple Head Start parents and staff. She is involved with the Rifkin Campus at 5200 project as director of the new Madge Rothschild Resource Center.

She organized our popular Yiddish class, represents the Temple on the Northeast Indiana LGBTQ Coalition and Habitat for Humanity, and has worked on joint projects with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fort Wayne, including the Faith & Politics series. And those are just her recent contributions to the Temple.

Those who work closely with Jan know that she’s even busier now that she’s retired from teaching. She’s usually dashing from a Temple meeting to another volunteer commitment wearing a nametag or t-shirt for the next event.

In addition to serving as secretary of the Jewish Federation board, Jan volunteers with the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, the Embassy Theater, Women United, Fort Wayne Association for the Education of Young Children, and Little River Wetlands Project. She recently was nominated for the 2015 YWCA Peggy Hobbs Service Award.

Steve, her husband of 40 years, explains that the biggest impact from Jan’s involvement at the Temple and in the community is that she’s a “connecting force,” someone who gets involved, assists with communications, and links people to people, organizations to organizations.

Her daughter Alana, who lives in New Jersey with her husband Greg Mulford and 3-year-old son, Austin, calls her a “real role model.” Jan’s son, Andrew, who lives in California with his wife, Lindsey, calls his mother “an inspiration. Both say they were taught the value of volunteering from a young age and “shown what it meant to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Andy & Janet Katz: Commitment to Environment and Tikkun Olam Leads to Green Home

In 2010, Temple members Andy and Janet Katz found themselves on the verge of becoming empty-nesters. They considered how to refocus their energy and priorities now that their children, Jamie and Becky, would no longer be living at home. Andy and Janet felt an obligation to try to make their lives more sustainable in keeping with their longstanding commitment to the environment and the Jewish commandments of Tikkun Olam.

At a time in life when others may have chosen to downsize and to minimize yard work to make their lives simpler, Andy and Janet decided to build a “farm.” After four years of researching, designing, planning and saving, they broke ground on their suburban homestead, Green Oak Farm, this past summer in southwest Fort Wayne.

The house was designed using sustainable architecture concepts and the LEED certification guidelines from the U.S. Green Building Council.  The house plans include a very “tight” building envelope built from ICFs (Insulated Concrete Forms), lots of insulation, low energy use appliances, high efficiency heating and cooling, ultra low energy LED lighting and wiring, home control and monitoring, and low flow plumbing fixtures.  A large photovoltaic solar array will help supplement their electric power. The five-acre property will largely be planted with tall grass prairie and will include an orchard and large vegetable garden beds each irrigated with rainwater from the roof collected in underground cisterns.

Utilizing the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards enables Andy and Janet to ensure that the products and processes they are using to construct their home can be independently verified as truly “green.”  This new home will not only enable them to live with a smaller carbon footprint, but they will be able to grow much of their own food.  In addition to fruits and vegetables, they plan to have beehives and perhaps a few chickens.

Sustainability has been defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  To Andy and Janet, this means they need to assure that they are limiting their use of natural resources and using recycled, reclaimed, rapidly renewable and locally-sourced materials wherever possible.  Finally they need to assure that the house is built to last a long time, not only as a place for the Katzes to retire, but also as a sustainable homestead for generations to come.

Though Green Oak Farm will be primarily their home, Andy and Janet are committed to making the house and property a community resource for education and advocacy for improved sustainability in Northeast Indiana. 

The construction of the home is now well underway.  Andy and Janet anticipate that the roof will be on by Thanksgiving and the windows will be in place by Hanukkah.  They hope to be able to move into the home late next summer and are looking forward to building a Sukkah in the backyard next fall.  

Those interested in following the joys and challenges of this home construction project can look for Green Oak Farm on Facebook or at 

From the December 2014/January 2015 Temple Bulletin.

Rena Black: Keeping The Story of the Holocaust Alive
It’s important to Rena Black that the history of the Holocaust and its lessons are not forgotten. As the new chair of the Temple’s Holocaust Education Committee, Rena has a personal connection that informs her involvement.

Her father Curt Stein left Germany in the early 1930s to live in the United States. After the Nazis started requiring all Jews to wear yellow Stars of David and closed their schools to Jewish students, other family members fled their homes in Worms. Rena’s Uncle Henry and her grandparents Julius and Irmgard Stein came directly to the U.S., while her aunt Gerda Schmitz went to South America. Many of their extended family members weren’t fortunate enough to escape.

“As people in the surviving generation are passing away, it’s incumbent on the rest of us to keep the story alive, make sure history is not lost, and put it in the context of new uprisings, especially in Europe,” she said.

Rena, a long-time congregant and local Realtor, was appointed chair in January. She succeeds her mother, Betty Stein, who had led the Holocaust Education Committee since its inception some 30 years ago with assistance from the late Jo Rothberg. 

Much of the funding for current programs comes from the Temple’s Max & Gerda Schmitz Holocaust Education Fund that was established in 2007 by their daughters – Rena’s cousins -- to honor their parents. (Not only were the late Max & Gerda active members of Achduth Vesholom, but both of Rena’s parents and her brother John Stein have served the congregation as president.)

The five-member Holocaust Education Committee currently is developing a large symposium for May 2016 that will bring together 25 soon-to-be-teachers -- recent graduates of Indiana universities and colleges -- who are beginning teaching careers in social studies and history. During a five-day visit to Fort Wayne, they will learn more about Holocaust history and ways to best share that information in middle and high school classrooms. In addition to speakers from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and IPFW’s Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Rena said they hope to have a survivor speak.

With the long-term planning needed for the symposium, 98-year-old Betty said she felt it was time to pass the torch as chair of the committee. She said that her daughter’s sense of integrity and family background will help Rena take on the task of sharing the lessons of the Holocaust.

“We must get people to remember, but also to live by it,” Betty said. “When you see injustice, don’t just look at it. It’s part of Judaism, an imperative. You’ve got to fight against stuff like that and do something about it. The Holocaust committee’s job is to remind people so something like this is never repeated, to learn that you have speak up about injustice.”

In addition to her involvement with Holocaust education, Rena is chief interviewer for our congregation’s oral history project and recently recorded Artist Nancy McCroskey, who created the Holocaust Memorial in 1986 in front of the Temple.

The committee has materials available for use by local schools that include a classroom set of Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” as well as a DVD of local Holocaust survivors telling their stories (available online at Holocaust Committee members include Betty Stein, Fran Adler, Jaki Schreier, and Steve Carr.

Rena said the committee is in the process of forming a Speakers Bureau to field requests from area schools, churches, and business organizations. She said training is planned so that speakers can give similar and professional presentations.

Training Puppies: The Gift of Independence
Deborah and Michael Worpell never expected to be training a puppy in their spare time - especially now that their children are in college. But at the urging of a friend who is legally blind, the Temple members got involved in 2012 with Leader Dogs for the Blind.

“We’d been talking about how we always had dogs, but after we had to put ours down, we said…we can’t take the heartache even though we missed having a pet,” said Deborah. “Our friend Jim suggested that we look at being a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs. We have a puppy for 12 to 15 months, teach good mann
ers and social graces, and then we return them for further training, and we can get another puppy.”

Founded in 1939 by three Detroit-area Lions Club members, Leader Dogs for the Blind helps people who are blind, visually impaired, or Deaf-Blind. According to the organization's website, the group helps "with skills for a lifetime of independent travel, opening doors that may seem to have closed with the loss of sight."

The Worpells started in late March 2014 to work with Shannon, an 8-week-old yellow Labrador. She is their third puppy through Leader Dogs. Their first puppy ended up having a medical discharge and the second puppy was advanced in late March for formal training. Shannon visited with the Temple's Religious School students on the first day of class 2014.

Deborah said the dogs are trained to assist the visually impaired all over the world, including in Israel. There is no charge to the client for the dog, transportation or training.

"The most rewarding part for us is knowing you'll give someone the gift of independence and security," she said. "Raising the puppies is our ongoing mitzvah!"

Deborah said Shannon goes to work with her and Michael at his podiatry office. She said puppy raisers give basic training and obedience lessons, including ho wto sit, stay, down, leave it, and how to walk nicely on a leash through all situations. The trainers are responsible for taking puppies wherever they go so the puppies get used to sights, sounds, and crowds. After the full 12-15 months of training, she said, the puppy is returned to Leader Dogs for their formal training.

Once a puppy returns to Leader Dogs and has been successfully training, Deborah said, the puppy is matched with a client and spends another month at Leader Dogs being trained to work together. It is up to the client whether to meet the puppy raiser and stay in touch. If for some reason, the puppy does not make it through the program, he is placed in another type of service situation or the puppy raiser is allowed to adopt the puppy.

Deobrah and Michael go to a local puppy training session once a month in the Fort Wayne area where they meet other puppy raisers and a counselor. They go to Rochester Hills every other month for a weekend of training.
Thoughtful Thursdays Committee: Combining Social Time With Social Action

There’s a rhythm to the activities in Room 106 when the Thoughtful Thursdays team assembles. The conversations begin almost as soon as the volunteers arrive, with only a few pauses along the way for instructions about the cans, bottles, packages, and educational lessons that will be included in the bags for 86 Temple Head Start students.

The assembly line soon reaches full steam. Bags are filled and then moved next door to the Head Start office until the task is complete. An inventory for the next bag is later taken and plans are made for the coming month.

The atmosphere is comfortable, collaborative, and productive. Perhaps that’s why a dozen or more volunteers from Achduth Vesholom, B’nai Jacob, and the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne help on a given morning to assemble Thoughtful Thursdays’ bags.

“We have a purpose, but we’re also a social group,” says Chair Jamie Berger, who co-founded the nationally recognized project and frequently makes several trips a week to the Temple to drop off items for the bags. “Social action is our mission, but the social part is key, too. We have a big core group.”

Federation President Fran Adler explains: “It’s fun to get together and visit with people and feel you’re helping the community at the same time.”

The group will prepare the final bags of the school year on May 6, completing its fifth year of service later this month by sending large packs of toilet paper home with the Head Start families. While the social part of their work comes mainly during bag assembly mornings, the Thoughtful Thursdays team includes many more volunteers than the ones dubbed the “Bag Ladies.”   

Under Jamie’s leadership, the mitzvah project involves the efforts of many. Kathy Sider and Cindi Wismer are among the shoppers who look for bargains and then schlep dozens of items to the Temple. Kay Safirstein has a knack for buying child-friendly items and tissues. Arlene Leib finds bargains on jello and pudding. Jan Finkel arrives early on assembly days to make sure everything is organized. Ongoing help comes from Jaki Schreier, Micki Kepes, and Bonnie Smith.

The gathering of items is not as easy as it seems, such as when the team needs 86 winter hats and gloves within budget or needs to transport 86+ rotisserie chickens from Sam’s Club for the Head Start students and staff.

Jordan Berger, who co-founded Thoughtful Thursdays with her mother, continues to assist while away at Cornell University by writing grants to help fund the project. The Dr. Harry W. Salon Foundation contributes generously, along with many members of the Jewish community and local businesses.

Janet Katz has a relationship with local farmers to provide fresh produce. Jan Sarratore, a retired teacher, creates educational activities and works with Head Start parents and teachers to share ways to foster learning. Talia Bugel translates the materials into Spanish. Cindi Wismer creates recipe cards, shops online for bargains, and helps with organization.

“One of the perks of working on Thoughtful Thursdays is the immediate effect that this social action project has on the families,” Cindi says. “This bridges nutrition with education, as well as provides hands-on help with adult literacy to help preschoolers.”

The Junior Youth Group has gotten involved collecting items and assembling projects. Rita O’Neill sponsors the turkey giveaways at holiday time. Martha Replane helps with correspondence. Beth Zweig takes photos to promote the program. Many volunteers bake for parent appreciation luncheons. Temple staff members Sally Trotter, Bonnie Crubaugh, Bonnie Pomerantz, and Clint Rossiter also go the extra mile to assist.

Jamie hopes the tikkun olam effort continues to capture the enthusiasm of the Jewish community when Thoughtful Thursdays begins again next school year. More volunteers are welcome. 

Member Spotlight
We've been Building Jewish Community Since 1848 at Achduth Vesholom. Welcome to our new Member Spotlight page! Learn more about:
  • The ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out)
  • Jan Sarratore
  • Irv Adler: Searching Holocaust Records For My Grandmother's Story
  • Thoughtful Thursdays Committee
  • Matthew Katinsky
  • Rena Black
  • Leonard Goldstein
  • Janet & Andy Katz
  • Bruce Colegrove
  • Tal Ben-Yehoshua
  • Deborah and Michael Worpell
Searching Holocaust Records for My Grandmother's Story

Irv Adler, the Temple’s Treasurer, traveled to Vienna recently to place a Stone of Remembrance in front of the home where his grandmother Clara Bader Nichtern lived before she was killed by the Nazis. Through extensive research that he continues today, Irv learned that his grandmother was murdered in June 1942 at the Maly Trostinets death camp outside of Minsk. We’re sharing the remarks he made during the commemoration on May 18, 2014. Find more in the August Bulletin.

I was born in 1943 and grew up with my family and extended family in the upper west side of New York City, which – based on what I understand today – was sort of a Vienna transplanted. I never heard the word "Holocaust" until probably sometime in the 1980s. As I got older, I realized that I had European parents. And then I realized that I had Viennese parents. And then I realized that everyone in my family came from Vienna. Other than the fact that they all came from Vienna and that Vienna was a great European city, I had no clue what this meant.

Sometime, I don’t recall exactly when, I found out that my maternal grandmother never got out of Europe and was killed by the Nazis. I had no idea when she died or where she died; and whenever I had a conversation with my mother about this, the conversation was very short, as my mother would become very emotionally distraught and couldn’t talk about anything.

My mother, Elsa Nichtern, left Vienna in September 1938. She went to England and then, two years later, she came to America. When my mother left Vienna, she took her aunt with her, fully expecting to get her mother, Clara Bader Nichtern, out of Vienna also. That never happened. My mother carried that burden with her, her entire life. 

As I was growing up, I got bits and pieces of the story at various times, but never any details of what had happened in Vienna or why the people I knew and met growing up were here in America. And I knew virtually nothing about the family members who didn’t get out.

My mother and father moved to Florida in 1974. In 1996, my father passed away. My mother and I decided it was time to move her from her condo to an independent-living facility. It was during this move that I discovered a leather-bound suitcase that could have been used as a prop on the set of Casablanca. It contained photo albums and various papers relating to my parents and other family members– and a small, tightly wound pack of letters, tied with a pink ribbon, in an old and somewhat yellowish plastic pouch with a zipper on top. 

About one year later, during a visit to my mother’s independent-living facility, I sat down with her. We took out the suitcase, pulled out some old photo albums and I finally got her to provide some more details on her mother and other family members, many of whom I never knew or had even heard of.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mother, who was 87, was starting to lose her mental faculties. Shortly thereafter, my mother had a stroke and lost her ability to speak. My mother passed away in December 2003. (Photo: 1932: Irv's mother and grandmother.)

In August of 2010, my wife, Fran, and I took a vacation to Europe, which included stops in Prague, Budapest and Vienna. We got to Vienna late in the afternoon of Sunday, August 8, 2010, and decided to see the Holocaust Memorial at Judenplatz. We noticed a small museum in a corner of the plaza. We entered and looked around. In the museum shop, a woman was sitting behind a counter which had literature about the Viennese Jewish community. I struck up a conversation with the woman and told her that my Viennese grandmother had been killed during the Holocaust and asked her where I could get some more information about victims of the Holocaust. She said we should go to the DOEW (Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance).

At 9 AM the next day, we were at the DOEW. We were greeted by an elderly woman. We told her we had no appointment and why we came to the DOEW. A few minutes later, we were escorted to an office where we first met Dr. Elisabeth Klamper, the DOEW archivist. After about 15 minutes of searching through the DOEW records, Dr. Klamper raised her head from behind the computer screen. Her face had lost its color. She said, “I have some very bad news to tell you. Your grandmother was killed at Maly Trostinets.” I had no idea what she was talking about, since I had never heard of Maly Trostinets. Dr. Klamper gave us a brief rundown of the Maly Trostinets extermination camp. Since then I have learned a great deal more. I now know more about my grandmother’s life and how she came to live in Leopoldstadt. I now know that my grandmother was murdered in June 1942 at the Maly Trostinets death camp outside of Minsk.

After we met with Dr. Klamper, what originally was planned as a five-day vacation resulted in 2½ days of researching at the Israelische Kultesgemeinde (IKG) and the Archives of the City of Vienna to find out everything I could about my family.

When we returned to our home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I pulled out the suitcase with the letters. I opened the plastic pouch and took out the bundle of letters and started to remove the letters from the tightly wound bundle: one by one and very carefully. Some were damaged, but most were in good shape. Some were on conventional writing paper. Some were on very thin tissue paper. Some were about the size of a standard piece of typing paper. Some were about twice that size. Most had multiple authors. Most were completely covered with writing. There were about 100 letters written from 1938 to 1941.

At this point, I didn’t quite know what I had. But I knew enough to realize that the letters could represent a diary of my grandmother’s life under Nazi occupation. I knew that I had to get them translated. After about 1 year trying to find a translator, and as a result of my wife’s involvement with a Fort Wayne Holocaust education group, we met Joy Gieschen, a graduate student at a local university, who agreed to take on the translation project. Joy studied German as an undergraduate student and had recently returned to the USA after spending 1 year in Austria. At the time of our meeting, Joy was pursuing a master’s degree in education, preparing for a career as a German teacher.

Joy became very involved with the letters and asked if she could use the translated letters as the basis for her master’s degree research project. As Joy was discovering information about my grandmother, it started to become clear that possibly the letters could form the basis of a larger research project and even a broader-based Holocaust research publication. With this in mind, we decided to go back to Vienna; back to the DOEW; back to the IKG; and to visit the places where my grandmother lived. So in June 2012, Fran, Joy and I traveled to Vienna.

As fate would have it, Joy was actively looking for a job during spring 2012. One of the job possibilities was teaching at an international school in Vienna. Joy made arrangements to go there for a preliminary interview when we were in Vienna. We decided to go with her. As we were leaving the school, we mentioned that our main reason for the Vienna trip was to do research on the “Letters” project. One of the teachers at the school asked if we knew about the plaques that had been put into the sidewalks of Leopoldstadt. These plaques identified the last known residences of Viennese Holocaust victims and marked a trail through what was the most concentrated Jewish neighborhood in all of Vienna. We knew nothing about these plaques. We then went to Leopoldstadt and started searching for the Der Weg der Erinnerung. We found it and took down the information about Der Weg. I did some internet research on this project and wrote letters to Dr. Elisabeth Ben David-Hindler. Once I found out more details about Der Weg der Erinnerung project, I knew that I had to preserve my grandmother’s memory by dedicating a stone for her.

So here I am today in the neighborhood where my grandmother and many of her family and friends and thousands of other Viennese Jews lived. Some of them we know and some we will never know. Here is where they lived for many years or for just a short time, before their lives were so tragically and terribly destroyed by Nazi persecution.

May all their memories be for a blessing.