Last Sunday, many Jewish groups and organizations including the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago came together to sponsor a Holocaust memorial observance in Skokie.
In synagogue last Monday as my wife Beverly and I prepared to leave Jerusalem, we also observed Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. As I listened to the chanting of El Maleh Rachamim, the prayer for the departed, I focused on the blessing that my grandmother gave to her youngest child, then 17 years old, when she paid for his ticket to America, thus sparing him the fate of his entire family at Auschwitz 19 years later. A huge blessing for him and a blessing for me, because that young man used that ticket to find his way to Chicago, where I was born 17 years later.
For years our family lived in Uptown. When my parents moved there in the 1930s it was a vibrant Jewish neighborhood. By the time we moved out in the mid-1950s it had crashed and the Jews fled. My dad was finally forced to close his store at 4703 N. Broadway in 1968 after three armed robberies.
To this day, Uptown hasn’t shed that reputation. Like so many other former Jewish neighborhoods in Chicago, Jewish Uptown is no more.
The experience of watching a beloved neighborhood decline and never come back gave me the motivation to devote my professional life to community betterment. Now in retirement I feel blessed to be able to continue that commitment by volunteering together with many of you through JCCWRP to preserve and improve West Rogers Park. Doing so in partnership with JUF/Federation is especially meaningful to me because it continues my 47-year connection with the field that has defined my career.
It’s so easy to take things for granted. But history doesn’t always have to repeat itself. The true blessing is to remember the sacrifices that others have made to give us a better life, and to use that memory to fuel our efforts to make our world -- and our neighborhood -- a better place.
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