!Bev Kagan, center, visits with seniors Ruth Gittlen and Ann Kollenberg.
Rabbi Michael Rascoe of Congregation Ahavis Israel.
Kagan counters Schwartz's
philosophy. She looks at their duo as
a good balance. They work well
together. He is practical, and she is a
"People have always wanted uni-
ty," Kagan says. "Now we are giving
them a vehicle. It is our responsibili-
ty to build for the future. We are too
small to be fragmented.
"I bring thoughts from the heart,
with emotion and energy! she says.
"I've given him the courage to dream
a little. He puts a lid on it and tries
to be realistic!"
The city has no Jewish communi-
ty center and no organized Jewish
welfare federation. And until now, its
two congregations — the Reform Tem-
ple Emanuel and Conservative Con-
gregation Ahavis Israel — have not
worked together on joint programm-
ing to reorganize and bring together
the small Jewish community.
Rabbi Michael Rascoe of Ahavis
Israel and Rabbi Albert Lewis of Ibm-
ple Emanuel now are concentrating
efforts on hosting community-wide
"We are willing to explore more
combined activities," Rabbi Lewis
says. "The spirit of cooperation is a lot
greater than it was when I first came
here 16 years ago. The community
has a greater sense of identity!'
On occasion, the boards of the
synagogue and temple talk about
combining memberships into one
unified congregation, Rabbi Lewis
says. But, he adds, each has vested in-
terests and won't combine unless
economics dictate the merger.
Meanwhile, the congregations
host a joint choir, summer camp for
children, adult education programs
and an annual adult retreat.
The community, Rabbi Lewis says,
is "on the verge of moving into all
kinds of exciting new directions!'
"There definitely is a lot of
cooperation," says Rabbi Rascoe. "It
may be because the two rabbis get.
along so well?'
"Up until recent times, the
Jewish community was good, but not
cohesive," says Dora Rosenzweig, one
of the originators of the 18-year-old
Jewish Cultural Council, which
brought the first Jewish art exhibit,
"The Fabric of Jewish Life," to the
Grand Rapids Public Library two
years ago. "The community was divid-
ed, but it is changing rapidly!'
Residents say lack of cooperation
between the congregations, assimila-
tion into the non-Jewish community
and a lack of active volunteers kept
the community divided.
Yet now things are different. Even
the rabbis want change. They agree
that the future of the community is
at stake unless they can create a
cohesive feeling within the Jewish
The original Jewish settlers in
Grand Rapids shared close bonds.
And a few cautious optimists today
are certain the current Jewish
residents also can grow into a close-
Julius Houseman, the first Grand
Rapids Jew, found his way to Grand
Rapids four years after leaving Ger-
many during its revolution in 1848.
Houseman was 20 years old when he
arrived at the 2,686-person city,
which had been incorporated for just
a few years.
Joe Schwartz, president of the Jewish
Then came his cousin, Joseph
Houseman, Albert Alsberg, Joseph
and David Newborg and Jacob Levy.
When Levy died at age 28, the small
group of Jewish settlers wanted to
give him a proper burial.
events. Observers speCulate that at-
They collected $100 and bought a
titudes between the two congrega- 1/2-acre parcel for a cemetery. It was
tions have changed because Rabbi September 21, 1857 and the beginn-
Rascoe, who came to Ahavis Israel ing of Temple Emanuel.
two years ago, is the first Conser-
The next 50 years brought Ahavis
vative rabbi in the city who has will- Ahem, an Orthodox congregation and
ingly worked with the Reform Beth Israel, a Conservative
synagogue. The two synagogues
"The Conservative congregation merged in the 1930s to form today's
is moving toward the center of the Ahavis Israel.
Conservative movement and our con-
Nine years ago, the Lubavitch
gregation is moving toward the center Chabad House opened, led by Rabbi
of the Reform movement!' Rabbi Yosef Weingarten. Its membership
consists of the rabbi and his im-