Sheldon: from Illinois, to OK Durham Shul for Shavuos

In the phone book or computer I saw a listing Orthodox congregation.  Upon my discovery I decided to attend.  It happened to be Shavuos, second day.  I arrived there was a note said no service, no minyan.  I knew I had found a home, it was just like my Aurora congregation, in need of a minyan.

What is your Jewish background from your youth?

I grew up in a small town, Naperville, IL. Population in 1950 was 7000. I graduated High School in 1956.  The number of Jewish families in town could be counted on the fingers of one hand.  How did my mothers family come to Naperville?  My mother had five brothers and no sisters.  Her oldest brother, Sam Rubin and his wife Anna left Chicago one day in 1918,  looking for a town to locate a retail store. Traveling West on Ogden Ave. (US Route 34) and after traveling 27 miles west, they came to Naperville and  chose the downtown area to open a store called Home Store.

Of course the store required employees, other relatives on both sides of family became employees. My mother would come and help in the store, but not full time.

America’s entry into World War One, brought changes.  My mother’s brother Benny was drafted and my father was drafted.  After the war, Uncle Benny came to work in the store, he belonged to a  local club with other WW One Vets.  My father was also a member of the club.  Eventually Benny becomes a matchmaker, and introduces my father to his sister Carrie.   The problem with this introduction, my mother is Orthodox, and my father is not Jewish

In 1934 my parents married, My grandmother was very happy about the marriage. My grandparents whom I never knew lived in Chicago. They attended a synagogue nicknamed the “Pinsker” Shul.  Why? Many of the members were from Pinsk, which is now in the country of Belarus.

My mother’s family came to America over a period of 30 years.  My grandmother the eldest of her siblings was last to leave Europe in 1910 with her three youngest children and her mother. Staying in your Europe was not a plus, my grandmother’s sister came to America in 1880’s and  has first cousins born in America. Why did my grandmother stayed in Pinsk, longer then her siblings, it is a mystery.

Now getting to the question asked, growing up, I had no friends who were Jewish until I started going to a synagogue in Aurora, IL. for Hebrew and Sunday School.  Aurora’s population was about 55,000 and had about 125 Jewish families.

I spent holidays in Chicago.  I remember the sites and sounds of the West side, restaurants, grocery stores, and seeing movies at the Central Park Theater.  It was a palace to a kid may age.

The day before my Bar Mitzvah, my mother and an aunt went to the synagogue in Aurora to help prepare food.  In charge of the kitchen was a member of the shul, and she did most of the catering. Returning home my aunt and mother had a big problem, a snow storm came out of nowhere and they arrived home about 8PM.

On Saturday morning, the problems continued, about six guest stayed at our home Friday night. Due to cold, a couple of cars would not start..  Once we arrived for services, the shul was sparsely attended.  As it warmed up, attendance increased, after service everyone was invited to attend Kiddush.   Its great to have lunch in a synagogue.

Youth activities included BBYO and BBYO Conventions with other chapters, including towns Rockford, La Salle-Peru, Peoria, Elgin, Joliet, and Waukegan.

In public schools I had no problems with other kids about my religious faith, if I did I was unaware of them.  The teachers always cooperated when I had to be out of school for holidays.  Was there Anti- Semitism in town? Yes, but it was not a problem for me.

What do you like about Durham/Raleigh/Chapel Hill (or wherever you live)?

Compared to my home town and the Chicago greater area, this is paradise.

What attracted you to join the OK?

As I mentioned earlier, I attended synagogue services in Aurora IL. The synagogue was located on the East side of town and was named YMHA Temple.  In 1960 they went upscale and moved to the West side of Aurora and renamed the synagogue, Temple B’nai Israel. Saturday mornings it was a problem attracting congregants. At one time, one family provided a minyan.

When I moved to Chapel Hill, I went searching for a synagogue.  I went shopping, and could not find what I was looking for.  In the phone book or computer I saw a listing Orthodox congregation.  Upon my discovery I decided to attend.  It happened to be Shavuos, second day.  I arrived there was a note said no service, no minyan.  I knew I had found a home, it was just like my Aurora congregation, in need of a minyan.

What are some of the highlights of your experiences at OK?

Having a l’chiams after service. 🙂  I have in the past had the honor of chanting Haftorah.  I would do it again, but learning, is time consuming and retention is now a problem

Why do you recommend (or not recommend) people to move to or visit our area?

When I moved out of Chicago, I was tired of urban living. Although I do miss some of the activities found in a large city. It is easier to drive a car here, fewer problems and fewer stop and go lights.

Why do you recommend (or not recommend) people to join OK?

Its the best.

What have been some memorable events at the OK?

One Shabbos, the high holiday cantor from my Shul in Aurora, attended Shabbat Service.  It was a big surprise, he was in town to see his son.

Any OK community members who’ve had a big impact on you?

Impacts vary from individual to individual. I had nicknames for some, one congregant I called Rashi.

What were you looking for when you joined OK, and did you find it?

Yes I found it.

Do you ever lead parts of the service at OK? Can you talk about our lay-led service?

It nice to see so many congregants lead our service,  As I stated above. I did about four Haftorahs.

What is your connection to Israel?

I am Jewish.

Do you think people coming from Israel, Florida, NJ, etc. will find a home in NC and at OK? If so, why?

It like the old story, one lonely Jewish man ship wrecked was found on an island.  He was very thankful to be rescued, and gave a tour of the island to hose who had rescued him.  The lonely Jew show them two synagogues on the island.

His rescuers asked why are the two Shuls on the island.  He responded “the Shul over there is the one I use to attend”

Any advice for people who are planning to move here?

Be prepared to be a Southerner.


Sheldon Hayer