Northern Illinois University

4 shootings in a week? Where has my attention been? I barely heard of one of them.

This morning I’m on-line and see “Northern Illinois University.” DeKalb, Illinois. That is a place with great resonance for my family. For about 8 years, when I was growing up, my father served as chazzan (cantor) for the Jewish community in DeKalb for the High Holy Days. The first couple of years there was a rabbi there, but after that one of his friends, who was a Political Science professor, did the “sacred-page-number-caller” part and my father, a Journalism professor, continued to do the singing.

So our family drove to DeKalb twice every Fall. It’s a pretty drive from the Chicago area, through corn fields and small towns. The road through Sycamore was called “DeKalb Road,” or something similar, and by the time you got to DeKalb it had turned into “Sycamore Road” (or Street or Avenue or whatever it was). The Student Center, which my youngest sister named “The Blue Hotel” was the tallest building, structure, or anything for miles around, rearing miles (it might as well have been) into the sky. That’s where we stayed, and that’s where services were; most years in the Auditorium, but at least once or twice set up in the Ballroom instead.

Dad got up early on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur morning, had breakfast or not, and went down to begin the service, I imagine around 9. We got up later, had breakfast in the basement, then went upstairs and sat with Mom. She had a rule that we had to stay in the service till Musaf (the “additional” service after the Torah service). Then my next-youngest-sister and I were free to roam. I cannot imagine allowing my children to do that today! And more’s the pity. We had a wonderful time. We knew every nook and cranny of that student center, from the windows where you could look down on the bowling lanes to the basement to the back stairs and outside courtyard and bathrooms with cushy couches. Sometimes we must have gone places we weren’t expected to be, because I remember being asked to leave occasionally. Two girls, elementary or middle school age, all the way into high school, wandering to our hearts’ content around a public place unaccompanied. It boggles the mind today — not just because of what could theoretically happen to us from other people, but because we were perfectly capable of getting into a lot of mischief! But I guess Mom had some confidence in us, and I don’t remember doing anything particurly bad, and certainly nothing bad ever happened to us.

After the end of services we would help put the prayerbooks away. I loved the gold and silver printing and edging on the books, once they changed from the old Conservative ones to the new ones edited by Jules Harlow. That is still the machzor of my heart; I have now used the Reform one for 11 years, and have gotten quite fond of parts of it and particularly the beautiful and musical afternoon service that we’ve put together, but it is the words of the Harlow that still reverberate in my ears: “Open for us the gates, even as they are closing…” In fact, I borrowed that and put it in the booklet that I made to accompany our own services at Berith Sholom. On Yom Kippur we would join the community for a break-the-fast at the end, often in that very same Ballroom that services were held in a couple of times.

And now there has been a shooting, with 7 confirmed deaths, on that very campus. In a lecture hall, not “our” auditorium. But still. It was such a safe place. I understand that it’s 30 years later, and it’s only an hour outside Chicago … but my mind is crying. I don’t want to superimpose the descriptions of today onto that gentle and vibrant scene of my youth.

Some of the folks we knew are still there. We had Rosh HaShanah dinner or lunch with one family, and dinner before Yom Kippur with another. My father and Avi sat down in the afternoon to go over their notes and cues together; as time when on, they appreciated that they didn’t have to spend hours on the phone planning. I was proud of my father being up there. But I especially loved the Torah service, because that’s when he came down and sat with us; and when I sat next to him, I got to play with the tsitsit of his tallit.

He would practice for a month before Rosh HaShanah, doing vocal warmups every night and singing various parts of the service; that’s what I would listen to before I fell asleep.  When I went off to college, or perhaps after my freshman year, he made a set of cassette tapes for me so that I could learn the tunes that I didn’t already know by heart.  (Ah, the tunes; tunes that I heard once a year, but looked forward to and dearly loved hearing.)  His father had made a set of reel-to-reel tapes for him under similar circumstances, and I have those originals as well as cassette copies that someone dubbed for me in Bloomington, Indiana when I was serving as the High Holy Day chazzanit there.  For years, my father and I have called each other right before Rosh HaShanah to wish each other L’shanah Tovah and a good experience on the bimah.  When I arrived in Troy, one of the big adjustments was giving up the music.  Now, I can’t imagine doing it all again; and I certainly am not capable of providing what our Choir and Cantorial Soloist Leslie Boyer do!  And over the years, Leslie has adopted a few of my favorite melodies.  But I still have the joy of davvening Shacharit at the Nassau shul on the second day of Rosh HaShanah every year, and then it’s my melodies (which means my father’s melodies, many of which are also my grandfather’s) all the way.  Well, almost all the way.  I, too, have picked up a few new favorites along the way.

DeKalb. Childhood. Memories. Baruch Dayan Emes, and may their souls rest in peace. And ENOUGH of this shooting and killing already! Haven’t enough people figured out that since “People kill people, guns don’t kill people,” or whatever the slogan is, keeping the people and the guns apart is the answer?! Since we most certainly cannot control people’s actions enough to ensure safety, we must control the guns, simply make them far more inaccessible than they are in our country.