According to Arlene

By Arlene Appelrouth | aappelrouth@atljewishtimes.com

On a recent weekend I went to Temple Emanu-El to celebrate the bat mitzvah of Emma Perlstein. Emma’s grandmother Bobbi and I became friends when our children were in preschool. Emma’s father, Josh, had read from the Torah for the first time in the same sanctuary, as had two of my children.

Just being there brought a flood of memories

I walked around the building, looking for the framed, handwritten document listing charter members of the temple. Listed first in the left column: “Daniel and Arlene Appelrouth.”

Arlene Appelrouth

Arlene Appelrouth

I read through the list, noting how many were divorced or dead or had left Atlanta. The document was from 1979, when Roswell resident Don Restler recognized the need for a new place for High Holiday services. Temple Emanu-El was created. Those of us who answered the call were filled with enthusiasm and idealism as we poured our energies into creating something vibrant and exciting.

Thirty-seven years later I thought about the growth and change in the temple, as well as how different my life is.

I thought about how my husband, Dan, stepped up and conducted services for almost six months when the fledgling congregation met in a bank in Dunwoody before founding Rabbi Donald Tam took the helm as spiritual leader.

I also thought about a Brandeis women’s book review I attended where I met Diana Blank. She and her husband, Arthur, were new to Atlanta and in search of a temple where they could make a difference. I suggested they come to a Friday night service at Emanuel-El. They joined and became generous supporters.

I remembered the groundbreaking ceremony and the excitement watching the building become a reality.

It was my first experience being active in synagogue life, and the pride lasted for years until the reality of temple politics pitched a cold dose of reality into my consciousness.

Synagogues, I learned, were complicated places because they weren’t only about spirituality and lifecycles. Petty politics and egos often trumped the higher values associated with places of worship.

I was thinking about all these things as I walked into the sanctuary of the temple where Dan was High Holiday cantor for years. I wished Dan were sitting beside me as the service began. I couldn’t help but be curious about what he would have thought about how the Friday night service had changed.

The cantor played a guitar while leading the congregation in prayers, reminding me of what we used to call hootenannies. The energy invited lively, joyous singing, like campers during Shabbat at Camp Barney Medintz, where my children loved spending time each summer and where I was fortunate to spend a week every summer while Dan volunteered as camp doctor.

At camp one session our youngest son, David, shared a cabin with three or four boys who attended the Hebrew Academy. Their discussions about Jewish history piqued his interest, and he came home asking to transfer from public school to the Jewish day school. He wanted to broaden his understanding about Jewish history.

Saying yes changed the course not only of my son’s life, but also the trajectory of the Appelrouth family.

David’s love for Jewish history led him into a relationship with kollel Rabbi David Silverman. Rabbi Silverman’s influence, coupled with David’s enthusiasm, sparked David’s desire to travel to Israel and sit in a yeshiva and learn.

David decided to live as an Orthodox Jew.

Wordsworth said, “The child is father to the man.” David, my child, not only was father to himself, but also in a way was father to his father, who followed in his son’s footsteps and became an Orthodox man.

If Dan were alive today, I’m certain he would have been with me at Emma’s bat mitzvah. We would have talked about what a beautiful building Emanu-El has and how it has grown since we moved away years ago.

Saturday night, the celebration of Emma’s bat mitzvah continued. The party at the elegant Biltmore Hotel was first class. The entertainment, provided by a DJ who came with two professional dancers, had the place rocking for hours.

Dan and I loved to dance together. At the simchas in Toco Hills, we had become accustomed to the separate dancing of the Orthodox world. At this not-Orthodox party, I wasn’t sure how I would feel when the music started.

I was glad to move onto the dance floor with the first line dance. Who needed a partner? The music was great. Once I got up, I never sat down. Line dancing, followed by a dance with my son Jed. Several of Emma’s friends also invited me to be their partners. And I found myself dancing with the professional dancers, both the man and the woman, as I let myself go and had the best time I’ve had since losing my husband.

My life now isn’t what I would have predicted or chosen. But I have a rich history in Atlanta and, like the city, have been through a lot of growth and change.