DOOR COUNTY – Glenn and Diane Mandel yearned to practice Judaism, and to pass on its teachings to their children.
But when the family moved to Door County in 1993, they lived more than an hour away from the nearest synagogue in Green Bay.
“That was a pretty good schlep, back and forth,” Glenn Mandel said. “With two young children, it was just untenable.”
They began inviting people for Shabbat dinners at their Egg Harbor home, and in 1999, Mandel put an ad in the local paper to find more Jews. Approximately 17 people showed up for a Sukkot service, and Mandel started leading Friday night services regularly.
They eventually hosted High Holy Days services and other holiday celebrations, and dubbed the group the L’Dor V’Dor (from generation to generation) chavurah.
Mandel, an attorney who has done a lot of Judaism self-study, took on the role of spiritual leader. He once helped a friend place rescue Torahs, and soon he owned one that is used by the chavurah. He uses photocopies from a Reform prayer book, “leftovers” from a triple bar mitzvah at which he officiated (two brothers and their grandfather).
He trained his son and daughter as they became b’nei mitzvah, and his son even led services one night on short notice when Diane rushed Glenn to the hospital for what turned out to be kidney stones. Both Mandel children now live in Israel.
“Glenn’s knowledge of Judaism is astonishing,” said Patti Podgers, who along with husband Jim are active in the chavurah.
Chavurah members come from all over Door County – from Gill’s Rock to Sturgeon Bay. Many are year-round residents and some are seasonal residents. (The Mandels now are snowbirds.) Most are in their 60s and 70s, although the Mandels are in their 50s.
There are no longer children in the group. Shabbat services, at which tourists are welcome, attract approximately 12 to 24 worshippers.
Not long after moving to Fish Creek, Patti Podgers began going to services led by Jay Brickman, who at the time was the rabbi (now emeritus) at Congregation Sinai in Milwaukee and spent summers in Door County.
“He was wonderful to me and took me under his wing, but the services were adult-based and I was looking for more family-based services,” Podgers said.
Brickman no longer leads his adult Bible class in Door County and said Mandel’s services, which he has attended, are open to visitors and are “very hospitable.”
Podgers tried Cnesses Israel in Green Bay, but she noted, “It was a Conservative congregation with a lot of Hebrew, and my husband and I were not comfortable with that.”
(Today’s Cnesses Israel offers a mix of Hebrew and English in its services, “probably not so different in that respect from today’s Reform synagogues,” said Rabbi Shaina Bacharach, who leads the Conservative, egalitarian synagogue. Cnesses Israel, on the east side of Green Bay, offers Friday night services at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m.)
Podgers learned of the Mandels and began attending services. “I fell in love with Glenn and Diane,” Podgers said, and she and her husband felt at ease with the prayers being read mostly in English.
People share readings and Mandel said, “There is strong encouragement to ask questions at any time. We don’t mind stopping the rhythm of the service.” But Mandel, who was raised in a Conservative household, added, “We don’t stray from traditional Judaism. It’s not some sort of new-age thing you might find in L.A.”
The Podgers, who have three grown children and one grandchild, were married as Catholics. Patti eventually converted to Judaism, and although Jim did not, Mandel officiated when they were “remarried” in a Jewish ceremony in 2009 for their 40th wedding anniversary.
Patti Podgers said she “draws strength and religious energy” from being surrounded by other Door County Jews. “Glenn brings so much to the services with the questions he asks and the way he challenges us,” she said. “He often has a topic to discuss, but if not, somebody will have a question and we will take off from there.”
The Podgers’ home became the site of many services beginning last year when major work was being done at the Mandel home. Patti began handling the scheduling of services, which begin at 6:30 p.m. and this year are held the second and fourth Fridays of the month during the summer.
She provided the impetus for having pot-luck dinners following services, with eating, wine drinking and fellowship sometimes lasting to midnight. “We all sit, eat and be merry together, as it should be,” said Mandel, who is helping Patti Podgers and another woman study to become b’not mitzvah.
“We have a vibrant Jewish community here,” Podgers said.
That community has become “a big part of our lives, part of our identity,” Mandel said. “We have fostered a great sense of Judaism here.”
At a glance
What: The L’Dor V’Dor chavurah
Where: Door County
Services: The second and fourth Fridays of the month in people’s homes, from shortly after Memorial Day through the High Holy Days. Services begin at 6:30 p.m., often followed by a pot-luck dinner and fellowship. Tourists are welcome.
To attend a service: Contact Glenn Mandel at Glenn.Mandel@gmail.com or 920-559-9209, or contact Patti Podgers at Podge47@dcwis.com or 920-495-7330