Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin has planned a weekend of activities to celebrate its 120th anniversary, including an evening with HBO stand-up comedian and Second City alumnus Robert Klein.
Making people laugh is nothing short of a higher calling, Klein said, speaking from his home in the Hudson River Valley of New York.
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"I'm not a monologuist that stands there and sits on a stool and tells jokes. I occupy the stage, I do music," he said.
"I'm a little bit old-fashioned, of the old school, and a lot of the new school. It's a different kind of comedy. But the point is, I love to entertain. I'm not a smartass; I love to give a good show.
The congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary 20 years ago with a concert by violinist Itzhak Perlman.
This time, CKI wanted something more lighthearted, and Klein seemed like the perfect choice, congregation member Robin Siegle said.
"We wanted all generations to enjoy it," she said.
The number "120" has special significance in the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein said.
"The typical blessing for somebody's birthday is, 'May you live to be 120 like Moses,'" she said.
The number has even more significance for CKI, because right now the congregation numbers 120 families that come from as far as Batavia, Cary and Wauconda, Frisch Klein said.
The congregation, one of the oldest in the greater Chicago area, embraces all Jews, including conservative, Orthodox and reformed, Frisch Klein said.
"Everybody grows up thinking they know what Judaism is," she said. "What is meaningful to me might not be meaningful to you or to someone else. That becomes embracing diversity, and the challenge of a balancing act."
About four years ago, CKI broke with the conservative movement it had been affiliated with since the 1980s, Frisch Klein said.
The change came after long discussions lead by a "vision committee" that held focus groups and interviewed current and former congregants, she said.
That meant losing some families who didn't agree with the change, but also gaining new members -- 16 families since August, when Frisch Klein took her post in Elgin.
The congregation's four pillars are building community, embracing diversity, and pursuing lifelong learning and meaningful observance, Frisch Klein said.
Its goal is to always be welcoming toward all Jews in the Fox Valley area, she added.
"It is about meeting people where they are. And where they are is both a literal and figurative presence," she said.
"It's all about respect and creating a safe, nonjudgmental place for people to explore their Judaism."
This weekend's celebrations include Shabbat services with live music at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, a special Shabbat service with extended Kiddush at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and a sold-out brunch on Sunday at CKI, 330 Division Street in Elgin.
CKI is also hosting an exhibit -- assembled by the Elgin Area Historical Society -- about the Jewish experience in Elgin. The exhibit runs until May. To visit, call (847) 741-5656.
Robert Klein will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Blizzard Theater at Elgin Community College, 1700 Spartan Drive. Tickets are $35 or $39; half the proceeds benefit Congregation Kneseth Israel. For tickets, call the box office at (847) 622-0300 or visit elgin.edu.