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It’s almost Christmas: What’s a Jew to do?

Recently, on two very different occasions—a shivah call and a religious school parent activity—I overheard Jews discussing plans for their Christmas celebrations and shopping. I found this very revealing, since it was a sign that the December Dilemma is still relevant today, even among liberal Jews who care enough about Judaism and their community to perform two very important mitzvot: comforting mourners and giving their children a Jewish education.

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A Chanukkah Miracle in July

Helping children explore the story of Chanukkah is a challenge. While often taught to young Jewish children focusing on the miracle of the oil, the tale is frequently turned upside down in high school or later, at programs called, for example, “The Real Story of Chanukkah.”

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juice spill

Awakening to Thanks

One Friday afternoon, the second grade class was about to celebrate Shabbat with the customary candles, challah, and grape juice. As is wont to happen when 21 second-graders are crowded around a small table, one child accidentally bumped into another and spilled his grape juice. What happened next awakened me to the presence of holiness.

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So Others May Live

On this Veterans Day, as you say Sh’ma, remember that someone else screamed “Airborne” as he jumped out of an airplane over Fort Bragg, North Carolina or Fort Benning, Georgia, so that you could utter our highest prayer. As you say Oseh shalom, someone else is shouting “Climb to Glory” (10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York) in Afghanistan.

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Righteousness B’toch Ha-ir, in the Midst of Suffering

Abraham successfully advocates for the sparing of Sodom and Gemmorah based on only ten righteous people, tzaddikim. Although they are not to be found, our text can teach us about the essential qualities of the truly righteous, those people whose merit would spare two corrupt cities. The ten nurses, doctors, and health care professionals who make up the hospice team at Cedar Village, a retirement and assisted living community in Cincinnati, exemplify the Jewish idea of righteousness.

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The Gift of Being Cared For

The myth of self-sufficiency is as common as it is misleading. We may very well live in the most highly individualistic, entrepreneurial culture in human history. We seem to worship, or come very close to worshiping, beings that were created in the image of God, but are not God. What I did not realize or fully appreciate for the first 58 years of my life that I have learned in the last 3 months is what a blessing it is to be cared for, to feel the loving embrace of family, friends, teachers, colleagues, students and other people whose paths cross our own.

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Caleb, Joshua and the Changing Rabbinate

The future can seem like a scary place. And we can dig in our heels if we choose. But turning back, choosing not to go there, isn’t really an option. When we look over the horizon and we see new geopolitical developments, social media outlets, and changes in our synagogue dues systems, it can be hard to tell exactly what it is we’re looking at. Is it a giant, or is it an enormous cluster of grapes? Is it a fortified city, or is it a grove of lush palm trees?

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Now Is The Time: An Opportunity for Deeper Israel Education

As Israel educators, it is events like those of this past summer that make our work quite challenging. Too often, it seems, our sole role is to immediately be on the defensive, to affirm Israel’s basic right to exist safely and securely. Frankly, playing that role is exhausting – and what kind of solid education can be done on the defensive, anyway? It is time for us to realize that that form of “education” must be avoided.

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What I Learned at Summer Camp about Being a Rabbi

In the first half of my fellowship, prior to the start of camp, my responsibility was to develop ways in which aspects of Jewish culture could become an integral part of the daily schedule at camp over the summer. But there was one major hitch: a significant proportion of the campers and staff members were themselves not Jewish.

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Nurturing Spiritual Growth in One Day a Week

By Rachael Klein This year, I want my students to have the opportunity to talk about more than liturgy; I want them to think about their spiritual lives. There needs to be something more to Wednesday Hebrew school than the basics of learning how to recite a prayer for a bar or bat mitzvah. Last […]

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Serving Those Who Serve

By Rachel Petroff Kessler Our congregation has been situated less than 20 minutes away from a large military base for forty years. During that time, the number of military families who have actively sought us out has been quite small, but this past year has taught us that it is worthwhile to actively reach out. […]

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A Place to Be

Marji didn’t have a place to be. “Being a poor Jew is a horrible thing here. What Jewish Family Service has done is help me reconnect.” They provided not just food, but also something more. “They delivered. They would come to the door.” Marji began to feel cared for by a community that previously had only made her feel ostracized.

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What Is Fourth Grade Judaism?

A new teacher reflects on her year: “How do I match the students’ maturity and my approach to subject matter?” How do you select age appropriate content without distorting material in a way that students will someday remember, regret or mistrust? A teacher who presents material before the students are ready may successfully challenge the students, causing them to grow, but if the students find this new material too challenging or irreconcilable with their own values or truths, I fear they may reject the source of the challenge (Judaism) altogether. A teacher who waters down or omits a subject is placing responsibility upon a future teacher to fill in/complete the students’ education. What would you do?

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Teaching Judaism vs. Preaching Judaism

One of the elements of working as a rabbi that influenced me to pursue this path is the opportunity to assist others in times of need and to work to inspire Jews to embrace their Judaism in a manner that is meaningful to them. Yet my fellowship this year proved to be quite different from my idea of my future rabbinate.

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Dana Benson teaching

Keep Calm and Teach: The Role of Silence

When was the last time that you were silent? I mean really, really silent. Silent enough to hear the different types of bird song outside your window. Silent enough to concentrate on a deep inhale and exhale of your breath. Silent enough to hear the deepest meditations of your heart. For many of us, silence is a rare commodity amidst the whirring and buzzing of text messages, phone calls, and social media begging for our attention. The only moments of silence we might get on a work break or even during our commute we fill with music, tweets, and the most up to date news postings. In essence, we almost never give our mind and hearts a time to just be present, be calm, and be quiet.

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The Roots are in the Text

Jewish text bored me growing up. It seemed finite, immovable, treacherously antiquated and completely incompatible with my Reform Judaism. Its “living”characteristic eluded me, and its text was too verbose to swallow. I preferred to discard text instead of struggling with it. I followed Jewish traditions according to my father’s practice or according to a blurb on the Internet. My adolescent understanding of Judaism was as a guide to living morally; but the texts, particularly those outside of the Tanakh, seemed completely stale to my underdeveloped Jewish palate.

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“They Shall Still Bring Forth Fruit in Old Age”

Shortly before Yom ha-Shoah 5774, I found myself faced with the task of explaining the unexplainable: teaching the students of my pulpit’s religious school about the Holocaust. How could I teach young children, five to eleven years of age, anything meaningful about the Holocaust? What could I say to make the events seem real to them, without diminishing their hope that they themselves would go on to live long, happy lives? As I looked at them, thinking how best to choose my words, I could not help thinking of young Edith, the girl I never met, the girl who saw her own father shot by Nazi soldiers. I thought of the girl who became a strong woman, who survived to live a long life with its own ups and downs.

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Passover: Protecting the Chain

Today, I watched multiple generations of the Jewish chain come together. Three long tables in the shape of the Hebrew letter chet filled a room in a local retirement community. On the outside of the tables sat my first and third grade students, while on the inside sat the community’s residents. After weeks of preparation, my students successfully led an entire Passover seder from start to finish for these residents.

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Let Your Students Go

Students are longing for the connection that they would get at home with their families. Although many college students might miss home, they do not come to college to recreate their home life or to find surrogate parents while they are away; they come to grow and develop their personal identity. My experience has shown me that in order to work with these students, I need to play an integral role in facilitating their own processes. I do not tell them what to do.

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A Teacher and Her Mentor Reflect on the Same Year

What are the similarities and differences between how a teacher and a mentor perceive strengths, weaknesses and growth? Read these two complementary pieces to see one example of what each values and how reflection plays and important part in the process of learning together and developing as professionals.

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