I invite you to listen in on my ongoing conversation with God. Perhaps you will...
I try not to compare myself to Moses. But sometimes, I cannot help but notice when he and I have something in common. Moses had a hostile crowd. He knew from the moment he was given his job that his labored speech and unconvincing persona would be a bit of a problem. And he was right. A number of times, including in this week’s Parashat B’shalach, he has to confront the Israelites who are discontent and doubt his leadership. His people are stubborn. Even a charismatic, confident leader struggles when she has a tough group. So it is with my students—they are a tough bunch.
I watched the incredible film Selma through a near-constant film of tears. Many of these tears were a function of the brutality depicted on screen that so many people of color faced 50 years ago in their struggle to gain the rights ostensibly bestowed upon them as American citizens. However, most of those tears were shed because I knew, deep down, that we still have so much further to go, and it seems that there are too many factions in our society today who are perfectly content in taking us backwards, rather than forwards. I cried copious tears because I know that I have an obligation to do right for those who have been dispossessed, for those who have been beaten and broken, not in spite of but because of my Jewishness.
I find myself sitting with students who are stressed out and frustrated. They are doing everything “right” yet find themselves craving meaning and a sense of direction. Although they are active on campus, most of them don’t feel that they really belong to a Jewish community. Few are generating their own solutions and starting initiatives. For the most part, they are searching for a connection. As experiential Jewish educators, the gap between inspiration and action is one that should concern us. We create close-knit cohorts, inspire teens, and tell them that they can change the world. However, the world often sends them the opposite message. The reality they encounter leaves them feeling that they are on their own, disconnected, and disempowered.
To me, Judaism is not just about doing Jewish things with Jewish people. Through my TJF Fellowship at Cedar Village Retirement Community offering pastoral care to the non-Jewish patients of the physical rehabilitation program, this belief has been reinforced.
I invite you to listen in on my ongoing conversation with God. Perhaps you will recognize God in it. I hope you will recognize yourself in it. I invite you to be part of this journey, both in listening and in writing your own Dear God letter and submit it to our editor for publication here, where we try to model how reflection, service and a commitment to the sacred in our lives shape effective and inspiring Jewish leadership.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 […]
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. […]
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.
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?
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.
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.