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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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The unity of the hands

To Sustain a Life is to Sustain a Community

I seek out individuals in the community and interview them in order to write their Jewish stories. Through this experience, I have learned that the community is more than just a sum of its parts. The single lives sustained by the Jewish community are the real source of sustenance for the communal structure.

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Eilu D’varim: These are the Things

Through Torah study, we gain a rich and meaningful life. But what happens when the study of Torah is daunting? When learning Hebrew seems impossible? When the timing of classes just doesn’t fit into the schedule?

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My Students Are My Teachers

I once had a professor who lectured to the air. This professor encompassed boundless knowledge I wished to learn, but when he taught, he was oblivious to the students.

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Kaved et aviv v’et imo: Honoring Another’s Mother and Father

In the Decalogue, we’re taught to honor our father and our mother. Each of us honors our parents in different way…but what happens when your role is to honor someone else’s father and mother?

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A House of Prayer for All People

Long ago there was a farmer who lived with his small Jewish family on the outskirts of a tiny village. Each day, the farmer would get up at daybreak, tend to his livestock, then gaze upon his small plot of land and utter a prayer. It was a simple prayer that would have been acceptable in any house of worship, but he always said it with unrivaled sincerity.

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Worthy of a Voice: An Exhibit on the Persecution of People with Disabilities

By Ariel Naveh   Robert Wagemann was born in 1937 in Mannheim, Germany. As a result of a hip injury sustained at birth, Robert was permanently disabled. During what seemed like a routine check-up with his doctor, Robert’s mother Lottie overheard the doctor’s plans to “put him to sleep” because of his disability. Fortunately, Lottie and Robert […]

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Understanding Social Change in Israel from an American Perspective

As an American, while it has been difficult for me to understand the system of change here despite my knowledge of social change and social justice methods, I’ve come to learn a few things about social change in Israel.

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How Do You Make a Rabbi?

I did not realize at first how everything this year is pointing towards integration, but when I lay it all out, I cannot help but see an intense drive toward creating fullness and unity. Often, I find it difficult to comprehend this movement towards integration when I am caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities of each of the individual components of my various projects; it is hard to see the forest for the trees. To see how all the pieces of my life are asking me to create unification, I must take a step back. When I catch a glimpse of that ideal, I feel less divided myself.

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