this issue: summer camps
Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism winter 2013-14/5774 Volume 7 / No. 2
Urban Renewal Itâ€™s one thing to help revitalize a neighborhood. Rabbi Daniel Burg and Beth Am Synagogue also want to deepen their relationship with their Baltimore neighbors.
& interview with gordon tucker // Jewish Healing Circles//Finding the Right Camp//My Kippah, Myself// and more
Editors Andrea Glick Rhonda Jacobs Kahn Advertising Director Erica Singer art director Elizabeth Hovav book editor Beth Kissileff Publishing Consultant Doug Steinberg Editorial Board Renee Brezniak Glazier, Chair Michael Brassloff Michael Freilich Rosalind Judd Faye Laveson Dr. Bruce Littman Rachel Pomerance Elizabeth Pressman Marjorie Shuman Saulson Lois Silverman Advisors Dr. Stephen Garfinkel Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbi Cheryl Peretz Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism is a joint project of Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs Myles Simpson, President Rabbi Charles E. Simon, Executive Director United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Richard Skolnik, President Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, CEO Women’s League for Conservative Judaism Rita L. Wertlieb, President Sarrae G. Crane, Executive Director The opinions expressed in this magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the publishing organizations. Advertising in CJ does not imply editorial endorsement, nor does the magazine guarantee the kashrut of advertised products. Members of FJMC, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism congregations, and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism receive the magazine as a benefit of membership. Subscriptions are $20 per year. Please direct all correspondence or changes of address to CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism at Rapaport House, 820 Second Ave., 10th Floor, New York, NY 10017-4504. 917.668.6809 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. To advertise, email firstname.lastname@example.org . CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism is published three times a year by United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 820 Second Ave., 10th Floor, New York, NY 10017-4504. Canadian Copies: Return Canadian undeliverables to 2835 Kew Dr., Windsor, ON N8T 3B7 PM 41706013.
winter 2013-14/5774 Volume 7 / No. 1 www.cjvoices.org
This magazine is a joint project of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.
in every issue Editors’ Note 5 Letters 6 CJ Shorts 7 Q&A with Rabbi Gordon Tucker 10 The Last Word My Kippah, Myself BY GILA DRAZEN 56
features The Urban Rabbi
For Rabbi Daniel Burg, social justice means forging bonds between his congregation and the Baltimore community around it. BY MICHAEL SCHULSON
Prisoner of Hope
A Massachusetts physician uses health care to help heal the Israel-Palestinian divide. BY ANDREA GLICK
in focus: summer camps It’s All About the Journey
For teens, traveling with a group of peers leads to Jewish and personal growth. BY RABBI DAVID LEVY
Making Camp Ramah Even More Special(ty)
Ramah has gotten on the specialty-camp bandwagon. BY NANCY B. SCHEFF
Incubating Jewish Experiences
A second cohort of camps meeting the growing demand for specialization in a Jewish environment is unveiled. BY JEREMY J. FINGERMAN
Finding the Right Jewish Camp
It’s not hard to find a camp to satisfy your child’s interests and your Jewish values. BY ABBY KNOPP
on the cover
Visit us online for extra photo galleries, videos and exclusive bonus features. Go to cjvoices.org
Rabbi Burg and Beth Am work closely with a local community farm, even hosting the farm’s fundraiser last month. Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan for the Associated Press
contents winter 2013-14/5774 Volume 7 / No. 1
KEHILLA Good to Great
A New Jersey congregation is justifiably proud of its children’s choir.
A Place Where You Belong
Healing circles and services are filling an important role in the spiritual lives of our communities. BY RABBI MELISSA KLEIN
MASORTI WORLD A Latin American Powerhouse for the 21st Century
Buenos Aires’ Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer celebrates 50 years. BY RABBI DR. RICHARD A. FREUND
ARTS Snapshots from Jewish Eyes on the Arts
This innovative network challenges us to find Jewish meaning in the secular arts. BY JONAH RANK
Two-By-Two 45 38
Women’s League looks to break the hold of the Noah Syndrome in our communities. BY LISA KOGEN
Thunder & Lightning on the North Shore
By Beth Kissileff
A Theologian for the Modern Age
In Harmony: People and Music
Turning Gold into Lead
United Synagogue and the Cantors Assembly have been producing the annual Spirit Series of beautiful Jewish music for 13 years. BY HAZZAN SAM WEISS
The Women’s League Wellness & Learning Network looks at the impact of adverse childhood experiences on later life. BY DR. BARBARA LEVIN
OUR ORGANIZATIONS Words of the Century
FJMC has set a goal of lighting one million yellow candles this Yom HaShoah. BY STEPHEN NEUSTEIN
Light a Candle, Preserve a Memory! 42
Notes from the United Synagogue Centennial
Women’s League is the Voice of Conservative Jewish Women BY SARRAE G. CRANE
The FJMC international convention in Massachusetts was an unforgettable experience. BY ERIC WEIS
Rabbi Neil Gillman is one of this generation’s greatest Jewish thinkers. BY RABBI JULIE ROTH
New Roads to Engagement 44
Together with Brandeis University, FJMC looks to lower barriers in synagogue life. BY MICHAEL BRASSLOFF
CJ Online (www.cjvoices.org) is looking for bloggers! Interested? E-mail email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
4 CJ – Voices of conservative/masorti judaism – Winter 2013-2014
Doing Great Things… Even Without a Motto
n this issue of CJ, we ask the Conservative scholar, teacher and congregational rabbi, Gordon Tucker, what he sees as some of the biggest issues facing Conservative Judaism (p. 10). One challenge, he said, is while “there is a lot of very positive activity and engagement in many Conservative synagogues, when you look at Conservative Judaism as a whole, there ought to be greater identification with the movement, its ideas and goals.” It’s a common refrain among Conservative leaders. For many, the reason is that Conservative Judaism doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining itself. Simply saying that we’re centrists or pointing out how we differ from Reform or Orthodox Judaism are poor substitutes for the kind of pithy, affirmative statement that lets people know what we stand for, and why our way of looking at Judaism might reflect their personal Jewish experience or expectation. Recently, the noted author Rabbi Harold Kushner weighed in on the matter as part of his keynote address at the United Synagogue Centennial. Kushner recalled how a few years ago, at a Rabbinical Assembly conference, Rabbi David Wolpe challenged his colleagues to come up with a “bumper sticker” for Conservative Judaism. At the time, Kushner admitted, he was stumped. But he thought about it and came to the next conference armed with an answer. You can find out what he said in “Words of the Century” (p. 37), which contains excerpts from several Centennial speeches. Still, Rabbi Tucker is right. There are great things happening in Conservative congregations – and in Conservative camps, schools, seminaries, and youth groups, too. You’ll find ample evidence of such vitality in these pages. Take our cover story on Rabbi Daniel Burg (“The Urban Rabbi,” p. 17), who is leading his Baltimore synagogue in connecting its members not only to each other, but to the largely African American community the shul is part of. There is innovation in the world of prayer and ritual, too, as you’ll read in “A Place Where You Belong” (p. 14). Several kehillot, like Philadelphia’s Germantown Jewish Center, are recognizing that people dealing with all sorts of grief can find comfort in a Jewish healing circle. There’s the children’s choir at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, New Jersey, whose young singers drag their parents to shul on Shabbat morning, so eager are they to go there and sing. Some of these stories are featured in a section we have renamed “Kehilla,” the Hebrew word for community. As Rabbi Charles Savenor wrote in our last issue, while a synagogue is a building, the mission of a kehilla, a sacred Jewish community, “is not to maintain a structure, but to welcome, educate and inspire those individuals who constitute our community and share a pursuit of spiritual connection to God, Torah and Israel.” We’re not sure how to fit that on a bumper sticker. Perhaps the more our kehillot can live up to this ideal, the bumper sticker will write itself.
Andrea Glick, Editor
Rhonda Jacobs Kahn, Editor
Letters Young Women Missing When I read CJ, I find one topic that gets almost no attention. It is our young women (and men, I am sure) who have finished law school or medical school (or finance or business school) and have worked to build their careers. These 30 year olds are left out by the Conservative movement in appropriate singles venues. I have said and continue to say that unless we address this issue we have no one to blame for the ebbing of our Jewish pool and intermarriage. Hope to see this issue addressed in the future. Jo Beth Greenbaum Posted on cjvoices.org
BIG TENT OR NARROWER TENT? Your article “Big Tent or Narrower Tent?” (Autumn 2013) sees Conservative Judaism as a movement “struggling...between those who advocate for a broadly encompassing movement and those who seek a more narrowly defined, ideologically coherent one...” Its self-defining document, Emet Ve-Emunah, is characterized as “...broadly encompassing. It could not be otherwise without alienating broad swaths of the movement.” But it seems to me that there is a point where diversity morphs into confusion and indecision, and that the big welcoming tent becomes formless and shapeless. Diversity is not a virtue if it masks a lack of clarity about what Conservative Judaism is and to what principles it is committed, and especially if it does so in the interest of a kind of organizational shalom bayit. This was brought home to me recently when researching where I would say Kaddish for my wife during a trip to London. Naturally, the first place that I looked was masorti.org.uk, where I was shocked to discover that several Masorti congregations maintain separate seating for men and women, and daven from the centuryold Singer siddur. In my home congregation, gender is completely irrelevant to all activities, and we have davened from Sim
Shalom for years, using the alternate start to the Amidah that includes the matriarchs. How are my congregation and these London Masorti congregations part of the same movement? In what sense is a movement that can embrace congregations so diverse a movement with a commonly-accepted set of principles? What does Conservative/Masorti really mean if it can guide a visitor from one of these traditionalist Masorti congregations to my synagogue, or me to one of theirs? If the Conservative/Masorti movement is pretty much all things to all Jews, what is the point of having it? Robert Kernish Marlton Posted on cjvoices.org
6 CJ – Voices of conservative/masorti judaism – Winter 2013-2014
Find more reader comments and submit your own comments to CJVoices.org Write to us! Send a letter to our editors at email@example.com and rkahn@wlcj. org. Or write to: CJ Magazine, 820 Second Ave., 10th Floor, New York, NY 10017-4504
BEYOND THE HEBREW SCHOOL LAMENT It is wonderful to see modern Jews waking up to the fact that the Hebrew school model is mostly a failure (“Beyond the Hebrew School Lament,” Autumn 2013), and the experimental approaches made to remedy the problems with this educational scheme. What I do not see in this article is attention being paid to children with special educational needs. Many Conservative synagogues continue to be, well, conservative in their educational curricula for those students who aren't in the middle of the bell curve -- and that means students above the mean as well as below. Of course we want no child left behind, but we also want all children to be educated to their full potential, and most Hebrew schools choose not to (whether deliberately or not) fulfill our children's needs. Besides those students with physical or mental disabilities that can hamper standard learning methods in a classroom, there are also special education students classified as gifted and talented, generally those in the top 10% of a population. In the State of New Jersey, all public schools through eighth grade are mandated to include a minimum amount of educational opportunities for gifted and talented students. Why doesn't the United Synagogue continues on page 54
cj shorts CHAGALL
Love, War & Exile The art of Marc Chagall (1887–1985), one of the foremost artists of the 20th century who drew on folk art, the Russian Christian icon tradition, Cubism, and Surrealism, is the focus of a major exhibit at New York’s Jewish Museum (through February 2, 2014). The works in the exhibit, from the rise of fascism in the 1930s through 1948, illuminate an artist responding to the suffering inflicted by war and to his own personal losses and intimate sorrows. It includes paintings and works on paper as well as letters, poems, photos, and ephemera. See more at thejewishmuseum.org.
Images courtesy of the jewish museum Bottom left: Time Is a River without Banks Top right: Bride and Groom on Cock Bottom right: The Fall of The Angel
cj shorts study
Digital Images from the JTS Rare Book Collection
The library of the Jewish Theological Seminary has been conserving and digitizing materials from its incomparable rare book collection for years. Now, thanks to the state-of-the-art Polonsky Digitization Lab in Memory of Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, JTS has upgraded and enriched its resources substantially. The project increased the library’s digital collection by 50,000 new images from 400 manuscripts, all of which are now viewable online at jtsa.edu/the_library/library. “The lab provides the finest of conditions for this labor of love, offering a climate-controlled environment, essential equipment, and dedicated space for both photography and the processing of images,” said Naomi Steinberger, Director of Library Services. “This grant and the lab have radically changed the library’s capacity to provide top-quality digital images of our treasures to the world at large.”
Masorti/Conservative Rabbinical School Opens in Berlin Europe will gain its first Masorti/Conservative rabbinical school when the new Zacharias Frankel College opens next fall in Berlin. Based at Potsdam University, the college will be under the religious supervision of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, part of American Jewish University in Los Angeles. That school’s dean, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, will also serve as dean of the Berlin school. Graduates will be ordained by Ziegler and will be members of the Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of Conservative rabbis. Frankel College is named for the 19th century German rabbi considered the intellectual father of Conservative Judaism. It was developed as a partnership between the Ziegler School and the Leo Baeck Foundation Germany.
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Daf Shevui – New Daily Learning Project The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem has introduced a new project of Talmud study called Daf Shevui. Every day participants receive in their inbox one-sixth of that week’s page of Talmud. The full Hebrew text appears with an English translation and an explanation. Shabbat is reserved for review of the week. Since Talmud is always best learned in a group, this material is particularly appropriate for havurot and synagogue/sisterhood study groups. The learning began in September. Sign up at www.conservativeyeshiva.org/ category/daf-shevui. Each day’s learning will also be posted at that link.
Greenfaith Energy Shield Program The first in a series of resources designed specifically for Conservative synagogues is now available from GreenFaith. GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition, works with houses of worship, religious schools and people of all faiths to help them become better environmental stewards. The Energy Shield program provides congregations with tools and materials to learn about the Jewish basis for responsible energy use as part of the Sustainable Synagogues Initiative – GreenFaith’s environmental initiative in partnership with the Conservative movement. This resource describes a number of practical energy action steps for synagogues and households. By taking these actions, your congregation can earn the GreenFaith Energy Shield. To learn more go to greenfaith.org
INTERVIEW BY andrea glick
Rabbi Gordon Tucker
on interfaith families, the idea of post-denominational Judaism and more
Gordon Tucker is widely regarded as one of Conservative Judaism’s leading thinkers. From 1984 to 1992, he was dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary and has taught there for many years. In his writing and teaching, Rabbi Tucker has articulated a distinctive approach to halachah that has impacted a generation of rabbis. One of his intellectual accomplishments was the 2006 translation with commentary of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s major Hebrew work on rabbinic theology, Heavenly Torah: As Refracted Through the Generations. Rabbi Tucker is beginning his 20th year as religious leader of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, New York, which seemed like a good time to talk to him about current issues in Conservative Judaism.
What are the biggest challenges facing Conservative congregations and Conservative Judaism?
First, there is a lot of very positive activity and engagement in many Conservative synagogues. But when you look at Conservative Judaism as a whole, there ought to be greater identification with the movement – its ideas and goals – which would give active and engaged congregations a sense of kinship with other such congregations and a greater sense of a shared mission and cause. Second, because social, economic and technological changes are happening with such great speed, making traditional Jewish practices and norms plausible to young people is a greater challenge than it’s ever been, and we have to work harder to restore that plausibility. Number three is how to create a
welcoming home for young people whose energies have been brought out in small, homogeneous, independent communities, particularly in cities, when they move to another stage of their lives and no longer find themselves in cities. For many, their background is consonant with what Conservative Judaism is about. Conservative structures have to do a lot of internal thinking about how to create the right kind of home for these people.
Some people say we’re in a “postdenominational” Jewish era. Do you agree?
If “post-denominational” means that fewer people are displaying interest in identifying with a particular denomination, that’s probably true, almost trivially true. I consider this to be one of the downsides of Conservative Judaism’s success. We
10 CJ – Voices of conservative/masorti judaism – Winter 2013-2014
have over the decades successfully promoted many important and noble ideas of Klal Yisrael and as a result, paradoxically, a lot of our people have subliminally been taught that one shouldn’t be putting on one’s own movement label, but rather try to be involved with the entire Jewish community. If by post-denominational you mean that’s what we ought to be aspiring to, I’m much less ready to acquiesce. I think that the religious movements came into being for some good reasons that are not at all outdated.
Is there still a place for Conservative Judaism?
Yes. Among the things that can promote the plausibility of Jewish practices is the existence of a larger coalition of Jews who are committed to many of those practices, and committed to articulating and refining a common ideology. I’ve actually
heard people refer to the independent minyan phenomenon as the “independent minyan movement.” Isn’t that interesting? We’re a very social species. We like to be identified with and to coalesce with people who are sufficiently like us to form coalitions, but with implied and even explicit permission to create a certain creative diversity. So I think denominations and movements may change their names, they may realign a little, but I don’t think they’re going to disappear.
I think denominations and movements may change their names, they may realign a little, but I don’t think they’re going to disappear.
How can synagogues respond to these realities?
I think we have to have patience to let this play out, without feeling threatened that everything is going to unravel. It’s not going to unravel, because you’re dealing with families who actually are very positive about being Jewish, continues on page 55
Many Conservative rabbis and synagogues are struggling with how to treat interfaith couples and families. What are your thoughts?
It’s becoming impossible to ignore the fact that a lot of people are on some kind of Jewish spectrum, not because of some objective status that the community ascribes to them, but rather because of how they think of themselves, how they live their lives. Until now, we have been accustomed to thinking in terms such as: “You’re a Jew and you can get an aliyah, and you’re not a Jew so you can’t.” But we will increasingly have to think about how to accommodate the various gradations of Jewishness that are already there in different families. Every synagogue has had to develop appropriate ways in which to treat families in which a non-Jewish spouse has been totally supporting the Jewishness of the family, and who is there at the child’s bar mitzvah. And then there’s the intriguing situation in which the nonJewish member of the family is more involved in synagogue life than the Jewish member, and when there are all sorts of things going on to promote the Jewish identity of a family, even though it doesn’t meet the traditional objective criteria. We can’t be oblivious to all of these developments.
*A sacred Jewish community
Good to Great
Raising the Bar for Children’s Choirs
hat’s the highest-rated program at your shul? Adult ed? Social action? Kiddush? At one New Jersey congregation, it’s some 30 children, ages 7 to 12, who rush to synagogue each week to sing multi-part harmonies in several languages. Together they make up Tzipporei Shalom (Birds of Peace), the children’s chorus of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck. It all started 15 years ago, when a member of Beth Sholom approached two women in the shul known for their musical talents and asked them to start a choir to keep kids occupied for half an hour on Shabbat mornings. Adina Avery Grossman and Ronit Wolff Hanan, both cantors’ daughters with extensive musical backgrounds, immediately said “yes.” They began with 10 children, four of them their own. Avery Grossman and Wolff Hanan met with the group weekly on Shabbat, taught a few zippy melodies that the kids could quickly master, and periodically took them upstairs to the main sanctuary to perform at the end of services. Fast-forward to 2013. Tzipporei Shalom now boasts between 30 and 40 children every season. Still led by Avery Grossman and Wolff Hanan the group continues to meet for only half an hour each week, but in that half hour the first- to sixth-graders – some of whom can’t even read yet – master repertoire in seven languages, learn music theory, and sing pieces with multiple voice parts. They have been the featured vocal group at New York City’s annual Israel Folk Dance Festival, have performed with singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman (z”l) in a special tribute concert, and joined Zalmen Mlotek, Neil Sedaka and a choir of 200 on the stage of Carnegie Hall. Tzipporei Shalom is the recipient of multiple awards and has been the top-ranked shul program in every recent survey. Parents tell Avery Grossman and Wolff Hanan that their kids rush them out the door on Shabbat mornings, and new members join the shul specifically because their children want to sing in the choir.
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The young singers of Tzipporei Shalom perform last year in Teaneck, New Jersey.
The choir leaders say that above all, they focus on the pleasure of singing and enabling the children to have a positive early synagogue experience. “We bring joy to the kids before they even begin to participate in services,” says Avery Grossman. “That in turn brings joy to their families as they share in the pride of the children’s accomplishments, and joy to the entire congregation through song.” They look for every opportunity to expose their choristers to other choirs. It encourages them to keep up their singing. Tzipporei Shalom alumni have gone on to sing in middle school and high school choirs, many feeding directly into the local chapter of HaZamir: the International Jewish High School Choir. Some have continued singing in college and beyond. Avery Grossman and Wolff Hanan like to think that they helped to plant that first seed. Thanks to their success, Avery Grossman and Wolff Hanan, who is now an ordained hazzan and the synagogue’s music director, have been invited to present professional workshops at the North American Jewish Choral Festival and the H.L. Miller Cantorial School of the Jewish Theological Seminary. “You can’t quantify the impact on a community of having 30 children, Shabbat after Shabbat, excited about singing Jewish songs and thrilled to be in shul,” says Beth Sholom’s Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky. “These children, and their incredible leaders, help keep all of us engaged in Jewish music and text, and remind us of the joy that singing together as a community can bring.” CJ
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Listen to the choir on cjvoices.org
Creating a Successful Synagogue Children’s Choir
If you have questions about running a children’s choir, feel free to contact Ronit Wolff Hanan and Adina Avery Grossman at TzipporeiShalom@cbsteaneck.org.
By Adina Avery Grossman and Ronit Wolff Hanan We think that with a little work, any synagogue can create a successful children’s choir. Here are some tips from our 15 years of experience at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Cute is nice, but cute ain’t music. We treat the kids like professionals and with respect, and they return the favor. We ask for 30 minutes of focused attention. The kids learn music theory, choral singing, musical phrasing, and vocal technique. They learn about clean entrances and cut-offs, how to listen and blend, how to stand when they’re performing, and how to stay focused on their conductor. They learn terms like staccato and legato, crescendo and diminuendo; they know what
We meet on Shabbat mornings because we have a large cadre of children in the building and an audience waiting to kvell. We meet from 10:00 to 10:30, before children’s services begin, which gets everyone to shul on time, and gets the kids while they’re fresh.
Integration Our congregants love to sing but our shul has steered away from choirs during services and does not use instruments on Shabbat. We sing a capella four or five times a year at the end of Shabbat services and are frequently asked to entertain at simchas or other special occasions, such as a recent Veterans Shabbat. We often get the congregation to sing along with the choir.
We distribute new t-shirts at the beginning of every season, and trophies at the end. And we have a great choir logo.
an upbeat is and what a downbeat is. They never start a piece without a key and a count. And as a bonus, they are learning about Jewish texts and Jewish culture from around the world.
Performances We try to punctuate each year with one new challenge or out-of-the-ordinary performance such as a concert with other choirs, a recording, or singing at a larger venue.
Parental involvement During rehearsals we keep a dozen chairs set up in the back of the room for parents. Sometimes a young child has trouble separating, but more often the parents just want to listen and learn.
Staffing For 13 years, we were just two volunteers. You need to find people – either lay or a willing hazzan or music director – who are creative, committed, enjoy children, and are knowledgeable about repertoire and music. You also need parents willing to help out as necessary.
Content We keep the repertoire fresh and exotic with songs in Hebrew, English, Ladino, Yiddish, Zulu, Lugandan, and Nigerian. We look for pieces or arrangements that highlight kids’ strengths. Often older choir members sing the complex verses while the younger members chime in on the chorus. We sing old and new songs, fast and slow, in unison and in parts.
A Place Where You Belong Jewish healing circles are playing a more important role in our spiritual communities. By Rabbi Melissa Klein
felt awkward and uncomfortable the first time I participated in a prayer service in a circle. It felt exposed – everyone could see me. For me, prayer is a private matter. Indeed, one of the highlights during my years after college studying in Israel was davening over Rosh Hashanah at an old shul in Tel Aviv, where perhaps 15 men were gathered below as I prayed in the women’s balcony, the only woman there. Yet I have come to appreciate the power of gathering in spiritual community in a circle in a way that honors my need for privacy as well as my yearning to connect. For the past 13 years, I have been attending and leading healing circles, including for the last four years a monthly gathering at Germantown Jewish Center in Philadelphia,
Rabbi Melissa Klein is a member of the Germantown Jewish Centre, where she leads a monthly Jewish Healing Service in collaboration with the congregation’s rabbis. She is available to consult with communities interested in hosting a healing circle/service. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
and these gatherings are among my most transformative spiritual practices. A healing circle is very different from a typical prayer service. When we gather for prayer, meditation, Torah study, and sharing in a circle, we sit in a community of equals, symbolically reminding ourselves that we are fundamentally the same: mortal beings who experience loss and pain and fear, joy and pleasure, as well as the potential for renewal. What so many of us yearn for, particularly when we are struggling, is an affirmation that we are embraced by God and our kehilla as we are. My personal journey informs my commitment to leading and promoting healing circles. As a lesbian who spent many years afraid to come out, and as a rabbi who took a slowerthan-typical career track, I sometimes wonder whether I will be a fully accepted member of the Jewish community. Many of us experience marginalization in our Jewish communities, asking ourselves, “Do I really belong here?” In a congregation, a Jewish healing circle is a subtle, yet powerful, statement to the community that, “Yes, each of us belongs here.” Each one of us, in our brokenness and in
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our wholeness, in our differences and in our similarities, is an integral part of the interconnected whole. Unlike most of our other services, a healing circle – or service, as it’s also called – has no standard liturgical form and does not require a set time or place. There is room for creativity. I prefer to schedule a healing service on a quiet morning or evening, rather than on Shabbat, to honor those who are not up for the socializing that a Shabbat often involves. The services are generally an hour long, and we make it a priority to begin and end on time. At the Germantown Jewish Centre, we meet in a small circle at the front of our sanctuary, and we beautify the space with a small table holding a candle and flowers and other objects associated with the season. We also place a “prayer bowl” on the table. We begin the service slowly chanting a niggun, followed by a welcome, which orients newcomers, presents a theme to reflect on and sets an intention for the gathering. This is followed by a brief selection from Ma’ariv, since the service takes place in the evening. Following a silent meditation and prior to our
sharing time, participants are invited to write their prayers and place them in the prayer bowl, which one of the congregation’s rabbis keeps in her office. Sharing is always optional. We emphasize the role of the gathered community as loving witness and make the commitment not to repeat what others have shared. To facilitate sharing, we pass an object, reminiscent of the Native American talking stick, and whoever is holding it is invited to speak aloud or to receive a silent blessing from the community. We also explore together a brief passage from the week’s parashah, selected for its potential to inform the healing process. If we have a minyan and a mourner present, we recite the mourner’s Kaddish, or if we have a smaller group, we read a poem instead of Kaddish. At the conclusion of the hour, I invite participants to check in with how they are feeling and to speak
What so many of us yearn for, particularly when we are struggling, is an affirmation that we are embraced by God and our kehilla as we are. one word aloud. Participants often say words such as “peaceful,” “comforted” or “connected.”
ince the early 1990s, Jewish healing circles have played an increasingly important role in the spiritual life of our communities. Fundamentally, a Jewish healing service is a quiet, nurturing space for sitting in Jewish community in the healing presence of the Divine. Having attended these circles
over many years, I have experienced and witnessed the healing power of coming together in this way. One gentleman, who was caring for his wife with Alzheimer’s, shared that he had gone to many support groups, “but this was the first time I felt better after.” One active, vibrant woman in her late 60s who was diagnosed with a degenerative disease described herself as someone who was not “touchy-feely,” yet after her diagnosis, she made the commitment to attend our monthly service. She eventually began bringing her husband, recognizing that he, too, needed spiritual support. Among our participants have been those dealing with illness in the family, with professional challenges, with grief, and with depression. One of the traits I have been developing as a healing service leader is anavah (humility). My role is to sit in the circle, opening my heart and holding the space continues on page 55
Photo by eli meir kaplan, associated press
The Urban Rabbi For a Baltimore rabbi, social justice means forging real bonds between his synagogue and the predominantly African-American community around it. By Michael Schulson
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few years ago, Rabbi Daniel Burg taught his pre-b’nai mitzvah students about food deserts – areas where residents lack easy access to a grocery store. At the time, Burg was living in a comfortable Chicago neighborhood, near his synagogue, and just two blocks from a Whole Foods Market. For his lesson, Burg sent the students to other, less affluent parts of Chicago.
Photos by howard p. fink
There they tried to track down places that sold fresh, healthy foods, getting a sense of some basic challenges that face many low-income Americans. “I live in a food desert now,” Burg explained on a recent Sunday morning, sitting in his office at Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore, Maryland. Burg, 37, became rabbi at Beth Am three years ago. Along with the usual Judaic texts and framed diplomas, his office contains a coffee machine, a guitar and another bookshelf, this one stocked with books on Baltimore and urban policy. When Burg came to Beth Am, members of the search committee advised him to think carefully about living near the synagogue. Beth Am is in Reservoir Hill, a neighborhood that has suffered from poverty and chronic drug use for decades. But Burg and his wife, Rabbi Miriam Cotzin Burg, decided to move there anyway. It wasn’t just a matter of convenience. “After that initial shock, what we started to think about was actually what a great opportunity this was to live our own values,” says Burg. The Burgs aren’t alone in their commitment to Reservoir Hill. Beth Am was founded in 1974, a time when Jews had been leaving urban Baltimore for more than 20 years. Social justice has been a part of its congregational identity from the start (beth
"It’s hard to imagine my rabbinate in a different sort of community, because I felt called to a sense of diversity of appearance, belief and ideas." 18 CJ – Voices of conservative/masorti judaism – Winter 2013-2014
ROAD TO RENEWAL Previous pages: Rabbi Burg and Beth Am work closely with a local community farm, even hosting the farm’s fundraiser last month. Far left and left: Beth Am sent a large contingent to help build a playground in Reservoir Heights.
am means “house of the people”). Today, under Burg’s leadership, Beth Am is showing that it’s possible for a synagogue to thrive and grow in urban Baltimore. And, in the process, Beth Am and Burg are tackling new forms of that ancient question: how should I treat my neighbor? Until the mid-20th century, Jews living near Beth Am didn’t need to spend much time negotiating their relationship with the neighborhood. For the most part, they were the neighborhood, and the area now known as Reservoir Hill was the heart of Jewish Baltimore. The elegant townhouses of Eutaw Place were adorned with mezuzot, and Jewish merchants owned stores along Whitelock Street. After World War II, Baltimore’s manufacturing sector began to dry up, and Jews started heading to the suburbs. The process was accelerated by redlining and blockbusting, strategies that prolonged segregation and deepened urban poverty. By 1968, when Baltimore was engulfed in race riots, few Jews remained in Reservoir Hill. They had moved to Pikesville, and later Owings Mills – suburbs that are now the hub of Jewish life in Baltimore County. The synagogues moved with them and not all of their old buildings stayed in Jewish hands. Some became churches; at least one is a Masonic lodge. Beth Am took over the domed Moorish sanctuary of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, which moved to Pikesville. Beth Am held on, at times narrowly, through the ’80s and ’90s, a time in which Whitelock Street hosted open-air drug markets. With a sanctuary that can seat 1,200, Beth Am’s membership dipped from 500 to 370 families. Scott Zeger, its current president, joined the congregation in the 1990s. At the time, Zeger says, “The relationship of the congregation to the neighborhood was basically one of, ‘This is our building, we’re hunkered down here, we fear you.’” As members of the Beth Am community – Burg foremost among them – will tell you, those relationships began to improve years before Burg arrived. Still, says Zeger, there was a sense among some congregants that the congregation could be doing more. The synagogue is in an unusual situation: in a neighborhood that’s around 90 percent African-American, Beth Am is the area’s largest religious institution. “It’s the main faith-based partner that we have,” said Richard Gwynallen, associate director of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council who is also a Beth Am congregant. That kind of institutional
of Chicago. His parents made a conscious effort to raise their kids in a place where they’d be able to interact with a range of people, not only Jews. Instead of dulling Burg’s sense of Jewish identity, this diversity helped define it. “From a very early age I was distinctly aware of my identity as a Jew,” Burg explains. “And I saw that identity in relationship with the other.” Burg draws a direct line from Niles to Beth Am: “It’s hard to imagine my rabbinate in a different sort of community, because I felt called to a sense of diversity of appearance, belief and ideas.” Beth Am is Burg’s first job as senior rabbi (he previously worked on the rabbinical team at Anshe Emet Synagogue). Jo-Anne Tucker-Zemlak, a United Synagogue professional in Chicago who works with congregations in the region, including Baltimore, describes Burg as the kind of rabbi who will keep on talking to you, without a flicker of distraction, even as his phone is buzzing away in his pocket. That seems about right: Burg is that rare combination, someone who’s loose, outgoing and entirely attentive. After he moved to Reservoir Hill, Burg
Photo by howard p. fink
heft comes with certain responsibilities. When Beth Am’s previous rabbi, Jon Konheim, decided to retire, the congregation looked for someone who would, among other roles, help them deepen their engagement with the neighborhood. And, in that task, they may have found their perfect match in Daniel Burg. The demographic situation of today’s North American Jews would be unfamiliar to most of our forebears. We’re a minority, of course – that’s nothing new. But the era of shtetls, ghettoes and Jewish quarters has ended. We can live where we want, which often means finding ourselves amid people from myriad other ethnic and religious groups. So the question now is, how do we engage, Jewishly, with the people who live right next door? What are our responsibiliBALTIMORE ROOTS Beth Am members ties to the non-Jewish communities around joined a volunteer us? What will it look like – borrowing Burg’s effort that planted phrasing – to build a Jewish neighborhood 50 willow trees in the 21st century? along Druid Park Burg was raised in Niles, Illinois, a suburb Lake Drive.
Photo by howard p. fink
took time to get to know his neighbors and the neighborhood. He started a blog, The Urban Rabbi (www.theurbanrabbi.org), to work through some of his questions about the community and Beth Am’s role in it. On Yom Kippur, Burg delivered a sermon in which he praised the congregation for its longstanding commitment to staying in the neighborhood and for its work on its behalf. He then challenged Beth Am to deepen its sense of belonging – of relationship – to the neighborhood. In Burg’s phrasing, it was time for Beth Am “to be of the neighborhood” in a way no Jewish institution had been in at least 50 years. Referencing Reservoir Hill’s past glory as a Jewish neighborhood, he asked what it might
look like to build a new Jewish neighborhood – one defined not by a Jewish majority, but by an infusion of “Jewish values like diversity, education, sustainability, and social justice.” I asked Zeger if congregants had responded well to Burg’s challenge. “Totally,” he replied. The sermon spurred Beth Am’s In, For, and Of the Neighborhood Leadership Training Initiative (colloquially, IFO), headed up by Lisa Akchin and Maggi Gaines. This past spring, over a series of meetings, IFO brought together 50 congregants to read Jewish texts, listen to talks by community organizers, and discuss Beth Am’s role in Reservoir Hill. This fall, says Akchin, “we’re trying to identify a project of mutual interest where the planning work involves members of the congregation and of the community.” In the shorterterm, the IFO is planning a Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend event that will feature The Afro-Semitic Experience, a band that fuses jazz, klezmer and other music styles. Later, they’ll be hosting bestselling author Wes Moore for a joint synagogueneighborhood event.
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LULAV LESSONS Rabbi Burg gave demonstrations on shaking the lulav and etrog at last year’s Whitelock Harvest Festival, which coincided with Sukkot.
More than one congregant told me that a visit from Juanita Garrison, a longtime neighbor who’s active in local advocacy, had been eye-opening. Garrison summarized her message to the IFO group: “The only thing I see is that you park your car in front of people’s homes, and you get out of your car, and you don’t even speak.” Garrison wants Beth Am congregants to say hello. This might seem like a small thing, but it’s at the core of what Beth Am is trying to do. “I think In-For-Of has everything to do with relationships,” explains Akchin. Zeger points out that, ideally, Beth Am’s approach is not, “I have resources, I’m going to help you,” but instead, “We’re just two people, we’re going to get to know each other.” Zeger adds that this kind of equal-partners approach “makes some people very uncomfortable. People are becoming aware of a hurdle that they have.” In 2011, Miriam Burg co-chaired a committee that brought together friends and residents of Reservoir Hill – a large contingent from Beth Am among them – for a one-day playground build on what was once a concrete lot. Congregants have helped plant trees along Whitelock Street. They read to children at the local elementary school, and they lobbied the state government for funding to build a new school building. They volunteer at a community farm. The shul hosts concerts and community meetings. For Burg, the key question is, “How can we all bring our relationships, passion, knowledge, expertise to bear on making that public sphere as great as it can be?” That kind of engagement isn’t a supplement to the synagogue’s work. It’s not diplomacy. Instead, Burg argues, it is an expression of a fundamental Jewish value. It’s about “that basic guiding principle of noticing that we are all somehow linked, and we are linked not in our being ordinary or mundane. We’re linked in our being holy, created in the image of God.” On a recent Shabbat afternoon I went for a walk with Burg around Reservoir Hill. We started at the townhouse that Burg shares with his wife and their two young children. On the way out the door, he paused at an old map of Reservoir Hill
Walking around the neighborhood, Burg seemed to know at least half the people he passed. He said hello to everyone, though. hanging in his foyer. Soon we were talking about blockbusting, redlining, segregation, and the films of Barry Levinson, as Burg pointed to relevant places on the map. By the time we made it outside, clouds were rolling in, and it was getting chilly. We visited the new playground and passed through the community farm, where sunflowers and tomatoes were thriving. An intersection had been blocked off for a street fair. Burg stopped to chat with a couple of neighbors. A diverse crowd was dancing to a live band. Burg waved to the drummer, who sometimes plays at the shul. Burg seemed to know at least half the people he passed. He said hello to everyone, though. At one point, he popped up to a rowhouse porch in order to greet a newcomer. We dropped by the homes of two young families, members of Beth Am, who live in Reservoir Hill, and we sat on a congregant’s porch and drank cider as the rain began to fall. There are now about a dozen Jewish households in Reservoir Hill. That number may seem modest, but to native Baltimoreans, it’s a surprise, as is the growth of Beth Am, which has added more than 100 families in the past three years (the shul now has about 500). I asked Tucker-Zemlak, the United Synagogue employee, if, 20 years ago, she would have predicted a resurgence of Jewish life in Reservoir Hill. “No way,” she replied. “Ten years ago I didn’t think so. ” The vicious cycle of poverty is difficult to break. Community organizing can’t restore the jobs that Baltimore lost decades ago. And neighborhoods undergoing a renaissance can push out lower
income residents instead of sharing the fruits of development. Burg recognizes these issues. “What we’re looking at is really a sense of all boats rising in the harbor. If 20 years from now this is an almost exclusively white and almost exclusively affluent neighborhood, then we haven’t done our job,” he says. Burg also argues that the scale of the challenge does not exempt him or Beth Am from their responsibilities to the neighborhood in which they learn, worship and in some cases live. “There’s a word yeush, which means despair,” says Burg. “I would suggest that, actually, as much as possible, we’re not allowed to do yeush on the world. We’re not allowed to
Burg wants to create relationships that “come through the semipermeable membrane of our stately historic synagogue walls.” do yeush on our communities. And if I can do a little bit, and if I can mobilize a congregation of almost 500 families now to help do more of it, then I feel I can sleep okay at night.” In 2012, Reservoir Hill hosted a harvest festival that happened to coincide with Sukkot. Burg spent an afternoon outside, teaching passers-by how to shake the lulav and etrog. He wasn’t targeting Jews, and, of course, he wasn’t trying to convert his neighbors. Instead, Burg saw a chance to help them “know a little bit of who we are, why we’re here, and why we care about the work that we do.”
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What Burg and fellow members of Beth Am are attempting is different from the average social action project. After all, their goal isn’t just to do charitable acts; nor is it just a matter of building individual relationships. Instead, they’re trying to expand the walls of the synagogue; to imagine a Jewish community that, to some extent, includes people who aren’t Jews. Burg notes that “relational Judaism” has become the latest buzzword. All around the country, synagogues are trying to place the construction of positive relationships at the core of their missions. “We’re doing the same thing, but we’re trying to soften the boundaries of the synagogue,” Burg explains. “We want those relationships to bleed into the community, and we want them to come through the semi-permeable membrane of our stately historic synagogue walls.” Burg starts talking more quickly, almost breathless. “Some of that means that we go to them, and some of that means that they come to us, and a lot of that means that we stop thinking about us and them so much and we start thinking about how it’s all us.” CJ
Michael Schulson is a freelance writer based in Durham, North Carolina.
Prisoner of Hope Despite a discouraging reality, an American Jewish physician is using health care to help heal the Israel-Palestinian divide. By Andrea Glick
alk about wearing several hats. In Massachusetts, where he lives, Norbert Goldfield is a doctor at a lowincome medical clinic, a leading expert on restructuring health-care systems, and in his spare time, the president of Congregation B’nai Israel, a Conservative congregation in Northampton. In addition, every few months Goldfield heads to Israel and the West Bank, where he dons perhaps his most fascinating hat, as executive director of Healing Across the Divides, a nonprofit he founded in 2004. The group provides grants and technical assistance to community organizations working to improve healthcare for underserved people – whether ultraOrthodox Jewish women in Jerusalem who need early breastcancer detection, Arabs in Northern Israel with little access to health care, or Palestinians in the West Bank suffering from high rates of diabetes. The decision to cross the region’s tense ethnic and territorial boundaries is no accident. Though Healing Across the Divides (HATD) stays away from political action, the group works on both sides of the Green Line and hopes that a byproduct of its work will be to “build peace through health” among Palestinians and Jews. The concept of peace building through health involves empowering community-based groups to improve people’s wellbeing, and in turn, strengthening those communities
and their leaders. Eventually, it is hoped, the various groups will form alliances and work together. And the ultimate goal, summed up by one researcher in the field, is to create “an environment that increases people’s investment in peace and can reduce, if not relieve, tensions that contribute to conflict.” It’s complicated stuff, written in the language of international health and peace studies. In practice, though, it means that Goldfield is deeply enmeshed with Israel, its people and its most intractable political and social problems. Why would a busy physician and health-policy expert seek out this kind of tsuris? “The bottom line,” says Goldfield, “is that I’m one of the diminishing number of American Jews who feel we must be engaged in some manner with Israel.” The country is central to his Jewish identity, he explains, even though he admits struggling to understand Israel’s exact meaning for his Judaism. He struggles, as well, with how the country has dealt with the Palestinian issue. In a d’var Torah he gave last summer at his shul, Goldfield explored the meaning of the Hebrew word va’etchanan (and I pleaded) that refers to Moses’s beseeching God to let him see the land of Israel. Some commentators, Goldfield notes, say we learn about Moses’ desperate pleading in order to teach us never to lose hope “that our deepest hopes may yet be answered.” >> left: Dr. Norbert Goldfield Top right: Ethiopian Israeli women take part in a program that promotes healthier living to prevent chronic illnesses. bottom right: A group for Arab and Jewish women with disabilities empowers them to take charge of their health and overcome negative body images that get in the way of self-care.
>> For all his hopefulness, Goldfield believes it’s unlikely a two-state solution will happen. Yet after saying that, he almost immediately adds that he supports Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart the peace process and knows from conversations with him that Kerry gets the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
he budget of Healing Across the Divides is small – about $250,000 per year. Nonetheless it makes a real impact. Beit Natan, a women’s cancer support center, has used HATD grants to increase the number of female clinicians trained in breast exams – an important advance, since ultra-Orthodox women normally won’t opt for a breast exam if it’s from a male practitioner. In the West Bank, the Palestine Medical Relief Society has used HATD funding for a community health worker to teach diabetics, of whom there are many in the community, how to better control their disease, and for lab tests to monitor their progress. HATD also partners with outside groups to boost its impact. A partnership with the Cleveland Jewish Federation, for instance, is spending $900,000 over three years on grass-roots efforts to empower and improve the health of marginalized women, including Israeli Arabs. (The federation does not fund HATD’s work in the West Bank.) But Goldfield does not require cooperation between Jewish community groups and those serving Palestinians in the West Bank. That, he says, needs to come from the groups themselves at a time of their choosing. Cooperation does occur however between Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab groups. Still, says Goldfield, right now peace building through health cannot be his organization’s overarching focus, merely a “hoped-for byproduct.” Ultimately, Goldfield has faith that working with community organizations will yield results. “At the end of the day, my dream – and I operate at the level of dreams – is that the leaders of these community-based groups will be tomorrow’s political leaders – and resolve the IsraeliPalestinian conflict.” CJ
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in focus SUMMER CAMPS & PROGRAMS It's all about the journey incubating jewish experience Finding the right jewish camp making camp ramah even more special(ty)
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camps & more
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY
s we turn in our Torah re a d i n g f ro m G e n e s i s t o Exodus, we begin a journey that will take us on a 40-year trek through the desert following the exodus from Egypt. What’s always surprised me is how romantically this tumultuous journey is viewed by the rabbis and by Jewish tradition. It is remembered as a time of intimacy between God and the Israelites, as a honeymoon of sorts, where the Israelites grow into a people and forge the relationship with God that remains central to our tradition. I think our tendency to look favorably on this story lies in the power of the journey it describes. Time spent out of our element, seeing new things and having new experiences, is a critical part of human development. These kinds of opportunities, which place us in a bubble removed from the outside world, are especially powerful – and important – for teens. The chance to travel on their own with a group of peers, without the pressures of school, affects them profoundly. And to do so in a Jewish context adds a whole other dimension. For over 50 years, United Synagogue Youth has
Through summer travel, Jewish teens are like the Israelites – wandering with a purpose. By Rabbi David Levy
provided just such summer experiences for teenagers through USY on Wheels and USY Israel Pilgrimage. Tens of thousands have traversed the continent and traveled to Israel and Europe under our auspices. And each summer they return transformed, growing as individuals and equally important, as Jews. One of the most frequent questions we get about USY on Wheels is, “Why would anyone want to spend six weeks on a bus?” Those who have already been on Wheels laugh at the question. Our alumni know that it is all about the journey. As we learn from the Israelites, one can wander with purpose. Deep friendships
Rabbi David Levy is Director of Teen Learning for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
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are forged through traveling and living together. A tremendous sense of accomplishment is gained from successfully making the journey from coast to coast and back. And a sense of independence develops as teens explore new places and cultures, without their families. All of this serious growth happens while the kids have the time of their lives. Wheels participants visit incredible sites across North America, from Mount Rushmore to the Grand Canyon, Disneyland to Yellowstone. They visit museums, attend concerts and do volunteer work along the way. What I find most remarkable is that it is all created anew each year.
To learn more go to usy.org
Each Wheels bus or Israel Pilgrimage group exists only once. We have no grounds, no fixed space. There is no coming back next summer for the same experience – the staff and group will be different, the hotels, sites and educational program will change. This impermanence creates a unique challenge and opportunity: how to create a fleeting community that makes a lasting impact? The same is true of our travel. Will there be a Shabbat in Cody, Wyoming, if we don’t pull up and bring Jewish life off our bus and into the hotel? And what does this teach our USYers? If he or she can keep kosher or pray, or celebrate Shabbat anywhere in the world, surely they can do it on a college campus or in a new city. In the end, that is the message of the time in the desert. The community is forged by the act of journeying together. It is this experience that prepares them to be a people in the Promised Land. We take our teens on a journey so that we can ready the next generation of Jews to take their place wherever that place may be. CJ
What's remarkable is that it's all created anew each year.
camps & more
Making Camp Ramah Even More Special(ty)
For more information please visit www.campramah.org.
Today’s kids can learn anything from organic farming to circus arts.
By Nancy B. Sheff
amah camps have always been known for offering campers a diverse menu of electives and choices in their schedules. But in recent years, they’ve created an even bigger smorgasbord of specialty programs from which campers can choose. At Ramah Darom in Georgia, for instance, campers entering tenth grade go to university – Nivonim University, that is – a program that lets them choose a “major” in which to develop advanced skills. The choices include fine arts, fitness, aquatics, media arts, music, and organic farming. At Ramah Wisconsin, entering tenth graders have 45-90 minutes a day to explore areas of interest such as outdoor education, radio and woodworking, while at Ramah Berkshires, older campers choose a daily chug, or club, for team-oriented activities such as basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, soccer, and dance. At certain camps, there is an extended
time period – usually a week – dedicated to a single elective. Kishroniyah (from the Hebrew kisharon or talent) is the week-long program for older campers at Ramah New England. Options vary annually and include traditional offerings, plus innovative ones such as circus arts. Ramah Canada and Ramah Wisconsin offer what they call Shavua Sababa (Awesome Week) with visiting experts offering in-depth instruction. At Ramah California, options include surfing and Jewish-African embroidery. Rising eighth graders at Ramah Berkshires travel offsite for Sababa Bogrim, their week of specialty instruction. This summer, options included a biking trip in Massachusetts, cooking classes at New York City’s Kosher Culinary Institute, and theater or visual arts at the Brandeis University high school arts program. Established in 2010 in the Colorado Rockies, Ramah Outdoor Adventure is the
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first Ramah overnight camp dedicated to a single specialty. With its focus on outdoor adventure and challenges, it stresses environmental education. During its first summer, Ramah Outdoors served 120 campers. In 2013, the camp welcomed more than 340 campers (grades 3-12) from all over the United States, Canada, Israel, and Mexico, along with 85 staff and specialists. Bridging the gap between a stand-alone camp and a program within a camp is the Ramah Basketball Academy (RBA) at Ramah Poconos where campers participate in the traditional program for the first session. Then they spend five to six hours a day in intensive basketball instruction for the second session. The camp plans to offer a Ramah Tennis Academy next summer. CJ Nancy B. Scheff is Director of Communications for the National Ramah Commission.
To learn more visit www.JewishCamp.org
INCUBATING JEWISH EXPERIENCES By Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp
t the Foundation for Jewish Camp, we observed a growing trend several years ago: families were choosing non-Jewish summer camps so their children could pursue specialty experiences. We asked ourselves, “Why should families have to choose one over the other?” They shouldn’t! So the FJC Specialty Camps Incubator was born. The goal of this program is to efficiently create and launch camps with a concentrated focus on specific activities, and to couple that focus with a mission to weave Jewish culture, values and learning throughout the camp program. The first cohort of five camps was carefully selected to cover a variety of specialties in specific geographical locations. After two years of workshops, coaching and guidance for their camp directors, the new specialty camps opened their doors in the summer of 2010. 92Y Passport NYC, Adamah Adventures, Eden Village Camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventures, and URJ 6 Points Academy were wildly successful and continue to surpass their enrollment and retention goals, proving the demand for Jewish specialty options in the summer camp marketplace. The success of these camps prompted the Specialty Camps Incubator II, jointly funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and AVI CHAI Foundation, which will launch four new camps in the summer of 2014.
s we watch these camps go through the “incubation” process with anticipation, we are excited over this new cohort of Jewish summer camp innovations. We look forward to giving more children the opportunity to experience joyous Judaism this summer and for many summers to come. We encourage you to find out more about Jewish camp and the Specialty Camps Incubator at www.JewishCamp.org. CJ
NEW CAMPS FOR 2014 Camp Inc. will provide a business and entrepreneurial summer camp experience rooted in Jewish values on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder. Campers will learn how to build a company in an industry of their choice and gain the skills necessary to become innovators and social leaders in business, philanthropy and the Jewish community.
Camp Zeke will be a Poconos-
area camp that will help children become healthier, fitter, happier, and more spirituallyengaged Jews. It is founded on the time-honored Jewish lesson that physical and spiritual wellbeing go hand-in-hand. Focusing on pure foods, energizing fitness activities and culinary arts, Camp Zeke will immerse campers in traditional teachings of shmirat haguf (taking care of the body) JCC Maccabi Sports Camp will and the latest developments in be for young Jewish athletes who exercise science and nutrition. are passionate about sports and desire to advance their skill levels. Based in the San Francisco area, this camp’s focus will be less on the individual’s current skill level than on the athlete’s capacity to be coached and a commitment to competitive sports with Jewish values and traditions weaved into the every day.
URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy will provide quality educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for campers in Byfield, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. It will not only engage campers’ curiosity about the world through handson exploration, experimentation and reflection; it will immerse them in a vibrant Jewish community. Jewish values, ethics and tradition will be woven together with the spirit and excitement of open scientific inquiry.
camps & more
Finding the Right Jewish Camp Some expert advice on making a good match
By Abby Knopp
h, camp! Summers of fun and friendship – plus the chance to develop leadership, self-confidence, independence, and the ability to get along with others. Then there’s Jewish summer camp, which offers all of the above while infusing Judaism into everyday life in joyous and meaningful ways. If you’re sold on Jewish camp for your child, or even thinking about it, the next question is, “Which camp?” With more than155 Jewish overnight camps across North America – and more and more specialty camps – choosing the right one can seem like a daunting task. That’s why we’ve compiled some key questions you should consider and suggested steps to take in the process. There is a perfect fit for every child and family. Find yours by first thinking about the following:
Abby Knopp is vice president, Program and Strategy at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
Social environment: The social environment of a camp is comprised of the children who attend, its staff and its size. Questions to consider: Will my child be happier at a large or small camp? Will he prefer bunkmates who live nearby or does a more diverse geographical population interest him more? Will he feel more comfortable with kids who attend day school during the year? Programming: This includes daily and evening activities, the structure of the day, the amount of individual choice, and the length of the camp session. Questions to consider: For how many weeks would my child like to go to camp, or would we like her to go? Would she prefer programming that is elective-based, unit based, cabin based? Are there any unique activities that she is looking forward to? How much free time is there? Staff and administration: Each camp structures its staff differently. Some have a large staff with individual responsibilities
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whereas others have teams that do the work jointly. Questions to consider: What ratio of camperto-bunk counselor do I think is appropriate? How much communication do I want with the staff? Do I want to see photos of my child every day? Should the camp have a social worker or someone similar on staff? Spiritual, cultural, and religious life: Jewish life at camp can be the most magical part of the experience; Jewish camp is a place where Judaism is integrated into everyday life and each camp does so in a very different way. It’s important that you learn about the level of Jewish observance and Jewish learning and celebration so that you can determine what works best for your child and what is most aligned with your personal values. Questions to consider: What’s the educational mission of the camp? How frequently would I like my child to use Hebrew, if at all? Do I want my child to have a specific time each day for learning?
k What kind of Shabbat celebration would I like at camp? Is it important to have rabbis and/or Israeli counselors at camp?
fter you’ve considered all of these questions, browse the list of Jewish camps via the Find a Camp tool at www.JewishCamp.org/findacamp and narrow down your choices. Check out the websites of camps that meet your criteria and contact them by phone. We suggest, if possible, visiting your top contenders with your children while camp is in session. If you do have an opportunity to visit camps, here are some things to think about while there: • •
Are living areas divided by age/ gender? What is the dining hall like? What food alternatives are there for those with allergies or who are vegetarians or vegans? What about sports facilities? Does my child want a ropes course, ball fields, tennis courts? Are the bathrooms communal or in-bunk? Is there a lake? A pool? Does my child want to learn water sports like waterskiing or sailing? What arts facilities are there? Is my child interested in ceramics, woodworking, theater?
The Foundation for Jewish Camp unifies and galvanizes the field of Jewish camp and significantly increases the number of children participating in transformative summers at Jewish camp, assuring a vibrant North American Jewish community.
Read more about preparing your child for summer camp with our online exclusive from FJC at cjvoices.org
% TOVA GILEAD
Once you’ve found your match, don’t forget to visit www.OneHappyCamper. org and see if your first-time camper is eligible for a grant of up to $1000. Happy camping! CJ
At the first ordination at the Seminario in Buenos Aires, 1972
A Latin American Powerhouse for the 21st Century In the last 50 years, Argentina’s Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer has trained scores of rabbis and invigorated prayer, music, and social action in the Jewish world. By Rabbi Dr. Richard A. Freund
Rabbi Dr. Richard A. Freund is the Maurice Greenberg Professor of Jewish History and Director of the Maurice Greenberg center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford. He directed the Seminario from 1984 to 1986.
n August 1959, a 29-year-old recent graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, arrived in Buenos Aires with his wife, Naomi, to serve as assistant to Rabbi Guillermo Schlesinger, leader of the prominent Congregacion Israelita of the Argentine Republic, or CIRA. Post-World War II Argentina, like most of Latin America, was filled with Jews who had either come in the 19th and early 20th century from Europe or were displaced persons who had sought refuge after the Holocaust. By 1950, the Jews of Latin America were segmented, with secularists, Yiddishists, socialists, and Orthodox-styled sectarians. The previous year, Schlesinger, determined to create a seminary for Latin American Jewry, had convened a group of international Jewish lay leaders and clergy, including prominent people from Latin America, North America and Europe. Called the First Consultative Convention of Latin American
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Far Left: At Colombia Camp Ramah, during the summer of 1973. Left: Rabbi Marshall Meyer leads a class.
Synagogues, the gathering concluded with two recommendations: to create a new Latin American religious identity for young Latin American Jews and to create a rabbinical seminary. Meyer’s arrival in Argentina was supposed to help implement these two recommendations. Meyer, who went on to become an internationally renowned advocate for human rights, believed it was necessary to create one, modern, Latin American Judaism that would be meaningful to all Jews and intelligible to their non-Jewish neighbors. In his first few years in Argentina, he tried to replicate the Conservative religious revolution that had evolved over nearly 100 years in the United States, starting with youth movements and camping. The Ramah-style camp he opened in January 1960 (which is summer in the southern hemisphere) had 49 campers and was an unqualified success. The following Ramah seasons produced a core group of young leaders for the budding Conservative movement in Latin America. The CIRA convened another convention in December 1961 to create a prerabbinical seminary in Buenos Aires. The term “pre-rabbinical” was used so as not to compete with programs in the United States. On July 1, 1962, a Seminario at the CIRA was inaugurated by North and South American Rabbis Israel Goldstein, Seymour Siegel, Guillermo Schlesinger, Fritz Winter, and Marshall Meyer. A year later the Seminario was an independent institution. Early on Meyer had realized that he wanted to create a new type of congregation and independent seminary. So in 1963, with a small group of followers, he established a
One of its many accomplishments has been musical; by incorporating tango, samba and jazz into the classical liturgy, it continues to ignite the interest of young Latin American Jews.
laboratory-synagogue (called comunidad in Spanish) in an apartment in a Buenos Aires suburb and simultaneously created an independent pre-rabbinical seminario for the training of Latin American rabbis for these comunidades. It was the same staff and students as the CIRA school, under the same sponsorship of the World Council of Synagogues, which was the predecessor of the Masorti movement, in a new location and with a new framework. Rabbi Meyer and a small cadre of rabbis and scholars produced an innovative Spanish translation of the siddur for use in these comunidades and for study in the Seminario (based on United Synagogue’s 1940 siddur edited by Rabbi Morris Silverman). They also founded a Spanish-language Jewish research journal (Majshavot/Pensamientos), and entered into an agreement to publish some of the greatest modern Jewish writers in Spanish. The modern Seminario and new comunidad, along with the theologically relevant translation of the siddur and research in Spanish, were the pillars on which Meyer’s vision succeeded.
In October 2013, the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer began celebrating its 50th anniversary in Buenos Aires. And while the number of Latin American Jews has dropped to less than 400,000 (from a high of nearly 750,000 in the 1960s) the significance of the Seminario has only grown over the last half century. The Seminario serves a community that stretches from Mexico to the southern tip of Argentina and is the only modern rabbinical and educators’ seminary in Latin America, teaching Bible, Talmud and halachah, as well as theology, philosophy, history, liturgy, and pastoral counseling for Spanish and Portuguese speakers. It serves congregations of diverse ideologies and backgrounds. It is the Masorti movement’s hub in Latin America for liturgy, law, and inter-religious dialogue, with a beit din, mikveh, chaplaincy programs, teachers’ institute, music school, and programs for training youth leaders. One of the school’s many accomplishments has been musical; by incorporating tango, samba and jazz into the classical liturgy, it continues to ignite the interest of young Latin American Jews. (And when Meyer became spiritual leader of New York City’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, his musical innovations continued to attract young Jews.) For the half billion non-Jewish Spanish and Portuguese speakers in 23 countries, the Seminario’s information about Judaism is essential. The Seminario’s 96 ordained rabbis, including ten women, have served congregations in just about every country in continues on page 55
masorti world For information about attending next year’s ATID Conference in Latin America contact Masorti Olami at email@example.com
Historic Conference for Latin American Masorti Community
epresentatives from all over the continent, Europe, Israel, and North America gathered in Buenos Aires this past August to formulize strategy, ideology and goals for the Masorti movement throughout Latin America. The Atid (Future) conference was held at the Seminario Rabinico Latinamerico Marshall T. Meyer. Clive Lawton, co-chair of Masorti UK, shared what many felt: “I didn’t even know all of this existed.” He was blown away by the energy and passion he found in Latin America and vowed to build cooperative projects in the future between Masorti in Latin America and the UK. A joint effort of Masorti Olami, Mercaz Olami, the International Rabbinical Assembly, and Masorti organizations in Latin America (Masorti Amlat, Latin American Rabbinical Assembly, Seminario, and NOAM and MAROM Amlat), Atid began with a Shabbaton for hundreds of representatives from NOAM and MAROM youth and young adult groups, the first such
top left: Rabbi Judith Nowominski addresses the conference. top right: Cantor Steve Stoehr (of Congregation Beth Shalom, Northbrook, Illinois) is at Shaharit services with participants from Canada and Australia. bottom: Young MAROM and NOAM delegates enjoy a session.
meeting of the NOAM chapters in Latin America. After enjoying a Shabbat filled with ruach, friendship and learning, the young people joined the adults. In seminars and discussions, they spoke about Jewish leadership and changes in halachah, and the importance of study in youth activities. The young representatives and their counselors brainstormed about what had brought them together and where it would take them in the future. The discussions were lively, the learning serious. There was a shared sense of purpose in visualizing the future of Masorti Judaism in Latin America and around the world. Sunday morning services included a study session on a passage of Talmud about how to help those who live in poverty that segued into a discussion of the intense poverty found in Latin America and other parts of the world. A newly ordained rabbi, Judith Nowominski, spoke about the challenge of
34 CJ – Voices of conservative/masorti judaism – Winter 2013-2014
bringing God into every aspect of our lives, especially our religious lives. She spoke about encouraging women to take active religious roles in the movement and creating more egalitarian settings so that women are also a true part of Klal Yisrael. The general consensus was the need for greater and better education for all ages. One of the main proposals was the creation of educational materials for congregations in Latin America that would focus on the where, what, why and how of Masorti Judaism to help build a stronger identification with the movement and its principles. Peter Miller, a Masorti Olami lay leader, said that the conference just proved to him why he is involved: “The commitment and dedication of the Masorti Jews in Latin America inspires all of us to invest in and build the future of Masorti/Conservative Jews around the entire globe.” CJ
Snapshots from Jewish Eyes on the Arts An innovative network looks to find homes for arts education in Jewish contexts, and Jewish education in artistic contexts. By Jonah Rank
henever I am asked if I’m a Jewish musician, my gut reaction is “No.” But the truth is that I actually am a Jewish musician, at least literally. Not only do I spend all day tapping my feet and my hands as if I’m playing piano, all of my values in life are informed by my Jewish identity. I’ve devoted much of the past three years to Jewish Eyes on the Arts. Jewish Eyes challenges Jews (and those interested in Judaism) to find Jewish meaning in, or Jewish dissonance with, different works of secular arts, including theater, video, music, writing, and the visual arts. Although we explore every work uniquely, we always begin with a few basic questions: Are the values endorsed in this movie (or book or play) values that I hold dear as a Jew, such as the pursuit of knowledge, tolerance, human rights, creating a peaceful home? Jonah Rank, a rabbinical student, musician and writer, is creative co-director of Jewish Eyes on the Arts. He is also secretary of of Siddur Lev Shalem, the Rabbinical Assembly’s forthcoming siddur for Shabbat and Festivals.
Is the artist (or director or songwriter) telling a story that I have heard in a Jewish context (the Talmud, the Zohar, a Yiddish folksong)? Does this painting (or show or album) allude to the broad spectrum of Jewish philosophy (a God who performs miraculous works versus a God of the still, small voice; a world where some people are just plain evil versus a world where all people have traces of the Divine good inside them)? Is there a certain artistic technique that was part of the Jewish tradition before the dancer (or actor or singer) tried it out (beginning and ending with the same themes; creating chiastic, or symmetrical, structures; inserting newer layers between older layers, like the modern edited Babylonian Talmud)?
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See www.JewishEyesOnTheArts.com for more information.
hen Timna Burston and I cofounded Jewish Eyes on the Arts in 2010 we wanted to do something new in the world of Jewish arts, and encourage people to view the arts as Jews, and Judaism as artists. We ask our core questions in a wide range of contexts. Here are a few snapshots: In 2012, Timna and I facilitated two sessions snapshot at the pre-army Mechinah program at Kibbutz Hanaton in Israel. Timna, a sabra, led a session for the young adults in the program about protest art in and outside of Israel, by Jews and non-Jews alike. After discussing examples of protest art in Israel and in the West Bank, the mechinistim took the roles of people standing on different sides of Israel’s security fence. Timna gave them spray paint bottles, and they created their own Jewish political protest art. That evening, we reconvened and sang songs (naturally, in Hebrew) about Jerusalem – idealizing Jerusalem, criticizing Jerusalem and asked how we as Jews relate through song to this holy city that feels homelike to many but alien to others. In Israel, Jewish Eyes has a different perspective. After all, the country essentially is what Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan called “Judaism as a civilization.” The Jewishness of Israel – religiosity aside – is pervasive. The challenge is, where else can we see Jewish ideas embedded in the arts?
time anyone received money to write for us. ( Jewish Eyes currently, as one might imagine, runs almost exclusively on a volunteer-basis.) College-aged and recent college students across the globe competed online for the best blog post answering: Where do we see reflections of Passover in the secular arts? The first-place winner wrote about the British TV series Dr. Who. The compassion of the main character is a Passover lesson in itself, wrote Eliana Light, a recent alumna of Brandeis University. Though the doctor is powerful, he manifests his freedom as responsibility rather than by hurting others. And, indeed, Passover recalls the children of Israel gaining freedom from slavery, only to be given immediately afterwards a series of sacred obligations, the mitzvot. Passover and Dr. Who both celebrate freedom with responsibility, and not freedom from responsibility. But, Jewish Eyes looking toward a computer screen is far from social. What does it look like when Jews meet in person to look Jewishly at secular art?
Made possible by a grant from the Bronfsnapshot man Alumni Venture Fund, the first of our Salon Nights were small (about 15 people), intimate gatherings where poets, actors, singers, painters, sculptors, writers, and enthusiasts got together to discover each other’s worksin-progress. We asked: what inspired us as citizens of a secular world to explore these questions? Was there a Jewish subconscious that led us to write particular lyrics or to mold particular contours? Where did our Jewish kishkes enter the picture, or paint it?
Jewish Eyes on the Arts constantly looks zooming for avenues for engaging Jews and artists in unexpected ways and in surprising places. Among other projects, we intend to facilitate more workshops in Israel and the United States, to hold our second annual Passover Blog Contest, and to host Jewish Eyes Salons at homes anywhere they are requested. Jewish Eyes is on the lookout to widen Jewish horizons and to find homes for arts education in Jewish contexts, and Jewish education in artistic contexts. Keep your eyes open. CJ
After Purim, Jewish Eyes asked for donations from supporters for prizes for our Passover Blog Contest. Our bloggers range from the secular to the Orthodox, from the mystical to the rational, but our Passover Blog Contest was the first
the bookshelf By Beth Kissileff
THE LIAR’S GOSPEL Naomi Alderman Little Brown, 2013, 311 pages In her acknowledgements to The Liar’s Gospel, Naomi Alderman writes that she has produced a “very Jewish kind of resurrection” in re-imagining the story of Jesus from a Jewish perspective. Based on the work of Amy-Jill Levine, a respected Jewish New Testament scholar, Alderman's historical novel sees the story and milieu of Jesus differently. She has a new take on this significant historical time. Alderman’s first novel, Disobedience, has appeared in 10 languages and this one seems poised to do the same.
MY PROMISED LAND Ari Shavit Spiegel and Grau, 2013, 464 pages A r i S h av i t h a s always been an interesting kind of journalist. His first big story, as he writes about it in his most recent book, My Promised Land, came out of his dilemma about whether to serve his Israeli army reser ve duty in the Gaza Beach detention camp in 1991. He decided the best course of action was not to go to jail as an “anti-occupation peacenik” but to write about the experience, first for Haaretz and then the New York Review of Books. That experience sets the tone for much of the rest of this fascinating book. Shavit combines well-researched anecdotes, such as his greatgrandfather’s journey from England to Israel and what he found there, with current interviews with both high-ranking Israelis and those from
humbler vantage points. He is able to articulate the points of view of even those with whom he sorely disagrees and provides balance for each point of view. Even if you think you know what you need to know about Israel today, Shavit’s thoughtprovoking and personal account will entertain you and make you think, as well as teach you something you didn’t know. Good journalism and great writing!
THE WORLD OF THE END Ofir Touché Gafla, translated by Mitch Ginsburg Tor Publishing, 2013, 365 pages
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Israeli novelist Ofir Touché Gafla has written a novel with a unique view of the afterlife – humorous and meaningful at the same time, with a well-developed plot and rich characters. Gafla’s protagonist, Ben
Mendelssohn, is a man who writes endings for a living. When his wife dies suddenly while taking her students on a class trip, he decides, on her birthday, to join her in the hereafter. Mendelssohn finds that “the potential for storytelling in this world is simply endless” and Gaifa proves it in this novel, the first of his five to be translated into English. The World of the End was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the top ten books that sweep you off your feet and put you somewhere else. This book could work very well for reading groups and book clubs, particularly paired with a discussion of Jewish views and texts on the afterlife and how this modern take may or may not diverge from more classical views.
DOSSIER K. A Memoir by Imre Kertész translated by Tim Wilkinson Melville House, 2013, 217 pages This autobiography is a dialogue with himself by a Hungarian Jewish Nobel Prize winner in literature. He writes about his life during the Holocaust, memory and fiction, and life in postwar Hungary. The material is about language and writing, facts and fiction, by a man who says that a priest once told him “God has no religion” but who also believes that God can be found in a dictatorship. The circumstances of Kertész’s time at Auschwitz may have given him a “hidden source of energy” despite the “deadly circumstances” but he has no “way of knowing, because the source of energy was always supplied by depicting those in deadly circumstances in the midst of those selfsame deadly circumstances.” This work by a writer who knows that in a novel “it’s not the facts that matter, but precisely what you add to the facts” gives readers a wonderful addition to facts that matters.
A Theologian for the Modern Age A former student introduces the most recent work by Rabbi Neil Gillman. By Rabbi Julie Roth
he first time my father was forced to work on Shabbat by Nazi gunpoint, his faith in God radically changed. Seeing that he was not struck down by God as he had been taught, he began to adjust how he thought about God and Torah, transforming his worldview rather than abandoning his relationship with God altogether. My father taught me to believe in God by the way he davened, singing loudly and joyfully with abandon, even after surviving Auschwitz-Birkenau. Even more than that, he taught me that my understanding of God could shift over the course of my lifetime. He inspired me to become a rabbi and to study Jewish theology, and yet I suspect that my father didn’t even know what the word theology meant. It was my teacher, Rabbi Neil Gillman, professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who gave me the language to describe my faith and struggles as well as the permission to do so. On the occasion of the publication of his most recent book, Believing and Its Tensions, I want to honor his legacy. This new volume outlines Gillman’s personal views on God, Torah, suffering, and death, sharpening the convictions developed over five decades of writing and teaching with a rare clarity and depth that distill the essence of his thinking and even highlight the shifts and unanswered questions. Gillman navigates the modern questions of human authorship of the Torah, makes resurrection of the dead relevant to a modern sensibility, and dares to question whether or not anything exists beyond our metaphors for God. Two of the primary elements of Gillman’s influence were celebrated at a panel discussion on the occasion of his retirement from JTS: first, that the biblical accounts of the creation
and the Exodus from Egypt are “true in a very different sense of truth,” and second, that every Jew, regardless of age or education, can develop his or her own personal theology. A third contribution, the concession that theology cannot respond to all human needs or answer every question, is courageously evident in this new work. Gillman challenges the assumption that “once a myth is broken – namely, exposed as myth and not fact – it doesn’t work any longer.” In other words, even if God did not literally intervene with miracles to redeem us from Egyptian slavery, the story of the Exodus, as recounted at the Passover seder, can still provide us with a “goosebump experience.” The power and the mythological truth stem not from historical fact, but from the values instilled by the narrative. For generations, our orientation as Jews in terms of caring for the stranger and the oppressed, originated from this myth. The truth, likewise, of the creation story is that God ordained a balance between work and rest, that the world is inherently good but not perfect, and that every human being contains a spark of the Divine. Gillman’s theology recaptures our myths as “valuable, important,
Rabbi Julie Roth is the Executive Director of the Princeton Center for Jewish Life, Hillel at Princeton University. A recipient of a Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award, she was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2005.
the bookshelf He invites students to describe the God they believe in or the God they don't believe in. and helpful” allowing modern Jews to embrace intellectual honesty while holding onto the sacredness of our inherited traditions. In his teaching, Gillman invites his students – whether they are rabbinical students, congregants or in elementary school – to describe either the God they believe in or the God they don’t believe in. From either direction, he opens our hearts and minds to concepts and metaphors for God that move past the old man with the white beard in the sky. Believing and Its Tensions opens with the story of a fourth-grade Jewish day school class asked by Gillman to write down or draw “what they sense, feel, and visualize, whenever they use the term God.” On the top of the pile of papers was this statement: “When I visualize God, He looks like a blob. God can shift into everything, anything He wants.” And indeed, Gillman asserts that God can be “whatever we envision God to be,” but ultimately, the community decides which images and metaphors endure. I remember a question Gillman asked me during my independent study on the theology of healing. I was suffering from a debilitating and frightening hand injury and together we were wrestling with how I could integrate this painful condition and the accompanying physical limitations and dependence on others into my
understanding of God. Gillman had just published The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought. Several people who were wheelchair bound or whose bodies had betrayed them in other ways, wrote him impassioned letters rejecting his theological claim that “we are our bodies.” He asked me whether or not I thought there was a way to answer their concerns. At the time, he was looking for a theological answer that could satisfy their challenge. But now, after surviving two rounds of cancer treatment and enduring tremendous suffering himself, as he shares in the introduction to Believing and Its Tensions, he concedes, “I have long given up on the expectation that I can deal with the issue of suffering
on theological grounds alone. At those moments I feel wonderful that religion is much more than theology.” Rather than leaving us with unsatisfactory answers, Gillman points us to the gifts of community and ritual as powerful resources to help in moments of illness, loss and death. Perhaps Neil Gillman’s greatest contribution to the field of theology is his humility in acknowledging that, even after a lifetime devoted to inviting us to grow in our understanding of God and giving us the language to do so, ultimately religious expression includes silence and incompleteness. Read and discover for yourself Gillman’s capstone contribution to Jewish theology. His brilliance, honesty and probing questions will inspire readers for generations to come. CJ
The publishers and editors of CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism would like to thank
Rabbi Neil Gillman for his time as the author of the Bookshelf column, which he initiated with the first issue of the magazine and continued for several years. He offered perceptive insights into both traditional and new titles that he felt should be found on every Jew’s personal bookshelf.
40 CJ – Voices of conservative/masorti judaism – Winter 2013-2014
Listen to selections from The Spirit Series at www.cjvoices.org
In Harmony: People and Music Voices of the Conservative Movement By Hazzan Sam Weiss
hirteen years ago, Richard Skolnik, then United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism direct marketing vice president, was driven by a life-long desire to bring the beauty and variety of Conservative cantorial music into United Synagogue homes. He eventually found a very willing and able partner with a great deal of recording and studio experience in Hazzan David Propis, who was similarly a vice president in his organization, the Cantors Assembly. In 2002 they produced The Spirit of Shabbat, the first in what was to become a hugely successful annual joint project of United Synagogue and the Cantors Assembly called The Spirit Series: Voices of the Conservative Movement. Subsequent albums were devoted to Israel, the High Holy Days, Passover, Chanukkah, Jewish Weddings, Jewish World Music, Shalom, and Jewish Children’s Music. In addition, a Best of the Spirit Series album was issued as volume 8. Sound samples from these albums may be heard at www. cjvoices.org. Each of these high-quality recordings showcases the wide range of voices, genres, styles, and languages that comprise today’s Conservative cantorial music. Along with serious compositions there are many toe-tapping melodies, familiar selections and some that are newly composed. Young and old, male and female, the hazzanim are accompanied by everything from a single guitar
to a full orchestra. Choruses and children’s choirs are heard, as well. Cantors known only in their own communities get a chance to shine alongside some superstars. The Spirit of Healing, due in 2014, will undergo the same careful, painstaking process as earlier editions. A committee of twelve, divided among cantors and United Synagogue lay leaders and chaired by Skolnik and Propis, chooses a theme. Then a call for submissions goes to all Cantors Assembly hazzanim, which can result in hundreds of titles for consideration. Decisions for inclusion are based on musical quality, recording quality, audience appeal, etc. Propis then supervises the studio production, polishing and evening up the audio of the individual tracks and creating a coherent album. Meanwhile, I edit the original and transliterated lyrics, translate them, and write the liner notes that accompany each CD. Others get busy choosing artwork for the cover while Irwin Scharf, chair of USCJ’s direct mail committee, marshals his team for the delivery of as many as 70,000 copies of each year’s CD package. Although this venture has turned out to be very profitable, Propis and Skolnik – who both went on to become presidents of their respective organizations and still chair the project – insist that money was never the primary objective. Propis wanted to encourage his members’ creativity in composing, arranging and
performing, and to provide them with a vehicle for recording studio experience. At the same time he wanted to present worthwhile “edutainment” for Conservative families. United Synagogue’s Skolnik points out that his boyhood cantor, Hazzan Sol Mendelson, instilled in him a love for liturgical music and laid the seeds of his future involvement in Jewish communal life. He echoes Hazzan Propis’s excitement that The Spirit Series has allowed the cantorial voice to extend beyond individual congregations and reach the USCJ membership on an otherwise impossible scale. He is equally excited by how the CD project has provided a model for organizational cooperation and accomplishment. CJ
Hazzan Sam Weiss serves the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, Congregation Beth Tikvah, in Paramus, New Jersey.
our organizations Rabbi Steven Wernick CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
How do we remake Conservative synagogues into the setting of choice for transformative experiences? Even more to the point, why does Conservative Judaism matter? How does it matter? This long-awaited Centennial, with its rich selection of sessions, workshops and programs, is a collective quest to respond to those questions. Over the next two days, we’ll be questioning who we are, what we stand for, and what we contribute to the Jewish landscape – in our communities, across the continent and around the world. We’ll be talking about what we share with Jews from other walks of life . . . and what we have that is ours alone. We’ll be exploring what works in Conservative Jewish life…. and what needs to be fixed. Let’s be real. There is much that needs fixing. And readjusting. And tweaking. We are here as agents of the transformation of Conservative Jewish life. It is our hope that this Centennial serves as a turning point – a pivot between an uncertain present and a promising future.
Words of the Century Dr. Erica Brown Writer, educator, scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
I am asking you today to become positive disruptive innovators. We are ambassadors of a unique moral and spiritual mission in the world. When we go out into the world as positive disruptive innovators, we play both a universal and a particular role and cannot be complete if we ignore one or the other. For the past long while, the tagline of Jewish life has been tikkun olam – go fix the world. I hope I don’t offend anyone if I tell you the opposite. Go out and do a little damage. Disrupt the world. Change it and question it. Go out into this vast universe and break a few things, not for the sake of breaking them, but for the sake of putting them together differently to maximize impact and efficiency, to force meaning, to live a creative Jewish life that attracts others.
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Couldn’t make it to the United Synagogue Centennial? Here are excerpts from keynote speeches.
To read or listen to selected Centennial talks in their entirety, go to www.cjvoices.org
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson Vice President, American Jewish University; Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Enough with handwringing; enough with despair. Let us lift our eyes to a path that eagerly seeks a spiritual quest, mining the writings of our sages and of the world for ways to break our hearts open so that we feel each others’ joys, so that nobody mourns alone. Let us walk again on a path that is the halachah – our people’s way of walking, not as a frozen mandate of unchanging truth, but as the supple, living branches of a magnificent flourishing etz hayim, a living tree. Let us join together in a path that reaches out to those previously marginalized, for the many who have not felt the embrace of our community in the past because of our own shortsightedness, perhaps because of our own fears. Let us leave that fear behind and know that the only risk is passing by the possibility of love. And let us reach out in love to everyone who would have our love, because in the end they are us; because we need everyone’s wisdom, everyone’s passion, everyone’s strength and everyone’s distinctiveness. Dr. Ron Wolfson
Rabbi Harold Kushner
Fingerhut Professor of Education, American Jewish University; Co-founder and Co-president, Synagogue 3000
Theologian, best-selling author, Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel, Natick, Massachusetts
It’s no surprise that synagogue affiliation rate as reported in the Pew Study is 31 percent. But that’s only a snapshot in time. I don’t have a good figure for you about how many people actually have belonged to a synagogue at one time or another – it’s probably 70 percent. The bottom line is this: we get them but then we lose them…. Why? Because the value offer is transactional: “You give me dues and I will give you a rabbi on call, high holiday seats and a bar or bat mitzvah for your kid.” You mean to tell me we have people in our congregations for five years, 10 years, 15 years, and in all those years we fail to engage them so deeply – in a relationship with Judaism, with our clergy, our staff, and most importantly, with each other – that they’d never think of dropping their membership? Something’s not working.
Three year ago David Wolpe and I were invited to the convention of the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Wolpe challenged the membership and said Conservative Judaism will never regain the hold it had on the American public until we can summarize what it stands for in a bumper sticker. …I didn’t have a response to David at that convention but I thought about it for several months and I think I have the bumper sticker. My bumper sticker for Conservative Judaism would read kadshenu b’mitzvotecha – send holiness into our lives through the mitzvot. What is holiness? Holiness is articulating our humanity by doing things that human beings can do that other creatures can’t. And the best source of holiness is imposing choice on instinct.
DR. Arnold Eisen Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary
We need to stretch our boundaries wider. Solomon Schechter spoke repeatedly about “Conservative or Orthodox,” aiming to build up what he proudly called “traditional Judaism.” He wanted United Synagogue to define itself positively, by what it was rather than what it was not, and he urged it to take “Klal Yisrael for its ultimate aim, but America as its immediate field of work.” We must unite despite our differences, he told his audience. You must not “sacrifice your children and the whole future of Judaism for the imaginary welfare of your own little soul.” Yes! We need to work to strengthen movement institutions, shore up membership rolls of synagogues and schools, pave the path in Torah that we believe is the right and true path…. But we must also recognize
that if we serve and save only ourselves, we will not serve or save ourselves. The way to grow Conservative Judaism is to reach out beyond it to bring in more Jews, affiliated or not, denominational or post-denominational, from what we call the “vital religious center.” CJ
our organizations Women’s League is the Voice of Conservative Jewish Women for Tikkun Olam
Find our resolutions at www.wlcj.org.
By Sarrae G. Crane
istorically, Women’s League has been known for its focus on education, on enhancing the Jewish knowledge of its members. But what is often overlooked – or downplayed – is its commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world) that is as deeply embedded in the Jewish psyche as is our commitment to learning. Along with initiatives that taught Sarrae G. Crane is women how to keep kosher, to underexecutive director of stand the foundations of holiday obserWomen’s League for vances, and in later years, to lead services Conservative Judaism. and read Torah, were projects and advocacy for a wide range of social and political issues. The nearly century-long commitment to the public good has encompassed causes from the protection of war orphans in the 1920s to the creation of the Jewish state in the 1940s, from advocacy for the ordination of women rabbis and cantors to safeguarding our environment, along with a wide array of women’s issues including reproductive rights and domestic violence. This advocacy finds its roots in Women’s League’s social action and public policy resolutions. Since its inception, delegates to Women’s League conventions have debated and adopted resolutions on issues that impact the world we live in as Jews and as women. These resolutions, which can be found on our website (www.wlcj.org), direct the actions of Women's League, its members and affiliated sisterhoods and regions. In an effort to be even more representative, this year, every member will be able to participate in determining our public policy positions. Proposed resolutions will be presented online in the spring, and discussed in blogs and
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conference calls. Voting will be open to all members, not just those attending convention. In 2010, in the face of a growing national concern, Women’s League passed a resolution encouraging sisterhoods to help prevent bullying. At the next convention in July, we will roll out a broad program for members to become active and effective in such efforts in their local communities. Half a century ago, we began publishing Ba’Olam, a bi-monthly world affairs newsletter in which we shared both domestic and global issues of concern. In the fall of 2013, we created a new format for Ba’Olam. Now distributed online, Ba’Olam focuses on topics on which Women’s League has resolutions, encouraging members to take some action. Women’s League’s commitment to tikkun olam is expressed also through our membership in major national and international Jewish organizations – the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, NCSJ: National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (of which we are a founding member), Greenfaith, the American Zionist Movement, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. We add the voices of our members to the public debates, representing the positions Women’s League has adopted. As a benefit, these organizations provide resources on readily accessible websites, for individual action and program ideas for sisterhoods. We are proud of the good work our collective voice has achieved in our 95 year history. There is so much more to be done. We encourage our sisterhoods to establish active tikkun olam initiatives. For those who are not members of sisterhoods, we encourage you to join your congregation’s sisterhood or to become an individual member of Women’s League. By joining your voice to our network, you help strengthen the impact we have in repairing our world. CJ
Two-By-Two? Breaking the Noah Syndrome by Lisa Kogen
hen God instructed Noah to take animals into the ark in pairs – male and female – the implication was clear. The pairing of male and female perpetuates the species, a pairing that was institutionalized early on by the rite of marriage. To many minds, and certainly within the Jewish community, marriage is the social gold standard. This is best exemplified by the blessing made for an infant at his brit milah or her naming ceremony when parents are wished: “May your child be raised to a life of Torah, chuppah (marriage) and ma’asim tovim (good deeds).” In its year-long focus on the changing complexion of the Jewish family, Women’s League has chosen to venture into new – and sometimes controversial – terrain with its Mishpachah: The Modern Jewish Family initiative. A conversation on diversity, welcoming, inclusion and celebration, one of the initiative’s most resonant topics is the Noah Syndrome, which addresses the fastest growing demographic in the Jewish community, Jewish singles. Today the marital gold standard has a lot of scuff marks. An amazing, recently released statistic says that by the year 2020 almost half of people over 50 will be single, and with nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce, social expectations and prescriptions need to be reassessed. There are those who maintain that marriage = procreation, a formulation that Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagen challenged during arguments
about the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. But marriage and family, and even reproduction as we know it, are undergoing radical transformations. Single parent households, same sex partners, single mothers by choice, and single member households rapidly are changing the social terrain. For the Mishpachah project, we asked members to discuss their experiences as singles living in an environment that regards them as different at best, and at worst, deserving of pity. In addition to comments about inequality in taxation, healthcare, and even synagogue dues structures, the stories of social inequalities are particularly troubling: assertions that singles are more self-involved; assumptions that they have more time on their hands; that they have more money to spend, and that they experience less stress. One of the most frequently raised issues involves their discomfort when attending events with social dancing. Those who have no partner feel they are being asked to dance out of pity or social obligation, or they are consigned to the “singles” table. These events often underscore their sense of solitude. Read our members’ own stories in ‘‘Conversation Pieces” on the Women’s League website, www.wlcj.org (in the Mishpachah section). They are honest, revealing and poignant. One woman writes: “I felt uncomfortable when I joined other couples at dinner, because instead of splitting the bill as we did when I was with my
Read our members’ own stories in “Conversation Pieces” at www. wlcj.org
husband, they always insisted on treating me. They meant well but it made me feel like they felt sorry for me – that alone I could not take care of myself.” Another writes about the challenges of single parenthood: “I would constantly explain that I could not attend evening committee meetings or adult-only programs because I did not have a spouse who could stay at home. When it was suggested that I find a baby-sitter, I would be in the awkward position of explaining that as a single-income family, babysitters were a treat reserved for special occasions.” As members of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, we have undertaken the challenge to promote social environments that do not regard couples as the expected unit of measure. We can begin with some accommodations to single-hood that might be as simple as asking caterers to set tables in odd, rather than even, numbers. We could also engage in social advocacy, supporting the repeal of civil laws and benefits that favor married over single households. Admittedly, many of these issues are not easily resolvable. But the first step is to identify them and begin an open dialogue. With the Mishpachah project, Women’s League is taking that first step.CJ
Lisa Kogen is Education/Program Director of Women's League for Conservative Judaism.
THUNDER & LIGHTNING ON THE NORTH SHORE By Eric Weis
t is early Monday morning, July 29, 2013. The sun is trying to penetrate the foggy dawn. Only 18 hours ago, an exodus of Jewish men left Danvers, Massachusetts. It was the end of FJMC’s 2013 International Convention. After 15 years and seven of these conventions, I find myself again engulfed in the swirling mists of Jewish afterglow. Three days ago, I had an unforgettable Shabbat experience. There, amid hundreds of men singing and dancing, the physical presence of God became manifest. I felt the warmth, the touch, as close as my skin. It enveloped me. The connection was palpable. Tears came. God was right there. Prayers and pray-ers created a heartfelt chorus of daveners, singing in unison. The combination was irresistible. As we raised our voices in prayer, words and music filled the air until there was no room left for anything else. And that’s when it happened. That’s when I realized that we were acting out Keddushah, the angelic chorus.
Eric Weis is a past president of FJMC’s Northern New Jersey Region.
Cantors Joanna Selznick Dulkin (Shaare Zedek Synagogue, St. Louis, MO), Alisa PomerantzBoro (Congregation Beth El Vorhees, NJ) and Zachary Matthew Mondrow (Temple Torah, West Boynton Beach, FL) entertain at the FJMC
That’s when I knew that the thunder and lightning at Sinai had come to the North Shore of the New England coast. This was revelation! This was every Jew in the room being present at Sinai. This was the North Shore, transformed from the chol to the kadosh, from the mundane to the holy. This was Klal Yisrael, all of us, experiencing the gift of covenantal relationship. This was knowing, seeing, feeling Am Yisrael Chai (The people Israel lives). During the Ashrei, we read: “Adonai is near to all who call, to all who call with integrity.” (Psalm 145) “I will praise Adonai all my life and sing to my God with all my being.” (Psalm 146) “Where the faithful gather, let God be praised…Let God’s faithful sing exultantly and rejoice both night and day.” (Psalm 149) This was FJMC international convention. Just about two years earlier the previous convention had concluded in Costa Mesa, California. Jewish men’s hearts were full as they departed. I likened the experience to a Jewish Brigadoon, that fabled Scottish village which re-awakens for only one day every 100 years. Popularized in 1947 by two Jewish men (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe), Brigadoon tells the story of a mystical experience which draws men out of their ordinary
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life. It is a tale of separation and reunion. Danvers was also a tale of two places. Men came from communities all over the world. They convened in a setting of magic, beauty and holiness. Brothers dwelled together in unity for four days and nights of ruach, inspiration and spirituality. The words of Hinei ma tov u’manayim became real. Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) is a hallmark of these gatherings. Over 500 men and women sang with abandon, waving their ruach rags, standing on chairs and giving joyous thanks. Burt Fishman, aka Captain Ruach, inspired the crowd and with the magic of modern technology, the joyous pandemonium was captured for YouTube.
s we approached Shabbat, the anticipation and expectation built. Groups chanted “Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos is near” in the hallways. Kabbalat Shabbat exceeded all expectations, with hordes of us dancing in the aisles. Shabbat morning came, with three minyanim from which to choose. I attended the traditional service. I had been honored with the fifth aliyah. As I walked up on the bimah, Aren Horowitz came up to read the Torah. We’ve known each other for years. We
finished, and then Al Davis took over as the next reader. I stood for a Mishberach, and watched my friend read flawlessly. Besides all the davening, there was just plain fun. Karaoke was capped off by the Mandell-Neustein chorus singing Hava Nagila. Executive Director Rabbi Chuck Simon was caught on film, belting out “Under the Boardwalk.” The International Kiddush Club reached new heights with baseball jerseys and a giveaway that will make ripples at Saturday morning services across North America. Jewish Men at the Crossroads was the theme. Crossroads implies choice. Go forward, turn right, turn left. From the North Shore, FJMC men traveled back to their home communities, each a part of Or l’goyim, transmitting the light of convention to our friends back home. Shevat achim gam yachad, brothers dwelling together in unity. That’s the spirit of connection that makes FJMC so very special. Dr. Ron Wolfson delivered a speech about relationship-based synagogue life. FJMC men are the pioneers, the shock troops, who are already leading the renaissance. It is good to be a member of FJMC. There are only about 720 days left before the mists clear and the next convention opens its gates. I can’t wait. CJ
our organizations Each month, the Wellness & Learning Network of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism posts opportunities for women to learn about their own health and wellness and at the same time to engage in Jewish study. The following is from the material for Cheshvan 5774. Please visit www.wlcj.org for all the readings.
Turning Gold into Lead The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study by Dr. Barbara Levin
he importance of heredity on physical health has been appreciated for more than a century; for Jews of various ethnic groups, the genetic basis of certain diseases is quite important. Hypertension, heart disease, cholesterol problems, diabetes, and cancer all have components based on heredity and cultural backgrounds. Sometimes, what people eat and how they use their time impact their health as much as gene structure. The new science of epigenetics is shedding light on how environment affects gene expression. There is increasing awareness of the importance of childhood experiences on both the mental and physical health of adults. Neurobiology research is shedding light on the connection between adverse early life experiences and adult behavior. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, by Dr. Vincent Felitti and the Center for Disease Control, documents the impact of ten types of negative events that children might encounter in three major categories: abuse, neglect or severe household dysfunction such as the loss of a parent.
Barbara Levin is a public health physician working for a quality improvement organization to assurethe quality of health care to Medicare recipients in their communities. She is a member of the Heska Amuna Synagogue sisterhood in Knoxville, Tennessee.
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The researchers surveyed 17,000 primary care patients at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, California, and found that 60 percent had two or more of these adverse experiences, and 15 percent had four or more. Subsequent research has found that people who are overweight, smoke, drink alcohol to excess, have hypertension, and mental health disorders have higher scores than those without these past experiences. Patterns started in childhood, examples set, and the direct impact of extreme stress have a strong effect on the developing brain that persists throughout life. Behavioral concerns must be addressed earlier by identifying children and youth at risk through improved screening and treatment. But the health care community alone cannot resolve these problems. The role of families and communities is essential. Overcoming adverse early life experiences requires resilience. Being aware of one’s genetic background does not doom one to the disease, whether it is diabetes or breast cancer. Such information is the beginning of an action plan. So, too, with awareness of one’s ACE score. There are ways to increase one’s personal resilience. Considering the magnitude of children’s behavioral health concerns, each of us must consider the impact of the ACE Study. There is much that we can do as mothers, wives, friends, community activists, teachers, professionals, and volunteers to affect change in a child’s life. We also can work as groups of committed women to improve the mental health of children in our communities. CJ
For more information, go to www.fjmc.org/content/ jsearch-fjmcs-professionalbusiness-directory
Women’s League for Conservative Judaism has a history of providing top-notch training to its sisterhoods and members. Women’s League also offers single-topic in-service conference calls and webinars that offer practical, proven advice. Veteran volunteers and professional staff will help your sisterhood thrive administratively, programmatically and strategically.
“My child moved to Dallas. Where can she find a dentist?”
2013/2014 SCHEDULE December 11, 2013 Archives: Saving for Future Generations January 22, 2014 Nominating Challenges: Creatively Filling the Void February 12, 2014 Israel & Us March 19, 2014 Changing Sisterhood as We Know It – Thinking Strategically for the Future May 14, 2014 More to Books than Their Covers June 11, 2014 Budgeting and Finance Sessions begin at 8:30 pm eastern time and are free-of-charge. To register, go to www.wlcj.org
“My son just got a job in Los Angeles. He needs to find a realtor.”
“I want to promote my business, but most advertising is so expensive!”
Looking for a professional? A service? A business? Your search has ended!
he Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has launched a new program to provide an easy way to find professionals, services and businesses that cater to the Jewish community. JSearch is a professional and business directory for use throughout the United States and Canada. We, our children and our grandchildren often feel disconnected to the Jewish community or we move to unfamiliar locations far away. Whether we need to find a professional, service or business around the corner or half-way across the country, this new internet service can help, and it’s connected with the Conservative/Masorti movement. Advertisers include members of our congregations as well as businesses and professionals who are looking for Jewish clients or customers. At the same time, advertisers can donate a portion of the ad cost for a specific men’s club or brotherhood affiliated with the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. And the cost is a fraction of almost all other forms of advertisement. CJ
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our organizations Light a Candle, Preserve a Memory! By Stephen Neustein
urned within our Jewish collective identity is a grim image of loss, grief and sadness. Horrific. Incomprehensible. Senseless. Six million lives, stolen, tortured, and murdered. Gone forever. Missed – but never to be forgotten!
Light a Candle, Preserve a Memory! It is often said that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. The lessons of the Shoah? Unforgettable. My parents were married in 1948. Israel had miraculously survived and was a reality. I was raised in the security of a Jewish neighborhood. I went to a Jewish day school and Jewish camps and my family belonged to a local synagogue. I am related to and personally knew survivors and their children. There was no Yellow Candle program. There was no need for one. No one could imagine forgetting the vivid and frightful horrors of the Holocaust. It was unthinkable that the world could ever forget. Today, I am not so sure. Survivors are fewer, Israel is stronger, and the world is still filled with hate. Civilized society is often merely a thin veneer. It is easily ripped apart and discarded. Human rights are trampled regularly throughout many parts of the world.
Stephen Neustein is an FJMC vice president and chairman of the FJMC Yellow Candle Program
Light a Candle, Preserve a Memory! Ironically, I am writing this on 9/11 when we are reminded of the harsh reality that intolerance and a willingness to destroy the very fabric of our society are always at our door, waiting for an opportunity to strike at our very hearts and souls. Hitler’s final solution – genocide – is still lurking in the shadows. Jewish tradition teaches that unless we seek it out and destroy it, in every generation the evil of Amalek will raise its ugly head again to threaten the Jewish people and all of civilized mankind. Amalek has not been destroyed. Today, I fear that many lives are still being threatened. Peaceful people’s fragile lives and existence are still being extinguished while the world shrugs its collective shoulders and watches in silence. Light a Candle, Preserve a Memory! The Yellow Candle program was created in 1981 by FJMC clubs to keep alive the memory of the Six Million. It is modeled after a traditional Jewish memorial candle that burns for 24 hours during periods of mourning and on the yahrzeit anniversary of the death of a family member. The candle's yellow wax serves to remind us of the yellow arm band that Jews were forced to wear during the Nazi regime. The program logo is a yellow Magen David (Star of David) outlined with barbed wire, with the word “Jude” in the middle reminiscent of the armband or patch that Jews were forced to wear in the ghettos of Eastern Europe.
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go to www.fjmc.org to register your candle.
Light A Candle, Preserve A Memory! FJMC estimates that through its Yellow Candle program over four million candles have been lit on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). It is a good start. But it is not enough! This year the FJMC has set a new goal. Challenge the world to light 1,000,000 candles this Yom HaShoah. It is a good next step. But, it will not be enough. Our ultimate goal is to light one candle for every victim of the Holocaust. Light A Candle, Preserve A Memory! It was not just the Jewish people who were the victims of Nazi Germany’s criminal cruelty, and we reach out to non-Jews also. And they are responding. Many nonJewish religious and secular groups recognize the need to make sure the world never forgets. They too are lighting candles on Yom HaShoah. Light a Candle, Preserve a Memory! Be part of this worldwide effort. Tell your congregants. Tell your friends, neighbors and relatives. Teach your children. On Yom HaShoah, commit to lighting a candle. Participate in and support Yom HaShoah programs in your communities and synagogues. Let the world know that the victims of the Shoah are not and must not be forgotten. Light a Candle, Preserve a Memory! What can each of us do? Talk about it. Get involved personally. Be counted as someone who has not forgotten. Log onto the FJMC’s website – www.fjmc.org – and register that you will light a candle. The candles you order for yourself and your synagogue feature artwork by the renowned artist and survivor, Dubie Arie. Light a candle, preserve a memory! CJ
WOMEN’S LEAGUE FOR CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM Join as an individual! Join alone, join with your sister, join with a friend and become part of our network of 75,000 women worldwide. Go to www.wlcj.org to become a member today. Annual membership: $36
Women’s League’s newest initiative, Simchat Megillat Esther, will benefit the organization’s mission to create outstanding multifaceted materials for its members, either as individuals or within sisterhoods. One of the very few female scribes, Soferet Rabbi Hanna Klebansky, who was born in the former Soviet Union and ordained at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, will create the megillah. According to President Rita L. Wertlieb, the beloved story of Esther’s personal courage has become a model for the empowerment of women, for the importance of family ties and of commitment to community, three issues high on the Women’s League agenda. Participation in this development project is open to everyone and there are several levels of sponsorship. To join in this mitzvah, please visit our website at www.wlcj.org.
our organizations New Roads to Engagement
To learn more about the program, contact Rabbi Charles Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the research, contact Dr. Amy L. Sales at email@example.com.
A new project from FJMC and Brandeis University looks to lower barriers in synagogue life. By Michael Brassloff
ow does a congregation create a truly inclusive community and more fully engage people? How can a congregation become more welcoming and interesting? How does a congregation get to know its members better? These and many other critical questions were addressed during last summer’s FJMC biennial convention. Eighteen three-member teams of rabbis and leaders from various congregations across the country participated in New Roads to Engagement, an exploratory project of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and the Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University (CMJS). The partnership combines FJMC’s wealth of practical experience and expertise in engaging people and building volunteer commitments and CMJS’s extensive experience in conducting
Michael Brassloff is a past officer of FJMC and a member of the editorial board of CJ: Voices of Conservative/ Masorti Judaism.
synagogue research and using their findings to understand and influence change. The goal of the project is to help congregations lower the barriers to participation in synagogue life and raise the level of engagement of all its members. It blends assessment, training, action, and research. It focuses on synagogue policies and practices that affect welcoming and engagement, and on people’s thoughts and feelings about the community and their part in it. Findings from the research will have implications for future synagogue policy, practice and programs. It will provide a broad understanding of congregants’ relationship to the synagogue in terms of their motivations, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors. It will also offer a sophisticated exploration of the dynamics of change in the synagogue setting. Prior to the FJMC convention, an initial assessment was carried out by each synagogue’s leadership. A board survey provided insight into the members’ experiences on the board and their views on their synagogue’s strategic priorities, culture and openness to change. A synagogue-wide survey is exploring how members participate in and experience the congregation. Together, these describe the congregation’s starting point and
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suggest ways to increase engagement, critical to any planning process. At the end of the project, the research will again measure perceptions of the congregation to see if and how they have changed. It is hoped the findings will be useful to Conservative congregations more broadly. Research itself is an engagement tool. It asks people to reflect on their experiences. Project participant Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham, of Congregation Sons of Israel, Upper Nyack, New York, said that the various sessions were “a wonderful experience.” He valued the opportunity to delve into ways of engaging regular congregants as well as those on the fringes. Anne Fassler, president of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, agreed. She believes that engaging in discussions with rabbis and other congregational leaders was especially valuable. Since the program is flexible and synagogue-driven, each synagogue can devise plans suitable to its own circumstances. One of the first steps for Anne’s congregation was developing and sending a high holiday mailing enclosure asking congregants to identify their respective interests and talents. The goal is to pair congregants’ interests and talents with synagogue activities and events. CJ
Calling women of all ages who belong to Conservative synagogues: Did you join – or re-join – your Women’s League sisterhood this year? • Sisterhoods and women’s groups support their synagogues and communities. • Sisterhoods and women’s groups connect you to a great women's network. • Through your sisterhood membership your voice is heard throughout Women's League and from there, through the Conservative/ Masorti movement worldwide. You can and will make a difference! Contact your sisterhood membership chair today.
Done Reading the Magazine?
Hold the Date July 17-20, 2014 The next Women’s League Convention
Balancing the sacred and the every day Look for outstanding speakers, Rabbis Bradley Shavit Artson, Gordon Tucker, Debra Cantor, and Judith Hauptman, a tribute to Rabbi Neil Gillman, a totally out-of-the-ordinary Shabbat experience, a new spin on hands-on workshops, first-timer discounts, and a few more surprises! The Hanover Marriott in Whippany, New Jersey
Interested in becoming a CJ blogger? Email Andrea Glick or Rhonda Kahn at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Go to CJ Online where you’ll find more articles and bonus features like blogs, podcasts and video to enjoy on your computer, tablet and smart phone.
letters continued from page 6
Leadership Training for Synagogue Presidents Sulam for Presidents is a leadership training seminar for new synagogue presidents and for vice presidents likely to step up to president in the next two years. Over the last 20 years, more than 1,200 kehilla leaders have been trained and inspired by this dynamic United Synagogue program and its faculty.
Sulam for Presidents 2014 March 6-9, 2014, Newark Hilton, Newark, NJ or March 27-30, 2014 Pearlstone Retreat Center in Reiserstown, MD To register and for more information, check out www.uscj.org “We all had one common bond – that we were presidents or incoming presidents who understood that the position came with sacrifice and challenge. Even before we entered the room, we were brought together by a common goal.” – Philip Brilliant, President, Congregation B’nai Israel, Toms River, NJ
mandate similar standards for the gifted and talented students in our classrooms? These G&T students are the ones going on to be the intellectuals, the learners and expounders of Torah, the Jewish philosophers among us. If they are musically talented, and they can learn Western musical notation, they can learn trope at an early age. If they are artistically gifted, they must learn handwriting and calligraphic lettering. If they are thoughtful, they can learn historical and philosophical contexts for our thinkers. If they are gifted in languages, let them continue with Hebrew, and learn Yiddish or Ladino or other Jewish languages. Imagine a Jewish version of the “Odyssey of the Mind” team for each religious school! Debate teams between schools! A mock Bet Din! Make Hebrew school cool to attend for the gifted among our youngsters, and we won't lose them. These children learn qualitatively and quantitatively differently than the standard child. Probably the answer to why nothing is done is based on the Yiddish proverb, Af dray zakhn shteyt di velt: af gelt, af gelt, un af gelt. (Upon three things the world stands:Money, money, and money. It sounds much better in Yiddish.) If so, then we are doomed to teaching to the least common denominator, and the Hebrewschool conundrum will not be solved. I would hope this "elephant in the room" will be addressed in future issues. Stephen M. Cohen, Ph.D. Hightstown, New Jersey
P.S. Sulam is not just for Presidents anymore. Learn more at www.uscj.org.
Some Traditions Not to Change Bob Kimmelfield (Letters, Autumn 2013) complains about three traditions that some of us find meaningful and important. First, he notes that as a vegetarian he chooses not to wear tefillin because the straps are made of animal tissue. I presume he never wears leather shoes or belts either. If so he may have a point, although I don’t believe that most traditional Jews would go along with it. On the issue of patrilineal descent he mentions that his children are born to a Catholic mother. Does this mean that we must change our tradition because his wife chose not convert? On the issue of davening in Hebrew, he argues that more English should be used because many Jews do not know Hebrew. Does this mean that we should reduce the use of Hebrew and not bother teaching it to our children? Hebrew is the language of our people. It pulls us together, unifies and preserves us. Just because some of us are too lazy to learn our language does that mean we should dilute its use? When I read my parents’ German-Hebrew prayer books the German is completely foreign to me but I do understand the Hebrew. Mr. Kimmelfield’s advice pulls us in the Reform direction. If that is the case, we really do not need a Conservative movement any more. Kurt Linden Wayland, Massachusetts
advertise online! Take advantage of our new portfolio of online advertising options! Call or email Erica Singer, Ad Director firstname.lastname@example.org or 201.766.8471
54 CJ – Voices of conservative/masorti judaism – Winter 2013-2014
Q&A with Gordon Tucker
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and who want to be part of the Jewish community. I suspect that, as with other issues such as egalitarianism, it’s going to start happening community by community and some kind of dominant approach will eventually emerge, and then it will have to be given some underpinning. You’re going to see interesting conversations and a certain amount of diversity in the community. As usual, people will say the Conservative movement has all this diversity and that we don’t know what we stand for. But I think that would be to get it wrong. We will be doing the right thing if we let some of the diversity develop and see how it goes. CJ
Latin America, as well as in the United States, Spain, France, and Israel. It is hard to quantify the significance of Marshall Meyer’s legacy in Latin America, or for that matter, for world Jewry. But the Seminario’s graduates still follow his model of using the rabbinate as a transformative agent in society. It is said by Argentines that he rescued Latin American Judaism twice, first by creating the religious movement embodied by the Seminario in the 1960s and then again in the early ‘70s with his theology that encouraged Latin American baby boomers to see why religion was still relevant to their lives. He translated the values of Judaism into a human rights movement that gave people the courage to stand up for their rights
and helped bring down the repressive military government. Fifty years after Marshal Meyer opened the doors of the apartment in Buenos Aires, the Seminario, named in his honor, stands with the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, and Schechter Institute in Israel in defining Conservative Judaism for the 21st century. It is an institution that includes the voices of men and women from around the world, praying and working on behalf of social justice in every country and place, even in places where there are no Jews. CJ
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for the mysterious unfolding of spirit during the chant, the silence, the sharing, and the Torah study. The work of this sacred gathering is to create spaciousness for one another to be present to “what is” and to get in touch with our more vulnerable selves and our deepest prayers. We become like the angels imagined in the Shacharit liturgy, who, with nachat ruach, a gentle spirit, “lovingly give permission to one another to declare their Maker holy.” A healing service offers the potential for profound healing for the individuals who attend. It also transforms the culture of a community, beyond those who choose to participate. Hosting a healing service communicates a clear commitment to caring for the spiritual wholeness and well-being of each member of the kehilla. I believe that each healing circle, each authentic interaction through which we support one another to hear the still, small voice deep within, brings us one step closer to olam habah, the world to come. CJ
the last word
My Kippah, Myself By Gila Drazen
turn heads. I say this with no small amount of modesty, but I know it to be true. It’s not my bold fashion choices or the streaks of blue and green in my hair that cause people to stare. No, the thing about me that draws the most attention is my kippah. It’s been over 20 years, since fourth grade, that I’ve been wearing a kippah consistently. I wish the story were more exciting. I wish it had been a moment of revolution, when the spirit of egalitarianism took hold in my young heart and I refused to ignore its clarion call. It didn’t exactly happen that way. What did happen? It was pretty simple: my parents came home with a present. It was purple and sparkly, and I was nine. And beyond that, it was even simpler: Jewish people wear kippot. I’m Jewish. QED. And since then, but for the public-school years, it’s been an ongoing motif in my life. After years at a day school, starting public school in seventh grade was difficult enough; add the Hebrew name to the mix and…well, even the strongest identity would be hard-pressed to stand up to that. But during summers at Camp Ramah, at USY kinnusim, and always at shul, my kippah was always there. And when I began college at the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University), en route to a life as a Jewish professional, it came back to stay. Since then I’ve learned which hairstyles work best with a kippah and the style of clip that attaches best to my head. I’ve learned to keep my head up during spontaneous lectures from strangers, to smile kindly when a small child gets frightened, and to nod politely when someone tells me they’ve never seen a woman in a kippah before. I smile and wave at people who point at me. I don’t wear a kippah in order to spark conversations, but many people take it that way. Interestingly, in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, nobody so much as batted an eyelash. In New York City, where I live now, I get many more reactions. And because it’s New York City, most people have no compunction about striking up a discussion. One night on the subway, an old man in a black hat asked me who told me it was okay to wear a kippah (looking shocked when I replied, “my rabbis and teachers”), and then asked if I
56 CJ – Voices of conservative/masorti judaism – Winter 2013-2014
was Jewish. Later, of course, I came up with all sorts of zingers: “Oh, this? I thought it would be a great way to cover my bald spot!” “Gosh, I’m glad you didn’t see me with tefillin marks!” “No hablo ingles.” But all these reactions diminish the seriousness of my truth. The truth is that I believe in a God in whose image we are created, and that my connection to God pushes me to cover my head. It’s that simple, and that complex. It’s my favorite explanation for why Jews wear kippot – just like indentured servants in Rome who covered their heads to show that they were living a life of service, we cover our heads to show that we live in service to God. And when I’m not wearing a kippah, I feel different. This is who I am. Unfortunately, the man on the subway was one of a long line of fellow Jews offering me their unsolicited opinions or unwanted attention. A woman at the grocery store told me I was disrespecting God. My fifth-grade classmate took my kippah clips when I was scratching my head. One dad explained to his kids that sometimes men wear dresses. And one couple pointed and stared at me through the window as though I couldn’t see them. If I weren’t constrained by my ingrained politeness, this is what I would tell them: My kippah is not about you any more than the rest of the way I present myself is about you. My kippah is about me, it’s about God. It’s about Judaism and family and tradition. You are not the official arbiter of what Judaism is or is not. I do not require your understanding or your approval; however, respect is appreciated. If you’ve got honest questions, ask away – but if you plan to lecture or yell, please just walk on by. And if you keep gawking at me, your face will freeze like that. CJ Gila Drazen is a communications associate at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Voices of Conservative /Masorti Judaism 820 Second Avenue • 11th Floor • New York, NY 10017
The Winter 2013-2014 issue of CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism.