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A Tapestry of Judaism
James Hyman, Ph.D., Partnership CEO Reprinted from Washington Jewish Week
A tapestry is defined as a “richly and complexly designed cloth.” Colors, patterns, textures, and material can all be woven together in myriad ways to make breathtakingly complex scenes and experiences. The weaver as artist is both in control of the designs that are created, and also allows it to take on a life of its own. If you look very closely at any one point, it is unlike any other point on the tapestry. But stand at a distance and you see a remarkably complex, rich and fully integrated artistic expression.
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If we see Judaism as a tapestry, a great weave comprised of innumerable threads, colors, Service-Learning? and patterns comprising the totality of Jewish thought and life throughout the millennia, we Learning for toBusy Adult? can begin understand the richness, beauty and complexity of our heritage.
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It can also enable us to gain an understanding of the differences and similarities woven through time as well as the nature and value of the tapestry in the modern context.
There are aspects of the Bible and ancient Israel that resonate powerfully today for a great many Jews, and there are parts that seem other-worldly and ancient. There are concepts that undergird this great work of art that we call Judaism and surprising manifestations of patterns and textures at different times in history. Equally important, there are values and beliefs that we embrace as Americans living in the 21st century that can be enhanced and enriched by our Jewish heritage. By embracing and learning about the full tapestry of Jewish life – including art, culture, text, nationhood, history, values, ritual and other important facets of our heritage – our lives as Americans can be made more meaningful. What is true, and I believe has always been true, is that the more of the tapestry that touches us at any given point in time, the more a sense of attachment and meaningfulness we are able to experience from it and through it, and the more it speaks to us. In turn, as Judaism reaches beyond religion alone, our spiritual and religious lives become more enriched as religion becomes a central part of a much larger and richer whole. By expanding our understanding of Judaism beyond religion, religion itself could resonate
more deeply than it is able to for many Jews today. And in turn, many people would feel more engaged and connected. If we begin to consider the notion that the purpose of a Jewish community is to develop opportunities to educate in order to empower, to create a community of artists that have the skills and knowledge to weave their unique stories into the larger tapestry of Jewish life, then perhaps the community might look very different than it does today. The community we could create would be one in which values are learned in order to be lived, and where creating many and varied educational experiences becomes the driving mission of the American Jewish community itself. In such a community institutions and organizations would evolve to support and strengthen that primary mission. If we could build such an educationallyfocused community, far more Jews would be excited and invigorated by their identity and their heritage. Their lives as Jews and as Americans would flourish, creating a community that is more meaningful, vibrant and welcoming to all. Stay tuned.
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Early Childhood Jewish Education Conference
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Go to www.pjll.org/fallnewsletter for details on the events and resources noted above. Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning 12230 Wilkins Avenue Rockville, MD Phone: 240-283-6200 Fax: 240-283-6201 www.pjll.org
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For Leah Fried-Sedwick, venturing outdoors was a key part of her childhood in Fairfax County. “We went outside after school and my mom said ‘just come home for dinner,’ and all the different ages of kids just hung outside,” said Leah. “We roamed the neighborhood.” Now a mother, Leah feels that essential part of her childhood experience is missing for her two young children. “When you drive around many suburban neighborhoods you don’t see anybody out.” Fran Pfeffer, director of Temple Rodef Shalom (TRS) Nursery School, where Leah’s children attend, shared the same concern. “Parents are afraid to let their children outside,” said Fran. “They’re afraid of Lyme disease, they’re afraid of mosquitoes, they’re afraid of predators, they’re afraid of splinters, they’re afraid of everything, and so children have been in this world of plastic.”
“If we want our children to become stewards of the earth we can not expect them to develop a love and appreciation for nature unless they are out in nature,” said Mara. Meaningful time spent outdoors can cultivate in children a permanent caring for the natural world - a crucial ethic of environmental responsibility.”
Nature as Classroom: Teaching Children
Through the Outdoors
“There’s been a lot of research indicating that children are actually nature-deprived,” said Mara Bier, director of early childhood initiatives at the Partnership. “Richard Louv, in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder. “ Research shows that instead of playing outside, more and more children today are spending their time indoors or watching television. This is having a negative impact on both sensory and gross-motor development.
JYPI: Where Are They Now?
It was during this time that TRS Nursery School educators came up with the idea to create a natural playground for children to engage with nature in a fun and meaningful way.
The Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning’s Jewish Youth Philanthropy Initiative (JYPI) has been inspiring teens to give back to those in need and become part of the Jewish community from its inception in 2000. Since then, more than 2,100 teens have participated in the program, awarding more than $725,000 in grants to 180 non-profit organizations and completing over 11,000 hours of community service. As teens get the chance in the program to research and determine what issues need to be addressed in the community, they are given the opportunity to develop the leadership and communications skills needed for future success. Here’s a look at how some of the Partnership’s JYPI alumni are upholding the Jewish values of Tzedakah (giving), Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), and G’milut Hasadim (acts of lovingkindness) that they learned through this program.
When Leah heard the idea, she donated money to help build the playground. She also came up with a name for the playground, Bunny’s Place, after her late father’s childhood nickname. All of Bunny’s Place outdoor playscape is built from natural and local material. Outfitted with playground equipment made from local trees, a stream made from local rocks, and a small water pump also donated by Leah and her family, the children of TRS Nursery School have a unique space to explore the natural world. Fran feels that the Partnership’s conference was a major influence in TRS Nursery School’s decision to build a natural playground.
Guidance wasn’t far away. After attending the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning’s Early Childhood Jewish Education Conference last year, Fran and the faculty of TRS Nursery School learned different ways to tackle these issues. The topic of the conference, Tov Be Teva: Discovering The Good in Nature, helped Jewish early childhood educators better understand the importance of not only bringing children out into nature but also bringing nature into the classroom.
ronment and the natural materials in their classroom with fresh and often critical eyes. Change happened.
Instead of lamenting these problems, the conference focused on solutions. It covered many different issues: from helping parents manage their anxiety about letting children explore the outdoors, to looking at the different ways children can experience nature. “Our focus was on helping children develop a lasting connection to nature,” said Mara. After the conference, the Partnership encouraged educators to go back to their schools and reflect on what they learned. Many schools, including TRS Nursery School, Ohr Kodesh Early Childhood Center and the newly forming preschool at Shaare Tefila formed committees to turn what they learned from the conference into action. Every school looked at their outdoor envi-
“Being in early childhood education is a fun job, but it’s also a very difficult job,” said Fran. “There are so many things that children need, and there never seems to be enough time to sit and vision bigger ideas. The wonderful thing about the conference that the Partnership does every year is that it gives everyone a chance to sit and focus.” She’s looking forward to participating in the Partnership’s Early Childhood Jewish Education Conference on December 8, 2011. The topic this year? The Modern Jewish Family. To check out the conference course booklet, go to www.pjll.org/ec-conference-2011.
Until Dec. 31, 2011 people who are 70-1/2 or older have the opportunity to make charitable donations of up to $100,000 directly from their IRA’s. To make a gift to the Partnership or for more details, contact Andrea Glazer at 240-283-6221 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
“People can be Jewish in many ways: Spiritually, culturally, socially. To me, it’s very important to participate in social justice and actively strive towards change. No matter what you do, or how much you give, you can still have an impact.”
“The best way to give is to teach a man how to fish. It’s important to give, but it’s also important to invest in something that empowers the group and encourages selfsustainability.”
“I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do for a while, but JYPI helped strengthen everything I believe in. It really helped me understand my Judaism better.”
“JYPI does a great job of connecting the dots between being Jewish and being charitable. It was my first experience of realizing the issues outside of my little bubble.”
From her days of pulling out tires from the Anacostia River as part of the JYPI service-learning initiative, Natasha Shangold has been passionate about environmental protection. She served on the JYPI Teen Council Advisory Board and as liaison to the adult board. After finishing her first year of college at Salisbury University, Natasha has decided to major in Environmental Studies and plans to become an environmental biologist. She serves as vice president of her school’s Hillel chapter, as well as an active member in Book Club and Pep Band. She attributes much of her success and leadership skills to JYPI, which she describes as her “most rewarding experience.” Besides instilling a “Yes, you can” attitude in Natasha, JYPI also helped her to develop better communication skills and hold true to the philanthropic values of Judaism.
Nearly 11 years ago, Lana Volfstun began her JYPI experience with servicelearning and philanthropy initiatives in her community of Northern Virginia. It was the first time Lana was exposed to the issues of homelessness, poverty, and global conflict, right in her own backyard. Not only were her eyes opened to the troubles facing her community, but participation in JYPI also allowed her to realize that no matter the size of the donation or age of the donor, everyone can make a difference. Her passion for philanthropy continued past her teen years as she helped to form the Slingshot Fund – an organization aimed at providing support for undercapitalized and revolutionary Jewish charities. After majoring in business at Washington University, Lana came back to the D.C. area to start a career in technology consulting. She soon plans, however, to switch gears to the non-profit world to continue her love of giving. Even now, Lana is still active in teen philanthropy serving as facilitator for the past three years of one of the Partnership’s Northern Virginia groups. She credits JYPI with instilling in her a passion for giving and hopes to spark that same passion in others for many years to come.
A graduate of Tufts University, Ben Gittleson first joined JYPI in 2004, participating in everything from monthly volunteer outings to serving as a chair of the JYPI Teen Council Advisory Board. There, Ben acquired the leadership skills and philanthropic values that led him to choose international relations as his future career path. At Tufts, Ben served as editor for his student newspaper, as a member of the executive board of the New Initiative for Middle East Peace, a program of the Institute of Global Leadership group and as an active member of his school’s Hillel chapter. In true JYPI style, he has continued his involvement in service-learning with a cultural exchange trip to Kazakhstan to volunteer and learn more about Jewish culture abroad and with a trip to Rwanda helping victims of genocide. Ben is now planning on traveling to Egypt for a year-long fellowship where he will study Arabic at the American University in Cairo. Ben sees his experiences, past and present, as a great opportunity not just to help others, but also to add a global perspective to his work in the Jewish community.
Ever since her first JYPI experience in high school, Michelle Favin has been passionate about giving. From her involvement with the homeless community in D.C., to her eco-tourism work abroad, Michelle has been an active participant in various service-learning opportunities. A graduate of New York University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in public policy, Michelle continued with philanthropic work throughout her entire college career. In high school, she served as an intern for JYPI. From there, she moved on to work with the Seven Bar Foundation, an organization specializing in microfinance projects for women, providing them with financial and professional support along the way. Now, Michelle plans to work in a non-profit education initiative called Uncommon Schools as a Kindergarten teacher in Brooklyn, NY, while simultaneously earning her master’s degree in teaching. From her experiences Michelle has not only learned the importance of sustainable giving and self-sufficiency for those in need, but she has also stayed true to her Jewish identity by making philanthropy a part of her everyday life.
Jewish teen philanthropy programs for 8-12 graders start this January. Details at www.pjll.org/content/jypi
Philanthropy Through the Eyes of a JYPI Alum Yoni Kalin, an alum of the Partnership’s Jewish Youth Philanthropy Initiative (JYPI), discusses how his experience in the program helped him form his own nonprofit. Check out the video at www.youtube.com/PartnershipPJLL
Published on Nov 15, 2011
If we see Judaism as a tapestry, a great weave comprised of innumerable threads, colors, and patterns comprising the totality of Jewish thou...