A Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Publication
Changing History On June 26, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the legal marriages of same-sex couples must be given equal status under federal law. Read the inside
story of plaintiff Edie Windsor, her wife Thea, and the Canadian judge who married them. ALSO
Insiderâ€™s Guide to
COLLEGE LIFE Synagogue
DIVORCE ETIQUETTE Capturing Young
HEARTS & MINDS Why Jews Practice
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Our community is an ongoing celebration of curious minds Become a Rabbi Become a Cantor Become a Leader in Jewish Education Become a Jewish Nonprofit Professional Become a Scholar Become a Pastoral Counselor
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A BENEFIT OF YOUR MEMBERSHIP IN A URJ CONGREGATION N IO UN R FO RM FO RE
M IS DA JU
The RJ Insider’s Guide to COLLEGE LIFE
Universit y of Mar yland Hillel college photo by R lstevensphotography for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
• The Top Schools Jews Choose
• Finding a Jewishly Vibrant Campus
by Number & Percentage (p.36)
The New Criteria (p.39)
• The Top 3 Mistakes Applicants Make
• Does School Choice Impact Future Income?
& What To Do Differently (p.31)
What the Research Reveals (p.44)
18 I Now Pronounce You Wife & Wife by Harvey Brownstone / Growing up as a Reform Jew and becoming the first openly gay judge in Canada led to my playing a role in one of the most important civil rights cases in U.S. history. This is my story. Plus: “On the Road to Marriage Equality” by Karen L. Loewy
50 Divorce Etiquette interview with Edythe Held Mencher and Marsha Elser / How congregations can best respond to the emotional, legal, social, financial, and spiritual challenges faced by divorced couples.
58 Science, Drama, & Rock ’n Roll symposium with Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, Rabbi Paul Yedwab, & Dr. Jonathan S. Woocher / To excite teens about Judaism, congregations need to meet them at the juncture of their passions & redesign Jewish education into active partnership. reform judaism
IN THE BEGINNING 2 Dear Reader: Rebooting Reform on Campus / Rick Jacobs 4 Letters JEWISH LIFE 8 Judaica: Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show / Jonathan Greenstein 9 Holidays: When You Get Stuck in the Fish / Patricia Ratner McWeeney 11 Books: We Have Sinned / a conversation with Lawrence A. Hoffman 13 Torah: Wrestling With Abraham / Stephen S. Pearce 16 Biennial: Re-imagining Jewish Life / interview with Ed Burger and Jan Marion RJ INSIDER’S GUIDE TO COLLEGE LIFE 25 Cover 26 Begin with Passion / interview with Washington College President Mitchell Reiss 31 Getting In: What the Experts Say 36 The Top 60 Schools Jews Choose & the Top 25 by Percentage of Jews 38 The Top 20 “Small & Mighty” Campuses of Excellence 39 What Makes a Campus Jewishly Vibrant? / Gary Berger 44 Calculating the True Costs & Benefits of College / David Wessel 45 College Cash 46 The Scubi Jew / David Steren NEWS & VIEWS OF REFORM JEWS 68 Feature Story: Re-envisioning Religious School— Cutting-edge preb’nai mitzvah education that captures the hearts and minds of Jewish youth / Julie Schwartz Also 67 Chairman’s Perspective: Connect via URJ Communities / Stephen M. Sacks 67 Quotable 70 Noteworthy 72 My Idea: Let’s Uplift Our Synagogue Language
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d e a r
Official Publication of the Union for Reform Judaism
Rebooting Reform on Campus
Fall 2013, Vol. 42, No. 1
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On-Line Home Page: reformjudaismmag.org with RJpedia article search by subject Reform Judaism (ISSN 0482-0819) is published quarterly (fall, winter, spring, summer) by the Union for Reform Judaism. Circulation Offices: 633 Third Ave, New York, NY 10017. © Copyright 2013 by the Union for Reform Judaism. Periodical postage paid at New York, New York and at additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to Reform Juda ism, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017. Members of Union congregations receive Reform Judaism as a service of the Union for Reform Judaism. Subscription rate: One year: $12 each; Canada $18 each; Foreign $24 each. Two years: $22 each; Canada $34 each; Foreign $46 each. Contact us for bulk pricing. The opinions of authors whose works are published in Reform Judaism are their own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Union. REFORM JUDAISM is a registered trademark of the Union for Reform Judaism. Canada Publications Mail Agreement No. 40032276. Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to PO Box 875, Stn A, Windsor ON N9A 6P2 Statement of Purpose Reform Judaism is the official voice of the Union for Reform Judaism, linking the institutions and affiliates of Reform Judaism with every Reform Jew. Received quarterly by nearly 300,000 member households (members of nearly 900 congregations) as a benefit of their synagogue’s Union affiliation, RJ strives to convey the creativity, diversity, and dynamism of Reform Judaism. RJ covers developments within our movement while interpreting world events and Jewish tradition from a Reform perspective.
high percentage of Jews attend college, where their intellectual horizons are broadened, social ties forged, career directions discovered, and spiritual identities nurtured—or neglected. Most adults reflect back on those years as crucial in defining who they are today. That is why the choice of a college looms as one of the biggest decisions a young person will make. Academic excellence, campus life, size, and cost factor into the search. Reform Judaism magazine’s outstanding RJ Insider’s Guide to College Life, now in its eighth year, emphasizes Jewish criteria, such as the number or percentage of Jewish students, Jewish studies courses, and Reform worship opportunities (see pages 36–38). How well Jewish college students are served on campus depends to a large extent on the rabbis with whom they interact. Who are they? According to a Senior Jewish Educator, seven out of ten rabbis on college campuses are Orthodox; of those, four are ultra-Orthodox. And these rabbis—many of whom are independently sponsored, not Hillel staff—are not only serving Orthodox Jews but seeking to engage our young people in traditional Jewish practice. It is distressing that Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious stream, is so underrepresented. And even where there is a Reform presence, its prayer and learning offerings are often anemic. For these and other reasons, even some of our most knowledgeable and engaged Reform youth on campus develop a Jewish inferiority complex. We’ve got to do better! Last year, the Brown University-Rhode Island School of Design Hillel invited me to lead High Holy Day services (and I will do so again this year). I met many previously unengaged students who were very open to Reform Jewish life as long it was rich in meaning, relevance, and spiritual depth. Much to its credit, Hillel has adopted a new model, reaching outside its walls to involve Jewish students wherever they are, and has partnered with the URJ to engage students from Reform backgrounds. At Rutgers and USC, among other campuses, we are testing this model to connect with and nourish Reform students seeking a dynamic Jewish community committed to inclusion, learning, spiritual practice, and social justice. College is one of our best opportunities to introduce young adults to serious Jewish thinking and living. We cannot afford to be absent. This will require significant investment in human and financial resources, as well as clear thinking and imagination. To reboot Reform on campus, we can do no less.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs President, Union for Reform Judaism ➢Your thoughts and ideas are welcomed. Contact Rabbi Jacobs: firstname.lastname@example.org and/or send a letter-to-the-editor: email@example.com. reform judaism
Ian Spanier Photography
Executive Editor Mark Pelavin Editor Aron Hirt-Manheimer Managing Editor Joy Weinberg Copy Editor Judith Hirt-Manheimer Assistant to the Editors Alison Kahler Art Direction Best & Co. Contributing Editors David Aaron, Michael Cook, Josh Garroway, Leah Hochman, David Ilan, Paul Liptz, Edythe Mencher, Aaron Panken, Rick Sarason, Lance Sussman, Mark Washofsky, Wendy Zierler Advisory Board Milton Lieberman, Chair Carol Kur, Honorary Chair Paul Uhlmann, Jr., Lifetime Chair Emeritus Jim Ball, Shirlee Cohen, Isabel Dunst, Dan Freelander, Steve Friedman, Jay Geller, Howard Geltzer, Marc Gertz, Deborah Goldberg, Shirley Gordon, Richard Holtz, Robert M. Koppel, Bonnie Mitelman, Harriet Rosen, Jean Rosensaft, Joseph Aaron Skloot, John Stern, Al Vorspan, Alan Zeichick Advertising Offices Joy Weinberg, Advertising Director Keith Newman, Advertising Representative 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 212-650-4244 (for advertising inquiries only) Circulation Offices Union for Reform Judaism Synagogue Members: Change of Address Website: reformjudaismmag.org/subscribe/change Change of Address Hotline: 212-650-4182*
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n “Debatable: Should We Support Physician Assisted Suicide?” (Summer 2013) Rabbis Phil Cohen and Barry Block discuss the issue in individual terms without considering how widespread legalization would substantially impact society as a whole. For example, it would be far cheaper for an insurer to cover the cost of doctorassisted suicide than to pay $20,000+ a year for treatment that could prevent or slow the progression of my multiple sclerosis. And if coverage of expensive new treatments were curtailed or excluded—effectively destroying the market for any forthcoming product—why would anyone invest in continued research and development? Then there’s the question of how to protect vulnerable people from being manipulated into opting for legally sanctioned suicide. Elder abuse is common,
and 90% of the abusers are family members (source: Adult Protective Services). Moreover, the effectiveness of so-called “safeguards” is questionable, largely because patient privacy laws limit access to the information necessary to investigate possible abuse cases. In short, what seems ethical, humane, and reasonable in an individual case might be unethical by Jewish standards if PAS results in harm to others and society as a whole. Laura Remson Mitchell Winnetka, California
abbi Barry Block opposes physician-assisted suicide “because it short-circuits the comfort and deep spiritual meaning that can come from the natural process of dying.” I doubt that those with ALS, Alzheimer’s, or similar diseases are experiencing comfort and deep spiritual meaning. As I understand
Judaism, “seeking meaning through suffering” is not one of its teachings. Robert Ross Mt Kisco, New York
Divinity of Dementia?
he letter criticizing Rabbi Cary Kozberg’s article (“Divinity of Dementia,” Spring 2013) surprised me. My father died of Alzheimer’s in 2005, and my mother still suffers from it. It is a sad and painful thing to see a person who was once so intelligent and independent wither away. I guess that’s why I found comfort in Rabbi Kozberg’s article. He sees meaning and beauty in patients, no matter their condition. I sent a copy of the piece to the chaplain at my mother’s nursing home, who read it thoroughly and shared copies with the staff. It’s helpful for them to see another aspect to their patient’s lives—not just what has gone, but what remains.
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abbi Kozberg’s article resonated with my ideas about how our society views different stages of life. For instance, the concepts of “retirement” and the ban on “child labor,” which began as limitations to capitalistic overwork of human units of production, have had the unintended effect of devaluing the contributions of the youngest and oldest among us. A better model would be to view all people as capable of contributing to society. To this effect, I suggest we try praying with people with dementia in nursing homes, and consider their presence as a sort of “spiritual battery” or “amplifier” to assist and augment our prayers. By “assist” I do not mean a sugary Mary Poppins-type euphemism, but the spiritual, non-quantifiable reality that our prayers may be stronger and better because these people are with us, though
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in ways we cannot understand. Expanding the definition of who is “useful” would not only benefit society, but might also help those of us personally dealing with dementia. Teresa Ann Ellis Sacramento, California
Should HUC-JIR Admit Students with Non-Jewish Partners?
found it disconcerting that 62% of the respondents to the Debatable question “Should Our Seminary Admit Students with Non-Jewish Partners?” (Spring 2013) said that HUC-JIR should admit students with non-Jewish partners. A member of the clergy is a Jewish role model. The choice to become one implies a commitment to the Jewish people. If a rabbinic or cantorial student would partner with someone who does not share a commitment to the values we hold sacred, then s/he shouldn’t become a rabbi or cantor. How are we to we urge our children to remain Jewishly committed if our clergy doesn’t have the same respect for our traditions? And how far do we stretch the rules before we have no rules or standards? Is it far-fetched to think the day may come when rabbinical students won’t even have to be Jewish? Arnold Weintraub, LCSW New York, New York
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treaming into the New Year” (Summer 2013) brought back a wonderful memory. In 2011, my congregation, Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, renovated a nearby building as our new home, and thanks to a URJ grant, incorporated the features needed to stream services. Last year, my husband and I were in Jerusalem visiting our son. We were still on California time, so I was awake well before dawn on Saturday morning. Our hotel room faced east, with a view of the old city from our window. Realizing it was just about time for erev Shabbat services in LA, I opened up my laptop, clicked the link, and there I was, davening with my own community halfway around the world. The sun rose over Jerusalem just as our cantor began the Shema, and I had the truly awesome
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experience of chanting the morning Shema at dawn in Jerusalem while my home congregation chanted the evening Shema. Tears still come to my eyes when I recall that moment. Maggie Anton Parkhurst Los Angeles, California
our Jewish World Travel guide (Spring 2013) brought to mind the Jewish Morocco trip my husband and I took this past summer. On a rabbinic mission through ARZA World Travel, we were introduced to the Jewish traditions that flourished before the community’s mass exodus to North America, France, and Israel some 50 years ago. Afterwards we continued on our own, seeking out the Jewish stories left behind. Upon learning that in the southern town of Arazan there existed a mikveh, a genizah (depository for sacred books), and a small synagogue which had fallen into disrepair and been restored, we implored our local guide, Mustafa, to take an hour detour to Arazan. He continued on page 69
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Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show Appraisals by Jonathan Greenstein
Dear Jonathan, My cousin gave me this spice box, which he thinks was brought by our great uncle Jake from Russia. What can you tell us about the piece? And how do you suggest we clean and care for it? Thanks. Victor Sloan, Member, Or Chadash, Flemington, NJ Hi Victor, Your sweet spice container was in fact made in Russia. If you remove the top portion, on the rim you’ll see the printed hallmark 84, the silver standard of Russia. Unlike silver produced in the U.S. and England, which was usually 92.5% silver, the Russian silver standard was 87.5% silver (written out
as the fraction 84/96). On the rim you will also discover the date of the work—most likely in the second half of the 19th century, as this type of piece was popular in Russia from the 1850s until about 1900. This rim should also contain the initials of the assayer, a government appointed “tester” who marked each piece after confirming that it was actually silver. And, if you are fortunate, you will also see a third mark representing the maker. At the time there were dozens of Judaica craftsmen, Szekman, Skarlat, Nast, Reidel, and Kharlop among the most popular. Some-
times a maker would mark (stamp) his full last name, hoping that might lead to additional business—old-school marketing. Other times only the marker’s initials were used, or none at all. Value: $500 - $900, depending on size and condition. As for cleaning, filigree should only be polished professionally, as it can easily be damaged or broken. My advice: Leave the piece alone. After all, without additional care, this lovely spice box has already survived 150 or so years. Jonathan Greenstein, founder J. Greenstein & Co., Inc. Inquiries: Jonathan@JGreenstein.com Dear Jonathan, Thanks. Now I can share this part of our family’s history with our daughters.
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When You Get Stuck in the Fish By Patricia Ratner McWeeney
Malcah Zeldis / A rt Resource, N Y
very Yom Kippur afternoon, we read the story of Jonah, perhaps because Jonah is the story of all of us. He’s an ordinary guy. Unlike Abraham, who (we read at Rosh Hashanah, 10 days earlier) is prepared to follow God’s commandment to kill his only son Isaac, Jonah disobeys God’s order to tell the people of Nineveh they’re doomed, and instead boards a ship to Tarshish in an effort to escape from God. But, no surprise, God is fully aware of Jonah’s rebellion and creates a tempest around the ship to keep him in line. Eventually, Jonah’s shipmates decide that he is the source of the problem and toss him overboard into the mouth of a conveniently waiting, outsized fish. Jonah spends three days in the fish before being spit out onto dry land, only to face God and be told, once again: Get thee to Nineveh. This time Jonah accepts—presumably because it beat the alternative. He tells the people of Nineveh: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” But wait, something happens—the people repent, abandon their evil ways, and turn to God. Delighted, God spares them. It’s a happy ending all around: Jonah thought he was giving a death sentence, but somehow turned a whole city of retrogrades around to God—and he himself not only survives the ordeal, but is forgiven and redeemed. Isn’t that the story of all of us? Haven’t we all had unpleasant and unwanted tasks thrust upon us? And
Patricia Ratner McWeeney is a managing attorney, public speaker, and member of Temple Emanuel in Andover, MA.
“JONAH AND THE WHALE” BY MALCAH ZELDIS.
haven’t we all made some mistakes that caused us to suffer? ♦♦♦ I made one of my life’s biggest mistakes right after my Sweet 16 party. When I grew up in the 1960s and 70s in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, many of the Jewish girls had Sweet 16 events, usually luncheons at one of the local caterers, like Park Manor. My mother, however, suggested an afternoon tea at our house, so that’s what we did. I still remember the outfit she bought me, a beautiful blue, red, and yellow plaid wool skirt and matching yellow sweater. The party was lovely, and much nicer than going out to lunch. It was also a lot more work for my mother, who entertained beautifully and had a wonderful knack for making every guest feel special. When the last guest left, we started cleaning up, carrying all the plates, cups, and trays from the living room into the kitchen as we shared stories about the food, the guests, the gifts, and the funny things that happened. Then, my mother asked simply, “It was nice, don’t you think?” And the ungrateful reform judaism
16-year-old that was me responded: “My party was OK, but not as nice as the luncheons at Park Manor.” The second the words came out of my mouth I was sorry. Immediately the party afterglow on my mother’s face disappeared, replaced with hurt and disappointment. I wanted so much to take the words back, to tell her how wonderful the party was, but of course that couldn’t happen; the damage was done. We just stood there for a minute and then she suggested that my father remove me from the premises for a while. The eight-minute car ride to visit my ailing 85-year-old Uncle Jack felt like forever, the air hanging heavy between as us as my father stated how I had disappointed both of them. Like Jonah, I was “in the fish.” What was so bad about being “in the fish”? Apart from the sheer terror of not being able to escape from a confined space, which in my case is accentuated by claustrophobia (just ask the poor folks who once tried to get me in an MRI machine), it is in the fish that the consequences of your wrong actions come to light: anxiety, guilt, depression, obsessive thinking: If only I could have a do-over. I wallowed in the fish for what seemed like weeks. I apologized, repented, was on my best behavior, whatever that was for a 16-year-old girl. Eventually my mother forgave me. Maybe that’s what mothers do, although I suspected she’d secretly put me up for adoption but couldn’t get any takers. Luckily for both of us, I grew up and, as almost every parent wishes, came to appreciate not only the millions of things my mother did and the sacrifices she made for me, but her own very impressive accomplishments. And when
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I became an adult, we always had great fun together, especially at Loehmanns. ♦♦♦ Then, in 1996, when I was 41, I had to give my mother bad news I didn’t think was my job to deliver. She had gone into the hospital for emergency colon surgery. We feared she might have colon cancer. The preop chest x-ray showed a large mass— advanced lung cancer. No one had considered lung cancer. Her surgeon told her about the tumor shortly
before wheeling her into the operating room for the colon surgery. At some point during the day, my father and I left the hospital for a little while and returned with beautiful red
FROM L. TO R. WITH MOM AND DAD AT MY HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION, 1973; CELEBRATING MY MOM’S 60TH BIRTHDAY, 1987.
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roses, as if they could change the situation. I left my father at the hospital, bouquet in hand, and went to park the car. Then I took the elevator to my mother’s floor, and when the doors opened there he was, almost hysterical. For a moment I thought my mother must have died. Frantically he said: “Mom’s all confused and can’t remember she has lung cancer. You have to tell her.” “I have to tell her?” I responded. “What do you mean?” My mind was racing: This isn’t my job…. I’m the kid, not the parent….Finally I added, “Let’s find a doctor to tell her.” But it was late and no doctor was to be found. We walked into her room. My little mother, Fanchon, lay exhausted and groggy from the anesthesia, but as always her hair and nails were perfect. She had a nagging feeling she had lung cancer, and needed to know. Why hadn’t my father told her? Then I saw him—all 6’4”, 220 pounds of him, the man who had always been like Superman to me, crumpled over in a metal chair, wailing. He was incapable of telling the truth to his wife of 49 years. Where is that ship to Tarshish when you need it? I didn’t want this job. I wasn’t even qualified for it, but what choice did I have? So I kissed her and said, “Yes, Mom, you have lung cancer. But let’s get your colon fixed and we’ll worry about the lung cancer later. You want some jello?” I don’t know how the words came out just right like that but they did, just the way we all rise to the occasion, continued on page 15
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We Have Sinned A conversation with Larry Hoffman
Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Barbara and Stephen Friedman Professor of Liturgy, Worship, and Ritual at HUCJIR, edited We Have Sinned: Sin and Confession in Judaism—Ashamnu and Al Chet (Jewish Lights), which examines the history of confession and its evolution in rabbinic and modern thought. What prompted you to edit a book about sin and confession in Judaism?
The High Holy Days are supposed to present us with the most profound experience of being human and searching for the Divine. But the service is long, the prayers go back centuries, and their language is hard to negotiate. I hope that through reading this book, the fourth in the Prayers of Awe series, people will gain a deeper understanding of our liturgy, so that when they leave the synagogue after the final shofar blast of Yom Kippur, they will feel that they can, with proper repentance and resolve, move on to life renewed. The word “sin” sounds harsh. Are we expected to believe that our misdeeds rise to the level of sins?
True, in our day we hesitate to label our actions as “sins.” We prefer the language of making mistakes, falling short, or missing the mark, as if life is target practice and sin is just an arrow gone astray. But some errors are morally repugnant. When harm is unleashed at a magnitude that exceeds a mere mistake, we need a word like “sin” to do justice to the immoral act. How did our ancestors understand sin?
Let me explain metaphorically, as theological terms sometimes require metaphors to be understood. The Bible likens sin to a burden that weighs us down. For
example, the biblical attribute of Divine pardon was nosei avon (Exodus 34), meaning, literally, “lifting the sin” from off of us. Sin was also perceived as a stain that must be wiped clean. “Be your sins like crimson,” the prophet Isaiah says, “they can turn snow-white” (1:18). The metaphor of sin as burden rings true today. We all know what it’s like to be weighed down by work or responsibility. We can also be weighed down by the guilt that accompanies knowing we have done something terrible—or realizing that we regularly do things wrong but cannot manage to change course. That is the very essence of addiction, after all; many of us are dependent on alcohol or drugs, unhealthy foods, overwork, gambling, or any number of bad habits that may lead to outright sins. Sometimes we just cannot get out from under by ourselves; we need Divine help. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are times to say, “With God’s help, I will change course. I need not be weighed down any more.” And, hopefully, by the close of the High Holy Days, we will feel relieved of the burdens we have carried for an entire year. The rabbis who canonized the Bible in the first two centuries C.E. preferred reform judaism
another metaphor: sin as debt. The rabbinic term for “punishment” is puranut, from the root para, meaning “to pay off or collect a debt.” They pictured us as building up a bank account of good deeds through “acts of loving kindness” (gemilut chasadim), which were then set upon a heavenly balancing scale to see if our good deeds outweighed our sins. Christianity, which arose at that time, employed this same image of “sin as debt” in the “Lord’s Prayer”: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” The metaphor of sin as debt is also apt for our time. Many of us know the fear of going so deeply into debt we may never be able to crawl out. We can think of the Day of Atonement, then, as the opportunity to say, “I have committed many sins—fallen deeply in debt—but can now start again with a clean balance sheet.” How does the Jewish view of sin differ from the Christian notion?
Classical Christianity saw sinfulness as essential to human nature: an original blemish inherited from the biblical Adam as part of our DNA, so to speak. Classical rabbinic thought viewed sin as primal, in the sense that all of us partake in it, but not as the essence of who we are. Here we should distinguish between the act of “having sinned” and the condition of “being a sinner.” There was a time when hospital Oncology departments posted signs saying, “Cancer is something I have, not something I am.” Similarly, in the Jewish view, sin is something we do, not something we are. Even though the best of us do sin, we are not total sinners. Moreover, as elemental as sinfulness is, the human default position, according to Judaism—the one for which we were created—is to stand alongside God in goodness. The High Holy Days prescribe teshuvah (return) as the starting point in a journey back to that
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default position: standing alongside God as human beings formed in God’s own likeness. Classical Christianity, by contrast, denies the human ability to return on our own. Christians need two revelations, two covenants (or “testaments,” as they are known): the first (Torah), to lay down the laws by which we shall live; and the second (Jesus), to relieve us of our sins when we inevitably go astray. Jews suffice with a single revelation which is both challenge and solution: a challenge because keeping the Torah
laws without some degree of failure is near impossible, and a solution because the same Torah provides a means by which to return to God, who waits patiently for us, wanting only our return. If confessing our sins is so important, why don’t Jews undertake the practice more frequently?
Actually, the rabbinic ideal was to confess our sins every single day. The Talmud contains several examples of daily confession, including one by the fourth-century Babylonian sage
Rava: “My God, before I was created I was worth nothing, and now that I am created I am as if not created. While alive, I am dust—all the more so when I die. I stand before you like a vessel filled with shame and contempt.” The traditional prayer book Seder Rav Amram (named for its author, who lived in Baghdad in the ninth century) still prescribes the Ashamnu (the short confession, “We have incurred guilt”) every Monday and Thursday; and even today most Sephardi prayer books also include it for services on those same days (when the services are longer). The preferred practice in Ashkenazi communities was to limit Ashamnu to Yom Kippur. Jews are also supposed to confess on their deathbed (or whenever they might be sick enough to fear they are about to die) and, traditionally, bridegrooms say a personal, private confession under the chuppah before the wedding ceremony begins, as if to wipe the slate clean before they marry. Why does the Yom Kippur liturgy include two standard public confessions—Ashamnu and Al Chet?
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All of our prayers originated in an era before widespread literacy—let alone printing—when it was impossible to have any standardized texts. People improvised prayers on the theme of the moment, stringing together biblical phrases with wording composed on the spot. Over the course of time, some of the versions disappeared while others crystallized into formulas that were repeated and endured. Our two confessions were the ones that somehow managed to survive and then become embedded in the written liturgy that Rav Amram compiled in his prayer book. Other confessions also continued to exist, such as the short talmudic confession attributed to Mar Zutra (Yoma 87b), which includes the words, “We have surely sinned!” (Aval anachnu chatanu) and now serves as an introductory paragraph to Ashamnu. Today, both Ashamnu and Al Chet are recited in every High Holy Day service except the concluding one, N’ilah, when only Ashamnu is said. There, Al Chet is replaced by Atah noten yad (“You extend continued on page 14
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Wrestling with Abraham By Stephen S. Pearce
ing the Hebrew ha-ahlayhu, which should have been interpreted as “bring him up” and not “offer him up.” Accordingly, God called upon Abraham to take Isaac up the mountain and to prepare a burnt offering, not to offer him as the burnt offering: “When I told you, ‘Take your son…,’ I was not changing My promise that you would have descendants through Isaac. I did not tell you to slaughter him but rather to take him to the top of the mountain. You have taken him up; now take him down again.”
ach Rosh Hashana, the Akedah (“The Binding of Isaac”), Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac at God’s behest, highlights for us the impenetrable paradox of affirming a good, omnipotent God who causes bad things to happen to good people. How could God promise to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens, and then order Abraham to “Take your son…and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering…”? (Gen 22:2) Which of these 10 possible explanations of this troubling narrative resonates with you? 1. The End of Child Sacriﬁce
Perhaps the most common explanation to consider—although most scholars have rejected it for lack of a specific biblical or rabbinic pronouncement against the practice—is that the Akedah episode serves as a case against child sacrifice, a rite that was practiced in biblical times. 2. God, Not Abraham, is Tested
© Look and Learn / The Bridgeman A rt Librar y
Medieval commentator Nachmanides suggests that in going along with God’s demand, Abraham is waiting to see how God will fulfill the promise to make Abraham’s seed numerous. Rabbi Isaac of Vorki, a 19th-century Hasid, imagines Abraham saying: “I am obligated to follow God’s command. The outcome is not my problem, but God’s.” 3. We Do Not Own Our Children
“All things pass, all that lives must die. All that we prize is but lent to us; and the
5. Exemplary Devotion to God
“ABRAHAM AND ISAAC ON MT. MORIAH” BY WILLIAM HENRY MARGETSON.
time comes when we must surrender it” (Union Prayer Book). At times life hangs by a thread; what we treasure can disappear in a moment. In the Akedah Isaac is not sacrificed, but not every child in our sacred literature is spared. The Talmud records the following story: When their two sons die, Bruria must break the news to her husband, Rabbi Meir. She does so by asking him a legal question: “What is the proper course of action if one person borrows two jewels from another and then the original owner requests the return of the jewels?” He replies: “One is obligated to return the loan upon demand.” She then takes her husband to where their two dead sons lie and, as he bursts into tears, says, “Did you not say that one is obligated to return the loan upon demand?” 4. A Misunderstanding
Stephen S. Pearce, PhD, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco, is author of Flash of Insight: Metaphor and Narrative in Therapy and co-author with Bishop William E. Swing and Father John P. Schlegel of Building Wisdom’s House: A Book of Values for Our Time.
Genesis Rabbah (56:8) records a mistranslation of Genesis 22:12. In this Midrash, God rebukes Abraham: “When I told you to bring Isaac for a sacrifice, I wanted him at (Hebrew=el) my altar, not on (Hebrew=al) it. Furthermore, Abraham is chided for misunderstandreform judaism
With few exceptions, rabbis have commended Abraham for not questioning God’s command. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard expresses a similar view in his book Fear and Trembling. Calling Abraham “a knight of faith,” Kierkegaard argues that obedience to God is a human being’s highest duty, regardless of the consequences. 6. Abraham’s Mental State
Rabbi Burton Visotzky suggests that Abraham’s flat affect as he walks like a zombie toward Mt. Moriah indicates he was suffering from depression. Afterwards, Abraham lives in isolation, without further contact with Isaac or Sarah. 7. The Ultimate Test
What greater test of Abraham’s faith could there be than the sacrifice of one’s own child. Bible scholar Nahum Sarna notes that it would have been far easier for Abraham to have sacrificed himself in order to save his son, especially knowing that the divine promise of multiple descendants would be fulfilled. 8. Abraham’s Punishment
Some commentators suggest that the Akedah is retribution for Abraham’s not defending his concubine Hagar from Sarah’s abuse, and for acceding to the banishment of Hagar and Ishamel
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(the son Abraham had with her) into the wilderness without adequate provisions. 9. Rechanneling Our Violent Nature
The Akedah illustrates the societal need to channel socially unacceptable, inherently violent human thoughts into more acceptable behavior. In this story, a ram is substituted for a vulnerable child. 10. Living With Uncertainty
Living with uncertainty and acknowledging the unknowable are signs of true religious maturity. The Akedah tested
Abraham’s ability to live with the ultimate paradox: knowing that “knowing” is not the highest level of attainment and that true perfection is being comfortable with “not knowing.” LET’S SHARE OUR INSIGHTS Which explanation, or another, speaks to you, and why? As we enter the Days of Awe, let’s share our insights and stories at reformjudaismmag.org/ fall_2013/pearce
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Books: We Have Sinned continued from page 12 a hand…”), an affirmation that God reaches out to draw us toward the state of renewal for which we have been praying. So, just when we’re ready to confess one final time—our last chance, as it were, before nightfall—it is as if God says, “You’ve confessed enough today; the short confession alone will do.” Why do we confess as a community to a manufactured list of misdeeds most of us have never committed?
These public confessions reflect the issue of sin as it impacts the body politic, the community, rather than just the individual. While we are expected to make our private confessions, coming to terms with God for our own sins, Judaism is not just for individuals as sole isolates, but for individuals as members of communities; it worries about the nature of the community in which we take our stand and which helps form us. It teaches that to assure a just society, all of us must be held at least partially accountable for one another—even if we did not personally commit a particular sin, we likely stood idly by when others committed it. Then, too, the two confessions remind us that we may be metaphorically guilty of larger transgressions than we realize. We may never have committed murder, but we may have belittled another person to the point where he/she felt like dying. Do you have any other suggestions for us as we approach the High Holy Days?
Attending synagogue on the High Holy Days is like visiting a strange but magnificent city filled with historical monuments to the past and overlaid with echoes of the present. It’s best to think of the liturgy as art, not science. It reaches us through music and the drama we call worship. And try to transcend the literal meaning of the prayers. Treat them as poetry and study their historical context, as they are best approached with some understanding of the conditions that inspired them. Then we can truly appreciate their metaphoric assurances of our human purpose.
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Stuck in the Fish continued from page 10 sometimes in the most surprising of circumstances. Isn’t that a paradox: It feels to us like being in the absolute wrong place at the absolute wrong time, and yet some greater force has put us in the right place at the right time to do what we must.
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♦♦♦ At the end of Kol Nidre services at Temple Emanuel, Andover, Massachuetts, Rabbi Robert Goldstein gives our congregation the priestly benediction: “May God bless you and keep you.” Here’s my take on Jonah’s version of that wish: “May God bless you, and keep you out of the fish.” When that fails and I find myself in the fish, I try mightily to get out as quickly as possible. There’s rarely a map to follow, so the road out can be perilous. In my experience, leaning in the fish at just the right angle in hopes of being spit out doesn’t help. So I take action, even though there’s no guarantee that the action will succeed. Sometimes I’ll apologize. Or empathize. Or acknowledge: I’m an idiot. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Which is why it’s better to live my life by staying out of the fish. I wish you the same: “May God bless you and keep you out of the fish.”
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Re-imagining Jewish Life An RJ magazine interview with Ed Burger and Jan Marion
Jan Marion (2013 URJ Biennial Vice-Chair from Temple B’nai Israel, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma): Biennial
is a time and place for all people to celebrate and affirm what it is to be a Reform Jew. I strongly believe in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teaching that we are losing the power of celebration— “Instead of celebrating,” he wrote, “we seek to be amused or entertained.” In contrast, Heschel described celebration as “an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation,” and that’s exactly what we do at Biennial, by making new friends and reconnecting with old ones from all over the world as we immerse ourselves in five days of Jewish study, music, prayer, fellowship, and personal discovery. When I join a gathering of 5,000 committed Jews who represent 700+ congregations, I affirm that I am part of something greater than myself. I know that I do not stand alone. I am—all of us are—a link in a very powerful chain. For me, another part of this conscious act of celebration is getting my batteries recharged as a congregational leader. After every Biennial—I’ve gone to nine—I head home to Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City with renewed vitality, encouraging our small, 300+-member congregation with the mantra “Yes we can!” I always come away with insights, ideas, and programs that enrich our temple. One year I learned about the URJ’s “Sacred Choices” (urj.org/learning/teacheducate/ adolescents/sacredchoices), a comprehensive curriculum to teach sexual ethics to teens in a safe, sacred environment where young people can feel comfortable expressing other issues/pressures in their lives as well. When we introduced the program at our temple, we had no idea that one of the young people who would be taking the course was at a
fragile crossroads in her life, heading down a destructive path and not feeling she had the strength to say “no.” The course gave her the moral code she needed EXUBERANT SING-ALONG, SAN DIEGO BIENNIAL, 2007. and helped her to believe in her own worth. Much later, the audience he was speaking to, and other mother of this young adult told me that people I know felt the same way. And our “Sacred Choices” program had later, there I was, a CPA from Connectisaved her child’s life. cut, shaking hands with the President of the United States. Ed Burger (2013 Biennial Chair from Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, Connecticut): For me, Biennial
is a time I do something I can never do at any other time in my life. I sing the Sh’ma together, in unison, with 5,000 other Reform Jews and feel like I’m with 5,000 friends. It’s very moving to me how through the power of that togetherness we transform an ugly exhibition hall into a sacred sanctuary. And I listen to my choice of experts in everything Jewish—from education and worship to accounting and budgeting—who are all under one roof, and then bring back the best of their ideas to benefit my home congregation. At the 1999 Orlando Biennial, for example, I learned about Synagogue 2000, a two-year program to revitalize and reenergize synagogue life. Our congregation adopted it, and our worship became much more engaging and interactive—plus it inspired our temple to be open and responsive to change in other areas of congregational life. What was your most powerful Biennial moment? Ed: Meeting President Barack Obama.
At the December 2011 convention he delivered a powerful d’var Torah—with a great shout-out to NFTY. He made me feel like I was the only person in the reform judaism
Jan: For me one of the most powerful experiences happened at the 2001 Boston Biennial, which took place soon after 9/11. At the opening plenary, all of the congregational presidents throughout North America, including me, lined the main aisle of the convention hall. Then, about two dozen 9/11 New York Fire Department First Responders walked, three or four abreast, down that aisle between us, from the very back of the hall to the very front. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. As a Jewish American leader representing my congregation, I felt great pride to be part of the assembled greater Jewish community demonstrating solidarity, support, and gratitude to those who ran into the fray when others fled. What an affirmation of the human spirit! Another great moment was during a service at the 1999 Orlando Biennial, when all the Jews-by-choice in the hall were asked to come up to the bimah for an aliyah to the Torah. So many Jewsby-choice—hundreds—stood up proudly and started making their way to the stage—and there was room for only a fraction of them. I thought to myself: We Reform Jews don’t just talk the talk about welcoming people into our faith, we also provide opportunities for them to become leaders in our Movement, and here they are!
Michael Fox Photography
What does Biennial mean to you?
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What will make the Dec. 11–15 Biennial particularly unforgettable? Ed: At our very first planning meeting, Jan stood up and asked, “Where’s the fun?” Jan: “Where’s the fun?” has now
become a mantra at every Biennial meeting. That’s because we really want people to have a great time at this convention. Besides learning and praying and connecting, we are committed to creating a joyful experience for everyone, and to that end, we’re going to do a number of things differently than in the past. There will be more experiential learning. For example, on Saturday, in addition to Shabbat lunch and learn opportunities, we will offer experiential opportunities to “live Shabbat” with people who share your interests. For example, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs is a dancer, so we’re considering having a Shabbat afternoon of Jewish dance. And there will be festivities, such as Saturday night’s Movement-wide celebration to wish Women of Reform Judaism a happy 100th birthday. Ed: There will be more opportunities to
make connections with people, or just take time out to relax over a sandwich and a cup of tea or coffee. In the center of our space at the San Diego Convention Center we are building “Kikar Biennial: The Biennial Town Square,” featuring, among other things, a café, an entertainment stage, WRJ’s “Sarah’s Tent,” and a resting area—a great place to hang out, meet your friends, listen to live music, and recharge. And, concurrent with this, there’s going to be more downtime. At past Biennials we programmed every minute of the five days, and it was easy to get exhausted when programs started before 7am and ended at midnight. Not this time. Activities will start a little later in the morning and end earlier, so people can get more rest and spend more time with their friends. We’re also making more open time on Saturday for people to enjoy beautiful San Diego—we’re right by the Gas Lamp District, with its bustling shopping and restaurants, and is home of the
U.S.S. Midway Museum, featuring the legendary Navy aircraft carrier with 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircrafts; plus the incredible San Diego Zoo, which is only a short cab ride away. Jan: There will be more intensive opportunities to learn. For the first time we’re offering four-hour learning sessions led by top scholars from HUCJIR, the Shalom Hartman Institute, and elsewhere. If you’ve always wanted a crash course in Hebrew, or to learn how to be a song leader—please understand that we haven’t committed to these particular subjects, but these are examples of the kinds of intensive learning experiences we want people to have—you can walk away from Biennial with personalized knowledge on a whole other level than ever before. And we’re offering more personal ways to learn about timely, controversial issues. Last Biennial, for example, 400 people listened in a charged forum as RAC Director Rabbi David Saperstein squared off against neo-Conservative political commentator William Kristol on the subject “Liberalism, Conservatism: Which Better Furthers Jewish Values?” This Biennial we’ll be offering four such exciting forums— along with the opportunity for you to sign up to later participate in smaller group settings where you can converse with the presenters. Ed: In addition, this will be our most
diverse convention—we’re opening it up to any Jew who’s interested in participating. We are realizing Rabbi Jacobs’ vision of a big open house that showcases the Reform Movement to all kinds of Jews, affiliated or unaffiliated; Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist; members of congregations in good financial standing with the URJ and those that are not. Rather than barring congregations from sending delegates, our message is: “We understand that these are bad economic times—we still want you to come.” We want to welcome in anyone who wants to experience the power of celebration at the most exciting place to re-imagine Jewish life. Visit urj.org/biennial and join us. reform judaism
The Most Exciting Place to Be • LEARN about the Reform Movement’s exciting new directions and the vision of URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs • CELEBRATE 100 years of Women of Reform Judaism and their profound contribution to the Reform Movement • DIVE in-depth into learning with new “Biennial Intensives” including a Shalom Hartman Institute session • EXPLORE “Kikar Biennial: The Biennial Town Square,” a gathering place featuring speed-learning sessions, music, lounge space, WRJ’s “Sarah’s Tent,” & a café • LEARN at 100+ workshops led by temple leadership, HUC-JIR scholars, URJ staff, and our partners from all across the Jewish world • STUDY with the URJ Faculty, including Rabbi Elka Abrahamson, Lisa Colton, Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, and Amichai Lau Lavie • MEET up with old friends, strengthen relationships with fellow congregants, and make new friends • SEE the hottest performers in Jewish music, including Josh Nelson, Dan Nichols, Julie Silver, Beth Schafer, and Michelle Citrin • CONNECT firsthand with URJ and WRJ staff • ENJOY beautiful San Diego and the local Southern California Jewish community • ENJOY the best shopping this side of Ben-Yehuda Street in the Biennial Exhibit Hall • SING along as we mark 60 years of the American Conference of Cantors • CONNECT anywhere you are with the Biennial Mobile App • LAUGH, cheer, pray, learn, and be inspired with 5,000 Reform Jews
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I Now Pronounce You
“W FE” J& “W FE”
Harvey Brownstone, the first openly gay judge in Canada, officiated at the wedding of Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor (above right), a lesbian couple from New York, on BY H A RV E Y B R OW N S T O N E ......................................................... ......................................................... ......................................................... .........................................................
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May 22, 2007 in Toronto. Edith Windsor was the plaintiff in the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the core of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Actâ€Ś
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“Edie Windsor is the Rosa Parks of the gay movement, a symbol of perhaps the last great civil rights struggle in America.”
CAME FROM A JEWISH COMMUNITY devoted to inclusiveness, helping one another, and fighting injustice—or, at least that’s what I thought growing up in Hamilton, Ontario. Our Jewish community was filled with Eastern European immigrants and Holocaust survivors, and my father, a social worker who directed the Jewish Community Center, would bring affluent community members together to assist the newcomers with housing, furniture, clothing, and jobs. I felt at home at our congregation, Temple Anshe Sholom. Our family went to services every Friday night, I studied and eventually taught in the Sunday school—and because my father was easily the most beloved member of the Jewish community, we were invited to and attended almost every Saturday morning bar/bat mitzvah and wedding. Our rabbi was a true intellectual. No topic was too secular for Rabbi Bernard Baskin to tackle in a sermon: politics, social mores, international relations, interfaith relations, economics, entertainment, even environmental issues. He tied the teachings of Reform Judaism into the real world and urged us to be ambassadors for Judaism by speaking out against injustice in any form and against any person. At my bar mitzvah, Rabbi Baskin took me aside and recommended that I strongly consider utilizing my developing academic and social skills in a career devoted to the pursuit of justice. The legal profession,
he said, had a strong tradition of counting Jewish lawyers among its most distinguished, accomplished members; and many Jewish lawyers, trained in the laws of the Talmud, had gone on to become judges. I had no idea what lawyers actually did, as we had no lawyers in my family. But Rabbi Baskin’s words echoed in my head throughout my undergraduate years and led me to pursue a legal career as soon as I was eligible to apply to law school.
eanwhile, like every gay person I know, I came to realize that I was “different” during my adolescent years. Those were very difficult times for young gay people of my generation, as there were no “out” role models in society: no entertainers (not even the flamboyant Liberace was out of the closet), no politicians, no one. I thought that I was the only gay person around. I was also very mindful of the admonishments in Leviticus, knowing that in Jewish tradition, it was very important to “go forth and multiply.” So I kept my feelings to myself, did my best to suppress my sexual orientation, and clung to a belief that in time I’d “grow out” of my homosexual attractions and become interested in the opposite sex just like everyone else. This began to change at age 19 when I went away to Queens University in Kingson, Ontario and felt
Previous spread: Cake toppers: Jeffrey Hamilton; gavel: penywise/123RF Stock Photo (123rf.com) This spread: Brownstone portrait: Toronto Star via Getty Images; 1963 photo by Joan Abrams
...which had restricted federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex married couples, as a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. In March the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Women of Reform Judaism filed amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in support of marriage equality, and the court ruled in Windsor’s favor on June 26, 2013. RJ magazine asked Judge Brownstone to tell the story of how his life growing up as a Reform Jew and gay activist led to his playing a role in this historic civil rights decision.
Milestones in Pursuit of Marriage Equality y 1969: At Harvey’s bar mitzvah, Rabbi Bernard Baskin recommends he consider becoming a lawyer.
1980: Harvey graduates from law school (with parents) and joins the lesbian and gay Toronto Jewish group “Chutzpah.”
1963: Edith (Edie) Windsor and Thea Spyer meet.
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1985 photo by Greg Stacey; 2003 photo: AP Photo/CP, Adrian Wyld
free to explore my social surroundings. It was 1976. There was a fledgling “homophile organization” at the university which met every Saturday night for coffee. Meekly I showed up one day, and there met some like-minded people who were also struggling to accept themselves and integrate their sexual orientation into their identities and what they hoped to achieve in their lives. I decided to tell my parents that I was gay. We had always been close—I was an only child—and I anticipated that my father’s social work background, coupled with my parents’ strong Jewish values of “supporting your children no matter what,” would govern their reaction. I could not have been more wrong. My parents exploded. They felt shame (“What did we do to cause this?”) and embarrassment (“What will people say when they find out?”). One of the most painful things my mother said to me was, “I survived the Holocaust for this?” It was immensely painful to know that I had caused my parents such anguish and turmoil simply by revealing the truth about myself. To me, being gay was no different than being right-handed or having brown eyes. I believed—and still do—that we’re born this way. But to my parents, being gay was a choice, a “lifestyle.” I had been taught that what Jewish parents want most of all is for their children to be happy. But I quickly realized that my parents’ definition of “happy” was what counted, not mine. And so, when I came out of the closet, my parents went into the closet. They were traumatized. They told no one about me. If someone asked whether I had a girlfriend, they changed the subject. The hardest part was living with their extreme choice to shut me out of their lives. Believing they were applying “tough love,” my parents told me that when I “came to my senses,” they would be happy to have me resume my place in the family—but until then, I was “on my own.” For the first time in my life, I was truly alone—without financial, emotional, or family support. How bitterly ironic—I had always believed that being Jewish meant being part of a close-knit family and community.
What was I to do? Having grown up in an environment where any Jew who needed help got it from our Jewish Community Center, I naturally turned to the Kingston Jewish community for financial and emotional support. Everyone I reached out to was supportive. Leading members of the Jewish community—professors, business people, synagogue stalwarts—got me parttime jobs, invited me for Shabbat dinners, helped me secure scholarships and student loans. Friends I made at the “homophile organization”—several of whom were Jewish and had also been rejected by their families—were a source of comfort and companionship. Somehow I made it through my undergraduate years and then through law school. I was quite the overachiever—determined to be a stellar student in order to make my parents proud of me—at which point, I hoped, they would stop being ashamed of me. Rejection from your parents can be a great motivator, although I don’t recommend it. I invited my parents to my law school graduation, and they proudly attended. That was the beginning of a rapprochement that, over the next five years, would result in a full reconciliation.
ecause the Jewish community had always been my first source of solace, guidance, and support, when I moved to Toronto after graduation, I looked for lesbian and gay Jewish people like me. I discovered a group called Chutzpah—about 50 Jewish men and women who’d also been rejected by their families for having come out. Some of their parents had gone so far as to sit shiva for them. Group members felt like outcasts and struggled with depression. For most of us it took many years—in some cases decades—of therapy to overcome our shame and self-loathing. Some of my peers at Chutzpah did not have the emotional resilience to deal with this and committed suicide. Even today there is a higher suicide rate among young gays and lesbians than among any other discernible group.
1995: Harvey, 38, is appointed to the Bench, becoming Canada’s ﬁrst openly gay judge. (With parents after being sworn in)
1985: Chutzpah members organize “Coming Out If You’re Gay and Jewish” panel at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple (above).
“Rejection from your parents can be a great motivator, although I don’t advise it.”
2003: Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Canada. Harvey goes on to conduct hundreds of gay and lesbian weddings. (Frank Jump (l.) and Vincenzo Aisoa display their marriage license inside Toronto’s city hall.)
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We also called on them to encourage their Board of Directors to permit Jewish gay and lesbian couples to join the synagogue as a “family membership”— something absolutely unheard of at that time. Rabbi Marmur was straightforward with us. “I don’t think this is a big issue in our community,” he said. “I don’t think there are a lot of gay Jews. But, if you like, we’ll do a panel on the subject, ‘Coming Out If You’re Gay and Jewish,’ and announce it in the temple bulletin.” Our event was scheduled for a Tuesday night in the middle of winter. Twenty chairs were set up in a small social hall. People started to show up…and then more people, and more people, and more people. Rabbis Marmur and Moskovitch looked stunned beyond belief. The crowd got so large—250 in all—the panel had to be moved to a larger hall—and still there weren’t enough chairs to accommodate everyone. Familiar faces from the congregation appeared. I could hear Rabbi Marmur muttering, “What’s he doing here? I can’t believe that Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so would be interested in such a topic! Who in their family is gay?” This seminal event at Holy Blossom was a life-altering day in the history of the Toronto Jewish community. Person after person got up and spoke about how painful it was to hide the fact that there was a gay person in the family—them or someone else—and how much it meant to them to finally be able to reveal the secret. And every person talked about how the synagogue and Jewish community had let them down, because they did not feel welcome to raise this issue with anyone. Consequently the temple formed a support group for families of Jewish lesbians and gays, which still exists under the auspices of Jewish Family and Child Services. Chutzpah disbanded in 1995, after the Reform Movement declared its full support of same-sex relationships.
decided to pursue Family Law. I wanted to integrate Judaism’s family values and commitment to fighting oppression in all its manifestations. Still driven by the need to gain parental approv-
“Tell me what possible damage you think gay people could do that straights haven’t already done to the institution of marriage.”
In the early ’80s the Jewish community didn’t get that we were all Jews. If the Holocaust had taught us one thing, it was that to the Nazis it didn’t matter if you were gay or straight, Reform or Orthodox—you would share the same fate. But in my experience, this startling reality was overlooked when it came to accepting Jews who were different than the norm. Eventually I became Chutzpah’s president. And in 1985, I persuaded the board to engage as gays and lesbians with the mainstream Toronto Jewish community. It was a terrible time for us. The AIDS epidemic was in full swing, and we struggled for official Jewish acknowledgement and support. A tipping point for me was the difficulty we had in getting a rabbi to conduct a funeral for a young Jewish man whose family had disowned him. When I called the Toronto JCC to ask, the social worker said, “That’s a shanda [disgrace]. There are no Jewish homosexuals! Impossible!” Finally we found a Reform rabbi, Arthur Bielfield of Temple Emanu-El in Toronto, who not only conducted that funeral, but officiated at funerals for every Jewish gay person we knew who had been disenfranchised by their families and communities. Once Chutzpah’s membership swelled to 150 young Jewish men and women—all of whom were aching for a connection to the mainstream Jewish community—we made the bold decision to confront Canada’s flagship Reform synagogue, Holy Blossom Temple. Our request for a meeting with their rabbis was granted. Four of us sat down with Rabbis Dow Marmur and John Moskovitch in Rabbi Marmur’s study. It was intimidating beyond belief. And yet, by then I was an accomplished lawyer. I felt up to the challenge of convincing these community leaders that it was time they opened their doors to us. “Listen,” we said, “we are your children, but we are invisible, left out, not welcome. We want to reconnect with our Jewish roots, but nobody wants to hear about us.” Explaining that “many families attending your synagogue are in great pain, struggling with the homosexuality of a loved one,” we asked them to provide counseling, spiritual guidance, and support.
Milestones in Pursuit of Marriage Equality y 2007: Harvey officiates at Edie and Thea’s wedding, May 22, 2007. (Edie (l.) and Thea just before their wedding.)
2009: Edie ﬁles a case in the U.S. District Court of New York after having to pay $363,000+ in federal estate taxes on her inheritance from Thea. (Marching as plaintiff.)
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On the Road to Marriage Equality By Karen L. Loewy
2009 poster courtesy of BlessBless productions; photo still from documentary; 2013 photo © Joshua Roberts/Reuters/Corbis
of the Reform chavurah at Brandeis University; and a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. I inherited that legacy from a family immersed in commitment to tikkun olam, including from my grandfather, who lived by the words of the prophet Micah that hung prominently on his wall: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” All of this led to my decision to go to law school and pursue cutting-edge civil rights work. Having moved to the Boston area in 2001 after my husband’s ordination, I landed a dream job at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders Serving as a Grand Marshall (center) in the (GLAD), working for Rhode Island Gay Pride Parade, 2012. the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgensteeped in the social justice legacy der (LGBT) people and those livof the Reform Movement—a proding with HIV. I had been there fewer uct of my home congregations, than two months when we filed the Greene Family Camp, and Kutz Goodridge case, which would evenCamp; an active NFTYite; a leader tually end the exclusion of sameKaren L. Loewy is a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal, a national legal organi- sex couples from marriage in Maszation committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of LGBT people and sachusetts. At the time we filed, those with HIV. From 2001 to 2012, she was an attorney with GLAD, a New Eng- no states allowed same-sex couland-wide LGBT legal organization. She is a member of Temple Beth El of Northern ples to marry, previously successe are at an incredibly exciting moment in the movement for marriage equality for same-sex couples in the United States. Since the beginning of 2013, we have seen the United States Supreme Court strike down the core of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and rule on Proposition 8, restoring the freedom to marry in California; three more states enact marriage equality legislation over the course of a few short weeks (after years of work by advocates on the ground); and public opinion polls continuing to show well over majority support for the freedom of lesbian and gay citizens to marry. The story of how we got here reads very much like those of the civil rights movements that have come before: working to change both the law and the hearts and minds of the general public through engagement with every
branch of government, coalition building, and people sharing their own stories with neighbors, relatives, friends, and co-workers— a relentless mixture of labor and progress and setbacks. I became a part of this work precisely because it is the civil rights movement of our time. I grew up
Valley in Closter, New Jersey, where her husband, David S. Widzer, serves as rabbi.
2009: Thea Spyer dies. The documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement is released.
2010: Harvey begins hosting “Family Matters,” a popular Canadian TV talk show.
continued on page 63
2013: The U.S. Supreme Court declares section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor. (Edie, r., with her attorney Roberta Kaplan after arguments outside the Supreme Court.)
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al, I launched myself into a meteoric career. I never lost a trial as a litigator. In 1989 I joined the Ontario government as a junior lawyer; three years later I had become director of Ontario’s child support enforcement agency. Then, despite the fact that I was a well-known member of Toronto’s gay community, I dared to seek an appointment to the judiciary. And in 1995, at the age of 38, I was appointed to the Bench, becoming Canada’s first openly gay judge. Right before my swearing-in ceremony, my mother said to me, “Well, anyone can be a grandparent, but not everyone can say that their son is a judge!” By this time my parents had become advocates for gay and lesbian equality. Still, this was truly the first moment I knew I’d made them really proud of me. It was a cathartic and redemptive moment that still brings tears to my eyes.
’d reached the pinnacle of the legal profession. And yet, I was driven to achieve something even more meaningful. 2009 saw the publication of my book, Tug of War: A Judge’s Verdict on Separation, Custody and the Bitter Realities of Family Court. Detailing how harmful litigation in Family Court is for children, I urged parents in conflict to seek out counseling and alternative ways of resolving disputes, focusing on their children’s needs for peace, stability, and the love of two parents instead of their own desires for vengeance. The book became a national bestseller, and in 2010 a producer invited me to host an online public education talk show discussing the justice system and family relationships, which then got picked up by two Canadian TV networks. Now in its second season, “Family Matters” (familymatterstv. com) is one of Canada’s most popular TV talk shows.
y involvement with gay issues on the national level started rather quietly. When same-sex marriage became legal in Canada in June 2003, a number of prominent LGBT community leaders asked me if I would officiate at these weddings. Tens of thousands of same-sex couples at home and abroad wanted to get married, and there were few options for them. Other than the Metropol-
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ay couples married in Reform temples…congregational outreach to the LGBT community…. Submit your favorite photo depicting LGBT Reform Jewish life, together with a 150-word description, to firstname.lastname@example.org to be included in the Reform LGBT Facebook photo album at facebook.com/reformjudaism.
itan Community Church and the Unitarian Church, virtually no religious institutions in Canada were then willing to preside at same-sex marriages. Although judges are entitled to conduct weddings, and I had done so, this is really not part of our job; we spend our days presiding in court. Still, I felt it was incumbent on me as a gay judge to serve my community. Besides, I told myself, it would be wonderful to juxtapose my courtroom world, where I only saw marriages that ended badly, with marrying happy, loving couples who wanted to be a part of society’s most important institution: marriage. Soon, a website was created to inform same-sex couples of the procedures to follow in order to come to Toronto and get married. I naively agreed to be the “go to” person if they requested an officiant. “Sure,” I said, “give them my court email address so they can make an appointment.” Within two weeks I received 8,000 emails from all over the world! The influx of requests was so great, it crashed the court’s server! Over the course of the next seven years, I would conduct many hundreds of weddings in Toronto, contributing to our city’s becoming Canada’s number one vacation destination for American gay and lesbian couples.
ne of these couples, Edith (Edie) Windsor and Thea Spyer, were truly exceptional. When I married them on May 22, 2007, they had been together for 40+ years and Thea was in the final stages of Multiple Sclerosis. A paraplegic, she required a great deal of personal care, which she received lovingly reform judaism
from Edie in their New York home. Her doctor had told her she was dying, and it was Thea’s last wish to go to Toronto and get married in the little time she had left. Nothing would stand in the way of honoring Thea’s final wish. Taking a trip like this required quite an entourage of medical staff, caregivers, and friends, all of whom devotedly rose to the occasion. For most people, marriage is a beginning; for Edie and Thea it was a culmination—a celebration and affirmation of their deep love, commitment, and devotion. Thea could not put the ring on Edie’s finger or sign the marriage documents alone; someone held her hands and steered her movements. The wedding was profound in a way I have not experienced before or since. Thea died two years later, before the release of Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement (blessblessproductions.com/ ediethea.html). In this documentary about their lives, Thea relayed how she and her family were among the very few Jews able to escape Nazi-occupied Holland, because they had the means to buy their way out. Her family’s ordeal traumatized her. Knowing what it is like to be feared and hated as a Jew, she vowed to never again allow herself to be discriminated against. When she came out as a lesbian and got involved with Edie in the 1960s, the two embraced the fledgling gay liberation movement. Today, at age 83—drawing strength from the memory of Thea’s love and her own indomitable spirit—Edie Windsor is the Rosa Parks of the gay movement, a symbol of perhaps the last great civil rights struggle in America. She challenged the federal inheritance tax laws which required her to pay $363,053 in inheritance tax after Thea’s death. Had Edie been married to “Theo” instead of Thea, she would not have been subjected to this tax. She asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the discriminatory Defence of Marriage Act so that all federal laws that currently apply to opposite-sex couples will be upheld for same-sex married couples in those states which allow same-sex marriage—and she prevailed! We navigated this terrain very differently in Canada. Rather than first go for marriage, which is such a lightning continued on page 63
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N IO UN R FO RM FO RE
M IS DA JU
The RJ Insider’s Guide to COLLEGE LIFE
• The Top Schools Jews Choose
• Finding a Jewishly Vibrant Campus
by Number & Percentage (p.36)
The New Criteria (p.39)
• The Top 3 Mistakes Applicants Make
• Does School Choice Impact Future Income?
& What To Do Differently (p.31)
What the Research Reveals (p.44)
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INSIDERâ€™S GUIDE TOCOLLEGE LIFEPERSPECTIVE Perspective 100 A conversation with Mitchell B. Reiss, President, Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland
might like something you donâ€™t imagine you would. Finding your purpose in life is what a great undergraduate experience is all about. The best colleges help students find that passion. I believe a liberal arts institution can do this better than any other model on the planet.
What is the best advice you can give a high school student whoâ€™s deciding on a college and a career?
Youâ€™re not going to be very successful or very happy unless youâ€™re really enthusiAbout a third of young astic about what youâ€™re doing. people are getting jobs If you donâ€™t yet know where in industries that didnâ€™t your passion lies, take a cue JOCELYN FARO, WASHINGTON COLLEGE CLASS OF â€™16, PERFORMS exist 10 years ago. How from the French, who have the AT THE GARFIELD CENTER FOR THE ARTS. do you educate stuexpression, â€œThe appetite comes with the eating.â€? In other words, in ent courses. This is one of the great advan- dents for jobs that donâ€™t yet exist? You teach them transcendent skill higher education you can sometimes find tages of a liberal arts education: it allows sets, the most important of which is your passion by taking a variety of differyou to try different courses and see if you
Photo by Karly Kolaja; Cover photo of Universit y of Mar yland Hillel students by R lstevensphotography for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
Begin with Passion
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how to think critically, dissect, and analyze situations. Communicating effectively both in writing and in speech is another essential skill we emphasize. We also stress that possessing these skills is necessary but not sufficient; students also need to develop the moral courage to speak up when they believe something is wrong. Take some of the great mistakes over the last decade— the BP oil disaster, the Penn State sex scandal, the presumption of WMDs in Iraq—in each instance, individuals knew that something wasn’t right or
that misstatements were being made, but nobody spoke up and it led to disaster. In teaching the importance of ethics, integrity, and character, we hope that our graduates will go out into the world with the discernment to make judgments for themselves and the moral courage to act on them by speaking up even when it’s unpopular to do so. Graduates of art-focused schools rack up the most debt. Should students choose a more marketable career option?
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As I said, students should follow their passion, but they also need to think practically. A great way to do this is a double major, with one major in the arts and a second in a more commercially attractive field. So be a music major, for example, but also study business or economics or biology. At Washington College, we’ve put more resources into career counseling and services, helping students map out their years with externships and summer internships, and connecting them with devoted alumni, so they become highly competitive on the job market. It’s paying off: More than 90% of the students in our last two graduating classes who were seeking work have found jobs. I also think it is wrong for schools to burden families and students with more debt than they can manage. To help our students graduate with as little debt as possible, we provide generous financial aid packages wherever possible and advise families about state and federal funding sources. Our track record is extremely good; over the past decade, only one student has defaulted on a loan. Since becoming president in 2010, you’ve taken signiﬁcant steps to make Washington College an inviting place for Jewish students. What prompted you to expand the Jewish presence on campus?
My aim has been to make the college a more inviting and welcoming place for all students regardless of background, ethnicity, or religious tradition. Perhaps, though, it was a little easier for me, given my own Jewish background, to move quickly in rolling out programs that would attract Jewish students. And even before I arrived on campus, a number of Jewish alums who knew I was Jewish urged me to make the college more welcoming to Jewish students than it was in the in the 1950s and 60s, when there were very few Jews and those who were on campus felt isolated. We talked about starting a Hillel House, and within a very short period of time we were able to raise the money. It opened in spring 2012 and has been a great success. Also, a dynamic young faculty member took the lead on developing our study abroad program in Israel—and our students got to hear the
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candidates for prime minister debate in Jerusalem this past January. A Jewish alum, Roy Ans, has also underwritten a fellowship that provides funds for a student research project related to the Jewish-American experience. I believe these are among the reasons why about 10% of our 1,450 students are Jewish.
Experience NYU’s Global Network New York University is an afﬁrmative action/equal opportunity institution.
Advantages of Studying with NYU OQuality academics and
Your Hillel House makes a big point of inviting non-Jews to events.
Yes. The goal is to encourage students to get to know, talk about, and appreciate each other’s cultures and traditions. I know of at least one Muslim student and several Christians, some of a mixed religious background, who are regulars at Hillel events.
internships, and community service placements ORelationships with local
universities OCultural engagement OGuaranteed housing
How do Jewish values inﬂuence your thought and work?
OFull-time, supportive staff ODay trips and weekend
I grew up in a Jewish home that revered learning, knowledge and social justice, and I carry forth these ideals. My conviction that we must all stand up against injustice has been shaped by ethical Jewish principles. And I bring my Jewish heritage into my life and work in
excursions OScholarships and ﬁnancial aid
Stay Local or Go Global Located midway between New York City and Boston and just 8 miles north of New Haven, unlimited options for culture, work and play await. Or take advantage of our opportunities to study abroad at places like Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University and Haifa University.
We’ve got class Small classes, a focus on academic excellence, plus top rankings in U.S. News & World Report as well as the Princeton Review’s Best 377, are just a few of the reasons to choose your education at Quinnipiac University.
Hillel: A Campus Tradition Hillel provides an opportunity for students to continue their Jewish life while at school. With a full-time rabbinical presence, hosting dinners, services and more, Hillel at QU is the perfect place to meet new friends and celebrate old traditions. To learn more, contact Rabbi Reena Judd at Reena.firstname.lastname@example.org. ARTs AND SCIENCEs | Business | Communications | engineering | Health Sciences | nursing | Education | Law | medicine
Quinnipiac offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and 20 graduate programs to 6,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students. Classes are kept small and taught by outstanding faculty in state-of-the-art facilities. Plus our expanded 600-acre, three campus suburban residential setting with modern housing, vibrant recreation and Division I athletics makes for a unique and dynamic university. Visit www.quinnipiac.edu, email email@example.com or call 1-800-462-1944.
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EXPLORE & CELEBRATE
ILLINOIS Â&#x;Â¨ÂĽÂ’Â&#x;ÂœÂŚÂ§ÂœÂ”Â˘Â Â Â¨ÂĄÂœÂ§ÂŹĹ™Â–ÂŞÂœÂŚÂ› Â–Â’ÂĽÂĄÂœÂĄÂ™Ĺ™ Â˘ÂŚÂ›Â–ÂĽÂœÂĄÂœÂĄÂ™
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other ways. For example, one of the great benefits of being president of Washington College is getting to live with my family in a grand old presidentâ€™s house built in 1743. On its front door is a mezuzah I bought at the Yad Vashem gift shop in Jerusalem. Iâ€™m reasonably certain that the house never had a mezuzah on the front door until Elisabeth and I got here. In 1783, George Washington made a donation to the college bearing his name. How do you think heâ€™d react if he came back and saw the mezuzah on your door?
I think heâ€™d approve. After all, in his famous 1790 letter promising sanctuary to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, President Washington proclaimed: â€œTo bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistanceâ€Ś.â€? Those values resonate as much in the 21st century as they did in the 18th century, and they provide a beacon for the College and our students to this day. â€”Mitchell B. Reiss, President, Washington College, Chestertown, Maryland
Core Contacts he RJ Insiderâ€™s Guide to College Life is a collaborative project of Reform Judaism magazine and Hillel: The Foundation of Jewish Campus Life. To read a digital edition of the College Guide on computer or iPad and email individual articles: reformjudaismmag.org. To learn about Reform college programs, visit urj.org/college; for Reform Israel college programs, call 212-650-4070 or visit rjisrael.org. For additional information about Jewish life on hundreds of campuses, visit Hillel at hillel.org/guide to access Hillelâ€™s College Guide, which provides the following information for each college Hillel serves: number and percentage of Jewish students, full description of quality of Jewish life, direct links to every Hillel, and more.
T BECOME A JAYHAWK 6IBRANT *EWISH POPULATION ON CAMPUS s !CTIVE *EWISH GREEK LIFE 4HRIVING (ILLEL WITH HUNDREDS OF PARTICIPATING STUDENTS *EWISH 3TUDIES MINOR AND (EBREW COURSES
KUHILLELORG +5 IS AN %/!! INSTITUTION
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INSIDERâ€™S GUIDE TOCOLLEGE LIFEADMISSIONS Admissions 100
Getting In: What the Experts Say What are the top 3 mistakes students make when applying to college, and what should they do differently to increase their odds of getting in? Gael Casner, College Find, Greenbrae, CA (UC Berkeley Certificate in College Admissions and Career Planning, creator of â€œCollege Find Newsletter,â€? HECA* president 2013â€“14, NACAC, WACAC):
Mistake #1: Not balancing your application list. Make sure to apply to a few â€œreach schools,â€? meaning very competitive schools where many capable students are denied admission; a handful of â€œtarget schools,â€? where your GPA and test scores fall within the mid 50% of applicants; and at least two â€œanchor schools,â€? where your
academic profile places you within the top 25% of applicants. To calculate your admissions chances at each school of interest, go to collegedata.com, then click on College Chances. Mistake #2: Not setting aside enough time for the college application process. Itâ€™s overwhelming to deal with 10 or 12 applications at once; instead, set aside time every week through the fall to complete them. Mistake #3: Not printing/previewing your application before pushing â€œsubmit.â€? One student I know submitted her application without pushing the save button on significant final corrections, and didnâ€™t learn about the mistake until it was too late. Another student mistakenly uploaded an older version of her essay with corrections and comments from me in red, then
sent it out to five early action collegesâ€” another consequential error. If you build in time to complete your applications before the deadline, youâ€™ll be able to conduct a final, careful review of your work. Heath Einstein (Director of Freshman Admission, Texas Christian University; Former Director of College Counseling, Solomon Schechter School of Westchester):
Mistake #1: Applying to the wrong colleges. Dismissing all but the Ivy League schools or those ranked in the top tier according to US News & World Report is terribly misguided, because what someone else deems important about a school can be wholly unimportant to you. For example, if you want to major in architectural engineering,
Doug â€™14, New Jersey, Middle East Studies major; Sarah â€™15, California, Policy Management major; Greg â€™15, Connecticut, Economics major; Hannah â€™15, Maryland, American Studies major
s ILTON " !SBELL #ENTER FOR *EWISH ,IFE SPONSORS A VIBRANT (ILLEL CHAPTER IN ADDITION TO AN )SRAEL GROUP KOSHER COOKING CLUB MENS GROUP AND MANY OTHER ACTIVITIES
s 7 INNER OF 0HILIP ( AND 3UZI 2UDD #OHEN #AMPUS OF %XCELLENCE !WARD FROM (ILLEL 4HE &OUNDATION FOR *EWISH #AMPUS ,IFE s 3 TUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS AT 4HE (EBREW 5NIVERSITY OF *ERUSALEM 2OTHBERG )NTERNATIONAL 3CHOOL "EN 'URION 5NIVERSITY AND THE *EWISH 4HEOLOGICAL 3EMINARY
s /NE OF THE lRST LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES IN THE 53 TO OFFER A MAJOR IN *UDAIC STUDIES s 3 TAR + CERTIlED KOSHER MEALS SERVED IN THE $INING (ALL FOR LUNCH AND DINNER
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s www.dickinson.edu s ADMIT DICKINSONEDU reform judaism
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HEED THE CALL OF GOOSE NATION. www.washcoll.edu
W A S H I N G T O N
A TOP LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION A VIBRANT JEWISH EXPERIENCE
C O L L E G E
Come to the University of Richmond, where our innovative campus rabbi and director of Jewish life is fostering a dynamic community. • Celebrate the holidays and Shabbat and take part in social action and cultural events with Hillel. • Study abroad at the University of Haifa or one of our short-term, multifaith travel intensives. • Minor in Jewish Studies while studying business, leadership studies, or the arts and sciences.
good choices are schools with majors in that discipline, such as the University of Miami and the University of Kansas. Mistake #2: Applying to too many colleges. Today, it has become normal for students to apply to a dozen or more schools. Doing so enables colleges to boast to their Boards of Trustees about record numbers of applicants—but it harms individual students. As applications increase, admission offices have greater difficulty predicting who will actually accept their offers, and therefore increasingly gauge students’ interest when making admission decisions. Many colleges ask students to list all of the schools to which they are applying. Students who are otherwise worthy of admission are often placed on waitlists because colleges are reluctant to offer precious spots to those who appear to have unclear intentions. You would be wise to carefully choose the four or five schools that suit you best and at which you have a strong chance of admission. Mistake #3: Being a stealth applicant, whose first point of contact with a college is your application. You have not visited campus (officially), met with the admissions representative during a high school visit, interacted with the alumnus at the local college fair, or anything else that would indicate to an admissions office that you are seriously interested in the school. Even if you learned about the college by taking a virtual online tour, the school will still regard you as having demonstrated little interest—with undesired ramifications. At many schools, if a college receives applications from two students at the same high school with similar credentials except one has “demonstrated interest” and the other is a “stealth student,” the first student is considerably more likely to receive an offer of admission. Most colleges recruit regionally, meaning there is one staff * Key to Consultant Organizations HECA: Higher Education Consultants Association IECA: Independent Educational Consultants Association NACAC: National Association for College Admission Counseling NJACAC: New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling WACAC: Wisconsin Association for College Admission Counseling
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member responsible for all applicants from your high school. Find out who that person is and send him/her an email indicating your interest. At many colleges, this, along with other forms of contact, will be placed into your file. Updates every couple of months will keep you on the representative’s radar. Wendy Kahn, Wendy Kahn College Consulting, LLC, Highland Park, IL (UCLA College Consulting Certificate, HECA*, IECA Associate Member):
Mistake #1: Failing to consider your personal learning style when deciding between schools. Do you want opportunities for class discussion, smaller classes, and ongoing interaction with professors? Do you think you’ll get better grades in smaller classes? If so, a small school may be the best fit for you. Do you want the greatest possible range and variety in course offerings? Do you prefer to soak up knowledge in lecture classes? Are you considering a specialized major that may not be available at a small school? If so, a larger school may be the right choice for you. Mistake #2: Focusing on superficialities in building a college list. According to a new report (freakonomics. com/2013/01/29/college-as-countryclub), colleges attract more applicants by spending money on “consumption amenities” such as luxury dorms and state-of-the-art climbing walls than they do by investing in academics. Similarly, colleges always see a surge in applications after they win national sports championships, and every year some students choose their school because it’s in a warm climate. But remember: You’re going to be a student Monday through Friday. Academic quality/fit is the goal, not weather, athletics, or amenities. Dr. Michele Hernandez, President, Hernandez College Consulting, LLC, Weybridge, VT; Co-President, Application Boot Camp, LLC:
Vibrant Jewish campus life
Borns Jewish Studies Program www.indiana.edu/~jsp
More than 4,000 Jewish Students X
Top Jewish Studies Program Incoming freshman scholarships up to $20,000 Deadline: Monday, January 27, 2014 www.indiana.edu/~jsp/undergraduates/ funding_freshmen.shtml X
Very Active Hillel X
Strong Israel Overseas Program X
Big IU NFTY Alumni Network
Connect. Celebrate. Study. Travel. Dine. Enjoy social events, Shabbat and holidays, building a community, Judaic study programs, birthright trips and study abroad in Israel, kosher meal plan and more in a welcoming urban environment.
Mistake #1: Applying based on the “hope and a prayer” theory of admissions. At your high school, review the Naviance software scattergrams, which show all college applicants from the last few years graphed by SAT score and
Office of Admissions admit.indiana.edu
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USC Hillel Birthright trip
A PROUD TRADITION. A VIBRANT COMMUNITY.
Ranked #11 among â€œTop 60 Schools Jews Chooseâ€? by Reform Judaism magazine Jewish students at USC find: R5*#,#./&5(5/.#)(&5-/**),.5.",)/!"5#&&&5(5"8 R5)#&,.#)(-65-*#&50(.-5(5(.1),%#(!5)**),./(#.#-8 R52*(5%)-",5#(#(!5)*.#)(-8 R5")&,-"#*-65#(&/#(!5."5*,-.#!#)/-5 1#-"5 ,-"#*5")&,-"#*651),."5qgh6kff5*,53,8 R5Äť55")"5)/(.#)(5 (-.#./.65 )/(5355,/-.5.0(5*#&,!5(50).5.)5)&&.#(!5 55(5*,-,0#(!5."5.-.#')(#-5) 5)&)/-.5-/,0#0),-8 R55$)#(.5"&),]-5!,5*,)!,'5(5-*#-)/,--5)Äż,5.",)/!"55(5,15(#)(5)&&!8
Discover why you should choose USC. USC Office of Admission BhgiC5mjf7gggg5 1118/-8/I/!
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GPA, to see how you stack up against students at your high school. Also study the GPAs, scores, awards, and achievements of accepted students. At top colleges, grades, test scores, and academic achievements/awards trump all else. If you have a B average and 600 level scores, even if you are a champion chess player, you will not get into Harvard. Mistake #2: Waiting until the last minute to request recommendations. Ask your teachers for recommendation letters at the end of junior year or the very beginning of senior year. Popular teachers get dozens of requests, so by deadline time their letters often become hurried and impersonalâ€”the antithesis of what you need to stand out. Mistake #3: Failing to pay for and send test scores from the College Board website. Some colleges wonâ€™t consider applications unless they receive official SAT, Subject Test, ACT, and AP score reports from the testing agencies, and your school will not send your scores. Sign into your account on collegeboard. org and send the scores five weeks ahead of the application deadline. Carolyn P. Mulligan, Insiders Network to College, Summit, NJ; Board of Counselor CATS for the University of Arizona (IECA*, NACAC, NJACAC, HECA):
Build cultural connections among a community of scholars. visit: apply.jhu.edu
Mistake #1: Applying to the most popular colleges and universities. About 80% of qualified students apply to 20% of the schools. If you look beyond the â€œusual suspectsâ€? and apply to great schools in other states and regions, it may turn out that a couple of those schools are looking for a student from your area to complete their demographic objectivesâ€” and that precious acceptance letter might soon be on its way to you. Mistake #2: Trying to fit yourself into a college or university in which you really donâ€™t belong. I call this â€œthe Cinderella syndrome.â€? Donâ€™t be like the stepsisters who tried to fit into someone elseâ€™s shoe. You need to fit the college, and the college needs to fit you. What hard lessons have Jewish students encountered on campus and how can they be avoided?
Wendy Kahn: One of my students was unhappy at her highly selective, reform judaism
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small liberal arts college. She’d chosen this school in part because of its relatively high Jewish population, but on campus she realized that although the “bodies” were there, the community and programming she expected were not. Worse, the broader campus culture did not suit her—too preppy, too party; she felt like a fish out of water. She transferred to a mid-sized university with a more vibrant Hillel and a campus culture that fit her. She was happy and successful there. So, when evaluating Jewish life at a college, look beyond the demographics and investigate what’s going on that matters to you. Would you like an active Israel advocacy group? Reform services every Friday night? An Israeli dance group? Don’t rely solely on the college website for answers; talk to Hillel staff and student leaders about Jewish life on campus. (Also see “What Makes a Campus Jewishly Vibrant,” page 39.) In addition, make sure you’re comfortable with the broader campus culture. Every college has its own “flavor.” At some schools, weekends are filled with fraternity parties and football; at others, the big weekend events may be a poetry slam and an ultimate frisbee tournament. Talk to students, especially Hillel students, who’ll be candid with you about students’ raves and complaints, the glue that binds campus life, and what it feels like to be a Jewish student there. How can students best narrow down their list of schools?
Gael Casner: Apply these questions to all the schools on your list: 1. What two courses do you really want to take at this college? Research the professors giving the courses. 2. What event on the school’s social calendar would you want to attend if you were on campus this weekend? 3. What club, extracurricular, or community service activity do you want to explore once you reach campus? 4. How easy will it be to get from home to school and back again? 5. How you would spend a day on/ off campus? This exercise will not only help you imagine your everyday life on each campus, it will put you in a great continued on page 47
Ranked #5 in the nation for percentage of Jewish students by Reform Judaism; ranked in the top ten theatre & dance programs by Princeton Review 7 years in a row State- of- the- art science facilities and highly ranked science/premedical programs; Jewish Studies among 40 total majors Expanded Hillel Shabbat Dining Room seats over 300 Fully integrated kosher dining under the supervision of the Star- K MEAT and Star- D DAIRY certification Active Learning. Caring Community. Powerful Outcomes. www.muhlenberg.edu 2400 Chew Street, Allentown, PA 18104
Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity Leadership Opportunities for Jewish Men Scholarships and Grants: NFTY Scholarships - USY Scholarships Hillel Grants - Shabbaton Grants - Jewish Endeavors Grants
Our Mission: Sigma Alpha Mu’s mission is to foster the development of collegiate men and our alumni by instilling strong fraternal values, offering social and service opportunities, and teaching leadership skills. We continue to attract members of all beliefs who appreciate our great heritage as a fraternity of Jewish men. Call: 317-789-8338 E-Mail: SAMHQ@sam.org Visit: www.sam.org Follow: SAMHQ
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INSIDERâ€™S GUIDE TOCOLLEGE LIFEADMISSIONS Admissions 101 & 102: The Top 60 Schools Jews Choose* PRIVATE SCHOOLS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Jewish % of Population Student (Undergrad) Population
New York University (New York, NY) Boston University (Boston, MA) Yeshiva University (New York, NY) Columbia University (New York, NY) George Washington University (Washington, DC) Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA) Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY) Tulane University (New Orleans, LA) Emory University (Atlanta, GA) University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA) Brandeis University (Waltham, MA) Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) American University (Washington, DC) Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL) University of Hartford (Hartford, CT) Yale University (New Haven, CT) Washington University (St. Louis, MO) Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) Tufts University (Medford, MA) Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus (Brooklyn, NY) Brown University (Providence, RI) Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN) Northeastern University (Boston, MA) University of Rochester (Rochester, NY) Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH) University of Chicago (Chicago, IL) DePaul University (Chicago, IL)
Jewish Studies Courses
Jewish Studies Major
JAFI/Hillel Israel Fellows
6,000 4,500 3,076 3,000 3,000 3,000 2,500 2,500 2,250 2,100 2,000 1,750 1,675 1,600 1,600 1,600 1,500 1,500 1,500 1,350 1,250 1,200 1,200 1,050 1,000 900 900 850 850 800
28% 28% 96% 30% 29% 23% 25% 19% 32% 30% 11% 50% 25% 23% 20% 15% 33% 27% 25% 18% 25% 22% 20% 16% 7% 20% 7% 29% 16% 4%
70 65 138 25 30 46 50 20 50 61 14 60 40 25 35 15 20 50 60 14 25 0 35 35 38 8 5 23 30 10
Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No
No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No No No Yes No Yes Yes No No No No No No No No No Yes Yes
6,500 6,400 6,000 5,800 5,000 4,600 4,500 4,200 4,010 4,000 4,000 3,600 3,500 3,500 3,500 3,500 3,500 3,500 3,250 3,200 3,1 50 3,000 3,000 3,000 3,000 2,960 2,750 2,600 2,600 2,600
17% 16% 13% 22% 13% 10% 18% 14% 26% 13% 8% 5% 30% 27% 27% 13% 12% 10% 11% 7% 10% 11% 10% 8% 5% 10% 14% 17% 9% 7%
77 50 15 40 80 62 120 60 46 75 30 40 30 43 20 15 25 100 45 100 60 25 25 25 60 30 40 32 50 12
Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No Yes Yes No
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No Yes Yes No Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes Yes
PUBLIC SCHOOLS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
University of Florida (Gainesville, FL) Rutgers University, New Brunswick (New Brunswick, NJ) University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL) University of Maryland, College Park (College Park, MD) Pennsylvania State University, University Park (University Park, PA) York University (Toronto, ON) University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI) Indiana University (Bloomington, IN) Queens College (Flushing, NY) University of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, WI) University of Texas, Austin (Austin, TX) Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ) Binghamton University (Binghamton, NY) CUNY, Brooklyn College (Brooklyn, NY) University at Albany (Albany, NY) Florida International University (Miami, FL) California State University, Northridge (Northridge, CA) McGill University (Montreal, QC) University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ) Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, IL) Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, FL) University of Western Ontario (London, ON) Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI) University of Toronto, St. George (Toronto, ON) Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL) University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA) University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA) University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA) University of South Florida (Tampa, FL)
* NOTES: Estimated population figures and other campus information are self-reported by local Hillels. Contact Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life: 202-449-6500, hillel.org/guide. Col_Charts_f13_be8_singles.idml 36
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& the Top 25 By Percentage of Jews* Student Reform Engagement Worship Interns on Campus Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No No Yes Yes No No No No Yes Yes No No No No No Yes No Yes No
Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes N/A No Yes
Reform Groups/ Events Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No N/A No Yes
top 25 schools by percentage of jews
1 JTS List College 200 Jewish Students, 100%
2 Yeshiva University 3,080 Jewish Students, 96%
3 American Jewish University 110 Jewish Students, 92%
4 Brandeis University 1,750 Jewish Students, 50%
5 Muhlenberg College 750 Jewish Students, 35%
6 Barnard College 770 Jewish Students, 33%
CHANUKAPALOOZA AT QUEENS COLLEGE HILLEL.
7 Sarah Lawrence College 400 Jewish Students, 33%
8 University of Hartford 1,500 Jewish Students, 33%
9 Tulane University 2,250 Jewish Students, 32%
10 Binghamton University 3,500 Jewish Students, 30%
11 Goucher College 450 Jewish Students, 30%
12 Emory University 2,100 Jewish Students, 30%
13 Columbia University No Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes No No No No No No No No Yes No
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes N/A Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes N/A No Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes N/A Yes Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes N/A No Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No
3,000 Jewish Students, 30%
14 Oberlin College 850 Jewish Students, 29%
15 George Washington University 3,000 Jewish Students, 29% ISRAEL RALLY, CORNELL UNIVERSITY HILLEL.
16 Boston University 4,500 Jewish Students, 28%
17 New York University 6,000 Jewish Students, 28%
18 CUNY, Brooklyn College 3,500 Jewish Students, 27%
19 Yale University 1,500 Jewish Students, 27%
20 University at Albany 3,500 Jewish Students, 27%
21 Queens College 4,012 Jewish Students, 26%
22 Harvard University 1,675 Jewish Students, 25%
23 Wesleyan University 680 Jewish Students, 25% PENN STATE HILLEL STUDENTS CELEBRATE GRADUATION AT THE SCHOOL ARBORETUM.
24 Washington University 1,500 Jewish Students, 25%
25 Tufts University 1,250 Jewish Students, 25%
For Reform college programs: urj.org/college. N/A means information was not made available to Reform Judaism magazine.
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INSIDER’S GUIDE TOCOLLEGE LIFEADMISSIONS Admissions 103
Top 20 Small & Mighty Campuses of Excellence*
FRANKLIN & MARSHALL COLLEGE HILLEL STUDENTS TASTE TEST A NEW RECIPE WHILE BAKING FOR THEIR WEEKLY CAFÉ.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
ALLEGHENY COLLEGE HILLEL SEDER.
Allegheny College (Meadville, PA: Private) Colgate University (Hamilton, NY: Private) College of Charleston (Charleston, SC: Public) Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA: Private) Elon University (Elon, NC: Private) Franklin & Marshall College (Lancaster, PA: Private) Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Geneva, NY: Private) Kenyon College (Gambier, OH: Private) Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA: Private) Lewis & Clark College (Portland, OR: Private) Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, CA: Private) Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT: Private) Trinity College (Hartford, CT: Private) Union College (Schenectady, NY: Private) University of Guelph (Guelph, ON: Public) Ursinus College (Collegeville, PA: Private) Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA: Public) Washington and Lee University (Lexington, VA: Private) Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA: Private) Williams College (Williamstown, MA: Private)
Jewish Population (Undergrad)
% of Student Population
Jewish Studies Courses
Jewish Studies Major
85 400 700 250 400 370 175 275 800 100 250 350 300 350 800 150 1000 80 235 200
4% 15% 7% 10% 7% 15% 10% 17% 17% 5% 5% 15% 15% 16% 5% 9% 3% 4% 10% 10%
10 10 10 15 32 15 10 5 29 2 10 12 10 20 0 2 5 5 3 10
No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes No No No Yes No Yes No No No No No Yes No
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life has selected these 20 campuses with smaller Jewish populations (listed here in alphabetical order) as “mighty” based on these criteria: innovative Jewish programming, a growing Jewish population, a dedicated professional leader, demonstrated university support, and a commitment to serve Jews of all backgrounds. In addition, many actively recruit to attract Jewish students. For more information: hillel.org/guide
GO DEEPER WITH HILLEL’S COLLEGE GUIDE
he college years are life-changing, and choosing a campus community that reflects Jewish values can play a major role in your future direction. Here and on pages 36–37 you’ll find information about the top schools by Jewish population, by percentage of Jewish enrollment, and by small and mighty criteria. This is a starting place—now go
deeper to research the right campus for you. To help you, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life has launched its improved College Guide. At Hillel.org/guide you’ll: Discover Jewish life at each college in text, photos, and videos Learn about student engagement and social action initiatives, Israel study abroad programs,
Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to HIllel, religious services and kosher dining options Compare/contrast Jewish life at up to three schools simultaneously Connect to social media and event calendars Access every local Hillel and directly connect with staff and students there—the key to knowing what a school is really like.
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INSIDERâ€™S GUIDE TOCOLLEGE LIFEADMISSIONS Admissions 104
What Makes a Campus Jewishly Vibrant?
Courtesy of Long Beach Hillel, beachhillel.org
early, as a high school guidance director and president of the Jewish interest group of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, I visit colleges throughout the U.S. to see how Jewish life is changing campus-wide. Iâ€™ve learned that the traditional criteria for what constitutes an active â€œJewishâ€? campus are not always the best; and other Jewish factors you may not have considered can be much more important. In the past, two key indicators of a vibrant Jewish presence on campus were Greek life and the availability of kosher food. However, because Jewish fraternities and sororities are open to students of all religions, their numbers are not a good barometer of Jewish activity. Similarly,
having a kosher food option may not indicate a high number of Jewish students, but rather that the college is trying to attract Jewish students. What indicators, then, are more on target today? And what questions should you ask the school?
programming. Organizations such as Hillel have discovered that if they canâ€™t get students into their doors, they can bring Jewish programs out to the students. Through Hillelâ€™s Campus Entrepreneurs BEACH HILLEL STUDENTS AT UC LONG BEACH MAKE A HUMAN MENORAH. Initiative (CEI) program, in 2012â€“13, 308 trained student interns built relationships with uninvolved Jewish peers Jewish Engagement Programs on 48 campuses, helping them explore One of the hottest trends on todayâ€™s and connect to Jewish life on their own college campuses is student-led Jewish
TRINITY COLLEGE H ILLEL UĂŠ7>Ă€Â“]ĂŠĂœiÂ?VÂœÂ“ÂˆÂ˜}]ĂŠÂˆÂ˜VÂ?Ă•ĂƒÂˆĂ›iĂŠVÂœÂ“Â“Ă•Â˜ÂˆĂŒĂž UĂŠ-Â…>LL>ĂŒĂŠ>Â˜`ĂŠÂ…ÂœÂ?Âˆ`>ĂžĂƒĂŠÂœÂ˜ĂŠV>Â“ÂŤĂ•Ăƒ UĂŠÂœĂƒÂ…iĂ€ĂŠ >ĂŒiĂ€ĂžĂŠÂˆÂ˜ĂŠÂ“>ÂˆÂ˜ĂŠ`ÂˆÂ˜ÂˆÂ˜}ĂŠv>VÂˆÂ?ÂˆĂŒĂž UĂŠ>Â?ÂœĂ€ĂŠ>Â˜`ĂŠÂ“ÂˆÂ˜ÂœĂ€ĂŠÂˆÂ˜ĂŠiĂœÂˆĂƒÂ…ĂŠĂƒĂŒĂ•`ÂˆiĂƒ UĂŠ Ă?VÂˆĂŒÂˆÂ˜}ĂŠÂˆÂ˜ĂŒiĂ€Â˜>ĂŒÂˆÂœÂ˜>Â?ĂŠ>Â?ĂŒiĂ€Â˜>ĂŒÂˆĂ›iĂŠLĂ€i>ÂŽĂƒ UĂŠÂ˜Â˜Ă•>Â?ĂŠ ÂˆĂ€ĂŒÂ…Ă€Âˆ}Â…ĂŒĂŠĂŒĂ€ÂˆÂŤĂŠ>Â˜`ĂŠ>ÂŤÂŤĂ€ÂœĂ›i`ĂŠ ĂŠĂŠĂŠĂƒĂŒĂ•`ĂžĂŠ>LĂ€Âœ>`ĂŠÂˆÂ˜ĂŠĂƒĂ€>iÂ? UĂŠ/Â…iĂŠ<>VÂ…ĂƒĂŠÂˆÂ?Â?iÂ?ĂŠÂœĂ•Ăƒip>Â˜ĂŠÂˆÂ˜Ă›ÂˆĂŒÂˆÂ˜}ĂŠ ĂŠĂŠĂŠÂ…ÂœÂ“iĂŠ>Ăœ>ĂžĂŠvĂ€ÂœÂ“ĂŠÂ…ÂœÂ“i UĂŠ/Ă€ÂˆÂ˜ÂˆĂŒĂžĂŠ ÂœÂ?Â?i}ipÂœÂ˜iĂŠÂœvĂŠĂŒÂ…iĂŠÂ˜>ĂŒÂˆÂœÂ˜Â˝ĂƒĂŠ ĂŠĂŠĂŠĂŒÂœÂŤĂŠÂ?ÂˆLiĂ€>Â?ĂŠ>Ă€ĂŒĂƒĂŠVÂœÂ?Â?i}iĂƒ
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6/27/13 6:36 PM
A dynamic Jewish community at the nation’s leading university for engaged learning. • • • • •
Warm, welcoming and inclusive Jewish community Home-like Sklut Hillel Center opened in March 2013 38 Jewish Studies courses New chapter of Zeta Beta Tau Jewish fraternity More than 8% of students are Jewish
Elon-Hillel www.elon.edu/hillel ELON, NORTH CAROLINA
terms. And since CEI’s inception in 2007, 1,400+ interns across 70+ universities have formed relationships. Some students host a Shabbat dinner in their apartment, inviting disengaged Jewish students to join them with no agenda except to share in the joys of the Jewish experience. Boston University sophomore Andrew Zuckerman, for one, says that having Shabbat dinner with blessings over the candles and the wine in an off campus apartment with more than 25 students is “a much more relaxing environment” than davening at the Hillel House. Thanks to a URJ-Hillel partnership, a Reform Movement CEI intern will now be on nine campuses, each building 60 relationships in the school year, strengthening the Reform community on campus, and sharing Reform engagement opportunities, such as staffing URJ camps and participating in leadership conferences. To find out about Jewish engagement programs on campus, ask the local Hillel and the admissions office. To learn more about the Reform CEI program, contact Lisa Barzilai at the Union for Reform Judaism: 212–650–4081. Campus Clubs
When I was looking at colleges in the late ’80s, Hillel was the only Jewish club— JEWISH STUDIES: THE HUC/USC OPTION
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tudents seeking a Judaic studies program at a private university may wish to consider the University of Southern California, where the Jerome H. Louchheim School for Judaic Studies offers classes in cooperation with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion—the only such arrangement in North America. Courses cover antiquity to modernity, biblical Israel to the contemporary United States, literature to linguistics. The Hebrew program offers four semesters of language instruction.
For more information, visit huc.edu/louchheim or facebook. com/JewishStudiesUSC, email email@example.com, or call the Louchheim School Office, (213) 765-2113.
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the sole option. In 2013 it’s astounding to see the diversity of Jewish clubs, another clue to the Jewish presence on campus. You can find a match not only based on your religious needs, but also on your personal interests, everything from singing to politics. Some national groups, such as AIPAC and American Jewish World Service, have a presence on many campuses; others are specific to the campus. At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, the Jewish clubs include Meor, which offers a weekly three-hour class with different speakers; Jewish Renaissance Project, which runs experimental, cutting-edge programs; and the Shabbatones, an a cappella group that performs both on and off campus. At University of Michigan there are 20 homegrown Jewish student groups—not even counting the ones Hillel spearheads.
University of Chicago students join a community that’s all about ideas. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you’ll ﬁnd a place that allows you to take chances, express your thoughts, and discover your passions. The award-winning Newberger Hillel Center, UChicago, and a multitude of Jewish student organizations support a diverse array of Jewish communities that allow students to explore being Jewish in social, ethnic, spiritual, and myriad other ways.
Another question to ask is whether the university has forged positive relationships with Israeli universities—an indicator of its underlying stance with regard to the Jewish state. For example, University of California at Irvine, which has engendered considerable negative press for its Apartheid Weeks and pro-Palestinian speakers on campus, has also forged connections to four Israeli universities, “opening the door to a wide range of research collaborations, faculty and student exchanges, conferences, and workshops that deepen UCI’s ties to Israel,” says Lisa Armony, executive director of the Rose Project of Jewish Federation in Orange County, which works to enhance Jewish life on Orange County college campuses. “And when faculty and students have direct interaction with Israel and Israelis, it can leave a lasting imprint on how they view the country, its people, and their contributions to global society.” In addition, inquire whether the school participates in the Israel Fellows program run through Hillel and the Jewish Agency in Israel. Today, 70 North American campuses are partnering with post-Army Israelis, who help strengthen college students’ relationships with Israel by bringing their own experiences, knowledge, and peer counsel directly to campus. Shai Kartus, a sophomore at Binghamton University, describes her school’s Israel felcontinued on page 43
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www.depauw.edu Jewishly Vibrant Campus continued from page 41 low who works in the Hillel building as a friend who “goes to coffee with students and helped me a lot in planning my semester abroad in Israel.” Israel Sentiment
For some Jewish students, a key factor in choosing a college hinges on whether it has “Apartheid Weeks” and other anti-Zionist protests. Some students may not be comfortable attending a campus where these types of activities are part of the culture. To understand the level of disturbance you can expect on each campus, be sure to ask about the prevalence of
anti-Israel protests such as Apartheid Week and how the school handles them, because university codes of conduct vary in regulating such events. Many schools, for example, protect the First Amendment rights of students who participate in these events, while at the same time defending the rights of other students on campus not to have to experience anti-Israel demonstrations. In some cases, such as University of California at Irvine, these protests are relegated to a more secluded area of campus, making it unlikely that a student who does not wish to see them will pass by unintentionally. Asking these questions can help you decide for yourself whether this campus meets your personal level of tolerance for such incidents.
FUNDING REFORM PROJECTS ON CAMPUS
ake advantage of Men of Reform Judaism’s Reform on Campus (ROC) grants. You can apply for up to $500 for a single Reform event, such as a camp-style Shabbat and dinner, or up to $750 for a series of events, such as a cultural celebration series. For the 2012–13 academic year, the Men of Reform Judaism awarded 31 grants totaling nearly $17,500, according to Steven Portnoy, MRJ secretary and chair of the Reform on Campus Committee. For more information: facebook.com/reformoncampus reform judaism
University Support of Jewish Life
Explore the university’s course offerings. Schools with Jewish Studies majors and minors, as well as Hebrew language and Jewish religion courses, are more likely to be places with vibrant Jewish campus life Also, some schools go above and beyond to accommodate Jewish students’ needs. For example, at Muhlenberg College, classes are cancelled for Yom Kippur and professors are understanding of students’ religious commitments on other holidays. ♦♦♦ So, if you consider Jewish life on campus an important part of a well-rounded university experience, inquire about Jewish-related happenings important to you. The college decision is likely the biggest one you’ll be making in your life to date—so make it well. —Gary Berger, director of Guidance at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School and president of CAJUE, the Jewish special interest group of the National Association for College Admission Counseling
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INSIDER’S GUIDE TOCOLLEGE LIFEADMISSIONS Admissions 105
djusted for inflation, young college grads today earn less than their counterparts did a decade ago.
A Good Financial Investment?
So, is college still a good investment— measured not in naches and intellectual growth, but in dollars and cents? Yes. Even in hard times, the chances of getting a job are greater for college grads. In March 2013, the unemployment rate for those over age 25 who only had a high school diploma was 7.6%. For those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, it was 3.8%. You don’t need to master calculus to understand that math. And for people with jobs, those with B.A. degrees make more money—a lot more, on average. The typical worker— the one in the statistical middle, with only a high school diploma—earned about $28,000 last year. In contrast, the typical worker with a B.A. earned about $51,500 a year—80% more. Comparing workers of similar age, gender, race, and experience, college grads average 45% more than high school grads. Elite Colleges—A Better Buy?
Does it really matter which college you go to? Not as much as you think. Graduates of the most elite colleges, the ones that parents brag about at cocktail parties and on the back windows of their cars, do make more money than graduates of less elite schools. But is that because these students went to those colleges or because they were smarter or more driven in the first place? Researchers Alan Krueger (now chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers) and Stacy Dale sorted colleges by their students’ average SAT scores and concluded: “Students who attended more selective colleges do not earn more than other students who were accepted and rejected by compara-
ble schools, but attended less selective colleges.” Students’ motivation, ambition, and desire to learn, they discovered, have a much stronger effect on subsequent success than the average academic ability of their classmates. Krueger’s advice: “Don’t believe that the only school worth attending is the one that would not admit you. That you go to college is more important than where you go.” As columnist David Leonhardt put it in a New York Times piece, a student with a 1400 SAT score who applied to the University of Pennsylvania but went to Penn State earned as much, on average, as a student with a 1400 who went to Penn State. Majors Matter
From the perspective of future earnings, a student’s choice of major is more important than where s/he gets the degree. Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce tapped U.S. Census Bureau data to estimate the typical earnings of 171 college majors. “The bottom line,” says center director Anthony Carnevale, “is that getting a degree matters, but what you take matters more.” Petroleum engineers ($120,000/year) make considerably more than early-childhood education majors ($36,000/year). Sociology majors average $45,000/year, economics majors $70,000. Comparing College Costs
To compare the cost of different colleges, a good starting place is the U.S. government’s still-rudimentary College Scorecard website collegecost.ed.gov/ reform judaism
scorecard. Typing in the name of a college will give you what it typically costs (note: the estimate does not apply to those whose family income makes them ineligible for financial aid), the percentage of students who graduate within six years, the loan size for the typical student borrower, and the percentage of students who default on loans. You can also search for colleges by size, programs, location, and more. It’s not a bad starting point if you’re choosing between a very pricey, prestigious college and one that’s a notch down on the prestigious rankings but costs a lot less. And the data can provide valuable warnings—for example, a four-year school from which fewer than half the full-time students graduate within six years deserves some scrutiny. The Education Department says some day it will add data on graduates’ average earnings, although the information will be limited to those who took federal student loans to help pay tuition. For assistance in demystifying the college financial aid process, visit finaid.org, a site started by financial-aid maven Mark Kantrowitz. Also the College Board site bigfuture.collegeboard.org is helpful. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau site consumerfinance.gov/ paying-for-college has a calculator that facilitates apples-to-apples comparisons of student aid offers, and offers tips on comparing loans and grants. Payscale (payscale.com/collegeeducation-value) compares tuition cost to lifetime earnings for 850 colleges and publishes a rate of return on the investment. It says an engineering degree at
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Calculating the True Costs & Beneﬁts of College
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Harvey Mudd offers the biggest long-run payoff. But its estimates rely on salary information furnished by people who fill out a survey on the companyâ€™s website, limiting its reliability. With Lumina Foundation funding, College Measures (collegemeasures. org) is working with state governments to share data about the earnings of recent public university grads. Some information has already been posted. Such efforts to tie school choice to future earnings are controversial, in part because they penalize colleges that send graduates to low-paying jobs such as Teach for America or low-paying careers such as social work, and they reward
schools that turn out bond traders and corporate lawyers. Moreover, these returnon-investment sites also distort the value of education by boiling it down to the size of a future paycheck, rather than, as Harvard President Drew Faust explains, â€œa passport to a lifetime of citizenship, opportunity, growth and change.â€? Thatâ€™s a good reminder. A college education is partly about price: You should get what you pay for. But the true value of a college education is not measured solely in dollars and cents. â€”David Wessel, economics editor, The Wall Street Journal, and a member of Temple Sinai in Washington, DC
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Admissions 106: College Cash 1 Scholarships & Grants The JVS Scholarship Loan Program of the Jewish Vocational Service Agency offers interestfree, need-based loans up to $5,000/year to Jewish residents of MetroWest New Jersey. jvsnj.org The JCCs of North America Graduate Scholarship Program offers full-time students pursuing a masterâ€™s degree in select subjects up to $20,000 if they agree to work for two years at a JCC after graduation. jccworks.com The Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America offers $750â€“$1,500 grants to high school seniors who are direct descendants of members. jwv.org The Central Scholarship and Loan Referral Service (a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh administered by Jewish Family & Childrenâ€™s Service) offers $500â€“$3,000 need-based scholarships to Western Pennsylvania residents. centralscholarship.org The Dallas Jewish Community Foundation offers $400â€“$10,000 need-based scholarships primarily to students from the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth area. djcf.org The Jewish Social Service Agency of Metropolitan Washington offers $1,500 â€“$6,000 scholarships and interest-free loans to Jewish residents of metropolitan Washington, DC. jssa.org
The Jewish Family Service Association offers need-based grants and loans of up to $4,000/ year to Jewish residents in Greater Cleveland. jfsa-cleveland.org The Jewish Vocational Service Agency of Los Angeles offers need-based scholarships of $2,000 - $5,000/year to Jewish residents of Los Angeles County. jvsla.org The Jewish Childrenâ€™s Regional Service offers $2,000 grants and no-interest loans on average per academic year to Jewish undergraduates whose families reside in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. jcrs.org
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2 Lower Cost Loans The Jewish Educational Loan Fund (JELF) provides interest-free, need-based â€œlast-dollarâ€? loans to Jewish students from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. jelf.org Member organizations of the International Association of Hebrew Free Loans offer interest-free, need-based loans. freeloan.org Editorâ€™s Note: For more scholarship, grant, and loan sources, check with the major Jewish organizations in your local community, among them the Jewish Information and Referral Service and the National Council of Jewish Women. reform judaism
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COLLEGE LIFECAMPUS LIFE Campus Life 200
o say that Judaism has been a constant feature in my life is an understatement. I spent eight hours a day in a Jewish day school from kindergarten through graduation, and went to temple every Shabbat. My family was so active in our synagogue, we received its “Family of the Year” award. For some people, this would have been a comforting situation. But I felt suffocated by years of being told to pray to something I simply had to believe in (or, at the very least, be quiet and not interrupt others in prayer), regardless of the fact that feelings of spirituality were non-existent in me. I didn’t believe in any divine force or presence, and never experienced spiritual fulfillment. In Jewish day school, too, I never felt Jewishly connected.
The more Judaism was forced on me, the more I pushed back. I began disagreeing with everySCUBI JEWS HELP TO RESTORE A CORAL REEF. thing just for the sake of having I’M WEARING THE YELLOW GOGGLES. my own opinion. A rift formed between my heritage ocean floor and turned off our flashlights. and me that I thought was unbridgeable. What happened next forever changed my After graduating from high school I life and perspective of the world. traveled the world for a year before setThe water was filled with bioluminestling in to college. I was part of the crew cent organisms that emitted a glow when sailing a 90-foot sailboat around the Brit- disturbed. These organisms can’t be seen ish Virgin Islands, which also doubled as with the naked eye, but when I ran my a mobile, floating, scuba-diving intenhand through the water, they lit up with sive, marine science classroom. One the most magnificent glow I had ever seen, evening, while anchored off the Grenada and left a trail of glimmering light in the coast, we went on a night dive. This was wake of my moving hand. my first night dive; I was ecstatic. We At that moment, everything I had ever were handed high-powered flashlights perceived about spirituality and a higher and jumped into the black water. After being changed. Sixty feet underwater in exploring for a bit, we all kneeled on the the pitch-black night, surrounded by glowing microscopic organisms, I felt closer to God than ever before. The beauty and sheer wonder of what was occurring before my eyes made me realize: Even if there is not a God, there is most certainly something greater than myself—something that allows these unbelievable little creatures to exist. Upon my arrival at Eckerd College in St Petersburg, Florida to study marine biology, I was amazed to learn that its Hillel had the only Jewish scuba club in the nation! I hadn’t expected to involve myself with organized Jewish life on campus, but I also hadn’t imagined that scuba diving could be a Jewish activity. As it happened, Hillel Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, who initiated the Scubi Jew club, had a passion and love for our underwater world equal to mine. So I accepted his invitation to join the club, soon became a dedicated member, and last year was elected its president. I’ve worked hard to bring the club to new heights…or should I say depths. By getting involved with Scubi Jew I came to understand that Judaism is more than prayers, laws, and restrictions; and that other aspects of Judaism could resonate very strongly within me. Once a reform judaism
Photo by Jason Spitz
The Scubi Jew
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month we would go down to Key Largo, Florida and volunteer with the Coral Restoration Foundation (coralrestoration.org, CRF), which grows and maintains tens of thousands of corals in offshore nurseries, and then outplants them on degraded coral reefs. Coral reefs are vital to the functioning of the Earth—they support a great diversity of species, provide food and shelter, and form natural barriers that protect nearby shorelines. Many of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed in the last few decades and/or been severely degraded, particularly in the Caribbean. So the opportunity to work with CRF creator Ken Nedimyer and his team—of which I am now a proud member—has been deeply exciting and meaningful. In fact, the concept of tikkun olam (repair of the world)—or tikkun hayam (repair of the seas) as we like to call it— has taken on a whole new meaning for me. We hear so much about what’s wrong, broken, and irreversible on our planet. Everyone seems so overwhelmed and nobody knows how to help. I had thought in a similar way, until I planted a single coral, and then another, and then another. Then I realized: Our planet may be in red-zone conditions, 98% of our coral reef habitats may be in decline, but I will not stand idly by and watch as the remaining 2% degrades. I will help rebuild our coral reefs one fragment at a time. Nowadays, I have a new synagogue: The Ocean. There I find God, and fulfill the mitzvot necessary to repair the world. I say prayers, but none that you would find in any prayer book. I don’t need pre-written words to express how truly thankful I am; while underwater, my constant mental stream of thoughts is my prayer. I’m always talking to someone down there, expressing my wonder at the underwater life, and I know somebody is listening. Sixteen years of being force-fed Judaism left me empty, but Scubi Jew has shown me another dimension of being Jewish that has kept me from rejecting it all. I have come to love the concepts of tikkun olam, honor of one’s parents (who are very proud of me), and respect for all of creation. I now experience spiritual fulfillment as a Jew—my way. —David Steren, president, Scubi Jew: Eckerd College Environmental Divers
Getting In: The Experts Say continued from page 35 position to answer a common inquiry: Why are you interested in this college? How can high school students stay sane throughout the pressures of the applications process?
Heath Einstein: A couple of years ago the administration of a prestigious independent school bemoaned the fact that students work themselves to the bone just for the “keys to the kingdom.” I responded that the problem is our having instilled the concept of a kingdom to begin with—some sort of Shangri-La to which students aspire. College is not an end point; it is an experience on life’s journey. If students can understand that their self-worth is not determined by whether they get the thick or thin envelope, we begin to create a climate that puts this college maze into its proper perspective. Your choices in college are far more important than your college of choice. Carolyn P. Mulligan: To keep sane in the midst of it all, participate in extracurricular activities because they interest and matter to you, and not because they look good on your application. If you follow your own path and passion in high school, you will likely continue to do so in college, and after. Is it always a good idea for students to go straight from high school to college? When should they consider a gap-year program, a service program, a job/internship, or other alternative?
Heath Einstein: Taking time between the AP-intensive high school years and the career-preparing college years makes a lot of sense. A year living on a kibbutz or volunteering in the Negev while learning Hebrew can be a highly educational and developmental experience that can only enhance the four years to follow. The one downside to taking time off is that when you reengage with your new classmates, you might notice their lack of maturity. After all, they will have just completed senior prom, senior prank, and one last summer of beach bonfires. reform judaism
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Div Etiq THE FATHER OF JACOB INVITES YOU TO CELEBRATE HIS BAR MITZVAH.
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rce ette Divorce can wreak havoc on Jewish and family life. How can we best respond?
THE MOTHER OF JACOB INVITES YOU TO CELEBRATE HIS BAR MITZVAH.
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A conversation with Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher and attorney Marsha Elser about how the emotional, legal, social, ﬁnancial, and spiritual challenges faced by divorced couples play out in the synagogue, and how congregations can respond in caring and sensitive ways
ow prevalent is divorce within the Jewish community, and how does the rate compare with divorce in the general population? Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher (URJ Faculty for Sacred Community, clinical social work psychotherapist): The divorce rate in the Jewish community is the same as in the general population, about 50%. Marsha Elser (board certified marital and family lawyer in Florida, former president of Temple Israel of Greater Miami): Overall that is what I’ve found, although one study by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (religioustolerance.org/ chr_dira.htm) indicates that divorce amongst Jewish couples is slightly higher than among non-Jews.
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Edie: One possible explanation is that even though Judaism strongly encourages enduring family ties, it has never forbidden divorce. The rabbis ruled that when a man marries, he must give his wife a ketubah (marital contract) in which he guarantees a substantial financial settlement if he were ever to divorce her. So while the rabbis acknowledged the possibility of divorce, even on the day of the wedding, they also tried to discourage it and protect wives from abandonment by making it clear that the wife would have to be supported financially by her husband. And while some aspects of Jewish marital law were sexist—for example, it was grounds for divorce if a woman did not bear her husband children (the assumption being that she was barren, rather than he was infertile) and women could not initiate divorce—overall, Judaism allowed many grounds for divorce that favored the needs of the wife. If, for example, a wife was repulsed by her husband, he could be compelled to divorce her because she was not obligated to have sexual relations against his/her will (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Ishut 14:8). Still, in reality, few women would or could avail themselves of such a remedy in a culture that largely frowned upon divorce and in which considerable stigma was attached to being a divorced woman. Marsha: As a divorce lawyer, I have never seen a ketubah enforced in a secular court. So while it may be a recognition that divorce is a possibility, it is not a document that, in a secular situation, can give any comfort to the spouse. Edie: That’s a good point. On the other hand, while the ketubah does not have legal standing, many couples want to continue the tradition in an egalitarian way, signing a ketubah that affirms the promises they make to one another, what each brings to the marriage, and what this lifetime commitment means to them. While this kind of ketubah may not offer financial protection, it expresses the contractual aspects to the relationship, and implies the possibility of divorce should either one or both parties not live up to its provisions. You noted that although divorce is accepted in Judaism, there has been a stigma attached to being divorced. Why?
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Why might the divorce rate be higher for Jewish couples?
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Edie: Divorce goes hand-in-hand with two stigmas in the Jewish community: the failure to sustain family and something being not quite right with the family, perhaps a cheating spouse, mental illness, or a gambling problem. While there is certainly less stigma around divorce today than in the past, the notion still exists within the Jewish community that a successful person by definition is highly educated, capable of self support, and able to maintain a functioning family. Marsha: I believe that the stigma in the Reform community is rapidly diminishing in light of the increased numbers of divorced families. When divorce happens to people we all know, we look at them in a more compassionate way. Do you believe a life challenge such as divorce brings people closer or further away from their religious communities? Edie: It varies; people have different experiences. If the husband and the wife have been active in a congregation, for example, remaining in the same synagogue may not prove comfortable for one or both of them, regardless of how sensitive that congregational community may be. If these individuals are lucky enough to live in a community with another liberal synagogue, both synagogues could play a vital role by facilitating a move by one member of the couple into the new congregation that can be his/her spiritual home.
lso, since married people tend to populate congregations and many synagogues tend to cater to families with young children, both members of the divorced couple are likely to feel less welcome because they no longer fit the norm. In addition, for some, seeing all the married couples is a painful reminder of their own changed status. Their children may also feel less at home, simply because synagogue language tends to be family-centered, e.g. “a family event,” “come with your parents,” etc. Most importantly, there are steps Jewish communities can take to help divorced families experience the community as both an oasis and a path to a new life.
Marsha: It seems to me that today’s kids are less sensitive to such statements as “bring your mom and dad,” because there are so many divided families and because even when a couple is married, quite often only one of the parents will come to the event. However, I see another problem—children being caught in the middle of their parents’ disagreements about religious upbringing. When one parent has Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the other parent has Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and religious school is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, how do you make one parent do what the other parent has set up if they do not agree about religious education, bar or bat mitzvah, and the like? Complicating the matter, sometimes disagreements are really about control issues. Rather than parents looking at religious activities from the perspective of their child’s best interests, they may take opposing positions in an attempt to exert control. Have there been any legal precedents regarding children of divorce partaking in religious activities? Marsha: Oh yes, several cases around the U.S. have addressed this. The issues are complicated because courts must deal with both the First Amendment rights of the parents and the best interests of the child. There is no national rule or standard, and decisions may vary from state to state. Also, much depends upon the nature of the custody awarded—whether sole custody has been granted to one parent, or joint custody (and joint decision-making) to both parents. But, generally speaking, when it concerns children’s
“The challenge is to reach out without suggesting that the person is now in need of pity, the equivalent of saying to a person with a serious disease, ‘I heard about your dreadful diagnosis.’”
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How can congregations address a divorced person’s feeling of being outside the norm? Edie: One way is to post photographs on their websites and in their lobbies that reflect the diversity of family situations—divorced, single parent, grandparents raising children, interracial, gay, lesbian, etc. Another way is changing how a synagogue leader introduces a family event. He or she might say, “Come by yourself, bring a friend, come with a partner, come with your family, bring your grandchild, bring your niece”—language that suggests that the definition of a family event encompasses your bringing anyone who feels like close family to you. reform judaism
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“When moms and dads get on the bimah and congratulate their children, each other, and even the other spouses in front of the whole congregation, what a way to demonstrate moving forward in life.”
participation in religious activities, courts will not interfere with a parent’s First Amendment rights to raise the child in his or her religion—unless the other parent can prove that those religious activities cause actual harm to the child. In the case of Pater v. Pater (1992), the mother, who had received sole custody of the children and was raising them as Jehovah’s Witnesses, asked the court to prohibit the father from exposing the children to his religion, Catholicism. Ultimately, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of the father, saying that a parent cannot be prevented from teaching his religion to his child unless it is proven that doing so would mentally or physically endanger the child. In Munoz v. Munoz (1971), Washington State’s highest court ruled that exposing children to two different religions (Mormon and Catholic) is not harmful in and of itself, and therefore does not justify restricting a parent’s religious activities when he or she is accompanied by the child. The issue of exposing children of divorce to Judaism was addressed in Zummo v. Zummo (1990), in which the court required a Catholic father to take the children to Jewish services (the mother’s religion) while also allowing him to bring the children to Catholic services. The court believed that, because the couple shared joint legal custody, each parent had the right to instill religious beliefs in his/her children. Court cases can vary based upon jurisdiction, facts, and type of custody. The cases I’ve mentioned are just a few examples. Many more can be found in law books or reviewed on websites such as nolo.com/legalencyclopedia/child-custody-religion-29887.html. Should synagogues initiate contact w ith members upon hearing of a marital separation? Edie: Yes, but only with the greatest tact, because most people value their privacy as much as they want support. Some may be relieved by the ending of the marriage because of incompatibility; some may have experienced violence or spousal addiction; some may feel terribly hurt and rejected; some may long to be with a new partner. Most people do not want their entire community and all their kids’ friends to know what happened, and they’re entitled to that privacy. The challenge is to reach out without suggesting that the person is now in need of pity, the equivalent of saying to a person with a serious disease, “I heard about your dreadful diagnosis.” Most people are not going to respond well to that. Even if the intention is positive, it may come across as intrusive, judgmental, or condescending. The best approach, I believe, is to say simply, “I know this can be a tough period for any of us. Many people have found Judaism and our community helpful through a time of change. I’d be happy to talk if you’d reform judaism
like and hope you let me/us know if there is anything you or your family would find helpful now or in the future.” Be prepared to share specific resources, such as a support group, if the person seems responsive. Marsha: I think it’s also really important for a member of the clergy who has had a relationship with the family to step in and say, “I know you’re having family problems. How can I help you?” Just the kind voice, the touch, can make such a difference to a person in emotional need. Edie: I agree that’s the best way in circumstances where the rabbi has had a connection with the family. But when the family does not have this relationship, when a rabbi calls to say, “I understand your family is going through a hard time,” some people may feel deeply pleased and others may take that as “Who told you and what’s it your business?” I would certainly caution against lay leaders making these calls, because for some recipients that can feel like gossip.
nother area where congregations need to be sensitive is the question of dues. Divorce can entail financial changes and sometimes leads to hardship for many families, even those in affluent communities, because living expenses are so high. If a divorced spouse chooses to stay in that community, which most spouses do, paying synagogue dues can become very difficult to sustain. I’ve found that divorced women, especially, feel terrified of becoming impoverished. And then synagogues have an interesting dilemma, because asking a divorced person to submit to dues review can feel like a continuation of the humiliation of divorce negotiation and litigation. He or she may also not want to reveal financials for fear of an ex spouse wanting more, of seeming impoverished, or of anyone else trying to dictate how he or she should spend money. Rather than having to deal with all this, many people will just leave the synagogue. Because of such situations—and others not based on divorce—many congregations are considering alternate dues structures allowing members to pay what they feel they can. Psychologically as well as financially, this communicates a message that a divorced spouse needs to hear: “You belong to this community, whether you can pay or not.” In the best of all worlds, congregations could say to all new members: “It’s our policy that when you are going through a difficult change because of unemployment, career move, unexpected expenses, marital separation, whatever the reason, that you need not provide us with supportive documentation; just know that we’re here to help you through until you feel able to resume.” Marsha: I agree with you 100%. When I was temple president a number of years ago, our temple dues policy reflected my belief that you can’t force fall 2013
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people to spend more money than they’re willing to. Take what they’re able to give, give them the benefit of the doubt, and don’t embarrass them. Author Barbara K. Bundt Bond believes, “When a marriage ends, the synagogue community can in many ways become the other parent.” Do you agree? Edie: I would put it a little bit differently and say that God can be the other parent and the synagogue would be another home, in the sense of extended family. I say this because if the divorced parent expects that the synagogue can fulfill all those roles, it can lead to disappointment. I don’t think any community institution can truly replace a parent, but faith and being part of a caring congregation can help people who harbor guilt about their situation and/or feel wounded to recognize that they belong to a community where there is unconditional love and acceptance and a chance for teshuvah (return). To be able to say, “I am an accepted member of the Jewish people and of this community no matter what” is a very important message. A big area of tension for divorced families can be the upcoming bar/bat mitzvah of the couple’s child. Questions like these arise: “Are both parents equally committed to the occasion? Are the expenses being shared? Is one member of the couple dominating the event?” How is it best for congregations and families to navigate in this often charged terrain? Edie: Note that all of those issues can arise in stillmarried couples, too. And it can be quite challenging to ask people who are divorced to compromise on the very issues that possibly led to the divorce. I’ve seen situations where a mother or father is so embittered by the spouse’s new relationship or the other person’s failure to provide adequate financial support, he or she says, “I don’t want to give an aliyah to my spouse or my former in-laws.” I have seen families hold two bar/bat mitzvah receptions so as not to have to invite one another. I attended one reception where the two former father-in-laws got into a fist fight. To try to avoid such situations, the most important—and most difficult—thing is to convince divorced parents that the child wants the love and approval of each parent, no matter how disappointed the parents may be in one another. The best outcome, of course, is when parents come to recognize bar/bat mitzvah as a moment when both mom and dad can put aside their marital discontents and speak with pride about their child and heritage. At the same time, I believe we need to quit clinging to a b’nai mitzvah ideal that was built for intact families and stop perpetuating the idea that divorced families have to fit into norms not set up for them. In reform judaism
cases when one partner did not remarry and the other did, or whenever parents are uncomfortable standing together, let’s be flexible and sensitive enough not to call up all the parents at the same time for an aliyah while the entire congregation is watching the expressions on their faces—to me that seems cruel. Instead, why not call each parent to the bimah separately to bestow his/ her congratulations and wishes to the bat/bat mitzvah? Or, have one aliyah for the mother and her parents, and another aliyah for the father and his new wife. Marsha: In my 35 years of practicing law, I too have seen people celebrate bar mitzvahs on two different dates in two different places; I have seen fights; I have seen one person refuse to pay anything and the other pay everything. Once people are divorced, there are only two issues: money and the kids. It’s incredible how cruel people can be. This is the area where I believe clergy, counselors, and lawyers can make the biggest contribution— encouraging parents at the time of divorce to think first about the children and include the other parent, because that parent is also part of that child’s life. Don’t get angry and hold back on sharing the school pictures or a birthday party invitation. If your son got an award in school, call up dad and say, “He’s getting an award. Would you like to go? It would be nice if we both showed up.” It’s respectful of your ex’s position as father or mother and teaches the child that “mom and dad are still together in their support of you”— a really important notion that can only be taught to a child by a parent’s actions. These are the everyday things that create the roadmap to how the former couple will treat each other in the future.
y practice is to try to counsel divorced individuals to be inclusive at their children’s celebrations as a means of moving on with their lives. When moms and dads get on the bimah and congratulate their children, each other, and even the other spouses in front of the whole congregation, what a way to demonstrate moving forward in life. And how wonderful it is for the kids to have mom and dad with them on the bimah, just as the parents would have been in an intact marriage. That’s the ideal to which we can aspire.
“Biblical texts offer us the much needed reminder that no modern family is without troubles, lest we think that the seemingly serene families surrounding us are more blessed and perfect than ours.”
Are there other holiday and lifecycle rituals that are particularly difficult for divorced families to handle? Marsha: Weddings come to mind, because both sides have to participate: Who is responsible for the ceremony? Whose rabbi is going to conduct the ceremony? Who will be invited and excluded? Edie: The High Holy Days and Passover can also be painful times. Children are sometimes torn between who they should go with to services and to
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seders. Often a divorced spouse who has not remarried is included in family celebrations, and that is good. But at times it can be tricky, such as when the wife’s family is more happy to have her ex-husband at the seder than she is. Marsha: Because of these and other complications, it’s important to write up at the time of divorce how all the holidays will be handled on the visitation schedule. The kids will know: The first night of Passover I’m going to be with dad’s family this year, and the second night I’m going to be with mom’s family, and
then we’ll alternate the following year. This way there are no unresolved questions which leave the children stuck in the middle amidst turmoil. Edie: Most U.S. states have laws and guidelines for the children of divorced families, and some states, such as Indiana, Utah, and West Virginia, provide calendars. For example, in Indiana and Michigan on even years children will go to one parent on Christmas Eve and on odd years to the other. These rules facilitate adherence by families. It is much easier to have a universal rule that families
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work around than to address each similar situation anew. We are approaching the High Holy Days. How can divorced people use the holiday to help them move forward? Edie: The High Holy Days offer us an opportunity to think of ourselves not only as victims of injustices perpetrated by ex-spouses or partners, but as participants in situations which we might have handled differently and intend to do so going forward. Clergy can also encourage people to forgive and move on by acknowledging that we are harmed and kept bound to the past when we carry bitterness within us. The theme of the High Holy Days is forgiveness, and indeed it is a central tenet of all of our liturgy to try to remember the good and give the benefit of the doubt even when we are aware of past betrayals. In this context, clergy can also specifically address the hurts that come with the end of relationships—not receiving or paying child support, speaking negatively about an ex-spouse or partner to children, etc. Just as our clergy speak of missing the mark within ongoing marriages, they can speak of divorced parents missing the mark in relating to one another. In addition, when we read biblical texts on the holidays, we see that the predicaments and feelings we struggle with have been experienced by many others before us. Take, for example, the blended family of Sarah and Abraham and Isaac and Ishmael and Hagar, where half-siblings and two mothers and a father wrestle with competition, hurt, and love. Although such a text may not present a simple solution to the pain attendant in such situations, it offers us the much needed reminder that no modern family is without troubles, lest we think that the seemingly serene families surrounding us are more blessed and perfect than ours. Marsha: I would like to see more pro-activity. Perhaps a rabbi could ask to speak to the divorced couple together or individually, and say something to the effect of, “You’re no longer husband and wife, but you’re still mom and dad. For the children, can you take a step forward this year so that mom and dad can be together on one or two occasions for a service or a holiday event?”
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In “Divorce as Bereavement: Where Were My Cakes and Casseroles?” (ritualwell.org), Sandra Winicur speaks of divorced individuals as experiencing “the lack of permission to grieve.” Do you agree? Edie: I think that’s true. The most difficult mourning to do is what’s often called “complicated grief,” when we are highly ambivalent about someone. A person who asked for the divorce may still be grieving what she or he hoped to have had in that relationship, the status of being married, the feeling of family togetherness, the scaling down of income and lifestyle, or even the loss of the other person—for whom she or he still has loving feelings but who isn’t the right partner. Congregations can help here by having an end-of-relationship group, a support group of people who have just ended a significant relationship or friendship. And they can speak often from the bimah about how many of us are grieving dashed hopes because of changes in our lives. Marsha: Support groups can be important in helping people get through the grieving process because when a marriage ends, it doesn’t only shatter the relationship between the spouses, but everything—the “you and me against the world,” the Saturday morning tennis games, the Sunday evening dinner at the local diner. Even though people who are divorcing think, “This is what I want,” once they’re really on their own with half the assets and the children to look after, it isn’t as rosy. But, that said, when the Reform congregations in my area tried to establish this kind of support group, even our large congregations got only five people showing up. Edie: That may be because many Jews don’t like to talk among people who know them. It’s usually better to hold such groups in a non-synagogue setting, and to expand the group to include other congregations, even interfaith organizations. I know we’re often loath to do that because we want people to make new Jewish marriages, but most people are happier to be part of a more anonymous group.
It used to be that one parent would have the children and the other would have visitation rights. Today, what’s more common is joint custody, where both parents are joint custodians and their access or time-sharing is written up in the settlement agreement. As part of that agreement, a specified person is no longer the sole decision-maker about how and with whom their children celebrate the holidays. Frankly, when the whole concept of joint or shared custody was being floated around in my state, I was concerned
about it. I thought that one parent had to be in control. But I’ve come to see that it’s led to an overall improvement in how divorced couples relate to one another. That’s because joint custody has forced people to communicate about their kids. It is my hope that congregations will help this process, encouraging divorced parents to talk to and include each other as well as their kids in synagogue events. This can minimize stress on the children and can lead to a more comfortable environment for the whole family.
Is there anything else that can be or is being done to help divorced couples? Marsha: In recent years state custody laws have changed significantly, for the better. reform judaism
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soc ial med ia
Science, Drama, Rockâ€™n Roll To excite teens about Judaism, congregations need to meet them at the junction of their passions and redesign Jewish education to transform passive learning into partnershipâ€”a conversation with Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, Rabbi Paul Yedwab, and Dr. Jonathan S. Woocher.
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onathan, you’ve asserted that “In the 21st century the question is no longer ‘How can we ensure that individuals remain good Jews?’ Today the question educators need to ask is ‘How can we help Jews draw on their Jewishness to live more meaningful lives?’” How can we redesign Jewish education to help young people learn to live more meaningful lives? Jonathan Woocher (senior professional, educational initiatives, Lippman Kanfer family philanthropies; former Chief Ideas Officer, Jewish Educational Services of North America): First, the learner has to be an active partner in the process. Learners are not passive, empty vessels that we are to fill with knowledge. They’re actively making meaning as they learn. This is something all of us do, not something someone else gives us or can do for us. Second, the learning environment needs to allow for authentic relationships between learners and mentor-teachers, either as part of a larger group or one-on-one. As the philosopher Martin Buber taught us: “All real living is meeting.” Connected relationships lead to meaningful learning and life experience. Third, content matters. You cannot derive meaning without rich and relevant content. Note that this content does not have to be exclusively Jewish in nature, but can be interwoven from multiple areas to create new syntheses. An effective educator will work with the individual student’s talents and interests—whether in the arts, journalism, science, etc.—and then infuse it with Jewish ideas,
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“We guarantee that each student between grades 8 and 12 will receive an invitation to participate in 100 high-quality, high-impact Jewish experiences.”
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values, and concepts in a community of peers who are similarly engaged. For example, some students may be very interested in living more sustainably on the Earth. For them, learning about kashrut might encompass rethinking kashrut in a 21st century context: exploring how we slaughter animals, definitions of ethical kashrut and what that means to us, and how our food choices may impact the planet. In the hands of a good educator, learning becomes an opportunity to reevaluate our personal choices. Education leads to action in the world, and then, often, back to more learning.
aul, perhaps the greatest challenge now facing North American Jewish communities is keeping our young students engaged in Jewish life after b’nai mitzvah. Your congregation has a successful engagement program for 14–18-yearolds. How have you achieved that result and what lessons have you learned? Rabbi Paul Yedwab (Rabbi, Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, Michigan): We take very seriously the finding from the 2010 NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) survey that, after their own parents, teens were most influenced by their youth advisors (83%), who beat out their rabbis and cantors by 16 percentage points! The research also shows that youth groups are one of the most effective ways to nurture Jewish identity and involvement in young people, along with day school, Israel trips, and Jewish camping— and it is by far the least expensive. So the very first thing we must do is invest in youth workers. Hiring professional, well-paid, long-term, charismatic youth workers is by far the most cost-effective way to instill Jewish identity in teens. Temple Israel is in the early stages of introducing our “100 Ways In” program. This is our answer to what I call the “winnowing phenomenon” in Jewish education—the general pattern when a family allows a child to drop out after bar/bat mitzvah is that the rabbi, educator, or youth worker calls the young person a few times and, of course, sends a few flyers, but after three, four, five, or six rejections, the teen falls out of the temple sphere. “100 Ways In” guarantees that each student between grades eight and twelve will receive an invitation to participate in 100 high-quality, high-impact Jewish experiences. Some invitations are already being made, such as flyers welcoming participation in our youth group and Israel missions, but many more will be personalized, according to the student’s interests. So, for instance, at the time of a young person’s bar/bat mitzvah, we will make note of the mitzvah projects he or she performed. If, at a later time, our youth group is doing
Previous spread: Drama: Tashatuvango/Shutterstock.com; Food: Mettus/Shutterstock.com; Israel: JudaicaWebStore.com; Adventure: Sey yahil /Shutterstock.com; Social media: Maksim Kabakou /Shutterstock.com; Hik ing: Ljupco Smokovsk i / Shutterstock.com; Music videos: HelleM /Shutterstock.com; Health: Miner va St udio/Shutterstock.com; Sports: Karen Katrjyan /Shutterstock.com; Environment: leonello calvetti /Shutterstock.com; Books: Elena Blok hina /Shutterstock.com; Science: Morphart Creation /Shutterstock.com; Hanging with friends: Raymond Mclean /Shutterstock.com; Photography: Woodhouse/Shutterstock.com; Music: A lexander Kazantsev/Shutterstock.com
radley, you’ve said that we need to reenvision the practice of Jewish education by moving more from a “learned Judasim” to a “lived Judaism.” Rabbi Bradley Solmsen (URJ Director of Youth Engagement): That’s right. “Learned Judaism” is a student having a theoretical conversation about something alien to his or her practice or experience, like discussing the roots of Shabbat in the Torah while sitting in a classroom midweek. “Lived Judaism” is having the young person take part in the actual experience of Shabbat; the learning happens when the grandmother covers her eyes during the candle blessing and the grandson asks “Why?” Judaism is meant to be lived, and the learning naturally follows. And synagogues that are incorporating more experiential learning into their religious schools (see article “Re-imagining Religious School” on page 68) are finding that after b’nai mitzvah, more kids are asking “What’s next?” rather than declaring “I’m done!”
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social action in nursing homes, we will make a personal call to every student who spoke about concern for the elderly and ask, “Would you join us?” Or, when we do a Fourth of July program, we might call up the student who plays bassoon in the orchestra and say, “We really need a bassoonist for the Independence Day band we’re putting together. We do not consider someone “out” until he or she has said “no” to us 100 times.
hat is a very ambitious goal. It must be costly for your congregation to offer so many different options to engage that many young people. Paul: It is costly, and that is why last year we applied for a $250,000 Covenant Foundation grant to fund “100 Ways In.” Unfortunately, although we were the only synagogue-based youth program ever to reach the finals, in the end we were turned down. So we did the next best thing: We leveraged the talents of the adults in our congregation. For instance, when I wanted to offer a filmmaking class to meet our students’ expressed interests, I went to a top-level filmmaker in our congregation. He never would have agreed to teach religious school or be a youth group advisor, but he was willing to volunteer eight weeks of his time to help a group of our students create a high-quality music video. (See it on YouTube, under “Temple Israel Sh’ma.”) The kids loved the experience, and it was very impactful. We co-taught it the first year, so I could introduce the Jewish material, but going forward I hope he will be able to lead it on his own. In addition, we sponsored a youth literary magazine; a Jewish investors club; WJEW, the first Jewish teen radio station; an acting workshop; the teen tefillah (worship) team; a singing group; and a Jewish rock ’n roll band called “Yom Sheini,” which spearheaded a successful effort to raise funds for two children who were tragically orphaned in our congregation. For more ambitious projects, such as a theater production, we will need to raise additional funds, which is the only thing stopping us from engaging many more young Jews who are orbiting around but not yet engaged in the synagogue.
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“After their own parents, temple teens are most influenced by their youth advisors.”
“Learners are not passive, empty vessels that we are to fill with knowledge. They have to be active partners in the process.”
onathan, you’ve written that a way to deal with limited or underfunded programs is to work in partnership with other institutions. Jonathan: I believe that we’ve entered into an era where we need to begin to think beyond individual institutions and consider the different ways we can work together. At JESNA we use the word “ecosystem” as a metaphor for the educational landscape. Ecosystems contain many different species that exist in a variety of relationships within their reform judaism
environment. Despite occasional competition, the inhabitants of healthy, vibrant ecosystems work out mutually productive relationships. Practically speaking, I think synagogues would do well to think of themselves more as platforms than as programmers. Their real strength lies in the relationships they are able to create among their members and in their members’ engagement with Jewish life. However, they’re not necessarily equipped to do all of the different kinds of programming that their members might seek or benefit from. To capitalize on their real strength, synagogues need to see their role within the ecosystem as helping to steward the educational journeys of their constituents by bringing them into contact with educational resources they themselves cannot normally mobilize. In a place like Detroit, for example, where a number of Reform and Conservative congregations are in geographic proximity, these synagogues could cocreate magnet-type programs for Jewish education, and perhaps in other areas as well. Each individual congregation would make its particular area of passion and strength available to a broader population, while allowing its constituents to deepen their Jewish learning in other areas of interest at other congregations. Building on its interests and capabilities, one synagogue might develop a program of intensive Hebrew instruction; another might offer
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an arts-based approach to Jewish education; a third might run a community-wide mitzvah program. Another great model is the Jewish Journey Project spearheaded by the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. Young people and their families design their own curricula or Jewish journeys, and instead of their being taught in one place with one methodology, they learn from teachers recruited from different congregations and parts of the community, many of these instructors teaching in a highly experiential way. Jewish Journeys uses a “scouting model” whereby young people accumulate badges for having attained a certain degree of knowledge or experience. In short, the program interweaves collaboration, innovation, and individualization— three critical pieces of the 21st-century learning environment we wish to cultivate. Paul: Teens want to be involved in something bigger than themselves, and in something bigger than their local temple youth group. They want to be part of a movement! Unfortunately, in Michigan that movement, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. Part of the problem is the diminution of NFTY, which I believe is the result of the Reform Movement’s having divested from youth work on the national and regional levels many years ago. We have essentially left the field. In Michigan, and elsewhere, the Movement is only now beginning to hire full-time youth worker staff—hopefully in time to turn things around. This divestment from youth work is not only problematic for our future; it is also a problem for our present. In the past we depended on teens to lead the adults. Teens were the ones who wrote the music that adults reacted and related to. Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach, which changed adult worship, came from the youth movement. Our liturgical turn back to tradition was spearheaded by NFTY. Teens led us in social action, from the United Farm Workers to the Sudan. You see, when teens are at the center, everything else gets raised up by their enthusiasm and their vision. In addition, NFTY has always been a kind of farm league for HUC-JIR. As NFTY dwindles, the people who are most suited to the rabbinate will not be entering the Reform seminary. If we hope to keep our congregations vital and forward-looking, we need to reverse this trend. Bradley: Paul is absolutely right about the key role of youth in vitalizing the synagogue and our Movement. In my travels and discussions with leaders of Reform synagogues, I’m finding that it’s their youth who are most willing to be creative and try new things. I believe that synagogues that are willing to invest in youth and have youth at the center of their communities will be the most relevant, creative congregations in our Movement. And one of
the key ways to engage youth is to first make sure we are investing in the adults who work with them. To paraphrase Jewish education professor Lee Shulman, our programs will be a success to the extent that they are learning opportunities for our adults as well as our youth.
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“Teens want to be involved in something bigger than themselves... They want to be part of a movement!”
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“We need youth workers who can make temple seem hip at a point in many kids’ lives when it seems like the least attractive place imaginable.”
hat qualities does a youth advisor need to have to succeed at developing positive relationships with our youth today? Paul: I don’t think it is different in 2013 than it was in 1993 or 1973. If you make your synagogue the place to be, they will come. We need people who can help create cool Jewish environments which inspire Jewish learning through high school, college, and beyond. In short, youth workers have to be able to make temple seem hip at a point in many kids’ lives when it seems like the least attractive place imaginable. And once the coolness factor is achieved, the youth worker needs to establish himself or herself as someone who the kids trust and will confide in. Bradley: I would add that teens want to be where they are challenged emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually. I believe we can provide them with something they’re not getting at home, at school, or anywhere else. That’s because the Reform Movement has been built on a commitment to interweaving Judaism into our day-to-day lives in a way that makes the world a better place. Our congregations have the opportunity to help our youth link their big questions to texts, traditions, and practices that will lend meaning to these ageold struggles. They are safe places where our youth can find out who they are while building meaningful relationships and making vital contributions to their communities. Jonathan: We also need to be very cognizant of the fact that teens lead rich, complex, and busy lives. We’re dealing with the whole person, not just the Jewish piece. Teens are sexual beings, and they’re grappling with who they are as emerging young men and young women. There’s an important role for synagogues to play in the process of young people venturing out, exploring, challenging, and questioning themselves and the world in very profound ways. We have to respect and encourage that questioning and challenging. Teens can spot a hypocrite in a minute—and they’re always testing. At the same time they need a home base, a place they can come back to, a place with their friends where they can be themselves. The real challenge and opportunity is to weave Jewishness into this whole process of human development. And the more we understand that the playing field is not just the specific field of Jewish identity, the more opportunities we will have to have a real impact on young people’s lives.
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...Road to Marriage Equality continued from page 23 ful litigation in Hawaii and Alaska had been undone by constitutional amendments, the Vermont legislature had just invented civil unions to avoid having to extend full equality, and DOMA had been on the books for five years. The landscape was hardly hospitable, but the public conversation had already begun about who LGBT people and families are, and the real harms they experience by being denied the protections, obligations, and recognition that only marriage provides. After the groundbreaking Goodridge decision, the opposition was immediate, both locally and nationally. Opponents began multiple (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts to prevent marriage licenses from being issued and to amend the Massachusetts Constitution, 13 states passed amendments to their state constitutions in 2004 alone, and President George W. Bush called for a federal marriage amendment in his State of the Union address. For four years, Massachusetts stood alone as a marriage equality state, but slowly the tide began to turn. Courts led the way, with positive rulings in California and Connecticut in 2008, followed by Iowa in 2009. Though there have been steps backward along the wayâ€”Prop. 8 undoing the courtâ€™s ruling in California and the unseating of the Iowa Supreme Court justices, to name just twoâ€”the movement has achieved marriage equality victories in legislatures (Washington DC, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota), and at the ballot box (Maine, Maryland, and Washington). With the Supreme Courtâ€™s rulings in June, same-sex couples are again able to marry in California, and the federal government can no longer deprive married same-sex couples the thousands of federal
â€œWifeâ€? & â€œWifeâ€? continued from page 24 rod emotionally and religiously, we gay activists decided to leave marriage to the end and win rights incrementallyâ€”if you were denied survivor benefits when your partner died, we brought a lawsuit; if you couldnâ€™t get on your partnerâ€™s den-
spousal protections. Though short of marriage, six other states provide broad protections for same-sex couples as well (Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, and Hawaii). This is truly a remarkable change in a very short time. The progress has required engaging every facet of our society in the conversation about why marriage matters: making the case to courts, elected officials, government agencies, and community leaders; voting for candidates for public office who share the commitment to equality; engaging media to tell the stories of same-sex couplesâ€™ love and devotion, as well as the harms and indignities they face; and pooling our strength with allies and supporters. I have been so proud of the Reform Movementâ€™s leadership on this issue to ensure that supportive voices of faith are part of the conversation, which includes participating in litigation as a â€œfriend of the court;â€? the testimony of Reform clergy before legislative bodies; and the courageous LGBT Reform Jews who have come forward to show how their love and commitment is harmed by being excluded from marriage, among them Marsha Shapiro and Louise Walpin, plaintiffs in Lambda Legalâ€™s New Jersey marriage equality case, and Rabbi Michael Latz and Michael Simon, who have shared the extraordinary ordinariness of their life with their daughters Noa and Liat throughout the legislative efforts in Minnesota. Much more work is still to be done. Even with these advances, other aspects of discrimination against the lawful marriages of same-sex couples remain. More than half of U.S. states still have constitutional amendments prohibiting marriage equality. Furthermore, the fight for marriage equality is but one part of a movement for the civil rights of LGBT people. But we are clearly on the right track and ready to continue the work.
tal or health plan at work, we brought a lawsuit, etc.; if you were fired because you were gay, a lawsuit. We kept winning. And after we got as many rights as we could, we went to the courts and said, â€œListen, youâ€™ve given us everything else. Why canâ€™t you treat us equally for marriage?â€? Finally the courts ruled: yes, love is love, itâ€™s unconstitutional to deny this reform judaism
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ometimes it’s hard to believe how much progress I’ve witnessed in gay rights in my 56 years. Even when I became a judge in the ’90s, I never imagined that same-sex marriage would be a reality; now we have had it in Canada for 10 years, and now in America the legal marriages of same-sex couples must be given equal status under federal law. Nonetheless in the USA opponents of same-sex marriage continue to insist it is a threat to traditional heterosexual marriage. I respond: “Tell me what possible damage you think gay people could do that straights haven’t already done to the institution of marriage. It wasn’t gay people who created a 50% divorce rate. You turn on the media and you’re looking at movie stars who shrug marriage on and off as if it were a pair of underwear. Some celebrities have gotten married for all of 10 minutes, and some, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor, were married multiple times—it wasn’t gay people doing that.” I do not believe that gays and lesbians are going to be any better or any worse at marriage than straight people, because the success of a marriage isn’t about the sexual orientation or gender of the parties, but about all the things that go into making a loving relationship. Since Canada legalized gay marriage, the divorce rate among gays and lesbians is exactly the same as among heterosexual couples. Being equal means having the right to make the same mistakes as everybody else. Put simply—and no one should understand this better than we Jews—civil rights are not just about the law, and they’re not just about rights; they’re about human dignity. We were all made in God’s image. When we discriminate against and hurt each other, we hurt God. And that is why—whether we’re gay, straight, or plaid—this issue needs to matter to us all.
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group of people the right to get married to whomever they want. And by the way, they’ve already got all these other rights anyway; what difference does it make? That said, I firmly believe that ultimately same-sex marriage will be legally sanctioned in America nationwide. No civil rights movement in the U.S.—whatever the minority—has ever failed.
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OF REFORM JEWS
Stephen M. Sacks: Photograph by Marshall H. Cohen
CHAIRMAN’S PERSPECTIVE Connect via URJ Communities The URJ has initiated a new approach to engaging our congregations with each other and with the Union, as outlined below in this report from our URJ Community Implementation Task Force. I am hopeful that the URJ’s role as connector and convener in different geographic communities will better serve our congregations and our Movement: Lately the URJ has been doing a lot of listening to lay leaders and congregants, clergy and other professionals, and URJ staff throughout North America. We’ve learned that our congregations want greater connection to one another and to the Union, lay leaders want to better understand how the Union can help serve them, the URJ needs to be more collaborative, and in all these endeavors, face-to-face contact is essential. In response, the URJ Board has adopted a new organizational structure for lay leadership interaction. Called URJ Communities, it is designed to bring lay leaders of our congregations together in 36 locally-based geographic units to share common challenges, knowledge, and best practices; to create a greater sense of community; and to provide real, personal connections between congregations and the URJ. Each URJ Community team will be “run” by a team of local trained lay leaders: a community chair, who will coordinate the community’s work; a vice chair for presidents, who will convene temple presidents meetings at least once a year; a vice chair for community building, who will organize community-wide programs/meetings; a vice chair for affinity groups, who, along with the chair, will facilitate sharing within the community; and a Congregational Network staff member, who will work in partnership with the lay leadership. All URJ Community teams will have common, measurable goals and undertake an evaluative process to work toward continued improvement. Oversight, coordination, and quality control will be handled by URJ Districts. A district chair will oversee the URJ Communities within each district; a nominating vice chair will work with the URJ Community chairs to identify potential nominees to the North American Board; and a small congregations vice chair will convene at least one small congregations meeting or kallah each year. URJ Community chairs and vice chairs will also convene at an annual district leadership kallah and participate in ongoing teleconferences. A staff advisor from the URJ Congregational Network team will serve as a resource and advisor providing direct support, information, and services to Community team chairs, congregational leaders, and professionals. But ultimately the lay leadership will be responsible for bringing presidents together and hosting kallot and community-building gatherings. The first URJ Community began its work in early July. Others will be rolled out in the coming months. Building on the vision of URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and the North American Board, this new structure is designed to truly involve our lay leaders in the tachlis work of strengthening our congregations and the Union. It aims for a true creative partnership that inspires individuals and nurtures dynamic, compelling communities of sacred purpose. I look forward to sharing more details with you as the URJ STEPHEN M. SACKS Community unfolds. Stephen M. Sacks, Chairman, Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees reform judaism
QUOTABLE Regret vs. Guilt “Among Jews, the concept of regret is often confused with the concept of guilt. But they are not the same thing. Guilt can create paralysis; regret creates redefinition. Guilt can be stunting; we beat ourselves up reliving a moment again and again. Regret stretches us to be better, greater versions of ourselves. The High Holidays enable us to incorporate our regrets into our lives as gratitude and motivation: We’ve learned, we’ve grown, and we continue to become.” —Charles R. Krivcher, member of Congregation Ohabai Sholom, Nashville, in Welcome to the Front Row
Shofar Blasts: Metaphors of our Lives “If the blasts of the shofar are meant to remind us of crying, (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 33A), then I would offer the following: There are times when we are like a teruah, terribly broken. We may be suffering physically and not know how we will get well or survive the pain. We may be suffering emotionally. Perhaps we have lost a job or a loved one. We ask, “With all of this pain, does God care about me? Is there even a God?”
continued on page 69
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OF REFORM JEWS
ACTION Re-envisioning Religious School To learn about kedusha (holiness), clay, rocks, and flat blue marbles—the 4th and 5th graders at Temple Beth Sha- latter representing ponds in their prolom (TBS) in Needham, Massachusetts posed meditation garden. (tbsneedham.org) are watching a video Finally, the day arrives when the children, beamcreated by ing with the architect pride, present chosen to to their parrenovate TBS’ ents and the building. synagogue’s Channeling architectural “Mission committee Impossible,” it multiple begins, “Your models of mission, their ideal should you synagogue— choose to featuring, accept it, is to SIXTH GRADE STUDENTS AT TEMPLE MICAH, among other design a new WASHINGTON, DC MAKE MATZAH IN 18 MINUTES. elements, synagogue Torah scrolls, a ner tamid (eternal light), filled with holy spaces.” Next up are and an Israeli flag. “The adults were “G-dcast” YouTube videos detailing the Torah’s instructions to build the Mishkan blown away,” says Jewish learning guide (portable sanctuary built by the Israelites (aka teacher) Sheira Rosenfield (photo #1; see previous page). “Here were 4th in the wilderness), complete with mateand 5th graders explaining why handirials (gold, silver, precious gems, acacia wood, linen, etc.) and holy objects (such cap ramps and a vegetable garden make as the ark, lamp, and menorah). The kids a synagogue more holy.” In another kedusha project, children are riveted: they want to know how this in the same classes wrote and illustrated sanctuary was built because they are their own blessings—which they then going to design one themselves. The students visit other synagogues, turned into “Pocket Blessings,” a calendar app, available from the iTunes store. churches, and an Islamic Center, and TBS began piloting experiential, also query parents, clergy, and temple project-based learning in two 4th grade members: “Should there be a separate classes last year. In two years, its kinderroom where kids pray?” “Do we need more handicap ramps or seats?” “What garten and 1st grade populations have was the temple like a long time ago, tripled, and TBS has now expanded this when you were kids?” Responses are learning paradigm to K-5. “When we recorded and tallied. Students then disused traditional teaching methods, our cuss what they want and need in a syna- kids weren’t connecting what they gogue, understanding that there must learned in synagogue to their lives outbe an element of holiness to everything. side the synagogue,” says Rabbi Todd If they include snack machines—which Markley. “Now that they are producing they want to do—they need to offer a something Jewish for use in the real Jewish ethical value that supports havworld, they are starting to understand ing access to snack food. how and why Judaism matters.” After each student chooses whether ♦♦♦ to work on the interior, exterior, or overall building design team, the teams draw Last Sukkot, students at Temple De up blueprints and create 3D models Hirsch Sinai in Seattle and Bellevue, using paint, fabric, cardboard, sequins, Washington (tdhs-nw.org) learned reform judaism
about the holiday by running around the social hall and constructing with food. They’d received checklists of the characteristics of acceptable sukkot (“booths” symbolizing the temporary structures the Jewish people lived in during the Exodus), and sped from drawing to drawing of different sukkot posted around the room, analyzing which ones were “kosher.” Then they built individual sukkot out of graham crackers, pretzel sticks, fruit snacks, and frosting. Their Passover learning was just as much fun. Grades K-2 competed in a plague relay race, each team filling a bucket with “blood” (water dyed red), racing with spoons carrying “lice” (white rice), and doing leap-“frogs” across the room. Grades 3–5 received baskets of foods such as matzah, canned fruit, cream cheese, and icing, and, following the protocol of the TV show “Chopped,” raced to create the best tasting, best looking, most matzahcentric dishes—all in just 25 minutes. “We’ve designed a camp-like program for children to learn while having positive experiences of Jewish life,” says Jordan Magidson (photo #2), associate director of Congregational Learning. “We approach each grade’s curriculum through media kids love, such as video, TV shows, sports, games, dance, music, and art. If kids have positive memories of Jewish learning, they’ll want to learn more.” ♦♦♦ To learn about feeding the poor and giving thanks for food, 3rd–6th graders at Temple Beth Ami (TBA), Rockville, Maryland (bethami.org) ground wheat into flour using coffee grinders, millstones, and mortars and pestles and then recite the Motzi (prayer thanking God for bread). Later, faculty members baked their flour into bread to be donated to a local shelter. “The children were taken aback by the small amount of flour they produced after expending a huge effort to grind
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Photo by David Shuk iar
wheat,” says Director of Education Kim “We try to push the limits of creRoberts (photo #3). “The program began ative and diverse Jewish engagement,” with a skit by employees of nearby Roberts says. “Every child has a differKayam Farm laying out the steps ent way of connecting—some love required to produce wheat—preparing Torah study, others, cooking or art—so the land, planting, and harvesting— we build an environment where kids and the next day several children told can find their spark, their personal conme they couldn’t believe how much nection to Jewish life. When parents work went into making a loaf of bread. report that their children want to come They gained a new appreciation of the to religious school, and smiling chilwork that goes into making food.” dren tell me that they didn’t know reliTBA’s educational model emphasiz- gious school could be fun, it makes me es three diverse learning experiences: feel we’re doing something right.” classroom learning, experiential learn♦♦♦ ing, and family learning. Upstairs, children practice Hebrew, their Torah porA cacophony of voices fill the tions, and trope in traditional classroom large social hall at Temple Adat settings; downstairs, they participate in Elohim (TAE) in Thousand Oaks, CA experiential learning, such as creating a (adatelohim.org)—conversation, work of art based on a favorite passage laughter, singing in different keys and from their Torah portion. An art instruc- registers. On a typical Tuesday evetor teaches them ning, about 70 micrography pre-b’nai mitz(microcalligravah students and phy): to write the about 50 of their words they’ve post-b’nai mitzselected over and vah tutors, or tzoover, in tiny block fim (“scouts”) Hebrew letters, gather for a dinwhich together ner of pizza or produce a drawpasta, followed ing of a Jewish by peer-to-peer CARLY SHUKIAR TUTORS BAT MITZVAH object such as a tutoring in STUDENT NATALIE ALKAZIAN, TEMPLE ADAT ELOHIM, THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA. Torah scroll or Hebrew prayers. Star of David. All “Organizing this artworks are framed and displayed at is about 10 times the work of our prethe synagogue before being taken home vious system,” says David Shukiar as keepsakes. “This way,” Roberts says, (photo #4), who serves as TAE cantor. “children personalize part of their “We carefully match and monitor each Torah portion and seal it in their memo- relationship, to make sure the personry both through repetition and seeing it alities and skills work well together. displayed.” As part of family learning, But it’s worth it—the kids are learning 200 fifth graders and their parents took more Hebrew prayers than ever. We an imaginary trip with their families to have long asked students to learn at “Destination Israel”—eating hummus, least 16 of 25 blessings, the last of olives, Israeli cookies and chocolate; which, the Ashrei, was rarely mastered. learning Israeli dances taught by a proToday, most students lead all 25 fessional Israeli dance instructor; and prayers, including the Ashrei. They’ve experiencing army life by being put become friends with their peer tutors, through physical and verbal drills by an and want to do well to please them.” IDF officer. And teams competed in Peer tutoring has had a significant locating Israeli cities by placing cards impact on TAE’s post-b’nai mitzvah with the city names on a giant “walkretention—now nearly 100% for the able” map of Israel. continued on next page reform judaism
QUOTABLE from p. 67 And there are times when our pain may seem more manageable. These are the times of shevarim, the three short blasts [of] partial brokenness. I might have lost a loved one, and am now beginning to reconstruct my life. And then there is the tekiah, the whole note. These are the times when I feel whole, well, in good relationships with others and with God. This brings us to the last sound of the shofar: the tekiah gedolah, the very long blast. It is the sound of vision, reminding us that wherever we are in our lives, things can become better. We are never to be satisfied with what is, but, rather, to actively seek what ought to be.” —Rabbi Fred Guttman, Temple Emanuel, Greensboro, North Carolina, on rj.org
Letters continued from page 7 take an hour detour to Arazan. He agreed, and upon our arrival promptly arranged for us to meet with Harim, the property’s local Berber caretaker for the past 50+ years. Harim tied his donkey to a telephone pole, joined us in our jeep, and led us to the abandoned old Jewish quarter, where we reflected on the miracle of our people’s sojourn and survival in this remote corner of the world. Back on the road, Mustafa was quite pleased that his knowledge of Jewish life in the region had enabled him to facilitate this surprise visit for us. Eager to show us the origin of his information, he reached into his pocket and unfolded a wellworn copy of his source. I glanced at the article in amazement: Reform Judaism, Winter 1995! Karen Sobel Miami, Florida MUSTAFA HOLDS RJ.
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ACTION continued from page 69
Tornado & Flood Relief The URJ’s Tornado Relief ($100,000+ to date) and Alberta Flooding Relief funds are assisting victims of these natural disasters. (The URJ takes no administrative fees.) To make a donation: urj.org/relief.
remainder of 7th grade and 60% for 8th grade, up from about 10% in the fall of 2008, before the program began. “By transforming the private process of studying prayers into a communal one, we gave the older kids a reason to stay,” Shukiar says. “When kids become tzofim, they become essential; they have a valuable role to fulfill and an important place in the synagogue community. The problem we now have is one we never anticipated: too many volunteers.”
ReformJudaism.org— Jewish Life in Your Life The URJ has launched Reform Judaism.org, offering both affiliated and unengaged
Jews such interactive content as a video introducing Reform Judaism, “Ask a Rabbi,” search Jewish baby names, find a mohel/mohelet, connect to a congregation, go to a Jewish event near you, send a free holiday e-card, discover articles on a broad range of Jewish topics, and delve into Reform commentaries on any Torah portion. Visitors can suggest recipes, blog posts, and events to be added to the site calendar. Journey to Citizenship Last March, Argentina-born Rabbi Claudio J. Kogan, MD, MBE, MEd stood before Federal Judge Ricardo Hinojosa at Temple Emanuel, McAllen, TX to take the oath of U.S. citizenship. TAKING THE OATH Following OF CITIZENSHIP. the ceremony, he told this story to the congregation he now serves as rabbi: “I first came to this country in 1993 while I was in my
♦♦♦ How can a congregation transform its religious school program to capture the hearts and minds of Jewish youth? Here are expert tips: 1. “Consider scrapping the old school paradigm of learning in a classroom with rows of desks facing a teacher,” says Rabbi Todd Markley of Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA. “Kids want to get up and move around. When you give them the freedom to use their pent-up energy, they’re more likely to enjoy the process, get involved, and want to learn.” Last Passover, Assistant Director of Education Vanessa Harper (photo #5) taught Ha Lachma Anya—“This is the bread of affliction”—from the haggadah to fifth, sixth, and seventh graders at Temple Micah, Washington, DC (templemicah.org) through a matzahmaking mission symbolic of the Israelites’ experiences of affliction in Egypt and haste during the Exodus. “According to halachah (rabbinic law), the entire process may not exceed 18 minutes, from the moment the water hits the flour to when the finished product is removed from the oven,” Harper says. “The children had to mix, knead, roll, poke holes in and bake the matzah, in those 18 minutes. I added an element of ‘affliction’ by assuming the role of stern taskmaster, yelling at them to work faster, and throwing back unsatisfactory pieces. When they later complained that I wasn’t mean enough, I knew they enjoyed it.” reform judaism
2. Engage the entire community in youth education transformation. “We began by asking lay leaders, faculty, parents, teens, educators, and professional staff to articulate a vision for excellence in Jewish learning for pre-school through grade 12,” says Rabbi Markley. “Then, with our ‘Vision for Excellence in Learning’ in hand, our professional education team researched best practices of dynamic learning environments, everything from Jewish camps to Montessori schools. Now our parents, staff, and community support the temple’s initiatives, and because they represent the ‘audience’ for the students, the children know their accomplishments are significant.” 3. Integrate camp-like experiential learning. “Many adults who are Jewishly engaged identify summer camp as a source of positive, formative Jewish experiences, so it makes sense to apply the model to religious school,” says Alan Edelman (photo #6), associate director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, who co-created a Sunday school alternative at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah that combines a two-week student summer camp session with family Shabbat and holiday programs year-round. He points out that “Jewish camping experiences can be particularly effective replacements for traditional learning, since most goals for Jewish education are about behaviors practiced in a living environment.” 4. Reimagine Hebrew education. Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz, senior director of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and B’nai Mitzvah Revolution consultant, advises starting Hebrew language learning in a new way. “While for decades we’ve taught Hebrew via decoding—no understanding expected—humans learn our first language by listening and reacting. A number of congregations have found success by beginning instruction with Hebrew Through Movement (HebrewThroughMovement.org), where children first learn to respond to basic action commands (stand, jump, walk, point) and then they engage with objects. There is also more emphasis
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on reciting prayers and blessings. So, once students learn the words for ‘candle’ (ner) and ‘to light’ (l’hadlik), they find themselves suddenly understanding l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat (’light the Shabbat candles’). It’s like a secret code has been unlocked!” David Shukiar recommends involving teens as peer Hebrew tutors because “children and teens relate better to their peers than to other adults. They will try harder to learn Hebrew, and enjoy it more, when coached by a peer.” Rabbi Daniel Septimus of Temple De Hirsch Sinai has found that “children learn more quickly in small, informal chavurah-style groups in each other’s homes.” The congregation is providing a teacher for any group of three to seven kids who wish to study Hebrew at one of their homes. “While this costs parents about 30% more because of the higher teacher-student ratio,” he says, “the 25 offsite students are learning faster, perhaps in part because more advanced students are coaching their peers.” Rabbi Daniel Zemel of Temple Micah in Washington, DC recommends individual tutoring via Skype. “Each of our third graders has a oneon-one 15-minute weekly session with a private tutor via Skype; in 4th grade, a second 15-minute session is added,” he says. “Our kids learn more at home on their computer spending just 15 minutes a week, once or twice a week, with an individual tutor than they do in 90 minutes with a group. In individual sessions, each child can proceed at his or her own pace.” 5. Teach what children want to learn: “The former public school model of classrooms, desks, and textbooks does not attend to our lives in the 21st century,” says Dr. Evie Levy Rotstein, director of the HUC-JIR New York School of Education. “To actively engage children, we need to respond to their questions, explore what matters most to them, and invite them to be part of the Jewish community.” Recognizing that children want to learn about themselves, Central Synagogue (CS) in Manhattan (central
synagogue.org) helps young learners to acknowledge their uniqueness through a series of family ceremonies which mark their progress along individual Jewish journeys. In 4th grade, students begin recording their personal journeys in a journal; parents also tell the stories behind their children’s English and Hebrew names, and together they make “My Name Is…” T-shirts with Hebrew names on the front and acrostics on the back (each letter of the name representing a personal characteristic, such as N-neat; A-athletic; T-tall; E-excellent). Fifth grade students, parents, and clergy co-design a brit (sacred covenant) committing to their personal journeys; sixth graders and parents immerse themselves in learning at a weekend retreat where parents present children with their Torah portion booklets in front of the entire community. This personal approach to Judaism has had demonstrable results: Since 2010, CS religious school enrollment has increased by 20+%, and Confirmation class size has skyrocketed by 60+%. 6. “Experiment, and don’t be afraid to fail,” says Dr. Isa Aron (photo #7), co-director of the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution (bnaimitzvah revolution.org), a joint URJ—HUCJIR project that is partnering with 14 Reform congregations which are experimenting with new approaches to b’nai mitzvah preparation and observances, and will be offering the fruits of that learning to other congregations. “If you’re afraid to fail, it will prevent you from taking risks or making the big changes that are sometimes the most beneficial,” she says. “Take the freedom to explore new models. Then you can evaluate what works best and build on that. The key is to use what you learn from experiments to constantly realign your vision. And if things really don’t work out, you can always start over.” —Julie Schwartz, a freelance writer, public speaker, licensed New Orleans tour guide, and president of the New Orleans Chapter of Hadassah reform judaism
NOTEWORTHY from p. 70 fourth year of medical school in Buenos Aires. Three years later I returned to New York City to begin studying to become a mohel. In 1999, with the help of Women of Reform Judaism, I returned to America with a student visa to enter rabbinical school at HUC-JIR. After my ordination in 2003, I went on 13 job interviews without success. No congregation wanted to hire me, because of my “heavy accent” and my “being overqualified”—I was a rabbi, medical doctor, and mohel who held a master’s degree in education and two master’s in Hebrew letters. With the economic meltdown in Argentina, I was desperate to stay in America, but it was starting to look hopeless. My visa would soon be expiring, and U.S. immigration laws had become increasingly restrictive post 9/11. Then, on the very day my visa was to expire and I would have to return to Argentina, Rabbi Bennett Miller of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ offered me a position as a rabbi educator, leading a Hebrew school attended by 300+ children. As a result, I received a religious visa and, later, a worker permit. When I sought a green card, I learned that Anshe Emeth, like many other congregations, did not have 501c3 status, which the U.S. government requires for nonprofit organizations to sponsor a new immigrant’s green card. Anshe Emeth took this step, and I received my green card in 2007. Today, March 24, 2013, marks the 37th anniversary of the Argentina military junta’s revocation of its citizens’ freedoms. What an honor—to become on this anniversary a citizen in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’”
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MY IDEA Let’s Uplift Our Synagogue Language
mercial enterprise. Words matter. They shape reality. And so, my recommendation is to Consider: Using male language replace “membership” with the Hebrew enshrines a worldview of “mankind” in word chaver. which women are present, but “other.” The term literally means “friend” Calling a barrier in Israel a “fence” or a (remember U.S. President Bill Clinton’s “wall” reveals more about your politics farewell to than it does about Israeli Prime the object. Minister The same kind Yitzchak of linguistic framRabin at his ing applies to funeral— words used in our “Shalom religious commuChaver?”). nity. When, for The plural example, we refers to speak of “memfriends or bership,” what are people conwe implying, nected in expecting, and CHAVERIM (MEMBERS/FRIENDS) AT KIBBUTZ YIFTAH, a shared promising? GOLAN HEIGHTS, ISRAEL, 2008. enterprise. To many of us, In Israel the the word evokes term is also used for “member,” as in images of clubs and cliques, of who is in and who is out. It also has a commer- kibbutz and Knesset members (“chevrei kibbutz, chevrei Knesset”). cial undertone, implying a fee-for-serOther Hebrew words with the same vice transaction. Is that what congregaroot as chaver also imply uniting or tions truly want to convey? I think not. The fee-for-service model bringing together. Chevra means sociinvolves a direct quid pro quo, an evalua- ety, a chevruta is a study partner, and a chavurah is a small group of people— tion of value, an expectation of instantaoften within a synagogue—connected neous fulfillment. Instead, our relationship with our congregational community by common interest. Also related is machberet, a notebook, whose pages should be deep, subtle, soulful, even are “bound together.” revelatory in the slow unfolding of time. If we were to call ourselves chaverim And so I suggest we replace the word (the plural of chaver), I believe it might “membership” with a term that might inspire us to see ourselves differently: as serve us in a more holistic, holier way. The English choices, I’ve discovered, a sacred society, as friends engaged in a shared venture, as study partners on our are quite limited. “Builders” seems too focused on the physical. “Owners” rais- individual Jewish journeys, as inheritors of a storied past working collectively to es issues of entitlement and tangled shape a chosen-together future. leadership—especially in a communal context in which we are supposed to be, ♦♦♦ at least partially, called to serve, beyond “Dues” is another word we use that the sovereign self. “Partners” implies a merits rethinking. It implies something shared vision, but also sounds like the we owe rather than a covenant, partnerlanguage of a law firm or other comreform judaism
ship, or shared stake in a values-based vision. It is impersonal, does not imply a relationship we wish to build, and has a punitive connotation—think of the library book we are still reading which is “overdue.” Its English synonyms—“fees,” “subscriptions,” “assessments,” “excises,” “levies,” “duties,” “obligations”—are no better at suggesting a kind of sacred commitment or connection from which we draw meaning in our lives. Here again, I believe a Hebrew word is our best alternative. At first this term may be unfamiliar to some of us, but with repeated usage, once strange words can quickly become second nature; just think of “fax” or “google.” I recommend that we replace “dues” with “terumah” (or, in the plural, “terumot”), meaning “offering.” Deriving from the same root as “to lift up,” terumah also has a powerful historic echo: The very first “synagogue building fund” (for the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, as described in the Book of Exodus) is called terumah. I like how this term is predicated on the idea that everyone is expected to lend a hand, but that different people will contribute in different ways. Today’s communities depend on many different kinds of contributions—skills and time as well as funds—and we must honor all levels. Also, some who pay a lesser amount may be contributing a higher percentage of income. Everything given to build a holy community lifts us all. Let us, then, be chaverim, intimate friends engaged in the building of a sacred community. And let our terumot, our offerings, lift us up, individually and all together. —Michael L. Feshbach, senior rabbi, Temple Shalom, Chevy Chase, MD
Photo by Stephen Lee
by Michael L. Feshbach
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