JEWISH GIVING: THE ART WHAT WORKS OF CHANGE
Summer Summ Su mmer er 22014 0144 01
BERLIN JEWS J EWS W WITH ITH H HOMECOMING DISABILITIES DISABILITIES
A Un U Union i n fo io forr Re R Reform fo o rm m Judaism J ud u aii sm s m (URJ) ( UR R J) J Publication P ub ubli lii ca cati tion ti on $5 $5.00 $5.0 .000 .0
Jews & Tattoos Som Some me Jews Jews iink nk their theeir bbodies odies tto o express express their their commitment commitment to to Judaism. Juddaissm. Jewish Jew wish tradition traditiion is is surprisingly surprisinngly nuancedd on on the the practice. praacticce.
Heb Hebrew: e rew: “II Lov L Love e You” Y
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A BENEFIT OF YOUR MEMBERSHIP IN A URJ CONGREGATION JEWISH LIFE 5 Portrait: Scott D. Reich 7 Jewish Journeys: The Education of a Confirmed Scoffer / Wesley Hopper 11 Judaica: Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show / Jonathan Greenstein 12 Teen Talk: My Hero Mack / Carlin Coffey 14 Jewish Thought: The Secular Jew Who Transformed Judaism / Barry L. Schwartz 16 Yizkor: Remembering Through Forgetting / Shoshana Boyd Gelfand 17 Inner Life: At Home with the Homeless / Deborah Solomon Baker 18 Philanthropy: When You’re Connected, You Give / interview with Shawn Landres 20 Education: What Do You Know…About Burial & Shiva? / Susan Esther Barnes 23 Parenting: The Peer Effect / Ned Porges 24 Travel: Berlin—The Home I Never Imagined / Ruth H. Sohn
49 COVER STORY
28 Jews & Tattoos Some Reform Jews express their Judaism by inking their bodies; others make equally Jewish decisions not to be tattooed. Jewish tradition is surprisingly nuanced on the matter.
FOCUS: THE ART OF CHANGE 36 A Leader’s Guide to Change / interview with Ronald Heifetz 37 Values-Driven Change / Karyn Kedar 39 Creating a Healthy Congregation / interview with Ron Wolfson 42 Teaching Torah by the Trail Mix / Dan Moskovitz 45 10 Ways To Expand Your Temple’s Reach / Kerry M. Olitzky
Cover Photo by Rose Eichenbaum
30 31 32 33 33
Building Bridges / Marshal Klaven Being Heard / Nick May Honoring My Grandfather / Joseph Metz Showing Who I Am / Amber Thompson Why I’m Not Tattooed / Miriam Hopper & Missy Goldstein 34 The Biblical Body as Canvas / interview with Nili S. Fox
NEWS & VIEWS OF REFORM JEWS 50 Feature Story: Welcoming People with Disabilities / Renee Ghert-Zand Also 49 Chairman’s Perspective: Celebrating Israel / Stephen M. Sacks 49 Noteworthy 56 What Works: Caregiver’s Day Out, A Vision in Verse, Yom Kippur in the Woods
IN THE BEGINNING 2 Dear Reader: NFTY’s Diamond Jubilee / Rick Jacobs 3 Letters 4 Through the Lens: Shave for the Brave reform judaism
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d e a r
Official Publication of the Union for Reform Judaism
NFTY’s Diamond Jubilee
Summer 2014, Vol. 42, No. 4
* Before dialing, be ready to write down the questions that the hotline will ask you. Also be sure to tell your temple about the address change.
Subscriptions: 212-650-4240 Congregational Family Records: reformjudaismmag.org/subscribe/records
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 2014 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.
aking the words of the prophet Joel as the refrain of her 1981 classic song “And The Youth Shall See Visions,” Debbie Friedman captured the role of young people in our Movement: And the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions, And our hopes shall rise up to the sky
For 75 years, the Reform Youth Movement has inspired our young to boldly revitalize Jewish life with their creativity and commitment. Too often adults expect youth to be just like them, but the job of youth is not to be the caretaker of the status quo. We do not need them to download our agendas into their spiritual hard drives, but rather to help us see the Jewish future through their visions. This past February I was privileged to join 35 of our stellar NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) leaders at the BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) convention in Dallas. Many people wondered what were we doing there—“Isn’t BBYO the rival of NFTY?” But our remarkable youth leaders did the math: Together, NFTY and BBYO reach only 3.5% of North American Jewish teens. To engage more of their peers, they decided to move beyond rivalry to partnership. Next February, both the NFTY and BBYO conventions will be held on the same weekend in Atlanta. The youth leaders are planning a number of joint programs, demonstrating that we are stronger when we work together. Our Movement is also expanding its connection with young people through summer camps, Israel programs, and Mitzvah Corps. This summer, more than 12,000 young people—a record number—will experience immersive Jewish programming, including the new Six Points SciTech Camp; Harlam Day Camp; and Mitzvah Corps programs in Israel, Washington, DC, and Portland, Oregon. In celebration of NFTY’s anniversary, we are calling upon all alumni, fans, and friends to join us in launching the NFTY alumni network. Visit NFTY75.org to make sure you are included in the celebration—I’ll personally be reading your stories and seeing your photos. And if youth programming has not been part of your past, please make it part of your future. In doing so, you will help us involve and engage more Jewish youth. Our Movement is strong because youth of yesterday and today have seen visions. And with God’s and your help, may an ever-growing number of young people imagine and pave the way for 75 strong years to come.
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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l e t t e r s
Jews Thrive on No-Dues Model
he Woodstock (VT) Area Jewish Community/Congregation Shir Shalom was founded 26 years ago by Stuart and Antoinette Matlins (Jewish Lights Publishing) as a no-dues congregation in order to bring the opportunity for Jewish life and worship to people in central Vermont. We’ve always funded ourselves through “gifts of the heart,” never requiring dues, a building fund, school tuition, or fees for seats. Our strategy was never about financial planning—it was visiondriven, to eliminate all barriers to participation. With no “pay to pray” or learn, people found it exciting and refreshing, rising to the challenge with their feet and wallets. There was occasional financial stress, but broadly based support responded. We purchased a starter building, then built a 250-seat sanctuary. Today we have nearly 90 members and sustain a thriving school of 40–50
children. As we continue to grow, we remain committed to our deeply held belief in human and Divine goodness. We are happy to talk with other congregations about our alternative approach to congregational life. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Ilene Harkavy Haigh Shari Borzekowski, President Woodstock Area Jewish Community/ Congregation Shir Shalom Woodstock, Vermont
entral Reform Congregation, St. Louis has used a self-assessment dues paradigm since our founding in 1984. With our commitment to people paramount, we’ve never turned a member away because of a lack of ability to pay. We’ve grown to more than 750 houseSend letters to: Reform Judaism, 633 Third Avenue, 7th floor, New York, NY 10017-6778, reformjudaismmag.org (click on “Submissions”).
holds and Newsweek has named us one of America’s 25 most vibrant congregations. We would be happy to help other congregations adopt our system of volunteer annual donations. Jennifer Bernstein, MSW Director of Advocacy and Communications Central Reform Congregation St. Louis, Missouri
Rethinking Our Dues Model
ur temple is among 17 URJ “Community of Practice” (COP) synagogues looking at dues models and engagement. We’ve studied other synagogues, churches, and non-profits seeking answers to the demographic and financial stresses we face, and reached some preliminary conclusions. We believe that financing methods and congregational relationships are intimately continued on page 41
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Entree to Judaism for Families Jewish Cooking & Kitchen Conversations with Children by Tina Wasserman
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Shave for the Brave: Reform rabbis sing a shehecheyanu after having their heads shaved at the 125th annual Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) convention, April 1, 2014. Seventy-five rabbis shaved their heads to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. To date, 7,000+ people worldwide have contributed more than $600,000, and the initiative has inspired local communities to plan their own shave projects. To learn more and get involved: email@example.com
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J U DA I C A
OCCUPATION: Attorney and author of The Power of Citizenship: Why John F. Kennedy Matters to a New Generation
JEWISH AFFILIATIONS: Trustee, Temple Sinai of Roslyn in Roslyn Heights, New York; Founder and Chairman, Sinai in the City; Trustee, URJ North American Board; Member, URJ Oversight Committee; participated in European Maccabi Games as member of Team USA’s soccer team
FAVORITE TEACHINGS: Proverbs 22:6— “Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he’s old he will not depart from it.” This quintessentially Jewish saying highlights the way we Jews pass our values and traditions l’dor vador, from generation to generation.
My parents also stressed the sense of obligation we should feel to give of our time to help others. My dad helped start an annual Mitzvah Day program at our temple, and we became regular participants; we stuffed envelopes for my mom’s charity mailings. At my parents’ encouragement, I sat in on the charity board meetings, observing the commitment people were making to a cause they believed in.
My parents taught my three younger siblings and me the importance of giving back to the community. We had a tzedakah box in our kitchen, and all of us kids were encouraged to donate a portion of our allowances to it. Our weekly allowances were equivalent to our grade in school, and when my youngest brother entered second grade, he started putting in his entire $2 allowance. Because my parents had us contribute in reverse age order, his generosity inspired all of us to similarly donate our entire allowances, fulfilling our parents’ mantra to “be as generous as you can be” and teaching us about the power of working together to help others.
Because my parents worked to ensure that Jewish values would be defining forces throughout our lives, when I have children I hope to pass the same values on to them, l’dor vador.
SINAI IN THE CITY VOLUNTEERS POSE AFTER CLEANING UP MANHATTAN’S SHERMAN CREEK PARK IN THE AFTERMATH OF HURRICANE SANDY, NOVEMBER 2012. I AM THIRD FROM THE RIGHT.
my dad was president; other times we donated to a charity my mom founded to help childhood cancer survivors; still other times we donated to a local hospital or soup kitchen.
NAME: Scott D. Reich
Each time the box got full, we sat down as a family and discussed what causes we wanted to support with the funds. Sometimes we donated the money to our temple, where
T E E N TA L K
My most influential non-Jewish teaching is President John F. Kennedy’s famous appeal, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” which ties in richly with the ethical pillars of our faith. As I see it, the hallmark of Judaism is our obligation to help one another and improve our
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community. All of us, no matter our age, background, or station in life, have the ability to contribute and make a difference. We need to emphasize this notion of giving back, fostering a culture in which we do not ask, “What are we getting?” but instead, “What are we giving?” I’ve done my best to embrace this spirit. In addition to my Jewish involvements, I’m on the board of an educational organization that helps children on the autism spectrum, and I do a lot of pro bono work in my law practice, particularly helping people who have been persecuted in other nations gain asylum in the U.S. In one instance, my colleagues and I represented a community of Jews who fled Yemen after their rabbi was murdered, some of their family members were abducted and pressured to convert to Islam, and
their children were banned from public school. We won the case, and today this Jewish community lives peacefully in Monsey, NY.
HOW TO ENGAGE 20s AND 30s: My generation looks at faith differently than the way our parents and grandparents did at our age. Today, young Jewish adults are less inclined to join synagogues, attend Shabbat services, and participate in more traditional aspects of institutional Jewish life. That doesn’t mean 20s and 30s care less about being Jewish—it simply means that our generation’s views on Jewish life are different. The Reform Movement needs to “meet us where we are.” Often this means offering Jewish activities in alternative, non-synagogue venues. That’s been my aim with “Sinai in the City,” the young adults group I founded, which engag-
es Jewish 20s and 30s who grew up at my synagogue and now live or work in Manhattan. While we do offer occasional Shabbat services, our more popular events include service projects, such as when we cleaned up Sherman Creek Park in New York City after Hurricane Sandy, and the annual toy drive we host in conjunction with our Chanukah parties. It is difficult to engage Millennials in traditional contexts, such as serving on temple boards or committees, which require ongoing time commitment. Their involvement tends to be more fluid, so a better approach is asking them to participate in clearly-defined tasks that might interest them, e.g., “Can you join us on Mitzvah Day this Sunday from 12 to 5?” People will then feel more inclined to participate, and occasional volunteering may lead to more involvement down the road.
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The Education of a Conﬁrmed Scoffer By Wesley Hopper
spent the first 18 years of my life in the bucolic surroundings of rural coastal Maine, two hours from Canada and straight across the bay from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. It was a childhood as idyllic and sheltered as it was homogenized. In that span of 18 years I never met a Jew. Yet by the time of my 30th birthday, I was well on my way to converting to Judaism—this despite a deep suspicion of organized religion and a complete aversion to God. My birth certificate reads “Roman Catholic,” due to my mother, an Irish Catholic raised MIMI AND I BEGIN OUR LIVES AS A MARRIED COUPLE. as an outsider in a town full of Protestants. My father, formerly reason students in tiny circular hats were a Pennsylvania Lutheran, converted constructing small structures with pine before he married my mom. My older boughs thrown across the top. I knew these brother by 15 years was a dedicated altar diligent men and women were Jewish, but boy. All signs would seem to point to at there the specifics stopped. The whole least a modicum of religious instruction enterprise struck me as slightly amusing in my young life, but my family had and certainly silly and served to reinforce grown disenchanted with the local parmy superior standing as an atheist, the ish. My dad was involved in a bitter land word I then employed to describe myself. dispute with a congregant that colored That spring, some strange food started his opinion of the entire church. In our appearing in the cafeteria: large, flat house, the word “church” came to be crackers and a delicious paste of nuts and associated with the words “hypocrite,” apples. At first I thought it had something “fraud,” and “greed.” When we drove by to do with Easter, but I soon learned it the simple white steeple, cars filling up was for the Jewish holiday of Passover. I the parking lot, all I could think about really enjoyed those crackers, and the were the “wicked liars” and “sanctimohard-boiled eggs that also made their nious phonies” filling up the pews. By appearance. I loaded up on this novel fare the time I left for college, I was certain for at least a week until sadly it was gone religion would never be a force in my and I was back to cold pizza and fro-yo. life, except one to rail against. As I approached my senior year, I finally met someone who could explain ♦♦♦ these Jewish customs to me. Adar was My first encounter with Judaism to be one of four suite-mates with occurred one fall day in my freshman year whom I’d be spending the year. His on the Wheaton College campus. For some father was Israeli and his mom was a convert to Judaism. Adar had a strong activist streak and was very committed Wesley Hopper is a writer, playwright and filmmaker living in Brooklyn, New York. to his faith. Those tiny hats, he reform judaism
informed me, were called yarmulkes or kippot. ♦♦♦ Sometime over the course of my college career I got it in my head that I was a playwright. At a professor’s urging, I applied to Brooklyn College’s graduate program in playwriting and, upon acceptance, set out for New York City. For some people, New York conjures up a romantic vision of the artist amid an inspiring swirl of cultural tumult. For me, a firsttimer in the city, all it evoked were scenes from the film Taxi Driver, and a faint feeling of indigestion. I had no idea what to do with the multiplicity of people, races, ethnicities and religions now unleashed upon me. Wheaton had been eye opening; New York was an onslaught. I found an apartment share in Crown Heights with a guy named Ezra. I didn’t really know how to cook for myself, but I could make breakfast. I fried up some eggs and bacon and used Ezra’s dishes because I didn’t have any of my own. I washed them in the sink that was full of dishwater and other dishes, and called it a day, proud of my progress as a fully functioning adult. Later, our third roommate, a young woman in her twenties, stuck her head in my bedroom door and said, “Ezra’s pretty pissed at you.” “How come?” I asked. “You washed all the dishes in bacon grease.” Oops. “I can wash them again.” She shook her head. “He’s Jewish.” Adar enlightened me on the basics of kashrut, and on other practices as I slowly acclimated to one of the most Jewish metropolises in the world. He turned out to be indispensable—for it was through him that I would meet my future wife. ➢
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Adar had met a woman. It was one of those blithely romantic stories: He walked into a café near New York University and made eye contact with a beautiful redhead. He left and got halfway down the block before doubling back and asking her out for Indian food. For both Adar and Nora, it was love at first sight. Nora thought her roommate Mimi and I would also be a good fit. In fact, we hated each other. Rather, I ignored Mimi and she hated me for it. She was bright and effervescent; I was a brooding would-be playwright. I
thought she was naïve; she thought I was full of myself. She was right; I was wrong. We began to date. Above all else, Mimi identified as a Jew. She came from a tight-knit Jewish family. Her grandparents had survived the Holocaust and her parents had met in Jerusalem. When Mimi took me home to meet her family one Friday evening, I was struck by the warmth her parents seemed to imbue in their surroundings; the Jewish art and music; the blessings over the candles, wine, and freshly baked challah; the animated
discussion of thoughts and ideas. Later, Mimi explained that her family was more culturally Jewish then religiously so—a distinction that was news to me. As far as I knew, you believed in God and were therefore religious, or you did not and were an atheist. Jewish identity, I would later discover, was complex, embracing religion, ethnicity, and peoplehood. Some Jews identified more with one aspect than the others. And in the arena of religion, you could disagree, challenge, and freely voice your views. In fact, struggle and dissent seemed to be uniquely Jewish virtues. ♦♦♦ Mimi and I became serious and decided to marry. She didn’t ask me to convert to Judaism, and I didn’t volunteer. As I saw it then, conversion would have been an act of absolute hypocrisy. Visions of the imaginary parishioners of my youth, blabbing about God and
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then behaving with the moral acuity of apes, filled my head. A rabbi consented to marry us without my converting as long as we agreed to raise a Jewish family and I would take a class in Judaism to broaden the scope of my Jewish understanding. I agreed. I had no reservations about setting aside a few secular Christian holidays and deepening my knowledge of my wife-to-be’s faith. Mimi and I enrolled in a URJ Intro-
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WITH MY GRANDMOTHER AT SCHOODIC POINT, ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, MAINE, 1982.
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<HDUVRI-HZLVK,QGLD Follow the footsteps of ancient Jewish traders. Discover synagogues, histories, traditions, neighborhoods. Cruise serene backwaters. Explore the India where Jews have lived in peace for millennia.
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duction to Judaism class. Two of the other students became representative of disparate yet converging “outsider” approaches to Judaism: one, a young highly educated woman, indignant, arms folded across her chest, ready to reject even the whiff of organized religion; the other, middle aged, simpler, ready to adopt her husband’s faith without question or interest. The atheist and the appeaser had one thing in common—they had no intention of learning. I realized that my own rejection of spirituality was as rigid and uncompromising as theirs. I’d let my curiosity flow into every aspect of my life except this one. It was time to open my mind to the possibility that religion might have something to offer even me. In the Intro course I learned the meaning of the Jewish holidays and about Jewish philosophy and thinkers. I found Martin Buber’s concept of “I and Thou,” in which we have a choice to treat every human being as made in the Divine image, especially applicable. Living in city as congested as New York, daily encounters with strangers can easily turn hostile or affirming, depending on one’s attitude. I also came to see that the organization of the Jewish calendar was in fact rational and life-enhancing, and didn’t require a specific belief in God to retain its power. Shabbat, heretofore something I deemed only an interruption of the weekend, now made sense as a chance to take pause and reflect on one’s life. Something began to shift within me. I started feeling that I wanted to convert. I’m not sure exactly why and when, but I think the seed lay in my own family. While in my growing-up years our family lacked religion, we certainly were immersed in our history. We knew where all our ancestors hailed from, how they came to America, and what they endured to arrive here. The more I discerned about Mimi’s forebears, the more important it became that our new family be Jewish. Her grandparents had been shot, starved, tortured, separated, and then reunited after liberation. They came to America to escape unspeakable evil and left behind a generation of ghosts. Because they survived, my wife, beautiful, free-spirited, and the delight
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THE JEWISH WORLD AWAITS... NEW ZEALAND & AUSTRALIA with Prof. Stephen Berk
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of my life, had come into being and somehow crossed paths with me. In my mind, Mimi was Judaism, and our children would be the answer to the injustice done to her ancestors. One night I simply told her I was converting. She wept. She had wanted it so badly, but had never wanted to compel me. Despite having made the decision, some doubts remained. I was sure that in order to convert I would need to affirm some sort of belief in God. Adopting Jewish practices was one thing; believing in God was another. I could not in good conscience declare myself Jewish if that meant accepting a higher power that in truth, I rejected. Seeking guidance, I posed this dilemma to Mimi’s father. His response was unwavering. For him, a commitment to leading a Jewish life and an earnest struggle with tradition and the meaning of God were more essential to Judaism than God belief itself. Emboldened, I continued the conversion process. Soon the day came for my immersion in a mikveh. I was nervous. I’d had to memorize the blessings, and memorization had never been my strong suit. But in those waters, the words spilled out easily, perhaps because I had come to this moment slowly and deliberately, with much thought. I submerged myself and surfaced with a feeling I’d never had regarding religion: confidence that I was on the right path. ♦♦♦ I chose the name Boaz and became Boaz ben Abraham. Shortly after my 30th birthday, I was Jewish. In the months that followed, my thoughts concerning God slowly began to evolve. I no longer considered God to be irrelevant to my life. When I was younger my opinions on God had been definitive and resolute, but as I was becoming more attuned to the mystery of life around me, a sense of wonder crept in that I began attributing to God…not in any personified sense, but as something woven into the very essence of being. Shortly after converting, I attended a lecture at a Jewish conference given by continued on opposite page
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Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show Appraisals by Jonathan Greenstein
Dear Jonathan, I inherited my grandfather’s tapestry, which portrays Theodor Herzl on a balcony at the First Zionist Congress. I believe it may be an early 20th century piece produced by the Bezalel School of Art and Design in Jerusalem. What are your thoughts as to its rarity and value? Nigel Fisch Member, Temple Shaaray Tefillah, New York City Dear Nigel, The carpet is wonderful. You are correct that Herzl is the subject. This iconic pose was taken on the balcony of the Drei Könige Hotel in Basel, Switzerland, where Herzl was staying in August 1897 while chairing the First World Zionist Congress. Most paintings
...Confirmed Scoffer continued from page 10 an unabashed atheist. As evidence for his views, he showed images of the brains of meditating monks, caught in the rapture of communion with God. In the scan, you could see the physical spot where the brain was engulfed in activity. To him, this was proof: God was just in our heads, an illusion. But to many in the audience, the capacity of the brain to meet God in prayer, depicted scientifically or not, was still a wonder. One Orthodox woman piped up, “I think we’re saying the same thing, just differently.” She couldn’t have summed up my own views better: I was seeing the same things as before, just differently. ♦♦♦ It has been just over two years since I became a Jew. And now I feel challenged in a way I had never anticipated: How am I, how are we, to find meaningful ways to bring Judaism into our daily lives? Mimi and I have tried various ways
and sculptures of From your photograph, the Herzl show this pose. tapestry appears to be just under It is true that Herzl 100 years old and in remarkably and other early Ziongood condition for its age. We istic figures were have sold this model at auction commonly depicted several times for about $1,500. by artists at the BezaIf it were signed “Bezalel, lel Academy of Art Jerusalem,” it most likely would and Design, founded sell in the $2,500 range. in 1906 in order to Jonathan Greenstein, founder develop a “Jewish” J. Greenstein & Co., Inc. style of art in PalesJonathan@JGreenstein.com tine. However, I do not think this piece Dear Jonathan, was made at Bezalel, I am delighted to learn that HERZL CARPET because almost all of the tapestry is valuable. Unforthe works created at the academy were tunately, it has lain in a cupboard for signed “Bezalel, Jerusalem.” More likesome years and prior to that adorned our ly, the carpet was produced by a Bezalel Sukkah each year. Now I intend to take student or a contemporary. greater care of it.
of making Shabbat special. Recognizing the prevalence of technology in our lives between our phones and our computers, we tried instituting a NoScreens Shabbat. We sampled various synagogues, but to us the older congregations seem to be just going through the motions, murmuring the call and response in an listless drone, while the younger ones are too focused on making religion hip, such as beginning kabbalat Shabbat with a niggun to the tune of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” We did find one community that fit our sensibilities—Romemu, led by Rabbi David Ingber—where Shabbat services balanced tradition with meditation, song, and dance, and gave us the feeling we’d left the work week for the sacred time of Shabbat. Unfortunately, it is too far from our home to attend regularly. Also, when we were flush enough, we attended a Jewish learning conference in the Catskills. We still haven’t found the lasting Jewish communal connection we both long for. At some point we lapsed, too, reform judaism
and No-Screens Shabbat gave way to binge-watching “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix. Now that we’re planning to start a family, the question of how to spiritually imbue our lives with Judaism feels even more important. How are we to do it? It would be easy to coast along marking the major holidays and simply lighting the candles, but I see in my own upbringing that a casual acquaintance with religion might as well be no religion at all. As I look back on my journey, I see a process marked by doubt, struggle, learning, and application. My marriage and conversion forced both Mimi and me to examine our spirituality and what Judaism means to us. Today, we have not found a particular synagogue to belong to or a single branch of Judaism that reflects all our values. Both of us are seeking a meaningful, contemporary way to be observant Jews. I know we will continue to struggle with our faith. But now I also know, there couldn’t be anything more Jewish.
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My Hero Mack By Carlin Coffey
sk me who my hero was while I was in kindergarten and I would have said my teacher, Mrs. Green, because she was kind and wore funky sweaters. In fourth grade, it would have been a toss-up between Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres, since they both interviewed all of my favorite celebrities. In middle school, I would have haughtily retorted FROM L. TO R. I GIVE A PIGGY-BACK RIDE TO A CHILD FROM THE LOWER 9TH WARD VILLAGE. OUR 2013 MITZVAH CORPS that I did not have any heroes because I saw no positive female OF THE SOUTH GROUP IN FRONT OF THE KIPP MCDONOGH 15 SCHOOL FOR THE CREATIVE ARTS. role models in a society that only idolized thin, vapid women. However, if cian in the Lower 9th Ward, a vibrant by blood-colored rust. you were to ask me today who my hero The constant chatter and laughter that community that was home to the great is, it would be a disheveled, soft-spoken rhythm and blues artist Fats Domino. He usually filled our bus abruptly ceased. man named Mack McClendon who is also refurbished vintage cars, worked The bus took a left at a pile of pale, making an enormous difference in the dirty mattresses and then stopped in front with his neighbors to improve the ward’s Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. underprivileged education system, and of an energetically colored warehouse. Last summer I embarked on a comhad just realized a dream—renovating Hand-painted, yellow letters above its munity-service trip called Mitzvah Corps green doors announced: “Lower 9th his yellow two-story home. Then came of the South (MCS), run by the URJ, that Ward Village.” Inside the warehouse, the hurricane, which killed dozens of combined 27 Jewish high school students dozens of colorful banners handmade by Mack’s neighbors and destroyed all of from across the United States, three com- previous volunteers hung from the ceilhis precious possessions. ical chaperones, the vibrant city of New Mack could have cursed his God for ing, proudly demonstrating the dozens of Orleans, and service projects aimed at sending this catastrophic storm, and his organizations that had dedicated their providing relief from the destruction government for not giving his neighbortime to the Lower 9th Ward Village. caused by Hurricane Katrina. A middle-aged African-American man hood all the tools needed for complete Our second day, we drove eastward rehabilitation. He could have relocated, with a tattered forest-green T-shirt and a as a majority of Lower 9th residents did. through shiny, metropolitan, downtown thin black and grey ponytail peeking out Instead, Mack discovered his purNew Orleans into the sordid and dusty under his baseball cap walked over to our pose in life. He created this “village” so Lower 9th Ward—the voting district group. He introduced himself as Mack that people in the Lower 9th community downriver of the Industrial Canal and one McClendon, founder of the Lower 9th who had been uprooted by Katrina of the most devastated areas. As we gazed Ward Village. The aim of this community would have a new home. Mack recruitout the windows at the landscape, our center, he explained, is to uplift the comed his neighbors, and together they mouths hung agape. It had been seven munity and empower its residents to transformed the warehouse at 1001 years since Katrina, and before us were become self-sufficient. There, residents gutted and boarded-up houses fronted by can garden in the community garden, read Charbonnet Street into a point of pride. After meeting Mack, we split into five-foot tall lawns; half-broken roofs, as books from the village library, ride donattwo groups. My group first took Mack’s if a jujitsu master had snapped them with ed bikes, play basketball out back, and guided tour of the Lower 9th Ward, seehis hand; and abandoned cars eaten away simply talk and share their stories. ing a number of sustainable, energyWith a warm smile that showed his pink gums and a gold tooth, Mack began efficient homes built by Brad Pitt’s Carlin Coffey is a freshman at Loyola University and a member of Temple Israel “Make It Right” foundation, along with to tell his story. Prior to Hurricane in Columbus, Ohio. other recently constructed houses. Katrina, Mack was a telephone technireform judaism
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Many homes, though, were in ruins and abandoned. It looked as if their residents had clawed through ceilings to reach the roof for safety just yesterday. Along the route, Mack turned down a residential street, slowed the van, and pointed to a particularly distressed house. It had been Mack’s dream home. Although he masked his emotions fairly well, I could imagine the torturous pain it caused him to drive past it every day. After the tour we entered a house Mack had recently bought to fix up and then house groups of volunteers for extended periods of time. My group painted all of the rooms a cheery shade of blue and cleared out piles of wood that filled the garage, while the other group weeded and planted in the Village Community Hope Garden. It was invigorating to contribute to such an exciting and novel aspect of the village’s expansion. Today, the house can accommodate up to 83 volunteers, for $30/night. The rest of the day we played with some of the community kids. Two older boys hoped that one day they’d have a real basketball, as opposed to the soccer ball they were shooting through the netless hoop. Two girls with red, white, and blue beads in their hair entertained us by singing and dancing. The youngest, an adorable three-year-old called “Bucket,” had gotten his nickname after falling into a pail last year. Their grandmother sat in a chair, smiling at all of us. After Hurricane Katrina, their home was destroyed and their whole family had relocated to Alabama, but about a year ago they moved back and began to rebuild their lives. She was grateful for the Lower 9th Ward Village and for volunteers like us who were putting in time to help the community. On the bus ride back, a pensive quiet hung over our group. Perhaps my fellow Mitzvah Corps volunteers and I were thinking similar thoughts about the tremendous destruction in the Lower 9th Ward, about how lucky we were, about the extraordinary ways Mack and his village were giving back. Before the trip, I felt discouraged by the media’s constant reporting on vicious dictators, disturbing crimes, and deceitful politicians. But after experiencing what Mack is doing to better his community, my faith in humanity’s goodness was reaffirmed.
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In this stormy world full of war and bigotry, there is an unexpected haven in the middle of the Lower 9th Ward where people come together amidst destruction to rebuild and grow. In the center of the eye of this vortex is an incredibly caring man named Mack, who taught us: “We can’t control disaster, but we can change the way we embrace it.” reform judaism
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The Secular Jew Who Transformed Judaism By Barry L. Schwartz
Barry L. Schwartz is director of The Jewish Publication Society; rabbi of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia, New Jersey; and author, most recently, of Judaism’s Great Debates, published in adult and youth editions, both of which include a chapter on Spinoza.
being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.” He considered the perfection of reason to be our most meaningful task. “In this alone,” he said, “man’s highest happiness, or blessedness consists.” While Spinoza’s excommunication isolated him from his family and friends, it did not cause him to repent or his ideas to wither. Rather, he went on to publish his magnum opus, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670), as well as Ethics (1675), earning him the reputation of being the most brilliant and controversial philosopher of his age. Even though he never again had contact with the Jewish community, Spinoza did not renounce his Jewishness. He declined all overtures to convert to Christianity and continued to study traditional Jewish thought— if only to refute it. His home library was full of Jewish books. He studied Hebrew in order to be able to read the Torah in the original language, and was said to be working on a book of Hebrew grammar at the time of his death. In short, in being the first great Jewish philosopher to adopt an ideology of pure reason, to the utter exclusion of revelation, Spinoza also became the archetype of the secular Jew. And, as a secular Jew, he offered reform judaism
ideas that have profoundly impacted Jewish thought and belief ever since. ♦♦♦ While the founders of Reform Judaism rejected Spinoza’s most radical notions about God, they nevertheless rooted Reform Judaism in Spinoza’s idea that “[we must] make a fresh examination of Scripture with a free and unprejudiced mind.” Reform Movement pioneer Rabbi Abraham Geiger (1810– 1874), for example, echoed Spinoza in insisting that “the treatment of the historical content of the Bible…must be subject to all laws which may be termed the science of history.” Reform theologian Kaufmann Kohler (1843–1926), former president of the Hebrew Union College, acknowledged that “systematic critical investigation of the Bible began with Baruch Spinoza.” Spinoza’s assertion that the Bible should be critically examined from the viewpoint of the “science of history” also influenced Reform Judaism’s major platforms of beliefs and principles through the 19th and 20th centuries. The Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 asserted: “We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific research in the domains of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism.” A half century later, the Columbus
he recent Pew Research Report found that an astounding one third of all U.S. Jews under the age of 30 call themselves Jews of no religion. If that seems problematic to us today, the very thought that one could be Jewish without Judaism was inconceivable to our ancestors. All that changed on July 27, 1656, the day the leaders of Talmud Torah, the Portuguese Jewish Community of Amsterdam, excommunicated 24-yearold philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677). Although the writ of excommunication did not specify Spinoza’s “abominable heresies,” we know from his later published works that he denied almost every major tenet of traditional Jewish belief, including that God created and controls the world, that God makes ethical demands on us, that the Torah is the revelation of God’s will, and that Jews are God’s chosen people. He also dared to criticize religion—all religion—for propagating untruths and fostering dogma and superstitions that had led to great evils perpetrated in the name of God. Spinoza’s faith was the faith in reason. Reason alone, he asserted, could uncover truth, herald the building of an enlightened and tolerant society, and serve as the path to personal spiritual fulfillment. “I call him free who is led solely by reason,” Spinoza wrote, adding that “The highest activity a human
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Platform (1937) proclaimed: “The new discoveries of science…do not conflict with the essential spirit of religion.” The San Francisco Platform of 1976 declared: “Scholarship needs to be conducted by modern, critical methods.”
Spinoza on Trial: An Imagined Debate Here is the debate between Spinoza and the Amsterdam rabbis in the form of an imagined conversation. While no record of their exchange survives, this debate incorporates language from the Writ of Excommunication issued by the Ma’amad (the Council of Elders), reports about the trial, and excerpts from Spinoza’s books. (Italics represent actual quotes from these sources.)
jewishpostcardcollection.com / Stephanie Comfort
♦♦♦ Spinoza’s influence would extend to the Zionist enterprise as well. In the years before Israel’s statehood, Zionists seized upon Spinoza’s teachings, beginning with his oft-quoted assertion that “given the opportunity… [the Jewish people] may establish once more their independent state.” The early European Zionist Moses Hess wrote that “Spinoza conceived Judaism to be grounded in nationalism, and held that the restoration of the Jewish kingdom depends entirely upon the will and courage of the Jewish people.” Spinoza also taught that “the true aim of government is liberty.” He asserted: “The ultimate aim of government is not to rule, or restrain by fear, nor to exact obedience, but to free every man from fear so that he may live in all possible security…” (“That in a Free State Every Man May Think What He Likes, and Say What He Thinks”). Indeed, the Zionists found in Spinoza a secular saint who championed reason and science, separation of synagogue and state in opposition to rabbinic authority, secular Jewish identity, and a system of governance that found expression in Israel’s Declaration of Independence (1948), which guarantees “freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.” The Zionist love affair with Spinoza was in full evidence in late 1953, five years after Israel’s birth and three years in advance of the 300th anniversary of the philosopher’s excommunication, when Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion published “Let Us Amend the Injustice” in the Hebrew daily Davar. Calling Spinoza “the deepest, most original thinker to emerge [from our people] from the end of the Bible to the birth of Einstein,” he urged Hebrew University to publish Spinoza’s collected works in Hebrew. He also queried the chief rabbis as to whether Spinoza’s continued on page 19
ENTRANCE TO TALMUD TORAH.
R A B B I S : We have long known of your evil opinions and deeds, and
have tried by various ways and promises to turn you from these evil ways.
S P I N OZ A : Tell me of what I am accused.
RABBIS: Daily we receive more information about your abomina-
5 6 7
ble heresies, concerning God, the soul, and the law. S P I N OZ A : The freedom to philosophize and to say what I think… this I want to vindicate completely.
R A B B I S : Is it true that you deny that God creates and rules the
world, and say that God and nature are the same, and that God exists
only in a philosophical sense?
S P I N OZ A : It is the same thing whether we say that all things
happen according to Nature’s law or that they are regulated by God’s
decree and direction.
14 15 16
R A B B I S : Is it true that you deny that the Torah and the soul are from God? S P I N OZ A : I hold that everything comes from Nature and that
the method of interpreting the Torah is no different from the method
of interpreting Nature.
19 20 21
R A B B I S : Is it true that you deny that the Jews are God’s chosen people? S P I N OZ A : The individual Jew, taken apart from his social orga-
nization and government, possesses no gift of God above other men,
and there is no difference between Jew and Gentile….At the present
time, therefore, there is absolutely nothing which the Jews can arro-
gate to themselves beyond other people.
R A B B I S : You should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel.
S P I N OZ A : I enter gladly on the path that is opened to me, with
the consolation that my departure will be more innocent than was the
exodus of the early Hebrews from Egypt. This excommunication com-
pels me nothing which I should not have done in any case. Barry L. Schwartz Unofficial Court Reporter
Adapted from Judaism’s Great Debates: Timeless Controversies from Abraham to Herzl (The Jewish Publication Society, 2012) by Barry L. Schwartz.
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Yizkor: Remembering through Forgetting May God remember for ever my dear ones…and may my life always bring honor to their memory. —Yizkor service, Gates of Repentance
rom its beginning, Jewish literature has focused intently on the subject of memory. Lizkor, meaning “to remember,” appears in the Bible 228 times, referring to such diverse elements as Shabbat, Miriam’s leprosy, and Amalek’s attack on the Israelites. Judaism also embraces the idea of collective memory. The Torah’s oftrepeated rationale, “because you were slaves in Egypt,” draws on collective memory to promote moral behavior. The assertion that we all stood during the revelation at Sinai is a profound statement that all Jews are bound together in a shared autobiographical experience. This focus on communal memory makes the Yizkor ceremony all the more striking, for Yizkor is the one moment in the Jewish liturgical calendar when what matters is not communal but individual memory, each of us standing personally consumed by singular memories of relatives and friends who have died. Unlike a funeral or shivah, where individual memories are shared publicly to fashion a collective mosaic of the person being remembered, Yizkor provides a communal space for inward memorializing. Why is it that Judaism, a religion so fully dedicated to communal memory, makes this regular exception when it comes to Yizkor? Jewish tradition doesn’t offer us a reason—but neuroscience may help. “Memories are not static,” writes Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand is director of JHub and former chief executive of the United Kingdom Movement for Reform Judaism. This article was adapted from May God Remember: Memory and Memorializing in Judaism—Yizkor, edited by Lawrence A. Hoffman (Jewish Lights, 2013).
Joshua Foer, a contender in the 2009 USA Memory Championships, in Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering. “Somehow, as memories age, their complexion changes. Each time we think about a memory, we integrate it more deeply into our web of other memories, and therefore make it more stable and less likely to be dislodged. But in the process, we also transform the memory, and reshape it—sometimes to the point that our memories of events bear only a passing resemblance to what actually happened.” In other words, the very act of remembering alters the memory itself! Neuroscientist Eric Kandel explains that long-term memories actually change their molecular structure over time. One class of memory molecules, prions, seem virtually indestructible, yet are surprisingly “plastic” in their ability to easily change shape. Science writer Jonah Lehrer elaborates: “Every time we conjure up our pasts, the branches of our reflections become malleable again. While the prions that mark our memories are virtually reform judaism
immortal, their dendritic details are always being altered, shuttling between the poles of remembering and forgetting. The past is at once perpetual and ephemeral.” Neuroscience is describing what we all know from experience: memory is inaccurate, malleable, imperfect. In recalling a memory, we do not replay an exact mental recording of the event, but draw upon our subjective experience of it. This act of recollection physically alters the brain so as to change the memory itself. Ironically, the very act of remembering changes what is remembered. This may be the key to understanding a Jewish memorial ritual that is profoundly individual—the Yizkor service. The psychological logic behind the Jewish funeral and shivah rituals is unmistakable: having just experienced a loss, we conjure whatever precious imprint we have as a means to hang onto the person who has died. At the funeral, we listen to eulogies; during shivah, we share photos and stories to solidify our impressions of our loved one. Yizkor works differently. It is not intended as a time to sharpen our memories, for there is no corrective of physical evidence or balance provided by others’ recollections. Instead, Yizkor encourages an evolution of our own private ongoing relationship. Each time we recite Yizkor and remember, we deepen the parts of that relationship that sustain us, while forgetting those characteristics that do not. In some ways, then, Yizkor (“remembering”) should more accurately be called Yishkach (“forgetting”), as forgetting is a necessary part of the process by which we maintain meaningful memories. Daily, we successfully forget most of the mundane details of our encounters with others. Much of the time we focus instead on the meta-level of experiencing people as whole human beings; losing the detail, we gain in richness and depth. In like manner, after a loved one dies, continued on page 22
Courtesy of Elissa Bromberg, Earth X Fire, etsy.com /shop/Earth X Fire
By Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
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At Home with the Homeless By Debra Solomon Baker
od is always asking us to serve. In the Torah portion Tzav (Hebrew for “command”), God offers deliberate and precise instructions, too. When God directs the priests, Aaron and his sons, to bring the burnt offering, the meal offering, the sin offering, and the peace offering to the altar, God also tells them what to wear, where to perform the sacrifices, what offerings to eat and not eat, and what to do with the blood from the offerings (Leviticus 6:1–8:36). What strikes me most about this Torah portion is that nobody says, “Hey, wait a minute, why GENIYA, 12, JOINS ME IN MAKING BREAKFAST AT can’t I do it a different way?” The CONGREGATION SHAARE EMETH, ST. LOUIS. priests don’t protest having to wear a long robe and breastplate in the of air mattresses on which they and we heat, or having to sprinkle blood or sleep. In the morning, before sunrise, carry heavy animals. They just do what we volunteers prepare breakfast for the God asks, willingly, with pure hearts women and children—scramble eggs, and clear intention. make French toast and coffee, pour I don’t know about you, but juice—then drive the women and chil“Okay, I’ll do whatever you want just dren back to the day shelter, and rush because you commanded me” is just to get our own work or school day not my tendency. started. It’s our family and congregation’s commitment to Room at the Inn ♦♦♦ (roomstl.org), an organization that So, how do I explain that, over the provides immediate, temporary shelter last four years, I have slept dozens of to homeless women and families, for nights on our synagogue floor? On the which our synagogue serves as one of first Monday of each month, volun60 interfaith congregational night sites teers from my congregation, Shaare around St. Louis. Emeth in St. Louis, Missouri, includI often have moments when I wish ing my 11-year-old daughter Sarah and we had not committed ourselves, like my 13-year-old son Max, transport those mornings when I have no time homeless women and families to our to shower or when my 45-year-old synagogue, prepare dinner and dessert back aches from sleeping on a sinking for them, visit, and set up a room full air mattress or when I’m rushing to my teaching job or feel so wiped out Debra Solomon Baker, a member of CongreI can hardly manage my energetic gation Shaare Emeth in St. Louis, Missouri, eighth-grade students. At these times teaches eighth-grade English and blogs about I think about what acquaintances have her experiences at debrasolomonbaker. said to me: “Really? You let your wordpress.com. kids do this? And on a school night? reform judaism
I would never.” Or, “Really? You let your children sleep amongst strangers? Aren’t you afraid?” Yet, like the Temple priests who showed up at the altar again and again as they were commanded to do, I too show up, taking my place on the overnight shift, the shift deemed least desirable and the hardest to fill with volunteers. The plain fact is, my kids and I show up because women and children need us to be there. We show up because in the morning, when I am driving these women and children back to the day shelter and I glance through my rearview mirror, I’ll often see Sarah holding hands with a girl she knows not as homeless, but as human. I’ll see the girl clutching, with her other hand, a magic wand that Sarah has pulled from her closet in our little ranch home. We show up because I want my children to know that the world is filled with us, not with us and them—and just because some of us have closets bursting with Wii games and stuffed bears does not mean that we are somehow better than those of us who do not. Sleeping on an air mattress, not showering, and imbibing extra caffeine are but small sacrifices in the face of a giant need. I try, much like it seems Aaron and his sons tried, to keep my focus clear, my perspective intact, my intention holy. I try to listen to that voice that tells me, maybe even commands me, to show up at the temple on Monday nights and give my tiny offering. Is that voice God’s voice? I don’t know. But when the women leave my mini-van and whisper, as they often do, “God bless you; thank you so much,” I think: Maybe God has been sitting right here in the back of my Nissan Quest minivan.
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When You’re Connected, You Give A conversation with Shawn Landres
Shawn Landres, Ph.D, is co-founder of Jumpstart, an LA-based philanthropic research and design lab, which over this last year has released “Connected to Give,” the first comprehensive study of the giving habits and motivations of American Jews. It can be downloaded free of charge at connectedtogive.org.
American Jewish household charitable dollars, 23% go to congregations (including membership dues), 39% to Jewish nonprofits, and the remainder to non-Jewish nonprofits.
Does your research dispel any long-held perceptions within the Jewish community about who gives to the Jewish community, who does not, and why?
It’s complicated. HUC-JIR Professor Steven M. Cohen, a senior researcher and analyst for Connected to Give, has been warning of this since the late 1970s, when he first cautioned that rising Baby Boomers might not be on track to give to Jewish federations at the same rates or in the same amounts as their parents. In Connected to Give, we were able to test the “younger=less giving” hypothesis across more than a dozen specific religious and charitable purposes, from basic needs to civic and social advocacy. It turns out that younger nonOrthodox Jews are less likely to give to Jewish federations: 28% of them under 40 give to Jewish federations, whereas 45% of those 65 and over do the same. But there are areas in which Jewish
Yes. Two commonly held perceptions we dispelled are that most Jewish household giving goes to non-Jewish causes and that younger Jews are less likely to give to Jewish causes across the board. Connected to Give found that 76% of American Jews make religious and charitable contributions. Of these, 75% donate to both Jewish and nonJewish organizations and 4% give only to Jewish organizations. All together, four out of five Jews who make charitable gifts give to Jewish causes. Sixty percent of American Jews give to Jewish organizations. And of all
And your research also counters the claim that young Jews are giving less to Jewish causes?
organizations have increasing appeal for younger donors. The four charitable purposes where younger Jews are more likely to give to Jewish organizations are education (15% of non-Orthodox Jews under 40 vs. 11% of those 65 and over), local or neighborhood-based causes (11% of those under 40 vs. 4% of those 65 and over), international humanitarian aid separate from Israelrelated causes (9% of those under 40 vs. 6% of those 65 and over), and the environment (9% of those under 40 vs. 3% of those 65 and over). What have you learned about synagogues and giving?
Synagogues remain powerful engines for charitable giving. Nearly four out of every five charitable dollars given by American Jewish households to Jewish organizations—79%—come from the 38% of American Jews who are synagogue members. Attendance at religious services also strongly correlates with giving: 80% of Americans (Jews and non-Jews alike) who attend services once per month or more make
Giving to Jewish Organizations by Purpose and Age
Under 40 40–64
EDUCATION (Jewish organizations)
NEIGHBORHOOD/COMMUNITY (Jewish organizations)
INTERNATIONAL AID (Jewish organizations)
ENVIRONMENT (Jewish organizations)
The “younger=less giving” hypothesis does not hold true for these four charitable purposes for which younger non-Orthodox Jews are more likely than older Jews to give to Jewish organizations. reform judaism
Charts courtesy of Jumpstart
65 and above
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religious or charitable contributions, compared with 55% of those who attend less frequently or not at all. However, there are certain cautions to consider. The days of giving because “you owe it to the Jewish community” are over. And I believe it is time for us to redefine “Jewish giving.” If Jewish giving solely refers to the traditional model of donating to certain Jewish organizations or for specific religious purposes, Jewish appeals are likely to resonate with ever smaller audiences. However, if Jewish giving is reframed as giving to any cause for Jewish reasons, then the resulting broader and more dynamic charitable giving conversation will engage many more Jews. Philanthropically, the most successful Jewish organizations listen closely to their stakeholders—current and potential—and find creative ways to transform their stakeholders’ passion into impact. I believe Reform congregations, especially those that already are looking beyond their own institutional walls, can lead the way here. What if synagogues were the places where donors could learn not only how to be generous, but also how to be strategic in their philanthropy? What if every synagogue had a giving circle that pooled congregants’ resources and collectively allocated them to Jewish and non-Jewish beneficiaries alike, all through a Jewishly informed process of learning and reflection? What if every bar or bat mitzvah participated in a Jewish teen philanthropy fund? In short, what if congregations were platforms where Jewish giving became a synonym for smarter giving—where people who wanted to get better at doing good were set on the road to do so? In effect you are reframing the synagogue as a philanthropic community builder and connector, rather than a recipient of philanthropy per se.
Yes, exactly. Professor Cohen used our data to construct an index of Jewish social engagement based on four nonfinancial measures of Jewish connectedness: marital status (married to another Jew, not married, or intermarried), proportion of Jewish friends, religious service attendance, and volunteering for religious and charitable organiza-
tions. The index maps American Jewry into four roughly equally-sized segments, corresponding to very low, low, moderate, and high levels of Jewish social engagement. American Jews with high levels of Jewish social engagement are more than five times as likely as those with low levels to have given to a synagogue (81% vs. 15%) and more than twice as likely to have given to a Jewish nonprofit (82% vs. 37%). When it comes to Jewish household giving, Jewish social engagement is a stronger predictor than even income or age. As I see it, the single most important lesson from our research is that effective resource development—whether by synagogues or Jewish nonprofits— depends on Jewish connections. Congregations—even ones that are living hand-to-mouth—need to move away from focusing on fundraising transactions (e.g., “What have you given us lately?”) to building Jewish relationships (e.g., “How can we connect you to your community?”). For some, to be sure, making a donation can be a gateway to Jewish engagement, but our data demonstrates that, for most, it is Jewish social engagement that leads to Jewish charitable giving. This is especially important for those who move from low levels of Jewish social engagement to more moderate levels. We live in an era of multiple choices and multiple identities. It simply is not realistic to expect every Jew to become a “super Jew” with the highest levels of Jewish social engagement. But we can follow the example of the mission of Limmud, the global Jewish learning movement: “Wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further along your Jewish journey.” What other factors do congregational leaders need to consider?
Today’s Jewish charitable givers of all ages—existing and prospective donors alike—are very concerned about need and impact, and generally prefer to frame their motivations in broader moral or altruistic terms than in explicitly Jewish ways. For most Jewish donors in the Connected to Give sample, explicitly Jewish motivations to give, such as a commitreform judaism
ment to being Jewish (45% overall) or the belief that their giving will help improve Jewish life and the Jewish community (43% overall) aren’t nearly as important as broader altruistic motivations, such as feeling that those who have more should help those with less (58%), seeing themselves as fortunate and wanting to give back to society (57%), believing that their charitable giving will help make the world a better place (58%) or that it can achieve change or bring about a desired impact (56%), or wanting to meet critical needs and support worthwhile causes in the community (54%). Among self-described Reform Jews, being Jewish (43%) or wishing to strengthen Jewish life (39%) are cited by fewer people than meeting needs (50%) or making a difference (53%). Ultimately, to be successful in fundraising, synagogues must articulate the needs they meet and the impact of their accomplishments to prospective donors who feel connected to the congregation. Every gift tells a story, and donors want to know and feel part of the stories their support makes possible.
Spinoza continued from page 15 banishment still applied, saying that the free citizens of modern Israel could no longer accept it. The widely read article was hotly debated, underscoring the gulf that had emerged between the secular and religious factions in Israel. ♦♦♦ In many ways all of us are “Spinoza’s children,” for Spinoza’s ideas changed the Jewish worldview. Even though he himself was anti-religious, he helped lay the groundwork for a modern Judaism that integrates reason with faith and honors freedom of thought and practice. He inspired the notion of a secular Jewish identity and championed democratic ideals that played a role in the Zionists’ conception of the fledgling Jewish state. In his day Spinoza was cast out of the Jewish community for his dissenting views on religion. Today, with one of three Jews under 30 calling themselves Jews of no religion, we marginalize secular Jews at our own peril.
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What Do You Know…about Burial & Shiva? By Susan Esther Barnes
Do you know as much about Jewish burial and mourning rituals as you think you do? 1. Why in Jewish tradition is the body of a dead person guarded and tended from the time of death until burial? a. So the spirit of the deceased person does not feel abandoned b. To protect the body from animals c. To comfort the family d. All of the above 2. What does a person performing shmira (guarding the body before burial) traditionally do while sitting with the dead person?
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a. Read Psalms b. Study Torah c. Pray silently d. Write condolence letters
Susan Esther Barnes, a member of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California, blogs for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal at jewishjournal.com/religiousandreform.
3. Is taharah (the ritual washing and preparing of the body for burial) performed on a person whose organs have been donated after death? a. No; it is against halachah (Jewish law) to donate a person’s organs b. No; water cannot be poured on such a body c. Yes, taharah is still performed d. Yes, but the person cannot be buried in the traditional shroud because his/her donated organs were not ritually cleansed. 4. In what color(s) shroud are Jews traditionally buried? a. Black b. Blue and white c. Blue d. White
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5. Why are coffins kept closed before and during the Jewish funeral service? a. We are commanded not to look upon the faces of the dead b. To prevent mourners from wailing uncontrollably during the service c. To honor the dead person d. All of the above 6. When a Star of David is placed on a coffin, on what part of the coffin is it placed? a. On the top of the coffin, toward the feet b. On the top of the coffin, toward the head c. On the top of the coffin, symmetrically in the middle d. Inside the coffin cover, where the dead person can “see” it
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8. What is the last thing Jews are supposed to do before leaving a cemetery after a burial? a. Light a memorial candle b. Shovel dirt onto the coffin c. Wash their hands d. Bow in the direction of Jerusalem 9. When does the seven-day mourning period called shiva traditionally start? a. The day the mourner is informed of the death of his/her loved one b. The day after the death c. The day of the burial d. The day after the burial 10. Why are mirrors covered in a house of mourning during the shiva period? a. All vanity is to be put aside during this period of intense mourning b. Some people used to believe that a departing spirit might be caught in a mirror c. To preserve tradition d. All of the above Answers on page 22 reform judaism
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Quiz Answers continued from previous page 1. D. The practice of guarding the body may have originated from a desire to prevent it from being harmed by animals. Some people also believe that the soul hovers near the body between death and burial and it is therefore a kindness to keep the dead company until the burial. A similar line of thought suggests that because a person’s spirit is in a state of distress and confusion immediately after death, reading Psalms and remaining by the body may help comfort the spirit. In addition, knowing that a shomer (a person who sits with the dead body, from the root shin-mem-reish, meaning “guards” or “keepers”) is with their loved one can be a great comfort to family and friends. It is also a gesture of caring and respect. The actions of the Chevra Kadisha (sacred society of men and women who look after the deceased) accord with the principles of Reform Judaism, and some Reform communities have established Chevrei Kadisha or related organizations. “In all cases, it is a mitzvah for friends and congregants to share in the duties and responsibilities of caring for the deceased and their grieving families” (CCAR Responsum 5754.8). 2. A. When sitting with a dead person, the person performing shmira recites psalms that speak of God as our protector and comforter and are intended to comfort the spirit of the dead person. 3. C. The Jewish people value human life so highly, organ donation is to be allowed after brain death. The URJ Bio-Ethics Program Guide affirms that organ donation “is a modern mitzvah rooted in the value of saving a life (pikuach nefesh).” After the donation, the surgeons close the resulting wounds tightly with sutures, allowing the ritual of taharah to be performed with few, if any, variations.”
4. D. Tachrichim, or burial shrouds, are traditionally white, which symbolizes ritual purity, as in Isaiah 1:18: “Be your sins like crimson. They can turn snow-white.” In the 1st century CE, the talmudic sage Rabbi Gamliel was distressed to see dead bodies dumped by the side of the road by poor Jewish people who could not afford fancy burial garments and coffins. As a result, he ordered that upon his death he was to be buried in unadorned cotton garments in a plain wooden coffin, and ruled that all Jews should do so as well (Moed Katan 27b). To this day, many Jews follow the ruling. 5. C. In Jewish practice the coffin is closed at the cemetery and generally at the funeral home. Reform Judaism follows this custom: “We insist on [a closed casket] when services are conducted in the synagogue itself and the cemetery chapel,” (CCAR Responsum 151–152). Although some Orthodox Jews state other reasons for this custom, for Reform Jews it is a way to show respect for the dead.
9. C. Shiva, meaning seven, begins on the day of the burial. The timing ensures that even those families making many funeral-related arrangements are able to stop and mourn. “Three days are the minimum period of mourning in Reform Judaism, and in some communities they have taken the place of shiva as a whole. This, however, is not the desirable norm. Reform Jews ought to observe all seven days of shiva” (Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice, URJ Press). 10. D. One origin of covering mirrors during shiva was the fear in ancient times that a person’s spirit could be caught in a mirror. Today, mirrors are covered to enable family members of the deceased not to focus on their appearance, but on their loss. Other people cover their mirrors to continue their family’s traditional observances during mourning.
Remembering Through... 6. A. The Star of David is usually placed on the top of the coffin nearer to the feet. This allows those performing the burial to correctly position the coffin so that the person’s head is on the side where the headstone will be placed, or, on a slope, on the more “comfortable” uphill side. 7. B. The Mourner’s Kaddish praises God. It does not mention death or mourning in any way. It is a reminder that no matter how angry we may be with God in the depths of our mourning, we are to be grateful to God for all God has provided to us. 8. C. We wash our hands upon leaving a cemetery in order to separate ourselves from death as we return to the world of the living. This practice may have originated from a desire to wash away any evil spirits that may have clung to a mourner in the cemetery, but it’s also practical: mourners’ hands are liable to be dirty if they helped to toss a handful reform judaism
(or shovelful) of dirt onto the coffin, as is traditionally done.
continued from page 16 through the evolving experience of Yizkor, we are able to focus on his/her essence. Strikingly, how our brain processes memories facilitates this ability. “The fading, mutating, and disappearance of memories over time,” says Foer, “happens in the brain at the cellular level.” As memories are being recalled during our individual recitation of Yizkor, our brain cells change. And so, even though we can no longer have an actual relationship with the people we have lost, we can have a dynamic and changing relationship through our memory of them. In this way, our memories of our loved ones literally keep them alive.
Observing Yizkor This Year
izkor is both a prayer of remembrance as well as the name of the memorial service during which it is recited. Jews observe it four times a year—in 2014, this past April 21 (last day of Pesach), June 4 (Shavuot), October 4 (Yom Kippur), and October 16 (Sh’mini Atzeret/Simchat Torah).
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The Peer Effect By Ned Porges
Courtesy of Greater Portland Hillel
y 24-year-old sons, fraternal twins, are the youngest of my children. I tried to give them a Jewish education. Sunday school and weekly Hebrew lessons were a constant strain. Their mother said, You can’t push children to learn; they will let you know when they are ready. I said, They are Jewish children of mine, FUN ON TAGLIT–BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL. and there is no negotiation. Needless to say, there was little to no Jewish education. A few years passed. The kids graduThey won; I lost. No bar mitzvah. No ated from college. My daughter found Jewish identity as I wished it to be. work in San Francisco and my sons in On the other hand, their older sister New York and Boston. All were still by two years couldn’t get enough Sunminimizing their Jewish identity. One day and Hebrew school. She was a season told me that whenever he was asked soned Jewish camper. Came time for if he was Jewish, he’d say, No, but my her bat mitzvah, she thrived, she learned parents are. The other son declared, trope, she did it all. Go figure. Religion is the root of the world’s ills. After they graduated from high Then, a few months ago, I got a call school, I frequently suggested that my from one of my sons. “Dad,” he said, kids look into Birthright, a remarkable “We’re on the Birthright waiting list.” program that provides a free trip to IsraHow did that happen? Turns out, el for Jewish youth ages 18 - 26. I saw many of the twins’ Jewish college my adult friends’ kids return from friends had gone on Birthright, so the Birthright enthused, enlightened, and 24-year-olds now decided Birthright changed. The experience was just as might be a good idea. life-altering for my adult stepson and Birthright found an opening for stepdaughter, both of whom tried to get them, and off to Israel they went. my sons and daughter to go, too. ♦♦♦ But all my kids said No, I’d rather go to Italy or Spain or Mexico. And My son “Mr. Religious Skeptic” that’s what they did. calls me upon his return to New York. My wife admonished me: Stop push- His brother, he says, is still in Tel Aviv, having accepted an invitation to stay ing Birthright so much. The more you over the weekend with two soldiers. I push, the more the kids are going to ask him to tell me about a meaningful push back. So, reluctantly, I dropped experience he had in Israel, and he the subject. relates that during lunch on a kibbutz, an alarm sounded, perhaps a fire or car Ned Porges is a professor emeritus at Highline College, a retired real estate broker, and a mem- alarm, and one of the group members, ber of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, Washington. an Israeli student, abruptly stood up, reform judaism
momentarily terrified. At that moment, my boy realized that, as an American Jew, he doesn’t live day-to-day with fear of rocket attacks, suicidal bombers, death. Israeli Jews do. He’s begun to experience empathy for his Israeli hosts, guides, soldier escorts, and fellow students. ♦♦♦ When “Mr. …But my parents are Jewish” returns from Israel a few days later, he tells me that his defining moment was realizing he’d made false assumptions about the country. “I thought Israel would be a nation of black hats, beards, and Palestinian oppressors, but actually we rarely saw Orthodox Jews,” he reports. “Almost everyone was just like us. Being Jewish doesn’t mean only religion, it is a culture, so I guess I am Jewish after all and proud of it.” A few days later, the same son calls me. He and a Birthright buddy are at an Israeli restaurant in New York; he misses Israel “sooo much,” he decided to have a now-familiar lunch. The cute Israeli waitress gives him the check, and on the back is her phone number. He’s going to call her and make a date. He phones her and makes a date. After the first date, they continue dating. ♦♦♦ When I think back on all this, I guess there are some lessons for Dad to learn, too. What got my kids interested in their Jewish identity was not my prodding them into it, but their friends’ enthusiastic, self-motivated participation. The boys had disliked their small Sunday continued on page 46
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Berlin: The Home I Never Imagined By Ruth H. Sohn
Rabbi Ruth H. Sohn is the director of the Leona Aronoff Rabbinic Mentoring Program and rabbi of the Beit Midrash at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.
September 1: We experience our first Shabbat morning in Berlin at the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue. After services, during the announcements, we learn that Rabbi Daniel Alter, 53—the first rabbi ordained at Geiger
CLOCKWISE: HERE I AM AT A PUMPKIN FESTIVAL; ORANIENBURGER STRASSE SYNAGOGUE; BERLIN STOLPERSTEINE MEMORIALIZING PAULINA FROMMHOLZ.
College in 2006—was badly beaten up just days before our arrival. He was returning home with his six-year-old daughter when four German men of Arab descent approached him and asked if he was Jewish. After he answered “yes,” one of the men punched him in the face and kicked him, shattering his cheekbone. The men threatened to kill Daniel’s daughter but, thank goodness, did not touch her. Daniel’s wife reports that he is recovering well from surgery to repair his jaw and cheekbone, and their daughter seems to be coping well. Later that afternoon, a Kippah Walk will take place to support Daniel and the right of Jews and other reform judaism
minorities to live openly in Germany. We decide to go. Beginning our march, we feel disappointed by the tiny turnout: only 70 Jews wearing kippot. I ask myself, What makes this a demonstration of
support? I’d imagined crowds of Jews being joined by Christians and Muslims, speeches, and our dispensing white kippot to passersby, inviting them to join us. Instead, we Jews are just walking, undramatically, down the street, accompanied by journalists and a police escort. As we stroll, I converse with Chaim, a tall man with a thick beard, a big warm smile—and a large build. Hmmm. A new possibility dawns on me. “Chaim, do you normally wear a kippah in public in Berlin?” “Never,” he answers. “I always take off my kippah before I go outside, or I’ll wear a hat over it.” This is what is significant about our gathering, I realize. In Berlin, even a large man such as Chaim feels he has to be circumspect about publicly
Oranienburger Strasse Synagog ue: © Colin Utz / A lamy ; Berlin Stolpersteine: Photograph by Christoph
have begun a year-long sabbatical in Berlin, one of the places on Earth I never imagined I would live. I am the child of Jews who fled Germany in the 1930s. Growing up hearing about my family’s experiences, all of my associations with the German nation, language, people, and culture became enmeshed with the Holocaust. Even though thousands of Jews—including members of my own family—had once thrived and prospered in Germany, and many considered themselves proud Germans, it had never occurred to me to regard even the most positive elements of German culture—poets, philosophers, and classical composers I loved—as belonging to my heritage. Last September, 2012, my husband, Rabbi Reuven Firestone, and I were invited to Berlin to teach rabbinical and cantorial students at Potsdam University and Geiger College, the first liberal Jewish seminary in Germany since the Holocaust. Just decades after the near total destruction of Jewish life in Germany, I was being offered an opportunity to make a small contribution to the revitalization of Jewish life there. I said yes. August 30, 2012: We arrive at our rental apartment in Charlottenburg. The old Berlin neighborhood, dotted with European cafes, restaurants, and all sorts of shops, strikes me as an older version of New York City’s Upper West Side. It is also lined with charming historic apartment buildings generally three but up to five stories tall—the absence of elevators an apparent trade-off for the charm. We lug heavy bags up 80+ steps.
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acknowledging his being Jewish. Later we will discover that this view is common among Jews in Berlin, even though Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews do walk around the city in identifiably Jewish garb. While verbal harassment and physical attacks against Jews are rare here, they do occasionally occur. Our friends’ discomfort in wearing kippot in public reflects this awareness. September 2: We learn that another demonstration took place in support of religious tolerance, in Schoeneberg, where Daniel Alter’s family lives. This one was attended by 1,500 people, and Daniel spoke briefly to the crowd. “My cheekbone was broken,” he said, “but these guys did not break my will to stand up for dialogue between religions.” September 16: On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, we are among eight people invited to dinner at the home of Daniel Stein Kokin, a professor of Jewish history at a university outside Berlin, and his wife Nizan, a Geiger rabbinical student. People around the table differ in their views of anti-Semitism in Germany. One guest is adamant that, below the surface, anti-Semitism is a reality that will take a very long time to change. He is actively seeking employment outside the country. Daniel feels differently. “Every couple of months or so,” he says, “something happens, like the attack on Daniel Alter, that jolts Nizan and me… but then, that event dies down and life goes back to normal. Maybe we’re naive, but for the most part, we are really comfortable living here.” Later in the evening, I learn that the German public radio station equivalent of National Public Radio—Rundfunk BerlinBrandenburg or RBB—hosts a bi-weekly Friday evening program, “Das Wort zum Schabbat,” “The Word of Shabbat,” which airs talks about the weekly Torah portion. This is the kind of programming I would welcome back in the U.S.! September 17: The second night of Rosh Hashanah, we attend services at the Pestalozzi Strasse Synagogue, the main Reform synagogue in Berlin. It has a rich history. Originally opened as a private Orthodox synagogue in 1912, it became Reform a few years later under the auspices of the Berlin Jewish community. It was set afire on Kristall-
nacht, November 9, 1938, but the fire department quickly extinguished the blaze out of concern for surrounding apartment buildings. With the interior only slightly damaged, in 1945 it became the first synagogue in Berlin to hold worship services after the war. The synagogue community soon committed itself to the preservation of the prewar German Reform style of liturgy, an influence that can be seen today in the congregation’s liturgy, music, and even the clergy’s robes and hats. Almost entirely in Hebrew, the liturgy is more traditional than what we generally associate with Reform. The rabbi and cantor wear flowing black robes, and the black bishopstyle hat crowning the cantor’s head is far more dramatic than anything I’ve ever seen in a North American Reform temple. The music is old world German Reform—not what I am used to, but beautiful and moving. An organ and choir in the balcony fill the sanctuary with the grand compositions and rich harmonies of the 19th-century German Reform composer Louis Lewandowsky. I am dismayed to find that the Pestalozzi Strasse Synagogue has also remained mired in some non-egalitarian customs of the past. Women are not counted in a minyan. They are also not permitted to lead services, read Torah, or recite Kiddush. And there is separate seating for men and women. Ironically, we later learn, a significant number of Reform synagogues throughout Germany are not egalitarian, while some Conservative synagogues, like the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue, are. The non-egalitarianism in the Pestalozzi Strasse Synagogue is the result of the congregation’s continuing commitment to offer a living example of pre-war German Reform practice. And all the other non-egalitarian Reform synagogues are trying to address the needs of immigrants in their communities who, in rediscovering their religious roots, often equate authentic Jewish practice with traditional customs. The majority of Jews in Germany now are of Russian and East European descent, tens of thousands having immigrated from the Former Soviet Union and other points east after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Meanwhile, a growing number of Jews, reform judaism
including the clergy associated with Geiger College, are slowly introducing these communities to more contemporary Reform theology, liturgy, and practice. Germany is now the fastest growing Jewish community in the world. Some 120,000 Jews are formally registered with the Jewish community in Germany, but the actual number, which includes thousands of Israelis, may be closer to 250,000—roughly half the number of Jews who lived in the country before World War II. It is easy to see what attracts Jews from around the world to Berlin. The city boasts a cutting-edge contemporary music and art scene, spectacular classical music and art, expanding business opportunities, progressive politics, a cosmopolitan multi-ethnic flavor, and relatively low rents, though they are rising rapidly. Another plus is the ease of getting around Berlin—an extensive system of buses and trains gets you anywhere you want to go, and you can bike through the city on dedicated bike lanes that are often physically separated from automobile traffic on main streets in ways I’ve never experienced in the U.S. Most people we know don’t even consider owning a car. October 8: On Simchat Torah, crowds of people, especially adults cradling young children in their arms and on their shoulders, sing and dance with Torah scrolls around the bimah in the center of the crowded Oranienburger Synagogue. This demonstration of Jewish rebirth in Berlin takes my breath away. November 24: We have come to call the egalitarian, Masorti (name of the Conservative movement internationally) Oranienburger Street Synagogue “our synagogue” in Berlin. In Europe, synagogue architecture tends to reflect the Jews’ two different sets of experiences. Many synagogues built during times of actual or feared persecution were positioned to attract little notice—the Pestalozzi, for example, built in 1912, a time of renewed caution prompted by the 1890s Dreyfus Affair in France (among other events), occupies a courtyard not visible to passersby on the street. At times of Jewish confidence, new synagogue buildings tended to face the street and be decorated with Hebrew inscriptions and Stars of David, as if to
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celebrate the Jews’ standing in society. An example is the Oranienburger, also known as the New Synagogue, built in 1866 with a seating capacity of 3,200, reflecting hopes for Jewish emancipation and renewal during a period of liberal optimism. The synagogue’s striking Moorish architecture, with its three onion-shaped domes decorated in gold, visible from many parts of the city, immediately made it a Berlin landmark. The New Synagogue quickly became an important center of Berlin’s Reform community. Some of Lewandowsky’s most beautiful liturgical music was written especially for its magnificent sanctuary, with its new organ and fine acoustics. On Kristallnacht the building was set afire, but saved by district police chief Wilhelm Krützfeld, who called in the fire department to put out the flames, claiming that the synagogue was under protection of the landmark law. Ultimately, however, Allied bombing raids severely damaged the building and the East German government later demolished it, leaving only its front façade standing. In the 1980s the East German government initiated efforts to restore it, and in 1995 it reopened—not as a synagogue, as most of the original sanctuary was not rebuilt, but as a museum about the history of the synagogue, with classrooms and administrative offices for the Jewish community. Three years later, a group of Jews began using the small upstairs chapel that had been built as part of the exhibit for their own services. In time this group evolved into the Oranienburger Strasse Synagoge. Today’s services at Oranienburger are especially moving. Six people come up for their first aliyot to the Torah, having completed their conversion process just days before. Among them are a young man and his mother who are reconfirming their Jewish status; technically they were already Jewish, but the woman had only learned of her Jewish background as an adult, and it wasn’t until her own son was a teenager that she told him of their Jewish roots. He became interested in Judaism, leading her to become interested as well. Many members of the synagogue are Jews-by-choice, often with a dramatic story of finding their way to our people and faith.
February 25: We decide to attend a Jewish Stammtisch in Berlin. This German tradition brings together an informal group of people who share a particular interest for a weekly or monthly gettogether, usually around an evening meal at a designated table in a local restaurant or pub. There are a variety of Staamtisch gatherings, everything from stamp collectors and church choirs to Jewish artists and intellectuals. The Berlin Jewish Stammtisch meets monthly in the same Greek restaurant where political activists, including Jews, convened through the 1960s and 70s. Che Guevera posters and other throwbacks to those heady revolutionary days still grace the walls. I sit next to Gerhard Baader, a retired professor of history of both medicine and the Jews in Germany. He surprises me by saying that even though SS headquarters used to be located in Berlin, “Hitler never really got Berlin.” Berlin’s population, he tells me, was left-leaning, even then; in the national elections that had brought Hitler to power, he’d had a poor showing in the city. With the exception of such cities as Munich, and parts of Bavaria in the south, most of the Nazis’ support had come from rural areas, and from Germany’s north. Alluding to the brown shirts worn by Nazi party members, “these communities,” he says definitively, “were brown before Hitler, brown during Hitler, brown after Hitler, and they will always be brown.” Gerhard is emphasizing that the anti-Semitism and fascist tendencies at the heart of Nazism went far deeper than a movement galvanized by Hitler’s personal charisma. March 26: My mother comes to visit us for Passover. At the second night seder she shares what has become one of my favorite pieces of family history—how in 1933, when her family had already left Germany for Switzerland, her father invited his sister and two brothers, their spouses and children to all join them for Passover. When they arrived, he told them: “You cannot see from where you are in Germany what we can see from here. You really can’t go back.” He and my grandmother persuaded them to leave Germany. The women and children remained with my mother’s family after the holiday while my mother’s uncles returned to Germany just long enough to close up reform judaism
their businesses and bring their most important belongings to Switzerland. I’ve always loved the fact that this turning point for our family took place over the holiday celebrating our ancestors’ escape from Pharaoh to freedom. My mother’s two-week visit marks only her second time back in Germany since those days—and her first chance to feel what it is like now to walk in the streets, shop for food, ride on the U-Bahn, go to synagogue in a German city—in effect, to taste what it might be like to live in Germany again. Despite her initially mixed feelings about making the trip—exacerbated by some friends’ and relatives’ judgmental comments against it—she is impressed by the Berlin government’s efforts to educate the public about the Holocaust, and moved by the vitality of Jewish life in the city, especially the number of young families at our synagogue. She’s surprised by how comfortable she feels walking around our neighborhood, buying groceries, and attending seders with two different families. “I keep thinking to myself, ‘Ha, ha Hitler. I’m here and you’re not,’” she says more than once. “Just being here feels like a victory. And seeing what life is like here now is satisfying in a way I didn’t expect. This is certainly not the Germany Hitler envisioned.” April 25: Two questions that are taken most seriously in Berlin are how to take responsibility for the murder of six million Jews, and how to educate both residents and visitors about the Holocaust. In this effort, there are several moving memorials, a number of museums devoted to various aspects of the Shoah, and frequent exhibitions. One of Berlin’s more controversial Holocaust memorials is the institution of “Stolpersteine,” German for “stumbling blocks.” Stolpersteine are brass-plated cobblestones embedded into the sidewalk that one literally stumbles upon unexpectedly when walking in cities and towns throughout Germany, and in other countries as well. Memorializing individuals who were victims of Nazi persecution—not only Jews, but Roma and Sinti (often called gypsies), gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, resistance fighters, and others—they begin
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with the words “Hier wohnte,” meaning “Here lived,” and are engraved with the name, year of birth, date of deportation, and the fate of the individual, including the location and date of death. They explicitly say that the person had been murdered (“emordet”) in a death camp (or, in rarer cases, the fact that s/he survived the war). Stolpersteine are placed in front of the people’s last chosen residence, or, in some cases where this is not known, the last place they worked. In this way, Gunter Demnig, the artist behind the project, hopes to symbolically help these individuals return to their neighborhoods, while also prompting passersby to find out more about the people who once lived there (at stolpersteine-berlin.de/en/ orte-biografien). We know of one artist, who, as part of a special project, brought classes of middle school and high school students to make stone rubbings and then research the individual life stories behind the selected names. Not everyone is a fan of Stolpersteine. Some say this form of remembrance is undignified, because inevitably people step on the names of those being memorialized, and over time some cobblestones become tarnished and dirty. On the other hand, the fact that people stumble upon Stolpersteine daily constitutes the power of this memorial. Stolpersteine prompt people to think about the past, ask questions, and engage in conversations they wouldn’t otherwise have had. We take part in one such conversation tonight. Under a full moon, as we bend over to read the names on four Stolpersteine in front of an apartment building, a man stops and asks what we’re looking at. It turns out he is of Roma descent, and is pleased when we tell him that Roma are among those memorialized by Stolpersteine. We go on to discuss the persecution of Roma in Germany and Italy, where he is from, and shared musical traditions among Roma, Sinti, and Jews. For precisely this reason, artist Demnig refers to his Stolpersteine as “social sculpture.” Months earlier, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Reuven and our 19-year-old son Amir watched a man in his 70s polishing a Stolperstein in front of his home. The older gentleman patiently answered the questions of a
little boy and girl from the neighborhood about what he was doing and why. Both Reuven and Amir found their exchange more moving than any Holocaust memorial service they’d ever attended. May 17: One of the things I most enjoy about Geiger is teaching rabbinical and cantorial students from a wide range of backgrounds. Today, in my class on the Book of Esther, we are studying the part of the narrative where Haman’s fantasies of power and revenge against Mordecai begin to unravel as the king orders
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him to lead Mordecai through the city in the royal garb Haman had assumed was intended for himself. When Haman then shares the recent events with his wife and advisers, their response is: “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish stock, you will not overcome him; you will fall before him to your ruin.” A student questions: “Isn’t it strange that Hebrew scripture presents this exaggerated image of the powerful Jew that provided fuel for enemies of the Jewish people to use against us?” continued on page 46
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TATTOOS Nearly 4 in 10 Americans ages 22–37 have a tattoo (Pew Research Center). Many Reform Jews are among them— such as Rabbi Marshal Klaven (shown here), who deepened his Jewish commitment by inking his body. Other young Jews have made thoughtful Jewish decisions not to be tattooed (see p. 33). The permissibility of tattooing in Judaism has been a matter of debate. In the biblical period, tattoos marking affiliation to the people of Israel and ⁄or the God of Israel were generally acceptable (see page 34). In talmudic times as well, the intended reason for the tattoo was the determining factor; the rabbis opposed tattooing “for the purposes of idolatry” (Tosefta Makkot 4:15). Today,
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the CCAR’s Responsa Committee, the Reform rabbinic committee providing guidance on contemporary issues, asserts: “Torah prohibits us from…subjecting our bodies to needless physical damage….It teaches us that we do not own our bodies; rather, God has entrusted them to us for safekeeping, and we are responsible to God for what we do with them….Tattooing [is]…an act of hubris and manipulation that most surely runs counter to the letter and spirit of our tradition…” (CCAR Responsa 5759.4). We welcome your perspectives on tattooing at reformjudaismmag.org.
BUILDING BRIDGES by Marshal Klaven
that I would be barred from burial in a Jewish cemetery had meant little to me as a teenager, when contemplating my own mortality was so far from my consciousness. Only later did I learn that it was a bubbemeise, an old wives’ tale, rooted in fear and superstition rather than in Torah. This was confirmed to me by Orthodox Rabbi Chani Benjaminson, who wrote: “Nothing in Jewish law prohibits a tattooed person from being interred in a Jewish cemetery. Still, certain burial societies—not the majority of them, or even close—will not do so.” At age 20, I decided to have my back tattooed with an intricate Tree of Life design complete with Torah scroll (the Torah itself being a Tree of Life) and the words Shema and Echad (a declaration of my faith). As the first person in my immediate family accepted to a four-year university, I felt excited, scared, and confused. Wanting to hold fast to my Jewish roots as I navigated this uncharted territory, I found the perfect metaphor—a tree stays rooted to its source, even as it extends its branches outward. At the time I was working as a youth advisor for a Conservative synagogue in Boca Raton. Would having tattoos get me fired? I worried. Thankfully the rabbi in charge accepted the decision of Rabbi Alan Lucas, a Conservative authority who wrote, “However distasteful we may find the practice [of tattooing], there is no basis for limiting one’s participation in synagogue. The fact that someone may have violated the laws of kashrut or the Sabbath would not merit such sanctions; the prohibition against tattooing is certainly no worse.” In 2003, I applied and was accepted to the rabbinical program of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The seminary was looking for pas-
Previous spread: Photograph by Kyle New ton
“My mother’s warning that I would be barred from burial in a Jewish cemetery was a bubbemeise, an old wives’ tale.”
am a rabbi, proud to affirm my love of Judaism…on my skin. I got my first tattoo at age 16 after returning from a high school program in Israel. I decided to avow my place among my people Israel by tattooing a small Star of David with a dove in the middle on my left ankle. To my mother, it was an affront. When I asked her why she was so bothered by it, all she would say was, “Because you won’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery.” Then she went dead silent. That’s when you know a Jewish mother is really upset. Many years later, I asked her why she had been so adamant against tattooing. “Regrets,” she said. “Your stepfather has the name ‘Joan’ tattooed on his forearm.” My mother’s name is Susan. To spare my mother any hard feelings over this former girlfriend, my stepfather wore a Band-Aid over the tattoo for years. “Unlike piercings,” my mother explained, “tattoos stay with you, affecting future relationships and employment opportunities. As your mother, my job is to set you up for success. Tattoos are a threat to success. I don’t want you to live with regret.” My mother’s warning The Star of David / Sh’ma tattoo on my arm.
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sionate Jewish leaders who had a unique and strong sense of purpose. Mine was as apparent as the ink on my skin: building a bridge between our ancient traditions and modern culture, so that people didn’t feel forced to abandon one for the other. To get the answers to the questions that I would undoubtedly face, I selected tattooing in Jewish history as the subject of my rabbinical thesis—and was amazed by what I learned. From antiquity to modernity, Jews have always found appropriate as well as inappropriate uses for the tattoo. In the Torah, tattoos marking affiliation to the people of Israel and/or the God of Israel were accepted, if not encouraged, more times than not. (To learn more, read “The Biblical Body as Canvas,” p.34.) In the classic rabbinic period, ca. 200–1600 C.E., the rabbis were troubled by ketovet ka’aka (tattoos), defined as “lacerations on the flesh filled with blue dye or [black] ink or whatever color leaves a mark” (Shulchan Aruch 180:1). What bothered them was not the presence or the content of that mark, but its intended purpose. As the following passage shows, while a minority of sages believed that willfully receiving or giving a tattoo was a transgression, the majority objected only when the tattoo served an idolatrous purpose: “One who writes a ketovet ka’aka on the flesh of his fellow—the two of them are culpable. On what circumstances is this said? When the two of them do so deliberately. But, if the two of them do so inadvertently, then the two of them are exempt. However… one is not culpable until he writes and incises with [black] ink or blue dye for the purposes of idolatry.” (Tosefta Makkot 4:15) In the end, I concluded that our sages did not support a general prohibition against all tattoos because they recognized in the changing world of the diaspora, where cultural norms competed with Jewish values, simple answers rarely suffice. But when we can go deeper than the surface of the skin to get to the very heart of the matter, we see that Judaism—even as it disavowed some tattoos—affirmed that others may have a rightful place within our tradition. These days, I travel around the U.S. endeavoring to help people frame the topic of tattooing in a more nuanced way. I explain that Jewish teachings are not monochromatic on this issue, but a tapestry of colorful opinions firmly rooted in Jewish historical thought. In this way, I see myself as a conduit between those in the Jewish community for whom tattooing remains a taboo and those for whom tattoos are a way of affirming Jewish identity, faith, and pride. Rabbi Marshal Klaven, HUC-JIR class of 2009, serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Galveston, TX. Formerly, he was the Director of Rabbinic Services at the Goldring/ Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
“When I’m not in the spotlight, like Moses, it’s difficult for me to get the words out.”
BEING HEARD by Nick May
hen I’m songleading at the URJ’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Mississippi, my speech impediment is not evident. But when I’m not in the spotlight, like Moses, it’s difficult for me to get the words out. I’ve got a tattoo on the inside of my left bicep that reads: “BE HEARD.” It’s on the left side, because that side of the brain controls speech, and each letter has spaces within it, because that is just like I speak…all broken up. In essence, the tattoo reminds me that, no matter how afraid I am, I must speak up and be heard. Growing up, because I was surrounded by a supportive family and community, I never thought much of my stutter. That changed in my freshman year of college, when people taking my order in the student union or at a drive thru would laugh at me. I started feeling very alone and depressed.
Then I heard about a boy my age who had killed himself because he couldn’t take living with his stutter anymore. This snapped me out of my funk. And it made me want to have a reminder—a tattoo—for me to speak up and not let other people bring me down. Today I believe the tattoo has helped me become a better song leader. I’m more self-confident, which shows when I’m leading a camp or congregation in song. I’ve also become more open to talking to strangers about my speech. People ask me about the tattoo, and almost universally they like the meaning and my willingness to wear my disability on my sleeve. It gives me a chance to educate people I wouldn’t normally speak to.
Nick May, 20, is a songleader at URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Mississippi
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HONORING MY GRANDFATHER by Joseph Metz
have my paternal grandfather’s six-digit Holocaust number, 184203, tattooed on my wrist. What was done to him in hate, I do in love. My grandfather, Gilbert Metz, was known in Auschwitz and Dachau as inmate 184203. To him, these numbers were not just a reminder of his own tribulations during and after the Holocaust— he and his cousin were the only survivors in their family—they were a warning to others not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Living in Jackson, Mississippi, he would visit local high schools and colleges, talking to students about his own experiences, what had happened to the Jewish people, and the dangers of forgetting the Holocaust. He passed away when I was 13 years old, but in the time I had
with him, he taught me so much. He told me, “No matter what people do to you, they can beat you, they can stab you, they can shoot you, but they can
“What was done to my paternal grandfather in hate, I do in love.” never take away your knowledge and life experience.” And he would always say, “When something bad happens in life, look for the good in it.” My tattoo in his memory grew out of a terrible experience during my freshman year of college, when I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and falsely accused of something I did not do. Several people doubted and judged me. While all this was
happening, I thought about what my grandfather used to tell me, You are a Metz, and we Metzes can get through anything. After the ordeal was over and I was proven innocent, I had my grandfather’s Holocaust numbers tattooed on my left wrist. I got the tattoo on December 17, 2012—exactly five years to the day he died. For me, this tattoo will always remain a reminder of him and the unforgettable lessons he stood for. People have asked me what my grandfather would have thought of my tattoo. I think he would be honored that I am honoring him and his legacy, because, just like him, I now go to schools and talk about the dangers of forgetting the Holocaust. At the same time I think he might not want me to have it, because the numbers are associated with the agony of losing your family. Overall, though, I’m fairly sure he would be OK with it. My family is OK with it. My dad actually thought about getting that same tattoo when he was younger, but decided against it. He thinks it’s cool. I recognize that not all Holocaust survivors might feel this way about my tattoo. I’ve only met one other survivor, who told me, “It’s a great show of respect to your grandfather.” Some people might react negatively to it. But, to me, having this tattoo is continuing the goal of Holocaust survivors to teach young people of today about the tragedies of yesteryear. That is why I talk, why I teach, and why I have this tattoo: We must never forget. Joseph Metz, 19, attends Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, Mississippi.
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WHY I’M NOT
“My tattoos show my kids how much I love and care about them.”
TATTOOED THE BODY IS SACRED By Miriam Hopper
am not against tattoos in principle. From a religious perspective, is having a tattoo really that different from having ear piercings or elective plastic surgery? That said, I see the body as sacred, b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), and any alteration should not be taken lightly. Thus far, nothing in my life has driven me to create that kind of permanent change. While most of my friends have tattoos, many of them multiple times over, I often feel as though they are looking for something meaningful so they can get their tattoo, and wonder if those song lyrics or Celtic knots that mean so much to them at 22 will mean the same thing at 42.
SHOWING WHO I AM by Amber Thompson
henever people ask me about who I am, being Jewish is one of the first things I tell them. I’m a single mom with two kids and four tattoos: a hamsa (amulet warding off the evil eye) by my back right shoulder blade; the names of my two children, Aviva and Jackson, up my arms; and the word ahava, meaning love in Hebrew, near my heart. I grew up at Temple Beth Torah (TBT) in Ventura, California, where I became a bat mitzvah, taught religious school, and served as youth advisor. Now, as a parent, I take my own kids to Sunday school at Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, where I’m a member. To me, tattoos are a permanent way to show the world who I am as a person. Getting tattoos with my children’s names—Aviva’s is in block Hebrew letters and Jackson’s in English—is my way of showing my kids how much I love and care about them. Both Aviva, 7, and Jackson, 5, look at and touch the tattoos all the time, and feel special. Using Hebrew letters for Aviva’s tattoo and English letters for Jackson’s represents the dichotomy of my life as a Jew and an American. I didn’t circumcise my son but I’m raising my kids as Jews; I don’t observe the Sabbath each week but I take Aviva and Jackson to a children’s Shabbat service once a month; Jackson’s tattoo is decorated with two crabs, because his astrological sign is a Cancer and I believe in mysticism as well as Judaism, while Aviva’s tattoo has anemones, which I chose because it’s the runner-up to Israel’s state flower. My most recent tattoo—ahavah inside a heart—is a reminder to myself, after going through a hard divorce, that the most important thing in life is love. Now I am applying to nursing school, so I can share that sense of love and compassion with others.
Miriam Hopper, 29, Brooklyn, New York
IT’S TOO DEFINING by Missy Goldstein
Amber Thompson, 35, is a member of Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, California. reform judaism
’ve been reluctant to get a tattoo. They’re permanent, which may come with regret. Plus there’s the cost and pain involved. And I’m aware that in the Holocaust, the Nazis used the tattoo to strip our people of their humanity, their dignity, their identity. Although they clearly don’t have the same meaning today, all tattoos do nonetheless cover up the complexity of one’s identity by reducing it to a simple sign or statement. With a tattoo, I think people would see less of who I am and more of what I appear to be as signified by what’s printed on me. When you don’t have anything marking your flesh, your life is more open to interpretation and engagement.
Missy Goldstein, 22, Jacksonville, Florida
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THE BIBLICAL BODY AS CANVAS Interview with Nili S. Fox tle as well as on certain persons bound in servitude to either human masters or to a deity. Some of these marks may have been incised with needles or knives, qualifying them as tattoos. In some instances, slaves known to be runaways had an additional permanent mark incised on their faces in clear view: “This one is an escapee; capture him.” In other cases, a young slave child was marked with his/her master’s name, both to prevent the child from running away or from being illegally abducted. Another common practice was marking temple servants with the deity’s symbol. In the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods (first millennium B.C.E.), for example, a class of temple officials dedicated to the service of a particular deity—both men and women—bore tattoos of that deity’s symbol that signified their special relationship with the patron god; a star, for example, represented the goddess Ishtar. These officials were not slaves in the normal sense, but a respected class who had the right to own property.
Why have human beings throughout the ages and across cultures chosen to tattoo their bodies?
Humans have always been intrigued with the canvas of the natural body. Body marking is one of several ways of altering its appearance. Since earliest antiquity, even before the invention of writing, humans worldwide used tattooing to dress their bodies in order to convey a broad range of cultural information, everything from their religious beliefs to membership in a special group to marks of magical powers. Tattoos are some of the most effective means for producing symbols, which in turn represent meaningful ideas. Like symbols in general, tattooed symbols can represent a complex series of associations which can both reveal and conceal meaning. Interpreting the hidden or abstract meaning of such symbols is an ongoing communicative process between the tattooed person(s) and other members of the culture’s in-group. Plate depicting an Egyptian What were some of the ideas that informed the palace practice of body marking in ancient societies? musician with a tattoo of the In Mesopotamia in the second and first millenprotective god nia B.C.E., it was common to employ what’s known Bes on her as branding, stamping the flesh with a hot iron, in thigh, c. 1400order to mark ownership on animals such as cat1300 BCE.
In ancient Egypt, from which we have the earliest evidence of tattooing, it appears to have been reserved almost exclusively for women, specifically entertainers and cult functionaries. Archaeologists have discovered female figurines dating as early as the fourth millennium B.C.E. whose bodies are marked by assorted designs—stripes, geometrics, and animals. The first proof of any tattooing practice is found in the early second millennium B.C.E. on three mummies found interred within royal tombs. One, named Amunet, a priestess of Hathor (the goddess of love) who bore the epithet “King’s Favorite,” was tattooed with a series of dots and dashes on her arms, thighs, and lower abdomen. Two other mummies—their names unknown, but their clothes likely identifying them as dancers—were tattooed with diamond patterns on their arms and chest and cicatrix (scar) marks across their lower abdomen. Egyptologists generally categorize these tattooed women as “prostitutes,” or at least entertainers of low status, because there are no known examples of high-class tattooed women. However, the fact that the tattooed mummies were discovered in association with elite tombs indicates that these women did Nili S. Fox is professor of Bible at HUC-JIR and author of several articles on dress and identity in the biblical world.
Werner Forman A rchive / The Bridgeman A rt Librar y
What other kinds of individuals bore tattoos?
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be spared from execution. Here, body marking/tattooing distinguishes individuals from the greater group in order to grant them divine protection, ultimately serving the same purposes as did the mark of Cain and the blood sign on the door lintels of the Israelites in Egypt during the execution of the last plague. Moreover, since in ancient Israel the letter tav could confer ownership, affiliation with a deity, and/or by extension being a religious functionary, these persons marked as “belonging to Yahweh” may have been distinguished as being in a special relationship with God. It is possible that these biblical references to tattooing merely serve as literary devices, but even so, they would have been meaningful only to an audience that was familiar with the actual practices. The only negative biblical view of tattooing appears in Lev 19.28: “Incisions/gashes for the dead you will not make in your flesh nor incised marks (tattoos) on yourselves.”
not hold lowly roles. Some may have been concubines of royals and high officials or served as dancers and musicians in the palace. Were women, then, the primary bearers of tattoos in the region?
Not everywhere. In Libya, tattooing appears to have been prevalent among males. A painting from the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I (early 13th century B.C.E.) depicts Libyan male chiefs as bearing a variety of designs on their legs and arms, among them a rectangle with antennae-like ends, which is the symbol and hieroglyph of the Libyan-Egyptian creation goddess Neith. To bear tattoos of Neith—the virgin mother of the sun—was to designate oneself as a devotee and expect to be under the goddess’ protection. What do we know about tattooing as practiced by the Israelites?
Several biblical texts contain references to body markings that could qualify as tattooing or branding. Only one law, in the Book of Leviticus, prohibits a tattoo type of body marking. In all of the other biblical references, tattooing is presented in a positive light.
How are we to understand this one prohibition against tattooing, which seems to contradict the positive biblical references you cited?
What positive examples of tattooing appear in the Bible?
In Genesis 4:15 we read: “And the Lord put a mark/ sign (’ôt) on Cain so that anyone who finds him will not kill him.” This permanent mark, a tattoo or brand mark, would have served to protect Cain from avengers and other dangerous persons. In Isaiah 44:5, the prophet Isaiah is stressing God’s covenantal allegiance to Jacob/Israel and, in turn, the people’s loyalty to Yahweh in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction and the ongoing Babylonian exile. The prophet explains that one way for the faithful to exhibit their allegiance to God is to write on their hand “lyhwh,” meaning “belonging to Yahweh.” Later, in Isaiah 49:14–16, the prophet tells the Judean people that God has not abandoned them any more than a mother really forsakes her babe. As proof, he says, God has “engraved” on his palms a symbol of a rebuilt Jerusalem—by which he means both the people and the city—thus testifying to the eternal covenant between Israel and God. This engraving would have served as an important sign of God’s constancy and hope of restoration to a population in exile. In Ezekiel 9:4, the prophet Ezekiel is anticipating the destruction of Jerusalem. He pictures six divinely appointed executioners responsible for slaughtering the guilty Judeans in the city. One of the six is told to mark the forehead of each righteous person with a tav, meaning an X; all those so marked are to reform judaism
Only one law, in the Book of Leviticus, prohibits a tattoo type of body marking. In all other biblical references, tattooing is presented in a positive light.
We need to consider the parameters of the prohibition. Because all of the other biblical examples of tattooing mark the individual or group as a devotee of God under God’s protection, perhaps the ban in Leviticus may have in fact applied only to certain types of markings that were reminiscent of non-Israelite cults. The legal material in the Bible makes it clear that its proponents sought to limit Israelite worship exclusively to Yahweh. No images or even symbols of other deities were to be tolerated. Therefore, tattoos bespeaking devotion to another divinity would have been banned, at least by conservative Yahwists such as the priests who authored the Holiness Code of Leviticus. It is also striking that the biblical examples of tattooing which are presented in a positive light all relate to circumstances involving exile. Possibly, such exigent circumstances demanded special marks of identification and allegiance to ensure God’s protection of Israelites dispersed in foreign lands. Once returned to the Land of Israel, such a custom was rejected as pagan by the powers who regulated religious law. While scholars continue to attempt to understand the complexities surrounding tattooing in the ancient Near East, modern Jews grapple with the Levitical ban.
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F CUS: The Art of Change
A Leader’s Guide to Change
RONALD HEIFETZ is the founding director of the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; co-founder of Cambridge Leadership Associates; and author of Leadership Without Easy Answers, Leadership on the Line, and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization. His courses at the Harvard Kennedy School are the subject of the book Leadership Can be Taught by Sharon Daloz Parks. Heifetz advises government, nonprofit, and business leaders worldwide in generating and sustaining adaptive change.
pay for cabs, asking other people to drive her places, and so forth. The adaptive part was coming to terms with the loss of an important part of the story
In teaching about how to effect change, you distinguish between technical and adaptive solutions. What’s the difference?
Technical problems have known solutions that can be implemented by current authoritative know-how and protocol. Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, can only be addressed by people shedding entrenched priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties. For example, Ruth, 95, was living alone and still driving when her son Marty Linsky (co-author of Leadership on the Line) began noticing new scrapes on her car. What was the remedy? The technical change was to fix the scrapes by taking the car to experts at the body shop. But below the surface was an adaptive challenge. Ruth was the only one of her contemporaries was who still driving, and doing so was a source of enormous pride and convenience for her, enabling her to function as an independent person. For her to stop driving required a momentous adaptation. The technical part was easier—having to
“People resist change when they perceive it as a loss; they love change when they see it as a gain. No one [including fish-and-chips waitress Leah Sumray, 21] gives back a winning lottery ticket.”
Ruth would tell herself about who she was as an autonomous human being. The underlying adaptive challenge was for her to refashion her identity and find ways to thrive within new constraints. How do technical and adaptive solutions play out in a synagogue setting?
Similarly, in synagogues many challenges can be addressed through technical problem-solving, such as raising reform judaism
funds for a new building, hiring an architect to design it, cleaning up financial operations. All of these remedies are within the repertoire of the organization’s known capacities. Sometimes we don’t fix the technical challenges well, but people who can help us figure out how to do so are usually within arms’ reach. Challenges facing synagogues for which there are no expert solutions to pull off any shelf, such as how to bring alienated Jews into the Reform community and make congregational life more meaningful to people, require adaptive work. A strength of Reform Judaism has always been its devotion to being a living, adaptive organism—but, over time, even adaptive organisms develop their own culture and traditions. The adaptive work here is the very difficult task of figuring out what to conserve from the tradition that is precious and essential, what to discard, and what innovations will facilitate taking the very best of your history into the future. The process of deliberation can be emotionally charged and laden with conflict, because different people will have different views on what’s precious and what’s expendable. For example, in order to connect with the next generation, do we change the liturgy, or take out pews, or incorporate aspects of an outside spiritual practice? What happens when synagogue leaders treat adaptive problems as if they were technical ones?
This common mistake in organizational leadership is especially problematic in the Jewish community, as we Jews place a premium on analytical thinking and take enormous pride in our ability to devise brilliant solutions. Too often, Jewish leaders talk more than they listen, but the
Photo by Wayne Perry / Montage Communications
The best approach to change is to go into it thinking that your objective is more to protect what people value most than to change what they already have.
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diagnostic process for adaptive problems requires a lot of broad listening to identify what’s essential to people, what’s negotiable, and what may be expendable. Leaders need to ask a lot of questions in order to discern the song beneath an individual’s words—to hear the implied values, loyalties, traditions, and networks of relationship. Why is a particular melody so precious and meaningful to this person? What memories are associated with it? What are the kinds of losses at stake— everything from jobs and status to independence and relationships? Adaptive change requires a modification of the stories stakeholders have been telling themselves and the rest of the world about what they believe in, stand for, and represent. You have to listen carefully, because if you’re going to challenge each person to change, you have to articulate in a respectful and compassionate way what it is you’re asking this person to give up.
Image courtesy of Finegold Alexander Architects
Isn’t it axiomatic that people resist change?
Actually, it’s a mistaken notion that people automatically resist change. People love change when they perceive it as a good thing. No one gives back a winning lottery ticket. What people resist is not change per se, but, as in the case of Ruth, potential or real loss. Therefore, the reason for much adaptive failure is resistance to loss. And the key to leadership is to assess the losses at stake, and then to manage and provide the contexts that move people through those losses to a new place. The social work principle “You have to start where people are” is a critical component of this work. Don’t start with what you want to do; start with where people are. Leadership is not a sales job—it’s identification of the vision that’s already present, latent in the values of the community. You then distill its essence, determine what needs to be conserved, and call upon people to suffer some pain of loss and the discomfort of innovation on behalf of that precious something everyone wants to preserve. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a great paradigm. What made King a powerful leader was his articulating not his own vision, but the vision already present in the Ameri-
Values-Driven Change by K ary n Kedar
n 2003, B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE), then located in Glenview, Illinois, began a process that transformed us from a stagnating into a thriving community. The key to our success was articulating a vision of what we aspired BJBE to become: a values-based congregation driven by the mission to help individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives.
“In this space, we elevate ordinary interactions into ones filled with holiness.”
That vision helped us arrive at five core Jewish values—Torah/Transformational Learning, Avodah/Awakening the Spirit, Gemilut Chasadim/A Culture of Giving, Community, and Israel. Torah: Jewish learning is the cornerstone of Jewish identity, commitment, and engagement. We realized that we needed to create not only great study opportunities, but a culture of learning. Beyond exchanging knowledge and information, we worked to make our learning interactive, enabling people to discover meaning and purpose with other learners in the context of our community. Avodah: We strove to awaken the spirit through avodah (prayer). We knew this would never be achieved if our worship service was like a pingpong game—cantor sings, rabbi reads, cantor sings, rabbi reads, congregation responds. Instead we adopted a varied approach, where music and spoken word ricochet off one another, creating sparks of meaning, joy, and reflection. These days, sometimes our services start out loud with joyful sounds and continue with a quiet, contemplative time. We are also introducing new modes, such as Tai Chi, meditation, and yoga. Gemilut chasadim: We encouraged a culture of giving, making BJBE a place where people could care deeply and express an open heart, giving generously of their time and money. We inspired congregants to volunteer in soup kitchens, to engage in community organizing, to collect necessaries for the needy, and more. Community: We infused our synagogue with a culture of graciousness by studying the value of hospitality with our Board and committees, giving special lessons for our ushers, and speaking about graciousness from the bimah. At BJBE you are not invisible, your humanity is recognized, your life matters. We have a shared responsibility to respond to one another with care and kindness. Israel: Love of our spiritual homeland is reflected in all we do—congregational trips, classes, sermons, and more. We also built a new synagogue home that speaks to these core values. One of our walls is painted a golden color to signify Israel’s barley harvest. The ceiling in our chapel has 36 points of lights—the number representing the 36 righteous individuals hidden among us—which is also the constellation of the Jerusalem sky on Yom Kippur. Most important is our congregation’s beautiful Village Center, a space of intersection where people sit, reflect, and exchange ideas; children hang out—where everyone meets each other at all hours. Living our core Jewish values in this space, we are elevating ordinary interactions into ones filled with holiness. Rabbi Karyn Kedar is senior rabbi of B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim. reform judaism
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can dream. When he spoke of his dream, the very next phrase was, “A dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” He spoke to the American dream of equality and respect for human dignity and freedom of opportunity—values already in the hearts and minds of most Americans—and he challenged people to face up to the internal contradiction between the values they said they stood for and the ways they were actually living. In Jewish life, we can build upon the precious, essential parts of our tradition that anchor us and provide us with spiritual sustenance in the same way that the American dream of freedom and equal opportunity continues to inspire most of us, even as that dream remains an unrealized aspiration. What other mistakes should leaders try to avoid as they oversee change?
Many change initiatives are driven into the ground because of a faulty understanding that “the organization needs to change because it’s broken.” An organization may be struggling to survive, and from an outsider’s perspective it may seem self-destructive, so in those senses you might say it’s broken, but the current way it’s operating has an internal logic. Any social organization—including a family—is the way it is because the people in that system, or at least those with the most leverage, want it that way. They prefer the current situation to trying out something new, where the consequences are unpredictable and likely to involve losses. Leadership would be an easy enterprise if it were all about gains, but it rarely is. It’s not a positive sum game; it involves real losses. The best approach is to go into it thinking that your objective is more to protect what people value most than to change what they already have. Work to reawaken in people the values you’re going to conserve. Change is much more palatable when people realize it is being done to preserve what they love. What can leaders expect in terms of the pace of change?
Adaptation takes time. From a biological vantage point, most adaptations that have greatly enhanced a species’
capacity to thrive unfolded over thousands, even millions, of years. Organizational and political adaptations are lighting fast by comparison, but they also take time to consolidate into new sets of norms and processes. Significant change is the product of incremental institutional experiments built up over stages. That timeframe will differ depending on the urgency of the challenge: whether you’re taking on an issue that’s ripe, by which I mean it’s already generating anxiety within the community, or unripe, meaning one segment of the community cares a lot about it but it isn’t on the radar screen of others. You teach that evolutionary biology sheds some light on the properties of successful adaptation. How so?
In both biological and social systems, the same three conditions are necessary: Conserving the DNA essential for the species’ continued survival “Discarding” the DNA that no longer serves the species’ current needs Creating DNA arrangements that give the species innovative abilities to flourish in challenging environments and take the best of their history forward. In biological adaptations, the actual amount of DNA that changes to radically expand the species’ capacity to thrive is miniscule. More than 98% of our current DNA is the same as that of a chimpanzee: it took less than a 2% change of our evolutionary predecessors’ genetic blueprint to give humans extraordinary range and ability. From a leadership perspective, adaptation is as much, if not more, a process of conservation as one of loss. Successful change builds upon the past. The challenge is to distinguish what is essential from what is expendable in the organization’s heritage, making the best possible use of previous wisdom and know-how. How do good adaptive leaders navigate the diverse and conflicting viewpoints they are going to encounter when discussing what is expendable?
There’s an old Jewish story: Two people are having an argument over a reform judaism
Torah interpretation and go to the rabbi to decide who is right. The rabbi listens carefully and declares, “You are both right.” A bystander interjects, “How can they both be right?” and the rabbi says, “Well, you’re right too.” Good adaptive leaders say to the group, “Listen, there’s wisdom in all of your points of view, but all of your points of view cannot prevail in their current form, so something’s got to give. Progress is going to require compromise. Each person may be right, but sometimes only 80% right. We’ve got to take advantage of the wisdom of each of our points of view.” As you go around the table, people begin to realize, “Wow, we’re all right, but we’re not all 100% right. Now let’s figure out what’s really essential and what is negotiable in each of our points of view, so we can hold together as a community.” You follow this by trying out different solutions. Sol the skeptic is going to say it’s not going to work, which is fine because we don’t know if what we’re doing will succeed anyway. So let Sol keep us honest, and in six months from now we’ll evaluate if the innovation has merit and if not, how it might be revised in version 2.1 or 2.2. Leadership then becomes an evolving process of managing adaptation in which, to use a metaphor from the technology industry, you’re always debugging the system; you’re always coming up with the next upgrade. This brings us to another leadership error: not having an experimental mindset. The most effective way to institute adaptive change is to actively commit to an intervention you’ve designed while also not letting yourself become wedded to it—so if it misses the mark, you don’t feel compelled to defend it. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” You have to believe that your invention is absolutely the right thing to do at the moment you commit to it—while simultaneously remaining open to the possibility that you are dead wrong. An adaptive mindset opens you up to that great unanticipated possibility.
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F CUS: The Art of Change
Creating a Healthy Congregation The lessons learned from 20 years on the frontlines of synagogue transformation.
© 237 / Robert Nicholas / Ocean / Corbis
RON WOLFSON, Ph.D. is co-founder (with HUC-JIR Professor Larry Hoffman) of Synagogue 3000/Next Dor, an institute designed to catalyze excellence in synagogue life. He is also Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University; a member of the URJ faculty; and author of numerous books, including The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community and Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community (both Jewish Lights Publishing).
much more engaging through music. They are also more sensitive to how they welcome the stranger and how they serve members.
If you’re asked to check on a congregation’s health, what vital signs do you measure?
When I’m taking the pulse of a community, I play the role of mystery shopper. I start by checking how that community is welcoming “me” on its website. Often I see uninteresting sites featuring empty sanctuaries and multiple logos—not very enticing. A synagogue community is not a logo or a set of stained glass windows; it is a sacred community of people doing God’s work. Conversely, when I visit that website, walk into that building, and feel “A big vital sign is how happy people appear to be in the congregation.” Since you began your from its warm, engaging, work in the field of vibrant, energized ambisynagogue transformation about And yet, we still hear the same ence that things are happening there that I 20 years ago, what’s been the bigcomplaints: worship is boring and want to be part of—then I’m attracted. I’ll gest change you’ve seen to date? people aren’t welcoming. look for people who are in my life stage, hoping to make new friends. I also want to The biggest change is that synagogue Though we’ve come a long way, we see an intergenerational community learntransformation itself has entered the Jewstill have a long way to go. ish communal conversation. For many The bottom line in all this is congre- ing together, building relationships, raising decades, synagogues operated almost on gational leadership. I’ve seen significant their voices in enthusiastic worship, doing God’s work to repair the world. autopilot, on the expectation that all Jews progress in synagogues where the clerwould join a synagogue at some point or gy, staff, and lay leaders are honest with A second big vital sign is how happy another in their lives. Indeed, earlier each other, build trust by performing people appear to be in the congregation. demographic studies showed that nearly candid assessments of what’s succeedAre they excited when they come in for 80% of American Jews did belong to a ing and what’s not, consider worship services? Do they welcome each other synagogue at some period in their lifetime. renewal and service quality seriously, enthusiastically? Is the clergy happy? Is But the 1990 National Jewish Popula- and work together as partners. the staff happy? Is the leadership happy? tion Survey raised the alarm about Jewish Other synagogues didn’t get the This isn’t so different from a doctor continuity, and Jewish leaders began to message of transformation. They’re checking a patient’s vital signs. One of ask challenging questions about what a still living in a 20th-century model, the first signs physicians look for is the sacred community ought to be, especially which doesn’t compete well in today’s general feeling they get while meeting in the areas of welcoming and worship. marketplace, when families can, their patients. They can usually tell withIn the past 20 years, many Reform for example, easily rent a rabbi for in minutes if a patient is healthy or not. congregations have made worship a lifecycle event. When I visit a congregation as a scholarreform judaism
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in-residence and someone picks me up at the airport, I usually know within five minutes whether it’s a happy place or not, because I either hear all about the exciting happenings there or all the problems weighing down the congregation. A third sign is literally a sign. What does it say on the synagogue marquee? Is there a sign of welcome? In some communities you’ll see “DO NOT ENTER” or “DROP OFF ONLY.” A fourth vital sign is how long the clergy and staff have been serving the community. When rabbis, cantors, educators, and/or executive directors have worked in a synagogue for 10 or more years, it’s indicative of a stable community where the professionals have had the time to get to know people and build the kind of relationships that are at the core of healthy congregations. Another vital sign—I’ll ask the board: “How many people do you have?” If the answer is the number of households or membership units rather than the number of human beings, it’s a signal that leaders don’t realize people and relationships come first. Here’s a surprising vital sign: Is the coffee really good at the oneg? If the congregation puts its best food forward—pun intended—it demonstrates that hospitality is a priority. Finally, is there a clear vision of what the congregation is in business to do? In my book Relational Judaism, I posit nine questions that every congregant should ideally be able to answer in the affirmative. Does the congregation: 1. Change my life 2. Strengthen my family 3. Give me a community of friends to celebrate the ups and downs of my life 4. Teach me how to use Jewish study and practice to enhance my life 5. Connect me to both a sacred and civic Jewish community in a significant way 6. Give me a sense of belonging to the Jewish people 7. Deepen my relationship with the State of Israel 8. Lead me to do the work of repairing the world 9. Help me to build a relationship with God, however I define God?
What are the most common ailments weakening synagogues?
One serious ailment is dependency on the “programmatic model of engagement,” based on a false assumption that people will join or maintain temple membership for programs. One congregation called me in a state of emergency: “We’re 100 years old and we’re dying.” The incoming president explained that 10 years earlier, the synagogue had started to lose people because of demographic forces, so the leadership had decided to turn that around by a huge infusion of exciting programming. Starting from a balanced budget, they borrowed $1 million, hired a program director, and created a calendar full of concerts, lectures, and big-time events. For the subsequent 10 years, big crowds showed up for the events, but nothing was done to change congregation’s ambience, which was widely perceived as cold and unwelcoming; and nothing was done to build relationships among the people who showed up for the programs or to engage families whose kids attended the synagogue’s preschool or religious school. By the time the temple leaders called me, the congregation was more than a million dollars in debt and membership had shrunk from 1,200 to 350. The lesson here is clear: While programs are important, people come first. Another major ailment is congregational conflict. In the middle of one synagogue’s major holiday service, I watched the cantor slam the prayer book shut and walk off the pulpit. Later I learned that the rabbi and cantor had been locked in what’s often called “the battle of the bimah” over the direction of the congregation’s worship experience. I could tell you of similar conflicts between lay leaders and rabbis over contract renewals that have factionalized congregations. When leaders are publicly at odds, factions ensue, adversarial relationships develop, people act unkindly to one another, and congregations can literally split apart. In contrast, happy synagogues with happy members move forward. If there is trouble, the Reform Judaism magazine article on conflict resolution, “A Temple Divided Can Still Stand Together” (reformjudaismmag. org/summer_2011), can help. reform judaism
A third ailment is the leadership’s unwillingness to try something new, to take risks, to change. All institutions are resistant to change, but the ones that understand the inevitability of change do better than the ones who hold on for dear life to the way “we’ve always done it.” How long does it take to change a congregation’s culture?
The kind of cultural paradigm shift I’m advocating—moving from a transactional/programmatic model to Relational Judaism—can take years. It begins when congregations assess current realities, open themselves up to having everyone communicate with one other, commit to a major shift, and undertake a planning and implementation process. The rabbi of a major Reform temple told me that when he arrived a decade earlier, the congregation was failing. There were several factions, they’d gone through several rabbis, and members were leaving. He started over by scheduling hundreds of one-on-one meetings with individual congregants and listening carefully as they told stories of the ways in which the congregation had not served them well. His listening campaign, as it were, went on almost every day for two years. Then he created a blog and posted some of the concerns anonymously, to which people responded, sharing their experiences, worries, and hopes for something better. “After two years of conversations,” the rabbi told me, “I felt ready to articulate my vision and get people on the same page with me and move forward. I had built enough trust with both board members and congregants to respond favorably to my call for change. I had identified the people who’d been resistant to certain changes and explained the reasons for my suggesting the changes. I’d built relationships by explaining.” The congregation proceeded to make some difficult staffing changes, replace their prayer book, and much more. “In 10 years,” the rabbi concluded, “we have created a vibrant, exciting congregation. We’ve doubled our membership, we have an exciting worship environment, lots of people are studying, our social justice is fantastic, we have become a caring community, our schools continued on page 48
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Letters continued from page 3 connected. There is widespread aversion to the dues abatement process and the embarrassment it causes for all parties. Beth Tikvah has moved gradually away from this model, to the point where, next year, members will make their own decisions about their financial commitment to our congregation. We also believe that the more connected members are to synagogue life— whether through worship, education, volunteering, or social events—the more likely they will be to provide financial support. This means we need to offer a welcoming, open environment to the diverse populations constituting our membership; we are taking steps to both broaden membership and increase engagement. It also means building a culture of philanthropy. There is no cookie-cutter dues solution. Not every congregation should change dues models, but the times demand that we all do business differently. Andrew O. Smith Chair, COP Task Force Congregation Beth Tikvah Worthington, Ohio
f Eliyahu HaNavi showed up at your community seder in the guise of a young person seeking a sense of family far away, would you refuse him/her a place at your seder table because s/he didn’t have a reservation? This happened to my daughter in a Reform community. When the rabbi was asked how this could be on a night we affirm, “This is the bread of affliction…. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate Pesach,” he explained that the event had been catered. There was no hint of compassion for my daughter or for this heartbroken mother thousands of miles away. I support Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ call for “Audacious Hospitality” (“Dear Reader,” Spring 2014) and urge our Jewish communities to leave an extra cup of wine for Eliyahu HaNavi and an extra chair for the unexpected guest, so all may feel welcome without reservation. A.W. Lachman Honolulu, Hawaii reform judaism
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F CUS: The Art of Change
Teaching Torah by the Trail Mix Meeting Jews or those who are “Jew curious” in a market or café or by the shore has the magical quality of bumping into an old friend you haven’t seen in years. by Dan Moskov itz
28-year-old struggling writer The Bible tells us that the people lifetime adult learners. walks up to a checkout counter gathered around Ezra to listen as he read There is nothing new in all this. at Whole Foods. “Where is the Torah When the Israelites returned from Baby- and translated the text, “giving the meanstudy?” he asks. ing so that the people under“Oh, the class with the stood what was being read” rabbi? That’s in the back, (Nehemiah 8:8). The people near the nuts.” engaged with the sacred text The clerk wasn’t being and with one another. pejorative—the Torah study Millennia later, public really is in the back, near the space Judaism is again an bulk bins of nuts and trail emerging trend. mix. I should know: I’m the ♦♦♦ nut teaching Torah in the grocery store every Wednesday. I began my own work in In my 20-plus years as a this field as a congregational Jewish educator, I never rabbi at Temple Judea in Tardreamt I’d be teaching Torah zana, California, inspired by in a supermarket. But, then Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s teachagain, I’m pretty sure the two ing: In a place where you dozen or so students who regcan be Jewish anywhere, we ularly participate in the class should grasp the opportunity never thought they’d be studyto be Jewish everywhere. ing Jewish text each week, let Leading a Torah study session at a Whole Foods market, Torah study at Whole alone doing so surrounded by Vancouver, British Columbia, 2014. Foods soon expanded to a organic Swiss chard. host of Jewish events. On Our eclectic group of students is Sukkot our youth group built a sukkah lonian exile in 537 B.C.E. and rebuilt growing. The 40-something moms the Temple, Ezra the Scribe noticed that on Whole Foods’ outdoor patio, allowattend after yoga or in the midst of shop- the people were too busy with the presing diners to fulfill the mitzvah of lashav ping. A few out-of-work men and womb’sukkah, of dwelling in the sukkah. A sures of the day to make time for Judaen fill their now-empty schedules with banner explained the structure as “a ism. He decided: If the people won’t lunch and conversation. At least six come to the Temple, I’ll bring the Temple replica of a biblical hut built by Jewish grandmothers add their wisdom. Some to them. On Mondays and Thursdays— farmers to live and eat in as they harvested in the group aren’t Jewish. Of those who the two market days, when the most their crop. It celebrates the land and gives are, we have temple members (my conpeople were transacting business, meet- thanks for the food it produces.” We nurtured a mutually beneficial gregation or another), unaffiliated Jews, ing, and greeting in the town square— relationship with the store manager and twice-a-year Jews, minyan makers, and Ezra stood in the street and read Torah staff. Employees asked our rabbis about out loud to a people who had all but Jewish observances, and the store generRabbi Dan Moskovitz is senior rabbi of Tem- forgotten their own story. From this ple Sholom in Vancouver British Columbia, ously sponsored food and activities at seminal moment in our history sprang Canada and co-author of The MRJ Men’s temple events, such as our Purim carnival. the practice of reading the Torah on Seder Haggadah (MRJ Press 2007). You can A year later, the relationship had Mondays and Thursdays that continues follow him on twitter @rabbidanmosk. solidified to the point that the store in synagogues to this day. reform judaism
Photo by Josh Neihaus
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manager invited our congregation to lead a menorah lighting at Hanukkah time. At that moment I knew that we’d not only engaged Jews beyond our shul’s walls; we had changed the public face of Judaism in our community. We expanded our outreach. We led PJ Library events for kids in pajamas at local bookstores. We sponsored play dates and Jewish crafts projects at indoor play spaces. On the opening weekend of the youth soccer season, which fell between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we pitched an EZ-up tent near the snack vendors and team tents, handing out free apples and honey sticks and wishing all passersby a “Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year!” For the unaffiliated it was outreach; we had information on hand about the meaning of the High Holy Day and suggested ways to celebrate it at home or in shul. For non-Jews, we presented Judaism in a positive, non-threatening, accessible way. Initially, some congregants expressed apprehension about our taking Judaism into public space. We talked with them about our goals and approach, and invited them to watch an event. Soon, our initial critics became participants and vocal supporters. In one instance, a skeptical lay leader standing at the back of the group during PJ Library story time was so moved by the experience, she brought her granddaughter the next month and then signed up to be a storyteller. Months later she was chairing the program! ♦♦♦ These days, I am a congregational rabbi at Temple Sholom in the closeknit, vibrant Jewish community of Vancouver, British Columbia. The population mix is a bit different, but the need to reach beyond the walls is equally imperative. For Jewish communities like Vancouver (26,255 Jews out of a city of 2,280,695 or 1.2%) that lack great Jewish population density, public space Judaism is a bit like online dating: If you want to meet someone, you need to let people know you’re looking. How do we accomplish this? My colleague Rabbi Carey Brown teaches a Talmud class for millennials in a local coffee shop once a month; I teach a text
Howard Schultz, the man who develbased Jewish current events discussion oped Starbucks Coffee’s identity, famousdowntown at lunchtime in an office ly explained his business model as trying boardroom. Both classes are widely to create a “third place” between work promoted, easily accessible to the puband home where people could gather and lic and well attended. Ringing in the feel they 2014 year, belonged. we led a For Shabbat generaservice tions the and synaHavdallah gogue at Whistler was that Blackthird comb, the place for nearby Jews. On mountain Friday ski resort nights, that’s poptemple ular with was the Jews gatherthroughHiking in Malibu, CA during Temple Judea’s men’s retreat combining Jewish study with outdoor adventure, 2012. ing and out the hangout Pacific place for the Jewish community. We Northwest and Western Canada. Our Jews showed up for a myriad of reapromotion said: “We know you won’t sons, but mostly we gathered to see be in shul this weekend, so we’ll bring each other. As the old joke goes: shul to you. Just bring an entrée and, if you can, a friend or two.” More than 60 Goldberg comes to synagogue every people came to the dinner and service, including two Jewish families vacation- Shabbes morning. All of a sudden Schwartz starts coming. ing from the East Coast who’d been This goes on without interruption for walking by our banquet room in the weeks, until one Saturday at the Kiddush, hotel lobby when they spotted our sign the rabbi approaches Schwartz: “For and heard our joyful singing. About 45 the last few weeks you’ve been here people showed up the following evening for a Havdallah service; afterwards every Shabbes. Goldberg I understand—his father’s a rabbi, he reads the room was electric with everyone Torah. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad talking about how wonderful it was to connect with a larger Jewish communi- you’re here, but you, Schwartz—I never ty while on vacation and brainstorming thought of you as religious.” “Oh, rabbi you see, Goldberg comes how we might do this again. Also, a few to talk to God, and I, well, I come to local Jewish families asked us if we could help educate their remote commu- talk to Goldberg.” nity. We now have plans to bring Hebrew Today, Schwartz and Goldberg are a school and family education to them. vanishing breed. More Jews are outside When the rain and snow subside and than inside the synagogue walls. So the sun shines gloriously on Vancouwhat are we to do? ver’s beaches, the locals congregate by Like most rabbis, I have tried everythe water for BBQs and sunsets and our congregation leads relaxing, open Shab- thing short of standing on my head to get people into my shul for prayer or bat services on the beach. We unfurl a study. While many come, some reguhuge banner and post signs welcoming larly, many others don’t or won’t. It is all who wish to join us. And, like at time we also consider those who don’t Whole Foods, they come—Jews and “Jew curious,” those who caught our ads even know shul is an option. We can bring synagogue to them. We can meet in the local alternative free papers and in a third place of our own creation, those just passing by. reform judaism
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10 Ways To Expand Your Temple’s Reach By Kerry M. Olitzk y
hen asked why he robbed banks, the notorious Willy Sutton is said to have famously responded, “Because that’s where the money is.” Similarly, Public Space Judaism takes Judaism outside of the four walls of the synagogue to where the people are. Here are 10 effective ways to make it happen: Identify the barriers to participation and then find ways to lower or eliminate those barriers. Common barriers include high costs, expectations of participants’ Jewish knowledge, “in-speak,” cliquishness, demographic biases (heterocentrism, Ashkenazi-centrism, in-marriage-centricism, etc.), and the “location barrier”—the latter the most important, because Jews who once felt excluded will not re-enter a synagogue. Instead, holding programs in public spaces allows people to stumble upon them and discover for themselves what’s changed in their Jewish community. Design an event that is both core to your mission and most likely to interest your target population. For example, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars engaged hundreds of people who may not have otherwise participated in the temple’s High Holiday services. Create a spectacle—an event that will attract the attention of passersby. For example, Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC and Houston’s Temple Emanuel presented Hands-on Hanukkah programs. Passengers in the DC Friendship Heights Metro Station and shoppers in a busy Houston Learning Express stopped to see a young person in a dreidel costume spin in front of a large colorful Hanukkah back-drop to live holiday music—which prompted them to get involved in a variety of Hanukkah activities. Position your program at a highly-trafficked area and time. Nearby baseball fields during Sunday morning baseball practice, for example, provide a great venue for creative programmers to engage parents. Staff the event with people who reflect your target population. Participants want to engage with institutions where they see people like themselves. For example, families with young children have been responsive to Alyssa Latala, a personable, Jewishly passionate mom with young kids who serves as Big Tent Judaism Concierge for congregations and other Jewish communal institutions in the larger Chicago area. She talks to unaffiliated Jews at malls, bookstores, supermarkets, and parks, and offers personalized recommendations of Jewish community programs that might interest them. Stage an event offering an explicit benefit to passersby. For example, Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, New Mexico hosted “8 Days of Oil,” a gourmet olive oil tasting, in a local grocery store, offering shoppers the chance to sample different, fine olive oils and inspiring them to make healthy, creative food choices in their Hanukkah celebrations. Give participants a takeaway they’ll appreciate that reminds them of the experience and the temple. For example, Temple Sinai in Cranston, Rhode Island presented
each family participating in Color Me Calendar with a three-month holiday calendar that included their children’s drawings during the event. Printed on the calendar, which undoubtedly ended up on many families’ refrigerator doors, were low barrier, kid-friendly Denny the Dreidel, Jewish community events over aka Dorothy, 11, at the next three months. Washington Hebrew Turn your Jewish outreach Congregation’s Hands-On programs into public events. Hanukkah event, 2011. Taste of Judaism, for example, can be moved from synagogues to big box bookstores, ideally in the highly trafficked month of December. Retailers have a simple rule: The longer a potential customer stays in the store, the more likely s/he is to make a purchase. As a result, retailers are generally very responsive to such events. Experiment with cultural destination programs, which are also held in public spaces but depend on participant planning. A good example is a Jewish film festival held at a commercial movie theater. Although viewers may have to purchase tickets in advance, there’s a low barrier to participation because everyone knows the etiquette involved in going to the movies. Measure success not in affiliation, but engagement. It is unusual for people to join an institution following a first encounter. Instead, evaluate your success by the number of participants engaging in the next similar event. Experience shows that the combination of a good event and smart follow-up can bring about a third of the newcomers into further engagement during the course of the first year. To collect contact information, use an unobtrusive incentive, such as a raffle with a desirable prize; avoid sign-up sheets, which are seen as serving the institution rather than the individual. In the case of the Color Me Calendar, the promise of receiving a subsequent activity coloring calendar was sufficient for participants to share their contact information with event organizers, which enabled them to invite the families to participate in another event likely to interest them. If we build it, they may not come. But if we go to them, that’s where they are. And only if we meet them where they are do we have a chance of forging a path with them into the congregational community.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is executive director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute, which developed the theoretical program construct and term “Public Space Judaism,” and trains synagogue and other communal professionals to take Judaism outside the walls to the people through signature programs such as Passover in the Matzah Aisle, Color Me Calendar for the Jewish New Year, 8 Days of Oil, and Hands-on Hanukkah.
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filling it with meaning and a measure of yiddishkeit. In a public space, a warm hello can lead to conversation, and conversation is the cornerstone of relationship. Our conversations often begin with a simple, “So why’d you come to this?”…and the answers have proven profound. For many young Jews walking by, hearing a familiar Jewish melody or seeing a group of Jews engaged in conversation awakens long dormant childhood memories. They tell us, “I didn’t even know I was looking for this in my life, but here you are. I don’t know if you found me or I found you, but I am glad we found each other.” If that sounds romantic, it kind of is. Meeting Jews or those who are “Jew curious” in a market or café or by the shore has the magical quality of bumping into an old friend you haven’t seen in years. After a few awkward moments you quickly find threads of connection. This way of outreach is qualitatively different than knocking on doors with religious texts in hand, or even enjoining Jews to wave a lulav from a Mitzvah Mobile. We enter into this work from the perspective of kiddusha, of holiness, connecting with a population on their terms as well as ours. ♦♦♦ One group in particular was easy to find but hard to reach: Jewish men. They were everywhere in our larger community—at Little League, the gym, foundation boards…but not at synagogue. To break through, I asked a socially connected man in my Los Angeles congregation to host a “Guys’ Night with the Rabbi” in his home. I suggested he invite anyone he wanted and encourage guys to bring a friend. To my surprise, 23 guys showed up. When we asked them why, they answered, “Because you asked.” Note that the “you” was not me, but the guy they respected and liked who had invited them to his home. Again it was all about relationships. We began that “Guys Night” with a simple but powerful exercise—introduce yourself without saying what you do for a living. Men so often define themselves by what they do, how they provide for their families. Our group would only
work, we realized, if we could retrain ourselves to change this damaging, isolating pattern that is related to male competitiveness. We would have to see other men as brothers, each one with good things to give and to receive. We established ground rules about confidentiality and cross talk. We decided that if a subject made a group of men uncomfortable, it was the perfect topic. In the first months we discussed “Why Do We Work So Hard?,” “What Kind Of Fathers We Had, What Kind Of Fathers We Are,” “Being a Husband: How Has Your Partner Influenced the Way You Think?,” “Power and the Male Identity.” I always prepared a contemporary text and a Jewish text to help guide our talks, but quite soon we needed no more than a trigger to get started. Many men shared the societal pressures they feel to be both a professional and a present super dad. One man talked about how uncomfortable he was in social situations; he was particularly anxious now because his family was on the “bar/bat mitzvah circuit,” with many months of receptions and parties he’d have to navigate. A number of the guys were on the same “circuit”; I later spotted them looking out for him and acting as “wingmen” throughout the year. One man’s father died after a long illness. The guys from the group showed up at shiva every night. Men who had not stepped foot in the synagogue other than for an occasional bar/ bat mitzvah became regular minyan makers for their friend. The group has now met for eight years. More than 60 men regularly attend. Our annual retreat at a local Jewish retreat center attracts more than 100 men. There’s also an annual Community Men’s Seder, based on a Men of Reform Judaism model, that a core group of guys lead for friends and colleagues, which is growing by the dozens every year. And many of the men who were once absent from synagogue life are now present, sitting with each other at services, serving on committees, and participating in the Whole Foods Torah study. I attribute our success to having set “Guys’ Night with the Rabbi” at a reform judaism
friend’s home, so the men always had home-field advantage. ♦♦♦ Public space Judaism has also taught me that, even in the congregational context, I need to reach out to members. If I wait for them to come to me, they might never come. On my first day at Temple Sholom I was handed the Kaddish list for the coming Shabbat. I didn’t know any of the names, the deceased or the mourners. I was the outsider, the stranger. I picked up the phone and started calling members who were observing yahrtzeits—well over 40 people at our 700-household congregation. Introducing myself, I explained that it would be my first time reading the name of their loved one. Could they tell me a little bit about the deceased, so I had a context for their memory as I read the name on the coming Shabbat? One by one, congregants told me their stories. They remembered things about their parents, spouses, and siblings they hadn’t thought of in years. Tears flowed on both ends of the conversation. When the mourners came to synagogue that week to recite Kaddish, it was easier for them to walk into the place that had been made unfamiliar because of the change of rabbis, and easier for me to stand before them. We were no longer strangers. Many of those talks also led to my visiting members’ homes or meeting them for coffee to hear their own personal stories. Whenever possible, I set those meetings away from my synagogue office, to lower the barriers to connection even for those who were already quite comfortable in the synagogue. Like Ezra the scribe, I felt I needed to engage the people in their space, not mine. ♦♦♦ Yes, public space Judaism is a blind date, and that takes a bit of chutzpah. It begins with the tent, the table, the phone call, a cup of coffee at Whole Foods near the nut department. But, more often than we think, like the blind date that really works out, it leads to a relationship—a relationship with other Jews and with our Jewish selves that endures.
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continued from page 27 A fascinating discussion ensues about Jewish power and powerlessness. Soon the students are trading jokes. The student from Hungary notes that the general perception in Hungary is that “all” the leaders of the Communist Revolution were Jewish. This has resulted in a popular Hungarian Jewish joke: Why was one member of the Communist leadership group not Jewish? So someone could sign papers on Shabbat. The double joke there is that the Jews who were in fact involved in the socialist movement were hardly religious. While we laugh, the student from Russia chimes in: “We have the same joke, but with a slightly different twist: One Jew shows a photograph of the Politburo to another Jew, who comments, ‘He’s Jewish and he’s Jewish…everyone is Jewish except this one—Lenin. Why’s he here?’ The first Jew answers: ‘It’s like in business. If you want to be successful, you need a non-Jew to be the front man.’” Minutes later, I find myself comparing Mordecai to Kissinger, noting that a prominent Jewish figure’s political influence can arouse both pride and a sense of vulnerability among Jews. A student from Germany bursts out laughing. “This is incredible, “she says. “All of us are relating this story to the political experience of Jews where we live. It speaks to every one of us, even in totally different circumstances.” She is right. And it is a powerful testament to how biblical narratives can nurture meaningful Jewish selfdiscovery, wherever we Jews may be. May 30: During our time here we have seen tensions within the Jewish community leadership in Berlin erupt and spill onto the pages of national German newspapers. Today’s report describes a dispute that moved beyond words to physical blows. Beyond the embarrassment of airing dirty linen in public, Jews here worry about the impact of this dysfunction on their own social and political standing. June 23: This Friday night, two hundred of us celebrate “Erev Pride”—the first Jewish gathering of this kind in Berlin, timed to take place the night before Berlin’s popular annual Gay Pride parade.
Organized by a few Geiger students, the Erev Pride service offers a lively mix of Shlomo Carlebach, Sephardic, and contemporary melodies blended with spiritually moving teachings between the prayers, and is followed by a festive buffet-style Shabbat dinner, with joyful mingling at various tables. A couple of days later, we join in another Jewish start-up experience: a Sunday hike and picnic initiated by a young couple from our synagogue. More than 50 congregants show up— and they are so happy to get to know each other this way, over lunch they’re already talking about when to do this again. Meanwhile there are extensive plans underway for Germany’s second annual Mitzvah Day, which will take place in Berlin and 15+ other German Jewish communities. Limmud Germany, a three-day festival of Jewish learning and celebration, has also been going strong, this year excitingly engaging 400 Berliners and Jews from smaller cities and towns. This year the organizers almost had to turn people away, not having raised sufficient funding to accommodate them—a situation averted by last-minute private donations. Several Berliner Jews have lamented to me that in Germany today it is easier to raise money for Holocaust memorials than it is for programs that foster the renewal of Jewish life. Perhaps the answer lies, in part, with more Jews traveling to Berlin and other parts of Germany, to see for themselves the reality of German society and Jewish renewal thus far. July 18: We prepare to return to Los Angeles. Walking around our neighborhood, I’m already missing the old buildings and cobblestone streets, the bike rides along the Spree River and canals, art and music treasures, and, of course, our new friends and the synagogue community that has come to feel like home. We don’t feel ready to leave…and are already talking about being back in Berlin next year, coming for Limmud and staying a month. Now I can’t imagine not living part of my life in Berlin. Read and share all Reform Judaism magazine content on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Go to reformjudaismmag.org.
Parenting continued from page 23 school and Hebrew classes, where the fellow students were not from their social circles, and even my adult daughter told me how much more fun it would have been for her had we belonged to the congregation “where all my friends went.” We probably could have swung belonging to that synagogue, had we requested a modified fee, rather than choosing a smaller, less expensive temple, but that option had never occurred to us. We weren’t thinking “peers first.” In retrospect, I’ve learned that when it comes to their Jewish educational journeys, kids’ friends are often equally—or more—influential than we parents. My twin sons’ Birthright experience happened mostly because of their college friends, and my daughter’s interest in going to Israel is happening because of her brothers’ trip. As a parent, I planted Jewish seeds, but peers brought them to fruit. And then Birthright did in 10 days what I couldn’t do in 10 years. Hallelujah!
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Photo by Sam Morrill
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Healthy Congregation continued from page 40 are flourishing. Everything’s changed. And it took 10 years.” Won’t congregations be disheartened by the slow pace of change?
As congregations work on shifting paradigms, they can also make small changes or innovations that can have an immediate impact. A simple way to introduce change is to build an ever-increasing repertoire of melodies for worship, including teaching congregants a variety of tunes for the same prayers. Another way is to make sure that all congregants’ needs are met. At one West Coast temple, for example, I saw a long table in the lobby lined with about 20 Shabbat challot in plastic bags. The bags were labeled with different people’s names and MapQuest driving directions from the temple to that person’s home. It turned out that congregants baked challot at the temple’s Thursday night Mitzvah Kitchen, enabling elderly or ill people who couldn’t get to services to call the temple
and request a homemade Shabbat challah that would be hand-delivered to them by worshipers who lived nearby. What are the pitfalls to avoid?
Two big ones are 1) too much talking and not enough doing and 2) not hearing every voice in the congregation. Leaders: Beware of the temptation to believe your own rhetoric and become insular. What lessons can synagogues learn from successful businesses?
Like many for-profit companies, synagogues are in the service business. Today’s most successful for-profits offer quality service built on relationships. Consider this: On my last birthday, I received 423 Facebook “Happy Birthday” messages and four handwritten cards—one from my wife, one from my son, one from my daughter, and one from my Chase bank teller, who wrote, “Dear Mr. Wolfson, Happy birthday! When you were in the branch, you mentioned you were going to visit your grandchildren for your birthday. How was it? Next time they’re in Los Angeles, please bring them by the branch reform judaism
so we can meet them. Have a most wonderful day. Sincerely, your bank teller, Valerie.” Even though I know this is bank company policy, it still gets through to me on a human level, just like the good feeling I have for Zingerman’s Deli whenever they alert me by email that my favorite pecan raisin bread is now on sale. One significant difference, however, between most for-profit companies and synagogues is that quality service in a spiritual community is only a strategy to begin the relationship. In and of itself, having greeters at the synagogue’s front door doesn’t make for a great community; it’s just the beginning step in building sacred relationships. The real work of Relational Judaism is to deepen those relationships significantly, over one-onone lunches, communal Shabbat dinners, house parties, and much more. People don’t think of leaving a congregation when they admire the leaders, and when the leaders truly know them. And they don’t leave a congregation where they have caring friends who will be with them, in good times and bad, throughout their lives.
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OF REFORM JEWS
Stephen M. Sacks: Photograph by Marshall H. Cohen
CHAIRMAN’S PERSPECTIVE Celebrating Israel
When we think about Reform Judaism in Israel, many of us tend to focus first on the problem areas, such as the absence of egalitarian prayer at the Kotel (Western Wall). It is important for us to take a stand on this and other issues arising from the failure of Israeli law to recognize religious pluralism. But it is also vital not to let our focus on these issues distract us from celebrating the Reform Movement’s incredible success story on the ground in Israel. Consider, for example: • Approximately 250,000 Israelis now define themselves as Reform Jews; • There are 43 Reform congregations and community centers in Israel, 14 of those congregations having being formed in just the past three years; • Reform congregations operate 57 preschools, five elementary schools, and two high schools, with more on the way; • 31% of Jews in Israel have experienced a Reform lifecycle event Even more important is our Movement’s growth potential in Israel. According to a 2009 survey (Guttman Center for Surveys of the Israel Democracy Institute), 85% of Israelis believe bat mitzvah is important to Jewish identity, but only 1% of Israeli young women have a bat mitzvah celebration. This tells me that TORAH CELEBRATION AT THE REFORM KIBBUTZ YAHEL. Israeli Jews hunger for the kind of egalitarian experiences our Israeli Reform congregations provide. Our successes are the result of strong institutions on the ground. Like the URJ in North America, the IMPJ (Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism) builds and supports Reform congregations in Israel, providing Israelis with access to pluralistic celebrations, traditions, study, and more. The Jerusalem campus of HUC-JIR (Hebrew Union CollegeJewish Institute of Religion) ordains rabbis in Israel—84 to date—who lead communities, congregations, schools, and institutions throughout the country, thereby assuring that those Israeli Jews who want a Reform Jewish experience will have it, led by one of their own. In addition, HUC-JIR in Jerusalem has prepared 48 Israeli educators in a pluralistic Jewish education MA program co-sponsored with Hebrew University, trained 91 mezorim (pastoral counselors) who are pioneering chaplaincy in Israel, and piloted Tnufa, a young leadership development program for 38 next-generation Israeli Reform leaders. Don’t get me wrong. The challenges to our Movement arising from the Israeli legal system remain. But with the leadership of the IMPJ and the Israel Religious Action Center led by Anat Hoffman—and aided by the voices of North American Jews so forcefully articulated by URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, we are making progress on these issues. From what Israeli Reform Jews have done so far, I am absolutely confident that the day will come when the Reform Movement occupies the preeminent role in Israel that it now enjoys in North America. STEPHEN M. SACKS Stephen M. Sacks, Chairman Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees reform judaism
A Torah’s Journey for Pluralism A Torah scroll donated by Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, California has enriched the worship, youth group events, and holiday celebrations of
TEMPLE ISRAEL OF HOLLYWOOD CELEBRATING WITH THE TORAH.
more than 20 North American Reform communities— everywhere from Austin to Seattle to Minneapolis to Toronto—as it makes its way to its final home, Kehilat Sha’ar HaNegev, a Reform congregation near Israel’s border with Gaza which has no Torah of its own. “This Torah is journeying to Jerusalem with our dreams for a pluralistic and democratic Israel,” says Rabbi Rebecca Epstein, project coordinator for the Torateinu ARZA (Association for Reform Zionists of America) initiative proclaiming that “the Torah is for all of us.” Sharing a Torah, she explains,
PHOTOS: 1 Grace Amodeo 2 Neil Jacobson 3 Lisa Friedman 4 Rabbi Mari Chernow 5 Rabbi Robert Levine 6 Rabbi Judy Shanks 7 Rabbi Brian Beal
For more about these leaders, read on….
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NOTEWORTHY “is helping to galvanize the Reform Movement in advance of the October 2015 World Zionist Congress [WZC] elections. The more Jews who connect with ARZA, the more influence we will have in the WZC elections, and thereby in fashioning an Israel that represents the highest Jewish ideals.” If all goes well, Women of the Wall, an organization committed to securing the equal rights of women to pray at the Western Wall, will read from the Torah at their monthly prayer service at the Wall this June. Kehilat Sha’ar HaNegev will celebrate with its new Torah this coming Rosh Hashanah. To learn more: arza.org Large Print Prayer Book Mishkan T’filah, the Reform Movement’s prayer book for
Shabbat, weekdays and festivals, is now available in a new special large print edition (ccarnet.org/ccar-press). Designed in an oversized format with larger print than the earlier large-print edition, using fonts and design meeting JBI International specifications, this threevolume set, created by the CCAR Press and underwritten by Women of Reform Judaism, is designed for those with serious reading impairments. Also available are transliterated and nontransliterated Mishkan T’filah editions, an iPad app, and, through the JBI (jbilibrary. org), a Braille edition.
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ACTION Welcoming People with Disabilities Congregants at Temple Beth El in you’re involved in the Jewish commuHillsborough, New Jersey were amazed nity, and then imagine what it would be when Grace Amodeo (photo #1, see like to not have those things in your previous page) expertly read Torah at life. This is what it’s like for people last year’s Yom Kippur services. Many with disabilities and their families, of them showered her with praise. many of whom do not have access to Although pleased to receive the attenJewish communal life. People with and tion, the 16-year-old high school student, who has been blind since birth, didn’t quite understand what the big deal was. “I thought to MEMBERS OF TEMPLE SINAI, OAKLAND AT THE WESTERN WALL. FINDING A TOUR BUS WITH A LIFT AND BOOKING WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE ROOMS ENABLED NEIL myself, ‘I AND DENISE JACOBSON (FRONT, CENTER) TO JOIN THE CONGREGATIONAL TRIP. guess I did something right. I hope they ask me to without disabilities have similar needs read again next year,’” she says. to be part of the Jewish community, and The fact that, despite her disability, everyone needs to feel they belong.” Amodeo can read Torah as well—or betRabbi Edythe Held Mencher, the ter—than her sighted peers is a testament URJ’s faculty member for Sacred Carto Temple Beth El’s longstanding policy ing Community and coordinator of the of including people with disabilities. Active Learning Network on disabiliNow, thanks to the Union’s partner- ties inclusion, emphasizes that “conship with the Ruderman Family Foungregations benefit when they consider dation, many more URJ congregations not only how to serve members with will focus on ensuring participation of disabilities, but also what those members can contribute to the congregapeople with disabilities in synagogue tion. Members with disabilities want to life (see “Ruderman Synagogue Incluserve on committees, mentor others, sion Initiative” page 51). Synagogues can also learn from congregational ini- participate in Torah and other worship services, teach classes, volunteer in tiatives that have already made Jewish classrooms, and share what they have communities more inclusive. learned on their own unique journeys.” Begin with Understanding “The most important thing a congre“Authentic inclusion begins when gation can do to make a congregant feel we realize that each of us is created included is to show that the person matB’tzelem Elohim [in the Divine image], ters,” explains Neil Jacobson (photo and that we are more alike than differ#2), a member of Temple Sinai in Oakent,” says URJ disabilities and incluland, who has cerebral palsy. “My wife, sion faculty member Shelly Chrisson, and I were able to go with our contensen, author of the Jewish Community gregation to Israel because our rabbi Guide to Inclusion of People with Disworked with the travel agent to find a abilities. She recommends that congre- tour bus with a lift and booked a wheelgants without disabilities “take a chair accessible room at each hotel. moment to think about all the ways Strong fellow congregants helped a lot.” reform judaism
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Build a Foundation of Inclusion
Consider establishing an inclusion committee, where people with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities serve alongside those who do not have disabilities. Also consider inviting individuals with disabilities to sit on the congregation’s board of trustees. Neil Jacobson, who is on Temple Sinai’s board by virtue of his chairmanship of the temple’s Access Committee, says, “many people with disabilities, including myself, have become creative problem-solvers who resolve challenges with unique, easyto-implement solutions. The fundamental belief we tend to have—that there’s always a way to do what needs to be done—is helpful to any organization.” Some congregations, such as Temple Beth Torah (TBT) in Upper Nyack, New York, have established multiple task forces to ensure that everyone feels welcome and has full access to congregational life. A TBT education task force brings religious school teachers together with congregational volunteers trained in learning disabilities. A technology task force, which oversaw the installation of the congregation’s hearing loop (an assistive listening system), is working on online access for members unable to come to services. A nefesh (soul) task force focuses on mental health issues, and a chesed (loving-kindness) committee reaches out to congregants who are homebound, ill, or have other needs.
Show You’re Welcoming
“You might think that if you are doing inclusion right, you don’t have to talk about it,” says Lisa Friedman (photo #3), an educator at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey, who blogs regularly about inclusion in the temple’s religious school. “But many people out there won’t know how accommodating your congregation is unless you tell them.” Shelly Christensen recommends publicly acknowledging that your organization accommodates people with disabilities by “stating on your website and on every application form, flyer, brochure, and invitation that you welcome and seek the involvement of people with disabilities.” Rabbi Mencher notes that “implicit messages are just as important as explicit ones in demonstrating full acceptance and modeling inclusion. Consider, for example: Does your website include photos of people with visible disabilities participating in congregational activities? Does it mention including people whose disabilities may not be apparent such as those who are deaf or have a mental illness?” At Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, California, the messaging of inclusion starts just inside the synagogue’s entrance, where on display is a 50-page resource guide listing local orthodontists, barbers, and other community professionals who specialize in working with people with disabilities. Temple Beth Ami in Rockville,
RUDERMAN SYNAGOGUE INCLUSION INITIATIVE All URJ congregations are invited to participate in the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Initiative, advanced by a $600,000 three-year grant, which will support synagogues in becoming truly inclusive of people with disabilities and honor them for their inclusion achievements. Leading experts and organizations in the disabilities field, advocates who have disabilities, and exemplar synagogues will offer cutting-edge information and practices in such areas as preschools, worship, religious school education, governance, social programming, architecture/
physical accommodations, disabilities advocacy, and funding. Learning modules will include webinars, consultations with experts, and reading materials. Congregations can choose their area(s) of interest, and those that make significant progress in learning and change will be honored at the URJ’s Orlando Biennial in December 2015. This expansive initiative is being rolled out in the Fall. Contact Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher, coordinator of the Ruderman partnership on disabilities inclusion: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maryland details its accommodations at bethami.org/about-us/accessibility. “Shabbat morning and evening services can be sign-interpreted upon request. Select High Holy Days services are interpreted. Members of Temple Beth Ami may request interpreters….Bar and bat mitzvah families may also request interpreting services….A ramp is available to the bimah in the sanctuary….The temple has wheelchairs and walkers available….If you have any other situations that require accommodations…we will make every effort to assist you.” Take an Individualized Approach to Education
There is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to educating children who are deaf or blind or have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cognitive processing disorders, or other disabilities. Each child should be educated Al Pi Darko, according to his or her unique learning needs. The religious school staff at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia has created a JEAP, or Jewish Educational Action Plan, for approximately 15 students identified as requiring extensive accommodation, presenting an individualized educational vision, describing his/her strengths, and recommending learning strategies and accommodations that would facilitate learning. Rabbi Mari Chernow (photo #4) at Temple Chai in Phoenix personalizes b’nai mitzvah ceremonies for students with disabilities. One child with autism drew pictures of the parasha that were displayed in the synagogue’s lobby. Another child with autism answered scripted questions about the parasha with one- or two-word responses. Individualized learning is even more effective when educators view parents of children with disabilities as their partners and seek out their ideas, strategies, and resources. Grace Amodeo’s parents, for example, introduced her religious school teachers at Temple Beth El in Hillsborough, New Jersey to the Jewish Braille Institute’s Hebrew continued on next page
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NOTEWORTHY A Journal for Engaging Youth The URJ’s email and online Journal of Youth Engagement (urj.org/cye/ journal) is a new, free plat-
form where youth professionals and others can share and explore ideas, strategies, best practices, and case studies about engaging youth in Jewish life. Sign up, contribute, and learn. The 2014 Young Composer’s Award Winner: The Guild of Temple Musicians awarded rabbinic student Michael Summa, 29, its 2014 Young Composer’s Award for his setting of “Hallel for Children’s and Adult MICHAEL SUMMA Choir.” Summa, who also won last year’s award for “Psalms 95 and 96 for Kabbalat Shabbat,” will receive a $2,500 cash prize. For the past 24 years, the Young Composer’s Award has encouraged emerging young Jewish composers 18–35 to write works for synagogue and concert, adding to the repertory of serious Jewish music. To learn more: thegtm.org/awards-honors/ young-composers-award Intensive Training for Teens NFTY, the Reform Youth Movement, has launched weekend institutes that offer
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ACTION continued from page 51 learning materials for the blind, which helped her learn Hebrew and become the fluent Torah reader she is at age 16.
gregation Har HaShem in Boulder, Colorado, have held “No-Shush” services in the main sanctuary, thereby building communal acceptance for differences.
Find the Right Inclusion Model for Services
Address Invisible Disabilities
Is it better to hold separate or inte“A caring community brings meals to grated services for people with disabil- people when their family member is in ities? URJ congregations have met the hospital,” says Rabbi Judy Shanks with success in using both models. (photo #6) of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, A couple of California. years ago, a “But where’s congregant the casserole told Rabbi when your Robert Levine daughter is in (photo #5) of drug rehab or Congregation in the hospital Rodeph Shoafter a suicide lom in New attempt?” York City that In 2009, she’d never felt the temple comfortable launched its taking her P’tach Libeinu daughter, who (Open Our A STUDENT AND TEACHING ASSISTANT AT TEMPLE was on the Hearts) initiaBETH-EL, HILLSBOROUGH, NEW JERSEY EXPLORE HEBREW LETTERS THROUGH TACTILE LEARNING. Autism spective, hosting a trum, to the synagogue. She asked him daylong conference on mental illness, what could be done. inviting experts on mental health to “It was an ‘aha!’ moment,” Rabbi speak to the congregation, and running Levine reflects. “I became convinced ongoing support groups for people with there were many more ‘hidden Jews’ in mental illness as well as for caregivers/ the community. As soon as we could find family members. As a result, Rabbi a way to remove the ‘not wanted’ sign, I Shanks says, “Members are much more was sure they would start to show up.” open about sharing experiences of menWorking with the organization Music tal illness.” for Autism, temple leaders designed Rabbi Mencher agrees that “congreShireinu (Our Songs) services. Held four gations can reduce the stigma attached to times per year (on Rosh Hashanah, this invisible disability by openly discussHanukkah, Purim and Passover), the ing mental illness. Mention its frequent services are more free-spirited than the occurrence from the bimah; provide congregation’s usual services. Each serinformation about conditions, support vice is also outlined in advance for the resources, and treatment; make clear that approximately 100 participants (so they the clergy are available to speak privately know what to expect and are better able about mental health concerns; and help to follow along), different types of people to find strength, solace, and hope behavior are welcomed, and food is within the Jewish community as well as available at the back of the room (so in prayers and texts.” She also recomworshipers can snack whenever they are mends utilizing the Bay Area Jewish hungry). Rodeph Sholom has created a Healing Center’s mental health resources video “how to” series to guide other (jewishhealingcenter.org/mentalhealth. congregations in creating these services; html); the UJA Federation of New York’s visit shireinu.rodephsholom.org. “Shabbat of Wholeness” congregational Other congregations, such as Contoolkit (ujafedny.org/Shabbat-ofreform judaism
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wholeness-tool-kit); and the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ guide, “Creating Caring Congregations: An Interactive Forum for Ministers and Health Ministry Leaders” (nami.org). Be Proactive
While some congregations wait for congregants to request accommodations before instituting change, those which have taken action out of an unprompted “if you build it, they will come” attitude have found the accommodation meets more needs than they’d realized. “Before we put in our telecoil hearing loop, which enables hearing aids to access microphones directly without interference, no one was complaining,” recalls Rabbi Brian Beal (photo #7) of Temple Beth Torah. “But as soon as the loop went in, many congregants admitted that they had hearing problems and thanked us for helping them. The change in culture also helped a congregant with a physical disability feel comfortable asking me to make our sukkah more accessible, which we are addressing.” Architecture & Beyond
To make synagogues more accessible to people with disabilities, a number of congregations have added an elevator, ramps, or lifts to the front door and up to the bimah. A natural time to do this alteration work is during a building renovation following a major capital campaign. Some congregations are making structural changes that affect all worshipers, not only those with disabilities. For example, in Bet Shalom Congregation’s building in Minnetonka, Minnesota, a subtle incline begins in the middle of the sanctuary leading up to the bimah. Rabbi David Locketz notes: “Everyone goes up to the bimah the same way.” In addition, to enable congregants who use wheelchairs to access its mezuzot, Bet Shalom repositioned them to hang near the top of the middle third of each doorpost, even though halachah prescribes that a mezuzah has to be positioned on the upper third of the door. “Sometimes standard Jewish tradition doesn’t reach
everyone,” Rabbi Locketz says. “One accommodation I’ve seen in no other synagogue is the mechanically accessible speaker’s podium on the bimah of Temple Micah in Washington, DC,” says Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, senior disabilities advisor to the RAC and co-founder of Hineinu (a collaboration of disability professionals from every Jewish denomination to increase disability inclusion in all synagogues). “At the push of a button, the podium sinks into the bimah to accommodate a person who uses a wheelchair or a ‘little person,’ all the while maintaining the simple beauty of the bimah.” At Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, California, the armless chairs in the reception area have been replaced with ones that do have arms. “Many people need chair arms in order to push themselves up in to a standing position,” Rabbi Dennis Eisner explains. Find Funds
How can congregations struggling to balance their budget find funds for inclusion? Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland has received a grant for technology “to better reach students with diverse needs,” says Kim Roberts, director of Education. “Moreover, we provide extra services for children with disabilities free of charge by prioritizing the resources in our budget. Meeting the needs of all our families is a budgetary challenge, but we consider it both a privilege and a necessity to ensure that every student has a Jewish education, identity, and home within our congregation and the Jewish community.” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbilityUSA, advises congregations not to focus too much on seeking funding from foundations that support disabilities inclusion. “You will raise more money through membership fees and donations,” she says, “if you become more inclusive and use that as a selling point. If people with disabilities and their families hear that your congregation is welcoming of people with disabilities, they will join reform judaism
NOTEWORTHY from p. 52 intensive training in such areas as song leading, Israeli dance, Jewish learning, choral singing, and social media geared toward teens who may not typically attend traditional NFTY programming. For example, Nashir: Song Leading Institute teaches teens the skills to be songleaders in their congregations, Binah: Jewish Learning Institute focuses on Jewish learning and leadership development, and Nirkod: Israeli Dance Institute educates teens in Israeli folk dance repertoires they can share with their home communities. For info: nfty.org/institutes
and your financial base will grow.” Mizrahi notes that while parents of children with disabilities may have fewer financial resources to spare, grandparents may donate in gratitude to a welcoming congregation. She also emphasizes that “inclusion is actually a lot less expensive than people think,” pointing out that some local Jewish federations offer inclusion training for religious school educators. To learn more, check with your local federation. Don’t Go It Alone
“You can’t always do disabilities inclusion programs on your own,” says Rabbi Dennis Eisner of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, California. “It can be too overwhelming.” Temple Beth El participates in a joint inclusion initiative in which synagogues, Jewish day schools, JCCs, a central agency for Jewish education, and other communal organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area’s North Peninsula region share resources, knowledge, passion, skills, and facilities. Each synagogue hosts a different holiday event, which keeps a variety of programs ongoing, raises awareness about disabilities inclusion among members of all the congregations, and broadens everyone’s experience of continued on next page
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OF REFORM JEWS Patty Seyburn (a member of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach) to write “A Poem for a Temple Reborn.” This serious work intermixes three different poetic forms—a rhyming quatrain (four-line stanza), free verse, and psalm-style (inspired by these poems of praise)—the three forms representing the three times the synagogue has
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Jewish community. The URJ Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Initiative (urj.org/disabilities) will guide congregations in effective inclusion work. Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher, coordinator of the URJ’s Active Learning Network on disabilities inclusion, is available for consultation at email@example.com. The Religious Action Center (RAC) is facilitating activism on disability rights through direct advocacy; a website promoting citizen involvement with discussion of disability rights and Jewish values (rac.org/advocacy/ issues/issuedr); and its annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day programming in Washington, DC, during which Jewish leaders across the continent learn about public policy issues impacting the disability community and then meet with their legislators to advocate on the issues. The URJ and the RAC are also part of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements’ collaborative initiative, Hineinu: Here We Are— Building Jewish Communities for People of All Abilities (rac.org/ advocacy/issues/issuedr/hineinu), sharing expertise, programs, activities, Jewish texts, and guidelines to help build inclusive Jewish communities for people of all abilities.
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, a lover of great literature, wanted to do something uniquely meaningful to mark the successful completion of Temple Israel in Long Beach, CA’s year-long, $5.8 million renovation. He believed the new synagogue would be a “house for dreaming… because,” he says, “in Judaism, dreaming is not a retreat from reality. It’s IN LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA, TEMPLE ISRAEL CONGREGANTS CONNECT THROUGH one of the BLESSINGS OF BREAD AND COMMUNITY. building been reconfigured on that site (1941, blocks for a better, more sacred reali1965, 2013). ty.” And, he explained, “The very Meanwhile, Rabbi Moskowitz had notion of rededication, which has to do spearheaded the creation of a congrewith this lovely tension of embracing and honoring the past and also innovat- gation-wide collective poem under the ing ourselves for the present…seems to direction of Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, a congregant, poet, and public radio edurequire a language that is full of motion cation reporter—“to remind us,” the rather than one that is static. To me, that rabbi says, “that we have poetry residis the language of poetry.” ing within us, if someone will only The rabbi also wanted the re-dedihelp it to emerge.” Using prompts such cation to acknowledge the “textured as “We are…” and “Our shul….,” and multidimensional” people in the Guzman-Lopez engaged a very eclec500-family congregation who would tic group of 200 members of all ages, hopefully be living their dreams in the adults and children, in articulating in new building. And so, he helped create a monthly, year-long series of rededication verse what their spiritual home means to them. One such verse reads: ceremonies, each month’s program focusing on a different theme—the arts, Awesome Rabbi, Cantor, educators. spirituality, parenting, education, Israel, and more. Program highlights included a Children and parents, siblings, people kindness and compassion. puppet show by Mallory Lewis (daughSadness, free choice, free country, ter of Lamb Chop creator Shari Lewis), good times. a parenting session with psychologist and author Wendy Mogel, performances Fear, failure, rebirth, teshuvah, rest, peace Torah, awe, by popular musician Josh Nelson and and latkes. the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale— and two extraordinary poetry events. During the concluding festivities, Earlier in the year, the temple comboth the commissioned and collective missioned the award-winning poet
♦♦♦ With nearly 20 percent of people having a visible or invisible disability (U.S. census), Ruderman Family Foundation President Jay Ruderman views inclusion as a strategic imperative for the Jewish community: “Disabilities don’t just affect the person with a disability but also his/ her families and friends as well,” he says. “Leaving many members of our community on the outside, looking in, is not an option. The full inclusion of people with disabilities ensures the continuity and future of Jewish communal life.” Renee Ghert-Zand is a journalist covering the Jewish world.
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poems were presented, printed in a chapbook, and distributed to everyone in attendance. “The entire process helped us become more aware of who we are as a community,” Rabbi Moskowitz says. “And, in so doing, we have been able to embrace two seemingly paradoxical aspects of our new congregational identity: expansion and intimacy. Our new building enables us to accommodate more people, and the rededication events modeled for us how connection, responsiveness, and community can define the encounters for all who enter the new building.” Rabbi Moskowitz notes that the congregation has now created a NFTY chapter in response to its teens’ enthusiastic request, and is bringing citizens from across the city together to discuss issues concerning the future of their Long Beach community. “As was the case with the Mishkan in the wilderness, the congregation’s goal was never primarily about the building of a physical structure,” he says “The goal was about the renewed construction of a sacred community, and I believe we are achieving that.”
Yom K ippur morning Torah ser vice: Photo by Lisa Kessler
Yom Kippur in the Woods This past Yom Kippur, 165 members of Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco gathered in the beautiful, woodsy setting of URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California to worship, build community, and renew themselves. They began with apples, honey, and wine under the sky, followed by Kol Nidre services. Rabbi Yoni Jaffe then took about 60 parents and 40 kids on a night hike to an overlook, where he spoke about Moses ascending Sinai and then, on Yom Kippur, descending the mountain with the tablets. In the morning, 30 kids took a yoga class rooted in the motif “Adonai sefatai tiftach,” with “sfatayim in this context representing edges or borders,” Rabbi Jaffe says. “The idea was to stretch to the point that their souls reached out of their borders.” During
the morning service that followed, 150 ing casual clothes, we could focus on congregants, young and old, spread out separating Yom Kippur from the builtall over the camp to offer silent prayer up pomp of modern custom and on amidst nature. returning the holy day to its roots.” After services, congregants hiked Before the concluding Neilah serfor three miles and began developing vice, all 165 participants joined togethnew friendships, heeding the rabbi’s er for a group art project: creating direction to get to know at least two saran-wrapped “foot” sculptures other congregants during the experiaffixed to black board “roads,” upon ence by talking to them about their which families wrote where they year. “I heard a wonderful conversation hoped to head in the coming year. about forgiving one’s parents, especial- “Kids wrote goals such as ‘learning to ly as they age,” Rabbi Jaffe says. “Oth- swim’ and ‘doing a somersault,’ and ers spoke about how to mete out auton- more serious ones like ‘tell the truth’ omy to children without leaving them and ‘when I do something bad, say I open for major mistakes.” am sorry,’” Rabbi Jaffe says, “Some Many of the young children partici- parents were surprised to hear what pated in a whale-shaped “Jonah obsta- was on their kids’ minds.” cle course” of balance beams, trampoAfterwards, families celebrated lines, tunnels, and landings. “We havdalah with their arms around one asked the another, kids what enjoyed a skills— break-thesuch as fast dinjumping, ner, and ducking, ended the and balevening ancing— with they needs’mores ed to use in and singthe whale ing song and how after song they needby the ed those campfire. skills to be Rabbi a good per- RABBI JONATHAN JAFFE, LAUREN LEVINE (L.) AND MAYA Jaffe notes WEIDMAN PARTICIPATE IN CONGREGATION EMANU-EL’S YOM son in that KIPPUR MORNING TORAH SERVICE, URJ CAMP NEWMAN, 2013. everyday “Many life,” Rabbi Jaffe says. “We also had congregants have expressed gratitude the kids close their eyes, pretending it for this novel approach to celebrating was dark inside the whale, and conthe High Holy Days.” For example, nected this to closing our eyes when one participant later wrote: “Usually we pray. Why do we shut out this my wife and I have to negotiate all sense and how does it allow us to sorts of things with our kids—e.g. focus on what we’re doing?” dressing up for temple, and which serGroup text study of the Isaiah hafvices everyone will attend. In fact, tarah followed. By this time, Rabbi before this year’s holiday, my youngJaffe says, “Our experience felt like a est son asked for clarification: ‘Is Yom perfect metaphor for the prophet IsaKippur the time where we argue and iah’s messages of not over-emphasizfight?’ Sad, but accurate, I suppose. ing rituals and thereby excluding This retreat made it possible for both kavannah [sacred intention], of not us and the kids to be more participafocusing on dressing one’s finest, but tory in the holiday—and to appreciate rather on personal assessment. Wearand enjoy it.” reform judaism
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OF REFORM JEWS
WHAT WORKS Ideas & Initiatives Caregiver’s Day Out the temple, talking about the artwork in Lewis. “It is a fabulous experience for Two years ago, while helping care for the halls and ‘window shopping’ in the the people with dementia, in many cases her cousin who had Alzheimer’s disease, gift shop. At noon the Corner Bakery the only time they leave their home. Temple Shalom, Dallas congregant delivers a delicious lunch free to the Equally important, it is a blessing to Barbara Glazer had an idea. Knowing participants (volunteers bring their give overworked caregivers a block of from the inside out how difficult it was own). Afterwards, we do hands-on art time to do what they need and want to for family caregivers of do for themselves. They dementia patients to are always telling the have time for themvolunteers how appreselves, she thought: Why ciative they are.” can’t our congregation Glazer adds that “My organize a Caregiver’s greatest joy would be Day Out? for there to be a program She approached like ours in every temple Rabbi Andrew Marc in North America. The Paley, who loved the need is that great.” idea and offered the To learn more temple’s learning center about creating a Careas a venue. The Dallas giver’s Day Out in Alzheimer’s Associayour community, conPROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS ENTERTAIN VOLUNTEER CAREGIVERS AND THOSE IN NEED. tion trained the voluntact Barbara Glazer at teer caregivers. Glazer firstname.lastname@example.org then publicized the initiative through projects with tactile materials such as or 972-931-9077. temple channels, asking for volunteers feathers, leaves, and lace, which trigger who would be open to caring for early memories that participants and volunA Vision in Verse stage Alzheimer’s or dementia patients teers share with one another. Next, a …And so we must construct a space for four hours twice a month. Fifteen Therapy Dog visits; most participants that holds and fits, that grows and yearns people aged 40–75, male and female, have had or still have a dog at home, that obviates our base concerns Jewish and non-Jewish, signed up. and the energy and love between the where we can choose to stand and face These days, two Thursdays a month, visiting dog and the participant is palthe immanence we seek. Our days from 10:30am to 2:30pm, 15 volunteers pable. Then everyone sings old songs are short. Our time here all too brief spend time with up to 10 individuals though elevated by belief and shares memories. At least once a with dementia—one volunteer being a in love and justice, hope and praise…. month, volunteer professional musifriend for each participant, with “floater” cians—pianists, saxophonists, guitarvolunteers on hand as needed. ists, harpists—put on a concert. We fin- …We must become the sages of Long Beach, Glazer explains that “The experience ish our day playing Bingo, with Collect our debris, build our Genizah, begins with everyone visiting together chocolate candy prizes.” Create our littoral home. around a large table having coffee and a Glazer notes that “Music touches snack, looking at books and old Life people with memory issues like nothing We must become messengers of hill and berm, magazines, and spelling words with else. One participant, a Holocaust surviShore and sandbar, current, Scrabble tiles. Next up is a fun exercise vor, sometimes ‘zones out.’ One day class: We sit in a circle and laugh as a when he was ‘off somewhere,’ a pianist Tide, sediment, surf and seawall. We are such fertile loam. professional trainer leads us in exercise, began playing ‘Yerushalayim Shel ending with the passing of two balls Zahav’—and he immediately joined in, —two excerpts from “A Poem for a around a circle—one color in one direc- singing loudly and beautifully. There Temple Reborn” by Patty Seyburn tion and another color in the opposite was not a dry eye in the room.” direction—which is challenging for the “This program is a win-win,” says volunteers, too. Then we walk around Temple Shalom Executive Director Steve continued on page 54 reform judaism
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KICKSTART YOUR FUTURE
Rabbi | Cantor | Leader in Jewish Education | Nonprofit Professional | Scholar
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