Time For Healing:
CHANUKAH MUSIC QUIZ
FACING OUR “SHANDAS”
How To Attract
A Sacred Journey:
FAMILIES SISTERHOOD’S WITH KIDS 100 YEARS
A Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Publication
What do 20s and 30s say they need to find a home in the Jewish community? AN RJ FORUM FOR THE FUTURE
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A BENEFIT OF YOUR MEMBERSHIP IN A URJ CONGREGATION JEWISH LIFE
45 22 Forum for the Future by Jonathan Sarna, David Cygielman, Yoav Schlesinger, Rebecca Missel, David Gerber, Josh Nelson, Sarah Lefton / Historian Sarna sheds light on what history can teach us about the challenge of engaging the next generation of Jews, and six 20s and 30s tell us what young adults want and need to find their home in the Jewish community.
Cover photography: © Barney Boogles / Veer Above image: Jorge Lemus
32 The Sacred Circle of Sisterhood a conversation with Dolores Kosberg Wilkenfeld, Lynn Magid Lazar, and Dara Amram / The power and promise of Sisterhood in its first 100 years. IN THE BEGINNING 2 Dear Reader: Herstory & History / Rick Jacobs 4 Letters reform judaism
6 Portrait: Kerry Glass, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Short Hills, New Jersey 8 Holidays: What Do You Know…about Chanukah Music? / Jayson Rodovsky and Rachel Wetstein 11 Books: An Insider’s Guide to the Jewish Conversation / a conversation with author Lawrence A. Hoffman 14 Judaica: Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show / Jonathan Greenstein 15 Youth Engagement: Launching the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution / a conversation with Bradley Solmsen and Isa Aron 19 Worldview: Why Do We Need Religion? Ask Darwin / Jonathan Sacks FOCUS: SHANDA
37 What Will the Neighbors Say?! / a conversation with Dale Atkins and Edythe Mencher 42 My Secret Siblings / Marlene Myerson 43 My Marital Masquerade / Anonymous 45 The Disgrace of a Nice Jewish Girl / Annette Powers NEWS & VIEWS OF REFORM JEWS
50 Feature Story: Involving Families with Young Children—How congregations can successfully engage young families / Barbara Pash Also
49 Chairman’s Perspective: Pursuing Justice / Stephen M. Sacks 49 Quotable: In Print 52 Quotable: The Blogs 54 Noteworthy 56 What Works: How to Catalyze Congregational Change 1
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d e a r
Official Publication of the Union for Reform Judaism Serving Reform Congregations in North America
r e a d e r
Herstory & History
Winter 2012, Vol. 41, No. 2
* 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.
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On-Line Home Page: reformjudaismmag.org with RJpedia article search by subject Reform Judaism (ISSN 0482-0819) is published quarterly (fall, winter, spring, summer) by the Union for Reform Judaism. Circulation Offices: 633 Third Ave, New York, NY 10017. © Copyright 2012 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. RJ covers developments within our Movement while interpreting world events and Jewish tradition from a Reform perspective. Shared by 305,000 member households, RJ conveys the creativity, diversity, and dynamism of Reform Judaism.
t Chanukah time in most Hebrew schools you often hear a lot of talk about the courageous Judah Maccabee, but much less, if anything, about another great warrior hero of the Maccabean revolt—Judith, whose slaying of the Seleucid Greek general Holofernes resulted in victory and the rededication of the Temple. We owe our liberation to brave women as well as brave men. Yet it is not only might that we celebrate this season; it is also spirit—the light both men and women bring to the world by acknowledging each other’s dignity and worth. In our own day, U.S. servicemen and women who return from the battlefield in defense of liberty and freedom do not always receive the medical care they deserve. Women, especially, are at a disadvantage because of the high incidence of sexual assault in the military. An estimated one in three servicewomen faces sexual assault sometime during her service (and that percentage may be even higher because this crime often goes unreported). Yet, under the U.S. military health plan known as TRICARE, a woman in the armed forces or a female family member of a military service person facing an unwanted pregnancy is denied access to abortion services in a military facility, even if she offers to pay with her own money. TRICARE will pay for an abortion only if the mother’s life is in danger—no exceptions for rape or incest. And upon reentering civilian life, these modern Judiths will earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men of comparable education and experience. Over a lifetime (47 years of full-time work), this gap amounts to a loss in wages of $700,000 for a female high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate, and $2 million for a professional school graduate. To remedy this inequality, the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in April 2011 in the Senate, only to be defeated a year later by eight votes short of the required 60. Our conscience and our tradition demand that we pursue justice for all men and women—whether warriors or civilians—who are denied fairness and equality. As we kindle the chanukiah this year, may we recall the inspiring stories of both Judith and Judah, and remember those who, through strength and courage, have brought justice to our world. May the light of freedom and equality burn brightly at this season and through the years ahead.
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, Jan Katzew, 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, Gail Littman, 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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R E H G I H ND GROU
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humbly suggest that URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ column, “Dear Reader: Reimagining Jewish Life” (Fall 2012), missed the mark in one important respect. Rabbi Jacobs challenged us to account for our shortcomings, as we should. Indeed, my usual High Holiday mindset takes me quickly from a silent expression of gratitude for all the blessings I enjoy to an assessment of all the changes I should make. I think of the bad habits I need to jettison and the resolutions for a “New and Improved Me” that I need to keep. Yet, a focus on our shortcomings invites a disregard for our successes. We ought not to squander the opportunity to buttress what works. Something that works for me is my involvement with Reform Judaism. Together with others committed to living Jewish lives, I share a passion for the experience of the sacred. And so, I will renew
my efforts to strengthen my connections to God, Judaism, and those around me, and continue to explore the questions that challenge us: How do we make an active involvement in Reform Jewish life more accessible to more people? How can we make it more meaningful to all? Might it become more integral to the lives of every Reform Jew? As I begin a new year, I will turn my thoughts to the preservation of all that serves to enrich our lives. Stephen G. Gordon Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El Scarsdale, New York
God & Our Prayers
slightly disagree with Rabbi Seymour Prystowski’s letter regarding “The God Survey” (Fall 2012). I think I’m similar to the congregants he refers to who “do not construe God as a celestial figure who
acts in this world,” but I’m still moved by the very prayers he suggests changing. I, and I’d guess many of those congregants, don’t see God as a celestial figure, but I do see Him (Her? It?—finding the right divine pronoun does bewilder me) defining the order of the world—and I find the existing prayer book remarkably meaningful. Andrew Michaelson Congregation Bet Ha’am South Portland, Maine
Marijuana is Medicine
hank you so much for your article on medical marijuana use (“Medical Ethics: The Morality of Marijuana—2 Views,” Summer 2012). I had cancer just over four years ago, and pot was the only Send letters to: Reform Judaism, 633 Third Avenue, 7th floor, New York, NY 10017, reformjudaismmag.org (click on “Submissions”).
3 : 2 0 1 URES T R A EP
& y 19r 13 a M obe R Oct GISTE! RENOW
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medicine I used. It works for appetite, nausea, pain, sleep. Medical pot is very important for people who donâ€™t like to take pills, etc. I am cancer free now. Anonymous Vancouver, British Columbia
Torah Class That Lasts
our article â€œWhat Works: A Torah Class That Lastsâ€? (Summer 2012) discussed a Torah study group thatâ€™s still going strong after 23 years. I began such a group in our synagogue in 1955, and am still leading it. It would be of interest to know whether any ongoing group started even earlier. Jay R. Brickman Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Sinai Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Editorâ€™s Noteâ€”Fall 2012
n our report on the Chernow and Mills familiesâ€™ milestoneâ€”Ilana Mills became the third sister in her Jewishly active family to be ordained a Reform rabbiâ€”we misspelled Ilanaâ€™s name. We send apologies and congratulations to Ilana and her family.
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H O L I D AY S
J U DA I C A
KERRY GLASS EDITS A MEMORIES LIVE MOVIE ABOUT J. TORRES.
NAME: Kerry Glass CONGREGATION: Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Short Hills, New Jersey
YO U T H E N G AG E M E N T
W O R L DV I E W
their lives and knowing they have created a legacy of memory for their families. One such woman, a 65-year old Jewish mother/grandmother, made her video just before she died of cancer. Her grateful son learned things about his mother he never knew—but more importantly, he cherishes being able to hear and see her at anytime he wants—to watch her purse her lips and shake her head when she’s thinking, to take in her voice. And because his children are unlikely to remember her when they are older, he is thankful to have this way to keep her “alive” for them.
FAVORITE ACT OF TIKKUN OLAM: FAVORITE JEWISH MENTOR:
The Memories Live interviewees are often uplifted by the experience of celebrating reform judaism
For my master’s thesis in Art Therapy I interviewed a Holocaust survivor who had been hidden with her mother and sister in an attic without windows. Her only link to the outside world was a small crack in the wall. She would stare at it for countless hours, imagining what it felt like to be outside. Today she paints magnificent flowers and trees and a sky filled with the richest of colors—creating over and over again what she missed while in hiding. She is my hero.
FAVORITE JEWISH EXPERIENCE: Camping out in the Judean Desert while in Israel for a semester at Tel Aviv University. Laying down to sleep in such silence on the arid, rough terrain amidst so many stars, I thought of how many people and religions had passed through here, one of the most peaceful places on Earth. 6
Photo courtesy of Memories Live
Creating Memories Live (MemoriesLive. org), a free service that helps terminally ill people and their families create a personalized movie interweaving “live” footage, selected music, and personal photographs to share with loved ones. The idea came to me a couple of years ago, after I heard about a New Jersey mother of two children under age six who had died of lung cancer. As I was also the mother of two young children, I kept thinking about those other two children who would never “know their mother.” If only this mother had been able to create a movie or video recording of her life, hopes, and dreams for her kids, I thought, perhaps those children would grow up having a stronger sense of who their mom was.
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Your support of the Union for Reform Judaism is an investment in our future. You have strengthened Reform Judaism and Jewish communal life today and for countless generations to come. We are extremely grateful to these generous donors who have contributed to the URJ Annual Campaign during the last ﬁscal year.*
Chai Society Paddy and Barry Epstein F.N.Z. Foundation Dennis and Nancy Gilbert Daryl Messinger and James Heeger Morton Hirschberg Trust Rosalyn G. Rosenthal Barbara and Edward Scolnick R. Peter and Betty Shapiro Signature Bank President’s Council Am Shalom Jane and Craig Aronoff Linda and Les Atkinson Nani and Austin Beutel Ellen and Bill Blumstein Barbara and Mark Brookner Dr. Alexander and Dyan Cohen The Gerard and Ruth Daniel Foundation Inc. Miriam Daniel and Laurence Wolff The Honorable David Davidson Isabel P. Dunst Susan and Stephen Feldman Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander and Rabbi Elyse D. Frishman The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Foundation The Golomb Family Susan and Andrew Goodman Ken and Glenda Gordon
Yvette and Larry Gralla Harold Grinspoon Foundation Diane and Mark J. Halperin Warren and Joyce Heilbronner Amy and Robert Heller Judith and Martin, z”l Hertz Susan and Bill Hess Samita and Howard Jacobs Jennifer and Todd Kaufman Dr. Eve Kurtin and Dr. Michael Steinberg Michael and Audrey Laufer Karen and Norman Leopold Sol and Dorothy Levites Dr. Arthur and Marilyn Lieber Gail and Marshall Littman Anne M. Molloy and Henry Posner III Doris and William D. Norman The Oppenheim Family Janet Levy Pauli and William J. Pauli Jo-Ann and Michael Price Steve Pruzan and Dr. Janet Abrams Dr. Robert M. Rankin Susan and Charles J. Rothschild III Helene and Stephen Sacks Carole and Jay Sterling T&H Beneﬁts LLC Jane and Tom Taves Dorothy and G. Leonard Teitelbaum Weidhorn Family Foundation, Inc. Elayne and Steven Weitz
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Linda and Earl M. Ferguson Morton and Peggy Finkelstein Mr. and Mrs. Allan B. Goldman Honey and Keith S. Heller Bluma and Donald Herman Dr. Alan S. Herzlin Frances A. Hess Arthur Heyman and Shirley Michalove Gary and Sarah Kaplan Elaine and Gus D. Kuhn III Ms. Evely Laser Shlensky and Rabbi Ira Youdovin Dr. Paul and Robin Leszner
Those who do charity and justice are regarded as if they ﬁlled the whole world with kindness. —Talmud Sukkah, 49b Marilyn Brummel Luise and Edward Burger Wendy and Raymond Capelouto Cary Davidson and Andrew Ogilvie Laura Dickerman Rabbis David and Jacqueline Ellenson Edna Mae and Leroy Fadem
Maxine and Fred Leventhal Vicki and John Nelson Marc and Phyllis Newman Ms. Al Riesenburger Rosen Foundation Harriet and Gil Rosen Dr. Arthur and Betty Roswell Ruby Diamond Foundation Susan Rudolph Iris and David W. Sampliner Barbara and Larry Shuman Nancy and David Solomon Michael Sternlieb Shirley Tartak Paul Uhlmann, Jr. Felice and Tom Wiener Sustainers Anonymous Jean and Jay Abarbanel Howard and Nina Abrams Jo Ann and Evan J. Allen James Ball and Anita Diamant Ilene and Stanley Barshay Susan C. and Jerold M., z”l Bass Dr. Richard and Debra Brenner James and Linda Cherney Morris and Esther Cooper Bonnie Denmark-Friedman and Gary Friedman Gail and Richard Donner Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus and Dr. James Dreyfus Rudolph and Hilda Forchheimer Michael and Helene Freidman Marilyn Frischling Stephanie Garry and Art Tatge Joan Golder Art and Natalie Grand
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Dr. and Mrs. Leonard Grayson Mrs. Ilene Greene Louis and Patti Grossman Frederick Isaac and Robin Reiner Elaine and Scott Jaffe Judith and Robert Layton Donald Leibowitz and Karen Brodsky Marlene Levenson and Marshall Green Lesley and Mark Levin Harry and Mary Levy Ann Dee and Jeff Levy Dr. Brad A. and Jan Marion
Cynthia and David Mirsky Elliot and Sally Paull Gregg Press Simon Rosenblatt and Louise Greenﬁeld Kenneth and Lois Rubin Dr. Janet Schwartz and Jeffrey Saltz Schoen Books Brian and Carol Schuster Marsha and Myron Schwitzer David and Elizabeth Sherman Dr. Richard and Rhona Shugarman Dan and Jackie Silverman Ronald and Anne Simon Lois and Harry Simpson Rabbi Jonathan and Susan Stein Donna D. Stein Phillip and Therese Stein Rabbi David Stern and Rabbi Nancy Kasten Lin and Gary Sunshine Gale and Eliot Swartz Lawrence and Linda Vogel Mauri and Stanley Willis Jane Wishner and Robert Rosenberg Steven and Barbara Wolf Dr. Jeremy Wolfe and Ms. Julie H. Sandell Eleanor and Alan Wolff *Donors listed contributed to the Union for Reform Judaism or the Combined Reform Appeal of Canada from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012.
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What Do You Know…about Chanukah Songs? Here are eight questions to kindle your enthusiasm about Chanukah music. 1. The Chanukah song Ma’oz Tzur is based on a poem that commemorates Chanukah and which two other Jewish holidays? a. Passover and Purim b. Shabbat and Passover c. Tu B’Shvat and Passover d. Shabbat and Yom Kippur
2. What is the real translation of Ma’oz tzur y’shuati? a. Rock of ages b. Rock of my soul c. Mighty rock of my salvation d. Rock on 3. In what language was the Chanukah candle-counting song Ocho Kandelikas written? a. Spanish b. Hebrew
Jayson Rodovsky is editor and Rachel Wetstein is research librarian and editorial assistant of Transcontinental Music (a division of URJ Books and Music), the leading publisher of Jewish choral music, with a catalog of 1000+ titles. To learn more about Transcontinental Music’s offerings, visit transcontinentalmusic.com.
c. Ladino d. Greek 4. Which of these American Jewish songwriters wrote the comical song Chanukah in Santa Monica? a. Bob Dylan b. Alan Sherman c. Tom Lehrer d. Irving Berlin 5. Which classical composer wrote the oratorio Judas Maccabeus based on the Chanukah story?
a. Johann Sebastian Bach b. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart c. Ludwig van Beethoven d. George Frederick Handel 6. Which songwriter composed the Chanukah social action song Light One Candle, now sung in synagogues and schools throughout America? a. Dave Guard of The Kingston Trio
Courtesy of Transcontinental Music Publications
By Jayson Rodovsky and Rachel Wetstein
9/28/12 5:29 AM
b. John Lennon of The Beatles c. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary d. Cass Elliot of The Mamas and the Papas 7. In the original Yiddish version of I Have a Little Dreidel (I Am a Little Dreidel), what substance was the dreidel made of? a. Lead b. Wood c. Clay d. Glass 8. Which of these songs has had 65,000+ hits on YouTube? a. Light These Lights (Debbie Friedman) b. Chanukah Blessings (Traditional) c. Pass the Candle from Left to Right (Michelle Citrin) d. How Do You Spell Chanukah? (Michael Isaacson) For the answers, turn to the next page.
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10/3/12 9:24 AM
CHANUKAH MUSIC QUIZ ANSWERS
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1. A. Passover and Purim, as well as Chanukah, appear in the liturgical poem Maâ€™oz Tzur by the 13th- and 14th-century German poet Mordecai ben Yitzchak Halevi. It contains six stanzasâ€”the first expressing Israelâ€™s messianic hopes for the reestablishment of ancient Temple worship; the subsequent ones praising God for delivering the Jews from the Egyptian bondage, from the Babylonian exile, from Hamanâ€™s plot, and from the Seleucid Greek threat; and the concluding verse pleading for Israelâ€™s speedy redemption. Passover is referenced in verse three (â€œcheil Parâ€™o vâ€™chol zarâ€™o yardu kâ€™even bimâ€™tzulahâ€?â€”â€œPharaohâ€™s army and all his seed went down like a stone into the deepâ€?) and Purim in verse four (â€œAgagi ben Hamâ€™dataâ€?â€”â€œthe Agagite, son of Hammedatha,â€? which refers to Haman). Source: Jewish Heritage Online continued on page 20
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ĂœĂœĂœÂ°ĂŒĂ€ÂˆÂ˜VÂœÂ?Â?Â°i`Ă• reform judaism
9/28/12 5:33 AM
An Insider’s Guide to the Jewish Conversation a conversation with Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman
Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, the Barbara and Stephen Friedman Professor of Liturgy, Worship and Ritual at HUCJIR in New York, talks to RJ’s editors about his latest book, One Hundred Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Key Jewish Conversation (Bluebridge Press, 2011), which offers commentary on key Jewish writings from biblical times to our day, opening a window onto three millennia of Jewish dialogue and debate. How did you conceive of a guide to the Jewish conversation?
Back in the 1970s, while serving as a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame, I found myself in a conversation with a Catholic colleague who sought to describe an experience that had proved personally transforming. The next thing I knew, I was saying, “That was your life in Christ.” “Yes,” he said, “Exactly!” The problem was, I had no real idea what I had said. I had simply intuited the right conversational response. I was, as it were, learning to speak “Catholic.” This was my first inchoate notion of life as a set of conversations. Is Judaism a conversation?
Yes. We are what we talk about—or, better, what we talk about is what we are likely to become. Think about conversion. People raised as Jews internalize a Jewish conversation they take for granted. Converts are always playing catch-up—as are serious Jews who want to take the conversation deeper than what they learned as children. What is the best entry point into the Jewish conversation?
I start with the Bible, particularly the Books of Genesis, Isaiah, Psalms,
Ecclesiastes, and Job. Genesis is the formative statement of human distinctiveness: our gift of self-consciousness, which evokes the existential question of who we are and what we ought to be. The prophet Isaiah demonstrates our ethical impulse—the outward expression of human self-consciousness toward others. The Psalms provide the other side of the coin—our interior life of prayer, spirituality, and connection to the Divine. But what if the goodness we perform amounts to nothing in the end? What if our ideals are illusions that evaporate into dust? That’s the subject of Ecclesiastes. And Job personifies the equally disturbing problem of evil: how bad things happen to good people. Genesis, Isaiah, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Job together lay down the parameters of human conversation for all time: self consciousness, ethics, spirituality, and the twin threats of meaninglessness and mortality. So far, the conversation sounds universal—not speciﬁcally Jewish.
Judaism is a “Jewish take” on the universal human predicament. The specifically Jewish version culminated in reform judaism
the Babylonian Talmud (ca. 6th–7th centuries C.E.). It is composed in conversational form, as if half a millennia of rabbis had somehow assembled for a lengthy debate on just about everything—without, however, any binding decision being reached at the end. It is perfectly normal to think your way through several pages of closely contested argument, only to find that you still do not know the answer to the question proposed in the first place. That openness provides grist for a conversational mill that has lasted all this time. Hillel and Shammai (c. 1st century B.C.E.) are paradigmatic opponents. For purposes of practice, we generally follow Hillel, but commentators continue to discuss the guiding principles of Shammai too, because Judaism is expansive, unafraid of contention, and inviting of curiosity and challenge. If I were banished to a desert island with a single book to take along, I’d choose the Talmud. What are other essential Jewish texts that Jewish conversationalists should know?
Medieval Judaism continued the legal conversation in commentaries, codes of Jewish law (which themselves attract commentaries), and responsa (closely argued legal directives in response to life’s challenges). From this period we also inherit our liturgical works—the siddur (prayer book for weekdays and Shabbat), machzor (prayer book for holidays), and the haggadah (the service for the Passover seder). The conversation also expanded to include the writings of prominent Jewish philosophers such as Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) and Judah Halevi (c. 1075–1141); the foundational work of Jewish mysticism, the Zohar; the fascinating Jewish travelogue of Benjamin of Tudela (1130–1173), who explored Europe, Asia, and Africa; and ethical wills, letters to the next gen-
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eration with advice parents wish they could provide their children. How does Reform Judaism play into the Jewish conversation?
Reform Judaism arose in the 19th century, an outgrowth of the Enlightenment (the age of reason) and Emancipation (the process of being freed from ghettos). Both were epitomized by the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1724–1786), who introduced Jews to the wider conversation of Western culture. Ever since, Jews have straddled two conversations—their traditional conversation and the Christian-dominated, but increasingly secular, conversation of modernity. One way to look at Reform, then, is to think of it as the means by which Jews learned to manage the two conversations without having to leave the Jewish one in order to adopt the dominant one. But Mendelssohn lived before Reform Judaism came into existence.
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intensive set of conversations about religious matters modified by the insights of history and science. An alternative approach came from Eastern Europe. Napoleon didn’t get that far, so Jews living in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires never thought of themselves as adherents of a religion, but as part of a patchwork quilt of ethnic peoples, such as the Ukrainians, Magyars, and Serbs. The Jewish equivalent for them was Zionism, a conversation on the revival of Hebrew and building a national home in the Land of Israel. So Zionism and Reform Judaism are alternative conversational tracks bequeathed to us by modernity?
Exactly. They were rivals once, but have now come together as complementary parts of Jewish identity. What has been the trajectory of the Jewish conversation in America, and what do you think lies ahead?
Reform Judaism arrived in the U.S. with 19th-century German immigration, but German Jews were quickly outnumbered by Eastern European immigrants who generally identified themselves in ethnic rather than religious terms. As a Western culture, however, America expected its citizens to be at least nominally religious—especially after World War II when Americans were fighting “Godless Communism”—so Jews built and joined the many suburban synagogues that dot our landscape today. But, not having been trained to think religiously, North American Jews largely conversed about ethnic matters— responding to antisemitism and vicariously living through Israel. This conversation is growing tired, especially for the next generation of Jews who have no ethnic memories of Eastern Europe, Yiddish, and the days before the State of Israel was a reality. I believe our challenge today is to reshape the religious conversation into discussions about spirituality, human purpose, and the ultimate meaning of life.
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Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show Appraisals by Jonathan Greenstein
Dear Jonathan, This menorah belonged to my greatgrandfather. Born in Nowy Korcyzn, Poland around 1869, he lived most of his life in Vienna until leaving Austria in 1938 and later settling in the United States. It has passed down to my grandparents, father, and me, and holds a very special place in my heart. My father and I would like to more about it. Jessica B., URJ temple member Dear Jessica, Wow! This is a magnificent piece of art, notable for the very unusual griffon (dog breed) heads on each side. It was made in Vienna between 1870 and 1900. Its hallmarks—the head of Diana in a clover frame as well as the artisan’s mark—started in 1867 and ended in the
1920’s; however, from past experience, I believe the piece was created in the earlier years. I have seen examples of this bench-type style of menorah (shaped like a bench or a couch)—with lions flanking the Decalogue, containing dedication inscriptions—that date to the 1890s. It is made of 800 grade silver, meaning it is 80% silver and 20% other
alloys—the silver standard in Austria at the time. (In contrast, in America we are on the English silver standard, which is known as sterling, and also known by 925 silver, meaning it is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals.) While the Austrian bench-type Chanukah lamp is fairly common, the addition of the decorative griffon heads (which have no religious significance) enhances its value. Value: $3000. Jonathan Greenstein, founder J. Greenstein & Co., Inc. Inquiries: Jonathan@JGreenstein.com Dear Jonathan, Thank you. The family history of this menorah is what we truly value. When we light the menorah, it is as if our European ancestors are with us.
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Launching the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Interview with Isa Aron and Bradley Solmsen
driving force of the religious school curriculum.
A recent national census of religious schools shows dropout rates after bar/bat mitzvah ranging from 35% in 8th grade to 85% by 12th grade. What is the signiﬁcance of this ﬁnding for the URJ’s Campaign for Youth Engagement (CYE)?
Why have you termed this initiative a “revolution”? Bradley: Nothing short of
a revolution is necessary to reverse the post-b’nai mitzvah dropout trend and ensure the Reform Jewish future. The change we TEENS FROM CONGREGATION BETH EL OF THE SUDBURY RIVER VALLEY imagine is of a magnitude AND THEIR ISRAELI EXCHANGE PARTNERS REST ATOP MASADA, 2012. that defies tinkering. There Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, URJ is no quick fix. We are planting seeds In many synagogues b’nai mitzvah director of Youth Engagement and that may take a decade or more to bear observances are standardized, not takco-director of the B’nai Mitzvah ing into account the differences between fruit. Revolution: It points to the fact that the 13-year-olds in terms of maturity and bar and bat mitzvah experience can either interest or the differences between fami- Isa: It will require a huge cultural leap be a strong point of Jewish continuation to shift the Jewish community from lies in motivation or Jewish identificaor an exit. If our goal is to shift this trend, tion. Also, the celebrations tend to focus the long-held assumption that religious then we need to ask: How can the cereon the individual child’s performance of school is about preparing kids for their mony, the preparation, and the aftermath a ritual that s/he may not be able to fully bar/bat mitzvah to what we believe relibe deeply engaging and relevant for both gious school should be about: learnunderstand or appreciate; for example, teens and their parents? ing how to become a committed and not having learned the meaning of the Our CYE goal is developing opportu- Hebrew he/she is reciting. involved member of the Jewish communities to ensure the majority of youth and nity. To accomplish this radical change, their families remain engaged in Jewish How did we get into this situation? schools will have to teach Hebrew and life from the time they enter our comt’fillah (prayer) differently, parents will munities through the rest of their lives. need to revisit the expectations they Isa: It began in the 1930s and ’40s, B’nai mitzvah is one of our last major when, to address the low rate of synabring to b’nai mitzvah, and synagogues opportunities to connect with parents gogue affiliation and the correspondmay need to reconsider and possibly and teens as a unit. Afterward, young ingly low rate of enrollment in religious undo the financial models that many people tend to make their own decisions schools, synagogues and central agenhave relied upon since the ’40s. regarding involvement in the Jewish cies of Jewish education banded togethcommunity, and therefore become more er to impose attendance requirements Are congregations that have not experienced post b’nai mitzvah difficult to engage. That is why we’ve on students whose families wanted to dropouts doing anything differently made b’nai mitzvah transformation one celebrate their b’nai mitzvah in a synato engage youth? of the first major CYE initiatives. gogue. In 1945, for example, the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues Bradley: Yes. Some congregations mandated two years of school attenIsa Aron, professor of Jewish Education, HUC-JIR and co-director of dance before a boy reached the age of are already revolutionizing b’nai mitzthe B’nai Mitzvah Revolution: Much 13. Although these requirements sucvah. For example, Congregation Beth El of the impetus for this project is coming ceeded in increasing both synagogue of the Sudbury River Valley, Sudbury, membership and school enrollment, from synagogues that share a growing Massachusetts has built a multi-year prothey had the unintended consequence uneasiness about the way b’nai mitzvah gram around an exchange between their of making bar mitzvah preparation— are celebrated, and the fact that b’nai teens and teens in Israel which encommitzvah preparation has, in many cases, rather than the Jewish engagement and passes study of modern Zionism and involvement of the next generation—the supplanted other religious school goals. Israeli history in the 9th grade, parallel reform judaism
➢ 9/28/12 5:37 AM
lessons in culture and identity for both American and Israeli teens in the 10th grade, ongoing contact in the 11th grade, and the Americans’ continued Israel engagement in the 12th grade. Personal relationships are key: The Israeli teens come to Boston for 10 days, the American teens travel to Israel for about two weeks, and the entire congregation takes part in the interaction. Younger students want to have this experience—motivated by the emails the older teens send about their Israel experience, by hearing the older kids speak about it during teen pre-
sentations to their religious school class, and by meeting the visiting Israeli teens. And because young people must enroll in the high school in order to participate, there is a strong incentive to continue their active formal Jewish education in the post-bar/bat mitzvah years. Last year Beth El retained 95% of their seventh grade class into eighth grade, and since the program began in 2005-06, they’ve never lost more than two students. We will also look at models outside the synagogue. I’m very impressed by the way some kibbutzim in Israel
approach bar/bat mitzvah. Young people work individually, with their parents, and as a group on a year-long project they present to the community. Most have an aliyah to the Torah and a second ceremony connected to a project they’ve chosen that is meaningful in their daily lives. Some or all of this model might be useful for our own revolution. What are the revolution’s goals? Bradley: To generate new ideas and
directions for meaningful b’nai mitzvah celebrations; to create models of b’nai mitzvah preparation that engage individuals and their families; to promote more effective methods for teaching Hebrew and prayer; to engage synagogue professionals in documenting these innovations through “action research”; and sharing their findings, models, and resources within a peer network as well as an everwidening group of congregations. What is “action research”? Isa: In “action research,” practitioners
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collect data about their setting, analyze what’s working and what’s not, experiment with practices that might yield a greater success rate, and again collect necessary data. This process will be revolutionary in and of itself, as it asks synagogue leaders to conduct research on the effectiveness of their own practices. Over the past two decades many congregational innovations have gone unnoticed, or been underappreciated. Action research will help ensure that the accumulated insights gained are widely shared. We also hope that synagogue leaders will “get” the action research “bug,” and use it in other situations as well.
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Isa: Yes. I anticipate congregations will
begin to ask themselves, “What kind of Hebrew should we be teaching, and for what purpose?” as well as “What is prayer and how should we teach it?” Instruction in both areas has been driven by the expectation that the ultimate goal is for the student to perform well at his/
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Will a revolution in b’nai mitzvah have a similarly profound impact on religious school education?
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her bar/bat mitzvah. So students spend years in religious school learning how to sound out very complicated Hebrew words in the prayerbook without ever learning what they mean. Likewise, they are taught to recite prayers without any prior exploration of spirituality. Changing the “performance” dimension of b’nai mitzvah will allow schools to teach for meaning, rather than for show. What are your next steps? Isa: From now until the end of 2014, a
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pilot group of 14 Reform congregations will conduct and document their own b’nai mitzvah experiments, aided by a variety of consultants in such areas as congregational change, curriculum development, t’fillah, and action research. In addition, an Action Network comprising a larger cohort of congregations will partner with us to advance all of our work in the area of bar/bat mitzvah. Findings will be shared on the project website urj.org/bnaimitzvah as well as at web conferences, face-to-face meetings, and site visits. In 2014 the experiments and outcomes will be presented at a national conference, and a larger group of congregations will be invited to participate. Visit the website for more information.
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Isa: Yes, and as change consultants
point out, just because you have a good idea doesn’t mean that it’s going to work. Much will depend on how we introduce new approaches and how we help synagogues manage the changes they are instigating. What we do know is that the current model is broken, and we have to find a better way of educating and engaging our youth. Utilizing congregational experimentation, action research, and community networks, we believe we will find that better way.
10/4/12 12:11 PM
Why Do We Need Religion? Ask Darwin By Jonathan Sacks
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t was none other than Charles Darwin who gave us one of the great arguments for religion. He tells the story in The Descent of Man. It began with a paradox Darwin noticed at the heart of his system. If evolution is the struggle to survive, if life is a competition for scarce resources, if the strong win and the weak die, then everywhere ruthlessness should prevail. But it does not. All societies value altruism. People esteem those who make sacrifices for the sake of others. This, in Darwinian terms, does not seem to make sense at all, and he was honest enough to admit it. The bravest, most sacrificial people, he wrote, “would on average perish in larger number than other men.” A noble man “would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature.” It seems scarcely possible, he wrote, that virtue “could be increased through natural selection, that is, by survival of the fittest.” It is a measure of Darwin’s greatness that he acknowledged the answer, even though it contradicted his general thesis. Natural selection operates at the level of the individual. It is as individual men and women that we pass on our genes. But civilization works at the level of the group. As he put it: “A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victoriRabbi Jonathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. From The Great Partnership by Jonathan Sacks. Copyright © 2012 by Jonathan Sacks. Published by arrangement with Schocken Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
ous over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.” How to get from the individual to the group was, he said, “at present much too difficult to be solved.” Technically, this is known as the “free rider” problem. It is always in my interest to pay less or take more than my share in some public amenity: to travel on a bus, for example, without paying for a ticket. Public goods depend on everyone sharing the burden. If I can avoid paying, it will be to my advantage; but if everyone did so, the system would collapse. So, for its own survival, every group has to devise ways of detecting and discouraging free riders. One way of doing so is to erect complex systems of law, regulation, inspection, detection, surveillance, and prosecution. But these are costly and cumbersome and do not always work. The alternative is to create, within the minds of individuals, an identification with and concern for the group as a whole so strong that it defeats the constant temptation to become a free rider. This generates “high trust” societies where enforcement costs are low and adaptability swift. Any group in which all the members can trust one another is reform judaism
at a massive advantage to others. There are three ways of getting individuals to act for the benefit of the group. One is power: we force them to. The second is wealth: we pay them to. But the danger in both is that strong individuals will outwit the system, using power or wealth for their own advantage. The third alternative is to educate people to see that the welfare of others matters as much as their own. No system has done this more effectively than religion. Religion teaches us that we are part of the whole, a thread in the fabric of God’s creation, a note in the symphony of life. Religion binds people into groups. Faith is the ability to see ourselves as joined to others by God’s love. Great religious texts also have the power to inspire the moral imagination. Reading the Bible, we encounter God listening to the prayer of a childless woman and giving her a child; Moses confronting Pharaoh and demanding that he let his people go; the prophets fearlessly condemning kings and priests for their corruption. This is morality at its most dramatic and world-transforming. Ultimately there is a difference between discovering morality and inventing it. Discovering it means that it exists independently of our will. It comes to us as a call from the heart of being. Love the stranger. Feed the hungry. Visit the sick. Stretch out your hand to the poor. Do not hate. Do not take revenge. Do not stand idly by in the face of injustice. Forgive. I, the Lord, do these things. Go thou and do likewise. The power of these teachings lifts the human spirit and mobilizes moral energies. It is not my contention that one needs to be religious or believe in God to be moral. We see goodness in Bill Gates and Warren Buffett giving away billions of dollars to charity, in the nurse whose continued on page 48
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Chanukah Quiz Answers continued from page 10 2. C. The actual translation of Ma’oz Tzur is “Mighty rock of my salvation.” “Rock of ages” is a paraphrase to better fit the music. Source: Jewish Heritage Online 3. C. Ladino. Flory Jagoda, the composer of Ocho Kandelikas, was born in Bosnia and immigrated to the U.S. She works to preserve the memory of her former community through Ladino songs. Source: Library of Congress Speakers’ Biographies online
on a libretto written by Thomas Morell to compliment the victorious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, upon his return from the Battle of Culloden. Source: New Groves Dictionary of Music 6. C. In 1983, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary wrote Light One Candle as “a call for peace and reconciliation,” Yarrow says. Source: Children’s Education Fund 7. A. In the Yiddish version of this song, I Am a Little Dreidel, the dreidel
is made of bly, meaning lead, and in the English version it is made of clay. Whereas the song’s meaning is largely the same in both versions, in English the singer sings about a dreidel, whereas in Yiddish the singer is the dreidel. Source: Jewish Holidays in Song by Velvel Pasternak 8. C. Michelle Citrin’s Pass the Candle from Left to Right has had 65,000+ hits on YouTube. She also wrote a Passover song that went viral on YouTube: 20 Things To Do With Matzah. Source: YouTube.com
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4. C. Tom Lehrer wrote Chanukah in Santa Monica for a 1990 broadcast of Garrison Keillor’s “The American Radio Company” (now “A Prairie Home Companion”) to remedy the scarcity of Chanukah songs. Sources: CrazyCollege.org and Outre Magazine (interviews with Tom Lehrer) 5. D. In 1746, George Frederick Handel composed Judas Maccabaeus based
1. Publication Title: Reform Judaism. 2. Publication No.: 0482-0819. 3. Date of Filing: September 11, 2012. 4. Issue Frequency: 4 times a year. 5. No. of Issues Published Annually: 4. 6. Annual Subscription Price: $12.00. 7. Complete Mailing Address of Known Office of Publication: 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6778. 8. Complete Mailing Address of Headquarters or General Business Office of Publisher: Union for Reform Judaism, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6778. 9. Full Names and Complete Mailing Addresses of Publisher, Editor, and Managing Editor: Publisher: Union for Reform Judaism, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6778; Editor: Aron Hirt-Manheimer, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6778; Managing Editor: Joy Weinberg, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6778. 10. Owner: Union for Reform Judaism, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6778, incorporated as a nonprofit organization. No stockholders. 11. Known Bondholders, Mortgages, and Other Security Holders Owning or Holding 1 Percent or More of Total Amount of Bonds, Mortgages or Other Securities: None. 12. The purpose, function, and nonprofit status of this organization and the exempt status for Federal income tax purposes, a., have not changed during preceding 12 months. 13. Publication: Reform Judaism. 14. Issue Date for Circulation Data Below: Fall 2012. 15. Extent and Nature of Circulation: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: A. Total No. Copies: 292,463. B. Paid Circulation (By Mail and Outside the Mail): (1) Mailed Outside County Paid Subscriptions Stated on PS Form 3541: 276,186. (2) Mailed In-County Paid Subscriptions Stated on PS Form 3541: 0. (3) Paid Distribution Outside the Mails Including Dealers and Carriers, Street Vendors, Counter Sales, and Other Paid Distribution Outside USPS: 8,815. (4) Paid Distribution by Other Classes of Mail Through the USPS: 105. C. Total Paid Distribution: 285,106. D. Free or Nominal Rate Distribution (By Mail and Outside the Mail): (1) Free or Nominal Rate Outside County Copies Included on PS Form 3541: 0. (2) Free or Nominal Rate In-County Copies Included on PS Form 3541: 0. (3) Free or Nominal Rate Copies Mailed at Other Classes Through the USPS: 6,001. (4) Free or Nominal Rate Distribution Outside the Mail: 1,248. E. Total Free or Nominal Rate Distribution: 7,249. F. Total Distribution: 292,355. G. Copies Not Distributed: 108. H. Total: 292,463. I. Percent Paid: 97.52%. No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date. A. Total No. Copies: 283,190. B. Paid Circulation (By Mail and Outside the Mail): (1) Mailed Outside County Paid Subscriptions Stated on PS Form 3541: 273,379. (2) Mailed In-County Paid Subscriptions Stated on PS Form 3541: 0. (3) Paid Distribution Outside the Mails Including Dealers and Carriers, Street Vendors, Counter Sales, and Other Paid Distribution Outside USPS: 8,716. (4) Paid Distribution by Other Classes of Mail Through the USPS: 156. C. Total Paid Distribution: 282,251. D. Free or Nominal Rate Distribution (By Mail and Outside the Mail): (1) Free or Nominal Rate Outside County Copies Included on PS Form 3541: 0. (2) Free or Nominal Rate In-County Copies Included on PS Form 3541: 0. (3) Free or Nominal Rate Copies Mailed at Other Classes Through the USPS: 376. (4) Free or Nominal Rate Distribution Outside the Mail: 352. E. Total Free or Nominal Rate Distribution: 728. F. Total Distribution: 282,979. G. Copies Not Distributed: 211. H. Total: 283,190. I. Percent Paid: 99.74%. 16. I certify that all information furnished on this form is true and complete: Joy Weinberg, Managing Editor.
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In this RJ symposium, 20s and 30s speak candidly
Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna sets the stage, shedding light on what history can teach us about the challenge of engaging the next generation
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The Discontinuity of Continuity an interview with Jonathan D. Sarna
lapse. People like me, who were adults during the 1980s and ’90s, watched an ever-more-prosperous American Jewish community create one big thing after another: lofty buildings, innovative programs, bold visions. Our children, by contrast, watched that prosperity evaporate. Their question is not “What’s the next big thing?” but “What can we reasonably and responsibly sustain?” Finally, the new generation approaches problem-solving differently. Since the Progressive era early in the 20th century, the American Jewish community has believed in central planning. We create a multi-year plan to actualize a vision and then follow a predetermined, step-bystep process to get there. Change in this model comes slowly and deliberately. By contrast, today’s young people look at who is at the forefront of change and see nimble start-ups and disruptive technologies. If you have an idea, they believe, you should carry it out—right now. They are not afraid of failure. They understand that in a start-up culture, 90% fail and 10% succeed. What they are not interested in is “continuity.” The people they respect are agents of change, people like Steve Jobs who are not afraid to break things.
From your observations as a Jewish historian, what differentiates today’s 20s and 30s from those of previous generations in terms of Jewish engagement? HERE IS A GENERATIONAL
disconnect between elders who grew up before the Internet age and young people who grew up in a post-Internet age. Those who are tethered to technology are literally on a different wavelength than earlier generations. They are in constant “virtual” touch with one another; they read on screen instead of in books; and they can meet their friends on Facebook, so they have no need to meet them at the synagogue or the JCC. Young Jews also do not understand the worldview of the so-called Jewish establishment. For Jews in their 50s and 60s, like me, the Six-Day War in 1967 shaped the way we think about Israel and about our responsibilities as Jews. Likewise, the Soviet Jewry movement taught us to work together as Jews to help save our brethren abroad. Young Jews today don’t remember the Six-Day War; instead, they came of age when Israel had become much more controversial and when no large group of persecuted Jews anywhere in the world has had to be saved. In addition, 20- and 30-year-olds—like all young Americans—have been shaped and battered by two central events: September 11, 2001 and the economic collapse of 2008. Is it any wonder that they tend to be suspicious of big institutions, including big Jewish institutions? They have watched too many of those institutions colreform judaism
Do you see this as a period of renaissance or stagnation for the Jewish community? I’d say that across the spectrum of North American faiths, we are currently experiencing what may someday become known as the Great Religious Recession. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, mega-churches and tiny temples are all witnessing membership declines as young people shift away from religious institutions. In contrast, in the 1970s, America’s religions, Judaism included, experienced an “awakening”—an unan-
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ticipated religious revival. I watched it at Hebrew Union College, where some students donned yarmulkes, tried on tefillin, and began keeping kosher. Soon, the Reform Movement as a whole embraced more rituals—yarmulkes and prayer shawls became common in the pews; and on Rosh Hashanah, some Reform congregations even took up tashlich, the medieval custom of casting one’s sins into the sea. More significantly, Jews across the spectrum began to engage in serious Jewish learning through such programs as Wexner Heritage, Me’ah, and the Melton Mini Schools. Everybody at that time knew young people who had become much more religiously committed than their parents. Well, religion is a bit like gravity: what goes up must come down. Every revival is followed by a period of backsliding, and this one is no exception.
and rebellious Jews who dressed differently and wore long hair with pride in the 1960s later joined the Jewish establishment and reshaped North American Jewry. The fact that our synagogues and temples today are a lot less stuffy and formal, and there is an emphasis on “doing Jewish” and not just sitting passively in the pews is, in good part, a tribute to the values that these oncerebellious Jews introduced into post-1960s Jewish life. In addition, the intense engagement of today’s young Jews, marked by a willingness to question, to disrupt, and to act, signals a significant Jewish renaissance on the
“Many of the wild and rebellious Jews who dressed differently and wore long hair with pride in the 1960s later joined the Jewish establishment and reshaped North American Jewry.”
When else did we witness backsliding in religiosity in America? The late 1920s and early 1930s could also be considered a period of “Religious Depression.” At the ninth biennial of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (today’s Women of Reform Judaism) in 1931, for example, the topic was: “The Cause and the Cure of the Laxity of our Youth in Religion,” and plenty of blame was cast on the “older generation,” the “times in which we live,” “the environment,” “[Jewish] associations,” and, of course, on the synagogue, which was allegedly “not concerning itself sufficiently with the very vital things of today.” Looking back, though, the religious recession of the 1920s and ’30s was also driven in part by automotive technology—having a car offered Americans many competing secular things to do on the weekends. My guess is that today, Internet/social media technology is partly driving the current religious recession. Nowadays nobody needs to go to temple to catch up with friends or learn about Judaism.
— Jonathan D. Sarna
horizon. As they create one Jewish start-up after another, they are likely to move from the periphery to the center of Jewish life, from being the so-called enfants terribles, the terrible children, to being the leaders of the next generation. The Jewish establishment needs to nurture these innovators. Historically, we’ve benefited by giving young people opportunities to experiment. For example, in the 1870s, a group of young Jews from New York and Philadelphia pledged to bring Jews back to “the ancient faith.” They created the weekly newspaper American Hebrew, which was livelier, edgier, more willing to debate issues, and more critical of Jewish leadership than any Jewish newspaper in the United States to that time. They launched a revolution in adult Jewish learning through classes, books, and eventually the great compendium of Jewish learning known as the Jewish Encyclopedia. They engaged women such as the poet Emma Lazarus (who rediscovered Judaism, battled antisemitism, and championed a return to Zion) and Henrietta Szold (the most learned Jewish woman of her day, who later founded Hadassah), understanding that women would have a major role to play in “saving Judaism.” And they took advantage of new developments in transportation (trains, streetcars) and communication (the telephone) to link Jews together in new ways and promote Jewish learning. All of this cost money, and fortunately, farsighted Jews such as philanthropist Jacob Schiff supported the new endeavors. The result was a 20th-century Jewish community that was better educated, better organized, and better prepared to take up new responsibilities than its 19th-century predecessor.
Are you optimistic about the Jewish future? Overall, I am optimistic. This generation of native-born American and Canadian Jews is better educated Jewishly than any of its predecessors as a result of day schools, camps, university-based Jewish Studies, and Israel programs. For example, the independent minyan movement has been heavily influenced by Jews who seek a Shabbat worship experience like the ones they enjoyed in Israel, and its standards of learning are higher than those of the 1970s chavurah movement because its leaders are much more Jewishly knowledgeable. In time, the payoff from this Jewish learning will be a new Jewish renaissance, fueled by young Jewish women and men who can read Jewish sources on their own, understand Jewish history and tradition, and apply that knowledge to fuse past and present into a new synthesis that will steer us ahead to the future. Remember, too, that historically, young outsiders have often become future Jewish leaders. Many of the wild reform judaism
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So should we be nurturing a culture of transformation? No question, transformative programs are just as impactful today, as Birthright Israel (which awards Jews ages 18-26 a free trip to Israel) has taught us. The danger, however, is that we shift so many resources to transformative programs that we forget that we also need formative ones. To those who ask, “Why invest in Jewish education when summer camp and Birthright Israel seem to make more of an impact?” I say, “Would you scrap the public school system and reallocate all the funds invested in elementary, middle, and high school education into summer and teen programs?” That would be absurd. And it’s likewise absurd for us to completely abandon formative programs for transformative ones. We need both. I deeply believe that only a person who possesses Jewish knowledge can make an informed decision concerning Jewish life. My parents wisely insisted that I needed a strong foundational Jewish education. Even if I later decided to reject everything, they said, I needed to know what it was that I was rejecting. “I want you to reject on the basis of knowledge,” my dad would repeat, “and not on the basis of ignorance.” I have followed this example with my own children. I’m not saying that there’s only one way to transmit Jewish learning. We need to investigate, experiment, and see what works best. E-learning, I suspect, is full of promise. But I’m not willing to give up on traditional Jewish education altogether, because at the end of the day, across the spectrum of Jewish life, we want informed Jews making informed Jewish choices. What else does the Jewish community need to do to position itself for success? We have to use our resources more efficiently. Many synagogue facilities are drastically underutilized, sitting vacant sometimes six days a week. Here we can learn
“In order to create strong Jewish communities for the future, established institutions must understand that the infrastructure they have built may not be what my generation is willing to take on.” — David Cygielman reform judaism
from Chabad, which has pioneered multiuse facilities that usually also house the rabbi and his family. Ultimately, the key for success is to embrace change. The Reform Movement’s continued success is a testament to its ability to change, as seen in its evolving views on bar mitzvah, Israel, ritual, and much more. Now there are new things to be changed in the face of a young generation that challenges the assumptions and norms of its elders. Change will keep us going—if we do it right.
HOME SHULING Name: David Cygielman Age: 30 Profession: CEO of Moishe House Jewish Childhood & College Experiences:
he defining Jewish experience of my youth was a six-week summer teen trip to Europe and Israel in 1997. For 42 days I was surrounded by Jewish friends, who remain some of my closest friends to this day. During the week leading up to Israel, we visited the Theresienstadt concentration camp. I’d grown up hearing Holocaust stories from my grandparents; seeing a camp firsthand and connecting it to my grandparents’ stories deepened my sense of commitment to the Jewish people. Inspired by that trip, upon entering UC Santa Barbara I joined the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, got involved in Hillel, and became Reform youth group advisor at Congregation B’nai B’rith. By sophomore year I was gearing up to backpack through Europe and take my next trimester in Israel when my father was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Our family’s situation changed dramatically. In order to finish out the year, I applied for a $2,000 loan from the Hebrew Free Loan Association in Santa Barbara; if it was granted, I planned to work over the summer to pay it back. Two interviews later, I received a life-changing phone call: The committee had met with the Jewish Community Foundation of Santa Barbara and decided to pay my final two years of college tuition in full, not as a loan, as long as for those years I continued my Jewish involvement on campus and in Santa Barbara. Then I knew without a doubt: The place I wanted to dedicate my time and energy was the Jewish community. The following year at Hillel I met Morris Squire, 80, a longtime Santa Barbara resident known for his quirkiness and his adamant opinions on everything. One Saturday morning in the Hillel building he asked me, “If you had a million dollars but could not spend it on yourself, what would you do with it?” I remember rambling on about a whole bunch of ideas until he cut me off, handed me his card, and said to be in touch. When I called him the following week, he invited me to his home. Before I left, he wrote a $10,000 check to Hillel and said I would be winter 2012
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in charge of it. What an opportunity! It was the largest check I had ever seen. Each week I would return to his house and share what we did with the money. So, every week for the rest of college and beyond, I visited his home. Over the years we developed 100+ programs in Santa Barbara, including afterschool programs for kids and a teen leadership training workshop. We were running with so many ideas, he was donating $1 million a year! His absolute trust in my leadership and direction, along with his impatience and insistence on immediate results, gave me the audacity to think I could accomplish tremendous change in the world. Perspectives on Engaging 20s and 30s: Post-college, I discovered I was too old for Jewish life on campus but too young for many local institutions. Then, while visiting my family in the Bay Area, I had dinner with four friends from our 1997 teen trip who were all renting a four-bedroom house. Like me, they felt alienated from organized Jewish life, but had a huge number of Jewish friends, a place to host them (their house), and a desire to be Jewish community leaders. That’s when the idea hit me: We could create Jewish communities by giving young adults the opportunity to live together and turn their homes into vibrant Jewish communities. I proposed the idea to Morris, and he was on board, so these four guys in their early 20s hosted a Shabbat dinner—and 73 people came! The following week an attendee emailed us to say it was a tremendous experience and asked if he could start a similar homebased program across the bay, in San Francisco. Today 46 Moishe Houses engage 30,000+ young adults in 14 countries, offering 275 different monthly programs. We’re now serving more post-college, 20-something Jews than any other organization worldwide. The Jewish establishment is working hard to understand the needs of our demographic, but the classic model of hiring someone to run young adult programs to penetrate this population has not produced the desired result. Typically, this is a junior position that demands work during the day and then events on nights/weekends—a very difficult work/life balance that leads to high turnover. More successful in attracting young adults are new approaches to existing synagogue models such as IKAR in LA, Kavanna in Seattle, and Mishkan in Chicago, prayer communities that are built around their age demographic and are not cost prohibitive because they do not have a traditional synagogue infrastructure. Although my wife and I maintain our membership at Congregation B’nai B’rith, which is 300 miles away, we are certainly in the minority. In order to create strong Jewish communities for the future, established institutions must understand that the infrastructure they have built may not be what my generation is willing to take on. We need to put the needs of potential participants first and foremost. I am optimistic about the Jewish future. Just as the concerns of today continue to evolve, so will we learn collectively how to address them. reform judaism
Name: Yoav Schlesinger Age: 32 Profession: Executive Director of Reboot Jewish Childhood & College Experiences:
am an RK (rabbi’s kid). I went to shul every Shabbos for years on end, attended a Conservative day school, read Torah by age 9, and led all of Shacharit and Musaf in addition to the entire Torah reading for my bar mitzvah. As a teenager I was never permitted to attend a party on a Friday night, a time reserved for a mandatory family Shabbat dinner replete with blessings and singing, and often I experienced our family being subject to scrutiny, unrealistic expectations, and community intrusiveness. So I hated most of it, and did my share of rebelling, including putting a Christmas tree in my room in high school—after all, what could possibly anger my parents more? Still, I came away with a strong sense of Jewish identity—our family was in it together, after all—and an appreciation of the beauty of Jewish ritual as well as the importance of community, family, and tradition. Then, at Stanford University I discovered a thriving Orthodox minyan and a group that breathed new life into the formerly dormant kosher co-op by cooking Shabbat dinners for 40–60 people. We all wanted a thriving Jewish community. That’s when I realized how critical community is to the enterprise of living an authentic Jewish life. Observing Shabbat by oneself is fine; it’s something to do. But it can also be a tircha, a burden. Shabbat is revelatory when it’s celebrated at a sparkling table, or when the service moves to lunch at a friend’s home, followed by time in the park with loved ones and a group havdalah.
“The Jewish establishment continues to throw darts at a board, hoping to find the ‘killer app’ that will bring in this age group. But their needs are not met by belonging; they’re met by experiencing.” — Yoav Schlesinger
Jewish life is communal life. There is something powerful, magical, and important in doing things together. Perspectives on Engaging 20s and 30s: I love Judaism and the Jewish community for allowing me the full expression of my personhood. I am a Jew with a tattoo, a nonobservant theist, an unapologetic culturalist, a determined skeptic, a lover of yiddishkeit and of Carlebach melodies, a sukkah builder and a yontif chazzan (holiday cantor), a hater of orthopraxy (“correct” action for
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action’s sake), a community builder, and a reluctant community member. Where else could I be all of these things? At the same time, I’m not entirely certain I’d ever join a synagogue. There are lots of reasons people belong to synagogues, but I fear it’s all too often out of a sense of obligation rather than meaning or value. Most people don’t show up except on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And why? Perhaps because, for them, the perceived value of belonging to a synagogue is to enable a child to attend Hebrew school and become bar or bat mitzvah’d. Thousands of dollars a year to “belong”? The only place most of those in my cohort pay such a fee is to a gym, where the return on investment is clear. Unfortunately, the synagogue has failed to clarify its own value or present an appealing vision of Jewishness beyond obligatory dues-paying membership. Where do I find a compelling vision for what Jewishness might be? In Reboot, where I serve as Executive Director. It’s a platform for innovation and experimentation, a cultural collective and incubator, a think tank that draws incredible minds who are unengaged with the Jewish community to answer questions such as “Who am I?” “What am I inheriting?” and “What, if anything, do I want to do about it?” The answers to these questions have been testaments to the relevance of Jewish tradition in modern life: 10 radically reinvented sukkahs built in New York City’s Union Square, an international modern day of rest and tech detox, an all-night reinvention of a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a digital reflection during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That’s how you draw people to Judaism—new, flexible platforms for Jewish experimentation, renewal, iteration, and reinvention. The Jewish establishment is trying to meet the needs of 20s and 30s, but they’re failing. They continue to throw darts at a board, hoping to find the “killer app” that will bring in this age group. And therein lies the fundamental problem—the message has always been about belonging to an institution. The needs of this age cohort are not met by belonging; they’re met by experiencing. ➢
If Jewish life is going to appeal to Jews under 40, Jewish leaders will need to humbly divest themselves of failing institutions that no longer serve their populations. Like the most successful companies, they need to be willing to slaughter their sacred cows when consumers aren’t buying what they’re selling and to funnel their dollars instead to more successful enterprises. They will have to accept rapid, radical, and revolutionary change that will entirely redefine their jobs. And they will have to suffuse content into their offerings, because Judaism Lite isn’t appealing. Jews gathering with Jews for no other purpose than being with other Jews (whether for a young adult happy hour or an excursion to a baseball game) is supremely unsatisfying. Meaning will only come when young people are presented with an authentic, resonant, approachable form of Jewishness. I’m pessimistic about the Jewish future when it comes to the formal institutions we’ve created for ourselves. Jewishness will go on, but the Jewish establishment as currently configured is in peril. There’s a serious paucity of good ideas, and even scarcer funds to make them happen. The ones that do work are more a product of their charismatic, visionary leadership than their form or function. Jewishness is in serious need of rebranding, of reinvention. Is there enough courage to discard the outmoded patterns of behavior and reinvent from scratch? The rabbis of Yavneh managed to reinvent Temple worship and formulate the Mishnah, a radically new approach to Jewish life in the post-Temple period. Who will be our Yohanan Ben-Zakkai or Hillel? At this point I’m not confident he or she exists. Members of the Reboot network will make valuable contributions here, but this work alone will not be enough to radically reinvent modern Jewishness. It will take more collaboration, more innovation, more tolerance for failure, more reconfiguration of existing tropes, more unity of purpose, more disruption, and more active embrace of that disruption.
REVIVING THE TRIBE Name: Rebecca Missel Age: 32 Profession: Manager of grants administration, Union for Reform Judaism. Jewish Childhood Experiences:
“How many times can a young person go to a synagogue alone and be ignored by the membership and leadership before he/she decides to give up?” — Rebecca Missel reform judaism
resident of our Conservative congregation’s youth group chapter; attended religious school; my parents were synagogue leaders (religious school teacher, sisterhood president); our family regularly attended services, had Shabbat dinners at home, and celebrated holidays; my maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors. Also, we were one of the only Jewish families in our school and city, which meant I was often an outsider—but that also enabled me to empathize and understand other marginalized groups in society. I consider that a great gift. ➢ winter 2012
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Perspectives on Engaging 20s and 30s: Ten years out of college, I still have not found a synagogue community I can call my own and choose to support with my time, energy, and dollars. My friends and I have a constant conversation every fall: Where are you going for the holidays? We float around from shul to shul, taking advantage of complimentary ticket programs and making nominal donations, but none of the congregations ever embrace me, invite me to come back for a service or Shabbat dinner, or even add me to their mailing list. So why should I join? If I could find a congregation that “got it” when it came to 20s and 30s, that showed me it can offer something for people like me who are transplants and not yet married with kids, I would absolutely want to get involved. And if it offered flexible membership rates, I might ultimately join. Young Jews in big cities have innovative options, groups such as Riverway in Boston, Romemu in New York, and IKAR in Los Angeles—vibrant, Jewishly engaging, fun, exciting communities of young adults. Those of us living outside these major population centers, however, are still stuck with older congregations that don’t speak our language and don’t understand what it means to be young today. They do things the way they were always done and think they’re “up to date” if they have a semi-functional (albeit still outdated) website. If an organization’s website doesn’t speak to me as a young adult, then I know the organization probably won’t either. Meanwhile, I lead Jersey Tribe, an organization I founded in December 2009 that offers social, educational, volunteer, religious, and philanthropic programs for Jewish New Jerseyans in their 20s and 30s from across the religious and relationship spectrum. We fill a significant need at a time when more established Jewish organizations are, by and large, doing a terrible job of meeting young Jews’ needs. Congregations are stuck in outdated modes of engagement, focused on membership as the ultimate end. They are not attentive to what compels people to join organizations and fail at being welcoming and inviting. How many times can a young person go to a synagogue alone and be ignored by the membership and leadership before he/she decides to give up? In contrast, when you show up at Chabad, people will be incredibly friendly to you, will invite you into their homes, will want to get to know you, will encourage you to come again. They won’t care if you ever had a bar/bat mitzvah, what kind of car you drive, if you have a lot of money. They know you are a Jew and accept you no matter what. We need to incorporate Chabad’s concepts into our own practices. From my experience with Jersey Tribe, I’ve learned that young Jews feel compelled to participate in a Jewish community when it speaks to their needs—whether social, religious, or activist. Going on a hike might not be a specifically Jewish activity, but the choice to attend a hike with a Jewish group versus a secular group reflects a young person’s sense of peoplehood and belonging. Also, being Jewish means tremendously different things to different people—but for everyone it means something. Recently, 20 people from Jersey Tribe attended a Rock
and Roll Shabbat service at a local congregation. Previous synagogue-based events had not been successful, but all of us who attended this one loved the experience! The setting was informal, with round tables instead of pews, and free snacks and drinks during the service (including beer and wine). All the clergy personally introduced themselves to each of us. It was a perfect example of how thinking outside the box, lowering barriers to entry, and being engaging can strengthen relationships with 20s and 30s. With just a few simple, low-cost steps, such as appointing a young adult to the board to plan events and act as a liaison to peers, asking Birthright alumni to serve on committees, inviting a rabbi to host a Torah on Tap event at a local bar or coffee shop, and/or creating a designated young adults’ page on a congregational website, synagogues could dramatically improve how they meet the needs of Jews under 40. It just takes the courage to look outside the box and to commit to thinking in new ways.
“The needs of Jewish young adults are not very different than the needs of any young adult: They want to be around others who share their passions.” — Rabbi David Gerber
The sweet spot for all Jews is for both established and innovative organizations and synagogues to come together—to find commonalities, share best practices, break apart silos, and focus energies on building better communities and engaging Jews of all ages.
KNOWING THY COMMUNITY Name: Rabbi David Gerber (HUC-JIR, 2012) Age: 32 Profession: Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Beth Or, Maple Glen, Pennsylvania Jewish Childhood & Early Adulthood Experiences:
aised in a Reform family; became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Shaare Emeth in St. Louis. My early Jewish identity was largely formed by my Hebrew school experience and my family. At Indiana University, I was one of the few Jewish members of a large fraternity. Because of the intifada, Israel was frequently in the news, and non-Jews considered me the de facto “expert” on what was happening over
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there, as well as on Judaism in general. Eventually I tired of not knowing the answers and took it upon myself to begin studying Torah on my own. I soon found a love for Torah and knew I wanted to pursue a life of Jewish learning and teaching, which led me to rabbinical school. Perspectives on Engaging 20s and 30s: Prior to enrolling at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I worked with the Jewish community in St. Louis to revitalize their young adults. Meeting with every Jewish young person—affiliated and unaffiliated—who would give me a few minutes on the phone, or in person for coffee, I discovered that their needs are not very different than the needs of any young adult: Young people want to be around others who share their passions. With this in mind, I formed several small interest-based Jewish communities—Jewish dog owners, Jewish bike riders, a Jewish football league, etc. Over the nine-month period of my involvement, 500+ young adults were participating in Jewish communities of their peers in ways that mattered to them, thereby deepening their own sense of Jewish connection. The groups were successful, I believe, because I took the time to get to know the community’s needs. In this digital age, it’s easier for congregations to ascertain the needs of their congregants of all ages, and if we properly utilize the information we gather, we can create more meaningful engagement. For my senior rabbinical thesis at Hebrew Union College, I researched the effectiveness of mobile technology in Jewish outreach. Focusing on QR codes—the barcodes readable by smartphones—I collaborated with Jewish communities nationwide to create cutting-edge resources. With a QR code, a Hebrew school curriculum can become multidimensional—the student arrives at a page in his workbook that asks for the prayer to be chanted out loud, scans the QR code, and immediately hears the cantor chant the prayer. Several non-Hebrew-speaking parents told me that this technology enabled them to help their child with his/her Hebrew homework, and as a result, felt more connected to their child’s religious experience.
“We want prayer experiences in and of the moment—ones without an alternative agenda or expectation of our doing or giving.” — Josh Nelson reform judaism
The QR code is just one example of what is now available to enhance our communities. I think of outreach as a mosaic; each tile represents a different way to reach out. There are tiles for mobile technology, snail mail, streamed services, adult education classes, etc. At the same time, I am a big believer in the necessity of a beit knesset (synagogue). Jews will always benefit from a physical community—a place to gather, pray, and learn together. No single medium for outreach will apply to every community member, so it behooves us to reach out in as many ways as possible.
BAR (CHU) HOPPING Name: Josh Nelson Age: 34 Profession: Jewish musician and producer Jewish Childhood Experiences:
’ve had a strong Jewish identity since childhood. Every family member was involved in our vibrant local Jewish community on the south coast of Massachusetts— teaching in the religious school, advising youth programs, serving on the education commission, and accompanying services on an old-school 1950s Allen electric organ. In my religious school music class, the organist (an elderly, Christian Frenchman named Michele) played with great intention and an openness of spirit and heart that floated a song through the air. That was where I first experienced the relationship between God, music, and the human soul. Perspectives on Engaging 20s and 30s: I don’t pay dues to a congregation, but as a Jewish musician I visit many synagogues each year. Often, I rush to a shul straight from an airport, drop my things, and head for the sanctuary. I seek (need) moments of quiet reflection before leading prayer, and I spend time seated near the entrance as I await the congregation. When the first congregants walk in, rarely, if ever, does a single person even say hello. It’s a hard thing to get over….That said, I do believe I will find the right fit someday. I have also often felt uncomfortable with the worship options available to me. Starting in my mid-20s, I wanted to experience powerful, meaningful communal prayer without pretense, pomp, and a holier-than-thou attitude. I longed for prayer experiences in and of the moment—ones without an alternative agenda or expectation of my doing or giving. In response, I’ve spent the past seven years developing The WAREHOUSE (www.thewarehousenyc.org), an alternative Shabbat worship experience aimed at unaffiliated and/or disconnected 20s and 30s Jews in major metropolitan areas. Taking over a bar on Friday nights, we deliver a worship service offering all that was missing for me back then: connection, community, spirituality, warmth, and a contemporary, open aesthetic that reflects the participants’ own. I am truly optimistic about the Jewish future. I see winter 2012
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an undeniable undercurrent of faith and communal connection in this generation. After our events, participants speak of transformation, of a real feeling of connection they thought was lost or had never before experienced. And the very fact that the Jewish community is having these conversations—looking at our challenges in new ways— is the best indicator of our ability to change.
PITCHING TO PARENTS Name: Sarah Lefton Age: 38 Profession: Founding Executive Director, G-dcast Jewish Childhood & College Experiences:
resident of my Reform temple youth group; member of regional youth group board; URJ camper; religious school student at Tree of Life Congregation, Columbia, South Carolina. In fourth grade my teacher Ruth Bazerman (z”l) told us, “If you don’t learn something new every day—you’re dead!” She scared the daylights out of me—in a good way—and it may be why I’m so dedicated to learning above all else in my Jewish life. Perspectives on Engaging 20s and 30s: These days my husband, our three-year-old son, and I live in San Francisco, and you’ll catch me regularly on Shabbat at two places. The first, the Mission Minyan, is comprised of a wonderfully weird group of people with different Jewish backgrounds and traditions from whom I’ve learned everything from French songs to Danish blessings to farout Talmud insights to how to cook the perfect roasted chicken (in a cast-iron pan of course). And, although I don’t personally believe that an all-volunteer model is the optimal way to run a community, I seriously value that all of my learning happened organically, in people’s homes, and without dues or fees—although I gave plenty of sweat and the occasional kiddush sponsorship. The second, the Kitchen, is a great new indie community bringing age and observance-diverse people together for Shabbat services, big communal meals, plus offbeat holiday gatherings. Services feature “Camp Kitchen” for the kids, with storytime and puppets and snacks, and it’s nice spending Shabbat with not only younger and older friends but also so many other parents of young children. The bottom line, though, is that there isn’t a place where my husband and I can realistically daven and learn in a serious way at the same time. I know things get better when kids turn school-aged (Sunday school, camp, model seders, etc.), but right now I often feel isolated. Serious Jewish learning opportunities usually happen during dinner and bedtime hour, when I can’t leave the house. And it’s hard to bring our son to services because he really just wants to run and yell and play. We do it from time to time, but my husband and I end up playing tag team, one
of us davening while the other chases the kiddo. It’s hard to connect spiritually when you’ve got one eye down the hallway wondering if your kid is pulling off his diaper. There’s a missed opportunity for the “establishment” to create Jewish daycare centers, services with childcare for babies and tots, Torah study that happens online after the kids are in bed, and—I can’t resist saying—our own version of the over-the-top free church carnivals put on in the park for Easter! Plus, there’s a huge baby boom in San Francisco right now and not enough affordable preschool spaces for everyone—another opportunity! As a serial entrepreneur, I believe in seizing opportunities (though right now, parenthood has a way of sucking the extra energy out of me). In 2006, for example, I started G-dcast—a fun, light, multimedia, online introduction to Torah—to give young adults like myself an easy way into Torah study. Surprisingly, it caught on with young kids and their congregational educators even more than with my peers. Now we create some videos for younger audiences and others for adults.
“As parents of a 3-yr-old, there isn’t a place where my husband and I can learn in a serious way at the same time.” — Sarah Lefton
Are we in a Jewish renaissance? I’m not sure. Jewish culture has obviously had a bang-up 10 years, thanks to so many of my peers in the arts world putting out daring new Jewish music, writing, film, and ideas. In comparison to when I was 25, this age group has an embarrassment of riches—Birthright trips, huge singles-scene Shabbat onegs, Moishe Houses, etc. I also see an uptick of interest in spirituality and traditional davening as well as Jewish meditation, yoga, and travel. But each generation defines its own flavor. Our parents had chavurot, we have minyanim—both share the essential content of community, connection, and culture. What appears missing right now is a centralized conversation about global affairs, politics, and Israel. Our community today seems very polarized and living in its own pockets of politics, social concerns, and religious observance. There don’t seem to be many places where Jews of different stripes hang out. That said, history has a way of shaking us out of one world and into a new one. We’ll see how long this particular status quo lasts. The essentials of Jewish life are fairly well established. We’ll keep arguing about the details and tweaking the trimmings, but as long as we keep learning, praying, doing mitzvot, and gathering in community, I think things will be just fine. I do think we could get better at making parve desserts, though. There’s really nowhere to go but up.
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Sacred of Circle Reading from the Torah, 2011
Sisterhood women demonstrating for womenâ€™s suffrage, c.1910
Save Darfur Rally, Washington, DC, 2006
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The power and promise of Sisterhood in its first 100 years
Sisterhood WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar presenting The Torah: A Womenâ€™s Commentary to President Barack Obama, 2011
Packing toys for children, South Africa, c.1950
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THE SACRED CIRCLE OF SISTERHOOD
Carrie O. Simon
Q: Why did you join Sisterhood, and what was it like when you first got involved? Dolores Kosberg Wilkenfeld, NFTS President 1985-89: Having come from a long line of “temple Jews,” I joined Sisterhood to find my own spiritual home where I could make a personal contribution. In 1957, Congregation Emanu El in Houston had an active, creative Sisterhood. Hearing that I had worked in radio and television advertising, the incoming Sisterhood president asked me to co-write a skit for our opening meeting, and another member asked me to help her write the Sisterhood newsletter. Being asked to help, I immediately felt needed. I was proud to be part of all our Sisterhood did. We served as “lay” youth advisors and supported our youth group however we could—including standing in as emergency female counselors at our youth group’s camp in the reform judaism
Texas Hill Country. Because we promoted youth activities, engaging young people became a “front burner” issue for the congregation. We also participated in local interfaith activities and helped activate a broad-based community coalition on housing that resulted in the establishment of Houston’s first housing code. Nationally, NFTS leaders had long promoted engaging young people. In 1927, NFTS Youth Chair Jean Wise May called for developing a federation of the Young Folks Temple Leagues, which already existed in many congregations. It took almost 15 years of NFTS persistence and interim activity before the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism) formally established the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY, now North American Federation of Temple Youth), which led to the Union’s highly successful camping program. For almost 20 years, NFTS was NFTY’s sole financial source; today, WRJ supports the Union’s work with high school and college-age youth through our Youth-Education-Special Projects (YES) Fund. On the international level, in 1971, I served as a NFTS
Carrie O. Simon photo: The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish A rchives, Cincinnati, OH, americanjew isharchives.org
Women of Reform Judaism—the oldest and largest of the Union for Reform Judaism affiliates, representing 65,000+ women in nearly 500 Reform women’s groups worldwide—is celebrating its Centennial in 2013. When the organization was founded in 1913 as the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS), women could not even vote in national elections, much less become rabbis, cantors, or congregational presidents. During the early years, NFTS President Carrie O. Simon worked to encourage the Union and its congregations to allow women on their boards, and in 1925, NFTS President Stella Freiberg became the first woman to serve on the Union’s board. On the international stage, NFTS Executive Director Jane Evans served as a consultant to the U.S. delegation during the San Francisco Conference at which the United Nations charter was drafted. Using their collective power, Sisterhood women changed the landscape of congregational life, as well as North American and world politics. In this RJ symposium, three WRJ leaders of different generations—Dolores Kosberg Wilkenfeld, Lynn Magid Lazar, and Dara Amram—recount little-known stories about how WRJ has transformed Jewish life, how Sisterhoods evolved with changing times, why Jewish women and the Movement rely upon a Jewish women’s organization, and the future they seek to create. To learn more, visit wrj.org.
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SACRED CIRCLE OF
convener for the first Women’s Plea for Human Rights for Soviet Jewry, urging that Jews in the USSR be allowed either to emigrate or practice Judaism openly in their home countries. Nowadays we have NGO representation at the United Nations and engage in advocacy efforts on behalf of Jewish and humanitarian causes worldwide. For many women, including me, Sisterhood leadership served as an “entry” point to greater participation/leadership within our congregations. Sisterhood presidents (who sat on the temple board by virtue of their position) were often subsequently elected to the temple board in their own right. Some later assumed the temple presidency, as I did.
ers, help planning a Tu B’Shvat seder, etc., our principal turned to Sisterhood. Sisterhood also “owned” the kitchen, which was nearly in constant use: breakfast pancakes for the “shul in” senior youth group sleepover; monthly gourmet luncheon meetings; brisket, kugel, and desserts for the Sisterhood Shabbat service dinner. Dara Amram, WRJ Board of Directors: Based on my grandmother and mother’s experiences, I had high expectations of Sisterhood when I joined in 2004, but it lacked the vibrancy I’d anticipated. There hadn’t been a single Sisterhood event in three years! I decided that if I wanted my needs met, I’d have to step up. First, though, I needed to know if our rabbi would be behind the effort. When I asked her, “Do we need a Sisterhood?” she answered with a resounding yes, saying that as a young child her mother always took her to Sisterhood meetings and that a strong women’s group could do a lot for our temple. She encouraged me to help build up the Sisterhood. I walked out of that meeting the new
Lynn Magid Lazar, WRJ President: When I joined in 1975, almost every congregation had a Sisterhood, and almost every woman belonged to it. Our Sisterhood at Temple Beth Israel, York, Pennsylvania had 100+ members in a congregation of fewer than 200 families. In most communities Sisterhood women were the synagogue’s heart and hands. When our religious school needed new desks, more teachreform judaism
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THE SACRED CIRCLE OF SISTERHOOD Sisterhood president. In the beginning I was in my own Sisterhood bubble. Later, when I became a part of the WRJ president’s listserv, I learned that the majority of Sisterhoods across North America shared the same membership struggles and worked to overcome them through simple, fun social programming planned during peak temple hours.
Q: It seems the interests and purview of Sisterhood women changed with the times. How have Sisterhoods stayed current? Dolores: By the 1980s, more women were working and furthering their education, making long-term participation in Sisterhood projects less likely. We urged Sisterhoods to adjust to the new realities by being flexible in structuring, scheduling, and programming. In a presidential speech, I referred to the then popular commercial, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” stating, “This is not your mother’s Sisterhood. This is the new generation of Sisterhood.” Sisterhoods began to adjust meeting times and events, to transform long-term responsibilities into “one-shot jobs” or short-term projects, and to create new models of shared leadership and responsibility. Our vitality is testimony to the ability of each new generation to change with the times. Lynn: Now that women play new roles in congregational life—we are rabbis, cantors, educators, temple presidents, and anything else we wish to be—we are able to multiply this power by the thousands, collectively accomplishing just about anything imaginable! The quintessential example is The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (urjbooksandmusic.com), which reshaped the arc of Jewish history by collecting and creating women’s scholarship into the first complete commentary on Torah written by women. At the 1993 NFTS/WRJ assembly Cantor Sarah Sager challenged hundreds of women to imagine a Torah commentary written by women. WRJ then convened a “pilot” weekend of Sisterhood executive board members and women scholars to plan it, hundreds of other women joined to implement the plan, and thousands of women—the Women of Reform Judaism—turned the plan into reality. One of the highlights of my life involves this commentary. At the 2011 Biennial assembly in Washington, DC, I was one of a small group of Movement leaders invited to meet President Barack Obama. I introduced myself as the president of Women of Reform Judaism and presented him with the volume. President Obama looked at it carereform judaism
fully. Then, holding up the book, he asked the assembled male Movement leaders, “Is this book the ‘true’ story?!” I replied that it was the story that hasn’t been told in the last 2,000 years. “Michelle would really like this book,” he replied, to which I added, “As will your daughters.” Dolores: The WRJ Torah commentary has not only given “voice” to women in the context of the Torah; it has raised the profile of women as rabbis, cantors, scholars, teachers, and students. It’s a symbol of the evolution of Sisterhood/NFTS/WRJ commitment to Jewish education, from its earliest years, which focused on rabbis and religious schools, to the intellectual and spiritual development of its own women, which is also evidenced in WRJ Torah study guides, WRJ books (the Covenant series), a WRJ-commissioned women’s Torah (Torat Nashim), and pre-Shabbat e-mail messages.
Q: Today, Jewish women have any number of opportunities for Jewish engagement and leadership. Why do so many choose involvement with WRJ? Dolores: For many of the same reasons they always did— the opportunities to support meaningful causes while also benefitting from the bonding, sharing, caring, mentoring, learning, and growing that is characteristic of women’s groups within the special context of her spiritual home. And, because our congregations deal in some of the most sensitive areas of people’s lives—faith, family, illness, life and loss, etc.—so do Sisterhoods. We are there to share the laughter and tears, support and cheer, congratulate and comfort. For 50+ years, I have been part of this “sacred circle,” and I still cherish every moment it affords me. Lynn: Each woman has the opportunity to grow in her own way. Some women want companionship and connection. Others seek an entrée into more active temple life. Some want to be involved in their children’s Jewish education. Many wish to deepen their levels of Jewish literacy. Still others are driven to help heal our broken world, and have joined with WRJ to advocate for such important issues as civil rights, women’s health, GLTBQ equality, and women in the rabbinate—the latter nearly two years before anyone else in the Movement made a public statement. I became a more literate Jew because of Sisterhood. When I grew up, my brothers studied for bar mitzvah but I was not required to study for bat mitzvah. At Sisterhood events as an adult, I participated in Torah study groups, unique worship services, and study sessions with fascinating teachers. Among an encouraging community of friends, continued on page 46
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What Will the Neighbors Say?! Considering how society has changed what it deems a disgrace, when shaming is harmful or useful, and how to break the cycle of unjustified shame. RJ
in terv ie w w ith da l e atk ins & Edy the mencher
Aron Hirt-Manheimer (editor, Reform Judaism magazine): “Shanda” is the Yiddish word for “shame or disgrace in the eyes of another.” Do Jews have a particular sensitivity to how we are perceived by the outside world, and if so, what cultural, historical, sociological, and psychological factors have contributed to this? Dr. Dale Atkins (psychologist; author; TV commentator; member of Temple Israel in Westport, Connecticut): The common Yiddish
expression is a shanda far die goyim. In other words, don’t give ammunition to non-Jews who might seize the opportunity to hold a socially unacceptable behavior against all Jews. If a Jew does a bad thing, we may all be judged and punished for it.
© Kimscreativehub / Dreamstime.com
Rabbi Edythe Mencher (URJ Faculty for sacred community, clinical social work psychotherapist):
Actually, I think we’ve worried much more about looking good to the Goldsteins than to the gentiles. Often the expression used is “a shanda un a charpeh—a shame and a disgrace”— which refers both to acting inappropriately in front of non-Jews as well as other Jews, and in our own eyes. I first heard the word shanda used in relation to a father who beat his son—it was a shanda that he treated his son in
such a way, or alternatively a shanda that he did not live up to Jewish standards. The shanda label was also a way
for parents and community to control unwanted adolescent behaviors: If a girl wore a revealing dress, if a boy drank or smoked, it would besmirch the family name and actually even the whole community’s honor. Coming of age in the break-free 60s, most of my peers dismissed attempts by our elders to label what we chose to wear a shanda. Yet we did not reject the notion that certain actions or beliefs, such as violence, poverty, mistreatment of children, racism, and antisemitism, were shandas. We saw the value of shaming as moral assessment but resisted it as a way of enforcing what we construed as stiflingly middle-class values. Dale: When a shanda involves an ethi-
cal violation, an entire community may be at fault. For example, if the Jewish community covers up a case of sexual abuse, both the act and the cover-up may constitute shandas. reform judaism
Edie: Yes, but the very concept of
shanda may also be at the heart of the problem. When the shame is associated not just with the perpetrator but also the victim—such as in societies where the person who has been raped or molested is treated as soiled and ruined—people understandably hide incidences of abuse. In the same way, if a whole religious group is liable to be attacked broadly because some of its leaders have been sexual predators, then people on the inside who cherish the faith tradition will conceal those abuses. The challenge, then, is for society to attach the shame to the crime and to the perpetrator without having it spill over onto the victim and the whole group. In such an environment cover-ups are unlikely to be tolerated by the community. Joy Weinberg (managing editor, Reform Judaism magazine): What did our biblical ancestors consider shandas? Edie: The word shanda derives from
the Germanic word “scandal” or the French “escandale,” referring to ignominy or disgrace. The Hebrew root “bosh” figures more in Jewish tradition. It is used in the Bible in the context of shameful, disobedient actions that are displeasing to God, such as idol worship, Sabbath desecration, dishonesty in our dealings with others, the disregard-
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ing of sexual and dietary prohibitions, and violations of purity codes (proximity to blood or to the dead). In the Torah, shaming served a specific purpose—to urge individuals and communities towards repentance; following sincere repentance, a state of well-being, cleanliness, and security would be restored. These days, research has shown that shaming and criticizing tend to have less impact on future behavior than more nuanced approaches to encouraging good behavior. People who are
shamed about a particular behavior may tend to continue to behave that way in private, hiding the original behavior to avoid public ridicule. Instead, the goal of religion, childrearing, and education is to have people internalize moral and ethical values that are not dependent on external approval. Shame can function as a step along the path of developing a moral conscience. Someone with a working conscience will feel guilty when s/he does wrong and experience a sense of inner comfort when s/he does right. Responding warmly to moral and
ethical behavior in others is an important way of providing reinforcement. Aron: Looking at modern times, what constituted a shanda in the first half of the 20th century? Dale: In my family it was marrying
out of the faith. Even if the person converted and became a religious Jew, s/he was not fully accepted. Also, many people believed that women who worked outside the home were neglecting their kids. This criticism even applied to women who had to work to help support their families during the Depression. I think this perception began to change when the United States entered World War II and large numbers of women joined the workforce as part of the effort. Yet even today, the stigma remains that women who work outside the home are not able to attend to their children as well as those who stay at home, despite the research to the contrary. Edie: Another perceived shanda was
being sexually active at an older age. For example, my great-grandmother was in her early 50s living in a small town in Austria when she gave birth to her last child. She asked her 17-yearold daughter to stroll with the baby in the neighborhood because she felt embarrassed that her late-in-life motherhood revealed she was still sexually active. Her married son and her other daughters pointed out that the neighbors might think that the 17-year-old was the mother—another shanda! The family had to decide which was the greater shanda: a sexually active grandmother or a 17-year-old unmarried mother. In short, any sexual behavior that was not seen as occurring at the right stage of life and with a spouse was regarded as a shanda. Joy: In my mother’s family the shanda was poverty. During the Depression, everyone lost their jobs and the family had to move to a less expensive neighborhood. My mother felt so ashamed, she didn’t even tell her best friend. For years the two met on a street reform judaism
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corner to walk to school; one day my mother just didn’t show up. Edie: Great shame was associated with being poor, even when it was through no fault of your own. Partly, I think, the shame came from a fear of being perceived as not having enough sechel (smarts and practicality) as well as the chutzpah (gumption) to make it in the real world. If you couldn’t take care of your family, people would conclude there had to be something lacking in you.
precepts as the route to tikkun olam, repairing the brokenness in our world. Unfortunately, however, our Jewish community has retained the sense that a person with an illness or disability is somehow impure. Tzedakah activist Danny Siegel tells the true story of a nonJewish woman who devoted herself in the 1990s to finding homes for orphaned children with Down Syndrome in the New York area. None of the adoptive families, including hers, were Jewish, but 90% of the babies were. Because it was a perceived shanda, Jewish families were
far more likely to give up (and not adopt) so-called less than perfect children. Joy: Some people have turned what many consider a shameful act into societal good. A beloved son, for example, commits suicide and the mother becomes an outspoken suicide prevention activist dedicated to helping others avert a similar tragedy. Edie: Yes. She is saying, “Don’t attack
and ostracize me for this. Let me tell
Dale: For a long time, cancer was
another hush-hush. Families wouldn’t even utter the word; they called it “C.” Today, in some families, Alzheimer’s and mental illness are big shandas: “What does it mean that I have this in my family? Will this make me less attractive as a marriage partner?” Edie: This attitude harkens back to
ancient times, when the Israelites could bring only unblemished offerings for the Temple sacrifice, and priests had to be physically perfect—free from illness, skin blemishes, missing limbs, or any disfigurement. The prophets tried to shift the object of societal admiration from physical to ethical perfection, as in Isaiah 58.5-7: “Is this the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes?... No, this the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness…to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home….” According to this view, there was little value to ritual adherence that did not lead to more ethical behavior. As our tradition evolved, it placed greater stress on good character and compassionate behavior toward others—understanding, for example, the biblical commandment not to kill as also instructing us not to shame another. The Gemara (Bava Metzia, 58b) explains: “Whoever shames his friend in public to the point of making him turn pale, is as if he sheds blood....for we see that the red drains out of his face and is replaced by white.” Reform Judaism embraced this focus on ethical
In 1913, a group of visionary Jewish women from Reform congregations created the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, now Women of Reform Judaism. Today, we proudly engage more than 65,000 Jewish women in 500 women’s groups worldwide. Together, we have cultivated leadership, advanced women’s spirituality, and raised tens of millions of dollars to support Reform institutions and programs. Celebrate our milestone birthday with us throughout 2013.
Please join us for these special WRJ Centennial events:
Fried Leadership Conference Jan 25 -27, 2013 | Cincinnati, OH
Centennial Shabbat March 1 - 2, 2013
Trip to Israel and Berlin March 5 - 17, 2013
Academic Symposium June 2, 2013 | New York, NY
49th Assembly and Gala Dec 11 -15, 2013 | San Diego, CA
For more information, visit www.wrj.org/centennial reform judaism
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Joy: How can individuals reduce their sense of shame?
you about my pain and my child’s pain so perhaps together we can reduce stigma and diminish suffering.” In that process she also helps other people to minimize their pain, shame, and isolation.
Edie: Shame is really the experience of
Aron: Jewish illiteracy is yet another shanda-prone area among our people. Many Jews who want a Jewish connection but have minimal knowledge of Jewish practices may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to enter a synagogue. Dale: I understand this. Even though I love the experience of being in temple, I can also feel somewhat intimidated. Over the years I’ve made halted attempts to become more literate in Hebrew and familiar with the prayers, but I’m still reading the English and not the Hebrew. And even when I’m getting a lot out of it, I think, I should be able to read the Hebrew and get that, too. As if the English is not good enough in the house of God.
feeling we are not lovable and acceptable as we are—that we are soiled, bad, not good enough. If we find ourselves struggling with these deeply entrenched feelings, we have to talk about it in order to minimize its impact. Where do we begin the discussion? Sometimes we cannot initiate it with our families because we do not feel a sense of safety there. Better choices may be in therapy, with a rabbi, with friends, with a support group—people who listen but are not going to judge and further shame us. As part of this process, we need to closely examine what induces shame in us and determine whether it is justified. We can ask ourselves: “Should I feel ashamed/ guilty according to my own moral code? Or is it my grandmother’s/parent’s/child’s wagging finger in my head?” If we conclude, “Yes, I have done something deeply wrong,” working through the shame may involve more than conversing with a support person or
group. We need to ask ourselves: “How can I come back to loving myself? How do I make reparations?” Psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan teaches that if we feel we have acted wrongfully, we will only reduce our shame and guilt if we accept responsibility and take reparative action. For example, a soldier who regrets committing a wartime atrocity can mitigate the shame by acting on behalf of wounded victims of war. The Jewish understanding of teshuvah (repentance) includes both self-assessment and positive reparative action. If we have done something wrong, atonement is accomplished only when we have done everything we can to seek forgiveness, make repair, and resolve not to repeat the wrongful action in the future. If we decide that our shame is based on old teachings that we no longer believe have validity, Dr. Linehan advises that we assess whether it is safe now to openly acknowledge our past in keeping with our current morality. For example, if a person is ashamed of being gay because he was taught it was a sin and now lives in San Francisco, to fight
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¥§§ BIRKON ARTZI Blessings and Meditations for Travelers to Israel Rabbi Serge Lippe, editor with Preface by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, Union for Reform Judaism and Introduction by Bruce Feiler, author of Walking the Bible
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against his shame he can take every opportunity to acknowledge who he really is until the shame lessens and finally disappears. If a person who has long hidden that she was born out of wedlock comes to realize this is an inappropriate reason to feel bad about herself, she can continue to share this information with others until the associated shame and even societal stigmas are reduced. If, no matter what we do, we are still ostracized or belittled, then, Dr. Linehan says, we are better off moving to a more open community, making new friends, or keeping our situation private while working internally to reduce our sense of shame. In a negative external environment, prayer can help us to communicate the truth about ourselves and feel lovable and worthy just as we are. Dale: The only method that seems to
work with teenagers brought before juvenile court is their being asked, “What do you think you should do in reparation?” and then doing it. In one instance, a kid who had knocked down older women to steal their purses
offered to and then was ordered by the court to work with elderly people at a daycare center. After several months of volunteering, he became understanding of older people’s needs and remorseful of his earlier actions. He also shared his new perspectives with other young people he knew who were attacking older people in the New York City subway. Joy: How can congregations and communities be sensitive to individuals struggling with shame? Edie: Jewish life is ultimately about
recognizing that every one of us is made in the image of God—each of us unique and capable of covenant, moral behavior, and love. We as congregations can reduce stigma around shame if we treat people with honor and respect. Even if we disapprove of another person’s actions, we can communicate our confidence in his/her capacity to develop positively. And we can help people recalibrate what is truly important in life by encouraging them to grow as individuals and dedicate themselves to helping
others. In essence, I’m hoping our congregations will assist people in doing a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, and then help them take empowering, reparative action for selfliberation. This might entail hosting an AA or Overeaters Anonymous group, or holding discussions about how parents can speak to their children and children to parents to foster mutual understanding. It might also mean developing communal structures by which congregants can easily reach out to sick and lonely people rather than harboring shame for not having visited those who are less fortunate. Our sense of self-pride is increased and our sense of shame decreased when we look and give beyond ourselves to the wider world. So, let us set reasonable goals for ourselves and then, in an environment where shame/shanda is less of an issue, coach one another to accomplish them. When we help people find routes to feeling effective, moral, caring, and cared about, they experience self-pride rather than shame, and in turn help to create a world of dignity, justice, and hope.
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My Secret Siblings It wasn’t until 1996, when I packed up my mother’s apartment after she died, that I found the answers I had yearned for all my life. by Marlene Myerson
hildhood memories are vague at the best of times. Our remembrances tend to be pictures shown and stories told to us by others. But what happens when a family chooses not to remember because the memories are too painful or too shameful? I grew up as “an only child,” My brother Edwin. but not the only child. There had been two other children—Helena, three years older, and Edwin, two years younger—but my parents never spoke of them. I did not know how they died, only that it had happened when I was very young and there was an unspoken understanding that I was forbidden to talk or ask any questions about them. My mother took me at age three to visit my sister in a hospital. She instructed me to remain in the playground and keep my eyes on a particular third-floor window. Soon my sister’s face appeared. Helena smiled and waved at me, and I waved back. This last glimpse of Helena is my only memory of her, a hazy memory at best. For some time my father was also in a hospital. When he was discharged, he did not come to live with us, as my mother feared he might still have “germs.” Several years later, he did move
Marlene Myerson, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Toronto, serves as a Curriculum Consultant for URJ Books and Music.
into our apartment, but slept in his own and my sister, but I felt afraid. Helena bedroom and ate from separate dishes and Edwin’s deaths were still too much and cutlery kept in a special cupboard. of a mystery. My My father died in 1975 at the age of mother 66. Twenty years later, I became the was forsole caretaker of my mother during the ever wor- last year of her life. The weight of rying that responsibility for her care became I might almost more than I could bear, and a catch longing arose in me for the siblings germs. I who might have shared the burden with was not me. I asked members of my extended allowed family—aunts, uncles, cousins—to tell to share me about Helena and Edwin. My quesdrinks or tions were met mostly with blank stares, food with anyone; borrow books from as if my sister and brother had never the library or trade comics with a neighexisted. Finally, an older cousin shared a bor’s child; sleep over at memory of his parents a friend’s; or go to whispering about the camp—all because of terrible tragedy that germs. I didn’t question had befallen my famthe restrictions. It was ily. He confided that simply the way it was. he too was raised to Eventually, my parbe afraid of germs, ents purchased a small never being allowed house in the Toronto to share food, play suburbs. They stored all sports, or sleep at of our family photos in friends’ houses. a chest in the basement. ♦♦♦ Often I sifted through My sister Helena. pictures, among them Not until 1995 did images of my brother and sister. But in I learn when Helena and Edwin had 1954, during Hurricane Hazel, our died. At my request, the owner of a Jewhouse was flooded and all the photos ish funeral home in Toronto searched destroyed. The only tangible records of through the microfiche reader to find my siblings were obliterated. their dates of death and place of burial. In high school I developed a strong Excited, I drove out to the cemetery and sense of independence. At age 20 I presented the information to the office married Peter. By the time I turned 29, attendant. After a brief search, he we had three daughters: Robin, Jodi, explained apologetically that burial and Ashley. I so wanted to be able to records from those years had been name them in memory of my brother continued on page 44 reform judaism
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My Marital Masquerade My husband was committing crimes to feed his serious drug addiction. I feared public humiliation. by Anonymous
© Miroslava Kopecka / Dreamstime.com
thought I had a happy marriage to a devoted and honest husband. I did not know, then, that he had a secret life. The first hint that something was wrong came in 1995, when a physician friend informed me that my husband had taken one of his prescription pads and forged his name on a prescription for pain killers. Had the culprit been someone else, my friend would have reported him to the police. It soon became apparent that my husband had a serious drug addiction. In spite of having created a substance abuse awareness program as part of my work, I was unaware of the severity of his addiction; I’d missed many of the signs. He was beginning a journey of addiction treatment programs; I was mostly in shock. Still, I was relieved that my family had been spared public disgrace. We had averted a shanda. In fact, our troubles were only beginning. Months later, my husband told me we were $60,000 in debt and he’d lied about paying the mortgage. Our home was in danger of foreclosure. Fearing a shanda in the eyes of their influential friends, his well-to-do parents quickly paid the debts. I did not tell my parents, sure it would devastate them to know the troubles in my marriage. (Years later, after my mother died, I learned from one of her friends she’d known all along). Two interventions had spared shanda from our lives, but the third time we were not so lucky. While our four children and I were away at summer camp Anonymous is a synagogue professional at a Reform congregation. Family members asked that her name be withheld.
(I was on staff), the police arrested my husband for forging prescriptions in several towns. He was placed in a psychiatric program at a local rehab center. The story appeared in our local newspaper. Ashamed and horrified, I cried for two days. Faced with this shanda and financially strapped, I decided to look for a job far away, so our family could start over. I put our house on the market. For additional cash I sold my engagement ring, wedding china, antiques, and an oriental rug my grandmother had bequeathed to me. Support from the Jewish community kept us afloat. Envelopes full of cash, along with meals, appeared on our doorstep. A fund established through the local Jewish federation paid our mortgage. A dear friend advised, “Write down the name and phone number of everyone who helps you. Looking at the list will give you strength.” I did as she said. It was calming and reassuring to see how many people truly cared about my family. For moral courage I relied on my mentor, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who taught me that however bad my situation might be, it could be much worse. I would count my blessings—a roof over our heads, healthy children, a passion for my work—and move forward. The night before a job interview on the other side of the country, my brother reform judaism
called. A pharmacist friend of his, likely checking a watch list of offenders, discovered that my husband had forged a prescription for narcotics. Out of consideration for my brother, the pharmacist did not report the crime to the police. But I was devastated. I knew then that I could not help my husband recover from his addictions, and the truth would come out wherever we went. I considered divorcing my husband but decided against it. Better, I reasoned, to live with a dysfunctional husband who could at least drive our children where they needed to go. I wasn’t ready to tackle that on top of a full-time job. I could not imagine that my husband would steal from our family. But while I sat shiva for my father, a year after my mother had passed away, he secretly withdrew thousands of dollars from my father’s bank account to finance a drug-related scam. After shiva, a bank teller asked me to identify the signature on the checks. The tipping point came in 2000, when my husband overdosed on caffeine pills and had to be carried out of our doctor’s office on a stretcher. Then it hit me: I am sending the wrong message to my children. In making excuses for their
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“sick” father, I’d thought I was teaching them the value of compassion. But would I want them to be in a relationship like mine? And if they deserved a responsible, functional partner, didn’t I? This realization empowered me to overcome my shanda complex and divorce my husband. For the next 10 years, my ex-husband was in and out of prison for various crimes and probation violations. Finally, he got his act together, stayed clean, and began studying to be a drug counselor. He and I have no contact, but our children visit with him, take him out for meals, and watch basketball games together. When I think of the many years I allowed the shame of shanda to direct my life choices, I feel sad. Yet I have no regrets. This negative event led to a positive consequence. In 2004 I remarried a wonderful man who has a close relationship with my children. I have also learned valuable life lessons. My inner fear of public humiliation was far greater than the actual reaction of my parents, friends, and community. People were much more understanding and forgiving than I could have imagined. And I have come to realize that I was not a victim, as I had thought, but a survivor who withstood great anguish and hardship to raise wonderful children. I have kept that list of names and phone numbers of people who helped me. Looking at it reminds me of my obligation to help those in my community who are living under the shadow of shanda. I will be there for them, just as the community was there for my family—without questions or judgment. ADDICTION RESOURCES • JACS: Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others provides training and educational programs, referrals, support groups, sober buddies, recovery coaching, retreats, spiritual guidance, and holiday events for Jewish adults and teens. jbfcs.org/jacs, email@example.com • JFS: Jewish Family Services offers clinical services, information, and referrals. To find one, Google “Jewish Family Services” and the nearest city.
My Secret Siblings continued from page 42 destroyed in a fire. He could only point me to the section of unmarked graves where they had to have been buried— the section set aside for poor members of the Jewish community who, like us, could not afford to pay for burial plots. It wasn’t until 1996, when I packed up my mother’s apartment after she died, that I found the answers I had yearned for all my life. In a drawer was a journal entry my 70-year-old mother had written for a Psychology course at York University titled “The Worst Time of My Life.” She wrote, in part: “I was married in 1936 and six and a half years later, I had two daughters and an infant son. My husband developed tuberculosis, a fatal lung disease, and was hospitalized for five years. Me today. During the first few months of his hospitalization, my oldest daughter, not quite 5 years old, was also diagnosed with TB…which she had contracted from my husband. This beautiful, intelligent child was hospitalized for several months and then passed away. I can still hear her cry, ‘Mommy, why can’t I go home with you?’ At almost the same time, my infant son developed the fatal disease as well and passed away three months later.” In that same drawer were two water-damaged photographs—one of a bright-eyed, chubby-faced little girl and one of an infant lying naked on a blanket in the sun. Now I knew why I had been so protected as a child, and why my parents had never talked about my brother and my sister. My parents couldn’t face the terrible shanda of tuberculosis, a highly contagious disease for which there was no cure. If you had TB, people feared and avoided you. My mother and father were frightened of being shunned by everyone. It was only after her death that my mother could “talk” to me about Helena, Edwin, and the ordeal she had lived through. reform judaism
For years I continued the family tradition of keeping our family story hidden, except from my husband and daughters. While TB was no longer a health threat in North America, in my mind it remained the unmentionable shanda of my childhood conditioning—a secret never to be discussed with anyone. Finally, in 2009 I experienced some comfort and closure. My daughter Jodi and son-in-law Jack funded the creation and installation of a 14-foot-tall menorah at the entrance of their synagogue outside Toronto. It is inscribed: “In memory of Helena and Edwin Lipson.” My sister and brother now had a lasting memorial to their brief lives—a resting place for their neshamas (souls). That Chanukah, the congregation arranged for a formal dedication of the Lipson Menorah, and Jodi and Jack decided to host a dinner afterwards. Initially, I was reluctant to invite my friends. None of them knew about the shanda I had kept hidden throughout my life. But with Jodi’s encouragement, I agreed to invite several old friends who had known me since childhood as well as a number of couples from our temple. At the dinner I stood before everyone and told my story. They were stunned—and then embraced me with tears and love and understanding. At that moment I realized that revealing the truth to my friends had set me free. The dedication became my liberation. Still, the specter of shame reemerged as I began to write this story for RJ magazine. Sharing the shanda of tuberculosis with friends had been difficult enough; could I risk exposing my secret publicly? And yet, I realized: This is an important opportunity to help others open their locked doors of shame. I now believe that everything in life happens for a reason. Only when we find the courage to push beyond fear and shame can we discover its purpose. Composing these words, like seeing the lit candles on the Lipson Menorah, is an affirmation: shandas are not forever.
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The Disgrace of a Nice Jewish Girl My father believed that intermarriage was a shanda. I hoped to prove him wrong. by Annette Powers
Photo by Jorge Lemus
was a “nice Jewish girl” looking to her non-Jewish boyfriend. I didn’t think date a “nice Jewish boy” when I met he would have had the heart to do it, but him. He was a nice secular non-Jew the relationship ended before his will from Seattle whose religious identity was tested. I loved my father dearly, was rooted in memories of hanging stockings on Christmas and eating chocolate on Easter. I never expected it to be more than a summer fling, but things escalated quickly. On our fourth date I informed him in no uncertain terms, “This can’t go anywhere.” “Why?” he asked. “Because you’re not Jewish,” I stated. “And I can’t marry a non-Jew.” I then explained the concept of a shanda—something that On my wedding day. would bring shame upon oneself, one’s family, and the entire Jewish comrespected his convictions even when we munity. Based on my upbringing, I would didn’t always agree, and ascribed great feel guilty for betraying generations of importance to his opinions. Jewish martyrs who had died so that I But I wasn’t willing to break up with could be free to be Jewish. How could my boyfriend. Sure, I shared my father’s I marry a non-Jew, contributing to the concerns about the survival of the Jewish assimilation and possible disappearance people and, though it might sound stereoof my people? And even if I could accept typical, was aware of the cultural differintermarriage, my father never would. ences between our Jewish family and his My father believed that intermarriage non-Jewish one. Our families communiwas a shanda. He had repeatedly told me cated differently. In my family we how important it was to marry “inside.” addressed our feelings openly; his tended He worried about the ultimate demise of to ignore uncomfortable issues, hoping the Jewish people through assimilation. they would just go away. Yet I still felt He also believed that marriage was that our similarities outweighed our dif“tough enough as it is” and “easier if you ferences. I just hoped my father would start with a common culture, religion, and agree and come around to the idea that values.” Years ago, my father threatened dating—even marrying—a non-Jew to disown my older sister if she married didn’t have to be a shanda. However challenging, I believed that intermarriage could work and I could have a Jewish Annette Powers is Communications and PR Manager at the URJ. You can read her personal home, raise a Jewish family, and contribblog at hufﬁngtonpost.com/annette-powers. ute to Jewish peoplehood. reform judaism
As the years went by and our relationship intensified, my boyfriend accompanied me to many a seder and Kol Nidre service. When we moved in together, we lit Shabbat candles weekly and danced around the living room singing z’mirot (Shabbat songs). We attended Judaism classes and a support group for interfaith couples and agreed that if we ever had kids, we would raise them as Jews. Through it all, my father and I had many long discussions on the subject of intermarriage. Eventually he came to accept my choice, though it was very difficult for him. When my boyfriend asked my parents for my hand in marriage, he reassured my father that he understood the importance of Judaism in our lives and would honor and uphold Jewish traditions and values. Though probably still reluctant, my father lovingly said yes. He had come to adore this young man and saw that we were happy together. In the months that followed, friends and family were surprised at how well my father was “handling” our engagement. But I knew that a piece of him was dying inside, and I felt horribly guilty about it. The Reform rabbi we’d asked to marry us counseled my dad several times before our wedding, helping him work through his conflicted feelings. About a year after our beautiful Jewish wedding, we found out we were having a baby boy. When he was 16 months old, I discovered that my husband was having an affair. He told me he was in love with the other woman
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and wanted a divorce. I was shocked and devastated. If there were cracks in our relationship, he had not communicated them to me. In an instant my seven-year relationship and three-year marriage was over. One of the first things I said to him was, “How will I tell my dad?!” I had worked so hard to convince my father that this marriage would not bring disgrace upon myself, my family, or my people. Now I could hear him saying, “I told you so! A Jewish guy wouldn’t have done this!” He believed that Jews were less likely to keep such secrets and commit such despicable acts. Of course, plenty of Jews also withhold their feelings and cheat on their spouses. It was not lost on me that my husband’s mistress was Jewish. (Didn’t she know that having an affair with a married man is a shanda?!) But when I told my dad, his first and foremost concern was for my wellbeing. To this day he and my mother have been extremely supportive of me, though occasionally my dad makes an “if only you would have listened to me…” statement, which pierces me to the core. Recently I asked my dad if he still thought intermarriage was a shanda. Without hesitation he answered, “Yes.” Then I asked if he thought divorce was a shanda. Without hesitation he answered, “No.” Yet I feel otherwise. I feel intense shame around my divorce. I worry that I failed at the most important relationship in my life and will be judged by the Jewish community. After all, nice Jewish girls don’t get divorced, right? Moreover, I fear that my divorce could signify to the outside world that my father was right about intermarriage. On principle, I don’t want my dad to be right. I want to believe that my divorce is not related in any way to the fact that my ex was not Jewish. And yet I can’t help but think sometimes, Maybe things would have turned out differently had my husband been Jewish. Even though I believe we should welcome non-Jews into our communities—because intermarriage is not a shanda—these days I nonetheless find myself searching again for a “nice Jewish boy.”
Sacred Circle of Sisterhood continued from page 36 a new world of Judaism opened up for me. Early in my WRJ board service, I was offered the honor of chanting Torah during the Biennial Assembly. I said “no,” because I was unable to read from the Torah, and decided then and there to become an adult bat mitzvah—for if I were ever offered such an opportunity again, I wanted to be able to say “yes.” In 1998, I became a bat mitzvah with a class of women from my Sisterhood. And, when I was asked again, I was ready—chanting Torah at the URJ Biennial/WRJ assembly in Orlando in 1999. Sisterhood opens doors through which many of us would not have otherwise entered. Our foremothers marched for the right to vote. We helped found the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Our foremothers taught their daughters Judaism. We study, teach, and have published a wealth of women’s scholarship to enhance our studies, including Covenant of the Heart and Covenant of the Soul, two books of prayers, poems, and meditations.
Q: What are other WRJ contributions to Reform Judaism? Lynn: NFTS was solely responsible for building a dormitory on HUC’s Cincinnati campus in the early 1920s. At the time the college was a commuter school in desperate need of providing on-campus housing for the young men studying to be American rabbis. Recognizing the importance of supporting those who would lead our nascent American Reform movement into the future, Sisterhood proclaimed, “We’re not building a building, we’re building Judaism!” The space is still called the Sisterhood Dorm, although it now houses offices and has become a gathering place on campus. In the 1930s, HUC and the UAHC asked NFTS to finance the rescue of several young, promising Jewish students living in Germany who would study at HUC and become part of the Reform Movement. Of course, NFTS said “Yes!” That is how W. Gunther Plaut, Herman Schaalman, Woli Kaelter, Alfred Wolf, and Leo Lichtenberg became renowned, visionary rabbis of our Movement. reform judaism
And in the late 1940s, when the UAHC planned its move from Cincinnati to New York City, NFTS Executive Director Jane Evans scouted out the property, and NFTS became its primary funder. Dara: WRJ continues to support a wide range of Reform projects through its YES Fund, among them WUPJ’s NETZER youth camps in the Former Soviet Union, annual scholarships for eight Reform rabbinic and cantorial students, a Mother-Daughter Beit Midrash, a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Israel Religious Action Center’s efforts to eliminate gender discrimination in Israel.
Q: What are the greatest challenges facing Sisterhood in its second century, and how is WRJ positioning itself to address them? Lynn: One of our greatest challenges is to engage the next generation of young women who identify as Reform Jews but do not see themselves joining traditional dues/membership organizations. We are asking ourselves: Where are Jewish mothers of young children investing their time and energy? What kinds of activities will involve families? What synergies exist between WRJ and other organizations that interact with women and their families? Can we implement new membership models? We also wish to reach out to the readers of Reform Judaism magazine. If you are a woman who is not part of our collective voice, we invite you into the WRJ family. Join us in advocating for important causes and supporting one another in living Jewishly connected lives. Visit wrj.org or call 866-WRJ-5924 and let’s begin a conversation about welcoming you into the sacred circle of Sisterhood. Our 2013 Centennial celebration (wrj.org/Centennial) is a huge opportunity to re-envision WRJ and raise funds to “seed” new initiatives. Just as the women who came before us planned for a future that would bring us to this Centennial celebration, we are now planning to ensure that our second century is as powerful and transformative as the first.
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OF REFORM JEWS
Stephen M. Sacks: Photograph by Marshall H. Cohen
CHAIRMAN’S PERSPECTIVE Pursuing Justice
QUOTABLE In Print
A central tenet of Reform Judaism is our commitment to social justice. One of the ways the URJ helps congregations and individuals fulfill that commitment is through our Just Congregations program. Founded six years ago by Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Just Congregations engages congregations in identifying areas of injustice and then bringing the collective power of the congregation and its members together with a broad-based coalition to transform their communities. Now co-led with great energy and savvy by Lila Foldes and Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Just Congregations partners with more than 150 congregations engaged in a myriad of civic action projects in 26 states. We help synagogues set goals; train interested members in community organizing techniques, including the critical task of building relationships to mobilize collective power; and then work closely with congregations as they move forward with specific actions. Instead of just saying, “What can we do to help?” congregations learn to ask, “Who has the power to change the situation?” and then develop a plan to build local relationships within and outside the congregation to effectuate such change. Temple Sinai in Washington, DC exemplifies how Just Congregations works. A year ago, after deciding to revitalize its longstanding commitment to social action, the congregational leadership chose not to follow the usual trajectory of first determining what projects it wanted to undertake and then finding people to take them on. Instead, it started from the “bottom up,” adopting the Just Congregations approach: Temple members joined together for intensive discussions to ascertain what issues were most important to them—in their case, education, jobs, housing, disability rights, and marriage equality. As a result, Temple Sinai now has a cadre of members—many of whom were not previously engaged in temple life—actively pursuing these issues in partnership with more than 50 churches, mosques, and other area organizations. Just Congregations is not a substitute for other social action endeavors. Nor does it work for every synagogue—there are limiting factors based on geography, available local partners, and a congregation’s interests. But I encourage you to explore the rich resources we offer, and consider investigating the role community organizing might play in advancing your temple’s commitment to social action. To learn more, visit the URJ’s web site at urj.org or email email@example.com. STEPHEN M. SACKS
Stephen M. Sacks, Chairman Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees reform judaism
Germany Bans Circumcision “For 4,000 years Jews have considered male circumcision an essential part of our Covenant with the Almighty. We urge the courts and the government of Germany to reverse this decision and the fundamental threat it represents to the foundation of our religious beliefs.” —Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, WUPJ President, the first of five signatories to the World Union for Progressive Judaism statement in response to a German court decision outlawing the practice of ritual circumcision, June 2012
Grieving Women Get Justice “This ruling sends a message that is loud and clear: any rabbi who abuses his position to exclude women from the process of mourning a loved one has another judgment waiting for him in the Israeli courts.” —Anat Hoffman, Executive Director, Israel Religious Action Center, commenting on the Israeli court’s June 2012 ruling that condemns women’s segregation from men within traditional burial societies. IRAC’s claimant, Rosie, who had been thwarted from delivering a eulogy at her father’s funeral, was awarded the maximum compensation (about $8,000).
PHOTOS: 1 Lisa Messinger 2 Michelle Black 3 Margie Zeskind 4 Rabbi Scott Weiner 5 Nancy Bossov 6 Marsha Newstat 7 Cathy Rolland.... For more
about these leaders read on….
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QUOTABLE from p. 49 Moses’ Midlife Crisis “Moses was 80 when God told him to make a midlife career change—to give up the shepherding business and go into the business of leading the Jewish people. Go down to Egypt, and tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go. Moses uses all kinds of arguments to get out of the assignment: I have a speech impediment. The Israelites will not listen to me. Even if they do, the Egyptians will not. Yet there is one argument he never uses. He does not say: I am too old. He ends up taking the job. And—I think you will agree—he does it fairly well. Forty years later, God says to Moses: It is time for you to retire. I need a younger man to bring the people of Israel into the land. If you were Moses, what would you have said? I’d say: Thank you. I’ll take my Social Security now and move to Florida. But Moses, at the age of 120, fights as hard as he can to keep working, if not as the leader, then as an assistant. What can we learn from Moses? When we reach old age, we need a job; otherwise, our lives will be dull, empty, pointless. It need not be a job that pays a salary—but we need to have an important job, one that makes a difference.” —Rabbi Jack Riemer
Teens Unite for Tikkun “While each one of us may belong to a different Jewish youth movement, we are connected by our passion and desire to fulfill tikkun olam, our responsibility to repair the world. Together we must create a more inclusive and open Jewish community for today and tomorrow.” —The Coalition of Jewish Teens, representing NFTY (Reform), NCSY (Orthodox), USY (Conservative), BBYO (pluralistic), and Young Judea (Zionist).
ACTION Involving Families with Young Children Two years ago, Lisa Messinger achievement in this community. (photo #1), president of 1,200-member And then, as WRT leaders realized Westchester Reform Temple (WRT) in that a new model was needed to Scarsdale, New York (wrtemple.org), accomplish both goals—increasing began a “conversation” about the 25% enrollment in the early childhood cenenrollment decline ter and the famiin its early childlies’ membership hood center—from in the temple—a the high of 152 new membership children in 2004 to task force began 114 in 2010. examining the Also of concern broader issues. was the high WRT had been number of early offering reduced childhood center membership rates families—65%— for singles and who were not people under 35, temple members. but a number of A survey showed parents of center that a sizeable children were 35+. number of them So the memberwere not planning ship task force recto join the congreommended and the gation until their board approved a UNIVERSAL PRE-K STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT child entered the new membership TORAH ORNAMENTS AT TEMPLE ISRAEL OF NEW ROCHELLE’S KEHILLAH SCHOOL, 2012. religious school’s policy: Starting in third grade, the July 2012, temple mandatory start for bar/bat mitzvah. membership would be included with “We didn’t want people to wait until early childhood center tuition for parthird grade to join,” Messinger says. ents whose oldest child attended the She began the conversation by center. “Rather than waiting for people forming an early engagement task to join, we realized we needed to open force. It sought advice from the Union our doors to begin their sense of for Reform Judaism about how other belonging before they paid anything,” congregations were addressing these Messinger says. issues, and then adapted practices to The new membership policy also meet WRT’s needs. A social worker, extends to the religious school. Famiadded to the center staff, began leading lies who enroll their children in kindernew, free infant classes (based on the garten through grade two receive a Mommy and Me concept) for the wid50% membership discount. er community and helping three- and WRT Executive Director Yoel Magfour-year-olds with social skills. The id reports that “after years of declining congregation realigned the center’s enrollment, we’re seeing an increase.” schedule to match that of the public The center enrolled 130 children for schools, enabling the children to attend 2012-13—up 15% over the previous the school while their parents worked. school year. And 31 families have New marketing material both highenrolled their children in the qualifying lighted the center’s Jewish curriculum religious school grades, compared to and conveyed that the center’s “learn an average of 7 or 8 families over the through play” approach would meet last half dozen years. the high standards of academic “Our tremendous effort to make reform judaism
OF REFORM JEWS
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the early childhood center and membership more attractive is paying off,” he says. ♦♦♦ In 2011, four young mothers, all friends and members of 1,000-family Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts (tbewellesley.org), held an informal brainstorming meeting around one of their kitchen tables. With the exception of the congregation’s Tot Shabbats, they felt there were not enough temple activities for families like themselves with young children, and they were determined to change that. The four mothers devised Shir Shabbat, a Sabbath celebration program of singing and dancing for parents and children, open to members and prospective members alike. To pay for the professional entertainment, each woman chipped in $250. In the beginning, only a dozen families participated in the monthly Tot Shabbat program. Now the Tot Shabbat and Shir Shabbat programs each attract three dozen families curious enough about the congregation to spend a Friday night or Saturday morning there. A bagel brunch extends the experience. Shir Shabbat’s success prompted TBE to form a “Families with Young Children” committee that “gives our demographic a voice at the table,” says committee co-chair Michelle Black (photo #2), one of the original four mothers. As a result, the congregation hired a family educator to implement such programs as Katan Gadol, featuring play, songs, stories, and Shabbat snacks for parents and children ranging from 15 months to age 2½; Tikkun for Tots, a social action program for parents and their children; the 10-week course “Parenting through a Jewish Lens” co-sponsored by the local federation; and supervised babysitting during Friday night services, among others. With the addition of Fall Family Funfest, a working moms program,
and group study with the rabbi and cantor, something’s now going on every weekend at TBE for families with young children. “There is a general buzz in and outside the temple about our programs for young families,” Black says, “and it’s had a substantial impact on membership.” Over the past year, of the 97 new families who have joined the congregation, 40 of them are families with young children, and more are likely to become temple members as their tots enter kindergarten. ♦♦♦ In 2010, having learned from several young couples that the few Jewish daycare facilities nearby had waiting lists, Margie Zeskind (photo #3), director of early childhood education at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach (tbsmb.org), approached the board of the 800-family congregation with a proposal. Since the early 1950s the congregation had been home to the Foundation School, a preschool program for ages 2 to 5. Zeskind believed TBS needed to take the Foundation School in a new direction. “If you get young Jewish families into infant care, then they become a part of a Jewish community right from the start,” she told the board. “If these families have to find childcare outside the Jewish world, we may never get them back. We have an opportunity to nurture their Judaism.” She proposed adding an infant/ childcare center to the Foundation School, and in 2011 the board agreed. Two schoolrooms were converted to serve the new population of children 8 weeks old to toddler, and this September the center opened along with the Foundation School. This year the school/center’s combined enrollment of 210 children exceeds last year’s by more than 10%, and the center’s eight-baby “infant room” is filled. Young moms and dads who enroll a child in the center receive free temple membership. Zeskind continued on next page reform judaism
QUOTABLE from p. 50 Strive for Belonging, Not Membership “In American Grace, an examination of religion in America, scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell note that it is worse to be a worshiper with no friends than to have no membership at all. ‘A person who attends church regularly but has no close friends there is actually unhappier than her demographic twin who doesn’t attend church at all... and religious friendship seems supercharged [as a determiner of happiness].’ There is evidence that there is special benefit to friendships forged and maintained in an atmosphere of shared spiritual search and tradition. Anyone who has ever watched or been the person alone at an oneg knows how lonely it can be in purportedly sacred space. The person who feels she has no friends here may even be a member of the congregation, but doesn’t feel she belongs. People will give up memberships when they are assessing financial and time commitments. They will not so easily dispense with belonging—the ubiquitous yearning to feel loved, needed, and connected to others through shared values and purpose. Belonging is about the answers to questions such as, ‘Who hears my voice? Who would truly miss me as an individual if I were not here? Whose faces light up when I arrive? Who will help me when I am dejected and discouraged? Who needs what I have to offer?’ It enables us to feel, in some way, at home in the world. We must raise the question about whether congregations and Jewish communal organizations are currently serving sufficiently as places to nourish relationships that offer such a deep sense of belonging.” —Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher, The Reform Jewish Quarterly, CCAR Press, Summer 2012
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QUOTABLE The Blogs
ACTION continued from page 51
“I joined Israel Religious Action Center leader Anat Hoffman in a Freedom Ride in Jerusalem to protest the relegation of women to the back of the bus, as promoted by Haredi custom. While we sat on the bus—in the front— a Haredi woman boarded at the front entrance (rather than at the back) and, with a big smile on her face, sat down right next to Anat! It was a moment to be proud.”
expects that in time, they, like the Foundation School parents, will become temple board members and committee chairs. For now, she says, “The young families are thrilled. They tell me, ‘Thank you for giving us a Jewish place for our baby.’”
—URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs on rj.org
“One of the significant challenges we face is the pervasiveness of literalism in American culture. The literalism of texts leads to the literalism of lives. We’ve all heard slogans like “There’s a key to being successful”; “There’s a sure way to be happy.” Yet, the most important questions in our lives— the questions that involve our social relations, our life choices, our identities, and our spiritualities—don’t often have singular answers. Several years ago, I stopped speaking about ‘the story of Chanukah.’ After reading the Books of Maccabees, Josephus, BT Shabbat 21b, Elias Bickerman, and Victor Tcherikover, I realized that there are many stories of Chanukah, each with its own particular relevance for us today. Now, I teach ‘the stories of Chanukah.’ This routinely provokes the question, ‘but rabbi, what’s the true story?’ to which I respond, ‘they’re all true’—an answer which is never satisfactory, but a step in the right direction.” —Rabbi Joseph A. Skloot on rj.org
Three years ago, when Rabbi Scott Weiner (photo #4) became ♦♦♦ senior rabbi of 550-family How can Temple Israel your congreof New gation best PURIM TOT SHABBAT AT THE BETH SHIR SHALOM Rochelle, New EARLY CHILDHOOD CENTER, 2011. engage today’s York (tinr. families org), he and his wife could not find with young children? Here are eight full-time childcare in a Jewish setting, key guidelines: a situation also faced by other temple 1. Consider establishing a fullfamilies with young children. time early education/preschool/dayTemple leaders conducted a study care program as a gateway into the to determine the feasibility of opencongregation. Mary Lou Allen, an earing a full-time Jewish early childhood ly childhood educator/infant/toddler center and how it might best function. specialist who consults on training and “The recommendation was to shut curriculum assessment, says that such down the existing part-time preschool programs offer congregations a “winfor ages 2 to 5, and do something dif- dow of opportunity” to connect with ferent and quite bold,” says Nancy young Jewish parents. If finances are Bossov (photo #5), who first served an issue for prospective parents, she as an early childhood consultant and suggests that congregations consider is now director of Temple Israel early tuition discounts. Allen also recomchildhood education and the Kehillah mends providing the incentive of free School for Early Learning. membership to parents of children in In 2011 the congregation opened early childhood programs. “It’s valuethe Kehillah School for ages 6 weeks added,” she says, “and reinforces the to pre-kindergarten—constituting the idea that you don’t have to wait until only full-time, year-round Jewish daythe child is ready for bar/bat mitzvah care center in the heavily Jewish popu- study to join the temple.” lated areas of Westchester County and 2. Use “small” to your advantage. Manhattan. The curriculum for all ages That’s the philosophy of Beth Shir revolves around a Jewish theme-of-the- Shalom (bethshirshalom.org), a month, anything from tikkun olam to 250-family congregation in Santa shalom bayit; learning continues outMonica, California that runs a full-day side of school with monthly distribuearly childhood center. While there is tion of a CD of theme-based Jewish no shortage of similar and larger prostories for home listening, monthly grams within a half-hour’s drive of the thematic family events, and Tot Shabtemple, Beth Shir Shalom’s center reform judaism
bat. Thirty-eight students attended the inaugural school year, and this year the number is up to 77. To engage the young families, Temple Israel provides complimentary membership to parents whose children are in school full-time and a reduced rate to families with part-time students. Between September 2011, when the school opened, and September 2012, 40 new families have become temple affiliates.
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school and early engagement programs are not just competing within the Jewish world—with each other and/or Jewish community centers—but with an entire world of excellence in early childhood education/engagement. “If you’re not offering something outstanding, young families will go elsewhere,” she says. 5. Meet young families where they are outside the congregational walls. For example, 125 families, about 80% temple members, are participating in Temple Israel of New Rochelle’s PJ Library subscription program (pjlibrary.org), whereby (thanks to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation) children ages 6 months to 8 years receive free, age-appropriate Jewish books and music. The congregation hosted two events for subscribing PJ Library families, including a “pajama party” at which 150 parents and children decorated their own pillowcases and learned about Jewish bedtime rituals. “The PJ Library program makes the congregation a more
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welcoming place for these families,” Associate Rabbi Beth Nichols says. To encourage young families to participate in such innovative programs, Rolland suggests that every congregation enlist its own “pied piper” who can reach out through personal connections and/or social media. “Ideally,” she says, “the person should be of the same demographic as the young parents. If you don’t know of anyone within the congregation, reach out beyond your temple community—view it as a growth opportunity to bring someone new into your orbit.” Rolland also stresses the importance of making sure your early childhood initiatives are highlighted—with good positioning and excellent photography—on your website and Facebook pages. “Today’s young families expect high quality, up-to-date information at all times,” she says. 6. Focus on your clients. “Always consider who your clients are, their needs now, what their needs may look
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serves 80 children—its maximum capacity. Director Marsha Newstat (photo #6) attributes the success to a variety of factors: new Baby and Me prenatal classes, a lowered enrollment age of 18 months, a new kindergarten program, an educational philosophy that encourages imagination and creativity, being accredited on the website of National Association for the Education of Young Children—the “gold standard in the field,” running a popular Chanukah candle-lighting ceremony at a local promenade, welcoming the larger community’s interfaith and multi-racial families, integrating Judaism well into the curriculum—and using the congregation’s small size to advantage. Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels and Cantorial Soloist Diane Rose, who lead a weekly Tot Shabbat, have become familiar faces to the children. “The little kids walk in the halls and recognize the rabbi. They yell, ‘Hi, rabbi!’ I love that,” Newstat says. About 60% of enrolled families are members, who receive an 18% tuition discount. And 80% of non-members become temple members. 3. Educate and inspire your temple Board. Cathy Rolland (photo #7), director of the URJ’s early childhood education faculty, says that “when you raise board member awareness about the vital role of early childhood initiatives in engaging young families and helping to grow the next generation of Jews in your community, the board is much more likely to support critical initiatives.” Rolland recommends appointing a liaison from the board or executive committee to facilitate this process. Allen adds that “a preschool should be viewed as part of the congregation rather than as a separate entity, as this enables the synagogue staff to build relationships with parents through clergy visits and contact with the religious school director.” 4. Quality is key. Extensive research on what young families want from early childhood education shows that the most important factor is offering a quality program, Rolland says. Congregational pre-
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ACTION continued from page 53
Muhammad Ali’s Grandson—a Bar Mitzvah On April 28, 2012, Jacob Wertheimer, the grandson of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer, Jacob’s mother, was born and raised as a Muslim; her husband, Spencer Wertheimer, is Jewish. “No one put any pressure on Jacob to believe one way or another,” she says. “He chose this on his own because he felt a kinship with Judaism and Jewish culture.” During the ceremony Muhammad Ali supported his grandson and looked intently at the Torah.
like two to five years ahead, and how your programs can serve them,” says Nancy Bossov. For example, recognize that “we can no longer just think of the traditional nuclear family; instead, we have to consider a diversity of families, including single-parent families, samesex families, interreligious families, interracial families, and dual-parent working families, all of whose needs are very different. If a congregation’s educational program cannot serve this broader population, it becomes obsolete.” 7. Investigate grants. While grant funding is not currently available in all localities, Cathy Rolland notes that some congregations have secured grants to grow their early childhood initiatives. Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetss, for example, received a CJP / Greater Boston Jewish Federation 2012-13 innovation grant for Friday evening Shabbat programming engaging families with young children. 8. Ask the Reform Movement. You can consult with Cathy Rolland at firstname.lastname@example.org and Jennifer Magalnick, associate director of early engagement, at email@example.com. If your congregation is considering providing full-time childcare, make use of the feasibility study, “Market Analysis Guidelines for Congregational Child Care Cen-
Reform Jew Olympics Star
Alexandra “Aly” Raisman, a member of Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Center, Massachusetts, led the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to Olympic gold at this past summer’s London games. The squad captain’s floor routine, performed to a jazzed-up version of Hava Nagila, received the highest floor exercise score of the evening, sealing the U.S. team’s victory over Russia. Notably, she also dedicated her win to the memory of the Israeli athletes slain in Munich in 1972, after the International Olympic Committee had ruled against honoring them with a moment of silence in the opening ceremonies. “Aly is what you see on TV…gracious, confident, focused,” says Rabbi Keith Stern. “She was the same at her bat mitzvah.”
WHAT WORKS from page 56 he would be proud to hang these nice letters on his office wall. Smiling, the Booksteins encouraged him to work on the second bag of letters. This took a little more effort, but eventually Rabbi Goor figured out S-A-N-C-T-U-A-R-Y. Puzzled, he and Cantor Kent stared at the combination of words for several minutes until the realization hit. “I just couldn’t believe such generosity, that they would want to honor me with my name on our sanctuary,” Rabbi Goor says. “It was emotional, exciting, and I was in tears. I felt tremendously reform judaism
ters, which guides you through the steps to take and can be amended as needed, at urj.org/learning/teacheducate/ childhood. To learn more about early childhood engagement, watch the URJ’s webinars at urj.org/learning/meetings/ webinars/archive. To exchange ideas with other early childhood professionals committed to strengthening young families’ ties to Reform Judaism, join the Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) at ecerj.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, the Union offers incubator grants (urj.org/ incubator) of up to $5,000/year for innovative pilot programming, such as the edible container garden Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh created in 2011 to engage existing and prospective members. Congregational volunteers of all ages worked in the garden; preschool children harvested, cooked, and ate the produce; and garden harvests were donated to Meals on Wheels. That year, 59 new members joined the congregation, a 15% increase over the average of the last five years. If, with the Reform Movement’s help, your congregation can find its path to successful engagement of young families, you may reap the same rewards. —Barbara Pash, a freelance writer in Baltimore and member of Har Sinai Congregation
humbled, slightly uncomfortable, and hugely grateful.” Just before the grand opening, Rabbi Goor stood at the entrance to the sanctuary and for the first time saw his name displayed in beautiful brushed silver letters. “Among all the feelings that welled up in me was one overwhelming thought. I wished I could share this great honor with my mom. She would have been so proud.” —Gail Aspinwall, public relations writer and member of Temple Judea, Tarzana, California.
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Photo by R ita Rubin originally published in Tablet
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Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn and his wife, nurse Stephanie Reifkind Kahn, will be opening one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington, D.C. in order to ease the suffering of people who might benefit from medical marijuana. Over the last decade the Kahns had witnessed firsthand the suffering of both Stephanie’s father, who had multiple sclerosis, and mother, who had cancer. Doctors had recommended marijuana to both of them to minimize their symptoms, and the few times her father could secure it he found it reduced his pain and muscle spasms, but because they lived in states where medical marijuana was illegal, it was practically impossible for them to obtain it. After their deaths, “our midlife quest for a new way to make a positive difference in people’s lives and a lifelong commitment to pushing the envelope to help others made this the obvious path to follow,” Rabbi Kahn says. Two years ago they began laying the groundwork for a legal dispensary in D.C., and this past June the D.C. Department of Health approved their Takoma Wellness Center as one of the first four applicants eligible to register to operate such dispensaries in the D.C. district.
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OF REFORM JEWS
WHAT WORKS How to Catalyze Congregational Change Engaging Young Professionals & New Parents
“The majority of Jews in America avoid all congregational affiliation for much, if not most, of their lives,” says Rabbi Gary Glickstein of Temple Beth Sholom (TBS) in Miami Beach. “In spite of this, Jews tend to remain fiercely connected to their own understanding of their Jewish identity. Our congregation wanted to nurture that connection and ENJOYING THE TRIBE PARTY AND intensify it, to SALVADOR DALI EXHIBIT. meet all Jews where they are, enhance their unique Jewish journeys, and help bring them closer to the formal Jewish community.” Six years ago, with seed money from the New Orleansbased Woldenberg Foundation, TBS established The Open Tent, a semi-autonomous entity that aimed to connect the “unaffiliated” to the Jewish community with no strings attached. Led by Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz and a group of TBS lay leaders, The Open Tent focused on three programmatic arms, each targeting a different demographic: • The Tribe, for young professionals between the ages of 22 and 45, offering connections through social holiday celebrations and intimate Shabbat dinners; • Shalom Baby, for expectant parents, a six-week class including sessions taught by a mohel and a rabbi, as well as CPR and birthing techniques; and • Shalom Tots, for new parents, with monthly family events revolving around Jewish holidays and themes. Rabbi Pomerantz explains that “each group targets individuals at points in their lives when they are seeking new relationships.” For example, when young adults give birth or adopt their first baby, they begin to reconsider their identities, relationships, and professional goals. Many have also moved thousands of miles from home—another set of circumstances that offers an opportunity to engage such Jews who might not otherwise attend programs with Jewish sponsors. Shalom Baby—with 22 filled classes to date—is meeting that need, finding most of these Jewish young adults by partnering with a local hospital, referring obstetrician, or midwife. Shalom Tots, an outgrowth of Shalom Baby, allows parents to continue the connections they’ve made in the class. Programs often take place at the temple or at public spaces such as local parks and museums. An estimated 75% of Shalom Tot reform judaism
graduates return to the temple for some type of program, and some 30% of graduates have become temple members. The Tribe has attracted nearly 2,000 young Jewish professionals to signature community events such as “Shabbat on the Beach” and “Jews and Canoes.” “The lesson here is that many Jews want to be a part of the Jewish world, but on their terms,” says Shelley NiceleyGroff, past Open Tent board chair. “When opportunities for engagement are present, without pressure to commit, Judaism becomes relevant for them again.” Honoring a Rabbi
When Harriet and Harvey Bookstein invited Rabbi Don Goor and Cantor Evan Kent to dinner at Mastro’s last August, Rabbi Goor assumed it would simply be a lovely evening with generous, caring congregants whom he had known for years. But the Booksteins had a surprise for the rabbi of Temple Judea in Tarzana, California—one that would move him to tears, or as he later described, “made me feel completely ferklempt.” Six months earlier, the Bookstein family had made an unusual request when they agreed to support the temple’s Legacy project with the gift of a new sanctuary. Holders of the naming rights, they wished to name the sanctuary in honor of Rabbi Donald Goor, with the stipulation that he remain unaware of the tribute until the very last minute, when his name was actually installed on the wall. They understood his deep sense of humility and that such a great honor might initially embarrass him. “Rabbi Goor has been such an integral part of our family for years, officiating at weddings, b’nai mitzvah, funerals, and important lifecycles,” explain Harvey and Harriet. “He is really the essence of Judaism and Temple Judea for us, and it was a shared family decision to name the sanctuary for him. We wanted to pay him tribute in a permanent, enduring way, so his legacy would be forever honored at Temple Judea.” Co-conspirator Ellen Franklin, the temple’s executive director, kept their secret during construction, going so far as to scramble the letters on the order form so the sign company wouldn’t accidentally leak the news. She also had to creatively stall when Rabbi Goor repeatedly expressed concern that the Bookstein name was not on the sanctuary wall just days before the grand opening. As dessert wound down on the night of the big reveal, the Booksteins brought out two large bags of wooden letters they had fabricated for the occasion, explaining that playing Scrabble after a special dinner was a family tradition. Opening the first bag, Rabbi Goor and Cantor Kent played around with the letters, unsure of exactly what they were doing. After some speedy wordsmithing, they realized the letters spelled out “Rabbi Donald Goor,” and Rabbi Goor delightedly said continued on page 54
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