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M A Z EL TOV
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Dear Readers, Probably 95% (I made up the number, it could be more) of us celebrate our simchas
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on our home turf. For myriad reasons,
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two articles about celebrating there.
events. One popular place, especially for b’nai mitzvot, is Israel. As such, we feature In early November I received a message through the Jewish News website from
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Terri Denison, Editor Germaine Clair, Art Director Hal Sacks, Book Review Editor Sandy Goldberg, Account Executive Mark Hecht, Account Executive Marilyn Cerase, Subscription Manager Reba Karp, Editor Emeritus Sherri Wisoff, Proofreader
Natalie Abraham, an event planner in Israel. She sent a link to her video https://
$18 per person Kosher hors d’oeuvres will be served Spouses and significant others welcome
youtu.be/d6MkSbOZ0Uc (watch it, it’s fun!) and I immediately knew I wanted to include her in this edition of Mazel Tov. On
Jay Klebanoff, President Alvin Wall, Treasurer Stephanie Calliott, Secretary Harry Graber, Executive Vice-President www.jewishVA.org
page 20, she offers tips on holding all types
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of events in a variety of Israeli settings and styles. In December, Benita Watts, operations manager at the Sandler Family Campus,
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fulfilled a dream and a promise and took her family to Jerusalem for her son’s Bar
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Mitzvah. Her story is on page 22. But as I mentioned earlier, most of us celebrate at home in our own synagogues. Rabbi Enid C. Lader writes about a creative
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About the cover: Danial Watts at his Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem
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M A Z EL T O V
With all the planning for my son’s Bar Mitzvah, I never expected this by Michelle Tauber
(Kveller via JTA)—I ran into a mom the other day whose son is having his bar mitzvah in a few weeks, just before my son. Our boys were in the same preschool class together at the JCC, back when they smelled like finger paint and graham crackers. “How’s the planning going?” we chirped. Good, you know, busy, still waiting on all those late RSVPs. Then we looked at each other and cried. This is the part of bar mitzvah planning I did not anticipate. I had been so worried about the details, the cost, the time. How are we going to fit in cantor lessons along with everything else? Do people prefer kugel or knishes, or both, at the kiddish? How will our indifferent almost 13-year-old, who procrastinates months-long projects until hours before, possibly buckle down to learn an entire haftarah? While I fretted, the earth moved. I
didn’t feel it at first. Then when I started to notice—my son’s eyes a good two inches above mine, his voice deepening, his angles sharpening—it seemed novel and fun, like when he’d first rolled over as a baby. Look how he’s grown! Isn’t it something? He was changing, but I was still operating under the old rules because those were the only ones I knew. I volunteered to chaperone the middle-school field trip to the environmental center after we’d had fun on the same trip last year. When he learned I’d signed up again, he begged me to pull out, exasperatedly insisting that there was “no reason” for me to go. I still ask him to tag along with me on Sunday afternoon errands, but the answer is always no—he’s in his room on Instagram. And why would he care about that free sprinkle cookie at the grocery store, anyway? When I bought tickets last month for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party at Walt Disney World—an event our family
looks forward to every fall—he refused to come because there was a high school football game that night and he’d already made plans to attend with his friends. “Sorry Mom,” he said, and he meant it. “But I’ve got somewhere to be.” All along, Judaism knew what I didn’t. Judaism knew that my son—my first baby, my oldest child—wasn’t simply “becoming a man,” he was becoming his own man. That in stepping up to the Torah, he was stepping away from me. That I needed to let go, just a little, before I need to let go a lot. And so I cry. I cry at every b’nai mitzvah I attend. Because I remember when the young man in the new suit leading the Shema was blowing bubbles in a stroller. Because I know his mom and dad remember, too, and that we all feel the swell of pride and the loss of time. Because I remember standing on the bimah myself in a polka-dot dress, and how can that possibly be so long ago when I can still feel the slender weight of the yad in my
hand from that day? “I cry just to cry,” confessed the mom I bumped into recently. I told her my son had surprised me by diligently learning his haftarah, no nagging required, but that he had started pulling away, and that was hardest of all for me. “Thank God mine’s not doing that yet,” she said. “I’m not ready.” I’m not ready either. But my son is. On Passover, we dip in saltwater to remember the pain of the past. There is holiness in our tears, in tasting them. We are all salt and water, the tides ever changing. So when my son is called to the Torah, I will taste love and loss and the insistent pull forward. And when I see other parents with tears in their eyes, I’ll know they taste it, too. —Michelle Tauber is the head writer for People magazine. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and four kids aged 6 to [nearly] 13.
ShalomLearning now includes Bar/Bat Mitzvah training programs and one-on-one tutoring WASHINGTON, DC—Believing every Jewish family, however isolated, over-scheduled, unaffiliated or disengaged, deserves to engage their children in fun and accessible Jewish education, ShalomLearning, Inc., expanded its curriculum to include bar/bat mitzvah preparation for seventh and eighth grade students, as well as oneon-one online tutoring for Jewish learners of all ages and abilities. ShalomLearning, a non-profit, offers tutoring in Hebrew reading and conversational Hebrew, as well as a track of courses designed specifically for b’nai mitzvah preparation.
“Personalized, one-on-one tutoring allows us to better serve students across the learning spectrum, from those who want a little bit of extra help to advanced students wishing to delve deeper into the many inspiring aspects of Judaism,” says Joshua Troderman, ShalomLearning executive director. The new programs are made possible through ShalomLearning’s recently established strategic alliance with OnlineJewishLearning.com in order to share resources and provide personalized instruction to students and their families across the globe.
“By sharing resources with ShalomLearning, a like-minded organization with complementary competencies, we are able to better serve a larger base of Jewish learners,” says Rabbi Danielle Eskow, CEO of OnlineJewishLearning.com. For many living abroad, especially military and corporate expatriate families, staying connected to their Jewish faith, and keeping up with their children’s Jewish learning, can be a struggle. With few options to build and maintain long-term connections with other members of the Jewish community, programs like ShalomLearning help to foster Jewish identity in children.
“We are a military family living overseas and have struggled to provide Jewish education to our two children,” says Alison Levy, who with her husband Jason and their two children Isaiah (age 13) and Shoshana (age 9) are living in Naples, Italy where Jason is stationed as a Commander in the U.S. Navy. “ShalomLearning has been a fabulous asset in our quest to keep our children’s Jewish identity intact in a non-Jewish environment and to strengthen their understanding of Jewish values and history.” For more information, including costs per session or to enroll, visit www.shalomlearning. org/enroll.
jewishnewsva.org | January 25, 2016 | Mazel Tov | Jewish News | 17
M A Z EL T O V
Sharing hope through baskets
or the past 14 years, the Jewish Family Service of Tidewater Baskets of Hope program has received overwhelming support from local families. The baskets have been used for many different occasions including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, luncheons, birthdays, and holidays. Proceeds from the Baskets of Hope program go directly toward helping local Jewish families in need. Often, many of these families are forced to choose between purchasing life sustaining food or medication. Last year, the JFS Food and Financial Assistance program served 400 Jewish individuals in the community. Debbie Mayer, JFS director of clinical services, says, “Many of these individuals struggle with living expenses, and JFS is able to help fill that gap.”
Benita Watts, director of campus operations for the Sandler Family Campus, recently ordered baskets for her son Daniel’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah. “I always have a hard time spending a lot of money on flowers that last just a few days. It seems so wasteful, so when I was thinking about decorations for my son’s Bar Mitzvah, Baskets of Hope seemed a great option. I had seen the baskets at other events and not only do they look great, but the money spent on them goes to a good cause and supports JFS food programs,” says Watts. Each basket is tailored to fit the event, taking into account the event’s theme and color scheme. A portion of the cost of each centerpiece is tax-deductible. For more information about the Baskets of Hope program, contact Sue Graves at 321-2238.
18 | Jewish News | January 25, 2016 | Mazel Tov | jewishnewsva.org
M A Z EL T O V The Medieval Jewish wedding ring tradition you probably never knew about by Leah Falk
( Jewniverse via JTA)—You may have recently learned that diamonds are only a girl’s best friend because De Beers made it so. Sigh—how’s a girl to have a betrothal symbol with a little more meaning? Look no further than a nearly forgotten Jewish tradition: the house ring. Originating in Europe and dating back to the 14th century, about 400 years after rings began to be used in Jewish wedding ceremonies, the house ring is an opulent object adorned with a miniature model of a house or temple instead of a gemstone. The house, like the huppah, is thought to have symbolized a couple’s new home together.
Because of their ornateness, these rings were probably not used for every day (imagine getting bread dough in your ring attic—yuck), but it’s not clear when exactly during the betrothal period or ceremony they were worn. Due to European rulers’ nasty habits of collecting Jewish ritual objects after they’d expelled Jews, only a few real examples of the ring survive. Can we get a house ring movement going, De Beers? Maybe it’s our post-recession practicality, but even on our fingers, we’d rather have a tiny house than a big rock. —Leah Falk earned an MFA from the University of Michigan, and her poems can be found in FIELD, Kenyon Review, Smartish Pace and other journals.
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M A Z EL T O V
Thinking of a destination wedding/ event in Israel? Here’s a useful guide plus some tips
by Natalie Abraham
onsidered one of the most significant places on earth for the Jewish people since biblical times— Israel is a land that carries momentous meaning; where East meets West; where the sun shines nine months of the year. Israel! Where weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are a fun, exotic, and spiritual experience all at the same time. Where people from all over the world come to enjoy a unique celebration, reuniting with friends and family, and have an extraordinary vacation. So small on the world map, Israel offers an abundant selection of special venues for hosting all types of events as no other country can offer—naturally intertwining the richness of Jewish history, traditions and culture. Popular choices for wedding and event venues in Israel range from traditional synagogues, ancient ruins, by/on the beach, in trendy Tel Aviv, at a choice of coastlines (Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Dead Sea), farms, vineyards, forests, and of course, the old city of Jerusalem. The sky is the limit. Weather-wise, you can be 99% sure that you will not have a rainy day from May through September. During the winter months, Eilat serves as a great getaway to benefit from as much sun as possible. Still, winter weddings and B’nai Mitzvot in the heart of Israel, certainly have their own charm. When thinking about having a destination wedding/event in Israel, it is important to help your family and guests have an easy and smooth welcome to the country. To do so, set up a private webpage for your event including recommendations and advice such as: • Group accommodation for different budgets; 20 | Jewish News | January 25, 2016 | Mazel Tov | jewishnewsva.org
• Transportation information; • Car rental options; • Recommended things to do and places to see; • Hair and make-up artists for the event; • Local weather forecast; • Schedule of events (Henna, Shabbat Chatan etc); • Organized tours for families/groups (Some popular choices include the old city of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, the Galilee or Golan Heights and much more).
Top Tips • Book your venue as much in advance as possible, and other vendors at least six months prior to the event. • Book your flights and accommodations once venue has been closed. • Send ‘save the dates’ immediately. • All agreements with any vendor (to the smallest detail) should be in writing. • Ask about hidden fees. • Check international holidays and Jewish holidays when choosing your dates. • Use English-speaking vendors for accurate communication. • Save yourself a lot of time and money— Hire a wedding planner in Israel. Hire a bar/bat mitzvah planner in Israel. Leave yourself time for fun. Weddings Only Couples must to register with the Rabbinate up to 90 days before the wedding. This can be done this online (if you read Hebrew), or the planner can help the couple do this. Or, it can simply be done when arriving in Israel, but it is recommended to make sure everything is in order before couples leave
M A Z EL T O V their home country. It is also necessary to have a letter from your hometown (Orthodox) rabbi confirming that you are both Jewish and single, as well as a Ketuba (marriage certificate) from the bride’s and groom’s parents and passport photos. —Natalie Abraham Natalie Abraham is a UK-born wedding and event planner in Israel with Dreamcatcher events. Her British background gives her a precise understanding of what is needed in the events industry: Someone who can provide a bridge between the values and expectations
of the Anglo personality, with the local customs and mentality. Her trademark is in the detail that makes every event unique and unforgettable. See Natalie in action at https:// youtu.be/d6MkSbOZ0Uc.
DJs charge 32% more for bar/bat mitzvah events than for other parties
n analysis by the consumer service website Thumbtack found that DJs charge 32 percent more on average for bar and bat mitzvah parties than for other events. The average price for a bar/bat mitzvah DJ is $812, according to the San Francisco-based company, which helps match consumers with professionals offering a variety of services throughout the United States. Thumbtack explained the price difference by noting that DJs are required to do more at bar/bat mitzvah parties than most
other events. “The job is to be the life of the party,” it said. “Thirteen-year-olds don’t have much practice on the dance floor and the DJ has to help them lose their inhibitions. They need a guide to show them how to limbo, hora, and electric slide.” Bar/bat mitzvah DJs also often lead games and contests. DJ Mike Burchard of B_Entertained DJs told Thumbtack that working a bar/bat mitzvah requires a “different set of skills” than working other events. (JTA)
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M A Z EL T O V First Person
Bar Mitzvah in Israel is spiritual and meaningful for Virginia Beach family
by Benita Watts
even years ago as my son Danial finished Kindergarten at Hebrew Academy, he was sad because his best friend was leaving and returning to Israel. I casually threw out the idea that if Danial had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel, then Amit would be able to come. Last month, on December 24, 2015 Danial became a Bar Mitzvah at Robinson’s Arch at the Western Wall. Over the years, the more we talked about having Danial’s Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem, the more sense it made. For one thing, most of my family lives in England and it is easier for them to make a trip to Israel than come to Virginia Beach. But more importantly, I believed this would be a far more spiritual experience for us as a family. My husband, Joe, is not Jewish and although he has always been very supportive of Danial’s Jewish education, I felt it would be hard for him to have an emotional or spiritual connection if we had Danial’s Bar Mitzvah in our synagogue. I also had the added benefit of having my cousin and her family living in Jerusalem.
Danial, Joe, and Benita Watts at the Kotel.
In fact, it was 31 years ago exactly that I made my first trip, surrounded by my family, to her wedding shortly after she made Aliyah. Although I have made several return visits to other parts of Israel over the years, I had not been back to Jerusalem since 1984 and my last visit to friends near Netanya was 18 years ago. So I knew this was an amazing opportunity for all of us. From the apartment we rented in Jerusalem, to the private tour of Jerusalem with my family, to the charming hotel in Tel Aviv; everything was perfect and beyond our expectations. Seeing Jerusalem through the eyes of my husband and son, it was completely different from my memories of long ago. Our apartment was a block from Ben Yeduda St., in the town center area. Little shops line the streets selling Judaica, jewelry, clothing, and artwork, as well as amazing bakeries, coffee shops and restaurants. I could spend hours just walking around the area, soaking up the atmosphere. A 10 minute walk took us to Jaffa Gate to the Old City. Of course, it goes without saying that the highlight of the trip was Danial’s Bar Mitzvah. I first made contact with Rabbi David Ebstein at the beginning of 2014. I already knew the date I wanted for the Bar Mitzvah, although the rabbi pointed out that by Israel standards, “this was way, way too early!” But I am a planner and was determined to ensure that I had the date and time of my choosing.
22 | Jewish News | January 25, 2016 | Mazel Tov | jewishnewsva.org
Danial Watts with his grandfather Terry Wolfe.
I chose to plan this trip and event myself. I actually found Rabbi Ebstein on Trip Advisor when, one day, I googled “Bar Mitzvah in Israel.” He put me in touch with three or four families who had him officiate at their simchas and not only did they give me plenty of information and advice, but they couldn’t compliment the rabbi enough. One Skype call later and the rabbi was booked! Fast forward to this time last year and it was becoming real. We had the venue and the rabbi. Next came the flights and a restaurant for lunch afterwards. Thanks again to the internet, I found a couple of restaurants that were within walking distance of the Kotel, one of which had the perfect menu for us. I also arranged a private tour of Jerusalem for my family and friends which we did the day after the Bar Mitzvah. My only concern was the weather, which even I can’t control. The day arrived with clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine. Although it was cool first thing; by 10:30 am, which was our allotted time at Robinson’s Arch, it was perfect. Robinson’s Arch is part of
Danial and Joe Watts.
the excavation of the walls of the Temple Mount. In 2004, the site was inaugurated to provide a place for women to pray at the Western Wall. In 2013, a prayer platform was completed at the foot of Robinsons Arch and now hosts services by the Conservative and Reform Movements. Not only were Bar and Bat Mitvahs taking place before and after ours, but there were two or three going on around us at the same
M A Z EL T O V
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Danial and his family.
time. There is no bima and no formal ark. Everyone stands around a large table, on which a Torah lays covered by a cloth (this is the ark). Yes, it is noisy, but somehow this added to the atmosphere. So there we were, 32 of us surrounding the table. We sang and we danced. “Aren’t you nervous?” Rabbi Ebstein asked Danial more than once. “No,” was Danial’s response and he wasn’t at all. He was so well prepared, confident and, above all, comfortable, thanks to his Hebrew Academy of Tidewater education and the tutoring from Cantor David Proser. We could see he was enjoying this incredible experience. Here we were with our purple, personalized kippot and just a short distance
away was another group with their blue kippot. Danial led the daily service, then did the three Torah readings. He was truly inspiring. We talked and shared what this experience meant to us and tried to absorb every minute detail. I didn’t want this to end. So, did we make the right decision in having Danial’s Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem? 100% yes and we would do it again in a heartbeat. Danial can’t wait to return in the future and for us; we have our video of the service, loads of pictures and most importantly, amazing memories of this incredible, spiritual and meaningful experience.
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Danial after his Bar Mitzvah.
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M A Z EL T O V
A Memorable Mazel Tov
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n recent years, many communities have taken a fresh look at their b’nai mitzvah ceremonies. How can it be more relevant? More inspiring? And more likely to be a vehicle for continued engagement in Jewish life? After all, as we always tell our 13 year-olds, “It marks the beginning, not the ending!” As a rabbi and former congregational and family educator, I welcome this examination. The process of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah should—and can—be incredibly meaningful for the child, the family, and, really, the entire congregation. This is also why I’m happy to share the model that we’ve used for 20 years at Beth Israel— The West Temple in Cleveland. Already, with the help of Shinui: The Network for Innovation in Part-Time Jewish Education, educators around the country have learned how our b’nai mitzvah experience engages the whole congregation. Ironically, it is a model that started out of necessity and blossomed into a defining and connecting element of our congregational life. Twenty years ago, we found ourselves in a bind. We had just lost our rabbi and would be without another for the foreseeable future. Like most congregations, our rabbi handled the b’nai mitzvah preparation. I was tasked with filling this void; the mantra “it takes a village” would be my guiding principle. I first met individually with each family at their home. We sat around the dining room or kitchen table, reading through the child’s Torah portion, discussing questions as they arose, and asking the child to choose a section that would be his/hers to read and reflect upon for a d’var Torah
24 | Jewish News | January 25, 2016 | Mazel Tov | jewishnewsva.org
Photography: Edwin A. Davis Photography.
The ties that bind: marking 20 years of a reimagined b’nai mitzvah process
Rabbi Enid C. Lader.
(Torah-focused remarks). In the subsequent months leading up to the bar or bat mitzvah, our Hebrew coordinator (the lead teacher in our Hebrew program) took on the role of Torah tutor. Another congregant prepared the student to lead the service. But what about additional help with the d’var Torah? Reading a section during that initial meeting was lovely. But certainly it did not suffice to prepare a 13-year-old to deliver words of wisdom. This need, to empower the child to learn more and to share more, was the catalyst for Beth Israel— The West Temple’s I n t erge n er at ion a l Program. Our congregation thankfully has some very learned and special older members. We asked them if they might work with a student to help prepare their d’var Torah. Six said yes, and as the years went by, they were paired with students. Together, they study the Torah portion. The older mentors provide background information and help the students research commentaries and create meaning for themselves. Through this chevrutah (studying with a partner) process, each student comes to learn more about the mentor and his/her connection with our congregation. As this intergenerational friendship
blossoms, we’ve seen time and again how the student’s parents come to know the older members of our congregation and, of course, how our mentors meet and develop friendships with our younger congregational families. The program has tangible benefits for our older members, many of whom have children in their college or post-college years and are searching for additional ways to be actively engaged in the life of our congregation. In fact, mentors say that the program deepens their own Jewish learning, as they learn Torah from new perspectives and seek to bring these perspectives to their mentees. There is something very special about that first meeting with the family, sitting around the dining room or kitchen table and reading the Torah portion together. The family formally sets off on their bar/bat mitzvah journey with the child and his/ her parents reading aloud from the Torah. Quickly, the conversation intensifies as they ask questions of each other, all within the framework of a rabbi sitting and learning with them in their home. Congregation members Evan and Jill Fleisher reflected on how this bat mitzvah process influenced their two daughters, saying, “The knowledge our daughters
mentors provide background
information and help
the students research commentaries and
create meaning for themselves.
M A Z EL T O V gained and the unique experience preparing for their bat mitzvahs were invaluable. Having another adult other than us for our girls to confide in, to speak with, and to take guidance from, was an integral and special part of this. And as a family, we are closer now to the Temple and especially to the individuals who mentored the girls throughout their journeys.” Twenty years since the program first started, our congregation happily continues it. Though the rabbinical position was filled many years ago, this intergenerational program adds so much to our community by personally touching the lives of so many members. One of the original mentors still works with students. Many other mentors have joined the ranks to help shape their mentee’s d’var Torah. The Hebrew coordinator still helps with the Torah reading. And over the years, some parents have even served as mentors to their children—with wonderful outcomes. The program links our members more deeply and, frankly,
connects people who otherwise might never meet. This process also helped bring to them the concept that becoming a bar or bat mitzvah is the beginning. Students, parents, and mentors enjoy friendships that extend beyond the bar/bat mitzvah experience. Often, on those meaningful Shabbat mornings, a mentor is called for an aliyah during his or her student’s Torah reading. What a heartfelt and deep gesture it is. It connects one generation to another through one of our most ancient and sacred traditions—the study of Torah. Is it rocket science? No. But sometimes, the best way to reimagine a ritual is to hone in on what
made it special in the first place. Enid C. Lader is the former director of congregational and family education, and current rabbi, of Beth Israel—The West Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. She shared this intergenerational program model through Shinui: The Network for Innovation in PartTime Jewish Education, whose partner agencies are The Jewish Education Project (New York), the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, the Jewish Learning Venture (Philadelphia), and Jewish LearningWorks (San Francisco Bay Area). Shinui is funded by the Covenant Foundation.
helped bring to
them the concept
that becoming a bar or bat mitzvah is the beginning.
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Mazel Tov! May all your celebrations be joyous!
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