Friday, July 17, 2020

Preparing for Religious School in a Pandemic: An Insider's Look

Week after week, those of us who run part-time Jewish education programs have been working hard to figure out what to do this year, and how to make our programs as high-quality as possible, given the circumstances. So what’s it really like to prepare for JQuest (religious school) during a global pandemic?

We began our planning process by hiring our JQuest teachers in late spring to write curricula for the coming year, with three types of learning for each lesson plan / unit:

1) in-person learning
2) at-home learning, synchronous (i.e. “live” on zoom or some other similar platform)
3) at-home learning, asynchronous (i.e. activities students/ families can do at home on their own, not with a “live” teacher)

We also paid teachers for professional development, and we are spending time this summer trying to improve our ability to create the highest-quality, relationship-based online learning that we can.

We are already set up at JQuest with a track system, whereby students choose which learning track they want, so my intention for the fall is that parents/students will be able to select an in-person (outdoor) JQuest track or an at-home JQuest track. The tricky question is how to create those tracks. Here are some of the things I’ve been working on / considering:

1. Enrollment: How many students can we expect? Usually, we have a pretty good idea of how many students to expect in the coming year. We start registration in April, and by June, we have about 90% of our expected enrollment (with the rest trickling in throughout the summer, including families who move to the area and/or decide to join a synagogue as the High Holy Days approach). This year, we started registration in May, and our enrollment has been trickling in since then. Over the course of a couple weeks in July, the Assistant Director and I reached out to all the families who are unenrolled in JQuest '20-'21, but were part of JQuest in '19-'20, to ask about their plans. Here are some of the things we heard:

“If it’s going to be on Zoom, we’re not doing it.” 
“If it’s going to be in person, we’re not doing it.” 
“We’re going to take a year off.” 
“I’m overwhelmed and can’t think about JQuest right now.” 

As you can imagine, we are trying to make decisions about classes and hiring teachers, but our enrollment is very uncertain. Even those who have signed up know they can pull out (and get a full refund) if they’re unhappy with the choices we offer.

2. Teachers: What do teachers want? In addition to 1-1 conversations with teachers, we conducted a survey of teachers to understand their desires and needs. Given the current circumstances and their own individual considerations, do they prefer to teach in person? Online? What days/times could they teach in the coming year, if we need to think outside the usual JQuest schedule?

3. Space and Schedule: If we offer in-person learning, we want to keep group sizes small (10-12 students at most), and the groups outside as much as possible. We are brainstorming how to do that, logistically-speaking. What time will each group meet? Where on our campus can we set up outdoor classrooms? Can we use other off-campus outdoor spaces for our programming? For online learning programs, what times should we offer? How long is a reasonable length of time to expect students to participate in an online class (especially if they’re doing all their secular school classes online as well)? We want to keep the online groups relatively small, too, as it’s easier to engage when there are a smaller number of students in an online class.

4. What should we do about tefillah? Even if we offer in-person classes, we know we cannot do tefillah (communal prayer) in person, due to the risks of transmitting COVID-19 through singing. So when and how will we do tefillah this year? How will the (online) tefillah schedule fit in with the schedule of all the classes?

6 Ways to Solve the Chicken and Egg Problem for a Marketplace ...
5. The chicken-and-egg dilemma: How many in-person and how many online classes should we offer? Which days/times? How many teachers do we need, and for how many hours? Our enrollment is uncertain, and parents do not want to sign up until they know what they’re signing up for. But we don’t know which / how many classes to offer, because we don’t know how many students to expect. At some point, we will just make a decision, put the options out there, and see what happens.

6. Flexibility is key: Even though we are planning for in-person JQuest options along with online options, we know that we might not be able to operate in person when we start in early October - whether due to county/state regulations, health & safety considerations by our synagogue leadership, or a whole host of other reasons. In that case, we may have to pivot to online learning for all students, which may mean a drop in enrollment. On the other hand, something may change that would allow us to pivot to a more regular in-person JQuest program (a COVID-19 vaccine, of course! Or an effective COVID-19 treatment, or fast/easy/cheap COVID-19 testing, or who knows what else). The future is uncertain, and we have to be nimble enough to make changes quickly and smoothly, at any point in the school year.

***

It is not easy being an educator at this time. It is not easy being a parent, either. We all need something stable to count on during these uncertain times, and even though it’s hard, I’m grateful to be a Jewish educator because Jewish education can be the pillar of strength we all need. Jewish learning and Jewish community have sustained the Jewish people for thousands of years - including through wars, pogroms, and pandemics. By connecting with each other, as well as with the holidays, themes, and texts of our tradition, we learn resilience, courage, strength, and patience. The deep well of wisdom in Judaism is especially meaningful when we face turbulence in our lives and in the world around us.

It may be complicated putting the pieces together, but I am committed to creating a Jewish education program that will be a wonderful year of creative learning and community-building, with extraordinary teachers and meaningful friendships. May we go from strength to strength!

Sunday, July 12, 2020

What to do about schools: An Elu v'Elu Perspective

Elu v’Elu

In this intense and emotional time, an image is making its way around the internet, with a variety of feelings / perspectives on the question of whether and how schools should open for the 2020-2021 school year:



In Judaism, we have a concept for this, called “Elu v’elu,” which literally means “these and these” and is described as follows by the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah:

In the 1st century B. C. E. there were two great Schools of Jewish thought: the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. They often disagreed. Shammai’s School liked to regulate, circumscribe, define.  Hillel’s kept things more open, favoring flexibility and inclusivity.  One time, as told in the Talmud’s tractate Eruvin, the Rabbis debated endlessly and could not decide which opinion to follow, since both sides had valid arguments. Finally a voice came from Heaven, saying ‘both these and those – elu v’elu – are the words of the living God.’

As Jews, we maintain it is possible to hold multiple truths, and we celebrate having a BOTH/AND perspective.  It is possible that multiple – even conflicting – viewpoints can be correct and contain seeds of holiness.  In the great debate about schools, we must keep this in mind and not succumb to an EITHER/OR or US/THEM mentality.  Our President has tried to politicize the question of whether and how to open schools, but this is not a straightforward either/or situation.  It is not a question of whether schools should open at all, or whether schools should open in person or not.  This is an Elu v’Elu situation.  There are multiple, conflicting truths.  We must yield a both/and perspective. Elu v’elu.

Others have articulated these viewpoints ad nauseum, but since so many of my Facebook friends are teachers (of all kinds) and/or parents (of all kinds), I thought I’d share my personal Elu v’elu perspective:

It is better for students to learn in person
While online / at-home learning is possible, I would argue that in-person learning is a preferable way to do education, particularly for social-emotional learning and growth, and for building relationships.

There are those for whom attending school in person may not work
This includes families with adults and/or children who are immunocompromised, and/or those who do not feel comfortable sending their children to school in person during the pandemic (for any reason).

There are those for whom attending school in person is critical
This includes families whose adult(s) cannot work from home, who do not have sufficient technology to do at-home schooling, who rely on school for essential childcare, students with special needs, where there is abuse in the home, and all those who are eager to send their children to school during the pandemic (for any reason). School /childcare is an “essential service” and should be thought of that way.

In making school plans, we must consider the health, safety, and well-being of teachers and all school staff/administration, as well as the health, safety, and well-being of children and their parents.
This is crucial.

Children do not seem to be spreaders / super-spreaders of COVID-19
While more research needs to be conducted and we cannot yet know for sure, so far the academic studies I’ve read on this question have all reached the conclusion that children are very rarely spreaders (and certainly not super-spreaders) of COVID-19.  This includes studies from around the world, particularly focused on preschool and elementary-school children, including an (unscientific) study of children in “essential childcare” during the initial shelter-in-place orders. More specifically, early research seems to show that the spread of COVID-19 is rare from child-to-child or child-to-adult.  Contact tracing has shown that children who have tested positive for COVID-19 almost always contracted it from an adult, and the vast majority of children contracted it from an adult in their own household (and did not pass it on to others in their school /childcare setting). 

We must try to give families and teachers options.
Some families are desperate for schools to open.  Others cannot imagine sending their children to school.  Some teachers want to teach in person.  Some teachers do not want (or cannot) teach in person. If at all possible, I think the best solution is to offer several options, as, for example, the Dublin school district has set out to do.   In addition to installing cameras in classrooms so that students can view the in-person learning, I’d recommend schools set up online-only classes in which teachers who cannot (or do not want) to teach in person teach those online classes.  This may not work very well (or at all) for preschool or Grades K-2, but it’s certainly an option for grades 3-8, and we can think creatively about offering some form of at-home learning for those younger children, led by teachers who cannot or do not want to teach in person.

We must respect the choices that parents, teachers, and school administrators make.
If we do offer choices, we must then remember the “elu v’elu” perspective in honoring the different choices people make.  These are very hard choices, and each person has many factors to consider in making personal choices.  You are not a bad person if you choose to send your children to school.  You are not a bad person if you choose to keep your kids home and do school-from-home.  You are not a bad person if you are a teacher and teach in person.  You are not a bad person if you are a teacher and make the decision not to teach this year, or not to teach in person.  School administrators have heart-breakingly hard decisions to make, and each school and each community has different factors to consider.  Directors and administrators are doing their best in an unbelievably challenging time, and we should do our best not to demonize them but to support and work with them to make these difficult choices and plans.

The logistics are complicated, especially for larger schools
I recognize a choice-option is complicated and would be easier in smaller schools.  That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

This all costs money and we have to explore all possible funding sources. 
I don’t know what those funding sources are – governmental, private foundations, individual philanthropists – but the optimist in me says that if there’s a will, there’s a way.  In my ideal world, funding for the “choice” option would not happen locally (school to school), but more broadly (perhaps state by state or city by city) so that funds could be raised for ALL schools and not just those in wealthier areas/communities. This may be a pipedream, but if we don’t put options out there, we’ll never make any forward progress.  And we need leadership for this.  Who will be the leaders for this work?  Is it you? 

Education (and childcare) is an essential service
Even if we move to a full shut-down / shelter-in-place again, I would advocate for in-person schools / childcare to remain open as an option for those who choose (or need) it, with teachers/staff who feel comfortable continuing in person (as with other essential workers like grocery store employees, health care workers, etc.).  This is especially true for preschools and elementary schools (perhaps middle schools, too). Online / at-home learning could be expanded for those who – at that point – choose to or need to stop attending in person.

Difficult does not mean impossible
All of this is incredibly complicated.  As someone who runs an education program for 375 students, I understand well the logistical nightmare of the current moment.  And yet, we cannot give up, or give up hope.  It is not helpful to reduce this dilemma to an either/or conversation, or demonize those with different perspectives than we have. 

Elu v’Elu -> Lech L’cha

We can approach this conversation with the Jewish concept of Elu v’elu – these and these are the living words of God.  We can honor different viewpoints, and take all those viewpoints into account in this thorny conversation.

And yet, at some point, we will have to move forward and make decisions.  There is another Jewish concept that can help us here.  In the Torah, God tells Abraham “Lech L’cha!”  “Go!” “Go to a land that I will show you” (i.e. go on a journey to a place you do not yet know, a journey without a clearly-defined destination). Sometimes we have to be like Abraham, we have to just “go forth” and give something a try, even if the journey is to an “unknown land." 

And as we make our way forward, we can hold hands (metaphorically!), honor different viewpoints, and support one another along the difficult path ahead.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Musings on Coronavirus from the Torah and Talmud

Could it have been timed more perfectly?

At the start of this week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, we read: "The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: 'Make a laver of copper and a stand of copper for it, for washing; and place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. Put water in it, and let Aaron and his sons wash their hands and feet [in water drawn] from it. When they enter the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water, that they may not die; or when they approach the altar to serve, to turn into smoke an offering by fire to the Eternal, they shall wash their hands and feet, that they may not die. It shall be a law for all time for them - for him and his offspring - throughout the ages.'" (Ex 30:17-21)

To situate this text, I'll note that the Torah gives instructions to the Israelites to build the mishkan (tabernacle)... a portable structure that served as the place of worship for the Israelites when they were journeying through the desert.  The priests were instructed to offer sacrifices in the mishkan, and in this week's Torah portion, we learn that they are supposed to wash their hands when they enter the "Tent of Meeting."  Okay, okay, I realize this instruction is specifically for the priests, and it's referring to a ritual hand-washing, but still, this is the general message: "When you come to Temple, wash your hands so you don't die!"  Could that message be any more timely for this week?

Two days ago (Tuesday), we began our JQuest classes at Temple Isaiah by asking each person (student, teacher, teen TA) to wash their hands as they entered.  Our Executive Vice-President stood at the door offering hand sanitizer to each person, or sending them to the bathroom to wash their hands with soap and water.  Literally, "Wash your hands when you enter Temple [so you don't die]!"  Wow, timely, huh?

Less than 24 hours later, the situation in our area changed rapidly enough that we decided to cancel most group gatherings at Temple Isaiah, including JQuest.  While we still encourage hand washing, our day-to-day practices are now different.  "Stay home," we said. "Don't go to places with 50+ people," we said.

In Jewish tradition, we move from study of Torah to study of Rabbinic texts (including the Talmud), since the Rabbis explore and expand on biblical texts.  There is a custom of reading a page of Talmud per day (called "Daf Yomi"), and I've been doing Daf Yomi since the new cycle started in January 2020.  On today's daf (page), we read about four different types of "domains," as defined by the Rabbis:

1) The private domain (r'shut ha'yachid)
2) The public domain (r'shut ha'rabim)
3) Karmelit (a domain that's neither public or private, but somewhere in between... more to come about this)
3) An "exempt" domain (makom pa'toor) (for more about this one, you'll have to get started studying Talmud! It's a bit too complicated for me to explain in this post)

This section of Talmud details things you can and cannot do on Shabbat... in particular, you are not allowed to carry things from one domain to another.  So, it's important to know what a domain is, and when you're moving between domains.

The Talmud gives fairly straightforward definitions for private and public domains.  For our modern purposes, we can think of them like this... a private domain is private to you - i.e. your house.  A public domain has to be very public - a major thoroughfare, for example... a place that is open on both ends, fairly wide, and where thousands of people traverse on a regular basis.  In our world today, we might think of a public domain as something like a highway.  But then there's that third category - karmelit.  There are endless discussions in the Talmud that try to understand the karmelit - it is that 'gray area' when it comes to domains - not quite public, not quite private.

As I've been studying Talmud and reading about these domains, I keep thinking about the latest Coronavirus recommendations, vis-a-vis public and private space (and that gray area the Rabbis called karmelit).

We can all agree that if you're quarantined (whether due to self-quarantine or mandated quarantine), it means you should stay in r'shut ha'yachid (your private domain) - i.e. stay home.

Most recommendations in the last few days have also said that people (whether sick or not) should avoid large crowds (concerts, sporting events, parades, etc).  Though this is not the definition of "public domain" by the Rabbis, my thinking in light of Coronavirus is "Stay away from the r'shut ha'rabim (public domain, i.e. large crowds).

Where it's tricky is karmelit - What do we do about smaller gatherings?  What's considered safe, and what's considered risky?  Do airports count as r'shut ha'rabim?  Restaurants?  The gym? A gathering with local family and friends at someone's house? A birthday party with 30 people?  How many people is too many?  In the area where I live, there is a recommendation to cancel all gatherings of 50 people or more.  In other cities, there are different guidelines (NYC is banning events with 500 people or more).  For all of us around the world, the question is the same - where do we draw the line?  What is karmelit, and what is r'shut ha'rabim?  Or do we avoid that question altogether and limit ourselves to r'shut ha'yachid (the private domain)?

When the Rabbis of the Talmud debate something and cannot settle on an answer, they end with the expression "tayku."  Literally, "let it stand," but colloquially it means "this dilemma will remain unresolved."  Or "we have no idea."  Or, some say it's an acronym meaning "The Messiah will ultimately solve all difficult questions" (i.e. one day, when the Messiah comes, we'll figure it out!).

And so when it comes to Coronavirus and which domains to enter and which domains to avoid, I say - tayku.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Why Bother? A Religious School Manifesto



*This goes out to all parents thinking of sending their kids to a (Jewish) religious school… to parents who were raised Jewish, those who chose Judaism, and those who aren’t Jewish but married a Jew.*

In the last month, I’ve had several conversations that got me thinking.  One friend asked a group of us who went to Jewish summer camp together (we are now grown up with kids of our own), “Are you going to send your kids to religious school?”  In another social situation, a friend innocently asked “Why do kids go to religious school twice a week starting in third grade?”  In both cases, these friends of mine are connected to the Jewish community and are already committed to raising Jewish kids.  But they (along with many others) wonder about the value of religious school, and about the time commitment required to take part in it.  Is it worth it?

In our era of extreme busyness, and in a time when there are many Jewish families in which one parent is Jewish and the other parent is not, it’s a reasonable question to ask – Why bother with religious school?  And why should our kids attend religious school twice a week from third grade to seventh grade, as is the case in most synagogues around the country?[1]

To answer these questions, we have to take a step back and ask, “Why be Jewish?”  What’s so special or important about being Jewish?  If it’s possible to be a good person without religion, then what’s the point?   Each of us may have different answers to these questions, but my guess is there are some common threads.  Jewish values mean something to us.  Yes, there are “American values,” but Jewish values ground us and guide us.   Jewish values encompass many generic human values such as kindness and compassion, but there are values unique to Judaism, too, such as the value of rest (see: Shabbat) and a commitment to community (see: minyan).  Being Jewish means you are part of a chain of tradition thousands of years old, and when you take it seriously, it helps you know who you are and what you stand for.  Being Jewish means being part of something larger than yourself / your family.  At its best, Judaism can give meaning and purpose to your life.  It has a calendar that can give shape and meaning to time, it has rituals that can bring holiness into your life and the world.  When you are in crisis or feel like you’re free-floating, Judaism can give you roots, a foundation, a structure, texts, stories, prayers, and teachings to give you direction and hope. 

If Judaism is so valuable[2], we would naturally want to pass it down to our children, to raise our children as Jews.  But how? 

Children have to learn.  They are not born knowing who they are and where they fit into the world.  It is our obligation as parents to provide them roots, to give them a foundation for their life and help them understand the world around them.   Therefore, if we want our children to be Jewish, to truly live with Jewish values and to find Judaism meaningful, then they need to learn.  Parents can teach their children, but most parents cannot do it alone. 

Parents alone can’t teach their kids what it means to be Jewish because part of being Jewish is a connection to community.  “Jewish” is not an individual identity.  It is a group identity.  It is being part of a people.  It is possible to teach your kids about Jewish community by getting together with other Jewish families, but it is much easier when you’re part of a synagogue.  Kids learn that there are lots of other Jews out there, and that being part of a Jewish community is an essential component of Judaism.  We support each other through tough times, and we celebrate together in good times.  We teach each other and we learn from each other.  We do not do Judaism alone. 

Plus, there is so much to learn!  Children have to learn what Judaism is – not just the most popular holidays (see: Chanukah), but also about God, Torah, Israel, Jewish values, Hebrew, prayer, Jewish history, and much more.  There are not many parents who really want to do that all themselves, so we look to institutions to help us.

Yes, some religious schools are bad.  They are boring.  They haven’t changed in 30 years.  But luckily, in the landscape of Jewish education, things are changing.  There are AMAZING religious schools out there (see Mayim in Boston and JQuest B’yachad in Philadelphia for two innovative examples).  There are conferences and articles about innovation in religious schools, and synagogues are making changes for the better.  If the religious school near you is same-old same-old and you don’t like it, then agitate for change or find a new synagogue.  Get involved in leadership at your synagogue to have an impact on education.  Join the education committee.  Volunteer to be on the board.  But don’t just give up and decide that religious school isn’t worth it.

Yes, there are many competing priorities in our lives as parents today.  There’s school, sports, arts, way too much homework, trying to make time for family and friends… but each of us must ask ourselves at the end of the day, “Where does this ancient, beautiful, meaningful tradition of Judaism fit into our lives?”  Religious school has to be a priority if you want your children to grow up knowing what it means to be Jewish and finding meaning in Judaism.

If Judaism is not meaningful to you, and it’s not important to you to pass the tradition to the next generation, then of course that is your choice.   But eventually, then, Judaism will cease to be part of your family’s lineage.   But if Judaism IS important to you, and if you want Judaism to continue (and not only for Orthodox Jews), then your children are our future.   This manifesto is not meant to be another parental guilt trip, it’s intended to serve as a reminder for why passing on our values, our tradition, our history, our culture is worth it.  And that when done well, religious school gives kids the opportunity to learn, do, and be in Jewish community… to develop their identity as Jews, to be the next link in the chain of tradition.  Don’t you want that for your kids?  


[1] Note: I don’t like the term “religious school”, but it’s widely understood to refer to educational programs at synagogues that are a few hours a week.  Some people refer to these programs as “Hebrew school,” “part-time Jewish education,” or “supplemental education.”  At my synagogue we call our program JQuest. You can read more about why I can’t stand the term “religious school,” but I’m going to use it for the rest of this manifesto for consistency.
[2] If you don’t find Judaism valuable, then I’d recommend starting there – figuring out whether you want Judaism to be valuable to you, and if so, how it might be in the future.  I suggest contacting your local rabbi or cantor or Jewish educator to talk more about it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Rabbis' Post-Election Reflections and Prayers

Rabbis from around the country have written a number of meaningful reflections and prayers as we try to wrap our minds around the outcome of this election.  Here are a few that have touched me...

**

From Rabbi Rachel Timoner:

My friends, we do not know for sure how this election will end, but if Donald Trump is president, here's what I want you to know: you will not be alone. We are in this together. We will be in this together. In the last several months and years, we have articulated together a vision for this country centered on the dignity and humanity of people of every gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability. We will likely need to get very clear, brave, and outspoken about these values in the coming days and years. We will need to find a deeper courage and resolve than we've ever had to show before. We'll need to organize, protest, take risks, and stand up against real evil.

Whenever we grow as human beings there is backlash. This is backlash. We are getting a snapshot right now of where our country is emotionally and politically. It's reality, but it's not forever. It's one stage in our process of development. We should not deny it. We should endeavor to understand it. So we can get ourselves through it preventing as much harm as we can.

There are tears in my house tonight and there is real fear. But this is why we are alive -- for moments just like this -- to stand for goodness in the face of evil and to stand with other human beings when they are in peril. To show the best that humanity is made of, not only when it is easy but also when it is dangerous and difficult.
I need you. We need each other. Let's cry and mourn, and then let's organize.

**

From Rabbi Paul Kipnes:

There was that moment at the Red Sea when our people despaired like never before. Looking behind, the people saw an enemy coming for them. Looking ahead, the waters seemed ready to swallow them up.

To stand still was not an option.

We pray,

Eloheinu veilohei avoteinu v'imoteinu,
Our God and God of our fathers and mothers,

When our nation is divided
When our people are afraid
When our children are confused
When we ourselves are unsure about how to move forward.

Grant us,

Like Nachshon, the courage to face our fears and walk forward into the unknown.

Like Miriam, the insight to find the hidden waters in the wilderness to quench our thirst.

Like King Solomon, the wisdom to decide wisely as we face difficult questions in the days  and months ahead.

Like the prophet Nathan, the faith to speak truth to power, demanding as he did from King David, truth and justice, compassion and kindness.

And may we lie down in peace and rise up each tomorrow refreshed and renewed, prepared to  work toward blessing for all.

Amen.

**

From Rabbi Jonathan Blake:

Good morning.

The election is over and the American people have voted. The results have stunned the world and revealed once and for all the deep and alarming schisms in American society.

American Jews have long expressed their patriotism through civic engagement, advocacy for social justice, and steadfast acts of Tikkun Olam.  The coming weeks, months, and years will be no different.  Indeed, our principled and passionate engagement in a hurting and divided America is needed now more than ever.

In 1790, George Washington wrote a now-celebrated letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, home of the country's oldest Jewish house of worship (Touro Synagogue, 1763).  In it he pledged that the "Government of the United States... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

Westchester Reform Temple will work vigilantly to hold our American government to Washington's founding promise as we prepare to inaugurate Donald J. Trump as President.  His rhetoric on the campaign trail and his record of public opinion have exposed a willingness to  indulge in hateful speech and incitement toward minorities, women, and people with disabilities.  His campaign attracted the vociferous support of some of America's most hate-filled voters:  citizens who openly espouse White supremacy, the embrace of violence against the vulnerable, and Anti-Semitic lies made familiar throughout centuries of discrimination against Jewish people.

Today is November 9th, which Jewish history commemorates as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass.  On the night of November 9th-10th, 1938, the Nazis carried out an organized pogrom against Germany's Jews, claiming the lives of at least 91 Jews, destroying 267 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, and arresting 30,000 Jewish citizens.  Our People does not forget the lessons that history teaches about what happens when hate is wedded to power.

On this Friday night, November 11th, which happens to be Veterans Day, we will gather for Shabbat services in our sanctuary at 7:45.  Prayers and sentiments of unity, peace, and our commitment to confront hate and discrimination will be offered.  I have invited our interfaith area clergy colleagues and their congregants and parishioners to join us.  I hope you and your loved ones and friends will join us, too.  Our "house will be a house of prayer for all people" (Isaiah 56:7).

I will also hold open office hours at WRT today, Wednesday November 9th, from 5:15 - 6:15 PM.  Please feel invited to come to the temple and speak to me and other concerned congregants.  Know that WRT will always be committed to the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety of all who enter, a source of strength and comfort in a reeling world.

May God bless our country and may God bless all who work for a better tomorrow.

**

From Rabbi Zoe Klein:

When God offered King Solomon anything he wished in I Kings 3:9, King Solomon asked for one thing only: "Give me a listening heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?"

He didn't ask for might. He didn't ask for wealth. He didn't even ask for wisdom. He asked for a listening heart.

May the new Leader of the Free World be blessed with a listening heart. A heart that listens to the pain of a divided people. A heart that listens for commonalities. A heart that listens to those whose voices are tiny and soft. A heart that listens for the weeping at the margins. A heart that listens to the dreams of the poor, the hopes of the young, and the faint prayer of the dying. A heart that listens to the call of the earth and the haunting song of the sea. A heart that listens past language, dialects and differences to the very pulse of humanity. A heart that listens to the resounding message of history. A heart that listens to the spirits of our ancestors and the hum of the future. A heart that listens to you and listens to me and hears the mysterious harmonies that are hidden to us.

May we all be blessed with listening hearts, and step into tomorrow together with a commitment to hear one another. To receive each other's presence with hearts that are open and compassionate. With hearts that listen to one another's fears. With hearts that listen to one another's devotion. With hearts that listen to one another's achievements. With hearts that listen to one another's disappointments. With hearts that listen to one another's beauty. With hearts that listen to one another's goodness. With hearts that listen to one another's pride. Let us step into tomorrow with our hearts channeling Solomon's gift. With our hearts attuned to one another's precious and unique music, and learn to sing in harmony.

This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York Island. From the Red Wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. This land was made for you and me.

God let us wake with listening hearts, and let the circle of compassion widen enough to include the vast and diverse American family, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Bless us that we may bless each other.

Amen.

**

From Rabbi Stacy Friedman:

We will
Wake up tomorrow
And come together
We will work with all our hearts
And might
For the rights of all people
For decency
And respect for all people.
We will work tirelessly
So that people do not feel fear
We need to protect and surround
One another
With love
And honor the hope deep within our hearts.

**

And our prayer from the clergy of Temple Isaiah:

Our God and God of our ancestors,

In the midst of great changes, let us hold fast to the eternal ideals of our faith: to pursue justice, to welcome the stranger, to respect, include and value all peoples of our nation in its great diversity - women and men, immigrants, refugees, the disabled, Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of all faiths, the LGBT community, the under served and the unnoticed, the hungry and the homeless. Let us understand that our fates are intertwined as we shoulder our responsibility to galvanize the forces of good that are within us and within our country.
Today the Jewish community marks Kristallnacht, a night of destruction and terror rooted in hatred. Despite horrific losses, our people survived and we continue to focus on our traditions of morality, kindness and tikkun olam~repairing the world. We are called to this work today and every day.
In the Mishneh we read: "The task is not ours alone to complete. But neither are we free to walk away." With strength, not fear, we must live with integrity and hope, decrying injustice and reaching across divides to work for healing. May our Temple Isaiah community be, always, a sanctuary for all who seek knowledge and truth and an ever-thriving source of people who bring compassion and help to all those in need.
O God of Blessing, strengthen our hands and our hearts to do Your work.

Amen.
Rabbi Judy Shanks, Cantor Leigh Korn, Rabbi Alissa Miller, 
Rabbi Jay LeVine, and Rabbi Nicki Greninger

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why "JQuest" instead of "Religious School"?



There are many reasons we decided to change the name of our program, but perhaps the most important reason is that the term “Religious School” just doesn’t fit, as neither “religious” nor “school” is a good description of our program of Jewish education for kids at Temple Isaiah:

  • Jewish education works best when it doesn't look like, sound like, or feel like "school."  Yes, we have a curriculum and teachers, and yes, our goals include student learning and discovery.  However, that's where the similarities between "Jewish education" and "school" should end.  We do not teach subject matter for the sake of mastery of facts or progression from one grade to the next.  Rather, we are trying to develop identity, seeking to instill in our children a sense of commitment to and excitement about Jewish life and Jewish peoplehood.  Many studies have shown that the best forms of Jewish education (i.e. the ones that 'work' the best) are informal - Jewish camps, youth groups, trips to Israel, etc.  So the less our educational programs look like 'school,' the more successful they will be in trying to achieve our goals of building Jewish identity, connection, knowledge, enthusiasm, and commitment.

  • Jewish education is not necessarily (and certainly not always) "religious."  Judaism is a religion, but it is also a culture, a people, a way of life, a tradition, a community, a nation, a civilization, a sense of identity and a way of seeing and understanding the world.  Jewish education ought to help kids discover various entry points to Jewish life - to see themselves as part of the chain of tradition of the Jewish people, in whatever way that might be.  So when we call our program "religious," it can be misleading.  For some people, the religious aspect of Jewish life is essential, compelling, and meaningful.  For others, the term 'religious' is a turn-off and something to avoid.  We do talk about and learn about 'religious' things in Jewish education - we explore different connections to God, we study 'religious' texts, we experience prayer - but it is a misnomer to say that what we are doing is 'Religious School' in its entirety.

We changed many aspects of our education program in the last seven years, but we had not yet changed the name… so it is time!  Our parent committee (formerly known as the “Religious School Advisory Group”) spent many months working on the change.  We discussed the attributes of our program and the feelings we want the new name to evoke.  We researched the names of other synagogue-based Jewish education programs for kids, we brainstormed entirely new names, and we consulted with Temple Isaiah’s clergy.  In the end, we chose the name “JQuest” in order to capture the spirit of Jewish learning, discovery, community, and fun that our students and families experience in Temple Isaiah’s education program.  We hope all our families will embrace the new name and will find it preferable to talk about sending your kids to “JQuest” as opposed to “Religious School.”   Your child’s Jewish quest awaits!