Cross-Cultural Reality

Just about this time last year, I began reading a newly-published book by our Temple Shalom member, Andy Molinsky, who is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Brandeis University’s International Business School, with a joint appointment in the Department of Psychology. Andy has been an active player in many of our re-visioning projects around Temple and I was thrilled for him when his book was published last year. I was even more delighted when he presented me with a signed copy of his book, which I promised I would read during the summer. And I did!

In his book, Global Dexterity, Andy tackles the question of how we can be more successful in living and working in what I equate with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s notion that we live and work in “a flattened world.” We move in and out of different cultures and as well as their accompanying values systems and behavioral norms. Andy claims, and masterfully illustrates, how we can be more successful as we make these moves by developing what he calls “global dexterity.” He defines global dexterity as “the ability to adapt or shift behavior in light of . . . cultural differences.” As Andy notes, “That’s something that’s often easier said than done.”

I have found myself thinking back to Andy’s concept of “global dexterity” and his book quite often during these past weeks while I have living and studying in Israel. Since 1976, when I first visited Israel I have been here more times than I can remember, and for varying lengths of time. Thinking back to that first visit, which was an academic year on a kibbutz, I now realize that really could have used Andy’s book back then. But the concept was not yet around, and I doubt it would have meant much to me as a college junior.

Since my arrival in Israel on June 27th, I have been a part of the unfolding drama that is life in this region during these tense and challenging weeks. In years past, I have been in Israel during numerous high-points as well as at challenging moments, which I won’t recount now. This trip has been different. Past visits have included some military activity, and even some anxious moments due to suspected terrorist activity or the threat of bombings. This time I have joined Israelis in the midst of the ever-widening conflict between Israel and Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the various other groups who have as their common goal the destruction of the State of Israel. Like others, I have curtailed to some degree where I go. Like others I have been glued to the news, be it television, radio or via the Internet. Like others I have scrambled at the sound of a tzeva adom, a “Red Alert” which tells Israelis they have between 15 and 90 seconds to get to secure room or shelter. In the past two weeks (depending on where you are and where the factions in Gaza aim) this can be a recurring event several times an hour or throughout the day; or as has been the case where I am in Jerusalem, an occasional episode.

Machane Yehuda Friday, June 11, 2014

Machane Yehuda
Friday, June 11, 2014

These are not normal times. Yet, even with the “Red Alerts” there is a sort of normalcy to the pattern of life as Israelis go about their business. Restaurants, which are always full at this peak tourist season, sit empty in the evenings. My friends and I are sometimes the only ones dining in one restaurant or another. The Ben Yehuda Street Pedestrian mall, which at this time of year would normally be bustling is relatively quiet. Machane Yehuda, the Jewish market in the center of town is often desolate. I’m usually there on Friday afternoons to buy food for Shabbat and the week to come. This past Friday, in the early afternoon, when the crowds often peak and gridlock is reality, it would have been possible to run through alleys and paths of the market which was quiet. The relatively new Mamilla Mall, near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City has, in my experience, always been filled in the evenings with the crowd a blend of tourists, Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. The two most crowded times at Mamilla are Thursday night and post-Shabbat. Both were very quiet this past week. And as I looked, I realized there was not a single Israeli Arab in sight. Amidst the daily struggle for normalcy in a time that is not normal, it’s been a bit surreal over this past week since the IDF began responding to the missiles being fired from Gaza. I’m not going to delve into the politics and the powerfully charged questions of settlements, borders, occupation and the like right now. That I’ll save for another time.

Right now, I sit in a friend’s apartment. We watch and listen to the news; we constantly read a wide spectrum of news sources on the Internet; and we monitor the “Red Alert”

Red Alert app

Red Alert app

app to keep up with what’s going on. Each morning my friend  Rabbi Jacob Herber and I plot the day’s activities. Over the past week I have found that my mind keeps returning to Global Dexterity.

Yesterday we awoke to the news of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire which Israel’s Security Cabinet accepted. The news suggested that a response would be forthcoming from Hamas and the other groups in the Gaza Strip later in the day. Reflected back on it last night, it was clear to Israel’s leaders, her population, and any one (including me) who was paying attention, that the answer came in the form of even more intense missiles flying out of Gaza towards various parts of Israel, from north of Haifa to the southern communities.

Israel’s IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) issued warnings to the residents of the communities in northern Gaza Strip to evacuate towards shelters and school in the more southern part of the Strip. One such warning, issued late last night read: “For your own safety, you are requested to vacate from your residence immediately and head towards Gaza City by Wednesday morning, July 16, 2014, at 08:00 AM. The IDF does not want to harm you, and your families. The evacuation is for your own safety. You should not return to the premises until further notice. Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families.”

I awoke this morning to reports of a call issued by the Hamas Interior Ministry calling on Gaza Strip residents to not evacuate from their homes as requested by the IDF. “There is no place for concern or for cooperation with the evacuation notices; they are part of a psychological warfare,” said the ministry’s announcement.

This brings me back to Global Dexterity. Sometimes we are faced with a reality that we do not wish to adopt or adapt to, because it runs counter to our values.  For me, this has been an important part of my experience on this visit. It leads me to confront what I will call cross-cultural reality. When I arrived in Israel, the three Israeli boys were still “missing.” Israelis were gathering in prayer vigils and trying to maintain a sense of hope. In the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip, Palestinians were jubilant and thrilled, calling for more kidnappings. The night that Gilad, Eyal and Naftali’s bodies were found, Israel went into a collective state of mourning. Yes, there were calls for revenge, but they were not the main sentiment across the State. Shortly thereafter we were met with the news of the abduction and brutal murder of 16-year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. As is understandable, the Palestinian community was outraged. Most Israelis were horrified and as a nation, the abduction and murder were condemned. There was a sense of national shame as the cry, “This is not representative of Jewish values or what our State stands for.” Yes, there were Jewish voices celebrating, but I can tell you they were few in number. The Israeli police quickly apprehended the suspects believed to have murder the 16-year old Palestinian boy. They confessed to the crime and they now await trial. The Palestinian Authority did lend a level of cooperation with Israeli authorities in regard to finding those response for the deaths of the three Israeli boys. The suspects are still at large and the calls for further kidnappings continue.

When I couple the responses to these heinous crimes on both sides of the divide in this region, with the contradictory approaches of the IDF, who warn civilians in Gaza to get out of harm’s way, and the calls from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other militant groups, I realize that we are once again being reminded that there are opposite sets of values at play in this conflict. We can debate the reasons for the conflict (and I am confident that we will.) But now is not the time for that debate. Now is the time to support Israel, and our brothers and sisters, who are truly being subjected to psychological and physical warfare. I agree that the Palestinians in Gaza are being subjected to psychological warfare. But I believe that the lion’s share of that comes at the hands of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other groups which use that population as human shields against military actions. “How can they do that?” we might ask. They can do it because their cultural reality and norms celebrate death, even if it is the death of brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers who are lauded as martyrs. I am not suggesting, nor do I believe this is an Islamic cultural norm. This is the worldview and philosophy of those Muslims who twist and distort Islamic teachings so that they celebrate martyrdom and death rather than working to preserve life. Why are there almost no bomb shelters in Gaza into which Gazans might flee as do their counterparts in Israel? Because Hamas and its allies have taken whatever money comes to support those living in Gaza and used it to build tunnels for smuggling resources with which to build bombs so they can continue to reign terror down upon the heads of Israelis.

One irony, among the many I have noted in these past few weeks, is that the sirens have blared in not a few Arab-Israeli villages in recent days. Hamas, et al, don’t care where their missiles go. If they harm Israeli Jews, they’ll celebrate. If they harm fellow Muslims who live in Israel, or in the communities on the West Bank, they’ll celebrate their deaths too, for they are martyrs in the cause.

The cross cultural reality has never hit home quite so starkly for me. Perhaps it is because for the time being, I am no different that the Israelis living in the next apartment, the next building or on the next street. I walk the streets, making mental note of where I might go in the case of a “Red Alert.” This is no heroism, and it’s not hyperbolic. As I wrote last week, the first alert I heard found me walking on a street where there was no place to go save for a nook between two brick walls. Then it was a gut reaction. Now the thought process has settled in as a part of everyday reality. Mind you, I feel completely safe here, especially in Jerusalem, which has been the target relatively few times compared to other places in Israel. I was supposed to spend four days in Tel Aviv including this past Shabbat. I would have felt safe there too, but

With Louis Stein and Anna Kim at Kibbutz Tzuba

With Louis Stein and Anna Kim at Kibbutz Tzuba

elected not to go for the peace of mind of my loved ones at home. Rather, together with my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Howard Jaffe, from Temple Isaiah in Lexington, I went to Kibbutz Tzuba, a short drive from Jerusalem in the Judean Hills. There we welcomed Shabbat with four of the NFTY groups, including students from our respective congregations. I have also been in touch with our students who are on other programs in other parts of the country by phone.

Global Dexterity is an incredibly useful concept. After nearly 40 years of visits to Israel (as well as other places around the globe) it helps me learn how to appreciate and, where possible, fit in with the surrounding culture. I think that Andy Molinsky has made a great contribution to helping us live in today’s flattened and multi-cultural. My experience here in Israel during these past weeks has challenged me to balance the concept of global dexterity with the values I hold as a Jew, as an American and as a human being. I have learned over the past four decades how to live in Israel, how to sit with Jews, Christians, Muslims and others to learn together ands to discuss challenging differences among us. What I have also re-learned this trip is just how different the Jewish values that Israel strives to uphold and the set of values espoused by groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their comrades are. One celebrates and preserves life; the other celebrates death, even the death of a loved one. Again, l am not talking about all Muslims, nor all Palestinians. The reality is that many, perhaps most, Palestinians simply want to live their lives without fear of military attacks. They are not Zionists and their resentment and even hatred of Israel are real. But this current conflict has shown that many Palestinians do not support the values or tactics of Hamas.

There are serious problems which must be addressed in this corner of our globe. Israelis and Palestinians cannot maintain a status quo mindset as some might wish. Both peoples deserve to live their lives securely, to raise their children with hope for the future, and in peace. That day, I fear is a ways off. I continue to hope, as do my Israeli friends, that the current situation will be brought to a halt in the coming days. My even greater hope is that the leaders who need to work out a future that does not hold yet another replay of the current hostilities some time down the line will be bold, will have vision, and will embrace life, justice and peace. And I pray they will do it!

Israeli Adventures

By Louis Stein

We’re re-blogging this post, which originally appeared on the NFTY in Israel B’Yisrael Blog on July 14, 2014. Louis is currently on one of their trips. During the year, he and his family take part in the life of Temple Shalom. Louis is a leader in SHAFTY, our Temple Youth Group.

The week started off flying over to Israel after a long week in Eastern Europe. After seeing the dark days of Judaism, we finally see the triumph of the Jewish people, and it is incredible. Tel Aviv was so beautiful. We toured around the city briefly with a highlight of putting our feet in the Mediterranean Sea. After a night in Tel Aviv, we packed up and headed south to Eilat and the Negev Desert. A long day of travel was followed by a windy night sleeping on the rocky desert floor. The nex1t day was followed by hikes and a swim in the Red Sea where we got to snorkel and see the beautiful reef. Everyone had a nice relaxing time at the beach, which was much needed for the long hike up Har Shelomo (Mount Solomon) which was a struggle for many people. It was a long, rocky climb filled with sweat, blood and tears, but in the end it was absolutely worth it. The view looked over Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel and was incredible. The whole trip in the Negev was difficult, but bonded everyone together on a whole new level. We travelled the next day to Jerusalem for a well-deserved, relaxing Shabbat. The trip so far is incredible and worthwhile, and I love every minute of it.

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“Parenting without Panic” Launches!

We are thrilled to celebrate with Temple member, Brenda Dater, as she launches her new book, Parenting without Panic. This is something she’s been working on for some time, and it is meant to be a pocket support group for parents of children and teens on the Autism Spectrum. Brenda has worked to educate and support families in and around our community, and this book allows her wisdom to spread even farther. What a gift! RB2_1030-high_res

To learn more about what Brenda’s been up to, check out her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter, @BrendaDater. Also, click here to read a blog post that was written about her work.

At Temple Shalom, we’re committed to celebrating with each and every member of our congregational family as we reach major milestones in our lives. A book launch is a pretty big deal.

Mazel Tov & Yasher Koach, Brenda! 

 

Heavy Days, Heavier Nights

The mood deepens as the days go by. Each morning my apartment-mates and I sit at the breakfast table in our apartment, scouring news sources for the latest information from the hours during which we shut our eyes. Last week’s discovery of the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel plunged Israel into a deep collective sense of grief. Clearly in some corners that grief turned to calls for revenge. On the heels of the horrific news of the three Israeli boys’ deaths came word of the heinous kidnapping and brutal murder of a young 16-year Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive. It’s simply hard to absorb these rapid-fire events without feeling the weight of the events taking place just miles from where I spend my days and nights with 150 colleagues and educators studying our tradition’s teachings on War and Peace. What a bizarre irony that the texts we read in our study at the Hartman Institute are leaping off the page with each day’s news. I wish I could say that I was taken by surprise that Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were founded murdered by Palestinians, or that Mohammed’s death came at the hands of young Jewish fanatics. I’m sad, but I’m not surprised.

Four young men, four deaths, countless numbers of futures wasted and squashed out of hatred. I find it hard not to think of the story in Genesis chapter 4 where we read: “Cain said to his brother Abel . . . and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him. The Eternal One said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Then the Eternal One said, ‘What have you done? Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!’”

Indeed, the blood of all four boys cries out to us from this ground, held sacred by so many. But there is so much noise, yelling, screaming, wailing, arguing, and posturing that it’s no small wonder that the cries of their blood fall without reaching the ears of the leaders of Israel or the Palestinian communities. And now those sounds have been joined by the sound of wailing sirens and bomb blasts.

At the point at which I went to bed last night, over 40 missiles had been fired from Gaza in nearly an equal number of minutes. Hamas threatens to bring Israel “to the gates of hell” as Israeli leaders debate options ranging from re-taking the Gaza Strip to inflicting enough damage upon the Hamas arsenal so as to provide “a long period of quiet.”

Sitting with my apartment-mates (and my son, Aaron who visited with us) last night, watching the reports of the intensified launches of missiles from Gaza along with Israeli mobilization I remarked, “I fear we may awake tomorrow morning to the reality of a full-blown war.” Morning came and we realized that we are indeed there. Just before this morning’s study session a friend showed me that there is even an “app” (an “application”, that is) for your IPhone or IPad which notifies you when a Tzeva Adom, a “Code Red” alert is issued regarding the launching of a missile from Gaza towards one or another of Israel’s communities. Last night marked the first time since the Fall of 2012 that the alert was sounded in Beersheba.

The news of these alerts took me back to a trip to S’derot, on the border with Gaza about 4 or 5 years ago when I was present for an alert, during which we were told to crouch under our seats on the bus as there was no time to make it to the shelter a few steps away. Nothing happened that day. It certainly gave me pause to think about the compounded effect of these alerts over time upon the residents of those communities closest to the line of fire. At the same time, the protests I witnessed outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Saturday night during which I listened to Israeli Jews screaming “Death to the Arabs” left me speechless. As the deaths of the four boys who were buried in this land last week should have taught us, and as the Prime Minister and President of Israel have both stated in recent days, “There is no difference between Jewish blood and Arab blood.” Indeed, this is a core teaching of our Jewish tradition, which instructs us that each and every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, “in the image of God.” The most powerful image of this insane and violent week may well have been that of the relatives of Naftali Frankel and Mohammed Abu Khedir comforting one another by phone over their common sense of loss.

POSTSCRIPT: Walking home from our long day of studies at Hartman this evening, my friend Rabbi Jacob Herber and I were taken aback as we heard sirens wailing, alerting Jerusalem that a missile had been fired towards the capital. As we were walking along the street, we took shelter in a nook behind a brick wall. As the sirens continued their piercing sound we decided it was best to hurry the few blocks to our apartment. As we turned onto our street we heard the sound of Iron Dome, the anti-missile defense system provided to Israel by the United States, doing it’s work as we heard the sound of a missile exploding somewhere.

Entering our building we found neighbors crowded into the tiny shelter on our building’s first floor. We assured them that the sirens had ceased and that we had heard Iron Dome in action. Now we sit, like folks in what I imagine includes many Israeli homes, watching the news on television. As my friend, Rabbi David Thomas put it, “I don’t know if we will get much sleep tonight.” I know that as I have for many nights, tonight my head will hit the pillow with a prayer for peace.

As Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said at the beginning of his remarks this evening: Oseh shalom bimromav . . . Let us pray that the One who creates peace in the high places will cause peace to descend upon us, upon all Israel . . . and indeed, upon all humanity.” V’imru . . . Ameyn - let us pray, it will be realized soon.

At Day’s End – Tears, Silence and Mourning

Eyal, Gilad and Naftali z"l

Eyal, Gilad and Naftali z”l

Today was our first day of studies at this year’s Hartman Institute’s Rabbinic Torah Seminar devoted to the theme, A Time for War; A Time for Peace. A powerful day of learning ended in a disturbing climax with a crowd of 300 plus rabbis and lay leaders assembled in the courtyard for a lecture by Rabbi Donniel Hartman. Some of us had learned the news that the bodies of Eyal Yifrach,19; Gilad Shaar,16; and Naftali Frenkel,16 had been found just a few minutes after Rabbi Hartman began his talk. As usual, Donniel’s talk was inspiring. Yet, I confess that I found it difficult to focus. It was not because of his words, but rather because of the dark shroud I could feel descending on Israel and her people.

Our gathering closed with Rabbi Hartman announcing the news. Clearly most in the crowd did not yet know the news as a significant gasp rose from the crowd. That gasp gave way to sobs and silence. My teacher and colleague Rabbi Ed Feinstein stepped forward to recite the El Malei Rachamim, the memorial prayer, which he followed with us joining in singing Hatikvah. I was not prepared for the flood of tears that spontaneously fell from eyes.

Walking home to our apartment with my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Jacob Herber, we noted the absolute silence of the city. To me,  it felt quieter than Yom Kippur. Save for an occasional car, the reality of the collective sense of grief and mourning into which Israel has been plunged once more weighed heavily. Eerie was the first word that came to our minds.

At the end of a day learning about our tradition’s understandings of shalom with Rabbi Hartman, and an incisive analysis of the current realities from Tal Becker, this is a harsh coda to assimilate. As in nearly every other Israeli home, my apartment-mates and I are sitting and watching Israeli news, even as I write these words. As Israel does in times of crisis, there is a sense of unity in the sadness as reality sinks in. Only last night tens of thousands gathered with the families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali in Tel Aviv in a massive assembly to pray for the safe return of the boys.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, save for the funerals of three teenagers. I know it will bring quiet and tears. I know that there will be a collective heaviness in this complicated holy city and beyond. I’ve been here during other difficult times. I have been a part of this nation in both times of joy and bitter mourning.

I don’t know — I can’t even begin imagine what the days ahead will bring. While no one has claimed responsibility for the abduction of these three teenagers 18 days ago, Hamas has not concealed its delight concerning the abduction. I arrived in Israel just before Shabbat. Each day has brought an increase in missiles fired from Gaza into Israel. On Saturday night one missile hit a paint factory, resulting in huge explosions and fires. Thankfully it was Saturday night and the factory was empty. The missiles were launched by different factions in the Gaza Strip. Initially, it seemed that Hamas was not launching missiles. This morning the news came that Hamas had joined in firing missiles.

While other nations have been speaking out with messages of consolation for Israel and the families along with strong condemnations of the murder of the three teens, our American government has so far been reserved in its response. And our leaders are calling for restraint on the part of Israel.

I admit to being conflicted. I want to know why President Obama’s voice is absent at this time. I know that many will say “It’s about time you came to your senses.” I’m not responding politically at this moment. I am immersed with Israel in grief. But just Rabbi Ed Feinstein helped console us at the Institute a few hours ago, and just as messages have been heard from France, Great Britain and others, I note with great disappointment the absence of our President’s voice. That role has been left to spokespersons. Unacceptable!

Sitting here, I know that I don’t want to see another war erupt. At the same time, I know that terrorists cannot be left to believe that the lives of Jewish teenagers come cheaply. Just this afternoon my teacher Tal Becker told us, “I get my identity from my doubt. I am deeply passionate about ambivalence.” He was speaking about the reality that in the search for peace no one can claim certainty when it comes to answers and resolutions. His words struck me this afternoon, and now they are echoing in my ears and heart. Soon I will go to sleep. Even without this evening’s tragic news my head would be spinning from today’s intense learning. Now it will spin with the lessons given their exclamation point by the deaths of three teenagers. As the father of a 16 year old son, my heart breaks for the families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. After holding their breath for eighteen days (there is no irony lost on me in that number), they now face tomorrow gasping for breath. Tomorrow will be a day of funerals and torn garments. It will be a day of tears, shrieks, wailing and broken hearts. And the next day, who knows? I only know that we will return to our studies about War and Peace. And what of our tikvah, our hopes and our prayers for peace? Who knows?

Centuries ago a Psalmist wrote, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May all who love her prosper.” Those words are multivalent. So is Tal’s ambivalence — and my conflicted feelings. This much I do know – this is a very sad time — for three families in particular; for Israel as a nation; and unfortunately I expect it will become even sadder before light breaks through the darkness.

Gaining Jewish Knowledge, Building Community

by Leah Sawyer

When I moved to Boston last fall, I was looking for community in the 20s/30s age range.  I was told by several people to check out Hebrew College’s Eser Program. In Hebrew, eser means ten, for the ten weeks it ranges and the “Top 10″ topics discussed.  There were Eser groups meeting in homes located around Boston on different nights, and each was a guided discussion (moderated by a young rabbi in the same age range) on a Jewish topic (like Jews and tattoos, and gender and sexuality) - with the expectation that we would wander into non sequiturs and get to know each other along the way.  Our Thursday Newton group had just under 20 young people with a wide range of life experiences and a similarly wide range of knowledge of Judaism… and some amazing cooking abilities.  As someone with only a little background in Judaism, I learned a lot from both Rabbi Neil Hirsch and from the other folks in our group, and felt comfortable asking questions and sharing my own experiences.  Several times during the ten weeks, we met with other Eser groups in big combined events, so we could make connections outside our group.  Even though Eser is now officially over, we have a Shabbat barbeque planned. I am hoping to continue to make and deepen connections with people from my Eser cohort.  Eser is exactly what I was looking for, in searching for Jewish community in my age range in the Boston area.

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Finding My Place

by Lisa Berman

(Lisa first delivered this on May 29, 2014 as her address at the Mayyim Hayyim’s celebration, Ripple Effect. Lisa was honored that evening for her leadership at the mikveh.)

You know that woman who grew up, went to college nearby, got married, bought a house in her hometown, and still lives there? That woman had 100 friends at her Memorial Day barbeque last weekend. She has a sense of belonging to a place that defines her. I have never been that person.

I was a quirky wallflower in high school and a Yankee in a southern college. I am a Jew in a Protestant family, and a convert in a Jewish family. There is a part of me right now that is saying, “How did I get mixed up with a mikveh for Heaven’s sake? Do I really belong here?”

But, maybe it all actually started with the mikveh. Maybe it started in the mikveh.

The truth is, I did not have a good time in the mikveh when I converted. I was 22 years old and I arrived at the mikveh in the basement of the Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth, New Jersey without a clue about what a mikveh was or what you did in it. The mikveh lady spoke mostly Yiddish to me, and the black-hatted, white-bearded rabbis stood outside a louvered door that seemed to provide seriously insufficient privacy.

I used to say that what was most important was that I came out of the mikveh a Jew, but to be honest, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and I got the same impression from my Jewish friends who were with me. We definitely didn’t feel as if we belonged.

There were many challenges in my years as a single, unattached newly Jewish young woman. Rosh Hashanah services in basements of synagogues with piped-in sound from the sanctuary upstairs; long walks to shuls that offered inexpensive guest tickets, Yom Kippur break-fasts alone in my apartment. I invited myself to Seders with people I hardly knew. One year I went as the date of a not-yet-out-of-the-closet guy I worked with; boy, was his mom nice to me.

I think back on those experiences as a test of whether I was really meant to be Jewish, whether my Jewish soul, my neshama, was really present and strong. It turns out it was, but I needed help.

My biggest help came from my beshert, my husband Jeff. He was a disillusioned Jew seeking meaning in the question “why be Jewish?”  I was a Jew looking for someone to be Jewish with. We have created our own personal Judaism together, and watched our kids Sarah Ze’eva and David do the same.

And then there was Mayyim Hayyim. I had been Jewish for 23 years the day I attended the first mikveh guide information session. The building was still under construction but the fledgling education center was packed – and it seemed as if everyone was a social worker from Temple Beth Zion or Beth El Sudbury except me. Later that winter I attended the guide training, feeling a little lonely and very insecure about my Jewish knowledge.

But I was there the day we opened and the first two months were pretty wild. There were only two staff members – Programming Director Kathy Bloomfield and the office manager, Dori Berman (no relation). It was clear right away how important the mikveh guides were going to be, and it was thrilling. We learned how to work alongside the clergy during conversions. We learned how to hold the space for those who were emotionally fragile. We donned bathing suits to help brides afraid of the water, and sat on the steps to touch the water with toddlers. We made mistakes and learned how to fix them. We radiated in the glow of our guests’ contentment.

It was in those early days of guiding that I found the kol d’mamah dakah, the still, small voice inside me that I yearned to hear. I came to belong. I knew I was needed and I realize now how much I needed Mayyim Hayyim to anchor my place in the Jewish community. It provided amazing colleagues to learn with, opened the door to my love of teaching and my love of students. Mayyim Hayyim has given me a window through which to see the face of American Judaism and the opportunity to be of service — to guide, to teach, to shepherd, to hold, to care for, to enlighten, to learn from the thousands of people who have walked through our doors in the last ten years.

The Zionist writer Ahad Ha’am said, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” I would say, much more than I helped Mayyim Hayyim grow and flourish, Mayyim Hayyim has made me a Jew.  And, today, a very happy one.

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Telling Our Stories

This past Erev Shavuot, as part of our evening service, three members of our community shared their personal narratives with the congregation. The whole event was powerful. Adrienne Frechter, Lynda Schwartz, and Michael Epstein spoke about their lives in the Jewish community.

What the evening proved was that nothing is better than a good story. And, we had three of them.

You’re going to want to listen to these stories. They will move you. Take a listen or download the audio recording by clicking here.

We are grateful to Interfaith Connection, led by Susan Opdyke, for sponsoring and coordinating this program.

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Between Last Year and the Next

The writer Henry Ward Beecher once noted that “We should so live and labor in our time that what came to us as seed may go to the next generation as blossom, and what came to us as blossom may go to them as fruit. This is what we mean by progress.”

As Reform Jews, we know what it means to strive forward. The early Reformers made prayer and religious involvement relevant in the lives of those in their communities by evolving practices to be in line with their times. They introduced prayer in the vernacular, seeing that not everyone in the pews had a grasp of the Hebrew. They included women as members of the minyan. And they introduced the popular instruments of the time, beautifying the sacred music that was a part of the worship experience. As Leonard Fine entitled his study of Reform Judaism several decades ago, “Reform is a Verb…. The process of Reform is an ongoing, dynamic one, not a static process that has reformed and is finished becoming.”

With summer close by and with the anticipation of warm sun on our faces, we are looking back at this past year.  We see all that we have done as a community. This has been a year of evolution and reform for Temple Shalom, and it is quite remarkable.

This year was a year of change for the youth within our congregation. The year began with a celebration and the launch of MINCHA, our new 7th and 8th grade program. Each Tuesday throughout the year, our students have gathered together to build community with one another, and to learn and live the value of G’milut Chasadim, loving-kindness. Throughout the year, our students traveled to various organizations to volunteer and give back. When the students were here at the Temple, under the leadership of our Director of Youth Engagement, Ellie Goldman they were learning what it means to be a part of a sacred congregation, to be responsible to and for one another. With each week in MINCHA, we noticed a remarkable growing in how our young people treated one another. Respect and honor to one another were always present in a MINCHA session.

This coming year, we are looking forward to the launch of SHACHARIT, our new K-6 learning program, and MA’ARIV, our re-visioned High School initiative. Each, we hope, will be a new blossom in bloom for our congregation.

5774 was also a time to expand our horizons, and to better understand Jewish peoplehood and our own spiritual lives. 35 individuals within our congregation traveled to Cuba, to experience the Jewish community there. What they found was not only a beautiful country and fascinating chapter in the story of our Jewish people, but a reflection of our own story and a deeper understanding of our own Jewish journeys. 30 learners gathered this year to continue their studies through the Shalom Hartman Institute to explore the concept of the Tribes of Israel, and how they are still alive and well in Israeli and Diaspora life. 40 people tried out Shira Yoga–a new Shabbat yoga experience we piloted this Spring. With each of these different opportunities to engage in Jewish living, we found that we were enriched as a congregation, and we pray that each individual who participated experienced growth in themselves.

5774 will surely merge smoothly into 5775 with ongoing initiatives. Our Worship Task Force is hard at work examining how we worship and celebrate Shabbat and other sacred times together.  Shalom Y’all – our outreach efforts to 20s-30s has brought a growing number of young adults into relationship in and around Temple Shalom.  Bonim has expanded its Lunch With the Pros series, and our Sisterhood and Brotherhood continue to build community through a diverse range of activities. Our Family With Young Children Task Force has expanded our offerings and begun to reach out more broadly into the community around us.  Our Adult Learning Task Force is exploring new ways to draw more of us into the journey of Life-long Jewish Learning.  The coming year will see another Temple Shalom Trip to Israel in December and come next June, our first –ever Jewish Heritage Trip to Eastern Europe.  Put simply, this year, Temple Shalom has been a hub of activity.

On Kol Nidrei night, our President, Jo-Ann Suna, presented the new vision for our congregation. A team of leaders gathered this year to create and implement a new strategic plan for the congregation. The hope is to be personal, to be welcoming, to find new and different ways to engage in Jewish life.

As we look to 5775, we look forward to the evolutions and growth that is bound to happen on that front. The Jewish tradition has a concept of Shalshelet HaKabbalah, the sacred chain of transmission. We take Torah and pass it on to the next generation. In each generation, we determine how to make Torah for ourselves. We are in that process, and we are seeing that process take root. We have enjoyed seeing what has come from our evolutions and growth, and we cannot wait to see what blossoms next.

We wish you a relaxing and restorative summer.  We look forward to gathering to welcome not only the New Year, but one another as we continue to build on this year’s accomplishments and continue to go “from strength to strength.”

Sincrely,

Rabbi Eric Gurvis and Rabbi Neil Hirsch

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Ultimate Artistry

I like to think that God is an artist. The Ultimate Artist. After all, in the beginning, God creates.

For six days, God makes. On the seventh day, God rests. Six days a week, we go about our lives, taking care of the various tasks and duties at hand. On the seventh day, we are gifted a chance to be like God—to rest, as well.

Often, when I’m speaking with someone about being Shabbat observant, I get a response like, “Rabbi, I couldn’t do all that traditional stuff. It seems so restrictive.” Restrictive or freeing?, I always want to reply. We are busy being creative all week long, and Shabbat is an opportunity to stop to appreciate the art we’ve made.

When we look at the traditional prohibitions on Shabbat, we can see a single theme: The restrictions keep us from creating. In Mishnah Shabbat 7:2, our Sages outline 39 categories of activities that are prohibited on Shabbat. They include sifting flour, kneading dough, and dying wool, spinning thread, weaving fabric, and tying sistine-chapel-creation-of-adamup the loose ends. Each of the 39 actions is a creative act. Come sundown on Friday our rest is all about stopping creation for just a bit. We don’t make fire, we don’t write, and we don’t build.

When we stop creating on Shabbat, we do it for ourselves, those within our household, and even for our land. Our tradition takes Shabbat seriously, and places that obligation to break from the workweek even on the land, itself. Our tradition treats the land as a creative being. Out of the soil comes fruit and life that sustains and nurtures us. Gardeners know that overworking the soil will exhaust it. The soil demands a break. The grower is creative, and after hard work, needs rest. And the rest of us, creators in a variety of ways, are no different.

Within Shabbat lies the message of why we create—for the sake of appreciation. When else would we stop to marvel at Creation?

The Ultimate Artist rests on Shabbat to look at the masterpiece that emerges out of a 6-day creative binge. On the seventh day, God takes a step back from the canvas to see what the entire painting looks like. We artists—to be at our best—need to do the same.

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