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  • A Jewish Journey to Panama

    Posted on March 18th, 2013 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments
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    Jewish life in Panama

    American Teens in Panama

     

    Last month, I had the opportunity to lead the 11th-12th graders of my synagogue on a mission to Panama.  We had been learning about various Jewish communities across the globe all year as part of our post-confirmation class, and this would be our chance to experience Jewish life abroad firsthand.  The trip was designed to combine elements of Jewish learning with a few more “traditional” tourist experiences.  It was quite an endeavor to coordinate such a trip, but all the effort was well worth it.  This was a “once in a lifetime” kind of experience that enriched the lives of all who participated.

    After a red-eye flight to Panama from San Francisco (with a brief six hour layover in Las Vegas, where my students swear they saw Ryan Seacrest…), we were picked up at the airport and driven to our first destination – Congregation Kol Shearith Yisrael.  We spent a beautiful and inspiring Shabbat with this vibrant liberal Jewish community in Panama City. The congregation welcomed us with open arms, not to mention fed us very well!  Rabbi Gustavo Kraselnik and Ernesto Motta were kind enough to give us an overview of the history of the synagogue and Jewish life in Panama as we sat down to a delicious traditional Panamanian Shabbat dinner – rice and beans, sautéed beef, salads, and, let’s not forget some of the best tasting challah we ever had.

    Author Rabbi Joshua Lobel (center) Rabbi Gustavo Kraselnik (left) and Ernesto Motta (right)

    The services were so meaningful, even though not one word of English was spoken. The service was held in Hebrew and Spanish, but we were all able to follow along, particularly because the melodies were all familiar to us.  More than anything else, the Shabbat services at Kol Shearith Yisrael truly underscored the concept of amcha, of Jewish peoplehood, for my students; that wherever you go across the globe, you can find a synagogue and feel at home.

    Over the next couple of days, we took in a couple of the popular tourist attractions of Panama, including taking an educational cruise on the Panama Canal, visiting the Embera, a local indigenous Indian village, and strolling through Casco Antiguo, one of Panama’s oldest cities.  Each sight was more breathtaking than the next. But the last day of the trip would prove to be the highlight of the entire experience.

    An essential part of this voyage was an opportunity to engage in the sacred work of tikkun olam.  After searching for just the right project, we made arrangements with a local orphanage to come and paint their fence and make a donation to the children.   Now, when we agreed to this, I had imagined a plain, worn, wooden picket fence.  However, when we scouted out the location, we found a much bigger challenge in front of us – a huge metallic enclosure with hundreds of thin bars, some of which were rusty!  But we buckled down, bought all the necessary materials, and spent the entire day hard at work, sweating it out in 95 degree heat and humidity until we had succeeded in painting the fence a vibrant lime-green. As we were working, the toddlers of the orphanage were waving and calling to us from the windows, shouting encouragement in Spanish, driving us to work even harder. It was immensely gratifying to see the transformation of the façade of the orphanage.

    The service project also provided one of my favorite moments of the trip. As they painted the fence, the teens starting singing in order to pass the time.  In the beginning, they chose to sing different pop songs from artists you would expect – Justin Beiber, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and more.  But as they were painting, all of a sudden, a different melody rang out and my face broke into a wide grin.  Here in Panama, painting a fence, my teens were singing Mi Chamocha.  Oseh Shalom followed, then Shalom Rav, and Veshamru.  Something about this work resonated with them as young Jewish leaders. In their hearts, they knew they were performing an intrinsically Jewish task – creating, quite literally, a brighter world for the underprivileged children of Panama.   They weren’t only doing a nice thing. They were doing the Jewish thing!

    By any measure, this trip was a fantastic Jewish experience, one that our teens will never forget.  I encourage every synagogue to explore a mission to a community outside of the United States. In particular, there are congregations in Latin American and the Caribbean that long for a greater feeling of connectivity and relationship to synagogues in the U.S.  But believe me, the benefits for our teens are much greater.  During a standard vacation, we bring back souvenirs, little trinkets to remind us of our voyage.  But during a journey like this, our teens bring back something much more valuable – a stronger understanding of the concept of Jewish peoplehood, the satisfaction of having a lasting impact on a community, and, perhaps most importantly, a greater sense of their own Jewish identity.

    Rabbi Joshua Lobel is the associate rabbi at Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, California.

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  • Best Jewish Education Innovation Since Two Tablets

    Posted on March 12th, 2013 Ruth Abusch-Magder No comments
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    You know how it goes, you learn a great piece of Torah and want to share it.  Or maybe you have a big idea and you know just the mishna to exemplify it.  Sometimes it is as simple as the source of the words to a new song you want the choir to learn. But standing between our understanding and interest in the text and the people you want to reach is that ever so finicky tool of the trade, the study sheet.

    Sure the days of mimeographs and carbon copies are gone but even with Hebrew data bases and Hebrew language word processors the cutting and pasting, the margins, the fonts can all make one throw up their hands.

     

    But, NO MORE!!!

     

    There is a new kid on the block by the name of Sefaria, which is in my opinion the best thing since Moses brought us the tablet. Okay, an exaggeration for certain, but Sefaria is indeed a wonderful tool that every Jewish educator should be taking advantage of. Merging the best of what modern technology has to offer together with a well honed sense of what goes on when people study Jewish texts, they have created a site that allows users to create and share study sheets with ease. The texts are in Hebrew and in English. There are a few choices about how to lay out the material. You can see traditional commentaries or add your own annotations. And lickety split, you have a hand-out ready to go.

     

    Okay, true not every text is there and you may not love the translations that are available. But, there is a great deal available and in the best of open source ie. collaborative tradition, if you want to add or contribute, you are welcomed and encouraged to do so. It was co-founded by Brett Lockspeiser who has worked in tech including places such as Google and Joshua Foer an author of many books including Moonwalking with Einstein. The main team includes rabbis from across the spectrum like Rav Yehoshua Kahan and Rabbi Ellen Bernstein. But they need more of us to get involved. If you don’t want to translate or enter text, then make some sheets and share them. Help build the future of Jewish learning.

     

    And if you are the kind of person for whom learning a new tech tricks is hard, there are training videos and detailed instructions that lay things out pretty clearly.

     

    Try it. It really is pretty cool and mighty useful too.


     

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  • Jewish Jokes

    Posted on February 20th, 2013 Ruth Abusch-Magder 2 comments
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    Jews have long used humor to cope with difficulty. At Purim time the Jewish jokes are especially apt. Here are a few to get you started. We hope you will share some of  your favorites with us! Please post your offerings in the comments section below!

     

    Winning the Race

    Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion decided to field a rowing team. Unfortunately, they lose race after race. Even though they practice and practice for hours everyday, they never manage to come in any better than dead last.

    Finally, the team decides to send Morris Fishbein, its captain, to spy on Harvard, the perennial championship team.
    So Morris schlepps off to Cambridge and hides in the bushes next to the Charles River, where he carefully watches the Harvard team at its daily practices. After a week, Morris returns to HUC-JIR.
    “Well, I figured out their secret”, he announces.
    “What? Tell us! Tell us!” his teammates shout.
    “We should have only one guy yelling. The other eight should row.”
    -Paul Kipnes

    Purim Comes Calling

    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    Esther!

    Esther who?

    The Esther bunny!

     

    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    Vashti! Vashti who?

    Vashti dishes and I’ll give you a hamantaschen!

     

    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    Haman Haman who?

    Haman whatcha doing tomorrow, it’s Purim!

     

    Knock knock

    Who’s there?

    Orange!

    Orange who?

    Orange you glad it’s Purim?!

    -Phyllis Sommer

     

    So Long

    The difference between Jews and non Jews at a party? Non Jews leave without saying goodbye, Jews say goodbye and never leave. – Eric Siroka

    Channuka
    A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Chanukah cards.
    She says to the clerk “May I have 50 Chanukah stamps please.”

    “What denomination?” says the clerk.

    The woman says “Oy vey, my god, has it come to this? Okay, give me 6
    Orthodox, 12 Conservative and 32 Reform!”

    -Josh C. Perlman

    Out and About

    What does a waiter say to a table of Jewish women? “Is anything all right?” -David Young

     

    Sermon Survey

    I first heard from one of my favorite professors, Chanan Brichto, of very blessed memory: A congregant comes up to her rabbi at the Oneg Shabbat and says: “Rabbi that was the worst sermon I ever heard. You insulted our intelligence and rambled on and on.” A congregant who overheard then approaches the rabbi and says: “Oh don’t listen to her. She has no mind of her own! She just repeats what everyone else is saying.”               -Stephen Fuchs

     

    Moishe
    Moishe Goldberg was heading out of the Synagogue one day, and as
    always Rabbi Mendel was standing at
    the door, shaking hands as the congregation departed. The rabbi
    grabbed Moishe by the hand, pulled him aside and whispered these words
    at him: “You need to join the Army of God!”

    Moishe replied: “I’m already in the Army of God, Rabbi.”

    The rabbi questioned: “How come I don’t see you except for Rosh
    Hashanah and Yom Kippur?”

    Moishe whispered back: “I’m in the secret service.”

    -Josh C. Perlman

    It Is No Bother

    Once a rabbi was speaking and a baby started to cry. His embarrassed Mother hastened to remove him. The rabbi called out to her. “Please, you don’t need to take him out. He wasn’t bothering me.” The woman answered, “Rabbi I wasn’t taking him out because he was bothering you. I am taking him out because you were bothering him!” –Stephen Fuchs

    The Blessing Of Shabbat

     

    What do you get from bad chicken on Friday night? ……..

    Shabbat-ulism

    -Elisa Koppel

     

    Parking Spot

    Moishe is driving in NYC . He’s late for a meeting, he’s looking for a
    parking place, and can’t find one. In desperation, he turns towards
    heaven and says: “Lord, if you find me a parking place, I promise that
    I’ll follow all of your commandments and live my life as an exemplary
    Jew. ”

    Miraculously, a place opens up just in front of him.

    He turns his face up to heaven and says, “Never mind, I just found one!”

    -Josh C. Perlman

     

    Adam and Eve on the Bus

    A devoutly religious Israeli man is sitting on a bus when a scantily clad
    secular Israeli woman takes the seat next to him. Saying nothing, he reaches
    into his bag, pulls out an apple and places it in front of her.

    “What’s this?” asked the woman.

    The man replied, “In the Garden of Eden, after Eve ate the apple she had to
    wear clothes!”

    The next day, this scene repeated itself as the same woman took a seat next
    to the same man. This time it was her turn to pull an apple from her bag and
    place it in front of him.

    “What’s this?” asked the man.

    The woman replied, “In the Garden of Eden after Adam ate the apple, he had
    to work for a living!”

    -Rachel Gurevitz

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  • Valentines Day: Jews and the Un-Jewish

    Posted on February 14th, 2013 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment
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    “Valentines Day is not a Jewish holiday, which is why I did not buy you flowers…” croons Rabbi Joe Black in a song released just in time for the February celebration of love. I had to smile. I’ve heard this before. I grew up in a tight knit traditionalist Jewish community that eschewed the exchange of cards and sharing tokens of love at Valentines Day.

     

    It is true as the rabbis of my youth taught me and as Black reiterates, any holiday that has a Saint in its name is by no means a Jewish holiday.

    But at what point does the fact that a holiday started off as ‘not Jewish’ stop being a meaningful barrier for engaging in its celebration by Jews? In the United States, the land of sharing, borrowing, and commercialism there are many holidays that have moved beyond their historic meaning and simply become American. For example, the origins of holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day have been overtaken by colorful parades, green beer and and corn beef. Having become a national day of celebration, we can no longer assume that everyone wearing green for the holiday is Catholic or Irish.

     

    Even more extreme is the disconnect between Halloween and it’s saintly roots. According to that venerable source of all knowledge, Wikipedia,

    Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows (or All Saints) and the day initiating the triduum of Hallowmas.

     

    Of course very few, if any, of the myriad of people who decorate their home, dress up, attend parties or go door to door in late October in the many communities I’ve lived in (with the exception of Munich, Germany in the heart of Catholic Bavaria) know any of this. And even if they do, it has been rendered meaningless by the gross commercialization that has us buying plastic pumpkin containers the moment we put away the summer shorts. Halloween has become an occasion for merriment, community and FUN.

     

    Even Jewish institutions have started to embrace the holiday. When Halloween coincided with Shabbat a few years back, many synagogues suggested that kids come in costume with some offering challot with orange and black sprinkles and others candy.

     

    Halloween may have started as part of a Saint’s Day but it has moved far beyond that meaning.

     

    And though Rabbi Black’s made me smile and resonated ever so strongly with my husband who like the good rabbi sees no point in paying extraordinary sums for a dozen roses, I know lots and lots of Jews are out there celebrating this day, buying flowers, chocolates, over priced dinners or pining away for a love that is sadly absent.

     

    The dismissal of a holiday just because it is not Jewish does not take into account the ways in which Jewish have integrated into American society nor the ways in which America has changed the original meaning of those holidays. Nor is this shift limited to the United States. This morning I gave my kids heart shaped boxes of Elite chocolates I picked up in Israel and just got a notice from El Al asking me how I’m celebrating Valentines Day. In a recent conversation  with a group of rabbis at CLAL’s Rabbis Without Borders retreat raised the question of whether Christmas could ever become so secular as to overwhelmingly loose its Christian meaning. I’m not willing to go that far -though I’m sure others will be glad to argue with me- but even if we never get that far, let’s recognize that something need not be Jewish to be meaningful to Jews.

     

     

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  • Building Your Own Ketubah

    Posted on December 5th, 2012 Special Contributor 1 comment
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    A Modern Ketubah

    At Congregation Beth Adam and OurJewishCommunity.org (our bricks-and-mortar synagogue in Cincinnati and our global online synagogue), for more than 30 years we’ve been writing new liturgy reflecting our values as modern Jews.  As a community, Beth Adam’s members have invested energy and resources in publishing services that speak to a contemporary Jewish experience.  Our services give voice to a Judaism that celebrates personal autonomy, values diversity, and appreciates the evolving nature of Judaism; our liturgy has been core to defining our community’s uniqueness.

    Recognizing a need, a small group of Beth Adam’s members joined together to write a ketubah that would be consistent with our voice.  One of our congregational values states: we value acknowledgement of each congregant’s religious and spiritual journey supported through our unique liturgy.   Our goal has always been to say what we mean and mean what we say.

    For a ketubah, that meant challenging ourselves to think about the nature of modern marriages and how to speak about them in a poetic and meaningful way.  We sought to create a text which would give expression to Judaism’s ever-unfolding religious experience and promote humanistic values of intellectual honesty, open inquiry, and human responsibility.

    Rabbi Robert Barr

    Before setting out to write our own text, we learned about the past and how our ancestors approached their Judaism.  Dr. Samuel Greengus from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion came to Beth Adam and taught us about the traditional ketubah and its basic structure and legal aspects.  Not surprisingly, our congregants quickly noted that the traditional text is far from romantic or egalitarian – and that it is not meaningful to most people today.

    While certainly there are many options for modern ketubah texts available these days, we sought to create a ketubah that was more customizable.  Recognizing that “one-size-fits-all” doesn’t make sense when each relationship is unique, we decided to use a model similar to a Chinese food menu or the Build-A-Bear ® store – completely customizable.  We created a series of categories (love, marriage, home, family, and traditions) and then within each category provide multiple sentences that people can choose from for their ketubah.  That means that each ketubah is a reflection of each individual couple’s sentiments and vision for their marriage.  Creating the ketubah also provides a great way for engaged couples to reflect upon their relationship and to envision their hopes for the future.

    Of course, we also recognize the diversity of families – and it goes without saying that we created a document that works for every kind of partnership, whether straight or gay, interfaith or Jewish-Jewish.  We also provided options for couples who already have children and want to acknowledge and celebrate the blending of their families.  The texts work well for first or subsequent marriages.  We think our ketubot are a perfect fit for many unaffiliated Jews, Reform Jews, secular Jews, humanistic Jews, and interfaith couples looking to capture their most important feelings on their wedding days.

    Author: Rabbi Laura Baum

    For example, in the section on family, interfaith couples may include this sentiment: “We hope to welcome children into our family and will raise them with kindness and patience, creating a family that reflects the best of our individual traditions.”  Families with step-children may include: “We are patient and kind to each other and each other’s children.”  And others may choose not to mention children in their ketubah: “We are creating a family that embodies our shared values of compassion, respect, and individual responsibility.”

    Beyond personalizing the text, couples can choose from several artistic looks and can select to include a biblical phrase as a decorative element.  All of the choices are made available to people at our new website.

    As rabbis, it is amazing to be part of a community that has created a liturgy in which we say what we mean and mean what we say.   It is exciting that from here in Cincinnati, we are helping people around the world give voice to their dreams for their future together.  Our ancestors created services and documents that reflected their beliefs and the world in which they lived.  We have that same opportunity and responsibility today.  We are thrilled that through the Internet, we can now share these texts with those outside the walls of Beth Adam – providing others with a chance to give expression to their unique Jewish journey.

    Authors Rabbi Robert Barr and Rabbi Laura Baum serve both Congregation Beth Adam and OurJewishCommunity.org.

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  • A Modest Proposal for the Olympics

    Posted on July 17th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder 4 comments
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    by Ruth Abusch-Magder

    Israeli Olympic team 2012

    I’m a sucker for the Olympics. True, it is a whole lot of expense that might be better spent, but even as a die hard non-sports fan, I find the pomp and ceremony, the exertion and accomplishment exciting. And the part I love best, without question, is the is the parade of countries. The costumes, the flags and the excitement of each country draws me in as I think about how hard each of these people worked to get to this day. As a Canadian who lives in the US, I root for my two “home” teams (okay I will always be biased towards Canada) And as a Jew, I am always particularly proud of the Israeli team.

    But like many, I’m feeling more than a bit ambivalent about celebrating this year.

    This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic games and the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre, which saw the cold blooded murder of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches by Palestinian terrorists. On the 5th of September 1972, Palestinian terrorist broke into the poorly guarded Olympic village immediately killing two and taking 9 hostages. Attempts to rescue the hostages failed and all those taken were all murdered.

    The Olympic games have come to represent the ability of the world to come together. They are a rare moment of peaceful competition rather than the wars that we are used to. The Munich Massacre is clearly the something that the International Olympic Committee would like us to forget. They have reject all appeals to remember the athletes and coaches who were murdered on their watch 40 years ago.  Each of the murdered Israeli men came to the Olympics with the highest hopes and with the ideals of the Olympic committee. Not only were they betrayed by the very organization for which they labored hard at the time, but their memories are being erased by the lack of memorial.

    Israeli Olympic Team 1972

    Each of these men did not live to see their Olympic dreams fulfilled, to embrace the message of peace and brotherhood. They died before Jodoka Yael Arad was able to win Israel’s first medal and surfer Gal Fridman won Israel’s first gold. On a personal level they did not live to see their families flourish, to know old age. They will not among those who are cheering as the Israeli delegation enter London’s Olympic stadium. And most who are there, marching, watching or watching at home will not even know the story of these men.

    So next week, as you watch the Olympics and all the pageantry of opening, (live or taped after Shabbat) I hope you will join me, in turning off your television for two minutes when the leaders of the International Olympic Committee and the London organizers take the stage, and instead turn your attention to the memory of those who died 40 years ago.

     

    Those who died:

     

     

    Moshe Weinberg

    Yossef Ramano

    Ze’ev Friedman

    David Berger

    Yakov Springer

    Eliezer Halfin

    Yossef Gutfreund

    Kehat Shorr

    Mark Slavin

    Andre Spitzer

    Amitzur Shapira

     

    May their memories be for a blessing.

     

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  • What’s in a Relationship? Some Summer Must Reads

    Posted on June 4th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment
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    Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE has some wonderful suggestions for summer reading to strengthen and better understand how we connect with those around us. – ed. Ruth Abusch-Magder

    Summer is here! It’s that time of year we send our children and congregants off to summer camp or pack our own bags to spend time on faculty at one of our URJ summer camps.  The summer camp experience is one in which – young or old – we have the potential to build deep and lasting relationships with peers and mentors.  Much like our youth, I find myself counting the days till our return to URJ Camp Newman, an invaluable time for connection, reflection and fun with dear friends and colleagues.

     

    “Relationships” is a buzzword in the Jewish world right now. We are asking questions. How do we build relationships?  What does a community founded on deep relationships look like? What role do relationships play in strengthening one’s connection to Judaism?

    Author Rabbi Laura Novak Winer RJE

    The quintessential Jewish model of a meaningful, one could even say sacred, relationship is Martin Buber’s model of the “I-Thou” relationship, when we accept another person for who s/he is. We see the person as a whole being.  Buber differentiates this from the “I-It” relationship in which we perceive another person as an object to be either manipulated or used for our own self-gratification.

     

    There are a growing number of books that address these questions about relationships.  In recent months I have expanded my Kindle and paper libraries with variety of disciplinary approaches to these questions about relationships. So, in between other more causal summer reads, I might suggest you dip into some of these as well:

     

    • Community: The Structure of Belonging (Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008) – A look at what it takes to build a community in which people feel a sense of ownership and investment in its well-being.
    • The Courage to Teach (Parker Palmer, Jossey-Bass, 1998) – From the educator’s perspective, a challenge to look inward and realize what we bring to our relationships with our students and constituents.
    • MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend (Rachel Bertsche, Ballantine Books, 2011) – A humorous look at what it means to be a “best friend” and how we build friendships.
    • Never Eat Alone – And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (Keith Ferrazzi. Doubleday, 2005) – From the ultimate business schmoozer-networker-connector perspective, this book provides insight into how we can use relationships to create win-win situations for everyone.
    • Relationships Unfiltered (Andrew Root, Zondervan, 2009) – A Christian youth ministry book about how we create authentic relationships with our youth in a religious/spiritual context

     

     

    Each of these authors addresses the same question: What are we trying to accomplish, if anything, in our relationships?  Whether it is our own relationships or those we are trying to help our youth and congregants build, we need to be sure we are clear on our answer to this question.

     

    Often times, as seen in “I-It” relationships, we are trying to influence someone to act, believe, or behave, as we would like them to.  Come to this youth group event.  Go to religious school. Do this mitzvah. Why? Because everyone else is going. Because I said so. Because it’s our tradition. Rather than a goal of influence, Andrew Root shifts the paradigm back to Buber, suggesting that our relationships should be based on the goal of simply being present.  In a true “I-Thou” relationship, we are present with each other, to see each other for who we are, accept each other for who we are, support and accompany each other on our journeys.  Root writes, “the fullness of a person (her dreams, joys, pains, fears)” should be more important to us than “her ability to know, admit, believe, and commit.”

     

    In an almost opposite approach, Keith Ferrazzi, a marketing and sales consultant, teaches that “relationships are like muscles – the more you work them, the stronger they become.”  Much of his self-help approach to success through networking focuses how relationships can open doors, create opportunities, and lead to greater influence on others. He takes the position that people are loyal to their peers, their networks and those with whom they have relationships.  It makes me wonder, though, how could we do a better job of building relationships in our communities so that we build stronger more lasting allegiances and connections to Reform Judaism and Jewish community?

     

    Parker Palmer, from his Quaker background, reminds us that relationships have a sacred quality to them. That which makes the Jewish relationship sacred is the presence of God, Torah and Judaism.  When we build Jewish relationships of meaning, Judaism and all that is part of it, is in the middle.  Palmer reminds us of verses from Robert Frost: “We dance round a ring and suppose,/ But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” In response to this couplet, Palmer invites us to consider that when we bring that Secret – in our case Judaism – into the center of our relationships, we can have conversations with Judaism and with each other that helps us each find meaning and answers that bring us wholeness.

     

    My family and I will be back at URJ Camp Newman in just days.  While there with friends and colleagues, while interacting with young Jews eager to learn, grow and connect, I will carry the challenge of strengthening our relationship with each other.  While sometimes we might be circled around a campfire, a guitar and a siddur, or a bottle of Napa Valley p’ri hagafen, each moment will be made sacred with God’s presence.

     

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  • A Mother’s Day Tribute to Mothers and Jewish Values

    Posted on May 8th, 2012 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment
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    Sara Goren with her granddaughter, Seth's daughter

    Jewish mothers often get a bad rap. Comedians, movies, books portray Jewish moms as the biggest impediment to the development of healthy Jews. Yet, when I started to ask around, there are lots of us out there who see our mothers -Jewish or not- as essential to our growth into the proud Jews we are today. What follows are three moving tributes to three wonderful moms.

    We would love to hear more, feel free to share your comments on what values or teaching that you learned from your mom and how they made you into the person you are today.  -Ruth Abusch-Magder, editor

     

    Lessons from Estelle

    One of the biggest lessons I learned from my mother, Estelle or Essie as every one called her, was really a lesson in feminism although she wouldn’t characterize it that way, but it really was.  My Mom had me later in life.  She was already in her forties.  My older sister was in college and she felt her child bearing days was over.  She grew up in an era before the Great Depression and got married soon after high school.  She worked as bookkeeper from the age of 16 out of necessity not having the luxury of a college education.  Even after she married, she worked in the family business, was active in the life of the community, as Hadassah president, Sisterhood president, temple fundraiser and took care of her parents as well. She raised my sister and ran a household.

    Bernie and Estelle Eger 50th Anniversary

    She was active in National Council of Jewish Women and so she taught me by example to be involved Jewishly.  But my mom would also say to me, “Don’t be any man’s schmatta.”  By that she was trying to tell me to be my own person.  Go to School. Find a career. Be self supporting.  It wasn’t a dig at men or marriage (My parents were happily married 58 years until my father’s death!).  But it was her way of conveying the importance of being your own independent woman!  And she taught me well. I was the first to graduate college in my family and then of course to go on to seminary and the blessings of a Rabbinic calling!  I am no one’s shmatta today. I am my own person and I treasure my mom’s advice and encouragement to grow and learn and embrace the world. –Denise Eger

     

    Learning to be a “mom”

    I came out to my mother as gay when I was 27.  While I’d like to say that this particular step out of the closet took superhuman levels of courage on my parts, that’s not exactly (or even remotely) true.  More accurately, my comfort sharing who I am flowed from many of my mother’s attributes; because of her nurturing love, her subtle kindness and her perseverance in the face of challenge,  it was far more natural to share than to withhold.

    Getting older, I find that I, too, carry these qualities that allowed me to be open with my mother.  They enable and strengthen my rabbinical life, from pastoral conversations to community building.  For this reason, perhaps my mother’s greatest ability was how she was able to mold me into the kind of person she is.

    About a year ago, I became a father to a daughter.  Since then, I’ve been struck by how many people have asked me, “Since you’re a single man, how are you going to make sure she has good female role models?”  I suppress my urge to give a snarky response, smile politely and say, “I think we have that covered.”   -Seth Goren

     

    What I Learned From My Mom

     

    One of the most important things I learned from my mom was to tune into and value feelings.  My mom would always say to me,  “Don’t keep it in, it will fester.”  Even though I didn’t know what “fester” meant, I understood by her statement that she not only saw me, but felt me.  I was always a little surprised that she was aware, often before I was, that I was hurt or concerned about something.  (She’d also say “mother’s always know…”) She intuitively knew that experience was layered and that there was more going on than what appeared on the surface. She taught me pay attention to what lies below. This skill has profoundly influenced

    Marlene Berkson Kornick -Jill's Mother

    my work as a rabbi.  I’m not afraid of feelings and teach that becoming aware is a first step toward wisdom and change.  Also, this was probably why my love and enthusiasm for Torah study has been so deep. I teach that the surface layer is only one part of reality and by delving deeper into the nuances and multiple meanings of the text, we can learn more and more about our own souls. –Jill Zimmerman

     

     

     

     

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  • Jews and the Original World Wide Web

    Posted on May 13th, 2009 Ruth Abusch-Magder 3 comments
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    Martin Kace

    Martin Kace recently spoke on “The Jewish World Wide Web from Antiquity to Today,” and proposed the idea that the Jews originated the concept of the World Wide Web; I was intrigued. Kace’s background is in psychology and visual arts and his company Empax is a non-profit that advises non-profits about branding and web use. He has worked with politicians like Al Gore and Shimon Peres as they developed their virtual presence to further their agendas as well as with organizations such as Matan to create logos and brands.

    His thesis, derived from the work of Gidi Grinstein, the founder of Reut, posits that the Jews are the original world wide network. According to Kace, the ancient dispersions of the Jews created a web of connections and interconnection across communities and replicated practice across regions. In Jewish communities across the world, similar practises and beliefs, calendars and modalities could be found and one could move from region to region with some familiarity. Moreover, the shift from Temple worship to Yavneh and kallot meant a shift in power from a top down model location specific model to a knowledge based system independent of location or status. People still came together to share knowledge, inevitable given the technological limitations, but the currency of power had shifted from a few limited individuals to a more diverse and spread out group.

    Jews in the Russain Pale of Settlement circa 1800

    Jews in the Russain Pale of Settlement circa 1800

    By the 1800s, Jews are living in all parts of the inhabitable world (his words not mine and here I would quibble). Living in many distinct types of communities they share visual motifs and models of worship. According to Kace, Jews made synagogues their centers because they became assimilated, once again adopting the non-Jewish model of place being the key element in organizing community. Read the rest of this entry »

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