Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Newtown Tragedy: How to Transform the Pain into Meaningful Action

Written by Rabbi Mark H. Levine and David E. Behrman

Noah Pozner, age 6, is being eulogized and buried as we write this.  Along with 19 of his 1st and 2nd grade classmates, and six of his teachers.

It’s an abomination.  Perhaps beyond imagining, but we don’t need to imagine, because the news is in our faces and on our minds every moment of every day, especially when we see our children.  And we need to know how to address it—for ourselves and for our children.

After every natural disaster or national tragedy, educators publish advice for parents on talking to children about the catastrophe. Since our careers in Jewish education began, we’ve written dozens of these lessons, including—to name only a few—activities about the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the wave of suicide bombings that accompanied the Palestinian Intifadas, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9-11, the Iraq War, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora. This week, Jewish educators need to advise parents on how to address the mass murders in Newtown CT with their children.

The advice we can offer is horrifically timeless, even as each of these horrible events is unique:
  1. Limit your children’s exposure to media coverage.
  2. Deal with your own feelings first; your children are expert readers of your emotions and they will intuitively know how you feel.
  3. Reassure children that they are safe and protected.
  4. Use open-ended questions to ask about your children’s thoughts and fears.
  5. Keep your answers truthful and simple .
  6. Directly answer only the questions your children ask, and invite them to inquire about issues that worry them, but don’t bring up issues they aren’t prepared to hear.
  7. Demonstrate by your actions that life goes on.
Writing parenting articles is necessary, but in the wake of the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School, advice to parents is not enough. Jewish educators have an obligation to help students transform the pain they feel into something productive. In his classic book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner explains that pain is part of living; it’s the price we pay for being human. When we understand that, he writes, we will no longer be consumed with wondering why we suffer pain. Instead, we’ll ask how to transform our pain into something meaningful.

After Friday’s tragedy, an important lesson we must provide our children is Rabbi Kushner’s teaching that we cannot control the forces that cause our suffering, but “we can have a lot to say about what the suffering does to us, and what sort of people we become because of it.” Pain will make some people bitter, but it will make others sensitive and compassionate. “It is the result, not the cause, of pain,” writes Kushner, “that makes some experiences of pain meaningful and others empty and destructive.”

So let’s write lessons that help our students deal with the shock of recent events, and let’s go on from there. Let’s give young Jews the tools of our tradition that can enable them to transform their pain into something productive. Deuteronomy 19:16 is such a tool: “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is shed,” the Torah commands. Let every Jewish educator teach this moral imperative during the next several weeks. Let students explore its relevance to the national debate in this country over how to stop gun violence. Let us create a national movement of Jewish students to explore the issues, including the effectiveness of reinstating the automatic weapons ban, restricting the right to carry concealed weapons, outlawing “cop-killer” bullets, and many other measures.  Let us also consider the effectiveness of mental health and other measures to prevent sociopaths from obtaining weapons that society might otherwise allow.  And in the Jewish dialectic tradition, let us teach them to understand both sides of what will hopefully be an intense national debate so that that they can effectively advocate for themselves.   Doing so will improve our society and will also help equip our students with a lifelong appreciation for Judaism, its ability to provide meaning to their lives, and its ability to help them improve the world around them.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Power of Prayer – Helping Children through Anxiety and Stress

Our hearts go out to the families and community of the recent massacre in Newtown, Ct.  I wanted to share with you a blog from InterFaithFamily, a website In enjoy reading.  Perhaps this might help you help your children cope.  -- Morah Judy

I couldn’t stop thinking about Connecticut, the 26 people killed, 20 of whom were children. My children are in elementary school. I was scared to tell them because I was afraid they’d never want to go to school, but with media everywhere and emotions so raw, they found out about the tragedy. I struggle with what to tell them. I struggle with letting them leave the house. I want them to go out into the world without fear. I worry that they won’t want to go to school and that they won’t want to go to sleep.

Several years ago, my second son, Sam, was scared and having trouble sleeping. When Sam used to fear monsters, I could calm his fear with helping him control his imagination. But this time the fear was real. My older son, Rob, had nearly been hit by a car while his brother was two steps away. Rob walked into the street as a car came around the corner and he walked into the side of a moving car and bounced back onto the sidewalk. Fortunately, Rob was fine physically, but emotionally, we were all affected. Sam saw it happen and became anxious all the time. The school noticed the problem too. I spoke with the school psychologist and she suggested prayer. My inner agnostic didn’t take her seriously at first, but I quickly realized that this idea had some merit. My kids already knew the Jewish bedtime prayer, the Shema. Religious Jews say it several times a day but at night, it seems to have special meaning. The translation is “Hear o Israel, The Lord our G-d, the Lord is one.” I explained to my kids that we should say this prayer together every night. It is our way of letting go of the fear and stress we have and having some faith that G-d will take care of us. As a parent, I noticed that the kids immediately relaxed and were able to get some sleep.

After the incident in Connecticut, I began to think more about prayer. I thought about the concept of saying a prayer before we eat — Hamotzi. We eat all the time, why should we take a second to say thanks? Today I realized that the act of prayer makes us realize that we can’t take the simple things for granted – like our kids will be safe when they are at school. We should say thank you for what we have. The agnostic voice in my head says that if there is a supreme being, he doesn’t have time to listen to my prayer for the food that we eat. I now realize that prayer isn’t just for G-d. Prayer is for us; to save our sanity in an insane world, to give us a moment of calm and appreciation of the good things. I feel that if we have the balance of appreciation, we can ride out the tougher things like a bad day or a human tragedy with a little more strength. Prayer gives us calm, focus, and a little bit of inner peace. Oprah Winfrey used to recommend keeping a journal of appreciation — write down the good things in your life every day and it will help you avoid depression. I now realize that religion is way ahead on this concept — appreciate what you have and it will save your soul today, tomorrow and in the future. It can get you through a bad day and help you sleep at night.

In a few months, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia will be offering a class called “Raising a Child With Judaism in Your Interfaith Family.” These online classes (with two in-person sessions) teach about various Jewish rituals such as the Shema and Hamotzi. As a parent, I realize how meaningful these small prayers are toward helping us all function and appreciate the life we have. As we share more details about the class, including how to register, in the coming weeks, I hope you will spread the word about this class and encourage even the most cynical to look into it. When we watch tragedy take place in the world, I find prayer to be one of the more powerful weapons in our parental arsenal. In the meantime, I say a prayer for the families in Connecticut. I am so sorry for your loss.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I write this on the cusp of the Great Brisket Bake-off.  I can't remember how many years ago I started this event -- all I remember was thinking there had to be something involving food, singing and bringing people together to worship and have fun as a Jewish community.  This time of year there are so many Christian events going on EVERYWHERE that it really is tough to be a Jewish kid in Vermont. 

But we and our children persevere.

I shared with my classes the story of Judith, a traditional Chanukah story, about the brave Jewish woman who cuts off the head of the enemy general.  Thinking about the Christmas - chanukah dilemma vs. what our ancestors went through under Antiochus IV, this isn't so bad.

But coming together reinforces our sense of community, of belonging; that we are not alone, there are others like us who value what we value and share a history, a culture and a desire for equality and justice.

So this holiday, let us rededicate ourselves to those causes in which we truly believe and to our partnership with our Jewish community here at Temple Sinai. 

Morah Judy

PS - Don't forget the brisket!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hanukkah in a Box

There's still some shopping time left for Chanukah -- after all it is 8 days.  You can still order from Jewish Holidays in a Box for their Hanukkah in a Box that includes:

  • Blessings and candle-lighting tips  
  • Hanukkah Bingo Game for 4
  • Dreidels for 4
  • Recipes
  • Songs
  • CD Tutorial
  • Hanukkah Primer with core concepts, recipes, background, glossary and more
  • Hanukkah thank you notes
  • Decorating materials
And when Hanukkah is over, just tuck everything back into the blue box – and you’re set for next year.
Check out the video to see what’s inside:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Colombian evangelical Christians convert to Judaism, embracing hidden past

I wanted to share with you this fascinating article.  There are communities all over the world* experiencing something like this now that it's safer for Jewish practice.  Enjoy the article and let me know what you think. - Judy

BELLO, Colombia — They were committed evangelicals, devoted to Jesus Christ.
But what some here called a spark, an inescapable pull of their ancestors, led them in a different direction, to Judaism. There were the grandparents who wouldn’t eat pork, the fragments of a Jewish tongue from medieval Spain that spiced up the language, and puzzling family rituals such as the lighting of candles on Friday nights.

So, after a spiritual journey that began a decade ago, dozens of families that had once belonged to a fire-and-brimstone church became Jews, converting with the help of rabbis from Miami and Jerusalem. Though unusual in one of the most Catholic of nations, the small community in Bello joined a worldwide movement in which the descendants of Jews forced from Spain more than 500 years ago are discovering and embracing their Jewish heritage.

They have emerged in places as divergent as the American Southwest, Brazil and even India. In these mostly remote outposts, the so-called Anusim or Marranos, Jews from Spain who fled the Inquisition and converted to Christianity, had found refuge.
“There’s a real awakening that’s taking place,” said Michael Freund, who directs Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based group that helps new Jewish communities such as Bello’s. “The Jewish spark was never quenched, and these Anusim are really fulfilling the dreams of their ancestors in that they are taking back the Jewish identity that was so brutally stolen from their forefathers.”
This northwest state of Antioquia, with its high purple mountains, picturesque pueblos and fervent, almost mystical Catholicism, is surely one of the most unusual corners of the world for such Jewish stirrings.

For the families of Bello, the journey to Judaism began after the minister of a 3,000-member evangelical church, the Center for Integral Family Therapy, visited Israel in 1998 and 2003 and began to feel the pull of Judaism.

Juan Carlos Villegas, who has taken on the Hebrew name Elad, then told his flock that he planned to convert. Dozens joined him.

“These people had the capacity to say, yes, I’m open to finding the roots of my family,” said Villegas, 36, speaking in the community’s synagogue, a white-washed, two-story building on a street of rowhouses.

Villegas and the others said they felt history coursing through their veins as they explored the past and put together pieces of a puzzle that pointed to a Jewish ancestry.
“It was like our souls had memory,” he said. “It awakened in us a desire to learn more — who were we? Where were we from? Where are the roots of our families?”

Historical record
With a void in the historical record, it’s hard to say for sure how the past unfolded for the converted Jews who arrived here centuries ago, establishing themselves as merchants and traders. But there is evidence that they played an important role in the founding of towns here and that their numbers were significant, which is largely unknown to most Colombians.
At the University of Antioquia, geneticist Gabriel Bedoya and his team of scientists found in a 2000 study that 14 percent of the men in Antioquia are genetically related to the Kohanim, a priestly Jewish cast that is traced back three millennia to Moses’s brother, Aaron.
But Bedoya wants to conduct a more extensive study, he said, explaining that there is likely to be more genetic evidence to show that an even larger percentage of residents have Jewish ancestry.
There is other evidence of a Jewish past here, including documentation compiled by historians and the homespun stories passed down from generation to generation.
Seeking discretion in forbidding mountains, the converted Jewish families here adopted surnames, many of them from the heavily Catholic Basque country of Spain, said Enrique Serrano, a professor at Bogota’s Rosario University who has studied colonial-era Spanish records. Names such as Uribe and Echeverry, Botero and Restrepo, were “bought,” Serrano said, along with certificates that instantly gave the converts a Catholic family history.
They also took on a form of Catholicism that was greatly ostentatious, he said, with each family in each town ensuring that at least one son became a priest.

Clues in customs
Still, families couldn’t fully let go of the past, said Memo Anjel, a professor at the Pontifical Bolivarian University in Medellin. He said Antioquia, more than other regions, is filled with towns with biblical names or those that come from the Holy Land, such as Belen and Jerico. Anjel said there is also a proliferation of given names that are unusual in other parts of Colombia.
“They are people who call themselves Catholic but have names like Isaac, Ruben, Moises, Israel, Gabriel,” Anjel said. “And then there are also the women’s names — Ruth, Lia, Clara, Martha, Rebecca.”

There are also tantalizing clues in the customs found in the countryside.
The light ponchos worn by farmers, which feature four untied corners that appear like tassels, are nearly indistinguishable from the prayer shawls worn by observant Jewish men. Some of the haciendas feature conspicuous baths in patios, which scholars say may have first been designed as mikvahs for ritual cleansings.

The residents of old homes have also discovered mezuzas. These are tiny scrolls inscribed with verses, which are put in cases that are attached to doorways, as is common in the homes of Jews the world over.
The converts here in Bello also speak of the unassuming rituals of older family members that they now believe demonstrate a Jewish heritage.

“Before I converted, when I began to study Judaism and Jewish traditions, I began to notice those things in my family,” said Ezra Rodriguez, 33, as his son, Yoetzel, 4, scampered about an apartment decorated with pictures of Orthodox Jews praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
His grandfather always covered his head, even in church, saying that not doing so showed disrespect. Rodriguez also said his grandparents wore their finest clothing on Saturday, not Sunday.
And he recalled how as a boy he’d laugh at his grandfather’s given name — Luis Maria, which honors the Virgin Mary.

“He would come in close and say in a whisper, ‘We had to give ourselves such names,’ ” Rodriguez recounted.

Despite the belief that they have Jewish roots, the Bello community had to formally convert, with a rabbi from Miami, Moshe Ohana, arriving to officiate. The men underwent ritual circumcision, and the whole community began a long process of intense instruction.

The group now has a 120-year-old Torah, which Villegas said was written in Amsterdam. A kosher bakery opened, and kosher meat arrives from a butcher in the capital, Bogota. There is a Hebrew preschool, which operates every afternoon.

And the synagogue, which segregates men from women as is common for Orthodox Jews, is filled daily with the sounds of Hebrew songs and prayers.
“It’s about showing dedication, lots of dedication, to study the prayers, learn to read Hebrew,¨said Meyer Sanchez, 37. “You have to sacrifice other things, like time with your wife, time with your family, and other things you may like, video games and music.”

Among the most fervent leaders in the community is Shlomo Cano, 34, a supervisor in a motorcycle assembly plant.

Cano, whose name had been Rene, said his metamorphosis began little by little. A musician, he began to play Jewish music when his band had been invited to play for Medellin’s established Jewish community. He also went to Israel.

He has since delved into the Talmud and is fast expanding his Hebrew vocabulary to recite Hebrew prayers and sing Hebrew songs.

Cano keeps kosher — he and his wife, Galit, run the community’s kosher bakery — and his family prays daily at the synagogue.

“You’re Jewish because you want to be Jewish, because you feel it, because you love it,” he said.

“Now I can’t live without it.”

* Read this related article about those seeking their Jewish past in Poland:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Following Hurricane Sandy, A Discourse on Gratitude

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's View

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Most of us relate to distress by experiencing a certain sadness or bitterness. We might think that we do not deserve the pain and sorrow, that we have somehow been unfairly or wrongly treated.
We need not see suffering as a punishment for real or imagined misdeeds. It may be more helpful to view suffering as a test, which is admittedly not immediately apparent as such.
It takes a while to distinguish it.
Suffering is a trial. For suffering can lead to many things.
Some rise; others fall. Suffering is the test.
Can a person receive it without sliding into hatred or despair?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Do Jews Think About Halloween?

Halloween is kind of a tough one for Jews. Less openly Christian than, say, Christmas or Valentine’s Day, but not as ecumenical as Thanksgiving. There’s scary costumes and candy, and a vaguely pagan-y narrative. So how does it play out for Jews?

The website, Kveller.com, has a few takes on this popular holiday.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weekly Torah Parasha

Not too long ago we started reading the Torah all over again.  This week's parasha is Vayera -- chock filled with great stories of the Bible.  Want a family-friendly version?  Watch G-dcasts animated take on this Genesis story:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Welcome to a New Year


It's now 5773.  I'm still trying to catch my breath following to holidays and the start up of the school year.

We have a NEW staff members this year.  If you have a child in second grade you've probably already met Jody Berwin. A little bit about Jody:

Jody grew up in Queens, New York, and has also lived in Israel, New Mexico, Minnesota and Georgia. She played with a temple-based Klezmer band in the past and would love to do so again in Vermont.  Know of any?

She has a Masters in Elementary Education from CUNY Queens College and an
undergraduate degree from SUNY Purchase. Most of her teaching career
has been as a Special Education teacher, and she has also taught pre-school at the
Minneapolis JCC in Minnesota. She presently works at the University of Vermont.
We also have a couple of new Chai School teachers.  Many of you know Fran Brock, a long-time Temple member.  Fran has joined us this year to teach Comparative Religion.:

Fran has been a history teacher at Burlington High School since 1992. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, has studied in England and the Netherlands under a National Endowment for the Humanities scholarship, and has participated in other educational programs that took her to Cambridge University, China and Dar al Islam’s madressa in New Mexico. Prior to earning her teaching license, she worked for almost 18 years as a journalist, working at such publications as Adweek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune and the Burlington Free Press. She holds a M.Ed. from St. Michael’s College, a M.S.J. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and a B.A. from Uof MA/Amherst. But beyond her academic and professional career, she and her family have been members of Temple Sinai since moving to Vermont in 1969. Frances was in the Temple’s first confirmation class.

We also have a UVM grad student, Alexander Malanych.  Alex is teaching a course called "Jews and the Graphic Novel."

Alex is new to the Burlington area, studying for his Master’s in English at UVM. In his native Connecticut, he has served as a NFTY-NE advisor as well as a third grade Hebrew school teacher. He has worked for several residential summer camps throughout New England as a musical theater teacher and accompanist.

I hope you introduce yourselves and make them feel at home.  All three have been coming to services here as well as teaching in our school.

Other faculty this year include:  Patty Greenfield, Sharon Silverman, Amy Collins, Rabbi Glazier, Gidon Bavly and yours truly.

We are very blessed to have wonderful students, teachers and parents.  I look forward to another great, productive year.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Welcome Back!


It was so exciting to see everyone today.  I am always amazed at how much our kids grow over the summer!

School got off to a great start today with some new students and new teachers.  I hope you'll all stop in and meet Jody Berwin, our new 2nd grade teacher.  Jody is a Special Education teacher and a klezmer musician.  She recently moved to Vermont to be closer to her daughter in Montreal.

Morah Patty is back with our Ganeinu class and Sharon Silverman, our Kitah Hey/5th grade & Music teacher returns this year, although she is in Washington, DC this week for Hillel training so Audrey Chafetz substituted for her.

The kids are coming home with calendars, Hike for Hunger pledge sheets (the hike is on September 30th at Mt. Philo) and lots of enthusiasm for a great New Year.

L'Shanah Tovah Tekateivu, May you be incribed in the Book of Life for a Happy New Year.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What is the purpose of being a kid?

Rabbi Avi Orlow, Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, posed this question to our generation's foremost Talmud scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.  The rabbis thoughts follow:

Childhood is when we see and experience things for the first time, discover anew that which is already there. Children have the delight of discovery. As adults, we acquire a more organized way of learning and studying, but also lose the feel of the freshness of things. Because of that, most adults are – almost by definition – slightly dull.
Creative ability is only found in those who retain a part of their childhood. The artist and the scientist both have this freshness of view. An apple falls from a tree: the child asks – why does it fall and not fly? –and such questions are the beginning of science.
Even some human emotions stem from our most child-like parts: being in love is the ability to see the “other” as someone novel whom you can have dreams about.
The child’s inner and outer ability to grow is the real source of our life.

Rabbi Avi Orlow, Director of Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, responds:
I spend my summers traveling to see the great work being done by scores of non-profit Jewish overnight summer camps. Camp is a uniquely child-centered environment. It is a wonderful place just because everyone, adults included, is open to the experience of wonder. In childhood, fun and learning need not be distinct activities. Camp is not just a location; it is also an invitation. It is a call to all of us to reconnect with our inner child.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Shalom Chaveirim,

I want to share with you some thoughts from Rabbi Jonathan Saks, the Chief Rabbi of England, in this short video:


Tuesday, May 29, 2012


On May 12th we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Shabbat.  And while we appreciate all our teachers, we paid a special tribute to Barbara Sklar, who is retiring from our Religious School after 46 years of teaching.  I received this thank-you card from Barb and I'd like to share it with all of you:

Dear Parents and Students,

Thank you so much for the wonderful teacher appreciation Shabbat service we recetlycelebrated.  I loved the two songs the seventh graders wrote and sung in my honor.  At this service I was presented with a beautiful piece of art work that is already hanging in my living room.
Artwork we gave Morah Sklar to which you all contributed

I have enjoyed working in our Religious School teaching a variety of Hebrew and secular subjects plus tutoring students for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah since Temple was founded in 1966.  I plan to sub in our Religious School when I am available.

Again, I think you for all your support over my many years of teaching at Temple.  

Todah Rabbah (Many Thanks),
(Morah) Barbara Sklar

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

End of School Year Does Not Mean End of Activities at Temple

Friday, May 4th Folk Service 5:30*
Saturday, May 5th, Bat Mitzvah of Rachel Norotsky, 10 a.m.
Sunday, May 6th, The Wholesale Klezmer Band in concert from 6:30-9:00

Wednesday, May 9th, the entire Jewish community is invited to celebrate Lag B’Omer at Oakledge Park from 4:30-Dusk; dinner will be served.

May 12th – Teacher Appreciation Shabbat and last official day of Religious School

May 19th Aleinu  at the home of Louise Stoll and Marc Monheimer. For those of you not familiar with our Aleinu series, we gather in a member’s home on a Saturday evening, do Havdallah, have some drinks and dessert, and have a guest speaker on an interesting Jewish topic. On May 19th I’m happy to say we have Temple member, Shelagh Shapiro, who hosts a radio show and podcast called “Write the Book” in which she interview authors, poets, literary agents and others involved in the field of literature. Shelagh herself is a published author. I’m sure it will be a most fascinating evening. 

1 special concert coming up on 2 dates:
Sunday, May 20, 2012, 4:00 PM: Temple Sinai, 500 Swift Street, South Burlington
Sunday, June 3, 2012, 4:00 PM:  Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, 188 N. Prospect Street, Burlington
Open My Lips:  Sacred Music from 1600 to Today
Choral music by Salamone Rossi, Michael Praetorius, Louis Lewandowski, Bruce Chalmer, and Don Jamison, performed by the Rossi Festival Singers and the Burlington Jewish Community Choir, directed by Bruce Chalmer.

Next time you’re in Temple, stop by the Art Exhibit outside the 7th Grade classroom and see what the students have created as part of their Holocaust studies unit.

Events for Jewish teens:  Check out the YJ website: http://sites.google.com/site/youngjudaeavermont/bogrim

*June - Don't forget that all Friday night services move to 6:00, summer time.

Bnai Mitzvot: (All services begin at 10 a.m.)

2nd - Drew Coel
9th - Gabe Katz
16th - Colby Chatoff
30th - Eva Edwards-Stoll

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Passover Cooking

With Passover just 10 days away (starts Friday night, April 6th), time is getting short to clean and prepare for the holiday.

Of course food plays an important role in every Jewish holiday, even Yom Kippur. Why just think, you spend a lot of time preparing the meal before the fast and much attention to what will be served at the break fast. See what I mean?

I've culled a number of really yummy recipes for you.

Here's one for Kosher for Passover AND vegan chocolate cake:

The latest issue of Reform Judaism Magazine has a recipe for Gefilte Fish. If you've never made your own, it's really not as difficult as you think:

Of course, there's the Matzah Ball--floaters or sinkers. You decide. And yes, there are ways to control how that happens:

Wishing you a ziessen and a Kasher Pesach - a sweet and Kosher Passover.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

$8.25 an hour

What do you spend on lessons for your child? What does it cost for piano or violin lessons? Dance/ballet? Tai Kwan Do or other Martial Arts? Horseback riding? Sports-team fees and equipment? Tutoring? Skiing? Gym membership? Child-care?

On one of my listserves the topic of tuition for Religious School has come up and what is fair to charge families. So it got me thinking -- what is our per hour charge for school here at Temple Sinai? I worked out the math and here's what I came up with

$545 a year /divided by # of sessions 2-hour (33) = $16.5 /divided by 2 = $8.25 an hour And when you consider the tuition for Ganeinu, that works out to $2.70 an hour. What other for-fee after school activity costs so little?

So for $8.25 an hour your child gets a wonderful Jewish education, learning about things s/he won't learn anywhere else -- Jewish history, culture, language, ethics, religion, spirituality, morality, commonality. We cater to the intellect, the spiritual, the social, the communal aspects of the child and his or her place in the community and the world. So when it comes right down to it, $2.70 or even $8.25 an hour is a small price to pay for what your child is getting. Not to mention the benefits you and your family derive from temple membership.

A synagogue is more than its school, its worship services, its events, activities, classes, rabbis, teachers, and programs. It's you and what you put into it. The more you put in, the bigger the pay off. You really can't measure in dollars and cents your investment in the Jewish community and your child's future. You can only measure in sense. What are the values you hope to impart to your child?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Is everyone becoming Jewish?

In my job, I get to read A LOT, particularly articles and books concerning Israel, Judaism, politics, education, etc. One of the trends I’ve noticed is the increased practice and celebration of Jewish holidays and rituals by non-Jews.

I first came across this several years ago when I read about non-Jewish children wanting to have 13th year celebrations similar to Bar & Bat Mitzvahs. Many of the non-Jewish children and their families were attending these celebrations and wanted to have a similar ritualized celebration to mark this passage from childhood into another phase of their lives. First I thought having a big party had a lot to do with it but it transcended a mere party, it was the act of having a public reckoning that points to this important transition. In other words…they want a Bnai Mitzvah!

Another trend I read about, first in the New York Times and since then in the Huffington Post and on numerous blogs, is Shabbat. As our society becomes ever more fragmented and electronically connected, people and families are finding that they want or NEED one day a week to just BE, to unplug EVERYTHING electronic, slow down and spend quiet time with their families. Huh, in other words, they want SHABBAT!

Another ritual which has been making waves is circumcision. Abraham was commanded by God to circumcise all males on their 8th day as a sign of our covenant with God. This practice has been controversial – to the point where many Jews feel it’s barbaric and unnecessary. If so, then why is there a push on the continent of Africa to educate males to circumcise? Because the medical evidence is overwhelming that males who are NOT circumcised have a greater chance of spreading HIV than circumcised males. So now the World Health Organization is recommending males be circumcised.

In other words…they now want a Bris!

The marriage canopy. It symbolizes the fragility of our lives and the home we hope to build, being open and welcoming. As intermarriage rates increased, couples would include elements of their Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds. But then another trend started – couples in which neither partner was Jewish started adding chuppahs to their ceremony, saying it made a fine focal point under which a bride and groom can stand together and which they could personalize through decorations, either with flowers or something which was personally made and meaningful.

In other words… they want a Chuppah!

And finally, death. Jewish practice is that when a person dies s/he should be buried as soon as possible, if possible on the day s/he died, (although in modern times that’s not always possible as sometimes relatives need to come from faraway places). But burial should not be delayed, nor should the body be embalmed. The body is ritually cleansed, wrapped in a white shroud, and in some countries interred that way; in America and other western countries where a casket is required, the coffin should be a plain wooden box, usually pine, with several holes bored into it and no metal nails are permitted in its construction. The basic rule of burial has its origin in Genesis 3:19 “For dust you are and unto dust you shall return.” The idea of boring holes and no metal insures that decomposition should take place quickly.

So a couple of weeks ago I’m reading about “Green burial.” There’s a whole movement (among non-Jews) to do away with embalming, whose fluids are toxic, and to do away with large, varnished or metal coffins with fancy interiors which are bad for the environment. They want to banish the use of vaults. They also say the practice of cremation, while not taking up valuable space in the earth, leaves a greater carbon footprint due to the high heat needed to burn the bodies – that ultimately, putting an unembalmed body into the earth either wrapped in a compostable material or a plain wooden box is the desired method of burial.

In other words…they want a Jewish burial!

So, I got to thinking, why are so many Jews turning away from these practices while the rest of the world is turning toward them? Is it because of the old adage that “we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone”? Or is it because we want what others have?

If you think about it, Judaism is the only ancient civilization still in existence today. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Medes, Babylonians, Saracens, etc. all died out. If you look to Judaism’s practices, many Jews are always looking for rational answers as to why we have to do things a certain way – why Jews can’t eat pork and shellfish (no, it isn’t because of health reasons); why we need to keep the Sabbath, why we honor our parents, why we study. Could it be that God knew best and that finally, the rest of the world is coming to see what we’ve known all along?