Thursday, March 24, 2011

Please pass the Torah!

Are you a member of the Jewish Education Change Network? If you are not you should be. Stop. Click on Jewish Education Change Network. Join. Come right back her and finish this post! JECN is the brainchild of Jonathan Woocher and the folks at the Lippman-Kanfer Institute at JESNA. It is a Ning network that serves as a platform for Jewish educators to get together and learn from one another.

On March 2, Erica Korman started a discussion forum about Independent Jewish Sunday Schools. I commented and we have gone back and forth a few times and Sara Shapiro Plevan weighed in as well. I thought it was a valuable conversation and I am hoping you will join it and/or here. 

Erica Korman is working on her Masters in Education and Jewish Studies Department at NYU:Steinhardt. Sara Shapiro-Plevan is lead consultant for Rimonim consulting.

Posted by Erica Korman on March 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm

I invite you to take a look at the Boston-area Jewish Education Program. This is an independent, 4-hour weekly program for 2nd-7th grade that is unaffiliated with any synagogue or denomination and is held (although independent of) at Brandeis University. The BJEP, and others like it, accommodate families that want a Jewish education without the attachment to a synagogue. Many of the children of such families would not receive a Jewish education at all without a program of this type.

My question is this: Is an education discrete from a synagogue a viable option? I think it is great that families that would otherwise not enroll at a supplementary educational program at a synagogue are finding a suitable alternative. However, is Jewish education without clergical (sic) attachment sufficient?

Because there are no synagogue dues, the cost is kept low
The teachers are all undergraduate Brandeis students, which offers an energy and vitality not usually found among the traditional Jewish supplementary school
It is a place where families who shied away from denominations and synagogue pressures can find refuge

While they advocate learning beyond B'nei Mitzvah, they do not offer post-B'nei Mitzvah education.

Without any denomination, religious praxis may be unclear and potentially confusing. Family guidance from a Rabbi is unavailable because, well, there is no Rabbi.

Perhaps this is too liberal of an option. Is this too deviant from tradition?

reply by Ira Wise on March 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm 

My concern is only tangentially with the lack of clergy. My bigger concern is the lack of community. While I applaud providing for those who cannot or do not wish to find a synagogue home, I fear that this serves to commoditize the Bar Mitzvah in the most cynical way clothed in the guise of serving the disaffected. 

Becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah should be about a young man or woman beginning to take their place in the adult community. As described, this program seems to be a way to tag the B'nei Mitzvah base without scoring the run. It is another activity ending in a trophy that is not necessarily earned, since there is no stated intention to complete the act - entering the community. This makes Jewish education an activity on par with soccer, the school play or dance class. You enroll, pay, drop your kid off the prescribed number of days per week. At the end the parents attend the recital and celebrate the accomplishment as a family. And when you age out, you move on to another endeavor. 

I don't see the advantage of accommodating the "need" to claim connection without actually being connected. The only difference between this and a "faux mitzvah" (covered a few years ago in the NY Times, there seems to be some evidence of non-Jews having a celebration that directly and deliberately mirrors the Bar Mitzvah party) is that the child is actually Jewish. I am open to alternative models. I embrace them. This is not an alternative model. It is Dollar Store imitation of Jewish practice.

  Reply by Erica Korman on March 22, 2011 at 11:37 am

Thank you for your input, Ira. I was initially disturbed by this program. I think any Jewish educational program must have strong, non-compromising boundaries forming it.

Taking a communal rite-of-passage outside of a structured community is a dangerous step. I agree it further commoditizes the Bar Mitzvah, which has long been practiced as a spectacle landmark event in many communities. On the other hand, supporters of this type of program could argue that there is a defined community. It consists of the support from those that are also involved with the school. The other students and families are the kehilla and the principal, or whomever is at the highest leadership position, is the "Rabbi," in this case the adviser and head educator. 

It would be great if someone who has experience with this type of organization could provide their input. 

Reply by Ira Wise on March 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm

My one issue with the idea that this type of school is a community is its transitory nature. It has an expiration date: the end of formal education of the youngest child in a family. 

It also lacks a parent modeling component. It has only minimal opportunities - as I see it - for parents to model the behaviors of being part of an adult Jewish community. It makes the focus of Judaism pediatrics. 

Metaphor 1: I grew up playing with my grandfather's tzitzit during services. My son grew up playing with mine. Whose will these kids play with? 

Metaphor 2: When my parents joined the temple for me to go to Sunday school, they were asked to help out with the lox box fundraiser. They sold a few, but most importantly, on the Sunday in November when they were to be delivered, my father was sitting at a long table behind a scale, weighing lox. He passed the foam plate full of fish to Howie Lipshultz who used a Ronco Seal-a-meal to encase it in airtight plastic. Howie gave it to Sandee Schor who put it in a box with bagels she had bagged, and then passed the box to my mom, who added the onion and tomatoes. 

Jump 40 years. We threw my mom a 75th birthday party last summer. Sandee, Howie's wife and a whole bunch of other people who were at that table or others like it over the years were in attendance. My parents modeled community for me and me sister. Many of their most important relationships were and are through the synagogue. No surprise I became an educator. My sister is married to a rabbi. We have very Jewish homes. 

You don't need to be a professional to raise Jewish kids. But you have to demonstrate that being Jewish is not kid stuff. It is for adults living and doing adult things in the context of participating in a Jewish community. 

One of the biggest challenges in the non-orthodox day school world is enculturating students in the life of a synagogue - essentially being part of a community that doesn;t expire on graduation day. I am part of a group that is planning on bringing together synagogue school and day school directors to try and crack this issue. 

Thanks for posting this. I am enjoying the conversation.

Reply by Sara Shapiro-Plevan on March 23

Erica, thanks for posting this. My first paid teaching job was at BJEP, too long ago to date without embarrassing myself. My concern today, as it was then, was that because of the way that the program is built, there is no web of support for families, no larger community (in whatever dimension, style, etc.) for them to "join," and therefore, no reason to continue their engagement after their child(ren) have aged out of the community. 

Sure, families who shy away from synagogue affiliation can find refuge, but they are not finding refuge *with* other families, just refuge *from* others. In this model, parents are minimally engaged, and little or nothing is offered to them or asked of them (see Ira's pediatric Judaism comments above). 

We have much evidence that this pediatric approach doesn't work, and that in fact, parents are at a unique moment in their own lives when they choose ANY Jewish education for their children. A window of opportunity opens, and programs like BJEP are not structured to take advantage of this opportunity. 

Jewish learning needs to engage the entire family in meaningful, rich experiences through which they can feel a part of something larger, be it a community or the whole of the Jewish people. Until programs like BJEP can provide that, they aren't working to their fullest capacity.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

They Shoot Teachers, Don’t They?

This is from my friend Joel Lurie Grishaver's blog. Enjoy. Be very frightened, as Tevye said to Golda, but enjoy!
"Here they are again, folks! These wonderful, wonderful kids! Still struggling! Still hoping! As the clock of fate ticks away, the dance of destiny continues! The marathon goes on, and on, and on! HOW LONG CAN THEY LAST?" They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
"Now it’s open season on teachers and their profession. Many states are trying to end collective bargaining, due process rights, seniority, and other job protections to make it easier to fire teachers and to retain novices. A large contingent of National Board Certified teachers are planning a march on Washington in July to express their opposition to these attacks on their profession." The New York Times
They Shoot Horses Don’t They was a movie about the depression that looks at marathon dances, people who danced in competition until they were the last couple to drop. It is a sad film about the levels people will go to survive. Teachers have become today’s marathon dancers, struggling to keep on their feet.
Since the imposition of No Child Left Behind (a mirroring of the now-being-changed British National Curriculum) teachers have been held responsible for student test scores in mathematics and reading comprehension. These limited areas of testing don’t reflect the best student learning and are poor gauges of real teaching.

In his speech on National Education month, speaking at a Miami High School, President Obama told the students:
"I want all the young people here to listen, because over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs are going to require a level of education that goes beyond a high school degree. So, first of all, you can’t drop out. You can’t even think about dropping out.”
He also told teachers:
"You know, I was reading the other day an article. This is just a couple days ago in The New York Times - how teachers were just feeling beat up, just not feeling as if folks understood how much work went into teaching, and how dedicated they were to the success of their students."
And so I want to be very clear here. You know, we are proud of what you guys do, each and every day.
He also made it clear that the principal and half of the teachers of Maimi’s Central High School had been fired to make progress possible. While this may well have been true of a dangerous inner-city school, it plays into the new national sentiment that teachers are both incompetent and overcompensated.

The limiting of teacher evaluation to mathematics and reading comprehension focuses on essential but not sufficient skills. Without problem solving, critical thinking, love of learning, writing skills and more college is not the reality that Obama wants for every American future worker.

The same anti-teacher and ant-intellectual basis has played out in Florida, Ohio, and especially Wisconsin politics—and has become part of the wissenschaft* of America at large.

Now, here is why any analysis of secular American public education affects Jewish learning. 

Complementary schools, the latest buzz word for Hebrew schools, are seen as Jewish public schools, not private country day schools. Everyone “knows” that if half of public schools staff deserved to be fired, the same has got to be even truer of Jewish education. That is why Jewish schools are viewed as beyond reform, beyond fixing, in need of some revolutionary new invention. After all, the future is now, and the teachers that are remembered (and assumed to still be in place) are not.

To prevent the radical amputation of the learning environments we now use to transmit the Jewish tradition there are a few statements we need to clearly transmit and make true.

  • We have to continue to procure good teachers.
  • Our institutions need to progress, need to rethink, need to innovative but are workable, fixable, and worth sustaining.
  • We teach more than Hebrew Reading (the Jewish equivalent of mathematics and reading comprehension). We teach concepts that are ethical, cultural, and growth-ful. We build Jews who love and benefit from their Judaism, not just thirteen-year-olds who have one good Jewish day.

If there is a single lesson I want to convey here is that we must overcome the public shaming of teachers and education. We must stand with pride that we make a difference, will continue to do so, and will get even better at it.

Once, the Rabbis taught that the relationship between teacher and child was more critical than the relationship between parent and child (Bava Metzia 2:11). I have no belief that we will again see that fantasy, but I do have a hope to reclaim the Jewish school as sacred community—and to do that we must restore the dignity of the teacher. 

We live in the age of the consumer parent and we need to be selling them the full package.

*Wissenschaft -- German, any study or science that involves systematic research and teaching

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Torah for More Than It's Own Sake

Shalom Berger, a friend and Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows colleague shared this with me, and I thought it might interest some of you or some of your older children. When my 12 11/12 year old son heard about it, he got to work. I invite you to do the same and share it with the young folks in your orbit who might be interested in sharing some words of Torah with Moshe, his family and community. And do it quickly - there is a deadline! 

When someone asks you the meaning of chidur mitzvah and how to increase Torah in the world, I would direct them to Stephen Glickman.

Dvar Torah Request- Parshas Kedoshim

Dear friends-

Thank you for your time. Women's League Community Residences is a social services organization in Boro Park, Brooklyn that, among other things, runs group homes for Jewish children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I am writing this letter to tell you about one of the boys we have living with us, and to ask for your help in celebrating a milestone in his life. His name is Moshe, and he has Canavan Disease.

Canavan Disease is a Jewish, genetic, degenerative brain disorder that causes a variety of cognitive and physical disabilities. While children with Canavan disease appear healthy at birth, the disease usually begins to take its toll before a child’s first birthday. Moshe cannot walk, talk, or see. Many children with Canavan disease, including Moshe, need to be fed through a tube because they cannot swallow on their own. Many develop seizures, and respiratory (breathing) issues are common. While the disease itself is rare, it is estimated that one in 37 Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of Eastern European descent) are carriers of the Canavan gene.

When Moshe was first diagnosed with Canavan Disease shortly before his first birthday, he was not expected to live past the age of three. That was about twelve years ago, and I am pleased to let you know that Moshe will IY"H (if God wills) be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah on the 21st of Nissan 5771 (April 25th, 2011), the 7th day of Pesach (Passover), Parshat Kedoshim.

Despite his disabilities, there are many things that Moshe is wonderful at: His bright smile and contagious laugh warms the hearts of everyone who comes into contact with him. The simplest of his accomplishments, like grasping a toy, leads you to marvel at his persistence. And, when Moshe is comfortable and content, you cannot help but share in his serenity. At the same time, however, there are many things that Moshe cannot do for himself and that we, to varying degrees, must do for him. This is why we are asking for your assistance.

One of the things Moshe cannot do for himself is prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. In trying to find a way to have others do for him what he cannot do for himself, we have come up with the idea of creating a collection of Divrei Torah on his Bar Mitzvah Parsha to be presented to Moshe’s family and friends at the seudat mitzvah. We would be extremely honored if you would consider writing a Dvar Torah for this occasion.

As noted, Moshe’s Bar Mitzvah Parsha is Parshat Kedoshim. Our intention is simply to collect Divrei Torah in honor of Moshe’s Bar Mitzvah. The Dvar Torah need not be about chesed (kindness) or disability, but rather reflect the activity of learning the Parsha for learning’s sake. Our intention is solely to have people learn Moshe’s Parsha for him because he cannot learn it for himself. The Dvar Torah can be written in any language, and we would like to collect Divrei Torah from people of all ages, from all walks of life, and at all levels of ability.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. While we are happy to encourage Torah learning at any time, the deadline for inclusion in the printed collection for Moshe’s Bar Mitzvah is April 17th, 2011. You can mail the Dvar Torah to the address below, or you may e-mail the Dvar Torah to us at

Please include your name and location when you send us the Dvar Torah. If you are in school, please let us know which one and what grade. Also, please feel free (and encouraged) to spread the word about this project to anyone and everyone that you know, and feel free to forward this message to any person, school, synagogue or organization you believe may consider taking part.

Through our collective learning, we pray that Moshe will be rewarded with the zechut (merit) of promoting Torah study throughout the world. May the merit of our work help to bring forth a refuah sheleima (complete healing) for all the cholim of Klal Yisroel (members of the Jewish community who are extremely ill), and may we be zocheh (worthy) to witness the bias goel tzedek, bimheira biyameinu (the coming of the righteous redeemer in our time-the messiah).

Stephen Glicksman, Ph.D.
Developmental Psychologist
Women’s League Community Residences
1556 38th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11218

(Nearly all of the translations are mine, not Stephen's.  Errors or choices that are different than yours are my repsonisbility alone. - Ira)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reflections on our Jewish Digital Future

This is a comment on a cross-post of cross-post. It is appropriate in light of the content. eJewishPhilanthropy posted an abridgement of a posting on the Project InCite blog by Lily Lozovsky.The image at right will make sense further down!
Reflections on our Jewish Digital Future Right now, we are living through a fundamental shift in the structure of our society. Digital media and portable connective devices are transforming our world by eliminating the transaction costs that once acted as barriers to offline activism.
… Our digital tools are stretching the limits of human potential, expanding the capacity of the individual and the collective to affect scalable, rapid change in our communities.
… Jewish institutions cannot afford to carry out their missions on the ground without simultaneously engaging with thought leaders and activists in “cyber space”. If we are doing a phenomenal job, our success will be reinforced and extended by the community online. If we are not, well, there is cause to worry.
Online, the authenticity of an organization’s impact and relationships is king. We have entered what I like to think of as the ultimate audit – of individuals, businesses and institutions. We are no longer simply what we say we are. Rather, we are the sum of our searchable reputation; ratings, followers and reviews that tell others the truth about what we have to offer. This is both powerful and frightening.
The critical mass of people trafficking across the web creates a filter beyond anything that a lone editor or institution could guarantee. If we are ineffective or irrelevant, if we are not part of the conversation, or fail to deliver on the claim that we are making – people in our networks will know. They will talk. They will tweet. The internet has empowered people with a voice.
And they are speaking up whether institutions give them the microphone or not.
The organizations that we care about cannot continue addressing the internet as another place to post their brochures. It is time to change our metaphors. We need to see social media as a networking event or a Kiddush luncheon, one that we cannot afford to miss, even if we arrive on Jewish time. 
I am the guy who keeps talking about not tossing the synagogue baby out with the analog bathwater. (Wow. That is a hideously stretched metaphor. You know what I mean, yes?) Some would expect me to refute Lily or in some way try to lessen the impact of what she has said.

Not going to happen.

She nailed it in one. Nothing she says suggests shuttering the shul or closing the JCC or making the community all virtual all the time. She talks about how essential it is that our institutions learn to occupy the space in 2.0 rather than a 1.0 manner. 

I look at my synagogue web site and see that it is web 1.0 - the read only web. We are not interactive. It is a fine place for members to catch up. It serves as a great way for prospective members to begin to get to know us. Many people have told us how helpful it was in their decision to join. But it does little to bring our members together other than telling them when to meet in real time. Most synagogue pages are the same. We are working on this. I hope everyone else is too.

We have had some success in building community online using resources other than the web page. Facebook has really begin to be useful. One of our rabbis invited me to work with her in establishing a temple Facebook group. We have 243 members of the group and we have reached the point where members are doing most of the posting and they are having conversations about lots of things. Not just about events at the temple, but about getting together to do things with one another or with their children. One of our teachers, who grew up in our synagogue noticed something interesting on a library book Date Due card:
"Today at Sunday school one of my kindergarteners took this book out. I started filling out the information and I read up the list to find Mallory Gibson who was 7 years old (back in 2000) when she took the book out. I was a Madrakah in her class when I was in high school and she was in kindergarten, I taught her when she was in Kitha Chet (8th grade), and now she's graduating high school. Makes me feel old! Also, Todd Markley, who is a Rabbi now, from the temple, and is well known across the east coast also took this very same book out. He took it out in 1983! History in our own temple! :-p"
She snapped the picture at the top of this posting and posted it to the Facebook Group. The  conversation at right then ensued. Heidi is a parent in our school and came to our community somewhat recently. Claire is long-term member who has adult children and grandchildren. She has served on our board and is part of a team of volunteers that makes our library work for our members.

So the technology has allowed us to bridge generations and bring people together. A similar conversation about a family making Shabbat on vacation and another member who posted daily pictures and commentary from the congregational trip to Israel last month.

So I agree with Lily. We (Jewish institutions) need to get MUCH better at embracing and using the available means to bring our people together, both digitally and in analog. It is both/and, not either/or. Lot's more work. But let's face it, no one went into Jewish education to avoid work.

Let's build something together!

Cross-posted to Davar Acher

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Finding God in my Phone"

This was written by friend and colleague Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin. She is Congregational Educator and Director of the Religious School at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, CA. It was written for the members of the congregation on their Synablog, and it draws some wonderful lessons form the recent NATE conference.

Every Friday, Jonah Bryfman lights Shabbat candles with his grandparents.  They always make it a point to be together as they say the blessings and welcome Shabbat. His father David explained that due in part to this weekly ritual, Jonah's grandparents played a significant role in fostering Jonah's powerful connection to his Jewish identity. 

Here's the catch: Jonah's grandparents live in Melbourne, Australia.  David and Jonah live in New York.  Their Shabbat tradition takes place over videochat on the computer.  Despite the distance, grandparents and grandchild are able to share this simple moment together from thousands of miles away.  Does the fact that they have only met in the flesh a few times lessen the power of their connection?  Does it make their bond any less real?

I spent the last week at a conference for the National Association of Temple Educators, and the theme was technology.  While I was a fairly young digital immigrant, I am not nearly as tech savvy as most of our students at Temple Emanuel.  The topic posed a fair challenge, and I went in skeptical about the degree to which recent advances to the digital landscape will really impact Jewish education.

But I came out of the conference changed.  I was reminded of the ways that I myself have been part of virtual communities that have been different from the norm, but still meaningful. For example, so many of us were deeply impacted by the music, memories, and sense of togetherness shared at Debbie Friedman's funeral, even though we were only able to attend via the streaming internet broadcast.  May we learn from this that there are times when we can extend the power of our prayer at Temple Emanuel to include those who are limited by the boundaries of physical space? 

Recently at Temple Emanuel we have seen our prayer and our learning enhanced by Rabbi Aaron's beautiful and thoughtful visual components of Shabbat B'Yachad.   In the future, perhaps our students will also learn to interpret ancient prayers through this kind of contemporary visual artistic expression.  The ways that technology can enhance our Jewish experiences are limited only by our own imagination.

As Jews, we are the people of the book.  It's true that we resonate with scrolls and pages, pens and ink.  But as our lives expand to encompass the mobile realm, so too can our sanctuaries.  Not only does God dwell among people who study together from across a table, but God can also dwell among people who light candles together from across an ocean.  The screen does not have to devalue our ancient words and texts.  Rather, there are times where it may have the power to make holiness even more accessible to those who are as adept with the flick of a finger across the surface of a smartphone as they are with the flip of a page in a book.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Moments Worth Remembering

This is Daniel Gordis' latest posting.
It's really good.
And that's all I have to say about that!

I still recall the day, some 40 years ago, when my mother told me that she remembered vividly the moment that she'd heard that FDR had died. I was stunned. She'd been so young. How could she possibly remember it at all, much less so clearly?

Gradually, I came to understand that there is a certain kind of moment when something so important transpires that, even years later, we remember not only what happened, but where we were, who spoke, how we felt. Each of us has a different list. Mine includes Anwar Sadat's arrival in Tel Aviv, and Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. The Challenger explosion. Ariel Sharon's stroke. Many more.

Two weeks ago, there was another. I woke up in a San Diego hotel and turned on the TV to see if anything dramatic had changed in Egypt. The news was still the same. Protests were continuing. Tahrir Square was filled to capacity, peacefully defiant. But Hosni Mubarak seemed not to get it and was still hanging on.

With nothing happening, I took advantage of the Southern California weather and went for a run. An hour later, when I was back and dressed, I nonchalantly turned on the TV once again.
Mubarak was gone; an era had ended.

Stunned, I sat on the couch, and watched the celebrating crowd, people cheering and waving Egyptian flags, men holding their young children aloft, in their arms or on their shoulders. And I remember now my surprise when I realized what I was feeling. It wasn't shock, for we all suspected this was coming. It wasn't joy, for the road ahead would be a long one, and this wasn't exactly great for Israel. But it wasn't dread, either. It was envy.

It wasn't what I'd expected to feel, but that was what it was. I was jealous of those thousands of cheering, running, weeping, flag-waving people, envious that they still took freedom seriously. It made no difference that their freedom pales in comparison to what we have. Or that they might end up not being any freer than they'd been under Mubarak.

What struck me at that moment was that we, too, had once celebrated new beginnings.

We'd been the ones huddled around old wooden radios on November 29, 1947. We were once the ones who'd danced in the streets of Tel Aviv. We were the ones, as Amos Oz describes in his extraordinary autobiography, whose fathers got into bed with us that night, and told us of the horrors of growing up weak and insecure in Europe, and promised us that those days would now forever be banished. Yes, there were days when we didn't take our own freedom for granted.

But now, we fret. We worry. We disagree and fight. We wonder if this experiment will survive. Some Jews even wonder if it was a good idea in the first place. A lot has changed since November 1947, since our Tahrir Square, and I was jealous of those celebrating Egyptians for what we'd lost, and what they'd just discovered.

JUST A few days later, one of the founders of our synagogue passed away in Jerusalem. One of the few remaining of the group of survivors who'd created the shul some 60 years earlier, we knew him as Siggy, a quiet, wise and dignified man, whom I met on the way to shul most mornings. Lately, as we'd walk up Rehov Shimshon in the morning, he'd take the slight hill ever more slowly. Occasionally, I'd slow down and walk with him, but he always said the same thing: "Don't wait for me - you'll be late." I don't know how long I'll remember those early morning walks up Rehov Shimshon and our brief exchanges. But I'll always remember what Siggy said to me one morning, in the midst of the intifada, as we were about to recite Yizkor.

It was a time in Jerusalem when life was sad, and often frightening. We hadn't lived here that long, and it didn't take much to wonder, at fleeting moments, what in the world we'd done to our children, taking them from a quiet, tree-lined street in Los Angeles to a city in which buses and restaurants blew up on what seemed to be a daily basis. It was a time when it wasn't that hard to feel sorry for yourself for living here - angry at times, despondent at others.

That holiday morning, as I made my way out of shul for Yizkor (since my immediate family is all still living), Siggy, who sat not far from the door, grabbed my arm just as I was about to step outside.
"You're going out for Yizkor?" he asked me. 

When I nodded, somewhat perplexed, he continued. "When we first got here, after the war, there wasn't a single person who could go out for Yizkor. Not a single one." And then, he said, "Ba'u od milhamot venaflu od banim."

"More wars followed, and more boys fell.  So for more years, no one could go out for Yizkor."

He stopped for a moment, and I saw that his lips were trembling, ever so slightly. He pointed to the courtyard right outside our shul. "Ve'achshav, tistakel - kulam bahutz." 

"And now, look!" he pressed me. "Everyone's outside." "Hamedina hazot nes." "This country is a miracle."

I have no idea why Siggy chose to speak to me that morning, some 10 years ago.  But I do know it was one of those moments worth remembering for a lifetime.  When the downward spiral here seems unstoppable, when hope seems in short supply, I think of the perspective that he had, that I never will.

And I hope I can forever take to heart what he taught me: Why be envious of what's happening across the border? After all, he was right - the genuine miracle in this region is the place we still call home.

The original Jerusalem Post article is here:

Comments and reactions can be left here: