Showing posts with label Jewish Values. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jewish Values. Show all posts

Sunday, July 28, 2019

I just returned from a week serving on the faculty of Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge,  MA. It is the third URJ camp I have been proud to serve, in addition to Eisner Camp and Olin Ruby Union Institute. I was asked to write a post for the camp blog, which is largely directed at parents of campers as well as the lay and professional leaders in the Northeast. 

Every day at Crane Lake Camp is filled with fun and engaging activity. Sports, arts, drama and just hanging out with friends – like most summer camps – are a part of every camper’s experience. At CLC, there is a Jewish context that takes those same experiences a little further.

Our all-camp middah (Jewish Value) of the week is Ga’avah – Pride. For much of the week, we have focused on learning to be proud of our Jewish identities, of our community and our actions in support of one another.

During Limud[i] the other day, a group of Bonim campers were at the low ropes course to explore the middah of courage or ometz lev. When they were not exploring it by attempting elements of the course they were talking about different aspects of courage with staff and faculty.

During one discussion, the topic was “Fear of Failure.” It was apparent that many of these young campers had wrestled with that one. They shared what it meant to them, steps they might take to overcome it and even some examples of when they had faced that fear.

One thing that stood out was that there have definitely been times in their very young lives that they have felt unworthy of even trying to succeed.They shared their self-doubt. And then they moved to dispel those fears in their friends. I have to say that they were all very supportive and encouraged one another to move beyond that fear.

The next morning, I shared a story during the “Words of Wisdom” portion of morning t’filah. Many of us know the midrash[ii] that suggests we should each keep two pieces of paper in our pockets. One should say “The world was created for my sake” and other “I am but dust and ashes.”
We often share this midrash in order to talk about humility, since we are supposed to read the second message when we feel arrogant or overly prideful.

Inspired by those Bonim campers’ words to one another I suggested that we all need to focus a little more on the other message, that the world was created for our sake. If you believe – as I do – that each of us was ultimately created by God – then we are created in God’s image. And God doesn’t make junk.

When we doubt ourselves, questioning our worthiness, we have to remember that each of us matters. Camp would be diminished and far less amazing if even one of us were not here.
Listening to our campers reach out and support one another, they taught each other – and me – that being proud also means that “YOU MATTER.”

[i] Limud means learning. At CLC, we spend some time specifically focused on learning about Jewish values – middot – through a variety of experiential means. It is still fun, but the idea that we are learning something in the process is clearly stated.

[ii] Originally credited to Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pryszska.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Jewish Educational Theory of Everything, Part II

This piece actually is from January and was written by my friend and colleague Wendy Grinberg. It was originally published on her blog Jewish Education Lab (not to be confused with JEDLAB on Facebook). I think she has a good handle on some very important aspects of ToE (Theory of Everything).

Here’s my latest article in eJewishPhilanthropy. Looking forward to your responses.

There is a lot of talk about changing the name, the times, the locations and the format of synagogue schools. But calling something experiential, changing the hours or even inviting the parents is not enough to make deep change in religious school. What is needed is a change in thinking.

Is school the right model for what we are trying to do in our synagogue education programs? Why do they exist? There is a lot for students to learn in order to be knowledgeable in Jewish practices, values and traditions. But children who can “get an A in Judaism” are not our ultimate goal. A person can become an expert in these areas without even being Jewish. Our goal is mastery of “applied Judaism,” demonstrated by students who are part of a Jewish community and can face the challenges of this life in a Jewish way. Let me give you an example of what this can look like within the bounds of a typical third grade Sunday morning religious school class structure. Here’s how the teacher described it:

In the synagogue kitchen, nineteen third graders gathered around the stainless steel island upon which was heaped bunches of leeks, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and bundles of parsley and dill. On the stove behind them, four free-range chickens were simmering in big soup pots. Mamma Barbara, grandmother to one of the students and the guest of honor for the morning, stood at the head of the island, handing out peelers, instruction, and encouragement to eager hands. Within minutes, the floor was a mess of carrot tops and parsnip shavings that missed the compost bags. The smell of chopped onions brought tears to some sensitive eyes.

A sense of community, sometimes so hard to foster in a classroom setting, was everywhere one looked in this overheated kitchen. Kitchen tools were shared without a teacher’s guidance. One child held a hard–to-cut vegetable for another to chop, while, across the way, another student warned his new friend to “be careful of the splashing soup” as she put her cut up celery into the pot.

Cleanup over and soup gently simmering on the stove, the class climbed the stairs back up the classroom, where Mamma Barbara told them the story of the recipe, passed down from her own great-grandmother through the daughters of her family, from a Russian shtetl to the suburbs of New Jersey. The soup (“Jewish penicillin,” Mamma Barbara called it) would now be strained, frozen, and ultimately delivered to the ill in our community by the sixth graders of our synagogue as part of their bar or bat mitzvah projects.

More than a kitschy hands-on activity, this effort coordinated by Jessie Losch at The Barnert Temple Congregation B’nai Jeshurun of Franklin Lakes gets to the heart of what applied Judaism in a school setting looks like. A few key components:

  1. The school is not separate from the greater community. In our scenario, students function as a class community within the context of the synagogue community. Mamma Barbara brought her family recipe and became part of the effort. In addition, the students planted chicken soup herbs in the synagogue garden to harvest for their soup under the direction of a synagogue member who is also a master gardener. Another group of expert adults facilitated the students in creating a Matzah Ball Mensches logo which will adorn the labels of every package of soup. As a mitzvah project, a sixth grader will serve as the liaison to the caring committee, coordinating delivery. K-2nd graders will create cards to go with the soup.
  2. Judaism is not confined to a time of the week or a room of the synagogue.
    The boundaries that often segment children’s Jewish life (Sunday mornings at the synagogue) were permeated by people and activities around making the soup and delivering it. Community members and older students joined in. The sick people who will receive the soup are not necessarily third grade classmates. Deliveries will occur on different days and in other places, and cooking and planting took place outside of the classroom, albeit on synagogue property.
  3. Jewish values are put in action to solve real problems.
    Students learned about taking care of the earth, dietary laws, and preventing the suffering of animals and then discussed how to make the soup in an ethical way. They studied Rabbi Akiva’s teaching on the power of visiting the sick: “He who does not visit the sick is like a murderer!” A connection to Jewish history and heritage was made real through Mamma Barbara’s recipe and family story. Empathy and care for the sick went from theoretical to real as eight year-olds did what they could to help and provide comfort to those in need.
  4. There are widening circles of involvement.This project has grown since it was first initiated. The excitement of participating in real and meaningful Jewish acts that make a difference is contagious. Director of Lifelong Learning Sara Losch has invited other classes to be a part. Now the fifth grade class is involved in creating a book that will tell the story of this project to the recipient, including the mitzvot it teaches and the recipe for chicken soup. Students become teachers to community members and spread their learning.

Under the direction of Senior Rabbi Elyse Frishman, this synagogue has been in a constant cycle of experimentation, assessment and improvement. That being said, this experience of applied Judaism did not require a full restructure of the synagogue school. Jessie understands the world of her classroom as a part of a greater Jewish community. She incorporated the enduring understandings that were articulated for her class and asked herself: What would a student who integrated these ideas know/do/understand in the real world? Others were able to get involved and see how this project could connect to their efforts as well.

Applied Judaism is my term for a way of thinking about Jewish learning and its purposes. Judaism is not a subject matter to be mastered in our schools; it is a salve for the human condition. At the heart of Jewish education is a belief that being Jewish, living in a Jewish way, makes life more meaningful, more enjoyable, and more beautiful. With the right approach, children can experience this and enrich the whole community, even within the context of a conventional Sunday morning program.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Help my campers learn...about Judging Others Favorably (Part III)

Here is the third and final round of responses from my campers in my Kesher class called Do the Right Thing at Eisner camp in Great Barrington, MA. (A new round begins Tuesday, and we will be exploring issues surrounding our ideas about God) The campers are entering 8th and 9th  grades this fall (they are in two groups). You can see the first round of questions in my posting last Thursday night and the second round from last night

Today we discussed the answers posted yesterday and ended the day by writing answers to questions built from the Middah of Machrio L'Chaf Zechut - Judging others favorably. Please take a look at the campers' responses and share your thoughts, other ideas and texts below or on Facebook!

1. Joshua ben Perahiah, said: “When you judge anyone, tip the scale in his/her favor. Judge the whole of a person favorably “. (Pirkei Avot 1:6) What does that mean and why should you do it?

SB: This means that if you're going to judge someone, judge them positively instead of negatively - go out of your way to see their good side.

PP: It means when you judging someone to see if they are right or wrong you should always "tip the scale" in their favor and say they are right. We should do it in camp because it will make resolving conflict easier. (Hashem will tip the scale in your favor when weighing out YOUR mitzvot and deciding whether you will go to Gan Eden or Gehenem).

MG: When you judge someone you should give them the benefit of the doubt. You should do it because you do not yet have their opinion/side of the story.

LL: It means that you shouldn't have such harsh prejudice toward others because they might not be as "bad" as they appear.

TN: Compliments. Not insults.

HA: Don't look at the bad things about a person but you should look at the good things about a person.

GM: If you are judging a person for the first time, you should judge them in favorable way. I think this is important to do because it is better to have friends than enemies. A person could be having a bad day and snap at you. If you decide they are therefore a bad person, you are creating animosity, when really, if you gave them another chance he/she could be a potential friend.

ER: If you judge a person without getting to fully know them then give them the benefit of the doubt say positive comments rather than negative ones.

2. Nachman of Bratzlov said: "The Talmud says that we should always judge other people favorably. We must also judge ourselves favorably." What does that mean and why should you do it?

SB: This means we must have self-confidence and see the good in ourselves.

PP: If you look at yourself too critically and think you are always wrong, you will have a very low self-esteem.

MG: It means you do not know how others see you. You only know how you see yourself.

LL: It means you must think of yourself well and you should do it because if you judge yourself harshly and think badly of yourself, others will think badly of you as well.

TN: Don't bring yourself down when you look at yourself, notice your beauty, you only have pros, no cons.

HA: Don't be so harsh on yourself either. We should do this because it will bring up confidence and self-esteem.

GM: You shouldn't hate yourself for making a mistake.

ER: Instead of talking harshly about myself and never looking at the bright side, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and give yourself some slack because if you do it your life will be better because you won't be judging yourself so harshly.

MS: Because how can you expect anyone else to love you if you can't even love yourself.

3. How do I resolve conflicts or disputes with others?

SB: Either by talking with the other person or simply by spending some time apart until we are both ready to forgive each other. Apologizing works too.

PP: I solve conflicts with others by looking at the conflict from their perspective and walking in their shoes (To Kill A Mockingbird - Atticus Finch) I see how I would feel if I were them and usually helps me to resolve my conflict.

MG: Find both sides of the story, as well as the story from the perspective of someone neutral. You should not judge until you know exactly what happened.

LL: I compromise with them or just talk it out and figure out why we are in a conflict if I don;t know already. If I know why we are in a conflict then I work something out, and it might not be a compromise specifically.

TN: Calmly, compromises, apologies, noticing what you did wrong, not telling the other person what they did wrong all the time.

HA: I apologize for what I did and be calm.

GM: I resolve conflict by COMMUNICATING.

ER: I solve them by trying to come up with a reasonable compromise for me and the others.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Help a group of campers learn!

I have said before that one of the principal reasons I became a Jewish educator had to do with my experiences at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute – a Reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I was a camper, counselor, unit head and faculty member over twelve summers there. I am at Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts right now for my sixteenth summer as a faculty member. That means I have spent part of more than half my summers at camp.

One of the things the faculty does at Eisner is called Kesher (connection). We each create a series of small group learning experiences for the older units of camp during our time here. This week my Kesher class is called Do the Right Thing: An Eisner Joint. The overall themes were determined by surveying last summer’s campers during the winter and we (the faculty – rabbis, cantors and me) each designed our courses and created descriptions in the spring. Then they got to express their own preferences. Her is the description of my current offering:

You are faced with tons of choices every day. Some you make automatically. Others require some serious thought. Where do you look for the values you will apply to make your decisions? Your parents? Your friends? Society all around us? Judaism? We are going to look in all of those places to wrestle with some tough issues. Then we are going to take our conversation online and go viral. We will create a blog using writing and video and send it out to the universe. Then we will see what the universe says and engage in a potentially viral conversation!

Today we discussed three questions around the concept of Emet – truth. Here are the questions and some of their answers. We discussed them at length after they wrote them. Please respond here or on Facebook to the questions or to their answers. We will look at your ideas in our next session! I am using initials to protect their privacy…

1. Do you think it is ever okay to omit something when sharing something important?

Yes, not telling the whole truth to protect someone’s feelings is acceptable. When someone asks about someone else, it’s okay to highlight the good parts of their personality and stopping there. AM

Yes, to keep me from getting into copious amounts of trouble. HS

Sometimes telling the WHOLE truth can distract from what you are trying to say. TJ

Yes, when saying something would hurt someone without having any positive effect, or to keep a promise. RK

Yes, if it would endanger someone. SI

Yes, if it would help someone. For example, if they were afraid of fire but loved roller coasters, and you knew this great roller coaster had flame throwers, you might not tell them. That way they would try the roller coaster and love it. If they knew about the flame throwers they might not ride. (There was a lot of conversation about this!) MW

It might depend on the age of the person you are talking to. Some things might be too complicated or frightening for young children. HR

You might choose not to tell the whole truth in order to keep a confidence – something you promised to keep secret. GM

Yes, if the whole truth would do more harm than good. TT

Yes, if it is to protect someone’s privacy. RA

It’s okay if it doesn’t alter the entire story. JE

2. Do you think it is ever okay to sugar coat the truth?

Yes. When hate something your parent made for dinner, you might gently urge them not make it again or so often… MW

It depends on the situation and who benefits. LG

No. I is better to be honest so the person you are talking to doesn’t embarrass themselves. SI

Yes, like #1, this can spare someone’s feelings or keep a situation from going bad. JD

Ok in a teaching situation. RK

It’s OK in order to make someone feel better or more confident. My friend was nervous about coming to camp and I told her that lots of our friends were excited to see her. I exaggerated a little bit to make her feel better. AP

No, because it is only hurting yourself more and it does not do anything to help you – even though I do sugar coat it sometimes! MP

Yes, ignorance is bliss! DE

Yes. Sometimes a little sugar coating can make a hard truth easier to take. JJ

3. Do you think is ever okay to actually lie?
Yes, although it is best to avoid it if at all possible. JJ

Yes, but only if the truth is really painful and doesn’t need to be told. MP

Yes, to save a life, protect from unnecessary harm or if it is a harmless joke. NS

It is okay to lie when the answer won’t hurt anyone and it’ll make somebody feel better. To me, it’s all about making people happy and balancing that with telling the truth. RK

To shield them from harm. HS

Intentions matter. LG

Yes, if it will help people in the long run. MW
Again, please help our conversation and our learning by jumping in! More tomorrow!

Monday, May 2, 2011

What is the proper blessing on hearing of the violent death of an Amalekite?

Anyone in the U.S. watching network television last night around 10:45 EDT (we might have had a minyan watching network TV) learned about the killing of Osama bin Laden. (People on Twitter learned a little earlier!) It has been an interesting weekend for news. A royal wedding on Friday, a beatification and an assault on public enemy on Sunday. Thank God for Shabbat. We were so busy celebrating a B'nai Mitzvah that we didn't pay attention to the outside world. BTW, both Divrei Torah were fabulous!

This morning I was struck by the sounds and images of the rejoicing in Washington D.C. and at Ground Zero over the death of bin Laden (may his name be blotted from memory). While I am as happy as anyone that he is no longer at large, and relieved he is not going to be around to stand trial, I am struck by the rejoicing over someone’s death and the singing of God Bless America.

Tonight we have class for our Kitah Zayin and Chet students (7th & 8th grade) and tomorrow we have Daled - Vav (4th - 6th). What should we say - if anything?

I am leaning toward telling the Midrash from Masechet Megillot of the angels rejoicing at the sea juxtaposed with the rejoicing of the Israelites (as retold by Pinchas Peli):
"It was indeed part of the miracle which occurred at the crossing of the sea, that the Israelites looked at what they saw and were moved to faith. It was this spontaneous faith which erupted in the exalted immortal Song of the Sea. Song and praise has remained ever since the most genuine language of faith. Most of Jewish prayer does not consist of petition and supplication, but of hymns and praises. The Song of the Sea sung by Moses and the Israelites is to this day part of the daily Jewish liturgy.

Singing to God is not without limitations, just as not singing may have fateful repercussions.... Rabbi Yohanan comments that when the ministering angels wanted to sing hymns during the crossing of the sea, God silenced them saying: 'The work of my hand is being drowned in the sea, and you chant songs?' (Babylonian Talmud Megilla 10a).

This comment of Rabbi Yohanan was often quoted to show the humaneness of the Jewish attitude even towards the worst enemies. Even as the Egyptians were chasing the Israelites to push them into the sea and God wrought the miracle making the wheels of their chariots swerve, sweeping them into the water which soon covered chariots and horsemen, even then no wrathful vendetta, but consideration for the casualties of the enemy was the order of the day." - Pinchas Peli, Torah Today, p.67-68
It shows that rejoicing is a very human response, but when we think deeper we have to remember that a human life has been ended. Juxtaposed with spilling the ten drops of wine for the ten plagues, it leads to a more thoughtful response. In an e-mail forwarded to me by Rabbi Jim Prosnit, Arthur Waskow points out that the angels are rebuked, but the humans are not. The celebration is a natural response, but when we hold ourselves to a higher standard (which we teach our students to do), we have to remember that four people were killed.

I agree with the president that justice was served. I am not unhappy that bin Laden is gone - even with the likelihood that his followers will retaliate. But I am uncomfortable serving that dish with lots of relish. I am generally opposed to death penalty. Like the State of Israel, I am willing to make an exception for proven or avowed mass murderers like Eichmann or bin Laden. But I am not certain the lesson I want to teach is that we dance when they are killed. The images were eerily reminiscent of the dancing in Gaza and Ramallah and Tehran on September 11, 2001. America and Judaism both teach us to be better than that.

An apocryphal story: Before the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1948, it is said that Golda Meir met secretly with King Abdullah of Jordan (the current king's grandfather) to urge him to sit out the conflict. It is said that he refused because the political fallout of not joining the war was unacceptable, and possibly fatal to him. The story goes that he apologized to Golda in advance of the attacks. She is said to have replied: "I can forgive you for killing our sons. I cannot forgive you for forcing my children to become killers of yours."

Maybe it is just too soon, but I know that we need to help contextualize this for our students and ourselves. I would truly like to hear your ideas. What is the lesson we need to teach here? What is the blessing? Do we bless the true judge, or do we praise God for wondrous deeds?

Cross-posted to Davar Acher