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A Heavenly Earth Day

Fri, 05/09/2014 - 12:00

By Rabbi Everett Gendler

Thirty six years ago, when Jimmy Carter was president, he established a number of regional Solar Energy Centers to encourage the use of sun-fueled electricity.  Attracted to the idea of plugging our temple Eternal Light directly into the sun, I and several members of Temple Emanuel, Lowell, MA, investigated the feasibility of converting our Ner Tamid to solar power.

Its symbolic appropriateness is evident.  Non-polluting, not in danger of imminent depletion, it seemed perfectly suited as a pure symbol of illumination and eternity.  We obtained two solar panels, storage batteries for hours of darkness and periods of heavy cloud cover, and at the dark of the year, during Hanukkah, 1978, we celebrated its installation.  People appreciated its symbolic value, and in December, 1991, we celebrated its Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

During my remaining years as rabbi of the temple, the light ever so gently kept nudging me:  Why only a symbol?  Why not real production of more usable electricity for your temple?  The question was not easily answered.  Succeeding U. S. administrations did not maintain the solar energy centers, and the necessary technical information was hard to obtain.  Even though the Light was included in a Union of Concerned Scientists-Real Goods book, Renewables Are Ready, published in 1995, by then I was retiring from the temple, and so it remained symbolic, not pragmatic.

Fast-forward to 2014, when Massachusetts, led by Governor Deval Patrick, has offered assistance to towns and cities interested in solarizing.  Among the communities participating in this project is Great Barrington, where we live year round.  We made inquiry, received a follow-up phone call, then a preliminary interview with one of the Real Goods Solar representatives.  The roof of our house is solar panel-resistant, but there is a section of our front hayfield that seemed ideal: an unobstructed stretch of south-facing land that would not be subject to unwanted shade.

The official site visit was fixed for April 22nd, Earth Day.  So that morning, two knowledgeable solar technicians came and mapped the exact location for the installation this summer of 44 solar panels, enough to supply all of our electricity needs with surplus to feed back into the National Grid that provides our electricity.  Thanks to policies of both the U. S. Government and Massachusetts, there are tax credits and rebates also to speed up recovering the original costs of the installation.  At some time well before the coming of the Messiah, and while the panels are still under warranty, we should have not only all of our electricity without cost but earn some additional credit as well.

Granted, it has not been instantaneous, but the slow solar suasion has finally seen fulfillment.  Worth noting, also, is that the number 44 is the number of candles we burn each year at Hanukkah.  Add this solar dimension to the auspicious coincidence of the site mapping happening on Earth Day, and I think it fair to call it a Heavenly Earth Day.

Rabbi Everett Gendler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, MA, and he was the first Jewish chaplain at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA.  Rabbi Gendler played a pivotal role in involving American Jews in the civil rights movement and he has dedicated his life to social justice, nonviolence and environmental stewardship. In more recent years, he has been honored with the “Lifetime Achievement” award from the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, the “Human Rights Hero” award from T’ruah and the Presidents’ Medallion from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In “retirement,” Rabbi Gendler and his wife, Mary, continue to travel regularly to India where they are helping the Tibetan exile community develop an ongoing study program on strategic nonviolent struggle.

The Gendler Grapevine Project is a six-year initiative established to promote activities within the Jewish and interfaith communities that honor and support the values maintained by Rabbi Everett Gendler. Learn more about the Gendler Grapevine Project and the innovative projects the organization supports.  

Double Booked: No More Pee Wee Parenting Please

Fri, 05/09/2014 - 11:00

By Rabbi Josh Brown

Those of us who are fond of the 1980′s likely remember Pee Wee Herman and his incredible breakfast machine.  Rolling out of bed, Pee Wee would flip the switch of his oscillating fan and put an orchestra of pulleys and wheels in motion.  Without touching a pot or pan, eggs were cracked and fried, pancakes flipped and toast zipped across the room landing into the toaster only to be flipped onto Pee Wee’s plate without any effort at all.

As a product of the 80′s I am a member of a generation that values efficiency and organization.  We love coffee makers that fill our cup in less than a minute, requiring no set-up, clean up or even a carafe.  We love that our phones play music without having to flip a switch or turn a dial.  But as a rabbi who works with teens almost every day, I also worry that our passion to be efficient comes with an emotional cost.

When we convince ourselves that parenting is getting the food from the fridge to the table in time for school or getting all three kids to all 6 of their daily activities without a hitch is the goal, we neglect what truly makes working families work.  We neglect that efficiency is not effective if it lacks time for emotion.

Sheryl Sandberg shares in her recent book Lean In, that she used to think that success in business was about being efficient, organized, focused and compartmentalizing her professional life.  Then she realized that “leadership is often more about being authentic than perfect”.

The same can be said of parenting.  I realize this every time I ask a 12 year old to write a thank you note to her parents in honor of her bat mitzvah and she writes “Thank you mom for driving me everywhere, all the time”.  And I cringe when often, gender stereotypes aside, the next sentence thanks dad for “paying for everything.”

As the father of two young children whose parents both work full time, I know that time often feels like our most endangered resource.  And even with the deep support system and financial comfort my wife and I enjoy, we forget that perfect parenting is not the goal, present parenting is.  Our mornings are far from perfect.  We run late, we forget lunches – some of us have even been known to put on different colored shoes or forget a belt.  But if this is the cost of being able to look our kids in the eye, I have to believe it is worth it.

As Sandberg learned in the most efficient, structured environments in corporate America, “authenticity is not about efficiency, it is about sharing true emotions.”  This is the challenge we adopt as working parents.  Can we be as efficient as we are emotionally authentic?  Can we share emotional selves, not just our resources with our children?  Are we as interested in their passions as we are their grades?  It is not about scheduling, it is about sincerity.  The result is not a perfect parent, but it is a better one.

In preparing this blog, I went back and watched the Pee Wee Herman breakfast scene.  This time as a parent.  It brought back memories of my childhood and that sense of silliness that kids naturally embrace. Now, I realized, Pee Wee has a really cool breakfast, but he sits at the table alone.  This is not what we want for our kids.

As we focus on the very real challenges working parents face every day, I pray that our definition of a working family is not limited to one able to put food on the table and get to school on time.  That is, simply put, Pee Wee parenting; parenting with efficiency.  All parents, working or not, strive to provide for all of our child’s basic needs.  There is no more basic need than the authentic emotional relationship a child has with his or her parents.  For that reason and many more, it is a need worthy of preserving.

Rabbi Josh Brown is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska.  He is married to Carrie Lewin Brown and they have two children, Hannah (4) and Noah (1).  

Comments are an important part of the conversation. Share your thoughts in the comments sectionThis blog is part of a special RACBlog series, “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century,” dealing with the many issues that affect working families, and featuring everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.

ROR Stands with Ruth: Omer Week Four

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 18:15

By Rabbi Esther Lederman

This is the fourth in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the Omer and the issue of immigration.

I never intended to become an immigrant to this country.  Like much of life, it just happened.  I took a job, and then another, and then went to graduate school. Before I knew it, I had lived in this country for fifteen years.  America had gradually become my home.  It is where my best friends lived, where I found my calling as a rabbi, where I had my first congregation, where I fell in love with the man who would become my husband, where I gave birth to my first child.  Yet I was no closer to being a permanent resident than the day I had moved here fifteen years ago.  And then my application for permanent residency was denied.   Like Ruth, I was at risk of losing my home, of everything I knew, of losing that sense of rootedness and stability I had taken for granted. 

Like Ruth, I was lucky. My story eventually has a good ending.  I reapplied and was accepted, thanks to my American husband, (and no, his name is not Boaz) and am now the proud owner of a green card, looking forward to that day when I will be able to become an American citizen.  The ground on which I stand feels strong.

But for millions of immigrants to this country, the millions of Ruths that exist out there, there is not yet a happy ending.  Millions of immigrants live here, in the shadows, struggling to remain a part of the fabric of our country, fearful of driving down the street, unable to pay for college, without the protection of family or an ID.  Thousands of parents are being deported every day, taken from their children, leaving their kids parentless, entering foster systems, taking on jobs, failing in school.

For these millions of souls, there is not yet a happy ending. The key word in that sentence is yet.  Their story and fight is not over.  This is the week of Netzach in the counting of the Omer.  Netzach stands for endurance and fortitude, and ultimately, victory.  It defines an energy that will stop at nothing to achieve its goals.  It is the readiness to go all the way, to fight for what you believe.  It stands for the ability to endure in the face of challenges and hardship and believe that things are possible.

Being an immigrant requires Netzach.  Being an ally in the fight for immigration reform requires Netzach.  With legislation stalled in the House, with deportations at an all time high, we all need a little Netzach.

This Shavuot, I encourage you to stand up and say:  I stand with Ruth.  I stand with the millions of Ruths in this country who have the Netzach to see this fight through to the end, because their lives depend on it.

Rabbi Esther Lederman is a rabbi at Temple Micah in Washington, D.C.

We stand with Ruth – and so can you! We have created a special liturgy and text study for our Shavuot campaign. Will you show us your support for this campaign by pledging to use one or both of our resources?

This Shavuot, we recommit ourselves to working with the modern-day strangers among us. This Shavuot, we stand with Ruth.

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is a joint project of the CCAR’s Peace & Justice Committee, the URJ’s Just Congregations, and the Religious Action Center. Learn more and join the mailing list at rac.org/ror.

Jordan River Baptism Site

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 17:24

Final preparations are underway for Pope Francis’s May 24-26 pilgrimage to the Mideast. During a brief stop in Jordan, the pope has invited Syrian refugees and disabled young people to join him for a meal at the Jordan River baptism site. Located just across the border from Israel, the spot is revered by many Christians as the place where John the Baptist lived, Jesus was baptized, and Christianity began.

The post Jordan River Baptism Site appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

In a first, Israeli women take test for kosher supervisor

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 16:51

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Nine women took the Chief Rabbinate’s exam to be kosher inspectors — the first time females were permitted to take the test.

The women took the exam Wednesday in a separate room from the 200 men taking the test at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.

Allowing the women to take the test resolved a lawsuit filed last year with Israel’s Supreme Court by the Emunah organization, which runs a kosher supervision course for women. The court had asked the Chief Rabbinate to allow the course graduates to take the exam, Haaretz reported Thursday.

The Chief Rabbinate’s decision to allow women to take the exam was based on a ruling by Chief Rabbi David Lau made over the objections of Chief Rabbinate members.

Jewish Drag Kings Reclaim Male Roles for Women

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 15:00

An actress donning a hasidic rabbi’s outfit for a performance might be considered offensive by some – but a growing number of Jewish drag king performers redefine male Jewish roles.

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N.J. Rabbi David Wax Pleads Guilty in $100K Orthodox Agunot 'Get' Extortion

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 20:31

New Jersey Rabbi David Wax pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges as part of a scheme to force an Israeli man to give his wife a get.

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Kansas City Rampage Suspect Eyed Synagogues and Kosher Restaurants

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 15:06

The FBI found printouts containing addresses of synagogues and kosher eateries in the home of Kansas City shooting suspect Frazier Glenn Miller.

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Supreme Plea for Inclusive Kind of Prayer

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 06:00

Jane Eisner learned the value of inclusive prayer over breakfast with a Catholic cardinal. The Supreme Court’s ruling on prayer at town meetings proves it has yet to learn that lesson.

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Jewish Groups Slam Supreme Court for Ruling Approving Prayer at Town Meeting

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 11:38

An array of Jewish groups decried a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing prayers at town hall meetings.

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Tunisia Synagogue Damaged in Anti-Semitic Attack

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 08:57

A synagogue in Tunisia was vandalized in what a human rights activist and some Jews described as an anti-Semitic attack.

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Tunisian synagogue vandalized in suspected anti-Semitic attack

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 07:27

(JTA) — A synagogue in Tunisia was vandalized in what a human rights activist and some Jews described as an anti-Semitic attack.

The Beith El synagogue in Sfax, located 150 miles south of the capital Tunis, was ransacked on April 30 by unidentified individuals who littered the floor with prayer books and tallitot, or Jewish prayer shawls, according to a May 4 account by Ftouh Souhail, a human rights activist and attorney who monitors the situation of the country’s Jewish community of 1,700 people.

He said that signs indicated that “Islamo-fascists” were behind the vandalism, which he said was anti-Semitic.

Souhail quoted a 76-year-old member of the Jewish community identified as R. Perez as saying: “They tore apart walls, paintings and threw them to the floor … this is vandalism directed against the Jewish heritage of Sfax. I cried like a child at the sight of my place of worship in this state.” The account appeared Sunday on the website Dreuz.info with a video of the synagogue after the attack.

Souhail said that “available information showed the perpetrators were a group of 10 students from the Technical High School of April 9.” He said they broke into the synagogue while wearing hoods that concealed their faces.

According to Souhail, the attack last week was the third time that “pro-Palestinian elements perpetrate these shameful acts against the synagogue of Beith El.” Previous attacks occured in August 2011 and December of 2012. In one of the attacks, the perpetrators stole silver chandeliers that weighed 120 pounds, according to Souhail’s account, which said Sfax’s Jewish community was made up of approximately 20 elderly Jews.

“Tunisia has seen a wave of anti-Semitism since the 2010 revolt,” Souhail wrote in reference to the revolution that in 2011 swept the country’s former ruler, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, from power.

The website and Facebgook page of the Tunisian interior ministry, which regularly contain updates about crimes, did not immediately offer any information on the incident.

A Daughter's Letter to Her Father for Mother's Day

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 06:00

Leah Vincent writes a letter to her father for Mother’s Day — and in the process, reclaims the Sh’ma as a woman’s prayer.

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Keeping Guns Away From the Torah in Georgia

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 06:00

A new Georgia law allows guns practically anywhere, including houses of worship. One Atlanta rabbi explains why her shul decided to declare itself a weapons-free zone.

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Finding My Life Role Models at NFTY

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 05:00

When I was growing up, I never met any rabbis other than my congregation’s rabbi. Dr. Renov (we never called him ‘rabbi’) was a scholar. Our congregation, Temple Judea, was small and he served there part-time. Dr. Renov also taught college and perhaps the academic arena was his first love. While he was a nice man, Dr. Renov did not exactly have a way with children or teens. He was formal and reserved. Our confirmation class was made up of three boys. On Sunday mornings, we would meet with Dr. Renov in his small overheated office. I don’t remember what we studied in his class, but I do remember the musty smell of the room, the hiss of the radiator, and struggling to stay awake.

Our temple did not have a youth group and after my Confirmation in 1975, there were no activities for the teens at my temple. Despite Confirmation, I enjoyed being at temple and wanted to find a way to continue to spend time there with my friends. Along with a couple of friends, I started a youth group. We contacted the local region of NFTY, (North American Federation of Temple Youth), then called CRaFTY (City Region, a Federation of Temple Youth). Before long, the CRaFTY regional advisor paid a visit to Temple Judea. Howard Jaffe, the advisor, was a college student at the time. When I became a regional leader, I got to know Howard pretty well. Howard wanted to become a rabbi. Though I was already wondering if this was the career for me, I had never met anyone who wanted to become a rabbi.

Soon I was attending regional NFTY events where I met other people my age who wanted to become rabbis, and some who were a few years older and already in rabbinical school. At places like Kutz Camp and Eisner Camp, I met Eric Gurvis, Elyse Goldstein, and Danny Freelander. Like Howard, they were all going to become rabbis. I met other people who would go on to work in the Jewish community, like Ira Schweitzer, who would become an educator, and Amy Dattner, a song leader.

Though my parents wanted me to become a doctor (what else?), I knew that medicine was not the career for me. Until NFTY, I knew what I did not want to be — but I did not know what I wanted to be. After becoming involved with NFTY, I knew that I, too, wanted to become a rabbi. Many of the people I met through NFTY and at Kutz and Eisner became my role models. They were smart and kind and even funny. And like me, they loved being Jewish.

Of course, not everyone who is involved in NFTY becomes a Jewish professional. My road to the rabbinate was not a direct one. In the decade between my involvement with NFTY and beginning my studies at HUC-JIR, I often worked as a temple youth advisor and religious school teacher. I became an active member of two congregations.

I did not know much about the rabbinate when I decided to become a rabbi. I had only been to a few synagogues and did not know many rabbis. It was the young adults who worked with NFTY who became my role models. Being a rabbi is much more than simply a job or career. When I met Howard, Eric, Elyse, and Danny they were not yet rabbis. More than just career role models, they were my models for the kind of life I envisioned for myself. All these years later, I am still amazed that I am now a colleague of theirs.

Rabbi Victor S. Appell is Congregational Marketing Director and part of the Marketing and Communications team at the Union for Reform Judaism.Rabbi Appell grew up in the Reform Movement, serving as a regional NFTY president and a staff member on Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA. Rabbi Appell was ordained from Hebrew Union College in 1999, and began working for the URJ in 2005. He, his husband, and their two children live in Metuchen, NJ.

We are grateful to Women of Reform Judaism who have supported NFTY for 75 years and continue their generosity as Inaugural Donors to the Campaign for Youth Engagement.

Even Better Together

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 20:12

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Beth Lipschutz and Julie Marsh

When we were growing up in CNYFTY and in NFTY-MV, the only thing better than being with our temple youth groups was when our advisors would plan an event with other youth group advisors.  This gave us the opportunity to see our friends outside of our temple walls.  Still today, teens in our congregations enjoy seeing their friends outside of regional events and outside of their own congregations. Teens today are looking for the “congregation-to-congregation” interaction.

Some of the most successful programs that we have seen in our regions have developed from a partnership between synagogue professionals and teens in the same communities. We have noticed from experience that more high school supplementary education programs are combining efforts in order to better meet the needs of teens, and some temple youth groups have started partnering for events as well.

Three Florida congregations in the Miami area have come together to share youth group events and Hebrew High School events.  We have measured success by teen involvement, teen retention and teen outreach.  The three congregations will be continuing to program together next year to give their teens a larger Jewish teen community beyond their own walls.

This past year in Denver, the middle school teens from two large congregations participated in all youth group programing together.  Throughout the year, they got to know each other better, relationships were being formed and friendships were created.  The teens started to ask their own advisor when they will be seeing the other group again.  For next year, they are already working on a joint calendar as the professionals have recognized the success of community building.

The value of partnerships is clear: providing more diverse learning opportunities, facilitating relationships between a variety of teens and community leaders, and leveraging resources to maximize what we can offer in a given community.  NFTY6, a new initiative to engage teens beginning in sixth grade with age-appropriate programming, is built around this concept of partnership and collaboration, and we are excited to be a part of its launch.

NFTY6 provides an opportunity to create several different types of partnerships:

  • The first is creating partnerships among congregations.  One of the main focuses of NFTY6 is for local congregations to work in partnership with each other to create experiences for their sixth graders to come together, learn together, and have a good time together. Sixth grader participants will feel connected to the larger Jewish community as they build relationships with their peers, and others in the community. NFTY6 will be the model for focusing on the value of congregational partnerships.
  • Another partnership is with adult mentors. NFTY6 will focus on engaging adults, especially young alumni, and providing them with an opportunity to take on leadership roles and build relationships with teen leaders, sixth graders and their families. The NFTY6 model will provide an avenue for young alumni to build relationships with NFTY staff, as well as congregational staff, and create a new opportunity for alumni and college students to participate meaningfully in congregational life.
  • Most importantly, the sixth graders will build partnerships with teen leaders and with each other, offering relatable role models in a safe, nurturing, and welcoming environment.

We are building NFTY6 around the best principles we have seen in our communities.  Here are some that you can model in your community:

  1. Facilitate the creation of a safe space for sixth graders from different congregations to build relationships with each other.  Start the dialogue between congregations, get teens excited to meet each other and utilize community resources to create innovative experiences.
  2. Experiment with integrating formal and informal learning opportunities
  3. Provide opportunities for young alumni to reconnect through mentoring
  4. Encourage staff and lay leadership from your congregation to participate in informal educational programming opportunities with your teens
  5. Try something new with content, location, or timing
  6. Reach out to your NFTY regional staff to begin a conversation about creating meaningful experiences for younger age teens together

We are currently building our partnerships with congregations, alumni, and teens as we prepare to launch our first NFTY6 programming in the fall.  We are excited to introduce a new generation of teens to NFTY as they begin their individual Jewish journeys at such a critical moment in their lives.  We’ll keep you updated as we continue to learn and experiment and we’d love to hear from you.  Contact us at: blipschutz@urj.org and jmarsh@urj.org.

Beth Lipschutz has been the NFTY Missouri Valley Regional Director of Youth Engagement since fall 2011.  She graduated from the University of Missouri with a BS in Elementary Education and attended the University of Denver where she earned her MSW.  Before working for NFTY, she was a local youth group advisor, teacher, school social worker and summer camp staff member at Shwayder Camp in Colorado. Additionally, she has worked as an inclusion specialist in several different camp communities and continue to support the NFTY staff in including teens with disabilities in programming.  She’ll be teaching the Mitzvah Corps Major at Kutz for the second summer.

Julie Marsh currently resides in Palm Beach County Florida, where she is beginning her 4th year as the Regional Advisor of NFTY-STR. Before working for NFTY she was a local temple youth group advisor & Religious School Teacher for 5 years in NFTY-GER and 10 years at Temple Israel in NFTY-STR.  She spends her time working together with Youth Professionals, Clergy, Temple Professionals and lay leaders to find meaningful ways to engage teens.  When she is not encouraging youth to be leaders, Julie enjoys painting, spending time with her daughter Kiley, husband Lee, dog Sweet Pea & her friends & family.  

How Orthodox Divorce Puts Israel Women on Black List

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 13:58

When she decided to split up from her husband, she went before an Orthodox rabbinical court and, after two perfunctory hearings and little discussion, received a religious writ of divorce.

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Supreme Court Upholds Town's Pre-Meeting Prayer

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 12:10

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the right of government entities across the United States to allow sectarian prayers prior to public meetings.

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Starting the Journey: Guiding Principles for Making Our Communities More Inclusive

Sun, 05/04/2014 - 09:37

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Lisa Friedman

When I first began my tenure at Temple Beth-El, I met David, a student in grade 5 with a significant learning disability and attention issues. Members of the Child Study Team at David’s public school suggested that David not attempt to learn a foreign language as it would be too overwhelming for him. This wasn’t acceptable to his parents, who wanted David to both learn and love Hebrew so that he could become a bar mitzvah.  We met David’s academic needs by individualizing his instruction, and his bar mitzvah was a highly meaningful experience.  But for me, this is where David’s story begins.  I always knew that David could learn Hebrew and become a bar mitzvah; we just needed to meet his needs appropriately.

What is significant is that David continued beyond his bar mitzvah. It was with great joy that I sat in our sanctuary as David and his peers confirmed their commitment to Judaism.  David also went on to become an active member of our youth group, serving on its board and becoming an active member of NFTY.  This is the success story!  Without our unique programs and an intentional approach to meet the academic, emotional and spiritual needs of every child, David would have been that frustrated boy who fought coming to Hebrew school.  He may have barely finished 7th grade, and he would have struggled through the bar mitzvah process.  Instead, David’s handsome face radiated joy from the bimah on the evening of his Confirmation.  Including children with disabilities is about so much more than getting kids through religious school.  We are responsible for shaping young Jewish lives.

Inclusion can seem overwhelming for a community that has not previously offered inclusive programming for individuals with disabilities. My advice for congregations that are looking to begin this process is to start small, but start somewhere. Often the hardest part is getting started. Here are some guiding principles for building a more inclusive community:

1. Identify the key stakeholders.

Inclusion of people with disabilities is not a one-person job. While one person can light a spark, no one person can change the culture of a synagogue alone.  Assemble a core group of professionals and lay people. Include someone with disabilities and the parent of a child with disabilities.

2.  Recognize that inclusion is about changing a culture.

Culture change is a process. Recognize that you have embarked on a long-term endeavor and that the process itself can and will be as significant as the destination.

3. Work with vision

Successful Jewish organizations are vision oriented. Most synagogues already have a vision statement and/or are familiar with the process of creating one. Frequently, religious schools and youth programs have their own, separate vision. Are these vision statements in line with one another? Is inclusion a central part of the vision? If not, it is time for an update!

4. Set Goals

This is an opportunity to dream. Do not engage in discussions of what may or may not be possible at this stage, as you will limit yourself. (This should sound familiar – it’s a principle that applies broadly to all of our youth engagement work!)

5. Prioritize Goals

Discuss with your stakeholders what is realistic and possible in the short-term and what must be tabled for a later point in time.  This is most frequently the place where we get stuck. Ideally, you will be able choose 3-5 goals to act upon, but if you must choose only one to enable movement forward, do that.

6. Get Help

If one of your stakeholders is not a professional in the disability world, this is the time to explore bringing in a consultant.  And if one of your stakeholders does not have a disability or a child with a disability, here is the place to find someone who can share that perspective.  Your goals will help to determine if you should seek an architect, an educator, a lawyer, etc.

7. Share

Most importantly, let the rest of the congregation know about your efforts.  Changing a culture requires transparency and support; keeping your work a “secret” until a program or event is “ready” can be a mistake. Inclusion is not about an isolated program, it is about relationships. Invite others into your conversations. This, too, is a key principle that applies more broadly to all of your youth engagement work.

Here are some additional tips for creating an inclusive environment in your congregation:

  • Teachers and educators who work with students of all abilities need ongoing professional development rather than one-shot, one-day training. Your congregational network probably has untapped resources – seek them out!
  • Offer differentiated instruction for students by using stations, and by placing teen madrichim (classroom assistants) in classrooms.
  • Partner with parents. Open and supportive communication with parents is essential for a successful Jewish supplemental school experience for any child, especially those with special learning needs.
  • Special Education is good education.  The strategies, values and goals that make special education successful are actually the strategies, values and goals that will help all students find success.

Inclusion is not social action. We do not “do” inclusion “for” people with disabilities. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how all the things we do can be inclusive. Ultimately, this is all a work in progress. Experimentation is not only okay – it is desirable, and it helps us to find the best solution for our students. What are your tips for building an inclusive community?

Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey, a position which includes overseeing an extensive special needs program within the Religious School and youth programs designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. Lisa consults with Jewish organizations to develop inclusive practices and is a sought-after speaker on a wide variety of topics for professionals, lay leaders, teachers, parents and teens.Lisa blogs on the issue of disabilities and inclusion at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block and has also been featured in such publications as The NY Jewish Week, ReformJudaism.org, and Kveller.com.  

Winnepeg College Chief Shunned by Shul for Allowing Israel Apartheid Week

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 14:00

Winnipeg’s leading synagogue withdrew an invitation for the University of Manitoba’s president to address its Yom Hashoah interfaith service following anti-Israel events on the university campus, the National Post reported.

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