by Eric Lightman
The new 6 Points Science & Technology Academy is gearing up to tackle one of our nation’s biggest challenges: providing quality educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for children. Last year, President Obama said that our efforts to improve STEM education are “going to make more of a difference in determining how well we do as a country than just about anything else.” But not all education need take place in a classroom—and the informal educational model that summer camps have perfected over the past century seem a perfect model for delivering engaging science and technology experiences to children.
Supported by a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp through the Jim Joseph Foundation and the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Union for Reform Judaism’s 6 Points Science & Technology Academy is one of four new Jewish “specialty” camps that will open in the summer of 2014. Specialty camps are an avenue through which to engage more children in immersive Jewish summer experiences. With an increasing number of summer options, having to choose between two seemingly divergent types of programs (Jewish camp and specialty camp) presents a dilemma for Jewish parents. Our goal is to offer the best of both worlds: expert specialty camp instruction in a warm, fun, Jewish environment.
6 Points Science & Technology Academy will feature hands-on, project-based learning for children ages 10-14. The camp will be located in the Boston area, taking advantage of local resources from professors at MIT, entrepreneurs working in the Route 128 high-tech corridor, and the nearby Museum of Science. Far from being a typical a summer camp experience, 6 Points Science & Technology Academy seeks to engage youth in active learning experiences, encouraging them to explore and develop their interests and valuing their curiosity for the world around them.
Planning for the new camp is an 18-month process. First, we must work out the details about the “look and feel” of our community and program. How many hours per day will campers spend in a science lab? How often will they go to the pool? What elective activities will we offer? How we will incorporate the Jewish element into our daily life at camp? Then, marketing and recruitment will take center stage. With no existing camper base to recruit from, our staff will canvas North America to raise awareness about our program and explain its value to campers and parents. A facility must be secured, staff must be hired, and program curricula must be crafted with the help of professional educators and experts in their field.
To aid in the process of launching the new camps, the FJC provides not only funding to cover start-up costs, but also a series of intensive camp director trainings and professional mentorship. During the course of three years, the directors will go through a series of 10 week-long workshops covering every aspect of camp management, from marketing to programming to board governance. The goal is ultimately to build self-sustaining institutions within five years and increasing the total number of children attending Jewish summer programs.
In addition to the URJ’s 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, other camps being launched with the FJC’s support are: Camp, Inc., focusing on business and entrepreneurship; Camp Zeke, focusing on health and wellness; and JCC Maccabi Sports Camp. These camps join five others that launched in the summer of 2010 as part of the FJC’s original specialty camp initiative, which included the URJ’s 6 Points Sports Academy, based in Greensboro, N.C.
Science is a natural fit with Jewish summer camp. We want our children to be critical thinkers, explore new experiences, learn to live both independently and as part of a cohesive community, and make positive contributions to the world around them. These elements pervade both the Jewish community and scientific community that we will create at 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, and will define the next generation of committed, passionate Jewish scientists.
Eric Lightman is the director of 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, a URJ summer camp opening in the summer of 2014. For more information about the camp, please e-mail email@example.com.
Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address focused on a myriad of issues, many of which show up again in his budget proposal. There is a 4.4% increase in education spending, $1 billion over five years for affordable housing projects, $21 billion in state funds for disaster relief, recovery and mitigation and a provision to raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 effective July 1, 2013.
The minimum wage provision is the center of many conversations in Albany. Should this provision remain intact when the state legislature passes the budget, it would mean a $1.50 increase per hour for nearly one million minimum wage workers in the Empire State. This item could gain some Republican support, but Democrats are not pleased that it does not include a provision to index the minimum wage for inflation.
Education funding is also set to increase should the Governor get his way. The current proposal calls for $889 million to be added to the state’s $20.8 billion education budget for competitive grants, assistance for poorer districts to provide extended school days and full-day kindergarten, and one time aid to struggling districts.
Expanding affordable housing for New Yorkers was among the issues Governor Cuomo discussed earlier this month in his State of the State. According to the proposal, there are 2.9 million households in New York that spend more than 30% of their annual income on housing costs. The House NY program included in the budget proposal would allocate $1 billion over five years to maintain and construct 14, 300 affordable housing units around the state.
An additional $36 million will be utilized to implement the NY SAFE Act, the new gun violence prevention law.
Looking at 89-page summary document, it is important to discuss what the Governor did not include in his proposal. First, there is no mention of hydrofracking in his budget; while pro-fracking advocates see the delay in legalizing the controversial drilling practice as a loss in state revenue, anti-fracking groups are congratulating the Governor. Most likely, it is not included because the state’s environmental review of the practice remained unfinished.
And for all the talk of education in this budget proposal, there was no discussion of the DREAM Act in either this proposal or Cuomo’s State of the State. The bill, passed by the Assembly last year and reintroduced this year, would provide tuition aid to undocumented immigrants.
Also missing from the proposal is any mention of campaign finance reform and the Reproductive Health Act, key issues for the Governor and Reform Jewish Voice.
It’s now up to the legislature to balance and pass an on-time budget. Should they pass it by March 31, 2013, this will be the third consecutive year in which they have done so.
While funding state programs and balancing the budget are necessary actions each year, perhaps the most intriguing and exciting provision in this proposal is the minimum wage increase. Reform Jewish Voice of New York State has worked on this issue for many years now and in response for Governor Cuomo’s proposal signed a statement put together by the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State emphasizing the importance of this issue.
by Rabbi Benjamin David
Every two years, the teens of our movement rejoice in anticipation of the coming NFTY Convention. It is Hanukkah and Purim rolled into one, the Super Bowl and your birthday colliding at top speed, an all-you-can-eat buffet boasting nothing but your favorite foods.
No matter where it is held, what the theme is, or what the schedule might look like, all of us recognize how much does not change from one convention to the next: an opportunity to connect with young people who are at once so similar to you and are living Jewish lives that are entirely their own, an opportunity to expand your sense of Jewish practice, an opportunity to bask in the teachings of our youth advisors and clergy, an opportunity to see your teen existence as more than SAT scores and college applications, more than AP History courses and driving tests, but rather as a life’s moment impossibly defined, against all odds, by inclusion, by love, and by Torah.
We at Adath Emanu-El believe in the NFTY Convention. We believe in its lasting value, just as we believe in the lasting value of URJ Camps and the array of programs our congregation and our movement offers young people. We believe in the NFTY Convention’s power to continue to shape our youngest leaders as they grow in character and confidence. And we do more than say we believe in it. Every member of our youth group’s executive board is automatically paid for in full. Every member of the general board automatically receives half-off the tuition. Youth group members at large automatically receive quarter-off tuition. This money is budgeted and is not need-based. Additional scholarship funds exist for those who request it.
The generosity of the congregation in this regard has a two-fold effect on our teenagers, I believe. Just as Moses is both humbled and empowered in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, our teens inevitably come away both with greater feelings of humility and with very real feelings of empowerment. They see that to be part of a true congregational family is to provide for one another in ways that are genuine and meaningful. As part of a kehilah kedoshah, we give and we receive. It is a gesture that teaches some of the best of Jewish values: generosity, modesty, gratitude, and continuity. The teenagers return standing taller.
I am incredibly proud of the nearly dozen young people from Adath Emanu-El who will soon spend a long weekend in Los Angeles, squinting into the glow of a radiant and living Reform Judaism. They will come back to their people, like Moses, more ready to lead us, more ready to face the years ahead, and more ready to live a Judaism of substance and of spirit.
Rabbi Benjamin David is the senior rabbi of Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, NJ. He is married to Lisa David, who is associate director of camping for the URJ. They are the parents of Noa, Elijah, and Samuel. Rabbi David is also the co-founder of Running Rabbis, a non-profit initiative that seeks to engage clergy of all denominations in acts of tikkun olam.
Editor’s Note: This piece is excerpted from Rabbi Abrahmson’s keynote address at the 2013 WRJ Fried Leadership Conference.
by Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson
It has been a remarkable week for women. On Monday, the women’s restrooms in the United States Capitol happily boasted a line, thanks to the record-smashing 94 female House members needing to use it. In like fashion, 26 women will join Israel’s new parliament, a record-setting increase from 21 in the 18th Knesset. Among the new members, Pnina Tamano-Shata, Israel’s first female Ethiopian elected to Knesset and also Ruth Calderon, who established Alma, an egalitarian, liberal yeshiva in Tel Aviv.
On Tuesday, we marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision to protect women’s reproductive rights. Though these rights continue to be challenged, 40 years – a number of note within Jewish tradition – reminds us to recommit to women’s health and to accessible birth control for all women who make that choice. Of far less significance but more discussed this week, Michelle Obama cut her bangs (a cut deemed insufficient by Republicans critics), and she appeared in a ball gown designed by, if you can believe the audacity of the woman, Jason Wu, the same guy she wore four years ago. My favorite commentary was by a CNN female reporter who remarked, “Perhaps she just likes the dress.”
Of course on Martin Luther King Day, when we pause to honor and celebrate Dr. King’s dream of equality, an African-American President took his second oath of office and in his inaugural address courageously asserted:
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.
And he boldly stated:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.
I immediately thought of this gathering when President Obama referenced The Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention to be organized in the Western world held in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in the summer of 1848. Largely fueled by the vision of a group of radical Quaker women, the conference provided the spark to ignite the women’s suffrage movement. And here we gather, on a snowy winter’s erev Shabbat to celebrate a century of this organizations impressive and ongoing contributions to Reform Jewish life, to improving community, to social justice, to women’s opportunity, to meaningful and accessible Reform Jewish education, to vibrant synagogue youth groups, and to our precious URJ camps, a shining jewel in this movement’s crown. Mazal tov!
Today this esteemed organization’s executive director is a rabbi, a talented and knowledgeable Jewish woman ordained 27 years ago. It is my honor and pleasure to be here with all of you for many reasons, and one is that I am Rabbi Feldman’s classmate. We started our training in Jerusalem with your financial support and your longtime role-modeling of women’s leadership off and on the bimah. Between the two of us we have nearly (gulp) 55 years of rabbinic experience!
I know that in the coming hours you will reflect on the many remarkable milestones and achievements of which the Women of Reform Judaism – you – are so proud. At the same time, I wonder with optimism and anticipation, how will our conversations, our study, our prayer, our hallway realizations, our ah-ha moments, our visions and inspired directions inspire us for meaningful change that will, someday, be traced to this conference? In thinking about all of this, I remind you of the greeting card I have received enough times to know that I represent a bit of its truth and urge you to do the same: Well-behaved women seldom make history.
And there is no better time in history to be a Jewish woman. In a classic Talmudic tale, (Menachot 29b, Babylonian Talmud), God transports Moses forward in time to the study house of the renowned second-century sage, Rabbi Akiva. Moses sits at the back of the classroom and listens carefully to the day’s lesson. He is utterly confused and dismayed. He can’t understand the discussion, even though Rabbi Akiva and his students are discussing the Torah that Moses himself brought before the Israelites! As this story teaches, Rabbinic Judaism so revolutionized Jewish life that the rabbis themselves wondered if Moses could even understand the tradition attributed to to him.
Can we imagine how the 156 women who gathered in this city in 1913 to form the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods would respond to what they would hear and see in this very room and city tonight? I suspect they would experience a bit of spiritual shock; dizzying disbelief. I think they would pray the Shehecheyanu. We would turn around and thank them for creating the sparks that ignited a prolonged revolution in Jewish life. We would embrace them as our sisters who tenaciously provided the “ladies” a chair and then a permanent seat at the table of Reform Jewish life. We would express our gratitude to them for carving out a space where the voices of (politely) misbehaving women could be heard within congregations and by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. We would tearfully applaud them for generating opportunities for us to connect and network, to share both recipes and rigorous study, to learn and to legislate, to write music and midrash, to preach and to protest, to wear talitot and trousers, to teach Torah and to record our own published commentaries on the Torah. And then we would rush to invite them into our circle, hand them a timbrel and sing with unbridled joy, “We’ve just lived through [many] miracles, we’re going to dance tonight!”
Marking a significant birthday, we look ahead, we squint, as did our foremothers and fathers, beyond the shores of the known to what lies ahead. Let me frame it more directly: When we are, many, many years hence please God, the souls standing in the back of the WRJ gathering to be held here in Cincinnati in the year 2113, (in springtime I suggest) what will we see? For what will our granddaughters and great-granddaughters thank us? What fires will we have ignited to warm their Jewish homes and hearts? What will surprise us? What will be familiar and what foreign? What change will we have generated in this organization that will be fully realized in the next century? What work will we have to do to get there? Are we curious enough to change? Imaginative enough? Flexible enough? How ready are we? These are the questions being asked by the new leadership of the URJ, indeed being asked by thoughtful congregations across the denominations and by national Jewish organizations.
Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, a member of the URJ Faculty, is president of The Wexner Foundation.
by Cantor Ellen Dreskin
Not many of us stop to think about the role of storytelling in our lives. Everything that happens to us is sifted through our own filters, our own history, our own set of circumstances, and settles in our hearts and our brains as a story – our story. If Torah or liturgy or Jewish tales speak to us, it is probably because we feel the truth in these Jewish sources as it intersects with our own experience. How many of us remember our desire to hear the same bedtime stories again and again and again, and how many of us tell those same stories to our own children? We can watch the same good movies over and over, marvel at our clergy’s ability to weave stories together into powerful divrei Torah, wonder at the capacity that music has to move and motivate us, and teach our children through imagination, metaphor and value-laden tales from the past. We hold our family history dear through documents and photos and folklore. These stories from the past tell us more about who we are in this present tense.
For all of these reasons and more, my friend Fran Moss and I began talking several years ago about what we affectionately called “Hava NaStory.” Based on the huge success of Hava Nashira, OSRUI’s songleading institute held each year in May in Wisconsin, we dreamed of a four- or five-day series of workshops for storytellers and those who love the world of Jewish stories. Something that would appeal (we hoped) to clergy, teachers, youth directors, parents, performers – all those who understand the power of a good story and long to be in community with others who feel the same way. A place for those who wish to sharpen their skills and use their gifts to help others do the same; a place for those who want to learn how to tell stories; a place for those who would simply like to listen and be touched and inspired.
Thanks to the wonderful director (Jerry Kaye) and staff (Barbara Gordon and Susan Alexander) of OSRUI, our dream is becoming a reality. The first Maggid Jewish Storytelling Workshop will take place February 28 – March 3, 2013 in Oconomowoc, WI. Co-organizer Fran Moss and I are extremely fortunate to work with a stellar faculty – Danny Maseng (chazzan, performer, maggid and musician), Marilyn Price (educator, entertainer, storyteller and puppeteer) and Jordan Hill (educator and maggid, known for weaving Jewish tales with energy, enchantment and a deep sense of the sacred). We are crafting programs, workshops, master classes, and sessions that will include “Best Practices for All Ages,” “Chassidic Stories,” “Stories in Worship,” “Props and Puppetry,” “Enlivening Torah,” “Children as Storytellers,” and more. The schedule will also include story-sharing and open mic sessions.
For all those who understand the importance of a good story well-told, who are in positions where the art of storytelling (be it Torah, Tefilah, school, or stage) is paramount, it is our hope that Maggid will open doors and celebrate this under-appreciated art that is so much a part of all of our lives.
Are you an educator? Send a teacher. Youth Director? Send an advisor. Clergy? Send anyone charged with enlivening worship or Torah study in your congregation. Simply a lover of stories? Treat yourself and register now. We look forward to seeing you there!
Cantor Ellen Dreskin is currently the Coordinator of the Cantorial Certification Program at HUC-JIR in New York. She also travels extensively as a Cantor/Scholar-in-Residence: leading worship; creating educational programs; and teaching music, liturgy, and torah to Jewish communities across the United States.
Last year the Tu BiShvat seder at Temple B’nai Torah was so successful that this year it was incorporated into our 8 p.m. Shabbat service this past week. A committee of hardworking and dedicated volunteers coordinated everything so we all could participate in a traditional Tu BiShvat seder—including nuts, wine (grape juice), and fruits associated with the holiday—as part of our Shabbat service, which—because of the seder—was held in the social hall.
As is our custom for special services, the portable ark, including a Torah from the sanctuary, was brought into the social hall, and tables and chairs were set up. The junior youth group decorated the tables with handmade paper chains on which members had written holiday messages focused on trees. As congregants and worshipers arrived, our ushers greeted them, distributed a service booklet specially created by the rabbi and two congregants, and encouraged families to sit together.
Throughout the seder, our rabbi asked volunteers to read passages that discussed the Tu BiSh’vat traditions, the reason for the ceremony, the prayers related to the holiday and the importance of the specific foods being eaten. Because it was snowing and spring was on everyone’s mind, the second passage read that evening seemed especially appropriate: “It is the time of year when we on Long Island are so often enveloped in gray. Tu BiSh’vat beckons us to reflect upon spring.”
At first I was taken aback by the use of a printed service booklet, but as the service progressed—especially during the reading of this passage: “Plant trees to replace those we and others use”—I realized that we were, in fact, honoring the traditions of Tu BiSh’vat. The trees were recycled into paper, which enabled us to have the booklets. In the spirit of conservation, the booklets would be reused in one of our classrooms, further honoring the idea of recycling.
During the service, the cantor incorporated holiday-themed music including David Mallet’s Garden Song and we ate and drank as the seder progressed. I was fascinated to learn that the reason for starting with white wine or grape juice for the first cup was “To remind us of winter. The earth is barren, sometimes snow covered.” Slowly adding red for cups two and three represented the “awakening flowers in spring.” A young girl at my table noticed how the colors mixed and some glasses were not as light pink as hers. Perhaps, as the explanation of the third glass suggests, the red helps us “cherish the warmth of our bodies and of all living things shared by people in this room, and the warmth that comes from knowing that God is everywhere.”
It wasn’t until the rabbi told of being in Israel and exiting from a Holocaust museum into a forest of trees that I realized the beauty and sense of awe that trees can create. Although we do not have a forest in our temple’s backyard—thanks to many of our dedicated congregants—we do have a beautiful garden around our building that always seems to be in bloom.
As the service drew to an end, the congregation read the final passage together: “There is no symbol of the fullness of God. The Torah shows that the best we can do is to live our lives well and recognize our responsibilities.” I like to think that, as the URJ website describes, “During this festival we consider our obligation to care for God’s world, of which we are the custodians, and our responsibility for sharing the fruits of God’s earth with all.” Indeed, with everyone doing his or her part, the world is in good hands.
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