I'm in NYC for a hot minute attending training to lead a Birthright Israel experience this winter. After a relaxing (yet highly productive) train ride through the foliage of New England, I arrived at Penn Station ready to go. Heading toward the exit to hop in a cab, I stop. Right in front of me is a colleague/former camper/friend of mine. [Mind blown.]
In a building with thousands of people running, balancing their coffee and food while heading to catch their trains or scurrying off to their various destinations, I literally walked into someone I knew. Acknowledging the cliche, Larry Milder's lyrics "Wherever you go...there's always someone Jewish" immediately popped into my mind. I find it amazing that I was in this enormous city for a whole five minutes, and I had already found a familiar face. Jewish geography...more like Jewish GPS ninja skills!
Today's training was informative, exciting and important, as I take my first steps to trying something new - travelling to Israel for the first time in my career, and leading 40 young adults in a transformative and exciting chapter in their Jewish journeys. I am approaching this entire experience much like I did the last (and only) time I was in Israel, back in 1998 as a 16 year old who was just beginning to chart out his journey. I am soaking it all in, listening, and connecting the dots to the work I do in youth engagement and experiential Jewish education throughout the year. And as I hear the cars and pedestrians outside my hotel window in the city that never sleeps, I smile, excited to continue the journey tomorrow.
Kavanah that I wrote for the first Shabbat of Staff Training Week at URJ Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA.
All the people that we saw [in the Land] are people of great size...and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them. (Numbers 13:32-33)
Come with me on a journey back through time.
You and I are part of the Israelite people. We have gotten out of Egyptian slavery. We are free. Slowly but surely, we are making our way to the Promised Land of Israel, the land God promised to our ancestors. Through all those years of slavery, we have waited, and now we are about to enter the Land.
But, we can't just walk into the Land. Yes, God will lead us, but we will have to fight for it. Moses tells us that we need to know more about the Land before we enter. God tells Moses to send people to spy out the Land, to sense its strength, how fortified the cities are, the nature of the people and armies we would encounter, and to figure out how difficult the battle will be. We all have so many questions.
But, God says not just shelach, "send," but shelach-lecha, "send for yourself." Send the spies - for your own benefit, not Mine. It's as if God is saying, "Moses, your people have doubts. So, to be more confident, send people to take a look, to investigate, to learn and prepare. I am not asking for blind faith here; go and look for yourselves.
So, Moses sends out spies - not just anyone, but tribal leaders. They complete their task, and then they return and give their report. "It is a good land," they say. "It flows with milk and honey, but the cities are large and fortified, the people are extraordinary fighters and gigantic. They are too powerful for us."
We become nervous. How can we do this? We have not finished training yet. What tools do we have to help us?
Let's pause and switch story lines for a moment.
Much like our text reads, so has been the path for many of us as we came to camp this summer. A new land. Unsure what lies ahead. Many of us have come from taking exams at university or return after working our "real jobs." Some of us are new, exploring the land, meeting the people, learning the culture. We see ourselves as grasshoppers amongst giants. Others are returning home, excited to reunite with old friends and meet new ones, taking on new roles and experiencing camp in new ways. We're not sure what adventures this summer will bring, and if we are prepared for new challenges with which we will face.
How often in our own lives do we shy away from challenges? They may be difficult. If we walk around, seeing ourselves as grasshoppers worried about the uncertainty that lies ahead, we will miss out on accomplishing the dreams and hopes we have for ourselves. We must lift our heads up, see the promise that lies ahead, and the excitement of the unknown. We can do great things.
Use staff training as an opportunity to become acquainted with the people and places that make camp the special place it is. Take advantage of the time you have to refine your skills (and learn new ones). And this summer: pick your head up. Don't be a grasshopper. Rather, be a Nachshon. Take that leap. Explore the land. Meet the people. Walk with purpose. Dream great dreams. Aim higher. Look for the little things that will lift you up. Be the person you can truly become.
Adapted from Don't Be A Grasshopper by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman in Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin. This is a new publication that I highly recommend for anyone that works with youth, or wants a fresh take on Torah which we can relate to our daily lives.
Last spring, I wrote about why I thought every classroom needed to include iPads for student learning. Fast forward a year, and many downloaded apps, and I stand by my previous blog post.
I'll cut right to the chase. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Press has released iT'filah: The Mishkan T'filah App. I downloaded it on the first day it was available for a few different reasons:
1) I was curious about how it would be formatted, and what different technologies would be incorporated into the app. Not surprisingly, there are multiple surprises included! From the ability to navigate effortlessly through the e-Siddur, to the option to listen to selected prayers and blessings with a simple tap on the screen, I consider this a very successful first attempt.
2) Continuing from my last point, I then thought about how the app could be used in the educational setting. Whether in the classroom or sitting at home with a B'nai Mitzvah tutor, this hits a home run for many reasons. Our students (read: digital natives) are hard-wired to tap, scroll, search and record. They do it all day long, and they need to be doing more of this in the Jewish educational setting. Center-based learning opportunities? Check. Individual enrichment? Check. Smart-technology-based lesson ready? Check.
3) This is the first (of my knowledge) Reform-friendly siddur application for the iOS. There are a large number of apps that have been around for a while, but none of them connect to me like the book I pick-up when I enter the sanctuary on Friday nights. To be able to pray out of my iPad...is a thought I haven't had yet. But now I'm wondering: what will it feel like to be holding the digital device vs. an actual book? Will I find it enhancing my worship experience, or taking away from it? I don't want to distract others, but also am interested in providing an example that there are different ways to connect (pun intended) to the worship experience. Does an iPad belong in a sanctuary, even one that is using screens, a wide array of microphones and musical instruments? The iPad is all of these, but in a different case.
Rabbi Marci Bellows (fellow tech-lover and URJ Eisner & Crane Lake Camps enthusiast) has a thoughful piece in The Jewish Week.
Here's an interesting blog post by a colleague in the field that poses the counterpoint.
So...in summary...my jury is still out...kind of.
For the Jewish educational setting: homerun. Kol ha'kavod to Dan Medwin and CCAR for making this happen. As always, I'm excited to see what the next steps will be as we better utilize technology to enhance our learning and connections to Judaism.
For the worship experience: stay posted.
I'll come clean. I'm one of those people...kind of. I woke up at 4:30am to wait in line the first week to get my iPad 2, but the person in front of me got the last one the store had in stock that day. He got there at 4:15. Yup. So I had to wait another three weeks for mine to come in the mail, since I refused to repeat that experience. Now, in the bigger picture, this is not such a big deal. I had waited for the iPad 2 to come out rather than get the first generation, as I knew this one would come with a camera and all the other things the first one should have...which is also why I will never get a first generation Apple product again after my experience with the iPod. You get the picture. So I was excited, and I waited. On a cold, rainy Thursday afternoon in April, it arrived. Finally. And it was even better than I had hoped. (Side note: I must give my father props for not rolling his eyes throughout the entire process, and even pretending to be excited as I showed him all of the cool things my new *investment* could do. He can always count on me for a good story, although my bet is that he'll be more excited that he got a shout-out in this blog!)
For starters, the main reason I made the purchase was for school...both personally and professionally. I'm currently studying Jewish education, and I had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to ditch my heavy laptop (and many of my textbooks) and start using my new iPad to take notes in class, check email and social media in between classes, and load a few of the available books onto it so I only had to schlep around one bag instead of two. Success. It's awesome.
(Dramatic statement alert) For work/the classroom...I believe that the iPad is a much better option (in most cases) than a netbook. The educational apps that are available making learning come alive in a new way that is incredibly exciting. Whether it's using browsing the web or listening to music as part of a lesson, there are a myriad of uses for this hand-held device. Most importantly, is what the app store brings to your finger tips. Check out Jewish iPhone Community, a blog that lists and reviews many of the Jewish applications available for the iOS platform (along with Android, Blackberry and others, too).
And finally...my thesis statement of this post: Behrman House ROCKS. Every time I get an email from them, I do a little dance. This past week was no different. They just came out with ANOTHER amazing app for the iOS platform. You should check all of them out. Talk about incredible tools for center-based learning activities in the classroom, or a wonderful way for intergenerational learning at home/in the car/on the beach/wherever you go. They are trailblazing the way to connected Jewish educational experiences in the palm of your hand, and it's a market that has been (thus far) pretty boring until they came along.
Simply said, every single b'nai mitzvah student should have this app for both in-class and at-home engagement. From center-based learning options to personal review, iTorah Blessings provides a unique opportunity for students, parents, educators and tutors to engage with the brachot in an interactive, fun and meaningful way. I find the auto-record feature to be particularly exciting, as it enables real-time feedback and analysis in a way that is extremely user-friendly. Behrman House has done it again, and as an educator who strives to strategically incorporate technology in my classrooms and programs, I sincerely appreciate their efforts in creating such solid products for us to help our digital natives connect to Jewish education in new and exciting ways.
Two weeks ago, I was teaching about zachor (remembrance) and what the Mourner's Kaddish was all about. I broke out my iPad (which instantly earned me bonus points with my students), and showed them iComfort, which teaches the traditions, rituals, blessings and prayers for the mourning process. We got to listen to (and record ourselves reciting) the Kaddish, and then learned about it. All on the iPad. Need to learn the four questions for your Pesach Seder? iMah Nishtanah has you covered. Looking to brush up on the Sh'ma? Take iShma for a spin...complete with flashcards!
Bottom line? Check Behrman House out, along with some of the other great products available for the iPad. These apps are interactive, fun and well designed. Now we just need some Jewish video games...