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17 years. I'm a very different person, and Israel is a very different state since the last time I was there as a participant with NFTY L'Dor V'Dor! I am beyond excited to be staffing a Taglit Birthright trip with URJ Kesher, and will be blogging regularly with my participants as we explore, discover and connect to our Jewish homeland.
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Learn more about URJ Kesher & the Taglit Birthright experience >>
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.
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." One of my favorite childhood movies, I am finding Ferris Bueller's words to resonate with where I am and how I'm feeling. We're always running. Moving. En route to the next place, thing or task. When does it stop?
I haven't blogged in months. Not because I haven't wanted to or had thoughts I wish I could share, but because I haven't been able to prioritize a frequent opportunity for sitting, thinking and writing. Now that I've typed those words, I'm cringing and questioning why my internal alarm hadn't sounded before now.
Wrapping-up another "day off" from work where I had a constant flow of work-related thoughts as I was catching-up on a few things on the personal side of the fence, I came across two articles that are very much connected:
The Disease of Being Busy
Mindful Moments in a Multitasking World
I read the articles. I posted one of them on social media and then I stopped. I read the comments. All of them. Scrolling through dozens of personal stories and connections, I am reminded once again that we are not alone on the journey. And while, at times, we feel that we are, I still wonder why. Why are we caught in this race-to-nowhere culture? Why do I feel bad when I want to schedule a lunch date or coffee with a friend while I know that my to-do list is waiting for me? Why don't we do something about it?
Today is Friday. Tonight is Shabbat Vayeira. Just a little bit of drama in this one (!) with Abraham arguing with God, Lot's home is attacked and his wife is turned into a pillar of salt, and there's a great deal of family-related crap to boot. Ultimately, God tests Abraham, instructing him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. Skipping over some pretty juicy parts of the story, this summary is only half of what's happening here. So what am I taking from the text this week, in connection to where I currently am?
Abraham gets educated on what is right and just.
It's not in the lesson, but in the journey that he figures it out.
He is confident that there is good among the evil.
While we're running around, we don't always see what's happening around us. We don't always hear what we need to be listening to. We don't always take time to appreciate what is not sticking out in front of us. So, maybe, in the coming week, we can try to do the following:
Listen a little more carefully.
Silence the unnecessary noise for just long enough to discover something new.
Find an answer to a question that's been present.
Remember that there is good...even if you have to search among the bad.
[Originally posted on the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy Blog]
Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. He is reconfirmed through the test of the staves in which Aaron’s staff miraculously sprouted almonds. (Numbers 17:16-24)
Yesterday, I drove to a new place. In 11 days, this place will become a new Jewish overnight camp. In between these two spaces in time, we have A LOT of work to do. I am feeling incredibly blessed to be in this place, at this time, with these people and doing what I love. We’re creating a camp. We have an amazingly talented leadership team, and I am in awe of the insight and creativity that surround me. I’m developing systems and protocol and schedules that will help provide the tools our staff needs to make this place come alive and support the transformative experiences that will undoubtedly be part of this summers’ narrative for both our campers and staff. I am vastly aware of the sprouted almonds in my life. I am beyond excited, and while I’ve been here for just over 24 hours, I haven’t been able to catch my breath…until now. It’s almost Shabbat. While we will continue to dream, build and create, it will be in lockstep with opportunities to reflect, recharge and renew our excitement for the holy work we will be doing over the next week. Throughout this inaugural summer at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, we will have the ability to make magic happen. And for this first Shabbat at camp, I’m thinking a lot about how I can help our staff team be the best we can be, and how we can give some of our “sprouted almonds” to each other as we begin this journey.
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[Originally posted on the TBE Youth Community Blog]
Today was supposed to be a special day. It was Patriot's Day...aka Marathon Monday, the Boston-created holiday that pays tribute to our history and our community. Many of us were doing what the majority of Bostonians were doing: enjoying our day off from work/school and spending time with family and friends. After taking in the sights for a few hours, I made my way home and turned on the television to watch the rest of the race while planning to catch-up on some things around the apartment. And then the texts started coming in...
"Are you ok?"
"What's going on?"
"We're watching the news...what is happening?"
"Tell me you're at home and not in the city."
I didn't want to sit glued to social media and my television following the updates that were streaming in all afternoon. I didn't want to call and text my friends and family to make sure they were okay. And after trying to digest everything for the past few hours while we coordinated communication efforts for our temple community, I certainly didn't want to turn the computer on to write this. I wanted to jump in the car, drive back to Boston, and help. I felt both helpless and hopeful all at the same time. I wanted to go donate blood, help direct traffic and lend a hand where I could.
From our local authorities: stay away. We're getting the situation under control and working with many partners to ensure the safety of everyone involved and at home.
From the Red Cross: blood banks are currently full, thanks to the immediate support of runners and people in the area. Check back to donate in the future.
Our world is so fractured. I immediately started to think out loud, "this is Boston. This is home. How could this happen here?" I then thought back to the last blog post I wrote, unfortunately of similar nature. And while I have immense difficulty coming to terms with why something so bad would happen on a day that is supposed to be so good, I have hope. Inspiring does not even begin to describe the concept of athletes finishing a marathon running through the finish line directly to donate blood for those neighbors in need. Our first responders rocked it, quickly helping to create order and bring support in a very tough situation. "Boston is a tough, resilient and proud town." Yes, President Obama, we are. But we also are extremely lucky to have received the out-pour of love and support within minutes of this tragic event from our friends and family around the country and world. And for all of this to happen on Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut...as we remember, honor and celebrate our brothers and sisters in Israel, who know this type of situation all too well. And to the point that the American media make reference to their training on how to handle such situations. Wow.
So after the initial shock, after the emails, after the texts and phone calls, and after taking some time to simply sit and think, I created this for our community:
A prayer, a request, a hope. If you're in the area and available on Tuesday evening, please join us at Temple Beth Elohim. Let's come together and bring some light into the darkness. I know how thankful I am for the love I receive from my friends and family, for being part of our TBE community and the amazing greater Boston Jewish community, and for the overwhelming support and outreach that we've received from family and friends from all over. As we think about those who are in need of support during this difficult time, let's talk to our children about what's going on. If you or someone you know needs support during this difficult time, please contact a member of our TBE Clergy Team. And let's pray a little louder. Hug a little tighter. And hope for peace.
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Today began like any other Friday. I got up, excited to celebrate Chanukah with the TBE community this evening. I got to school. Studied. Went to class. But during my class, my phone was vibrating and glowing with notifications. I sat there for two hours trying to pay attention to my classmates, as my mind kept drifting to places outside the classroom. I was thinking about the students, educators and administrators of Newtown, CT. I was thinking about the local officials trying to help a community facing such tragedy. But I was also thinking about my kids. No, I'm not a parent. But I have the honor of working with thousands of youth throughout the year. They're my kids. They're our kids. I want to make the world a better place for them. And I can't even begin to understand what's going on in Connecticut right now. I exchanged greetings with my classmates, and ran to my car to turn on my radio. I sat in my car and listened. I listened to parents crying. I listened to members of a shaken community asking why such a thing would happen, and why it had to be them. I listened to an emotional President address our nation:
And then my mom called. Even though I'm 30, and am in the middle of finals in my grad program at school, some things don't really change. Ever. It's nice when your mom calls you when you're upset about something. I'm thinking about the young lives that were lost. I'm thinking about a community that needs a whole lot of love and support right now. And I'm thinking about the program I ran for NFTY Northeast when I was an Overall at December Institute my senior year of high school where I had my peers write letters to their local officials asking for stronger laws around gun control. That was 12 years ago.
But right now, our Junior Youth Groupers are having a blast at their Chanukah Extravaganza. Our community will light the Chanukiyah and celebrate the 7th night of Chanukah and Shabbat with song, community and plenty of delicious fried food. And on Sunday, we'll gather to celebrate the end of the holiday, engaging in acts of tikkun olam and enjoying the music of Safam. We have much to be thankful for. And yet, our hearts and prayers are with those in Newtown. As we light our Chanukiyot and Shabbat candles, may some of our light illuminate our fractured world. May those affected by this tragedy find some form of shalom this Shabbat. And may we hug our friends and family a little tighter, sing a little louder and come together and continue our efforts to make this world a better place.
I hope you'll join us tonight and on Sunday. More information can be found on our website: http://tbeyouth.org/chanukah. Also, here are some articles and resources worth checking out:
RJ.org: Coming Together After Tragedy
Union for Reform Judaism: Bereavement
Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism:
Reform Movement Horrified by CT School Shooting; Reaffirms Call for Sensible Gun Control
The Jewish Bereavement Project
NFTY: Reflecting on Tragedy
Zichronam Livracha - may the memories of the departed be for a blessing.
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...
Today was the traditional "catch-up on all the sleep I missed" day upon returning home from an amazing and reJEWvinating five days in Dallas for NFTY Convention and Youth Workers Conference. Here are just a few of the thoughts that have been on my mind:
The NFTY and URJ Staff who helped make everything happen this week deserve to be commended for successfully incorporating some incredible technology into the mainstream programming for participants and staff alike. From text-based surveys to Visual T'filah, cell phones were used as tools to enhance programming and screens and videos were used to engage visual learners and participants in new ways. And...then there was the tweeting that was going on. Yes, you read that correctly. I said tweeting. NFTY did something that very few communities have been able to do to date: successfully engage a large group of teens in communicating via Twitter. Not only was this done successfully, but it was also presented tastefully as an additional option to plug into the action and excitement that was going on at Convention. Teens were using hashtags like professionals by the second day, and it was evident fairly immediately that something special was taking place. While NFTY had a stream of tagged posts on the Convention live blog page so anyone could plug in to the conversation, participants also had friends and family members following along from back home. Furthermore, there was an active practice of retweeting and commenting - clearly exciting to see your tweets broadcasted to other participants and followers!
Why do I think this is such a big deal? Because we now have hundreds of teens (and youth professionals, too!) who saw the value in how we can use Twitter to enhance our communities and extend the reach of our programs, relationships and conversations. So...I must ask...if not now, when?! (Pirke Avot 1:2) Now is the time for our communities and organizations to capitalize on this. Here are just a few easy next steps to consider:
For a variety of cool tools, articles and examples of these thoughts in action, refer to one of my resources pages for a workshop I have led for a few different organizations during the past year.
Again, kol ha'kavod to everyone who made this happen. This was a true "lead by example" moment. I think the potential this little experiment showed is incredibly exciting, and I'm looking forward to seeing how NFTY embraces and utilizes this as they transition their communication strategies and platforms in the months and years ahead!