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I am a believer that we all have a desire to continue our own growth as human beings, to make our personal journeys meaningful. But I also see that we are pulled in many directions that often distract us from the experiences we would like to have.

 

I would like to encourage you this year to try something that perhaps will be new. The idea of a “class” doesn’t really describe what it is that we do when we offer our adult learning opportunities. When I think of a class, I think of a school setting where information is being shared and we take the data.

 

Our adult learning “classes” are really opportunities to have our own encounters with our own faith tradition’s ideas and values. We meet others within our community to become familiar with traditions, to learn about ideas from texts, but ultimately, they are challenges to be better, to do better, and to be inspired to try harder.

 

I love learning together because there is an intimacy that we can get with other people that draws us closer to one another. And yes, it draws many of us closer to God. As Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon teaches: “When two sit together and exchange words of Torah, then the Divine Presence dwells with them.” (Pirkei Avot 3:2) It isn’t just about the learning that brings God’s Presence closer… it is the sharing, it is the openness to new ideas, it is the closeness we can have with another person to help us grow. When we engage in real relationships that aren’t hierarchical, but communal, then we invite God to be a part of them. That has always moved me when I teach… because I receive at least as much as I give from those who are learners with me.

 

So here is the pitch…  Try it. Let us know if you’d like to attend a class by sending an email to rsvp@bethtikvah.com. We have an abundance of opportunities. Here are just a few:

Monday, August 4 at 7:30 pm

Join me in the Library to mark Tisha B’av, the 9th Day of Av, which marks the Destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem.  We will explore its meaning in Jewish history and its meaning for Reform Jews today.

Thursday, August 21 at 7:30 pm

I will be leading a session on “Preparing Your Hearts for the Days of Awe.” What do we need to do to show up on Rosh Hashanah ready for atonement and healing?

Sundays, August 24 and September 14 at 10:00 am

Let’s explore the Days of Awe together! We will have a book discussion about the book:  This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew.   From Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur to Sukkot, we will journey together and emerge fresh and whole again.  Meeting dates:  8/24 (Chapters 1-5) from 10-11:30 am in the TBT Library; and 9/14 (Chapters 6-10) from 10 -11:30 am at the Coleman Village Starbucks at 930 Marietta Hwy.

Our discussion leader will be Cindy Getty.  This book is available from Amazon as a hardcover or on Kindle. For more information or with questions contact Cindy at rsvp@bethtikvah.com.

September 20 at 9:00 pm – Selichot are “penitential prayers” (prayers asking for forgiveness). We call the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashanah Selichot as a special day. Before our brief, late night service that includes changing the covers of our Torah scrolls, we learn about the themes of the Days of Awe – why are they so holy, ideas of teshuvah/turning and acts of atonement, and prepare our hearts for the Days of Awe later that week.

New: On Yom Kippur, after the Late Service (of our Morning Services), we will have a conversation on Forgiveness with a very special panel. Cindy Getty will be moderating and participating, so will Rick Winer, a psychiatrist and our Gabbai. More to be confirmed. Watch for details.

What else is in store? We are planning to continue our partnership with the The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning through the Brill Institute at the MJCCA (Monday nights). We are organizing our Women’s Study Group that will meet monthly. Rabbi Donald Tam, our Rabbi Emeritus, Cantor Kassel and I will be announcing our classes shortly. We owe great thanks to Cindy Getty, our chair of adult education, for putting all of these pieces together. You can contact Cindy directly with any question or if you would like to get involved (her email is in our newsletter).

May this year not only be a great year of learning, but one where we permit ourselves to return to our truest Selves – seekers who are journeying towards truth, contentment and meaning.

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No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s better than that. And I should know: I’ve been starting each Saturday morning with a BLT at TBT for the past ten years because it leaves me energized (by more than caffeine) and feeling smarter than the guy who slept in a Holiday Inn.

It started when I saw a policeman, walking his Sixth Avenue beat at night, who came upon a man crawling on the sidewalk at the corner at 34th Street. “What’s the problem?” asked the cop. “Are you all right?” The man stopped crawling for a moment and looked up, saying, “I lost my wallet.” “Oh”, said the cop, “Where did you lose it?” “I believe that I lost it on 28th Street”, answered the man. “28th Street?” questioned the cop. “If you lost your wallet on 28th Street, why are you searching here, on 34th Street?” Pointing upward at the corner street lamp the man answered, “Because the light’s better here!”

There’s a lesson to this story that actually makes more sense if you put yourself in that place, substituting your Jewish Heritage for the wallet and our Rabbi for the cop. If you’re looking for your Jewish Heritage, or a better understanding of your Jewish roots, or even if it’s God that you’re looking for, doesn’t it make sense to look where the light is brighter? When it comes to Jewish Studies, the light is brighter where more people are searching; each with their own flashlights focused to find what they seek. That’s what BLT is all about.

Bagels, Learning and Torah is Temple Beth Tikvah’s long-running Adult Studies Program (open to mature youth, as well) that has enriched my life with knowledge, understanding, and the friendships shared with the “Regulars” who, like me, return week-after-week, year-after year, each time learning something new and gaining a better insight into who we are, what we can be, and our place in the universe. We, at BLT, will be completing our study of Genesis and Exodus on December 14th and will celebrate the occasion looking ahead to the next exciting chapter on our way to The Promised Land.

Inspired by things I learned at BLT, I asked my father a question that would not have previously occurred to me. “What kind of Jews are we? I know that we’re not Kohanim (descendants from Aaron, the High Priest), but are we Levites or Israelites?” At 87, he was the only one left in our family who might know the answer and I knew that this was a one-time opportunity to learn this about my past. Dad simply said, “We’re Levites.” Having studied Torah at BLT for many years, I knew just what that meant. It meant that my ancestors were from the Tribe of Levi; the tribe of Moses and Aaron; the tribe entrusted with the task of disassembling, schlepping and reassembling The Tabernacle (which included the “Ark of the Pact” – the box with the tablets of the law – and all of the accoutrements of that portable Temple) through forty years of desert travel, on their way to The Promised Land. In a nation with a brief history, some people take special pride in claiming that their ancestors came to America on the Mayflower (1621), or fought in the American Revolution (1776). How many can say that they know their heritage and tribe and their family’s vocation from 3,500 years ago? Believing, as I do, that there is historical record in the Torah, I find it fascinating and exciting that I should be able to know that I am a descendant of Levi, Son of Jacob (who is called “Israel”). Would you care to know if you are a Kohen (Cohen), Levite, or Israelite? Would that knowledge be meaningful to you?

I’ve told you about the man looking for his wallet (not a Bible story, but a New York Midrash). Now, let me tell you about another man on a quest, from a chapter that I learned at BLT, one Shabbat morning, before 10-o’clock Services.

Toward the later portion of Genesis (37:14~28), we read of an incident in which Joseph (11th son of Jacob; looked upon with jealousy by his elder brothers who envied his ‘coat of many colors’ given by their father as a symbol of his favoritism) is traveling alone through the desert, on a mission from his father in Hebron, seeking to find his brothers who are tending the family’s sheep in Shechem. Joseph had been searching for a long time, and was about to abandon hope and return to his father’s camp, when he came upon a stranger, described in the Torah only as “Ish” / “a man”. The man asked Joseph, “What are you looking for?” Joseph asked the man, “Have you seen my brothers who have been herding flocks of sheep in Shechem?” The man answered, “Yes, but they are no longer in Shechem, having moved the herds to Dothan.” Joseph went on to find his brothers and the man was not seen nor spoken of, again. Some have speculated that the man who appeared out of nowhere and disappeared as quickly was an Angel sent by God, but the Torah is emphatic in stating that he was only “a man”.

When Joseph encountered his brothers, following the directions given him by the man in the desert, they (acting out their jealousy of him) threw him into a pit as they considered killing him and then sold him to a passing caravan on its way to Egypt. As the story continues, through many plot twists, Joseph becomes The Grand Vizier of all Egypt (Pharaoh’s “right-hand-man”) and the stage is set for four hundred years of the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt.

From this parasha (portion) we learned that Joseph’s brief, chance encounter with an unknown man in the desert was, perhaps, the pivotal moment in all of Jewish history. Had the man not appeared, Joseph would have returned to his father’s camp without meeting his brothers. He would not have been sold to a caravan; would not have been taken to Egypt, would not have garnered the Pharaoh’s favor and would not have invited the House of Jacob to be guests in Egypt (surviving a famine) where, in the following generation, a new Pharaoh would enslave them all. It is the story of the Exodus; The Children of Israel’s redemption from slavery and their path to The Promised Land of Israel, occurring four hundred years later, that is the foundation of Judaism. Thirty-Five-Hundred years of Jewish history have hinged on the appearance of one small-but-significant character. It is a lesson that any one of us, small and seemingly insignificant, could be the next lone person in the desert upon whom our history may turn.

It could be me. Or, it could be you. But it won’t be you if you’re not there. That’s why I and the BLT “Regulars” invite you to join us on Saturday, December 21st at 9:00AM, in the Oneg Room (rear of the Social Hall) as we start a new chapter in this study cycle when we begin reading Leviticus.

– Ellery Potash, a.k.a Zev Ben Chayim HaLevi

My Youth Advisors (Adam and Bobbee Griff) were right…

Hosting a Regional NFTY event wouldn’t just be great for our teens, but it would have the power to transform our youth programs even further towards becoming a Youth Community.

We had 324 Jewish teens in our facility this past weekend. That in and of itself was a miracle. But more than sheer numbers, what was so powerful was my ability to witness some amazing things.

Fall Kallah 2013 TBT KIDSWe had 45 kids from our synagogue alone opt in to try to have an encounter with a Youth Community. For many, this was their first event; for others, they see themselves as seasoned veterans at these retreats. But our newcomers and those from all around the NFTY-SAR Region (NFTY is the North American Federation of Temple Youth — SAR is the Southern Area Region of NFTY), our teens embraced what Ron Wolfston calls the “Spirituality of Welcoming,” reaching out and connecting people to one another. s

Fall Kallah 2013 Family PanelThey focused on teaching about different kinds of families, our commitments towards inclusion and our respect for diversity. The educational programming was thoughtful and our teens walked away with the perspective of how every family is precious and has integrity.

Our prayer experiences were tremendous. I know I like the traditional tones of our service, but I was exhilarated and inspired by their JOY. There were no spectators in that sanctuary. Our kids PRAYED — with songs that brought them closer to one another and (whether they know it or not…) to God!

Fall Kallah 2013 closing circle

But here is the thing. Our youth advisors challenged us to take on almost all of the housing responsibilities ourselves. Most host congregations reach out to their neighboring synagogues for some help. Why not? Who couldn’t use some extra help? The challenge was made and we needed 70 host families. 60 came from our synagogue. That means, more congregants were able to witness some of these peak moments like I did. They saw a ruach-filled sanctuary come to a quiet, soulful moment as the students sang Sh’ma — holding on to each word for an entire breath. These hosts saw our NFTYites laugh and play, learn and teach. It wasn’t just our youth group board that had responsibilities…it was an array of teens from 8th through 12th grades who played a part. They and their parents were so invested in the success of this kallah.

These hosts — not all of whom even have kids in high school or NFTY! — were able to see how lives could be changed by a meaningful, compelling, fun Jewish experience. So I don’t just have a lot of kids going to Jewish events… I have a bunch of teens who want to build a community and parents who are no longer bystanders. They witnessed how great it is for their kids to find other Jewish teens with similar Jewish needs — for community, for prayer, for justice, and for hope.

So here is the unapologetic, unabashed pitch… help us. Temple Beth Tikvah has three ways to help us support our teens. Consider:

  • an act of tzedakah to our Annual Campaign to support everything that is happening in the synagogue — there is no corner that is not touched by these gifts.
  • an act of tzedakah to our Camp/Israel Scholarship Fund — help us get more kids to summer programs in Israel, Jewish summer camps and learning programs.
  • an act of tzedakah to our Youth Group Fund that provides scholarships for our teens to go to NFTY events when there is financial need or to help fund special programs for our teens.

You can select any of these funds by going to: http://www.bethtikvah.com/make-donation

Make a gift in honor of your teen, of our event, of our Youth Advisors, of our Youth Committee volunteers. The Jewish way of expressing our gratitude is by paying it forward. I am grateful for all who invest in our youth.

Bobbee and Adam — thank you. To our youth group Board and our Kallah Chairpeople — may you all go from strength to strength. To our Youth Committee and parent volunteers — we couldn’t make these things happen without you. To all of our staff, partners, stakeholders, leaders, schleppers, cooks, bottlewashers… it really does take a village.

 

I just received this very helpful outline on how to handle issues relating to the December holiday season from Shelley Rose, the Associate Director of the Anti-Defamation League based here in Atlanta. If you would like to have a better understanding of the law and how to interact with your child’s school, please read this memo. Shelley gave me permission to share it with you.

The Anti-Defamation League knows that as the December holiday season approaches, incidents of inappropriate and insensitive religious expression tend to arise in our public schools.  School-based holiday celebrations often frustrate Jewish fathers and mothers who both want to instill a Jewish identity in their children and to encourage them to learn about other faith communities.

Religious neutrality in public schools is assured through the First Amendment of the Constitution but many parents may not know how to determine if that line has been crossed or how to react when it has been. It is a constant challenge to guarantee both that public schools remain within constitutional bounds and that the teaching staffs are sensitive to the different faiths represented.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast Region Office offers an interactive workshop for parents and students on the “ABC’s of Religion in the Public Schools.”  Adapted to the specific needs of the specific group, this workshop, presented by a trained staff member, will help parents identify the types of religious activities that are acceptable for a public school environment and where to go for help in addressing situations in their child’s school that are insensitive or unconstitutional.

I recently sent information to school superintendents in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee outlining general guidelines around this issue. That information is copied below. Additional resources are available on the ADL website at this link.

If you would like any further information, please contact:

Shelley Rose, Associate Director

t: 404-262-3470 | f: 404-262-3548 | c:678-938-1399 | srose@adl.org

ADL Southeast Website | On Facebook | On Twitter

MEMO TO PUBLIC SCHOOL LEADERS 

Subject: 2013 December Dilemma Letters & Chart

Dear School Superintendent and School Board Attorney:

As the December holidays approach, we at the Anti-Defamation League — one of the nation’s premier organizations defending religious liberty — know that many school districts are faced with difficult questions about how to appropriately acknowledge the December holidays.  In an effort to help you comply with the United States Constitution and create a school environment that celebrates diversity by respecting differing points of view concerning religion, we offer the following suggestions and encourage you to share them with teachers and staff in your district.

  • General Rule: When a school does choose to acknowledge the December holidays, it is essential that the school must never appear to endorse religion over non-religion or one particular religious faith over another.
  • Public schools must remain free from activities that could involve religious coercion.  Because of their young age, students are particularly impressionable and susceptible to pressure to conform to the beliefs of the majority.  Schools must take care to avoid endorsing the beliefs, practices or traditions of the majority religion.
  • Schools must be careful not to cross the line between teaching about religious holidays (which is permitted) and celebrating religious holidays (which is not).  Celebrating religious holidays in the form of religious worship or other practices is unconstitutional.  Teaching about a holiday will be constitutional if it furthers a genuine secular program of education, is presented objectively, and does not have the effect of endorsing, advancing or inhibiting religion.
  • Special school events, assemblies, concerts and programs must be designed to further a secular and objective program of education and must not focus on any one religion or religious observance.  Religious music or drama may be included in school events, but the reason for including that music or drama must be to advance a secular educational goal.  Such events must not promote or denigrate any particular religion, serve as a religious celebration, or become a forum for religious devotion.
  • Religious symbols are not appropriate seasonal decorations in public schools.  The classroom and school premises are the place where children spend the majority of their day. It is important that all students feel comfortable and accepted in their school. Symbols of religious holidays may make some students uncomfortable and unwelcome because their holidays and traditions are not represented or because they do not celebrate religious holidays at all.
  • In an effort to be ecumenical, it is not advisable to rely on information provided by a representative child of a minority religion.  Students should not be put on the spot to explain their religious (or cultural) traditions.  The student may feel uncomfortable and may not have enough information to be accurate. Moreover, by asking a student to be spokesperson for his/her religion, the teacher is sending a signal that the religion is too “exotic” for the teacher to understand.  Finally, in certain cases, the teacher may be opening the door for proselytizing activity by the student, which must be avoided.
  • Remember: diversity includes religious diversity.  In designing holiday programming it is essential to keep in mind that the children entrusted to your care likely have widely divergent religious points of view.  The way you approach the December holidays will determine whether those children whose religious views fall outside of the majority’s are made to feel welcome and comfortable in their school building or whether they will feel as if they do not belong.
  • Of course during non-curricular time, secondary school students may participate in student-led and student-initiated activities that acknowledge or celebrate the holidays on the same terms that they can participate in non-religious activity.  School officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation in the event, nor should they be sending the message that the school endorses the event.  School officials also have an obligation to ensure that students who are not inclined to participate are not coerced in any way by fellow students who are participating.  Finally, school personnel cannot promote or participate in such events in their official capacities, although they may be present to monitor the event for compliance with school rules.

We also have a number of publications that can be of help.

These publications are available on line at our Religious Freedom web-page, http://www.adl.org/civil-rights/religious-freedom/; and hard copies of these publications are available by contacting me at srose@adl.org or  404-262-3470. I am also available to lead workshops on this topic with staff and teachers. Let me know if you have any questions.

This summer I embarked on a three week journey to New Jersey on a program called NFTY Mitzvah Corps. The Mitzvah Corps program is a URJ volunteer program that also exists in other locations such as Costa Rica, New Orleans, and New York. The New Jersey program, however, is the only Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC) where we work in a city environment. When I signed up I did not realize that this experience would be a huge life changing event.

When I landed in New Jersey I knew no one, but once I arrived at the dorm I was greeted by the staff and other teens, and became friends with them instantly. The next day we were introduced to our job sites; we got to choose between four different sites for the session. I decided I wanted to work at Regency, which is a Jewish nursing home. Working there not only changed the Residents lives but mine as well. I mainly worked in the Alzheimer and Dementia unit. At first it was weird and I did not think this was right for me, but after meeting Roger, who always forgot peoples names, somehow he remembered me and was excited to see me everyday. There was another woman, Bobbi, she forgot everything about you in 10 minutes, but what was amazing is she knew seven different languages and could speak them fluently. One of my favorite people there was Martin. He was a quiet guy, but was always so happy to see me whenever I went in the the room to talk to him. He got so excited and asked if I could take him outside. All of these Residents changed my life while I was trying to brighten theirs.

It was not just the job sites that created such an impact on me; several programs changed me as well. The best program of my life was who police officers came in and talked about hate crimes. There was a slide show full of graphic images from the KKK to Neo-Nazis. It all became too real when he pulled up a map of all the organized groups in the U.S. and told us the number of groups was rising. Then he proceeded to show images of different attacks, such as James Byrd, Jr. who was dragged behind a pick up truck and gruesomely killed in 1998. After, the police officer told us he was gay and that he was out, and the other cop was his partner. The second officer, however, was not openly gay because he would be scared if he got into a bad situation that no one would help him because of his sexual orientation. This program made me think about what I can do to stop the hatred of others. Those officers  told us that it’s the simple steps that can stop hate crimes, such as telling people that saying offensive words are wrong.

Urban MItzvah Corps has changed me by giving me an opportunity to do something to help the larger community. Whether it was brightening the day of an elderly person or helping out at a Sandy victim’s house, I grew tremendously. This program as a whole is the best thing you can do for the summer.

Jacob is not only a great guy, but an 11th grader who completed Confirmation, a URJ Camp Coleman alum, a past participant in the Religious Action Center’s L’taken Seminar, and Temple Beth TIkvah’s youth group’s Membership VP.

Whenever I go to our nation’s Capitol, I get chills. The grandeur of the city, the seat of government, the idealism and commitment of people striving to do good. Yes, I am still among those who believe that most of the people who serve our nation in positions of leadership are good people trying to make a difference.

I am constantly inspired by the greatness of heroes, those whose names we know and so many of those we don’t. So to stand at the Lincoln Monument and read his words engraved on the walls is to stand in the center of greatness – not just in the shadow of a great sculpture, but of the words and values he espoused. 

But then I had a moment… Standing not far from Lincoln, just outside of the pavilion, I always visit the spot with words engraved on the floor, showing where Dr. Martin Luther King stood as he gave his great “I Have a Dream” speech. To be in that spot where he inspired not only the crowd, not only our nation, but the world with hopes of equality and justice, is for me to be on Holy Ground. But the one thing that made this moment even sweeter is to be there with my students in our Confirmation class.

Ltaken 2013I travel to Washington every year with our 10th grade students in Confirmation. The year is about learning Jewish sources that relate to God, Torah and Israel to help them Confirm who they are as young Jewish adults. So to stand at the site where King spoke, to witness their compassion and outrage in the Hall of Remembrance at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, to see their inspiration in their eyes at the new MLK Monument, is to see the next Jewish generation’s future.

These 15 year olds joined another 250 students at the L’taken Seminar of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism. The term, “L’taken,” is the first word of L’taken olam b’malchut Shaddai – “To repair the world under the Kingdom of God.” Through the RAC, these Jewish teens from all across the country travel with their rabbis, educators and youth workers to learn about public policy issues from a Jewish perspective and then lobby our Members of Congress in their offices on Capitol Hill. They took what they learned from our seminars, from their visits to these monuments and memorials, and from our Jewish sources from centuries ago and from today… put them all together to make cogent arguments for change, justice and righteousness. They met representatives from the offices of Senator Chambliss, Senator Isakson, and Congressman Price. The students left DC feeling like they accomplished something. Even if our Members of Congress don’t vote in the direction our students requested, they did not sit quietly by. They learned about our system of government and they learned that our Jewish Tradition has a response to every issue.

I am proud of our students. I hope you are too. They took this opportunity seriously, shared their ideas with conviction and passion, and left as true young adults who care about their country as faithful Jews.

It was a sweet moment for me as a rabbi. “Much have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues but most of all from my students.” (Taanit 7a)

Please mark your calendar to join our students for their Confirmation service on Friday, May 3 at 7:30pm.

For more information about the Reform movement’s positions on public policy issues, visit http://www.rac.org. To see the larger Jewish communal agenda on public policy, visit Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

There are many boys and girls in our Jewish community whose most favorite Jewish holidays is Chanukah.  That probably isn’t much of a surprise to many of you.  The festival has emerged over the past several decades in America to be the ultimate gift-giving holiday. 

Many suspect that the focal point of gift giving emerged in the twentieth century as Jewish parents wanted to compensate for the overwhelming presence of a Christmas-centered culture in our country.  Wanting to have our children feel good about Chanukah, traditionally a minor holiday without the major ritual moments of Passover or Sukkot, we began to give our children gifts each and every night.

As the Jewish community in America grew stronger and stronger, the gift-giving aspect did as well.  But in earlier times in Europe, Jewish children received something sweet (a little raisins and nuts) and gelt (“money” in Yiddish).  The practice of giving a little gelt is thought to have emerged when Jews would provide gifts of support the students studying in a yeshivah (seminary). Others think that it was to commemorate the coins minted by the first Hasmonean (the dynasty of Judah Maccabee) ruler in the Land of Israel. 

But today, it is the gift giving that overshadows the Festival itself. 

Chanukah is often translated as an act of “dedication.” When the Syrian Greeks ruled the Land of Israel and occupied The Holy Temple, a small band of Jewish fighters sought to liberate it.  After their victory, they re-consecrated the Temple and said this was a day of Chanukah.  The root in Chanukah is chet-nun-kaf.  The verb l’chanech is to educate.  In the Torah, its original meaning is “to initiate” or “to begin.”  There is an interesting spectrum of meaning of this word, chanukah – bringing together the messages of dedication, education and beginning.

For this Chanukah, may we…

  • begin our observance of Chanukahin a new way, with new priorities and new traditions.
  • dedicate ourselves to bringing light into our lives and into our world;
  • educate our children, grandchildren, students and young friends about the real importance of this festival: the significance of freedom and courage, resilience and securing our Jewish identity.

Some of the moms of our synagogue community have already been wrestling with these ideas: what do they want to teach about Chanukah, how do we show our children that it is not all about presents, and how do create authentic Jewish memories.  These mothers have come up with a program being launched by our Youth Committee called “Chanukah Lights and Mitzvah Nights.”

Instead of marking Chanukah with a new present each and every night, consider doing different things, together as a family.

I believe that children want our presence more than any single present.  And with our desire to raise a mensch, let’s think of new ways to observe, remember, teach and dedicate.  Here are just a few ideas…

Watch for more information from our Youth Committee about Chanukah Lights, Mitzvah Nights.  We hope that you come and celebrate with us on Saturday afternoon, December 15 at 4:00-5:30pm. We will conclude Shabbat together, have some fun activities for our families to bring light into other people’s lives and celebrate the Festival of Lights! Cost of admission: new or very gently used books to replace the East Rockaway elementary school’s library that was destroyed by Super Storm Sandy.

May your Chanukah be filled with light, and may you bring much light to our world.

hannukah nights

Printed in our November issue of the Kol Tikvah.

As a native New Yorker and still a recent transplant to the South, I underestimated the power of living in a Christian community. Even on Long Island, while the Jewish population was far larger, we were always a minority and often felt it. But the sheer numbers and strength of the Jewish community created a different atmosphere.

In public schools, then and now, no one would ever have to contend with a group in schools called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Their mission is to “To present to coaches and athletes, and all whom they influence, the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church.” While it is admirable to live it out your faith, our students are often encouraged to attend these meetings. What is a greater issue, we have a number of parents who permit our kids to attend. Please take note of the phrase …and all whom they influence…. While we want our kids to make Jewish choices, we are often conflicted with the desire to not deny them any opportunity.

I have recently heard from several of you about a not-so-new campaign in some local churches about how to bring Jewish neighbors into the church. This is a missionary group that is being advanced by a very wealthy man who was born Jewish but who has since found a stronger faith in Christianity. His Light of Messiah Ministries’ task is: “Bringing Jesus to the Jewish People.” I even got a free DVD in the mail from him to see his message. 

These are dramatic challenges to our community, but we also face more subtle, perhaps less threatening issues of an unfamiliarity of Judaism and Jews by our neighbors. I have heard from parent after parent about how our schools’ teachers and administrators have not been so sensitive to our community’s needs during the Days of Awe. Many of our students even felt pressure to NOT miss school.

Why am I sharing all of this with you?

I understand the need to live out our faith. I try to do it every single day with every decision I make. I don’t even blame others whose faith dictates that they need to focus on bringing our community over to their faith. But I am not prepared to make it easy for them. We have a lot to offer the world and ourselves. When people contact me asking, “what can I do?” – it is often too late.

I will have a letter for our parents in August and hope everyone will bring it to your school principals and teachers that will explain different holy days and why some in the Jewish community will miss school, and how we would like for them to respond to our needs.

Encourage your child to refrain from “being welcomed” into FCA or sports teams whose mission is to teach the values of Christian faith, particularly the kind of team at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in East Cobb.

Do Jewish! Live out your faith. Try to become better equipped to participate in Jewish prayer. Come to a study session. Register your high school student for our post-b’nai mitzvah programs. Tell your grandchildren how important being Jewish is to you. Being Jewish is so much more than an ethnic identifier. It is more than nostalgic recollections of my childhood synagogue’s sukkah or my grandmother’s matzah balls. We have a worldview, too. The greatest strategy for keeping our kids Jewish and having another Jewish generation is to “live it.” 

As December approaches and schools will decorate the halls with different religious symbols, I have asked my friend and colleague, Shelley Rose, the associate director of our region’s Anti-Defamation League, to learn more about  “ABC’s of Religion in the Public Schools.” This gathering is scheduled for Thursday, November 15 at 7pm. This gathering, for parents and for middle school and high school students, will be an opportunity to learn our rights, receive some strategies, and figure out how to appropriately respond to the concerns we have.

Just so you don’t think that all is lost…just the other day, a prominent, neighboring church’s youth minister invited me to speak to their 80 high school students in their Sunday learning program. The youth pastor saw that the students had such a closed perspective on God and wanted to hear another perspective. I get those calls, too, all the time. As I develop greater relationships with local pastors, I find that there is much work we can do together to develop mutual understanding and respect. They can be our greatest allies in teaching a community unfamiliar with Judaism how we ought to treat our neighbors.  

But we cannot rely on others to secure our community. It begins with us…today.

I am thrilled to be able to offer you the words of one of our community’s greatest students, Ben Lutz. Ben is more than a good student or a sweet kid, he is a decent, kind and compassionate young man. He takes serious issues to heart and strives, as the Mishnah instructs, to be a real, authentic human being…a mensch.

Friends, meet Benjamin Lutz, our Guest Blogger

Israel, the country that continues to inspire.

My name is Benjamin Lutz and I am a 17-year-old rising senior in Marietta, GA. I go to Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, GA with Rabbi Fred Greene. I’ve always wanted to go to Israel so I asked my Rabbi about options and he told me about NFTY in Israel (NFTY is the North American Federation for Temple Youth) I signed up for the four-week session in Israel and then I went! I was with 50 other teens from all around the country, none of whom I’ve ever met before.

As an American Jew, I always felt a connection to Israel but I never knew why. Once we landed and seeing the Jewish majority all in the streets, everything suddenly touched me that after the long struggle, Jews finally have a homeland.

Throughout the four weeks my group travelled all around Israel learning the history, seeing the beauty, visiting the holy sites. Everything about my trip to Israel was truly amazing (yes even the 11 hour plan ride) because of the strong sense of Judaism I felt wherever we went. I will always be truly inspired by how the Jewish people were persecuted for so long and to be able to survive and keep their traditions, which were evident all throughout Israel.

Visiting the Kotel (Western Wall) touched me the most. The physical reminder of the temple and that fact that Jews from ALL-AROUND the world come to this same spot really shows how Judaism still continues strong today.

If you are a Jewish Teen reading this and have not had the amazing opportunity to travel, experience, enjoy, and fall in love with Israel then stop everything and book that flight. It’s so important to show the next generation of Jews (the current teenager population) the country dedicated to a Jewish future, as well as our history of overcoming obstacles that stand in our way.

Israel is a very inspiring place and it has made me a stronger Jew. Knowing more about Israel’s past and seeing the areas where these events occurred truly connected me deeper to my faith and of course, to Israel!

Thank you Rabbi Greene for telling me about this wonderful experience, I am so beyond glad to have shared a summer in Israel!

It was the summer of 1985 and I was never at sleep away camp before. I was a fifteen year old at Kutz Camp when I was inspired. After losing my father that summer, I was comforted by good, kind, decent counselors, rabbis, and educators. They inspired me by “being there” for me. Simply “showing up” for a shy kid that they didn’t know so well changed everything for me.

Where is Fred Greene?

Being at camp that summer started my journey into Jewish camping, youth work, Jewish communal work and eventually the rabbinate. So I guess it worked out OK since Ira Schweitzer, my synagogue’s director of youth activities and the religious school, sent me to camp to learn how to songlead. (I worked it off for him after I returned by teaching music in the Sunday school.)

I first understood what a Jewish community looked like at camp. I found God for the first time at camp. I also found my own voice as an emerging youth leader at camp. But it wasn’t only a summer of self discovery. It was my first encounter with real mentors. I found rabbis that were devoted to teens — Rabbi Alan Smith, Rabbi Ramie Arian, Rabbi Stuart Geller — just to name a few. They were the first ones to personally guide me on my Jewish journey; they invested their time, energy and so much more in me and helped me to learn how to invest in myself.

And now, 26 years later, I am at another camp, watching my own daughters have similar experiences of growth, mentorship, and fellowship. I celebrate how this camp, URJ Camp Coleman, is investing similarly into these two girls who are only 11 and 12. They are not only having fun, but learning for themselves about community, Jewish life, Israel, and sacred responsibilities (to God and to one another). I can’t even begin to explain that kind of joy that gives me.

Not every Jewish camper becomes a rabbi (although since I have been teaching here at Coleman this summer, Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Tampa, Rabbi Lauren Cohn of Atlanta, and I were all Kutz Camp participants in the summer of ’85!). But Jewish camping is clear to transform a young person’s life through a web of Jewish memories and experiences. Even more significant than that, is provides for us so many tools for Jewish living that ground us well beyond our childhood and teen years.

Thank you Kutz Camp for helping to shape my life. Thank you Camp Coleman for doing the same for my daughters (the third daughter will start next year!). Thank you, whomever you are, for your support for Jewish camping by reading this blog, sharing it with others, supporting Jewish camps’ scholarship programs to enable another generation of campers to experience it, and by scrimping and saving to send your own child or grandchild. All of these acts help us to “show up” for others and invest in our Jewish future.

For my congregants, if you are interested in sending your child next summer to a Jewish camp, please check out my list of my favorite Jewish summer experiences. I would be glad to help you find a good fit.

Hope you all have a wonderful, renewing summer.

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