My Heart is in the East

If you haven’t read my post from November 2019 titled, “Unexpected Impact (of my own Israel Education)” then I suggest digesting that first before delving into this commentary.

News from Israel is hard to digest. Sometimes it is hard to gather “facts on the ground” through the blaring noise of media bias, sometimes it’s hard to hear your own internal voice through the shouting of friends and family who represent dozens of viewpoints. Sometimes, our struggle is self-facilitated – a dialogue between our anscestral allegiances, our ever-evolving values, and our increasing knowledge and awareness of information we weren’t introduced to through traditional education avenues.

First, I have learned to refer to this land – this very holy land, historical land, beautiful land for so many – as Israel/Palestine (particularly in first reference). Framing the conversation from just that place helps me acknowledge it’s history, it’s current reality and it’s potential future. (If you are confused by this, read my aforementioned previous blog.) I have learned to refer to the West Bank as West Bank/Judaea-Samaria and sometimes as “the disputed territory.” I have learned to compartmentalize Gaza. With this in mind, I try and digest for myself what is occurring in Israel/Palestine this week (recognizing others will use me as a touchstone for their own understanding).

48-hour Bomb Map from Red Alert

For me, there is one “easy” issue – Hamas is a terrorist organization running Gaza and it attacks it’s neighboring communities in Israel/Palestine almost daily. They are exploiting other tensions this week (outlined below) to literally blanket bomb civilian communities throughout the land. Thousands of rockets have been launched, many intercepted by Iron Dome, but some falling on homes, schools, neighborhoods, shopping areas, etc. Citizens of every faith and age are in danger, hiding in bunkers and hallways, fearful of the next siren. Hamas abuses Gaza citizens as human shields – hiding weapon arsenals in hospitals and schools and nursing homes. Hamas spends millions of dollars on weapons to terrorize Israeli Jews but doesn’t spend money on infrastructure in Gaza and on the well-being of its citizens. Hamas must be stopped. Israel has a right to protect its citizens. Full stop. No negotiation. And, it’s important for people to understand that the IDF could take out Hamas – fairly easily – but they don’t because doing so would take out most of the Gazan civilian population and Israel cares too much about human life to do that. So the military tries to be strategic, but it’s not easy based on Hamas’ human-shield tactics. The international community MUST stand against Hamas (and its terrorism funders) and help free Gazan citizens and neighboring Israeli citizens from their stronghold.

Everything else, is so very complicated and so very hard to digest.

Situation One, The Temple Mount: A VERY complicated history surrounds this area as the land has transferred ownership hands many times through war, treaty, and negotiation. The result is an on-going dispute about how a site holy to multiple faiths can be governed fairly. The primary Muslim sites on the Mount (al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain) are under the jurisdiction of a Jordanian Waqf (an Islamic religious trust) as a result of negotiation after the war in 1967 when Israel took back the land. However, security surrounding this area is maintained by Israeli police. There are rules limiting who can visit these places and when and under what circumstances. There are fears among the Muslim community that Israel aims to destroy the holy sites and there is fear among Jewish Israeli’s and Israeli security teams that Muslims will use the geographic location to launch weapons and other projectiles on Jews in other areas of the Old City (which has happened). In recent weeks, far-right Jews have been antagonizing Muslims visiting these sites during their holy month of Ramadan and these fights have escalated into horrific clashes involving Israeli police, Muslims from all over the world visiting for Ramadan, Israeli Muslims, Palestinians, and additional Jewish antagonists. Already dozens have been injured. The Temple Mount is so incredibly holy to so many faiths, and yet it keeps getting defiled by hate, ignorance, distrust, and generations of inherited trauma. There must be a path to peaceful and open access to this very sacred space.

photo from Middle East Eye AFP

Situation Two, Sheikh Jarrah: Located in East Jerusalem is a community called Sheikh Jarrah in Arabic and Shimon Hatzaddik in Hebrew. Prior to the war in 1948, this was a Jewish neighborhood but when Jordan acquired the land through war, the Jews there fled and were not permitted to return. Jordan then allowed a small number of Muslim Palestinian families to move into the area. In 1967, when Israel re-acquired the land through war (a war they did not initiate), the Muslim families were allowed to stay in this city but they paid rent to the Israelis who had claim to the land from 1948. For about the past 10 years, a group of Israeli Jews with ties to the neighborhood from pre-1948 have been petitioning the Israeli courts to let them reclaim residence of the property for which they have been “landlords” of for over 50 years – which would result in evicting the Palestinian tenants. The case is with the Israeli courts but it’s being tried in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Many see the evictions as a violent oppression – bullying – of the Palestinians while others simply see this as a decades-old “real estate dispute.” For everyone, it really symbolizes the larger battle of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the disputed territory, and the entire land of Israel-Palestine. After 50+ years, why do the Israeli Jews care some much about re-claiming this land? There is a belief that the more Jews that live in eastern Jerusalem and throughout the disputed territory, the harder it will be for a Palestinian State to be established there and outright impossible for a capitol to be centered in East Jerusalem. Their motivation for residing there is antagonistic. Instead of recognizing that the rental agreement has worked for 50 years, and looking towards the future peace that could exist throughout the land, they are focused on control and manipulation of the future – which cannot be peaceful if these tactics prevail. Sometimes (often) ethics are more important than “legal” right. This is one of those cases.

So how does this end? When does it end? Who ends it?

I’ve come to learn that the ONLY path to peace is through the people, not the governments and leaderships. It’s through person-to-person dialogue, trust-building, learning to love each other as individuals. Please – Jewish friends and colleagues: engage yourself in deep meaningful dialogue with Muslims in your community, in the disputed West Bank, across our country, and across the world. So many great programs to get involved in including a few I described in my previous post (Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom and Friends of Roots.) Muslim friends, please understand that many Israelis and American Jews love Israel, have family and friends there, feel a strong tie to the land and our people through our collective history there, that does not mean we condone all decisions the government makes and all decisions Jewish residents make. Partner with us to silence the loud minority that keeps perpetuating this. This has to stop.

For the time being I am sad and scared. I am frustrated and agitated. I want everyone to look deep into the nuances, to examine with their own critical thinking, the Hows and Whys of this week’s events. I want people to approach dialogue and disagreement with compassion for the “other.” I want to be able to sleep at night without my Red Alert app going off every 10 seconds. I want to know Muslims everywhere are able to finish Ramadan without anger with peace in their hearts and minds. I want to be able to teach about this time years from now and explain to my learners that ordinary people, like them, dug deep and helped end the on-going conflict.

Understanding Narrow Places and the Golden Calf

A couple of years ago as a participant in the M2 Institute for Experiential Jewish Education Senior Educators’ Program, our group debated how learners concretely experience a wide variety of Jewish values. So for example, if we wanted to teach a group of teenagers about the value of “responsibility” we may arrange for a group of puppies from a local shelter to be given into their care for a few hours. Then we would debrief and unpack the emotions, the insights, the gleanings from the experience and apply their knew knowledge to their understanding of “responsibility.” We tossed out a wide range of Jewish values and brainstormed different concrete experiences we could offer learners in order to enrich their relationship to these values. For the most part, the ideas came easily … until we were presented with the value of “freedom.” Some asserted that it was impossible to create an experience of freedom because in order to do so, a person would have to experience bondage (a lack of freedom) first. And anything short of putting someone in jail for a night, you couldn’t create a scenario where someone would literally be temporarily stripped of their freedom. While there was some debate about this, our cohort mostly came the conclusion that indeed it wasn’t really possible in the contexts of our programming to have people truly experience freedom. It has stumped me and challenged my creativity for a long time. And now it doesn’t need to.

Thanks to Covid and sheltering-at-home protocols, physical distancing, businesses and schools being closed, we have all experienced the feeling of being held in a narrow place (Mitzrayim – aka Egypt). We have felt trapped, we have felt lonely, we have felt controlled. We have experienced loss, we have experienced grief, we have experienced confusion, we have experienced uncertainty. So juxtaposed to the freedom we will feel once we are vaccinated (and we have herd immunity), we can now speak about the value of freedom with a completely new perspective.

And just as we can talk about what we are looking forward to (meals in restaurants, sending kids back to school full-time, traveling, hugging friends and family we haven’t seen in a year or more) we can also now fully understand that there is FEAR in new-found freedom – a new understanding of the Golden Calf.

The Jews lived for generations in Egypt, some of it freely and some of it bondage. The Jews of the Exodus story only knew slavery and now that they were experiencing freedom for the first time, many had fears of the unknown: the desert terrain in front of them, how they would be fed, how they would get shelter, how they would govern the community. It was that fear that drove a subset of them to engage in idol worship in the hopes that they would not perish in this new unknown freedom.

So what is on the “Golden Calf” list we will have as we will emerge from Covid quarantine? What will we hold onto because of fear? Will we ever return to a buffet restaurant? Will we feel comfortable eating a piece of cake after someone has blown out the candles? Will we always wear masks in public? Will be investigate the vaccine status of everyone in our circle? Are we ditching handshakes in deference to the elbow bump?

As you take to your Seder tables this year, consider how you will engage your family in processing their new understanding of the juxtaposition of bondage and freedom. All of our family members (the simple, the wicked, the wise and the one who doesn’t even know what to ask) will have something to say – an emotion to share, a new piece of knowledge, a fresh understanding, a reflection, and just like the maggid (the story) in the Hagaddah, we should ask each to participate in the shared experience.

May your vaccines be expedient and your escape from the Mitzrayim of shelter-at-home soon come to end. And may next year, our Seder tables and our homes be overflowing with guests.

Chag Pesach Samaech!

FailureFests (aka, Failure Fiestas)

Last year I was delighted be hired as a curriculum consultant/writer as part of a project Screenshot 2020-07-21 23.04.52initiated and funded by Jewish Teen Funders’ Network (JTFN) and developed by M2: the Institute for Experiential Jewish Education. The year-long project was to design a new modular
teen philanthropy curriculum Screenshot 2020-07-21 23.04.36rooted in a Jewish framework.  JTFN engaged Mdue to their expertise in experiential Jewish education and Mcontracted me to be a part of an amazing team.

The first step in the process was to convene stakeholders from around North America for a two-day ThinkTank in NYC (January 2019).  As part of the process, and rooted in the core concept of M2’s educational philosophy, participants were asked to explore (thicken) certain values related to teen philanthropy and consider what education implications that value would have in a teen philanthropy program.

My partner, Micol Zimmerman Burkeman, and I chose to delve into the value of “Growth.”  Mhas developed a multi-step process they recommend people use when thickening a value (from a universal concept to a specific permutation of that concept).

The first step in the protocol is to articulate a definition (can be taken from a dictionary or other source) and to list associations of the value you are deepening.  Micol and I recorded the following:

  • The process of developing or maturing physically, mentally or spiritually.
  • Transformation, movement, challenge, nurturing, self, change, reflection, process, dynamic, flourishing, thriving, development

The next step is to share (and record) at least three ways we have seen this value in action in our own lives or in other known stories.  I talked about the impact that Alexander Muss High School in Israel had on my own transformation through challenge, reflection and personal development.  We identified the transition of Jacob into Yisrael in the bible story, and then Micol shared the story of her then-five-year-old daughter being taught about an “ish” mindset in order to combat her self-critical/perfectionist nature.

The next step in thickening a value is to pick one of the stories and flesh out the details of how the narrative played out.  Micol explained how two books: “ish” and “Beautiful Oops” were used as a trigger tool for her daughter to see mistakes as opportunities and to not quit or give up if she sees something as not “the best.”  Micol explained that her daughter’s teachers and her husband all provide encouragement, they help her daughter see the potential in certain mistakes, and they verbally reward her when she doesn’t give up.  As a result, her daughter may draw outside the lines or not see something as perfect and will acknowledge, “Look mommy, it’s ‘ish’!”

The Mprotocol then asks participants to extrapolate bigger learnings from the details of the story.  Micol and I developed the following:

Self-critical and Striving to be best:

  • self-understanding
  • desire to be better
  • knowing there is room for improvement
  • critique must/should honor where someone is/has been

The Potential of Mistakes:

  • Mistakes as opportunities to learn
  • Failing Forward/Reframing Failure
  • Reflection on new perspectives
  • Process is critical

Teaching moments:

  • outside help is often needed and needing help is okay
  • new perspectives give us different/fresh information
  • outside people give us mirrors to our blind spots
  • Teaching moments are “teaching with compassion”

The next step in this thickening process asks us to consider how might learners in teen philanthropy (or whatever program/initiative/curriculum it is) encounter or express this value (as seen through the lens of the extrapolations).  At this point, Micol and I developed the following list as it relates to Jewish teen philanthropy programs:

  • In the due diligence/evaluation process when choosing a potential beneficiary organization, teens explore how that organization has managed mistakes/failures/challenges in its own work.
  • In creation of their RFP’s or marketing, they are taught to look to outside people to get feedback before anything is final – they learn creating drafts and “red ink” is part of the process (i.e. 3 mistake rule)
  • The program manager develops a mentor program with outside philanthropists and a coaching program with educators so participants can also develop personal growth in addition to the group growth experience.
  • Time for self-evaluation is built into every session through journaling or image boarding to explore: what did I learn? what can I do better? what can I / did I bring to the group?  what did the group give to me?
  • Educators implementing the program receive training on reframing failure and addressing positive growth in focused ways.
  • The group holds regularly scheduled “FailureFests*” (failure celebrations with balloons and noise makers, etc.) so failures become something to celebrate – individually and as a group – and each one is accompanied by feedback (in the construct of critical friends’ feedback).

*(PARDON THE LANUGAGE) but Micol had heard about a concept called “Fuck-Up Nights.” Here are two articles (of many) explaining the concept:

The next step of the thickening protocol asks how the adoption of this value and these learning experiences impact the learners.  We said that participants will:

  • come to understand the value of transparency and humility
  • experience and discern between group growth and individual growth
  • internalize that not being perfect doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy – quite the contrary
  • accept that we (humans) never get things right the first time
  • recognize that tunnel vision is real when working on a project
  • appreciate that mistakes/failure are critical part of the process of creation and doing your best work
  • learn how to receive critical feedback
  • value other people and their different perspectives and that we need them to be successful (know that other people’s wisdom is valuable)
  • acknowledge #Idontknoweverything
  • have a sense that self-awareness and self-understanding make us and our impact better
  • set aside time from self-reflection because it is necessary
  • learn skills related to giving and receiving feedback
  • recognize that progress is not perfection and that perfect is not the goal and no one is perfect
  • welcome the idea that failure should be celebrated as long as we learn from it.

Fast-forward to my professional development experience today.  As an alumna of Northeastern University’s EdD program, I receive emails about on-going professional development opportunities and immediately registered for the “Experiential Learning in an Age of Disruption” program (aka SummerBash) co-sponsored by the University’s NeXT (Network for Experiential Teaching and Learning) Network and a national education network called CAPS (Center for Advanced Professional Studies).  (For highlights, search Twitter for #NExTCAPSBash.)

At one point during this day-long virtual learning experience, the conversation between the panelists (and eventually spilling into the chatbox) turned to how we encourage learners to take risks even if it means failing and subsequently how do we help them see “failure” in this context as something good.  I immediately jumped back to the work Micol and I did 18 months ago and shared about “Failure Fiestas” and the two articles about F-Up Nights.  The concept caught the eye of the panel moderator and he mentioned that he would want to know more and several participants articulated the same in the chat box.

And so here we are …

Screenshot 2020-07-21 22.47.17You may wonder how the work that Micol and I developed ended up influencing the curriculum. On Page 45 of the first edition, there is a section dedicated to “Failing Forward” (shout-out to Dr. Stephen Pietrolungo for my new ‘Fail Forward’ t-shirt which he’s sending from SoCal, see photo at bottom) and includes information on a “Failure Party” but also includes ideas for reflection journaling prompts and a group processing exercise using these quotes:

  • “Perseverance is failing 19 times, and succeeding the 20th.” -Julie Andrews
  • “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” -J.K. Rowling
  • “One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities.” -Abraham Maslow
  • “Do you know what ‘FAILING’ stands for? It stands for ‘Finding An Important Lesson, Inviting Needed Growth.’” -Gary Busey
  • “If the possibility of failure were erased, what would you attempt to achieve?” -John C. Maxwell

 

So, as an education leader, parent, clergy member, mentor or coach: 

How might you celebrate your own “failures?

What risks might you take in order to achieve 
something new and great?

 

Fail forward shirt

 

 

Ben Bag-Bag and #BlackLivesMatter

Ben Bag-Bag was a rabbinic sage and disciple of Rabbi Hillel. Aside from a single adage quoted at the end of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Ancestors) Chapter 5, he is not mentioned. There he says:

 Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it.
Reflect on it and grow old and graywith it.
Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”

בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ. וּבָהּ תֶּחֱזֵי, וְסִיב וּבְלֵה בָהּ, וּמִנַּהּ לֹא תָזוּעַ, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ מִדָּה טוֹבָה הֵימֶנָּה

Today, I was sitting and participating in an interfaith dialogue program with Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom (I am a local chapter member and participate nationally).  Today’s topic was comparing Revelation stories and observances between the two faith traditions. A few weeks ago in my local chapter, I learned and wrote about the deep similarities.  During today’s workshop, we broke into small (Zoom) groups and shared stories of our own experiences with Revelation, these holy days, our sacred texts, etc.

I decided to share about Ben Bag-Bag, and how that each time we encounter a piece of Torah or other Jewish texts, we are challenged to learn something new, to apply it in new ways, come to a new understanding, investigate it further for deeper meanings, find links from it to other traditional or modern texts.  I shared that even one short line of Torah can lead to new learning each time we encounter it because WE are different, our lenses and experiences change every day – even if we aren’t fully cognizant of it.  Each time we do this new REVEALS (revelations) occur.

So as I sit here tonight, not teaching on Shavuot for the first time in many years (quite thankful to not be teaching at 3 a.m.!), I decided that I actually can teach on Shavuot – this time via my blog.  Some may not get to this “learning” until after the Chag (two-day holiday) and for some it might be the only learning they engage in on Shavuot.  It’s all welcome!

So, what does my understanding and appreciation of Ben Bag-Bag
have to do with #BlackLivesMatter?  

Everything!

I’ve always considered myself to be a friend (and later an ally) to PoC (People of Color).  I grew up in a neighborhood that some may call the “rainbow coalition.”  Hispanic family two doors down, Jewish neighbors (some related to us) sprinkled about, Asian families, Black families, White Christian families of every denomination, Indian families … and almost all of the kids went to the same local elementary school, most of us played together in the streets (remember when that was a thing) or up on the nearby sideway easement.  We understood our holidays may be different, and our skin colors different, our accents different, our favorite family meals different, but we were the same – a bunch of kids growing up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri – playing ball, jump rope, tag, riding bikes, catching fireflies, playing in sprinklers.  We went to each other’s birthday parties and our parents exchanged advice and recipes. It didn’t even occur to me until I went away to college in Des Moines, IA that there were people my age who had NEVER met a person who wasn’t just like them (My own roommate was a devout Mormon from Utah who said she’d never met a Jew). Dorm mates admitted that they had never shared a meal with a PoC much less a living space, never met an immigrant, never had friends of different religions. I could not even wrap my head around the fact that this existed in the US.

If I had seen #BlackLivesMatter as a child – what would I have learned and understood?  Based on my upbringing I would might have thought:  “You invite Black people (all people) to eat with you, to play with you, to learn with you at school.”

If I had seen #BlackLivesMatter as a college student – what would I have learned and understood?  What would that new Revelation be?  Perhaps it would be a bit sarcastic:  “Wake up isolated small-town White Christian folks, there’s much more to the world than you have been exposed to, time to get on an airplane and get some culture and reality into your system!”

As a Jewish communal professional, I think #BlackLivesMatter has revealed itself to me many times as I have explained in my last blog post: “SEEING, ELEVATING, COUNTING, INCLUDING, REPRESENTING Jews of Color (aka “Be an Ally”).”  It’s about all the learning I have done, the eye-opening and heart-opening to Jews of Color in my community.

These last few weeks in the USA have been particularly horrific as it relates to #BlackLivesMatter. From White Nationalists basically indicating slavery is okay but masks muzzleswearing facemasks during Coronavirus is violating their rights – to the release of the video of Ahmaud Arbery being HUNTED AND MURDERED in my own state (and law enforcement ignoring it until the video was released) – to a White woman calling 911 on a Black man named Christian Cooper, who simply asked her to put her dog on a leash (which was the law) – to a crew of Minneapolis police officers killing George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by kneeling on his neck (or standing idly by while their colleague did it).  Sadly, this isn’t rare.  It’s not Screenshot 2020-05-28 20.50.35new.  It’s just that more and more people are filming these things and the public now has a first-hand view at the on-going violence against Black people.  So what to learn from this round of #BlackLivesMatter (and all that has been revealed since the movement was formed in July 2013)? Screenshot 2020-05-28 20.51.25That each and every one of us has an obligation to stand up, to teach, to speak out, to protest (peacefully), to challenge authority, to vote, to lobby, to be vocal, to condemn.  We can’t just turn on the news, see someone dying in front of our eyes, shake our head, and then turn it off and do nothing. It isn’t acceptable to stand idly by – it never was.

This past year, as part of my dissertation work, I asked the teen participants about their experience with antiSemitism (aka JewHatred) and I also engaged the teens I taught this year on Sundays at a local Reform congregation in the same discussion.  For my Confirmation teens, I showed them excerpts of the movie The Hate U Give and we talked The hate u giveabout issues threaded through the movie about racism and correlations to issues of antiSemitism.  Issues of standing up and speaking out for those that can’t speak for themselves. Issues of bias and bullying. Issues of people feeling threatened by “other.”  Issues of insiders and outsiders.  As a result of these conversations with my Jewish teens this year and research into the role of allies in Gay-Straight-Alliances and other minority partnerships,
I made a recommendation in my dissertation about engaging non-Jewish peer allies in Screenshot 2020-05-28 20.39.15trainings to fight antiSemitism. The basic idea being that Jewish teens invite several non-Jewish friends to join them in professionally run workshops about the impact, threat and danger of antiSemitism (from jokes to swastikas), and how to stand up and shut it down.  

 

But this week’s #BlackLivesMatter a-ha revelation, is that we need to do the same kind of peer ally training for Black children and teens. We cannot let another generation of White Privilege and White Pride emerge.  As communities, congregations, neighborhoods, and families, we need to organize and sponsor multi-racial experiences where PoC invite White peers to join them in ally training: where White children and teens learn alongside their peers of color to shut down jokes, stereotypes, biases, and bullying; where they learn how to speak up to their older siblings, their parents and grandparents, their neighbors, their faith leaders, their teachers, and yes, to their peers.  Black and other non-White children and teens need to know that their White friends will stand with them and will speak out with them.

For me, my Shavuot #BlackLivesMatter revelation is that I need to start take responsibility and action by reaching out to organizations like the ADL to see if they would partner with me to do this.  Maybe first hosting one in my neighborhood (which is also the “rainbow coalition”) where a lot of children and teens live, most of whom I have never met.  Perhaps I will need to wait until it’s safe for us all to be in a room together in order to launch this concept, but the groundwork could be set over the coming months. It’s on ME to start making a difference in Black Lives.  A real tangible, hands-on difference.

Prior to this week, to this new revelation, I would have continued to teach my ADL Pyramid of Hatepredominantly White Jewish teens to stand up to bias and bullying of all kinds.  I would have taught them about the ADL Pyramid of Hate and how jokes and stereotypes are the foundation of violence.  But it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I – a professional Jew – should offer programs for Black children and teens and their non-Black peers (Jewish or not!).

IT IS ON ME!

 

P.S.  This is why “Black” and “White” are capitalized throughout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEEING, ELEVATING, COUNTING, INCLUDING, REPRESENTING Jews of Color (aka “Be an Ally”)

In the winter of 2010, I was hired by an organization called Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) (which later morphed and merged into what is now Bend the Arc) to be a service-learning trip leader.  At the training, we were paired with other staff as co-leaders for the trips that year.  I was paired a woman named Marissa Tiamfook.  My un-nuanced and un-knowing (aka incredibly ignorant) self made some immediate assumptions about Marissa: she “looked” like perhaps she wasn’t from a fully Caucasian family, she was probably adopted, or maybe from an interfaith family where one parent wasn’t American, or maybe her family converted to Judaism at some point.  Of course, I didn’t express any of this to Marissa or to anyone else.

When we all got back to our respective cities, we friended each other on Facebook and over a few months exchanged a few emails related to JFSJ. [Note: sadly due to scheduling issues, Marissa and I never got the chance to run a trip together.]  Through Facebook, I learned that Marissa was involved in an organization called JMN: The Jewish Multiracial Network. Screenshot 2020-05-20 12.41.23 Wow! How could I call myself a Jewish Communal National “Expert” and not even know this existed? So from the sidelines, I stalked this group’s posts, Googled, and tried to gain knowledge from reading articles, looking at photos, and following information about their events. Screenshot 2020-05-20 12.39.34
[And I now follow information disseminated by other organizations including Jews in all Hues, B’chol Lashon, the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative.]

Forward to May 2011, I attended a national conference hosted by the organization then known as Jewish Outreach Institute.  The program was entitled, “Judaism 2030: A Working Conference for a Vibrant Jewish Future and the Steps Necessary to Get Us There.”

At lunch, I was sitting next to a lovely woman named Yavilah McCoy (who was soon introduced to sing a song and share some words of wisdom.)  Yavilah and I, as it turned out, had some things in common – most significantly St. Louis where I had grown up and where she and her family had lived for years.  We quickly jumped into a game of Jewish Geography.

What Yavilah and I didn’t have in common – skin color.  At that point in my sheltered Ashkenormative 37.5 years of Jewish life, I had of course seen Jews of Color occasionally at various Jewish communal programs, but I hadn’t fully engaged with someone who was a national Jewish communal field leader who was also a person of color.

Yavilah that day introduced do me to a new magnifying glass through which to understand Jews of Color.  She taught me that not all Jews of Color are converts (she herself is fourth generation and her children fifth generation).  She taught me to NOT ask Jews of Color how they “became” Jewish.  Yavilah taught me that not all Jews of Color are from liberal streams of Judaism – she was raised in an Orthodox home in Brooklyn. Yavilah taught me – don’t make assumptions.  Period.  (Enter my immediate silent, yet heartfelt apology to Marissa for the assumptions I made about her the previous Winter.)

Later in 2011, I started planning a national ThinkTank for the faculty of the organization then known as Shevet: the Jewish Family Education Exchange (previously known as The Whizin Institute).  The ThinkTank was to be held in March 2012 and one of the elements I wanted to bring to the faculty was an education on what we were then calling “diverse,” “niche,” or “marginalized” families.  I started reaching out to colleagues I knew who not only were experts in certain areas by training but also with life experience to join us for the ThinkTank as guests and as teachers.  In the end, we had amazing learnings about families with children and adults living with developmental disabilities, families who had one or more LTBQ+ family members, families who lived in remote small Jewish communities throughout the US, interfaith and multi-faith families, and, families who had one or more Jew of Color.  My first outreach to find someone to speak about JoC was to Marissa to see if she could come represent JMN and her own experience at our ThinkTank.  She wasn’t available but sent an email introducing me to a woman named April Baskin.

April was thrilled to come join us for the ThinkTank and taught our faculty (all-Caucasian) so much about families she represented through personal experience and through national communal leadership. She explained to us that there are families that are multi-racial, but families that are not; families that are adoptive and families that convert together; and, families that are living generations as Jews of Color who never converted and whose family origins aren’t Ashkenazi.  For me, I had started to learn much of this from stalking JMN and from Yavilah, but for some of our faculty, they had never considered it. April challenged us to think about how our programs welcome Jews of Color, how they honor their experiences as a Jewish family.  One of the most important takeaways for me was when April asked us:  Do your promotional materials, the bulletin boards in your buildings and your websites have representation of Jews of Color or is every person depicted white?  Boom.  [PS: our other guests also challenged us to consider image representation of their populations as well, but April went first].

I lay out all of this personal history, personal ignorance, and personal growth to acknowledge that we all learn, we all come from some place of bias or sheltered viewpoints.  The challenge to ourselves is to acknowledge it and be open to the learning.  And, I lay this all out so that as I embark on commenting on recent events in the Jewish communal world that unfolded the last few days, I do so with readers knowing my own history with this topic.

On May, 19, 2020 I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post by colleague Shawn Landres.  It starts, “I’m truly dismayed at the decision by two veteran sociologists of contemporary Jewry and EJewish Philanthropy [updated: and The Forward] to write and publish an ill-timed, tone-deaf, and ultimately damaging piece on the contested demography of Jews of color.”  Full stop …. what did I miss?  I finished reading Shawn’s statement and started skimming the comments for more information and found a reference to a response that sociologist Dr. Ari Y. Kelman wrote.  So off I went to find Ari’s article in eJP and the original piece which sparked Shawn’s and Ari’s responses.  What I found is an article written by Ira Sheskin and Arnie Dashefsky on May 17th article entitled “How Many Jews of Color Are There?”  [NOTE:  Dan Brown, who is the founder and editor of eJP, wrote this heartfelt piece in response to the challenge to his running the original article.]

The ikar (essence/gist) of the original piece is a discrepancy between sociologist camps on the percentage of American Jews who are Jews of Color and why it’s important to get it right. For me, the debate about how the data was captured in each instance and the survey questions asked to gather that data (which was Ari’s main response), wasn’t as immediately jolting or important as this quote:

Nevertheless, as intermarriage continues among American Jews at high levels, as Jews adopt children who may be “of Color,” and as non-Jewish persons of color decide to identify as Jewish, the share of Jews of Color in the American Jewish population is likely to increase. (5th paragraph).

WHOA!  These “expert” sociologists and researchers don’t even acknowledge that there are Jews of Color who have been Jewish for generations and that there are Jews of Color living in the United States who’s family origins aren’t “traditional Ashkenazic or Sephardic?”  What does it take for ALL Jews of Color to be SEEN?  to be COUNTED?  to be INCLUDED?

Many (many) response articles have been written and published in a variety of outlets and petitions circulated.  I encourage readers to find at least a few of them to read.

But more importantly, I encourage readers (lay leaders, communal members, and Jewish professional leaders) to really take an honest internal reflection of your own intentional and unintentional biases.  Do you make assumptions when you see a person of color at a Jewish program or in a Jewish organization building [not okay to assume it’s a paid worker!]?  Do you make assumptions that the person sitting next to you in worship whose skin color is different from yours is “new” to Judaism? or a guest of someone else?  Do you assume that the Jews of Color in your community don’t know as much about Judaism because it wasn’t passed down through generations of their family?  Are Jews of Color represented in the photos and the narratives that tell the story of your organization?  Are they included and sought out to lead (board members, committee chairpeople, policy-makers)? and to teach (in youth programs, in adult learning, at Shavuot, on Yom Kippur during break)  [and NOT to just teach about being a Jew of Color – just to teach!]?

Being an ally is hard work.  It’s about seeing our own short-comings and working to overcome them.  And it’s about helping others (individuals and organizations) see their’s.  I hope that my colleagues and friends who are Jews of Color see me as an ally.  I hope they continue to teach me how to be a better ally (especially if there is something in this piece they want to give me feedback on!).

 


[Oh, and by the way, I have challenged Ari and his colleagues in the questions they often don’t ask when studying Jewish populations and identity, so … we are all guilty of sometimes not seeing (and surveying) what needs to be seen! See that blog here.]

The Doctor is In: Session Two – Advice for Parents during Summer 2020

Photo May 15, 3 14 52 PMBefore someone stops reading and says, “But you aren’t a parent, you don’t understand ….” I know that.  I am setting forth this advice, not as a tremendously exhausted, frustrated, scared and depleted parent, but I am saying it as a career educator, youth educator, on-line/virtual learner (Master’s and Doctorate) and on-line instructor.

So many camps (overnight and day camps) have announced they are cancelled for Summer 2020 or at the least significantly delayed in opening.  In the absence of camp, many parents seem to be rushing to find on-line alternatives (some even provided by their beloved camps themselves).  But wait  …

DO NOT SIGN YOUR KIDS UP FOR

A BUNCH OF ON-LINE SUMMER PROGRAMS!

We all have computer fatigue right now. And there is still a chance your kids could start school in the Fall on-line. Do not have them spend their summer in front of the screen. By the time school rolls around they will be so burnt out and over it … beyond unable to engage in learning. You will have a real fight on your hands and your kids will be in the right on this one.

Instead, invest in a lot of outdoor equipment: volleyball nets/balls, tetherball, water games, corn hole, cones, parachutes, hoola hoops, sidewalk chalk, binoculars, flag football sets, sand pits/boxes, water tables, new bikes/trikes (and helmets), basketball hoops, ball pits, nerf balls of all shapes and sizes and sunscreen!  Engage in scavenger hunts, picnics, geocaching, nature walks, bird finds, planting a garden together, engage in outdoor art projects (painting with nature), painting rocks and leaving them around the neighborhood …

If you are working and can’t run “camp” for your kids, find a camp counselor that doesn’t have a job this summer. Hire them with specific and strict health and safety parameters (for when they are working with your kids and for when they are off on their own at home). … but don’t have your kid sit in front of a screen all summer.

Have a teen at home who was supposed to be a CIT/SIT or be in Israel? Think about PROJECT BASED experiences: have them research, plan and plant a garden; build and paint a bench, a storage box or a small shed; they can research and build a little free library for your neighborhood kids; they can paint rocks with motivational sayings and favorite literary quotes and leave them around the neighborhood. Perhaps they can order the materials and make yard signs with warm greetings and place in yards of senior citizens or the home bound.  Lots of volunteer work is still needed – sewing blankets for a shelter or recording audio books for sight impaired.  If your teen is at all politically inclined,  there is a lot of phone banking and postcard writing teens can do for Get Out The Vote or candidate specific.

And yes, they SHOULD connect with their camp communities for a pre-Shabbat sing-along or a Havdallah.  But hours and hours in front of their screens is NOT the answer for Summer 2020.

I am happy to brainstorm with parents on lots of ideas for children of all ages!

P.S. I recognize that not everyone has the financial means nor yard space for all of this … but hopefully it gives everyone some ideas on how to get through summer.

The Doctor is In: Session One – Advice for Parents of HS Seniors 2020

Photo May 15, 3 14 52 PMWith my newly minted Doctor of Education (EdD) degree, I offer this advice amid the
Covid19/Coronovirus Pandemic:

Many colleges/universities are not yet sure how they are going to handle the launch of their Fall 2020 semesters … will they be on-line, will they be cancelled, will they be on campus, will they be delayed and on-campus?  And how long will they wait before making these decisions and the subsequent announcements?  Recently, the Cal State University system announced it will be on-line for the first semester.  That gave many parents a wake-up call that they may not be sending their new college students off for their exciting first semesters at college.  This caused some to reach out to me to ask for my advice.  Here is what I have shared with them:

No matter what your child’s school decides, you shouldn’t send them away to school.

First, this is their first college experience and at least 80% of the college experience happens outside the classroom—and they won’t get it sitting in their own rooms, in your home, taking classes on-line. And even if their school starts in person, they may get sent home at some point if there is an outbreak on campus. It’s too disruptive. Additionally, if school does start in person, will they have roommates?  Will Greek organizations be permitted to have Rush or have people live in the houses?  Will school sports be cancelled? Will dining halls require reservations?  Will everyone have to wear masks which inhibits the ability to get to know others? Sitting in the unknown can cause tremendous anxiety for these young adults which will not bode well academically, socially or emotionally.

Instead, look for a gap-year program that is offering cohort-based experiences.  A cohort-based model gives young adults a set of peers to connect with, learn from, hear different viewpoints from, engage with, and build relationships with.  A service-learning/justice centered gap year program teaches young adults to get outside their comfort zones, see the world through the lens of those who need allies and UpStanders.  It provides young adults a view of the world they can’t get sitting in a formal classroom.  And while most of these programs are centered on hands-on service, there is MUCH to be learned while not on site:  core issue education, root causes/systemic issues, how advocacy and policy-making can influence this issue, the ways that fundraising, non-profits and NGOs work to combat these issues, how to engage other community members and strategic partners in working towards a common good.  All of this can be accomplished while respecting physical distancing (even through on-line learning).   A young adult can gain so much from this and if mid-year it’s safe to travel to on-site programs, they are already embedded with their community and the learning!  (Note: I am currently working to research a list of programs that will be set up for this model and will share once it is curated.)

Second, take General Education requirements through a community college on-line. It’s often significantly cheaper than the university/college tuition they are enrolled in and allows them to hit the ground running in classes for their major and electives when they do get to campus.  Also, the instruction is often with smaller numbers than in large universities for these Gen Eds.  Just be sure they are taken with an accredited community college and that the university they plan on attending will take the transfer from that school.

Third, before WWIII happens in your home, sit down together and talk about new age-appropriate boundaries, responsibilities and expectations.  After all, you have a college student now living at home.  Remember that if physical distancing requirements lift and it’s safe for them to be out and socializing with friends, having a curfew isn’t appropriate for a college student. AND on the flip side, they need to be doing their own laundry, some of their own cooking, making their beds, buying snacks with their money.  Work on the life skills they would be implementing in college – their own time management, their own study schedule, their own quality control for homework, etc.

This is for sure an incredibly uncertain time in the world, but as the adults guiding our young adults’ lives, we can help them set a course that will be just as productive and meaningful (if not moreso) instead of a year wasted or a year sitting in anxiety of what might happen to their schooling.

The Doctor Is In (Finally!)

Photo May 15, 2 14 00 PMAfter a 10-year journey, I have OFFICIALLY completed my EdD (Doctorate of Education).
My doctorate, from Northeastern University, focused on K-12 Education.  In addition, I was dual-enrolled in Hebrew College where I received a Doctoral Certificate in Jewish Education Leadership.

My dissertation, entitled “Understanding How Under-Engaged Jewish Teens Self-Articulate and Self-Express Jewish Identity and Jewish Education” can be found here.  But let me assure you, if you are truly interested, the good stuff is in Chapters Four and Five.

Chapter Four is “Results” which includes deep portraits of three Atlanta-area Jewish teens who participated in supplemental religious education through bar/bat mitzvah and then dropped out of organized Jewish programs and education.  These teens were juniors and seniors during the research phase.  Their portraits include a lot of dialogue, photos of Jewish artifacts they describe as meaningful, and a self-expression photo or graphic project (complete with captions) which they believe portrays their identity.  The section then offers a summary of emergent themes from across the study participants.

Chapter Five is the “Discussion, Implications and Recommendations” section which outlines the implications and recommendations I am made based on the research conducted.  Much of it focused on curricular and program recommendations while a small section touches on marketing and recruitment in Jewish education.

There will be MANY blog posts, journal articles and presentations given on this research, but for now, I just wanted to share that it is complete and available for your reading pleasure.

I look forward to hearing your questions and feedback about the work!

Unexpected Impact (of my own Israel Education)

When I was 16 and went off to Alexander Muss High School in Israel, I didn’t know that the 8+ weeks studying Israeli history, walking the land and experiencing Israel as a temporary resident would cause me to completely shift my thinking more about my Judaism through an “historic” lens – ancestral and heritage –  rather than through a “religious” lens – faith and God.  The first time on that trip that I stood at the Kotel I kept expecting some life-altering spiritual moment.  It never came.  But weeks later when I encountered the Kotel as an historical place where my alta-Bubbe once stood, I had a significant emotional reaction.  When I visited the Kotel with my parents and brother on the third night of Chanukkah and we watch the ginormous gas Chanukkiah being ignited and thousands of Jews sang the blessings, I had a “Klal Israel” moment while simultaneously having a historical remembrance connection.  These were all unexpected.

When I led a Birthright trip in 2004 (provided by IsraelExperts), I didn’t know that I would walk away with a completely different perspective of residency, citizenship,Screenshot 2019-11-17 19.35.10
Palestinian rights, and Israeli identity. [Heck, I assumed that as staff I wasn’t going to learn much at all.]  Our group had the pleasure of visiting the two intertwined communities of Kibbutz Metzer and their neighbors in the Arab Muslim Meisar village. We were welcomed into the home of a man named Saed where his wife made us lovely tea and treats to snack on.  As the 40 of us sat on the floor we learned from Saed that his family lived in the land – called Palestine – pre-1948 and therefore he sees himself as a Palestinian by heritage.  He is a Muslim Arab.  He is an Israeli citizen who pays taxes and served in the army.  And he is neglected and isolated by “simple things” like the Israeli National Anthem (HaTikvah) which talks about the “heart of the Jew.”  He asked us, “How am I, as an Israeli Muslim solider supposed to sing this song?”   Wow!  This construct smacked me right in the middle of my forehead and has tormented me.

As a a die-hard religion/government separatist in the U.S., how can I feel that another country’s citizens don’t deserve the same rights?  How can I reconcile this with my full-fledged belief that Jews need a safety-net and a country that will forever be “theirs?”   I now struggle with this all the time.

Screenshot 2019-11-17 19.23.05

At some point I came across this image and it really pushed me to reflect on Saed’s words about his family being on this land – Palestine – for generations. Seeing the coin with the name in English, Arabic and Hebrew (and the year 1927) just gives us a clear visual artifact as to the multi-ethnic claim to this land.  It provides for me tangible evidence of “Palestine’s” existence (which many say it hasn’t).  Has it existed as an independent self-governed country? No.  But that does not negate the existence (in whatever form) it has lived.

When I first learned about the U.S.-based summer program called “Seeds of Peace,” I was living and working in Southern California and one of our Israeli Mifgash teens – Amitai – seeds of peace logowas an alumnus of this international peaceful dialogue and conflict resolution initiative.   Learning through him, I came to understand the role that inherited bias and hatred play in perpetuating an on-going conflict in Israel between Muslims and Jews.  I didn’t expect to be driven to consider the imperative for face-to-face (person-to-person) dialogue and that it needs to happen if we are ever to hope for peace in Israel.   As a result, I was then motivated to seek out opportunities for my own engagement in this work.  (... she writes after an afternoon spent with her Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom group).

In 2014, I facilitated a year-long teen learning experience for a Reform congregation in which they chose a justice issue they wanted to explore and we looked for ways to engage in that issue through our own education, through volunteering, advocacy,Amr - seed of peace
philanthropy and community engagement.  The teens chose “Pursuing Peace” and narrowed that down to “Conflict Resolution.”  I decided to network and see if I could secure a Muslim Seeds of Peace alumn to speak to us and ended up securing a 19-year old Egyptian (Amr Hisham) to Skype with us.  The unexpected impact on me was a full-blown eye-opening on the role that media bias (world-wide) plays in perpetuating stereotypes, distrust and hatred.  I have become hyper-aware of headline wording, images used and journalistic integrity.

Last night (November 16, 2019), I had another experience which will forever shape the way I experience the discussion regarding the future of this land and its people. I photo-nov-16-9-00-47-pm.jpg
attended a program where we heard from Ango-Jewish Orthodox “settler” Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Palestinian Arab Muslim Shadi Abu Awwad who work together in an organization called Roots-Shorashim-Judur (a project of Bet haTeotron).  The two live near each other between Bethlehem and Hebron in the territory some call “The West Bank” and others call “Judaea and Samaria.”  Their work focuses on person-to-person dialogue in which they strive to create trust and partnership amongst neighbors. I took so many notes, documenting powerful snippets and heart-piercing quotes and anecdotes (which I need to clean up and find a way to share with everyone), but the unexpected impact for me comes in the form of a new perspective on how “the conflict” may be resolved in a new political vision.

The two of them explained that any division of the land “from the Jordan to the Sea” means that the other must give up ancestral land.  They asserted that “historical land identity is stolen from both sides” (78% or 22% based on current maps) in any current proposal.  Rabbi Hanan said that we must find a “political vision with one land” where “both peoples have full rights and dignity.”   What I came to understand is that in order for both peoples to have full rights and dignity, the Palestinians must be able to live in this land (all of it) called “Palestine” and cannot be governed under Jewish law. But how can that happen and for Israel to also exist?  How can that happen and Jews have full access to the land that is the “true center of our history” (as Rabbi Hanan referred to it)?

During the Q&A, they were asked about political solutions and Rabbi Hanan and Shadi explained that a good number of Roots participants align with a political vision called “A Land for All.”

Screenshot 2019-11-17 18.30.54

Admittedly it will take me a while to research their vision, to understand the nuances, to become fluent in their beliefs – and then to determine if I agree.  But in the meantime, it has me thinking VERY differently.

Here is where my head is now rambling after last night:

1/ Israeli government doesn’t even show respect and dignity for all Jews, much less to people of other faith traditions. There MUST be a shift in leadership and law-making if we ever have a chance at democracy and justice for all which leads to …

2/ A move towards a separation of religion and government is truly needed.

3/ The rise of anti-Semitism world-wide is super scary and there must be a provision of a safeguard for diaspora Jews with the opportunity for citizenship in this land. I am not sure what this looks like when enacted, but I think it’s imperative.

3/  Trinidad AND Tobago.  Turks AND Caicos. Antigua AND Barbuda. Bosnia AND Herzegovina.  I am not mentioning these as a way of advocating for a particular government ideology (all of these have very different government systems – some better than others and some are territories of other countries). But somehow they evolved into geographic entities with AND in their names. Why not Israel AND Palestine?

4/ The international community needs to do whatever it takes to get Hamas and Islamic Jihad out of Gaza and bring those living there into this vision.

At 46 years old, with lots of formal and informal Israel education encounters, I still have so much to learn. I must be open to challenging long-held beliefs and assumptions.  I must continue to pursue new learning opportunities in the many forms they come in.

I encourage each of us to never stop striving to learn new perspectives, to seek new information and to engage in honest, respectful, dignity-lifting dialogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tis The Season… To Be Triggered

I am not even sure where to start … maybe about what this is actually not about:

If you are an interfaith family, honoring multiple holiday traditions in your home, “separate but equal,” this is not what this commentary is about.  

What this IS about is a growing and very troubling (to me) assertion that certain holiday symbols and ritual items are “secular.” It IS about when we try and co-opt each others traditions, each other’s symbols, and ritual items in order to close in the gap of “separate.”  It’s about people’s lack of gumption to hold sacred their own holidays and not be be “jealous” of someone else’s.

A Christmas Tree, a Wreath and Santa.

At the beginning of November, news began circulating that a community (very close to me geographically) was going to ban “all religious symbols” including a menorah from public display in their city center.  At first glance, I am thrilled about this.  As a die-hard religion/government separatist, I fully believe in this (and yes, our currency needs a re-haul).  But at second glance, we learned:

Screenshot 2019-11-15 14.54.52

This of course, launched a community-wide debate on the secular nature (or lack there-of) of these items. The next day, I saw this Twitter exchange between popular Kansas political leader Jason Kander and the former Governor of Wisconsin.

Screenshot 2019-11-15 14.57.53

and I felt compelled to respond to Mr. Kander.  I wrote:

Screenshot 2019-11-15 15.08.33

and in a subsequent tweet to him, I shared what was going on in Dunwoody and explained why this is dangerous. [No response from him.]  Of course, many exchanges ensued with people from all walks of life.  And another Jewish educator responded with the case that no Jewish institution will ever display a tree, wreath or Santa – because it’s NOT secular American by any Jewish understanding.  This is just our reality as American Jews.

 

Co-opting not Co-existing.

Which leads me to the next part:  it is our reality as American Jews that the Jewish month of Kislev (and therefore Chanukkah) inconveniently often coincides with Christmas (and sometimes Diwali and sometimes Kwaanza and other religious days).  As a result, many people and many businesses have decided that we somehow have to merge these holidays.  That they indeed cannot stand “separate” from each other.  These are just a few items that can be purchased:

 

 

 

Not to mention the influx of “Ugly Chanukkah Sweaters” – many of which, if you look closely are co-opted adapted Christmas greetings  – which ONLY exist because of the calendar colliding of Christmas and Chanukkah.

Screenshot 2019-11-15 15.19.38Screenshot 2019-11-15 15.19.48Screenshot 2019-11-15 15.19.56

And this article and accompanying display from earlier this week just makes my point for me of just how inappropriate this entire situation has devolved to.

Screenshot 2019-11-15 15.23.15

TRIGGERED.

I don’t know about you, but I am entirely fed up and disgusted with us – with American Jews and Jewish business leaders who have perpetuated this, bought into it (YES LOOKING AT YOU MANISCHEWITZ GINGERBREAD HOUSE! and Mensch on the Bench).  And I am disappointed in a large number of Jewish leaders – rabbis and educators – who will not stand before their congregants and learners of all ages and say just how wrong this is.

Years ago I developed a comprehensive curriculum for teens to explore “American Holidays as a Jew.”   In addition to talking about Thanksgiving (originally a religious prayer day), Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day, we tackle this annual “holiday season” and the co-opting of religious symbols.  We learn about the origins (many of which are Pagan or Nordic mythology) behind Christmas items (wreathes, candy canes, yule logs, etc).  Their favorite is that Mistletoe means “poop on a stick.”  Inevitably, the majority of teens are “okay” with the Chanukah Bush and Blue/White stockings, but the moment they see a Jewish Star tree-topper, a Santa kippah or Christmas dreidel, they lose it.  Pushing them to explore why one construct bothers them more than the other is my role as an educator leading them in critical thinking and self-exploration. So I challenge Jewish communal leaders to find ways to explore this with their learners – children, teens, college students, and adults alike.  And I ask Jewish parents to take a hard look at what is motivating them if they are choosing to join in on this co-opting and blending (again: different than multi-faith families observing multiple holidays.)

A Joy-Filled Chanukkah (Hanukah. Hanukah.)

If Chanukkah – a really minor holiday in the Jewish calendar – fell any other time of year, we would simply celebrate a joyous “Festival of Lights” with a plate of latkes and sufganiyot, and a nice game of dreidel.  We would appreciate the beauty of the lights, celebrate the Maccabee miracle of defeat (or the oil story), and sing some songs of heroes and sages.

Screenshot 2019-11-15 15.31.12

 

Happy Holidays

And in the meantime, we must also acknowledge (like this company managed to), that there are MANY more holidays that occur during this time of year than just Christmas and Chanukah.  In fact, there are about 30 holidays (some major, some minor) representing at least seven religions that fall from November 1 to January 15.

screenshot-2019-11-15-14.52.56.png

 

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