Come as You Are

The sun was shining bright as my friend and I walked loops in the park, rehashing a traumatic loss she’d experienced only months before. The exuberant shouts of children playing on a playground nearby could not permeate her grief. As we talked about self-care and what might help her in this moment, I asked, “How has it been for you…

Creating a Chag Community—Yamah Vakedmah Tzafonah Vanegbah

Vesamachta bechagecha—And you shall rejoice on your festival day. (Deuteronomy 16:14) Being a student at a Jewish day school includes extra days off school for chagim—not only the high holidays, but also chagim such as Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. In many cases, rather than a time for the school to come together, the chagim are a time when the students…

Linking Our Past and Our Future

This past summer, I worked at the Holocaust and Humanity Center in Cincinnati. I translated, from Russian into English, the witness testimonies of local Holocaust survivors from the former Soviet Union. The aged often struggle with a host of debilitating ailments that not only can diminish short-term memory but also may erase memories reaching back to childhood. It was remarkable…

Religion and State: Bridging the Gap

During my year in Israel, I was assigned to lead morning services on a Thursday in November. It wasn’t just any Thursday—it was the Thursday morning after the 2016 presidential election. Leading that service was just the beginning of what has become an important endeavor of mine. I’ve been trying to find meaning in my Reform Jewish tradition, all while…

Torah and Jewish Leadership

Torah has a deep relationship with Jewish leadership, yet both of these terms resist precise definition.[I] In this brief essay, I will use the term Torahto designate what James Kugel defines as “the very essence of Judaism.”[ii] As for the term Jewish leadership, I will follow Erica Brown, who writes: The definition that may best suit the Jewish community is…

Hear, O Israel, Speak, O Israel: Reflections on Theological Dialogue

  שמע ישראל ה’ אלוהינו ה’ אחד “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” The first line of the Shema is often considered to be the cornerstone of Jewish faith. These words are repeated throughout our weekday and Shabbat liturgies. They are the first words that cross many Jewish lips every morning and the last words they utter…

Pressure to Perform, Space to Connect

Adolescence is rough. We have all been there, and we all survived the confusing hormonal tumult of rapid development, both physical and intellectual, with greater or lesser coefficients of personal friction throughout those years. We are all veterans of those awkward years, and seeing a new crop of young people marching inexorably into the fray might evoke visceral memories of…

The Necessity of Community

The next time you attend a Jewish event, you may want to play a fun, tongue-in-cheek game. Try to keep track of how many times the phrase “Jewish community” is said, in any context. You probably already know that it might be hard to keep track. All religious groups and peoples have communities, yet in ours the phrasing of it…

The Value of Lovingkindness

It feels like Thanksgiving. The smell of a delicious homemade meal waiting to be served. The way the community members sit around one long table as a family—supportive, respectful, and open to dialogue. The sound of voices together in song—Hine Ma Tovhas become a community favorite. The way we celebrate our blessings, grapple with injustice, and pray for peace. No…

A Plea to Heed Our Environmental Prophets

Charlotte woke up at 5:45am SMT (Standard Martian Time). She put on her kippah, and thetallitshe inherited from her great-grandfather. She carefully wrapped her tefillinand opened her siddurentitled, Sha’arei HaShamayyim, “The Gates of the Heavens.” She was ready by 6:00am SMT to daven shacharit. She had lived on Mars since she was in middle school, and she became more interested…

Teaching as Partnership

In my final year of sacred service learning, I’ve returned to the religious school classroom. Last I was here, a fledgling second-year, I faced many difficult challenges as a teacher, learner, and leader. Now I find that my work with young adults, most of whom are about to become Bnai Mitzvah, has transformed into a rewarding partnership. For the last…

Judaism and Postmodernism

Over the summer I was asked to come up with a new way of thinking about how to teach Jewish high school students. I had learned about an idea that came out of the Stanford Design School called “design thinking.” This is the process that helped create the iPhone Airbnb and is a prominent mode of development for Facebook and…

Shema and Its Blessings: A Creative Prayer Book

The fourth grade Hebrew school curriculum at Rockdale Temple focuses on learning prayers, specifically, the Shema and her blessings. Ideally, the students will be able to read and recite the prayers at the end of the year. But more than that, I hope they come away with an understanding of and sense of connection to the prayers. In trying to…

Creating a Community of Action

As a rabbinical student, one of my greatest aspirations is to learn how to build and strengthen communities. In many ways, my future rabbinate will be defined by my ability to create community and sustain it within the framework of my congregation. This past summer, I was gifted the opportunity to build a community where there was none. Partnering with…

Making Judaism Relevant in High School

Judaism offers a much-needed spiritual community and a place of belonging for high school students in particular. “How are you doing? What is new this week?” This is how I begin my class: with a short opportunity to debrief from the week. The responses are positive or negative—but, most importantly, they are honest. I ask this question because it is…

Teaching God on Their Terms

When I found out I would be teaching about God as part of my fellowship at Valley Temple, I was nervous. We started the year learning about prophets. Last semester we learned that a prophet is a messenger who has direct communication with God. This dovetails nicely with the second semester curriculum of God. I wondered, “How do I begin…

Middle Schoolers: A Reflection

If you had walked into my classroom on the morning of Sunday, February 11, you might have been surprised by what you’d seen. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Fifteen hands moved their pens on pieces of paper, focused on the material in front of them. No one whispered to their neighbor; no one absent-mindedly ripped…

Reenvisioning Success

I’ll be honest—when I was in college, I rarely stepped foot inside the Hillel building. I was always regularly involved with Jewish life by teaching Hebrew at the local synagogue, enjoying time with Jewish friends, and spending every summer at my Jewish summer camp, but I never found the time and motivation to experience Hillel in college, even though I…

Tetzaveh: A Tribute to Sharing Responsibility

Um… Mrs. Weisberg, I just want to let you know that I am probably going to be late for our Havdallah program because my family is going to do Havdallah at home first. It’s what we do every week. When I first heard this statement from one of the students in the midst of preparations for the third-grade class Havdallah…