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Reflections, The 5 Essential Conversations – Setting the Table for Israel Learning Webinar


By Shelly Barnathan

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Temple Beth Sholom Roslyn’s “after webinar” lively interchanges

In planning these webinars, Cyd Weissman and I spent many hours discussing our own feelings about events in Israel. We talked about news media, articles that we had read, as well as discussions that we have had with friends and colleagues. Before we could even begin to frame the webinars for educators, we needed to engage in just the kind of conversations that we would highlight in the webinars – i.e. – conversations about what we think we know based on what we see, read and hear; how our own personal lens shapes the information that we read, see, and hear; and then how we feel about the situation and how we share this with others in a frame of holy speech and then holy listening to the viewpoint of others.

Once Cyd and I engaged in this process, then and only then could we tap into our professional role as educators and shape an educationally sound webinar that could help others. Undertaking this process on a personal level reinforced the idea that these kinds of reflections and conversations are essential before creating curriculum around Israel, particularly at this sensitive and precarious time in the life of our beloved Jewish State.

Educators in the webinar expressed their own personal questions around Israel education as well as questions that exist in their communities and congregations. Educators know that they are supported by each other and by the Jewish Education Project. Educators know that The Jewish Education Project is available for continued support and for excellent age-appropriate teaching resources on Israel.

With the Rodef Shalom text-based guidelines for respectful conversations on difficult topics presented in the webinar, the educators have a tool to take them into conversations with the leadership of their congregations, with their teachers and staff, with parents, and with children.

With the situation in Israel as it now is, we are each now called to action to be like Nachshon who stepped in the waters – we are called on to be the brave ones to begin the conversations that can hold multiplicity of opinion and point of view, and still be respectful, continually upholding our holy Jewish values of sacred listening and sacred speech.


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Shelly Barnathan, Rabbinical Candidate at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College & Spiritual Educator


Register your Events with NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation


5775 is right around the corner, and Birthright Israel alumni and young adults in your community will be looking for a way to celebrate. Make sure they can find your High Holiday events and services by entering your event information on NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation’s interactive map.
NEXT will launch the map in September to thousands of Birthright Israel alumni and young adults, enabling them to locate holiday services, learning opportunities, meals, and more in their local communities. The map will also include increased social functionality, more user-friendly event filters, and more ways for young adults to indicate interest in events. Many Birthrighters—particularly those who have traveled to Israel this summer—are eager to continue the conversations from their trips, learn more about Israel and their heritage, and take action. This holiday season is an opportunity to introduce them and their friends to your community, and provide the space for reflection, discussion, and learning that they are seeking.


If you have any questions or thoughts, please reach out to NEXT: map@birthrightisraelnext.org.

Click HERE to register your events today!


God Talk


By Susie Tessel

It’s summer, and this year has been a relatively mild one. The weather has been beautiful and even in New York, it seems that the tempo of everyday life has slowed. Part of the pleasure of the season is that this slower cadence provides greater opportunity for observation, for contemplation, for reflection. We can spend more time outside. And we are often lucky enough to see majestic views or tranquil scenes.

People see God in many different ways and in many different places. Some people see God’s artistry in a sunrise or sunset. Others see it in a rainbow or with the changing of the leaves. One of my favorite illustrations of how different people find God’s paintbrush took place in a cooking class. The chef was a jovial fellow with salt and pepper hair and he wore a white shirt and white apron. Before the class began, he was prepping the food for the class. As he sliced and diced, he was talking to me and another student. His hands were a whirlwind of activity. I was in awe. He chopped in a couple of minutes what would have taken me a good half hour to complete. But when he took a round purple onion and cut it in half, it stopped him cold. He was still for a moment. Stopped. He looked at it the onion, smiled, and held it up for my friend and me to see the rich vibrant purple exterior. Then he turned it to show us “the perfect alternating concentric circles of purple and white.” To our surprise, he then added thoughtfully, “I look at these circles and I know there is a God.”

My Dad saw God’s hands in flowers. Like peonies, with uncountable feathered petals, or blue and purple bearded irises with orange throats, or day lilies – in yellows, oranges and cremes. Some have ruffled petals, some have double and triple layers. Each is beautiful in its own way. Each is slightly different from the others of its own species. The constructs and permutation seem endless! My Dad bred and hybridized day lilies. He wanted to create a pure white day lily. He got very close to his goal before he passed away, and one is named for him- Irving Shulman. More than once he observed that God created in a blink of an eye what we can only imitate and copy but can never originate.

I see God’s handiwork where I least expect it – a wild turkey foraging in our yard, a heron gliding gracefully over the pond, an unusual flower or plant resplendent with vivid blossoms and dramatic shapes, and in the striations left on the beach of the sand from a retreating tide.
Where do you see God’s fingerprints in this world? Wherever it is, enjoy it! And share it with us!


Standing as a Learning Strategy


By Suri Jacknis

I want to give a shout out to kinesthetic learners….those who learn best through moving their bodies. Many of us are attuned to giving our learners a break by standing up and doing some exercise or movement but how many of us plan primary learning experiences that involve using our bodies. Erica Brown has brought to mind images of people reading on the treadmill at the gym, people pacing back and forth studying for finals, and times that I incorporated running relay races to enliven our study of some content knowledge.

In this commentary, Dr. Brown conjures up teaching/studying Torah while standing as one way of imatio Deo, of imitating God’s standing with us at Sinai as God taught us the Law. It reminds us that form follows function….that by standing while learning we express our respect for the Torah, for our teachers and for students…without saying any special words of appreciation. Our body language speaks volumes for us. In addition, standing frees up our bodies in service of deep learning. We are perhaps more attentive when we stand and more expressive in interacting with what we learn….swaying and shuckeling at Shtenders is one way of interacting with the texts in a very personal and involved way.

And I like that Dr. Brown reflects on the spaces in which we can do our best learning through movement and recommends that we move beyond the confined walls of the classroom to the beit midrash, to outside spaces and beyond. More space, especially with nature around us encourages us to be more expansive and expressive in our movement.

And finally, I appreciate Dr. Brown’s concluding her article by circling back to our relationship with Israel and to thinking about what it means to “stand with Israel.” Now that we have entered a ceasefire period, how are we going to turn the intensity of our support in time of acute crisis to connecting with Israel and Am Yisrael as part of our everyday lives.

I appreciate the suggestion of Rava to stand for learning easier material, while sitting for the intense concentration required for more difficult material. To build on the metaphor with Israel, in the quiet of this period as Operation Protective Edge draws to a close, may we also sit and work out our continuing relationships with Israel with intention and vigor.

Read full piece by Erica Brown below:

There is an argument taking place among writers right now. Is it better ergonomically to write while sitting or to write while standing? Hemingway used to write while standing as did Nabakov. We’ve see an emergence of the writing desk and even the treadmill desk for those who can really multi-task. A. J. Jacobs devotes a section in his book Drop Dead Healthy to this question, saying “The desk is where most of the Crimes of Excessive Sedentary Behavior occur.” Since he wrote this book to experiment with ways to achieve optimal health, he piled 3 cardboard boxes on top of each other on his desk and started to answer e-mails.

“It didn’t go badly,” he writes. “I shifted and rocked a lot. I kind of looked like an Orthodox Jew praying atthe Western Wall, but with a MacBook instead of a Torah.” His breakthrough came when he followed the advice of Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic and rigged a desk on his treadmill, what some have called deskercise and others have termed iPlodding. He wanted to write the whole book on this desk and even includes a picture of his invention. He claims it helps him focus.

Because our sedentary behavior cause aches and pains, scholars of old also took on this question. Is it better to sit or stand while learning Torah?

In the Talmud [BT Megilla 21a], the beautiful imperative above – to stand with Me – was understood as an ancient way we partnered with God. “The phrase ‘with Me’ indicates, as it were, even the Holy One, Blessed be He, was standing [at Mount Sinai].” We never think of God as standing with us at Sinai but as giving us something. The idea that God was not only giving us teachings but also standing beside us to support the way that we received them has great value in helping us understand the nature of transmission.

The Talmud then extrapolates, as it so often does. If God stood with us at Sinai to teach us, then teachers must also stand by their students when teaching them: “From where is it derived that the teacher should not sit on a couch and teach his disciple while he is sitting on the ground? “But as for you, stand here with Me.” To this, one sage added, “From the days of Moses until the time of Rabban Gamliel [grandson of Hillel], they would study Torah while standing.” Standing was a way of honoring Torah and an act akin to receiving the Torah at Sinai again. It was also a way to honor the teacher/disciple relationship. If we want people to really learn, we go to where they are to teach them. Why did this practice change, the Talmud ponders? “When Rabban Gamliel died, weakness descended to the world, and they would study Torah while sitting.”

Sitting while teaching was a sign of weakness. The sages debated the point. In Deuteronomy, one verse says, “And I sat on the mount” while another says, “And I stood on the mount” (Deuteronomy 10:10). This is interpreted by the sage Rav to mean that “Moses would stand and learn Torah from God and sit and review what he learned.” Rabbi Hanina said, “Moses was not sitting or standing but bowing.” Rabbi Yohanan believed this means that Moses simply stayed in one place when he taught where Rava said, “Moses studied easy material while standing and difficult material while sitting.”

We have constructed very set spaces for learning that may not optimize our study. Our imaginations are often locked into the classrooms of our childhoods: desks evenly spaced apart facing the teacher’s desk in neat rows. Very little about real learning, the integration of knowledge and wisdom develop this way. The Talmud understood that when we learn we need movement.

The Talmudic passage also made me think of the expression “to stand with Israel.” We mean that we are together in unity and support. But I thought of Rava’s contribution to this debate. Moses studied easy material while standing and difficult material while sitting. It may be easier to stand with Israel than to sit with Israel, to consider the complex and nuanced ways we can support our homeland in crisis. Slogans, reverse racism, simple political bantering are ways that people tend to protest – to stand with Israel – but real, long-term solutions can never be reduced to a simple formula. They always involve loss, anguish, compromise, patience, diplomacy and resilience.

It’s time to stand with Israel and to sit with Israel, too.

Shabbat Shalom

Powerful Planning


By Ellen Rank

How do you go about planning and structuring a meeting? How do you design and then share the agenda? What are the components of a meeting that support innovative thinking and experimentation?
If you search online for “planning meeting agenda,” you will find hundreds of thousands of entries on how to plan and structure a meeting. The Coalition of Innovating Congregations, however, uses and believes in the power of a specific meeting structure. To plan an effective meeting, you must, to quote Steven Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” That is, you start with your goal. Your agenda must include opportunities for relationship/team building, learning, discussion, reflection, and planning for the future that are all in alignment with or in service of your goal.

Planning a meeting that engages all participants is just one of the leadership tools that will be shared at Coalition Leadership Boot Camp, August 26th at The Jewish Education Project. Check out this great opportunity to learn about tools and resources for designing innovative and powerful learning experiences.




First International Dialog on the Israel Educator


By Cyd Weissman

I was fortunate to participate July 7-10 in the First International Dialog on the Israel Educator sponsored by WZO, the I Center and the Israeli Government. Jewish educators from around the world asked the question: What are effective ways to engage today’s learners with Israel? There was no debate that the times demand new ways of learning. The innovation group SIT led us through a creative process to create new ways of engaging to be presented to the Israeli government for possible funding.

What stood out for me? Meeting Jewish educators from around the world with common educational issues like: Parents care about Judaism, but the pressure for children to succeed in their secular studies pressures them. And then I heard what was not common: From France, Argentina, Brazil, and Spain I heard about the anti-Semitism that students are dealing with. “It’s not safe to say you are Jewish,” is a haunting comment. Ironically, one of the speakers the conference said, “We can’t teach Israel through the lens of conflict only.” Agreed, but it was a hard message to hold when all of us had to run to shelters.

A thought I’m taking away: We struggle to help learners connect to Israel. Yet, the world, as we see in the news, connects each and every Jew to Israel. This is a reality without choice. What does education look like that starts from this reality? From the painful events, from my own visceral experience, the whole subject right of Israel feels less far away, less hypothetical. On July 31 at 9:30 The Jewish Education Project is  inviting New York clergy and educators to our headquarters  to

Gather together with respect for our diversity, to hear and value one another in these difficult times.
To focus on the concrete things you can start to be doing for your community and your learners.

Hope to continue the dialogue


This note comes from organizers of the conference:
We know how difficult it is for those who are deeply connected to Israel to be out of the country during these terribly difficult times. We also know just how much you want to do something – anything – to be connected and, in these circumstances, to demonstrate your support for our right to defend ourselves. So we’re sending you this short guide as to how you might do that.

1. Stay informed. There is a huge amount of material available to keep you up to date on developments as well as a plethora of great background information. In addition to surfing the websites of Israel’s newspapers, check out the annotated list “Israel in Cyberspace” that we at the World Zionist Organization have compiled for your convenience.  One site that hasn’t yet made it on to that list is the regular digest of news being produced by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) which you can subscribe to at: bicom@newsletter-bicom.org.uk.

2. Share what you know with others. The “Israel in Cyberspace” document mentioned above also includes sites that offer numerous suggestions for sharing information and organizing activities. Find materials you are comfortable with on one of these sites and organize people to stand at the entrance of a mall and give them out to people coming in. If you happen to be working in, or have connections with an educational institution – including summer camps – that engage teenagers and young adults, we recommend you check out educational materials already produced specifically in response to the current situation at makomisrael.org/current-affairs/the-gaza-conflict. The WZO is also in the process of preparing such materials. If you are interested in receiving them as soon as they are ready, contact us at wzoinfo@wzo.org.il.

3. Demonstrate public support. Organize a rally, hold a teach-in, help an organization that you are affiliated with run a community event, ask your rabbi to dedicate his/her sermon to Israel, organize a “Buy Israel Week,” organize a letter-writing campaign to national political leaders, find or initiate a Facebook page dedicated to supporting Israel, come up with a slogan and print a bumper sticker. Respond as well to any media bias you come across. Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed to set the record straight. Register any protest you might have with those responsible for unfair reports in broadcasting media.

4. Visit Israel. Our hearts break with every announcement of the latest casualty on our side even as we are sickened by the suffering of the innocents subjected to the horrors of war by Hamas, yet morale here is high as we know this is a battle that is just and must be fought. Still, we are buoyed by every visitor who arrives, every solidarity mission that is organized, and every program participant who chooses to remain here despite the incessant shelling. We need you here during these difficult times. Your presence strengthens our resolve, bolsters our spirits and contributes to our economy, which is also suffering terribly as a result of the conflict.

5. Help us help others. The World Zionist Organization has been organizing numerous efforts to alleviate the anxiety of those subjected to the worst shelling in the south. We’ve been bringing performers to their communities and taking children away to areas that are calmer for days of rest and relaxation. We’ve organized engaging programs in the Herzl Museum free of charge for those looking for an escape from the constant running into shelters. You can help us in providing days of fun for traumatized children by sending a check directly to the World Zionist Organization, P.O. Box 92, 91000 Jerusalem, Israel, or, for a tax-deductible donation in the United States, to the American Zionist Movement, indicating that the donation is for WZO war relief.

6. Come home. If Aliyah has ever crossed your mind, now is the time to revisit the idea. Yes, the pursuit of peace is exhausting, but the sense of being at home, a home that is ours, is exhilarating – particularly in times such as these. In two weeks I will be celebrating 40 years of life in Israel. With all that living here entails, I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a single day – not even a single moment – when I regretted my decision to move here. Perhaps that is because the challenge of fashioning Israel as an exemplary society is every bit as invigorating for me today as it was when I first arrived, even as the need for safeguarding a homeland for the Jewish people continues to be a necessity.

A First Week of Camp: From an Adult’s Perspective


By Jessica Rothbart

We have all heard about the power of sending children to Jewish camp. Sadly for our summers as working adults, very few adults get to experience the magic except by reliving the memories. In many cases, parents have not had the experience of Jewish camp themselves. Some camps offer family camp, where the entire family gets to join, but it is often outside of the timeline of the typical camp sessions.

This first-person account chronicles a Chicago rabbi as he attends camp, in full swing, for a week. And not just any week, but his very first of Jewish summer camp – EVER. He offers a unique perspective on being a staff member and first time experiences. Spoiler alert: whether you’ve been to camp or not, you may end up daydreaming about camp after you read it. Click here to read the full post.


Listening for Innovation


By Tamara Gropper

Being a parent requires many things.  For me, one of the most exciting things that parenting requires is also the most challenging – listening carefully to my children and believing deeply in their ideas no matter what path those ideas might lead them to follow through life.  It turns out that if I can do that consistently I may just be able to provide a key ingredient in raising an innovator. 

In his book, Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner explores what it takes to provide an atmosphere in which innovators and innovation can grow and thrive.  He profiles a number of individuals to see what elements of their life journey contributed to their ability to innovate from a young age.  Over and over again he finds that parents who really hear their children, who take the time to listen to and support their passions even when it means taking an unorthodox path to learning, significantly contribute to creating an environment of innovation for them.  The same can be said of the teachers and mentors with whom these young people engaged at various points in their development many of whom are innovators themselves.

So, what does innovation sound like to you?  Whose innovative voice have you heard this summer?  What gets in the way of hearing innovation when it’s expressed by our children, by our learners, by our colleagues? And what would it take to shift your response?

Learn more here!


How do synagogue educators see these leadership challenges?


By Susan Ticker

Margolis compares navigating a Jewish day school to the behavior of a gyroscope, and the three directions in which it moves, as guiding principles for our work. While his three principles – organizational integrity, contextual complexity, and stakeholder pluralism – are listed in the essay as separate elements, working day school leaders must often navigate all three at once. This can result in our gyroscope being pulled in multiple directions simultaneously, and sometimes it means that our navigation systems are more likely to fall apart than to guide us safely to our destination. – Read the full article by clicking here.

When I read this, it raises the question: How do synagogue educators see these leadership challenges? How do they relate to your practice?


Jewish Mothers’ Amulets – Not Enough


By Cyd Weissman

This week we are one in sadness. I heard people on the right, left and even the “I don’t even give a damn” spectrum, express sadness for the murders of three teenage boys hitchhiking home from school. A friend who almost never discusses Israel texted: “A silent prayer for Gilad, Naftali and Eyal.” At work we were told no posting on social media. When laughter was heard at work, it was followed by the awkward, “no laughter today please,” pause. No one spoke politics. Today we were all parents, siblings and cousins of three murdered Jewish teens.

In our ears we can hear their mothers’ voices that morning they left for school the last time: “Did you take your coat? Be careful, have a good day, love you.” These are the cadences of Jewish mothers.

Rabbi Henry Cohen taught that Jewish mothers used to say phrases like, “button up your coat,” or “eat another bowl of soup” as regularly as “good morning” because their children were sent into an unsafe world. Past the front door, a mother had no control of hoodlums, pogroms or conscriptions. So the extra dose was protection, an amulet, for a world cultured in seeking out Jews, the different ones, as targets for hatred.

In times of quiet, when Jews think they are just like their neighbors, a mother’s learned amulet, passed down from generation to generation, doesn’t go away.

Mothers call out:

“Don’t you think you’ll need a sweater?”
“Don’t go with strangers.”
“Call me when you get there.

Children hear these amulets and roll eyes:
“Don’t you think I know when I need a sweater without you telling me?”

Today’s headlines are a reminder that the world we live in is not so quiet and it is not always safe to be a Jew. Today we remember that we are all Jews, regardless of our political hankerings. Today we stand together in loss.
As my friend texted: a silent prayer for three teenagers who loved basketball, singing and baking, who walked out from their homes into an unsafe world and now have left this world.

And let me ask for a not so silent prayer: this feeling of oneness shared today will hover a little longer so we can work together to make the path beyond our children’s front door a little safer and a little more peaceful.

Hear together, today and tomorrow Rachelli Frankel as she spoke her last amulet to her son
at his funeral, “Rest in peace, my child.”

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