experiments, instruments & measurement book


Posted by Catherine Schwartz in Innovation, Relational Judaism, Resource, Susie Tessel

by Susie Tessel, June 18, 2015


Did you really go to that concert if you didn’t take a selfie?

If something isn’t documented by a digital photo did it happen?


Dr. Jeffrey Schein, a beloved Cleveland educator and the retiring Cleveland Shinnui representative, has been exploring the issue of technology and its impact upon us for years.  He has created a myriad of engaging, thought provoking, interactive curricular materials called “Text me!”.  He won a Covenant Grant for his materials – endorsing the quality of construction and efficacy of these provocative materials.  He is now- most generously sharing these many, many strategies and techniques.  They are suitable for all ages, in a variety of forums, with or without parents.

How do we achieve a balance of technology to enhance our lives? How do we identify and acknowledge the benefits and detriments that technology offers us?  How do we converse about the use of technology to our greatest advantage?

Last week, staff members at The Jewish Education Project and Rabbi Schein explored some of his materials in “Text me!” that he has successfully used in a variety of settings for all ages. These interactive materials generate valuable discussion through a variety of engaging vehicles to help us examine our positions on technology. His goal, as is ours, is to assist educators to think about these issue.  Without being dogmatic, Rabbi Schein offers a myriad of engaging techniques to explore our relationships with technology and the unintended consequences on our lives. For example, he culled the internet for a variety of “Awkward pictures posts”.  In pairs, we then had to consider which of these “awkward” photos we would want circulating around the internet about us for time immemorial!!? The conversations were rich, and thought provoking.  I can imagine students of all ages considering, perhaps for the first time, the story their internet pictorial history tells, and what certain pictures say or reflect about them.  In another exercise, they are asked to ask how well they balance their desire to be connected with their desire to connect with both animate and inanimate objects and beings.   They reflect on the statements like following: In the 21st century, “I think therefore I am.” becomes “I share therefore I am.”

Rabbi Schein is a consummate professional who articulately, and passionately presented thoughtful, engaging and interactive experiences for educators to share with learners of all ages.  His mastery of the literature about technology and its effects on us is dazzling.  I was sorry when our time together was over. I was consoled by his generosity in making these materials available on our website. Click here to explore for yourself the materials Rabbi Schein created, as you share his work- albeit virtually!! Thank you Rabbi Schein!!

Make a Difference! Who will be Today’s Midwives?

Posted by Ben Alpert in Susie Tessel


By Susie Tessel

Everyone wants to make a difference!
But how?
But when?
What simple acts of kindness and compassion can we do?

A powerful story about someone who makes a difference took place in the dark days of the Holocaust – in the Netherlands, which was Nazi-occupied, on a Sunday morning, in a Calvinist Church. An unknown man suddenly appeared, riding up on his bicycle. He entered the church. He quickly but quietly ascended the stairs of the pulpit and read aloud the story of the midwives who had defied Pharaoh’s evil decrees and bravely saved the Hebrew male babies.

He paused, looked around the church, and asked,  “Who is today’s Pharaoh?” The congregation answered in unison,
“Who are today’s Hebrew babies?”
“The Jews.”
“Who will be today’s midwives?”

Without waiting for a response, the unidentified man pedaled away, presumably to pose that challenge to others. Between the war years, 1941-1945, seven families from this little church alone hid Jews and other resisters from the Nazis.

Both the Biblical midwives and the unknown bicyclist, serve as inspirational stories which embolden us to find a path to make a difference. It urges us to ask ourselves: “How can I make a difference today?” Obviously, it takes an extraordinary person  – who is both courageous and clear-sighted  – to willfully disobey an evil decree of Pharaoh or of the evil Nazi empire. Most people are not able to be that fearless. But that doesn’t mean we should abnegate our responsibility to our values, to our people, and to our religion.

So, Open your eyes  – and think hard.
Who will be today’s midwives?

Every person will come up with a different answer.  But know that every act you do can make a difference to someone as we continue in our roles as God’s helpers.

All Greek To Me

All Greek To Me
Posted by Ben Alpert in Susie Tessel


By Susie Tessel

Have you ever asked yourself why do we pray in Hebrew? Why do we pray in a language different from our native language? I have heard the following answer: We can pray to God in any language, and we know that our heartfelt prayers will be heard voiced in any language. But there is something special about Hebrew that other languages do not have, and Hebrew has a spirituality not found in other tongues. Moreover, many concepts and ideals of Judaism are best expressed in Hebrew, and translations can be inexact. For some, praying in Hebrew allows them to explore the richness and layered meanings that each word conveys. However, many people feel confounded by the different alphabet, and don’t speak Hebrew at all! Is there really a difference in using Hebrew or English in Jewish prayer and ceremony? Does the Hebrew language enable us to relate to God and the Jewish people differently from the way we might in Spanish or French or English that each word conveys? The following story helped clarify some of these questions for me.

download (1)I spent my “Junior Year Abroad” studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Each holiday break, my friends and I tried to explore, a different country or place. Over winter break, we went to Greece. We had been to other countries, but Greece was a completely different experience for us. All of the signs were written in Greek letters. NOT ONE of us spoke Greek, and seemingly none of the locals spoke English. There were no signs in English except for trademark logos like Coca Cola. It was very difficult to get our bearings. We got lost repeatedly! When we finally decoded the intricacies of the subway system, we felt thoroughly triumphant! Athens is a physically beautiful city, and standing in front of the Parthenon, the birthplace of Democracy, was very inspiring. But, all in all, we were foreigners exploring a foreign land, and nothing about that changed. Everything felt different. The people seemed to be warm and friendly, but they spoke so little English and we only spoke the couple of words in Greek our guide book provided. By the end of the week, we felt like we had gleaned about as much as were going to from Greece. The Parthenon at Dusk

We were going to leave early Sunday morning. On Friday night, we went to the large Athens synagogue. It was beautiful. We picked up the siddurim provided and it was, of course, in Hebrew and Greek. Needless to say, the Greek pages were useless to us, but the Hebrew was strangely comforting and familiar. As the Hazan started chanting the Friday Night Service, a spell was cast. We felt like we were surrounded by a warmth we had not felt. Everything looked brighter and felt friendlier. We knew we were finally at home. Most of the tunes were unfamiliar, but we could follow along, and learn the unfamiliar tunes to prayers we said in Atlanta and Chicago and New York and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and sing along together with the locals. The new tunes were fun. The words bound us together.

We exhaled a sigh of relief. This was better already. Then, the Hazan got to the Shema. The entire congregation shouted out the words with such fervor! We knew the Shema! We could participate just as fully as anyone else! And we did! And when we did, the congregants sitting around us moved closer, and smiled wider. We had met new friends. We were all one people and, at that moment, language did not divide us. Instead, language united us!

It was such a wonderful and powerful experience – and one that I would have missed if I had not learned to pray in Hebrew.
The following morning, a family who lived in Athens invited us to join them for lunch. It was the highlight of our trip.

I felt like a member of the global Jewish club, and it was amazing!!!

The Neuroscience of Giving

The Neuroscience of Giving
Posted by Ben Alpert in Susie Tessel


By Susie Tessel

An important Jewish precept is that one person can make a difference. We are all created in God’s image, and when we emulate God’s qualities, each of us can make a difference. This concept is evident in the biblical stories, which are both their stories and yours. In each case we see the dramatic effect of a single individual.

In a couple weeks we will celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah. There too, Mattathias and Judah Macabee made a difference – and changed history. That’s a crucial component of the Hanukkah story. A new book provides a contemporary proof. A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof (a columnist for the New York Times) and his wife, Cheryl WuDunn (a columnist for the Wall Street Journal), details fantastic examples of extraordinary, life-changing programs which were started by one person, to the benefit of the many, many beneficiaries. Each vignette merits careful consideration. Many of us are involved in service-oriented models in which our students and/or their parents participate in text study, followed by an activity and finally, reflection.


Inspired quotations begin each chapter. These can be used beneficially (as do the authors) as the points to initiate textual studies. The book has seemingly countless examples and a very thorough glossary of different types of projects one can support.

Kristof and WuDunn also provide a section detailing the neurological benefits of helping others. The latest neuroscience proves the maxim “money can’t buy happiness”. A growing body of research in science and psychology suggests that altruism is good not just for the beneficiaries but also for the benefactors. Helping others makes us happy, and even leaves us healthier and able to live longer lives. People feel happier when they connect with a cause larger than themselves. Research suggests that altruists seem disproportionately likely to age gracefully and maintain their health, and the researchers have found that willingness to help others seems more important to longevity then cholesterol levels.

Through the miracles of MRIs and the latest neuroscience, they demonstrate how the “happiness boost” (of oxytocin) that a person receives from the efforts made to help others exceeds what one would get from an equivalent effort to help one’s self. They emphasize that compassion is natural, and that we may even be “hard-wired” to be kind to others. It is an integral part of our humanity. So why aren’t people more generous? They explain that we are subject to social and market pressures that distort our generous inclinations. The most affluent 20 percent of the population give a smaller share of their income to charity than the bottom 20 percent. They also suggest that we are further thwarted from doing good because we are so removed from poverty. We are never exposed to it, so we are insulated from their poverty. The most effective charitable activities are those that connect people with individuals, or better yet, face-to-face interactions. These promote the strongest flow of oxytocins. Personalized compassion facilitates the most effective giving. Paul Zak, a neuroscientist, has shown that acts of kindness are like exercising a muscle: Each such act strengthens the capacity for additional acts. For me, this book was a clarion call for action. Let’s flex those muscles and get moving!!

This book provides a plethora of opportunities to change lives for the better, including our own. “A life with meaning isn’t a destination. It’s a journey.”

What’s your itinerary?

God Talk

God Talk
Posted by Ben Alpert in Susie Tessel


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!


How Young is Too Young?

Posted by Ben Alpert in Susie Tessel


By Susie Tessel 

Yom HaShoah has come and gone. Should The Holocaust be a subject taught once a year?

The survivors are elderly and dying. Soon they will not be able to offer a living testimony. The Jewish people must ensure that The Holocaust is taught in a thoughtful, age appropriate yet meaningful way. But, we do not want our students to become inured or worse traumatized by the subject of The Holocaust and the atrocities committed. What do we do?

What is the best age to begin teaching about The Holocaust? The pendulum has swung again and again as to what age is developmentally appropriate to begin broaching this subject. How should it be confronted? Directly or indirectly? Now, The Ministry of Education in Jerusalem has decided that we cannot start too early. The department of education at Yad Vashem has received a million dollar grant to develop a spiral curriculum starting with kindergarten and continuing through high school and beyond. Yad Vashem does not use allegories or parables. They insist on describing real events that happened to real people, in many different countries and continents. They also do not want The Holocaust to be talked about only once a year on Yom HaShoah. Rather, they want it woven into the fiber and identity of every Jew. The Education ministry said that “The education system is working to educated children starting from a young age about the legacy of the nation, its history and culture, and about her holidays and memorial days, as an integral part of the educational experience. “ They state clearly that they discourage teachers from showing students archival photographs from the Holocaust. I am very interested to explore their approach to the subject for young children, and to see if it is readily adaptable to our children. Many of their existing materials are adaptable and useful to use year round. Read the full article here.

What do you think?

geriatrics books