Family Education

High Holy Days @Shul - Printable Activity Pages for Kids

Kids fidget. 
Adults fidget.
Everyone has a little trouble focusing sometimes.

Keep little hands/minds engaged with activity pages created for kids of all abilities and appropriate for all types of observance. Use at home, in the car, on an airplane or during services.  Share it. Print it. Pass it on!

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

Check out whats inside:

Launching Now in Marin | SHABBAT LAB with Kesher

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SHABBAT LAB and SHABBAT LAB: Your Way 
A Hands-On Family Experience

Make Shabbat your own with our brand new, one-of-a-kind family experience.  Learn and practice old traditions and make up new ones with a small group of other families.  Sign up to be a host or sign up to be a guest and our Marin Kesher Concierge will take care of the rest! 

In a home, in a park or somewhere in between - let's connect with the magic of Shabbat over dinner,  lunch, or Havdallah (the ceremony that ends Shabbat).  

Interested in hosting or attending?  Click here to get looped in!

Questions? Reach out to our Kesher Marin Concierge, Deborah - Keshermarin@jewishlearningworks.org

Thanks to grant funding from the Jewish Community Federation, Kesher Marin and the Osher Marin JCC have partnered to host Shabbat Lab Your Way - the same hands-on experience with a few small tweaks to make it even more accessible and welcoming for families with a mixed heritage.

 

 

Reflection on INCLUDE Special Needs Family Camp Reunion

On February 14th, we hosted another incredible Special Needs Family Camp Reunion.  We received a lovely note from a participating family, which we share here to offer a window into the important work of Inclusion.

Thank you so much for such a wonderful afternoon yesterday.  My husband and I were discussing the whole event on the way home.  Our family had such a good time -- all of us!   It was really wonderful to be in the environment of "family camp" again and to see people who we care so much about.  It was also a joy to share the wonders of camp with the new families.  I hope the day impacted them in such a way that they avail themselves of the opportunity to attend camp.  

I know from experience that it will enrich their lives.  I believe it is our responsibility as "seasoned/more experienced" parents to share with others our experience, strength and hope that, even in the darkest moments, it does get better.  We can live joyous, Jewish lives and be embraced by those who completely understand, through good times and bad. 

We are a blessed community.  I am personally grateful to this program for continuing to create this space and place for us.  It's the camp experience which I credit for teaching me that, although raising my son has been my greatest challenge in life, pushing me well beyond my limits, that it has also been my greatest teacher.  My son has taught me what really matters in life -- love, patience, acceptance, understanding, kindness and resilience, plus much more.

Sukkot 5776

Sukkot 5776

Sukkot celebrates the harvest in Israel and is called Z’man Simchataynu, Season of our Joy. A sukkah (a booth or temporary structure) is a symbol of joy because it reminds us of our freedom. The Israelites lived in booths while wandering from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. On Sukkot we greet each other with “Chag Sameach” – “Happy Holiday”. 

JKids High Holy Days Edition

7 Lessons on Family Engagement

by: Rabbi Joshua Fenton, Associate Director, Jewish LearningWorks

For the last three years, we at Jewish LearningWorks have taken a close look at families with young children in the Bay Area. What we’ve seen are a growing number of families looking for opportunities to connect to Judaism and Jewish community, but in non-traditional ways.  

This might not sound like news. The Jewish community has been hearing for years about the emergence of alternative, non-traditional, post-denominational Jewish communities and congregations. What’s news is who these alternatives are attracting; simply put, everyone. Even though traditional institutions (shuls, day schools, JCC’s, and so on) strive to remain interesting and attractive to families, the trend is clear. People are connecting in entirely new ways and we need to understand what motivates 21st century families if we hope, as a community, to remain relevant to them.  

Recognizing this change in the way families engage with and connect to community, we began asking ourselves, “how can we support these families in the creation of Jewish lives that work for them?” Initially our work focused on two new initiatives, Shalom Explorers – an alternative parent-led learning program for young children, and Kesher – a community concierge and outreach program. As part of these two initiatives, we spent time speaking with parents, professionals, and community leaders. We surveyed the field of Jewish family engagement and education initiatives nationally, and in the process learned some valuable lessons about how 21st century families think and feel about Judaism, and how our communities can be a lot more effective at reaching them and playing more meaningful roles in their lives.  

Lesson 1
Program for real people. We are professional educators, rabbis, and academics, and the truth is, when you get us around a table we seem to know just about everything. Don’t believe it. We continue to find that the best informants and partners in program creation are the end users, and we apply that to all of our work. That means before you create any program or class, first speak with potential program participants to make sure that what you’re designing is what people are looking for. 

And then go back to those very same people and talk to them some more. Engage them in the creative process and through them, your programs will grow stronger and more relevant. Never stop asking yourself and your students/families/customers, “Is this really meeting your needs and wants, and how can we do better?”  

Last year we piloted an at-home learning program for children, designed to be taught by parents. Our pilot groups were active participants in the evaluation process and after the three-month pilot, their feedback allowed us to make significant tweaks, which are now resulting in a much stronger, more resonant, and more meaningful program. We were able to do this because we listened.    

Lesson 2
The affiliated/unaffiliated dichotomy is unhelpful at best. Synagogue membership is not the single most important marker of connectivity, and a donation to Federation might say more about your age than it does your Jewishness. Synagogue membership is also no longer the only reasonable option for families who wish to create Jewish lives or connect with community. Think of the growing number of educational organizations offering content to families outside of an institution. Take Godcast, Hazon, Interfaithfamily.org, and Kveller; these organizations are all becoming hubs of activity from which new kinds of Jewish communities are emerging.  

As the number of alternative engagement opportunities and ways to connect grow, opting out of traditional modes of affiliation tells us less and less. Nowadays, opting out of synagogue life might simply mean you want something deeper and more meaningful than a one size fits all shul. As we try to better understand families in our communities, we need to revise the assumptions we make about synagogue membership, and what it implies about families who do and don’t join. In a DIY world, people are looking for experiences that uniquely speak to their specific interests and they’re more likely than ever to build something new for themselves rather than settling.   

Lesson 3
To build on the previous point, membership is an old model. More and more people are limiting their memberships to fitness centers and Netflix. For JCC’s that run gyms, this is no big deal. They’re Jewish organizations invested in businesses and revenue streams that meet needs beyond the spiritual/social/communal. I’ve always believed that a Jewish person who joins the JCC does so as a Jew, making a Jewish choice.  

But for the rest of us, families want to know why they need to be invested in a synagogue when all they want is a Jewish education for their children. People are looking for community and connection without the burden of dues, the building fund, and so on. More and more families are doing Jewish stuff, less and less as members of Jewish institutions. It’s time for us to rethink, as a community, how membership does and doesn’t work, to investigate new models, and most importantly, to engage our constituencies in this conversation about investment and financial sustainability.  

Lesson 4
Identities are complicated. If the Pew study did nothing else, it showed us how our understandings of Jewishness and the labels that go along with it are pretty much completely off the mark. For example, the Pew study found that 4% of Jews with no religion attend synagogue services monthly. As we continue to get to know this new and different American Jewish community, we must embrace the many new ways of expressing identity. Judaism is a facet of people’s lives and the ways they see themselves. The question is no longer whether “Jewish” or “American” comes first. The question is, “what else is in there?” 

I don’t have to choose between environmentalism and Judaism, between a hike and Shabbat services; I can be a part of the eco-Jewish movement or hang out at Urban Adamah. Or perhaps I’m a foodie, or an athlete, an amateur gardener, or even a Phish fan. Rather than competing, innovators are looking for more and more ways to integrate, celebrating the amalgams that make us who we are. With this comes a growing disinterest in distinguishing between interfaith or patrilinealism, a desire to claim “post-denominationalism,” and a growing discomfort with older definitions of Judaism. As we work to better understand these 21st century families, we need to be much more nuanced in our understandings of what they are all about, what moves them, and what language and terminology best reflects who they are.  

Lesson 5
There is a huge marketing issue. Families can’t figure out what and who is really out there, what programs, events, and institutions might work for them, and they often shy away for fear of ending up in the wrong place.  There is too much noise coming from the Jewish world. How many websites can a person check? How many Facebook groups can someone be a member of? 

Families with young children are more open to and interested in engagement than just about any other demographic group. These new families are looking for opportunities to try out different experiences. They’re actively looking for us. And unlike other demographic groups that might require some careful PR and messaging, the parents we’re talking about are waiting for an invitation – an effective communication plan that is comprehensive and clear is the way to go.  

Lesson 6
Community, community, community! Families long for community above everything else. Let’s be honest, that’s what everyone is looking for and it’s really one of the most compelling things we Jews have to offer. Everyone knows we do community well, and families want in. Across all of our family engagement programs, after hearing from hundreds of families, community is the common denominator. They might sign up for a Family Ed program or something for their kids, but in the end parents almost always say they are looking for other families to be friends with.  

Families want to be part of a group they can call their own. Parents want friends for their children and for themselves; they want to socialize with other families with young kids. These groups or communities aren’t synagogue communities, though they may be found in them. They aren’t affinity groups connecting people with common interests. These are small groups of like-minded friends who parent similarly, share similar values, and appreciate the ways in which their kids play together. This is the Holy Grail for families, a small social network to grow up with. 

Lesson 7
Parents and their children are sophisticated consumers. Organizations have to put their best feet forward if they want to compete in the crowded Jewish education and engagement marketplace. That means not only having great products, programs and initiatives that deliver on promises, but also savvy marketing materials that send the right messages. To continue to keep families engaged we need to be as particular about our marketing, branding, and communication as we are about the content.  

Parents and kids look for signs of excellence. Whether we like it or not, our website design and the ad in the local Jewish newspaper has to look good and be on trend or folks will simply pass it by. Without high quality marketing and messaging, we risk folks making the same judgment they’ve always made about Jewish education and engagement, that it isn’t serious, doesn’t take itself seriously, and is therefore, likely of low quality.  

***

Jewish families are ready to take American Judaism into an entirely new and exciting place. They bring new ideas to the table, they value Judaism and Jewish identity in mature and interesting ways, and they’re looking for opportunities to realize Jewish lives that work for them. We just have to meet them where they are, in the 21st century.

This Tisha b'Av Felt Different

By Rabbi Joshua Fenton

This Tisha b’Av felt different. On the saddest day of the year; that cursed day on which just about every evil perpetrated against Jews throughout history is remembered, this year in light of the fighting and dying it felt even worse. 

I didn’t go to the synagogue this year on Tisha b’Av. I stayed home, preferring to work over joining the community in what felt like another day of mourning. The thing is, it’s felt like Tisha b’Av for a while now. Watching videos of riots in Europe, reading stories of Jews around the world attacked, hearing the news report how the Jewish state was killing Palestinian civilians, it’s been feeling like Tisha b’Av for a while. 

And it’s not just me. Yesterday afternoon and evening I began to read post after post on social media reflecting people’s deep sense of mourning this year. So much so, some even expressed the desire to stay in mourning a bit longer. Tweets I read suggested folks weren’t ready to let the day go while others spoke of how the day was holding on to them, #stilltishabav. This year Tisha b’Av didn’t begin with the three weeks. We didn’t slip deeper into despair during the nine days. We were already there, since the beginning of this most recent fighting in Gaza, we’ve been there. I’ve been there.

And I think that’s a problem. There is a reason that Tisha b’Av happens only once a year. That same reason is why we don’t have additional days of mourning to commemorate the crusades, Spanish expulsion, Kmelnitzky massacre, and all of the other atrocities remembered on Tisha b’Av. It’s enough. How many sad days should there be? 

This was an argument made in the Knesset when first discussing whether or not there should even be a Yom Hashoah. There is already a Tisha b’Av, some said, and how many sad days should there be? How many days of mourning do we want to freckle our calendar? 

My favorite halakha of the Shulchan Aruch, my favorite piece of Jewish law, speaks about Tisha b’Av. It pertains to the fast of Tisha b’Av when it falls on a Sunday and answers the question, what one’s last meal before the fast should be. 

Traditionally, the last meal before we fast is the meal of mourners, a seuda mafseket or interrupting meal. It’s a meal that gets us ready for the sorrow of the following day. The meal consists of hard boiled eggs rolled in ash, eaten while seated on the floor. The imagery is powerful. When one first hears of a loss, before the period of mourning technically begins, the mourner has a meal. Something to get food into his or her stomach before the sorrow descends. A last ditch effort to build up our reserves for what is sure to be an exhausting experience. The law speaks about that meal when it comes on Shabbat. If the fast of Tisha b’Av is on a Sunday, how can we eat a mourners meal, a meal of sadness while it is still Shabbat? 

The answer the Shulchan Aruch gives is marvelous and instructive. The instruction is to “set a table fit for King Solomon.” If you were to ask my children what that means, they’d tell you it would have to be a meat meal with parve ice cream afterwards. What else could a king ask for? What this law highlights is that the joy of Shabbat cannot be limited by the mourning of Tisha b’Av. The most sorrowful day of the year needs to be contained. It can be radioactive in it’s ability to affect and infect all those around it and we must therefore resist the urge to let it. It’s also a halakha/law that if the fast of Tisha b’Av falls on Shabbat, we push it to Sunday. The day must be contained.  

Just as it is a mitzvah to mourn on that terrible day, and just as it is a mitzvah to join your community and your people in mourning, it is also a mitzvah to move on. When the mourner completes her seven days of mourning, shiva, she is commanded to get up. 

Of course as I write these words, sitting in my office in San Francisco, I have my family, friends, colleagues, and fellow Jews living in Israel speaking to me from inside my heart and soul. They ask me how to let it go. They ask “how can we move on when it feels like the evil and terror that continues to chase us may have only quieted for a moment?” I share that fear and I share that doubt, as does every mourner as they see the end of shiva fast approach. 

My response is to have hope, none the less, that today’s tomorrow will be better than yesterday’s, and that the quiet may build and grow. And to all of us in the states, to my friends who felt a longing to stay just a little longer in mourning and to those who didn’t feel drawn to stay in Tisha b’Av but felt stuck, I say it’s time to move on. It’s time to again celebrate life and possibility, and even if it only lasts for 72 hours, it’s time to get up and walk around the block and hope and believe that these past weeks of war have come to an end and we are all ready to move on. 

Is that a shofar I hear? 

Strong Start for Shalom Explorers

Shalom explorers is kicking into high gear and kids are loving the home-based experiential learning!

If you know kids in k-2, connect their parents with explorers@jewishlearningworks.org to learn more and to sign up for the next session!
Or visit out booth at Israel in Marin this Sunday.

(Photos from Shalom Explorers sessions)

Passover Resources - Slavery in Our World

From David Waksberg,  CEO Jewish LearningWorks

We had not even left Egypt before Moses passes along the commandment to "Remember this day, on which you went from Egypt, the house of enslavement..."

Passover bombards our senses to remind us of this seminal moment of liberation. The maror, the haroset, even the matzah evoke the bitterness, the harsh labor, the affliction of slavery. The Torah instructs us to explain to our children - "It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt." The Haggadah calls upon us to see ourselves as having personally gone out from Egypt.

With this heightened awareness - we are instructed not to oppress the stranger, for we were once strangers in Egypt. And Passover helps us REMEMBER WHAT THAT FEELS LIKE.

How strange then, to be at a Seder, celebrating our freedom, and realize we are eating chocolate, drinking coffee, and wearing clothing produced by slaves.

Slavery remains very much alive in our world and in our lives. In fact, abolitionists assert that there are more than 20 million people in some form of slavery today - more than at the peak of the slave trade two centuries ago. In collaboration with our partners at Fair Trade Judaica, we began to learn how to make our Passover Seders slave-free. And then we realized - as educators, we strive to empower our students to apply the wisdom of our tradition to the reality of their lives. Passover offers a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on contemporary slavery. Just as Passover calls upon us to feel as if we ourselves were slaves, it calls upon us to not avert our eyes to the trafficking and bondage that surround us.

Therefore, we have compiled some slavery-free resources to help us learn and teach. They include:

  • Curricular materials for educators about contemporary slavery through a Jewish lens;
  • Texts/source material related to slavery/trafficking/unfair & exploitive labor practices
  • Supplementary material for Seders dealing with contemporary slavery/trafficking;
  • Information on Fair Trade products
  • Background information on contemporary slavery and trafficking in our world, our products, our community, and our lives, and what we can do about it.

We are indebted to our friends at Fair Trade Judaica for their partnership in preparing these materials. We hope you find them useful.

All Over The Bay In A Single Day

It was a busy weekend for Jewish LearningWorks.  We were in the North and South Peninsula, Silicon Valley, East Bay and Marin doing what we do best:
Connecting families to Jewish life
Creating inclusive community
Deepening connections to Israel
Building Jewish literacy
Strengthening our institutions

In Marin, fifteen parents, from three new groups attended a training for the parent-led program, Shalom Explorers where we (Jewish LearningWorks) provides the curriculum and support, but the parents act as teachers for the groups.

  Shalom Explorers Training Session

Shalom Explorers Training Session

Participants from about 10 institutions joined us for the first of our Navigating Difference, Embracing Inclusion: Opening Your Synagogue Door Even Wider seminars, which launched at Temple Sinai. Designed for all synagogue leaders, including congregational rabbis, educators, teachers, board members, staff and lay people, this series supports those who desire to make their organization/community more inclusive.

The final celebration in honor of Jewish Disabilities Month included Family Access Day at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and we ran Exploring the World of Judaism classes at Peninsula Temple SholomTemple Sinai, and Congregation Shir Hadash.

Earlier in the week, the Jewish Community Library hosted a musical presentation of Lilith the Night Demon.

At our Peninsula Learning Center, Pamela Mayer, author of the Jewish children’s book – Don’t Sneeze at the Wedding, led a Story Time & Crafts program for young families, co-sponsored by PJ Library and promoted by our Kesher concierge program.

  Pamela Mayer's reading of her book

Pamela Mayer's reading of her book

   Families working together on arts & crafts projects

 Families working together on arts & crafts projects

Meanwhile, In Berkeley, Ilan Vitemberg, Director, Israel Education Initiative, led a congregational re-envisioning of their school’s Israel education at Congregation Beth El.

There was a lot going on this weekend, and even more coming up next month.
To keep up with the exciting work and new programs, sign up for our newsletter or Like us on Facebook.

Through a Different Lens

We are excited to offer a new approach to professional development for Bay Area Jewish Educators:

Through a Different Lens

A Three-Session Series led by Rabbi Joshua Fenton, Vavi Toran, and Ilan Vitemberg

Through a Different Lens explores big ideas in Jewish education through a variety of lenses.  Each exploration includes three perspectives on a specific topic presented over three sessions.  Each session is led by a different master educator, connecting participants to the best of Bay Area Jewish educators. The foci include Israel, Hebrew language, pedagogy, philosophy, the arts, movement, tradition, text and more. Jewish LearningWorks partners with a host of Bay Area organizations to connect teachers to the larger Jewish educational community.   

This year we are excited to announce that our pilot initiative will focus on Tefillah/ prayer.

Embodying Tefillah with Ilan Vitemberg, Thursday March 13, 6:30PM - 8:00PM
Tefillah and Space with Rabbi Joshua Fenton, Thursday March 27, 6:30PM - 8:00P
The Art of Tefillah with Vavi Toran, Thursday April 10, 6:30PM - 8:00PM

 

Jewish LearningWorks exists to improve and extend Jewish learning throughout the Bay Area. Our greatest partners in that venture are Bay Area Jewish Educators.  We hope this new initiative meets the needs of our educational community and we welcome any and all feedback regarding logistics, topics, or form.

Attend all three sessions and receive a prize!

For more information, contact Rabbi Fenton at  rabbifenton@jewishlearningworks.org 

To RSVP, contact Robin Smith at  rsmith@jewishlearningworks.org 

Have you heard about Shalom Explorers?

It’s a new Approach to Jewish Learning for Families with kids in K-1!

Shalom Explorers gets your kids out and about while making new friends and learning Jewish values and traditions. If your family is looking for a new way to “do Jewish”, we encourage you to check it out.  Marin Shalom Explorers welcomes all Jewish and interfaith families in Marin County regardless of background or membership in any organization. Modeled after Scouting, Shalom Explorers is designed to be led by parents. We give you the tools and support  you need  to guide your group through explorations of stories and values that speak to our daily lives and reinforce important ethics.  

Expect hands-on indoor and outdoor activities which explore friendship, collaboration, open-mindedness, protecting the environment, community, and helping others through art, drama, nature, team-building and At-Home Challenges.  

Sign up now to be part of this FREE pilot session!  

*Groups for k-2 coming in the Fall

For more information please contact Aliya Fastman explorers@jewishlearningworks.org 510 292 9562

This program is provided by Jewish LearningWorks, the Osher Marin JCC, Congregation Kol Shofar and Congregation Rodef Sholom and funded in part by the Covenant Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

Shalom Explorers is Here!

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The launch of the new Shalom Explorers program has finally arrived and the wait was well worth it.

We have spent the last few months carefully designing an experience for families with kids in grades K - 2.  We partnered with Urban Adamah in Berkeley, an award winning Jewish urban farm in the East Bay to help us write the most amazing curriculum, and we are now ready to share it with you. 

This January we will be piloting the program with groups in Marin. New Explorer groups will meet over the remaining five months of the school year and as this is the pilot year, participation is free. 

Shalom Explorers is an experiential, home based learning program designed to be led by parents, empowering them to guide the group through explorations of Jewish stories and values that speak to our every day lives and reinforce important ethics.  Being caretakers of the earth, cultivating a sense of gratitude, and respecting the power of words are among the units that make up the Shalom Explorers curriculum.

Shalom Explorers meetings are designed to be accessible to all families, regardless of affiliation, previous education, or religious background.  We are excited to have reached this point and are looking to be in touch with families who are interested in joining. The classes this winter will be for kindergartners and first graders. Second grade will be added with the launch of the full program in Fall 2014.

If you have any questions or just want to chat about the program, contact the new program coordinator Aliya Fastman  explorers@jewishlearningworks.org 510 292 9562

This program is provided by Jewish LearningWorks, the Osher Marin JCC, Congregation Kol Shofar and Congregation Rodef Sholom and funded in part by the Covenant Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

Positive Parenting Invitation

Jewish LearningWorks invites you to attend Positive Parenting: a 2 Session Pilot Series Led by Nina Kaufman and Elana Reinin, CTI certified Coaches. 

Together we will focus on such themes as the art of listening and asking powerful questions with a look at the Jewish perspective on these topics. Experience a supportive environment where you can share your real parenting challenges. Walk away from each session with tools you can use right away to connect more easily with your teen.  

A Message of Gratitude

From David Waksberg,  CEO Jewish LearningWorks

Late one night last month, my wife was sharing three things for which she was grateful  - a daily practice we'd begun together. I didn't respond - not entirely unusual; my distractedness is not something for which she is grateful.

I was distracted by an electrical short in an extension cord, shooting sparks onto the carpet. In a moment, we had a full-blown fire in our bedroom.

Three fire engines later, the fire was contained, no one was hurt and aside from the insurance deductible and the inconvenience of living at a hotel for the last month, we emerged unscathed. When we finally arrived at a motel in the wee hours of that first night, we picked up where we had left off: we were grateful that the fire was not worse, that we were awake when it happened, and that no one was hurt.

The fire was the latest in a string of "unfortunate incidents" that have filled a year of near misses. Among them - a bicycle accident in which I broke my hip, leading to surgery and a lengthy convalescence.

As I was recovering, I was struck by how grateful I was - that it was not worse, that I received excellent medical care, that I had good health insurance, that so many family and friends helped out. Though my life was arguably better the day before my accident, I had not been filled with gratitude then - far from it. Noting how each calamity during this year only increased my sense of gratitude, I wondered why it was that my gratefulness increased when things were "bad." Perhaps it was the near-miss quality of these events. Like the man in the story, "It Can Always Be Worse" - who complains that his house is too small until the rabbi advises him to bring a goat, a chicken and a cow into his house - these events highlighted how much worse it could have been and helped me to appreciate what we have, and what had not been lost. Mykavanah (intention) became - to feel gratitude EVEN WHEN THINGS ARE GOING WELL.

Gratitude is a core Jewish value. Our very name (Jew) is derived from the Hebrew word for thanks - we, the Jewish people, are the people of gratitude. But what does this mean?

"Who is wealthy?" asks Pirke Avot. "HaSameach b'chelko - One who is happy with their portion." But is that it? Is contentment with our lot the key to happiness?

In his story Bontsha the Silent, the Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz lampoons the extreme humility of diaspora Jewry embodied by the title character whose deepest desire is for nothing more than a hot roll with butter each morning. Observing our gratitude in the face of a series of calamities, some of my friends questioned its authenticity. "It's ok to feel anger about all this," they counseled. Which led me to wonder - can gratitude be a form of denial? Or surrender, accepting what should not be accepted?

Historically, the Jews have not been known for being happy with our portion. From Jacob, wrestling with angels to so many modern Jews in the vanguard of so many social justice and revolutionary movements - acceptance of the status quo is not the dominant image of the Jewish people. We are, as Moses continually reminds us over 40 years of wandering, a troublesome and cranky people.

Robert Emmons, a UC Davis professor who has devoted his career to the subject, defines gratitude as the acknowledgement of having received a gift, recognition of the goodness of the gift and of the fact that the source of the gift is from outside of ourselves. In other words, not a blind acceptance or settling for what is, but the ability to take note of goodness and to understand that it is not an entitlement.

This is consistent with the Jewish definition of gratitude -hakarat hatov(recognizing the good). In the last century, Abraham Joshua Heschel elevated this notion to a sense of wonder or, as he called it, radical amazement. "...to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted...To be spiritual," Heschel asserted, "is to be amazed." Gratitude is about being present in order to appreciate the gifts we receive.

In this sense, gratitude becomes not simply the attitude of gratefulness, but a cognitive process - a way of perceiving the world. There is a midrash, a story of two men among the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea. They are amidst the entire nation - hundreds of thousands of people - crossing from Egypt to Sinai. In this sea of humanity, they could not see Moses, they could not see the parting of the waters. Their heads down, they only notice that they are traipsing through mud. "We had mud in Egypt, and here we have more mud. What's the difference?" they kvetch. Surrounded by a miracle, they only see mud. "Wonder," Heschel suggests, "is a state of mind in which...nothing is taken for granted."

Who is wealthy? Asks Pirke Avot. Perhaps a richer translation of HaSameach b'chelko would be - one who rejoices in their blessings. If we learn this lesson well, we will indeed be "the people of gratitude."