Soon I’ll be in my backyard, building my rickety old sukkah, laying palm fronds on its roof, trying not to kill myself with a falling beam, cursing out my clumsiness and the thorns or splinters that come my way. My sukkah-building has been the butt of family jokes for decades. But no one complains as they dine among the decorations on a beautiful autumn evening. I love Sukkot’s earthiness, the glow of Hanukkah’s candles piercing winter’s darkness, and singing until our voices give out at our Passover Seder. Each festival brings unbridled joy, celebrated in the warm company of family, friends, and community.
Last Friday, 20 youth professionals met at the Jewish Federation of the East Bay for our Youth Mental Health First Aid training. This training filled up within hours of registration opening - proving that there is, indeed a demand for this critically important work.
This time last year, we’d just concluded a strategic plan in response to an existential crisis: would we survive? And, should we?
As it turned out, our attention shifted to a different question: what matters most? What work, outcomes, and impact, were calling us?
I reflected on how Jewish learning has affected my life. It’s helped me to be a better husband, better father, better son, better brother, better friend, better neighbor, better citizen. It informed my life with joy and purpose. It helped me understand my place in the world and with whom I belong. It provided tools with which I could discern what success and happiness mean. It opened my eyes to the many blessings life has provided me. It deepened my connections with and obligations to my family, community, and the world. It helped me understand what and whose story I am a part of.
In short, Jewish learning helped me understand how to live.
The report that follows showcases our impact and explores who we are, what we do, who we serve, and who supports our work. Every section, including this one, offers an overview and an opportunity to click to dive in where your interest or curiosity is piqued.
If you find information that intrigues you, or puzzles you, or concerns you – please reach out to me by responding to this email or by phone - 415.529.3204. We are a learning organization. Jewish learning involves conversation.
Over the years, I’ve participated in almost every educational opportunity that BJE/JLW has offered. Your programs have been the foundation of my professional development for many years. They’re also the foundation for my sense of collegiality. I still meet several times each year with my colleagues from the Shofar Fellowship - even all these years later.
The Jewish Community Library is a treasure. When I encounter Jews who don’t know about it, I am shocked and saddened. It’s such a vibrant and vital part of our community, with opportunities for all ages to connect, grow and learn.
I have the utmost respect and confidence in Jewish LearningWorks. I know that when I make time to participate, I will absolutely walk away with something useful to me - personally and professionally. I’ve learned with and from JLW educators since I was a teen!
Rami's been coming to our INCLUDE Special Needs Family Camp for years. Rami has autism and he's non-verbal. So everyone was pleasantly surprised to see that he had learned to use a keyboard to communicate. Typing one letter at a time with a stick, Rami let us know what he wanted:
"I want Torah study this year that is challenging," he wrote. "Having some respect for our intelligence is critical for us to live good lives."
At our Family Camp, Rami did participate in Torah study. He used his keyboard to tell us that it was "a good discussion of the parasha (Torah portion)."
In ten days we celebrate Shavuot, and the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. In Jewish tradition, we experience Shavuot as if we were there at Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah ourselves. The sense of solidarity and peoplehood - surrounded by Jews, all of us bound together by this shared experience - can be profound. "We were all there together," we say, and "we are all here together."
But, who is "we?"