Ruminations

Resources To Address Race and Social Justice

By Rabbi Yoshi Fenton

These have been trying times for our community, our country, and our world.  The lights of the hannukiot in our homes, the blasts of the fireworks at new year's celebrations, and the expressions of hope for a better year, have all been muted by the violence of recent weeks.

In this post you’ll find resources on teaching about protest, bigotry, terrorism, violence, the unrest in Ferguson, and our responsibilities to further civil rights.  We hope they are a help to you in your classes, with your students, and in your personal and professional lives as we all grapple to make sense of the brokenness of our world. 

With Tu b’Shevat and springtime around the corner, I am reminded of the light which always follows the darkness of winter and so I’d like to share two additional teaching with you, as a blessing for us all. The first from the sage of the Mishna, Rabbi Tarfon, and the second from the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Shneerson. 

Rabbi Tarfon teaches, "It is not our job to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it." The Lubavitcher Rebbe would often conclude a letter or article with the blessing “Immediately to Teshuva (repentance), Immediately to Redemption.” 

It is our prayer for this New Year that we commit ourselves to creating a better, kinder and more loving place for our students and the world around us.  We offer this guide of educational resources as a support to you, Jewish educators, in your work to make our prayer a reality. 

Websites for Resources on Teaching about Social Justice
 

On1Foot is a project of AJWS and a wonderful website and resource for sources and texts on a variety of social justice topics.  You can both use already created materials or make your own. 

Justaction.org is a project of Panim, The Institute of Jewish Leadership and Values, and is another wonderful website that offers a variety of resources relating to teaching about and for social justice and change. 

Uri l’Tzedek is another organization committed to both working for and teaching about social justice and responsibility, and is the first Orthodox organization committed to social justice work.  The website is a great resource.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a wonderful resource to learn about what’s happening around the country regarding race and class.  Lots of articles and thought pieces. 

In Response to Ferguson

Channukahaction.org was created to help support those who celebrate Hanukah, connect the holiday and its observances to the events in Ferguson and conversations related to race, justice, violence, and social responsibility.  The resources and tools section is a wonderful collection of materials from a variety of sources. 

The following Jweekly article highlights many of the ways in which the Bay Area Jewish community has come together to support calls for an end to police brutality and demand a new perspective on equality and justice for all. 

This Kveller article exploring what if anything to say to our children about race in our country is an interesting and thought provoking read. 

A rabbi's response

Articles and Resources on Teaching about Race and Violence

Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton is an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology. 

The Atlantic Monthly asked teachers, academics, community leaders, and parents to recommend resources they’ve used and/or would recommend to support adults as they teach children about race. 

The PBS program The Teachers’ Lounge gathered a number of teaching strategies for how to talk about Ferguson in school.  Here’s a link to the google doc

Also check out this blog from The Teachers’ Lounge on grade specific strategies. 

Reuven Firestone wrote a wonderful article examining the major Jewish sources which speak to violence and reconciliation.  For those of you interested in diving into the sources, this should be just what you’re looking for

Text Studies, Lesson Plans, and Curricular Resources

Ask Big Questions, a project of Hillel International, has put together some wonderful collections of texts and study guides geared towards young adults and teens. 

When Do You Take a Stand?

For Whom are We Responsible?

What Advantages Do You Have?

The Rabbinical Assembly has also made available a few really great source sheets below.

On Gun Violence

On Our Obligation to Remember We Were Once Slaves

Embracing the Stranger

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? 

Is There Such a Thing as Causeless Hatred?

By David Waksberg, CEO Jewish LearningWorks

For years we did not fast on Tisha b'Av.  The 9th of Av, a Jewish day of mourning, commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temple, along with other calamities through history.

We didn't fast because, well, it's complicated.  In my youth, I'd learned that we fast on Tisha b'Av to mourn the destruction of the Temple.  In the long run, I didn't think the destruction of the Temple was such a bad thing - Judaism adapted and evolved.  We were again, as Hatikvah notes, a free people in our land.   I'd moved on and I was not interested in a third Temple.

But my purpose is not to explain why I stopped fasting; rather, about why I started again.  This year.

The rabbis attributed the destruction of the Temples to sinat chinam (causeless hatred).  That phrase - causeless hatred - always struck me.  Is there such a thing as causeful hatred?  I get it, causeless hatred referred to hatred without reason (among ourselves).  But when is there a good reason to hate?

But again, I digress.  I came to realize that my Jewish education failed me.  Because the thing to mourn on Tisha b'Av is not the Temple, but the sinat chinam - the hatred that caused its destruction.  The hatred among Jews.  The hatred of the Babylonians toward the Jews.  The hatred of the Romans.  The hatred of England toward its Jews, who were expelled on the 9th of Av, 1290.  The hatred of the Spanish Inquisition that led to, on the 9th of Av in 1492, the expulsion of every Jew after centuries of life in Spain.  The hatred of the Nazis, who began to deport the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto  to the death camps on the 9th of Av, 1942. 

My Jewish education failed me because what I learned about Tisha b'Av was the most basic and least interesting aspects.  I felt scant connection to the Temple and its rituals.  But hatred, pettiness and dehumanization - these were and are all around me.

When has "causeless hatred" been more alive than today?  It was among those Palestinians who kidnapped and murdered Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yiftach, and Gilad Shaar.  Among those Jews who abducted and burned alive Mohammed Khdeir.  It is alive in Nigeria, where school girls "disappear" and Boko Haram has killed more than 3,000 people this year.  And it is thriving in Syria - where the death toll is nearing 200,000 (most of them non-combatants) and in Iraq, where Sunni ISIS fighters are targeting Shia, Christians and other non-Sunni groups - the death toll there is nearing 10,000 civilians during the last 12 months and Christians are being singled out for forced conversion, expulsion, or death. 

Will my fasting today end hatred tomorrow?  Not likely.  But why do we fast in the first place?  To focus our attention and look inward.  So I'm starting with myself - reflecting on the dark corners of my own heart.  I'll see where that takes me.

RESOURCES and RUMINATIONS

Rumination 
 Tisha b'Av and Non-Violence 
by Vavi Toran

Your Kids Are Ready To Talk About Israel. Are You?
from Kveller


Resources 
Discussing crisis with civility
Leaving Baggage and Blame at the Door

A Simple Guide to talking to your friends 
from Stories Without Borders

Useful questions for educators to pursue 
From the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education 
Seeking new insights into difficult questions
Peoplehood questions and the crisis in Israel
Family Feelings

Opinions, Opinions, Opinions

Shalom Educators,
Many of us get most of our news and form our opinions from our preferred press sources. Some of us read the newspaper in the morning, some listen to the radio on their way to work and some watch the evening news. Recently we heard on Israel's TV channel 10 (preferred press source), that most young Americans get their news and form their opinions based on watching Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, from their friends' posts on social media sites and from tweets by celebrities rather than news commentators. 

Here are a few resources that have to do with opinions rather than news. They are a testament to the complicated issues we face, and explain in a way the heated arguments that happen daily here and in Israel.

We are sorry if this only adds to the confusion rather than solves it. Unfortunately, this is the nature of this very long and painful conflict. 
What's your opinion??
All the best and let's continue to hope...

David Grossman's "End the Grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian Violence". published in Yediot Ahronot.

Jon Stewart The Daily Show, We Need to Talk About Israel 

Extended Interview with Hillary Clinton

Ha'aretz Opinion Pages

Ynet (Yediot Ahronot) Opinion Pages

Amos Biderman
Daily caricature
The caption reads: Failure of Humanitarian Cease Fire 
The comic depicts opposing sides in Israel (on the right activists against continuing the Gaza operation and on the left for continuing the operation)
Web page for Ha'aretz Daily caricatures: 

Tisha B’av

By Vavi Toran

In the past few weeks I argued with almost everyone I know. I also agreed with almost everyone I know. In the morning I am right-leaning and at night I am a leftist. In the morning I see no other way than continuing with all our might until the job is done (what job? When do we know it’s done?) and at night I mourn for victims of both sides. Most of all I wish this was over. I wish for an end to violence and suffering. When I talk or argue or try to get my point across I don’t always remain calm or listen attentively to my adversary. Many times we find out a few minutes into the heated argument that we have very similar beliefs after all. We argue because we care!

But not everywhere and every time there is a clash of ideas they remains civil and non-violent. On the streets of Jerusalem, in public places where people are demonstrating for this or that side, in written and broadcasted commentaries, and in social media, the discourse is far from civil and hatreds ancient and new come out in their ugliest manifestations.

Today is erev Tisha B'av, the commemoration of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

“Why were the Temples destroyed? The ancient rabbis explain that the First Temple was destroyed because of three things that occurred in it: idolatry, unseemly sexual behavior, and bloodshed. And then they give what to me is a provocative answer as to why the Second Temple was destroyed: "Because there was sinat chinam, baseless hatred." The Talmud goes on to say: "This teaches that baseless hatred is equated with three sins: idolatry, unseemly sexual behavior and bloodshed." (Talmud Yoma 9B)

What is sinat chinam? It includes gratuitous internecine backbiting, malicious hurtful speech and the inability to discuss differences in a civil way. These behaviors are seen as being as bad as idolatry, adultery and murder.

The astonishing claim is that how we talk to and about each other around issues that matter can destroy a city or maybe even a country. Words matter. Innuendo can kill." (From an article by Rabbi Laura Geller)

On this Tisha b’Av let us remember to listen to one another, honor each other’s opinions, and respond with civility and compassion. 

This  poem by Yehuda Amichai “From the Place Where We Are Right” - is especially poignant on this day.

The Place Where We Are Right

by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.


The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.


But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.


And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

 

Read more about Tisha B'av.

Honoring Their Memories & Moving Forward

Dear Friends,

Yesterday we received the tragic news that Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach will not be returning to their families alive. For the last two weeks we have felt these boys to be our own. We were unified in solidarity with them and their families, and we are unified in our grief.

 

As educators and as parents, these events pose challenges to us - how do we address such tragedies in our teaching? What do our students need from us? 

We've compiled a few resources that may be helpful to teachers, camp counselors, youth group leaders, and parents. Some of these address helping young people cope with loss and terror, and some of them help to address some of the toughest questions this tragedy raises. Many of these are not explicitly labeled for specific ages - so we must use our judgment as to what is age appropriate.

I'm sharing this with a wider list than only our educators for a couple of reasons. Many of us are parents and these resources could be helpful to parents as well as educators. And, I suspect that young people are not the only ones who may have some difficulty in sorting out their thoughts and feelings. In my experience, we often feel frustrated and powerless in the aftermath of such events, and those feelings of powerlessness can take us in many directions. Not all of those directions are healthy or useful. Some of these resources may be of help to all of us.

And, there is one other reason.

That all of us are in some state of shock or mourning for three boys we never met says something about us, and about our relationship with one another. We all feel this loss; we all feel, in some way, that we lost family. Because, in some way, we did.

We don't have a shiva service to attend and we are not in direct relationship with the Frenkel, Shaar, and Yifrach families. And yet, most of us feel the need to do something, to reach out to someone. I've been struck by all the emails I've received from Jewish organizations mourning the loss of these three boys; and all the Facebook posts of friends. I think, in some way, we all have a need to grieve together, to give and to receive strength and comfort from each other. That is what happens with families who experience loss. That is part of what peoplehood is about.

Location: Israeli soldiers stand near the area where the three Israeli teenagers' bodies were found yesterday.   The rural track is just outside the village of Halhul, a few miles north of the West Bank city of Hebron               Photo Credit: DailyMail

Location: Israeli soldiers stand near the area where the three Israeli teenagers' bodies were found yesterday.
The rural track is just outside the village of Halhul, a few miles north of the West Bank city of Hebron             Photo Credit: DailyMail

So, here's our expression of condolence. Because we are educators, we honor their memory by remembering them and by sharing what knowledge and wisdom we can gather. If you can use these resources - please do so, and, in your teaching or parenting - honor the memory of Naftali, Gilad and Eyal. For those of us who are parents, we might use this opportunity to embrace our children and remind them that they are loved and that they are safe. And for those of us who whose hearts have been broken yet again, may we all be comforted among the mourners of Zion, may we comfort one another, and may the memories of Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal be as a blessing.

RESOURCES

 

From our colleagues at the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, this excellent compendium for Responding to Crisis.

From our friends at the iCenter, this guide with resources for discussing tragedy in Israel.

From the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar Ilan University in Israel, this Islands of Resiliency site focuses on dealing assisting children in dealing with crisis and tragedy.

From Yeshiva University - this article on helping children and adolescents cope with loss and terror.

We hope some of these may help. If you know other other good resources, please let us know so we can share them with other educators.

 

David Waksberg

Jewish LearningWorks | Chief Executive Officer