— ECPhiladelphia (@ECPhiladelphia1) May 16, 2016
Category Archives: Jewish
At times, I resist writing a post because I just don’t want to spend the time doing all the research it might take. I also think that no one would want to spend their valuable time just reading another opinion. So, to be fair to you, this one’s for me. It’s just something that I want to have noted somewhere, and this is the place I picked.
You probably won’t like what I have to say.
The climate change that I’m experiencing is not related to weather. It’s related to how we see ourselves as human beings in the world. More often than not, my experience of living in today’s society seems to affirm that we think less and less of ourselves.
Our behaviors on a daily basis are less refined. More is done without proper thought or intention.
For one, our speech is less dignified. We’re sloppy with words and they have become more angry, more vindictive, more explosive. Name-calling is not unusual. We pay less attention to accuracy, and often speak first, think later. Sure, online fact checking exists, but who wants to do that all the time?
I am most bothered about this because it goes against my understanding of our numerous laws and cautions regarding speech. (There have been volumes of commentary written about the laws of speech but for an extremely quick introduction read this and/or this). According to our tradition, the world was created with words which is why we place such an important value on the spoken and written word.
The very thing that is often associated with Judaism, the Ten Commandments, is really an awkward translation of the Hebrew, meaning “Ten Utterances” (Aseret HaDibrot, the root D-B-R meaning words and speak, reinforcing the elemental connection between the two).
Our way of eating has become on the one hand more conscious, on the other much less so. We might be paying a lot of attention to what we eat (gluten-free? fat-free? organic? all natural? free range? no GMO’s?, no growth hormones? dairy free?–really, I just touched the surface here) but we certainly aren’t paying attention to how we eat.
The food packaging industry has burgeoned with food (?) that can be eaten as quickly as possible, no eating utensils or table needed. Machines can pulverize our food beyond recognition. There are outrageous food contests where thousands gather to watch people gobble as much food as they can without actually regurgitating. There are people who try to win these competitions.
We eat on the run. In a car. While on our devices. In a rush. Often alone.
The way we treat our food is the way we treat ourselves. All the research points to a society that is making itself sick by the way we eat, yet changing those habits is very difficult. There are many laws in Judaism about what we eat and how we eat. They are all structured for us to resist the passive ingestion of substances, and elevate the activity that honors us as human beings.
As much as I think that the world agrees with me on how different we are from animals, that just isn’t so. A recent article in the New York Times has the primatologist Frans de Waal outlining why he believes there is little distinction between human beings and primates. You can read a rebuttal to that here in the online “Evolution News”. Denying the fact that we are imbued with a special capacity to make moral and ethical choices minimizes who we are and robs us of what our potential is on this earth.
It is difficult in today’s society to intentionally slow down enough to pay attention to behavior that might elevate our souls, instead of denigrating our core. The spark that I believe is in all of us, and what makes us special creatures should inform our behavior more often.
May we be blessed with the awareness that comes from knowing that and the opportunity to be able to practice it.
Whenever I get ready to write a headline for a post, I google it, to make sure that it hasn’t been used before, but also to search for content that might be relevant. This time, my search results were lackluster. I did see this headline, from Israel’s Ha’aretz paper, which was really close to what I wanted to say: “Are the Leaders of Today the Leaders We Deserve? Though the article was written three years ago, referring to Obama, Martin Luther King, and the impending Israeli election, it asked similar questions.
Asking these kind of questions is not a recent phenomenon. In the era of the Talmud, scholars were discussing aspects of character, leadership, and community. Perhaps because we’ve been outsiders for so long, we tend to think objectively about the society around us, and our place in it (or not):
Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah (grandson of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the redactor of the Mishnah) were in disagreement: “One said: According to the leader, so the generation. The other said: According to the generation, so the leader.” Talmud, Arachim, 17a.
What is your opinion? Is our society reflective of the characteristics of our leaders, or are have we produced the leaders that represent our values, morals and ethics?
What do you think of this in light of the presidential race?
Are you surprised by the character flaws of the candidates? Did you expect more in the way of the choices you have? In what way are these candidates reflective of our society? Are enough people who are disappointed with the choices we have turning a mirror toward our society and its flaws? How much responsibility should our society bear? If so, how would things change? How do we encourage the types of leaders we want? Is that even possible?
There are those who think that we have very good choices in front of us and might be wondering why I’m even writing this. There is enough evidence of candidate scandals, dishonest dealings, name calling, hostile speeches, angry rhetoric, and divisive tactics to fill pages. You just can’t wish the evidence away.
I’ve heard and read many complaints about the leaders we find front and center in the Presidential race. I’ve experienced this from media on the right and left, online publications, blogs, and posts. The comments about the situation range from anger, disbelief, frustration, to hope and faith.
But I have yet to hear anyone turn those observations inside out (maybe I missed it, please let me know) and examine the kind of society that produced such choices.
This season, when so many emotions surge through us, it is comforting to be within a community. That’s part of the grand design, for Jews to be together to usher in the New Year. We collectively hear the shofar’s urgency of now and decide that this year, things will be different….we’ll be different. But one thing is stubbornly the same and I need to write about it.
For those who were not part of a synagogue community last year, has their situation changed? I’ve spoken with many people who don’t connect to the formalized Jewish community and miss the experience of belonging. They were once members, somewhere.
Yet they haven’t received any personal communication to return to the synagogue. Not a letter, not a phone call. I wonder what their experience is of Klal Yisrael and what our obligation is to them? (For the most part, these issues don’t arise for those who identify as Orthodox, as their entire experience of community is different).
Their feelings of being separate must hurt and are in total opposition to the goal of feeling close to G-d and community. The pain they share with me is palpable, but often buried.
Most synagogues don’t have the volunteer power to do outreach. Yet for years, as a communal educator, I have listened to stories of exclusion peppered with harsh memories and I feel helpless. The problem is so overwhelming.
Programs like ‘public space’ Judaism, online workshops, concierge services or outreach spiritual leaders are part of innovative responses to this growing problem of disconnected Jews. But for those who are searching specifically for a re-connection to their synagogue, personal outreach is required. We need to initiate teshuvah by encouraging them to return.
Sometimes the reasons for leaving a community have to do with finances so we need to change the dues structure paradigm by thinking beyond the synagogue. Ultimately, it might cost more to exclude those we are not reaching. If we want individuals to belong to a community, then we need to offer wider access to that community. Right now, our definition of belonging is defined exclusively by which congregation someone belongs to.
For example, my experience is that even if a synagogue event is open to the public, people from neighboring synagogues don’t attend. I’ve witnessed this phenomena multiple times, though I don’t understand the behavior at all. So, how can we make others feel welcome in any synagogue in a given community….without feeling that they don’t belong? Because every Jew in a Jewish community belongs.
A community could establish a communal membership fee, whatever amount works for them, on whatever scale, which would be a way to say ‘you belong’. A person would then be a member of all synagogues in the area. This manageable fee could be an option for people who are new to an area and want to ‘synagogue shop’ for a year or two. Or it could be for those who would like access to a wider range of social programming.since prayer may not be the way they connect to the Jewish community. The fee would also work for those who are already a member of one synagogue but elect to additionally support the Jewish community in this way. There also might be levels of giving to reflect these different needs.
Just imagine, everyone could feel part of the community, with no artificial borders and boundaries.
If some of these discussions occur, then next year, when it comes time for us to think about Teshuvah, we might just agree that the return to an old paradigm is worth a change.
Fortune magazine recently published The Food Issue and I was struck by how the CEO’s of major food corporations are facing head-on the huge loss of market share and consumers. I mean large corporations: Campbell’s Soup, ConAgra, and Hersheys just to name a few. A top analyst in the business stated that the top 25 companies have lost about $18 billion in market share just in the past few years: “I would think of them like melting icebergs, every year they become a little less relevant.”
Since I’ve been on the front lines, witnessing the many ways in which Jewish education is trying to transform itself, the iceberg analogy above sounded all too familiar to me. The issues we may think are isolated are not endemic to Judaism. It seems that much larger organizations need to restructure, regroup, and refocus. So I read on, wondering how the leaders of these corporations were tackling these difficult issues, and if there was anything Jewish organizations could learn from their approach.
One thing was clear, no corporation was pretending that the loss of market share was a fading or fleeting trend.
There seemed to be very little ego involved in these corporate leaders’ decisions to rework things in order to gain footing. There was also recognition and some frustration that it would take time for an upswing to occur.
So, I took in what they said, and found commonalities in the list below:
- People want simplicity and the companies are striving to deliver: by collaborating with other food purveyors, buying smaller, successful companies, or developing entirely new product lines to meet the demand. There is an honest appraisal of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, resulting in adaptations that are essential for survival.
- The consumer’s desire for fresh means that the recycling of old products, i.e. “new and improved” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Customers are discerning and pressed for time. There has to be a new, relevant, approach that appeals to the consumers’ needs for what they want, when they want it. Brand loyalty is not generally a factor.
- The customer wants authenticity and integrity above all. Slick packaging or as one CEO says “the barn on the package” (referring to the false advertising of wholesome nutrients) doesn’t fool the customer into thinking that the product is all natural. There has to be substance beneath the product.
- Large organizations, with lots of structural barriers, are at a deficit when they aren’t able to move fast enough to meet the demands of the marketplace.
Many Jewish organizations are in the midst of enacting some of the changes, but many are stubbornly hoping the tide will turn back in their favor. Time in this case, is a luxury that the Jewish community just can’t afford any longer.
Jewish summer camp. Arts classes. Internships. Specialty Sports Camps. College Prep Programs. Travel programs. SAT summer prep classes. Employment. Volunteer work.
The list of options for what teens can do in the summer can go on and on.
As the list gets longer, the frustration grows proportionately. How is a family to choose? In addition, there are a multitude of factors that also need to weigh in: the family’s work/life balance as parents juggle their own work schedules and vacation time, funds available at a time when resources are at a premium (pre-college), plus taking into account your teenager’s specific interests and career goals.
No wonder why so many parents are feeling overwhelmed. How do you help your teen choose what to do? What takes priority? The choices above are amplified by the following questions:
- Should your teenager take on an internship?
- Or do volunteer work?
- Or use the time in the summer to prepare for college entrance exams?
- What about taking a leadership role in an activity…is that off the table for the summer?
- Should your teenager begin working so he/she learns responsibility and the value of a dollar?
- How about making sure that your teen shows continuity by enhancing skills in a sport or activity that he/she excels in?
Another way to help, is for you to reflect back on your own summer experiences.
Which summer options continued to stick with you a long time after and why?
What would you have wished to do if you were able?
What mistakes did you make that actually contributed to the choices you’ve made now? (In other words, thinking about the positive outcomes of choices that might not have been the best might ease any guilt you might feel now of not making the perfect choice)
Here is my recommendation: select those activities that will continue to have meaning later in life.
When high school is a faded memory and your teen is already immersed in college–what activities will have made an impact?
Try thinking through summer activities with those goals in mind, despite how tempting it might be to fulfill short-term needs.
And I need to say here that you might just need to make sure that your teenager is occupied everyday while you’re at work. I get it, it is tough out there, no question.
If you are thinking about what would be best for the college resume, college counselors and admissions officers have told me that after reading thousands and thousands of applications, they can see through the haze of shallow but well-intentioned lists of extracurricular activities that have breadth but no depth.
So, you need to maximize your teen’s time, short as it is. So, keep in mind that the grander purpose of these activities is to give your teen something that will add to his/her character, something that will have long-term meaning.
Photo credit: wikipedia
Are you struggling with summer decisions? Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.
- Two minutes, three reasons why Jewish education helps teens focus on what’s important (ruthschapira.wordpress.com)
- How to Choose High School Electives (bigfuture.collegeboard.org)
- Jewish Education: What is its value-added for Jewish Teens?(ruthschapira.wordpress.com)
The Jewish community is the throes of change that at times seems to be at a dizzying pace, yet there are still so many obstacles that seem to discourage the participation of Jewish teenagers in Jewish life. (I’ve written about some of them here and here).
By the time we figure this all out, we might have lost our chance. The adolescent years is a time for making decisions about identity, but that opportunity gets lost in the wave of programs trying to perpetuate themselves, rather than perpetuating a relationship with the Jewish people.
This is best explained through a case study.
Let’s pretend you’re a teenager who is part of a synagogue community. Your bar/bat mitzvah was a few years ago. It was a great experience, and as you said in your speech “all the work you had to do was worth it in the end”. Your parents were so proud.
You were glad to ‘be done’ but against all odds, you decided to continue in your synagogue’s Confirmation program. You were surprised though that 50% of your friends dropped out. They were too busy they said (but aren’t you?) or their parents said they weren’t going to ‘make them’ attend (your friends told you their parents said they didn’t want them to resent their parents later).
So, now, from a class of 25, there are about 12 kids in your weekly class. You really enjoy studying with the Rabbi, and talking about the issues that matter to you. You really are beginning to see the relevance of Judaism in your life. Some of your friends in other synagogues have a different set-up, they work in their synagogue schools every week and earn some money. Sometimes you wonder whether that would have been better, since your parents talk about college expenses so much. But, you do like learning…..so much so, that you might want to continue—-even after the Confirmation ceremony, but the only option is Adult Education, and that would just be too…..uh…..nerdy. You’ve heard that your friend’s synagogue has a class for 11th graders, but you don’t belong to that synagogue.
If you are lucky enough to find out about a community Hebrew high school that offers programming for 11th and 12th graders (some community schools are seen as competition to synagogue offerings), you’d be one of the few to do so, because by about now, there are 75% less of your friends who would have made this same choice (so now you’re down to about 3 of your friends). Your other friends were too busy (but aren’t you?) and they have college to think about (don’t you?) and get their grades up to speed (don’t you?). And chances are, your synagogue might not have shared this information with you.
If you find a program to attend, you might want to learn conversational Hebrew, or take leadership classes, participate in an internship program, or even take a college course. Little do your friends know that this experience will actually help get you into college, prepare you to think more broadly (your Bio-Medical Ethics class is so issue-oriented), and gives you so many chances to develop your skills in public speaking (you plan programs for the school), attend college readiness programs and establish relationships with teachers….not to mention the ‘street cred’ of being able to handle everything you’re already doing plus this academic program.
But you are one of the lucky ones, and you probably will be among the future leaders, simply because the education and involvement you’ve had puts you there.
So, with you, the Jewish community won. Your friends? Well, time will tell.