Category Archives: Jewish

One New Way To Join A Jewish Community

Judaism = Community

Judaism = Community

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.

Related posts: 

When You Say Jewish Community, Who Are You Talking About? 

Patchwork Fixes Don’t Work for The Jewish Community


Why Jewish Organizations Need To Be More Like The Food Industry

Fresh and Appetizing!

Fresh and Appetizing!

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.

Related Posts:

Judaism As A Polysystem.

Praying for Pluralism


Jewish Parents: How to decide the best option for your teen this summer

Summer: a time for choices

Summer: a time for choices

 

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.


Jewish Teen Engagement: Do We Want to Win or Lose the Game

Place your bets on teens!

Place your bets on teens!

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.


For our teens: what does it really mean to be Jewish?

What does it mean to be Jewish?

Is this what it means to be Jewish?

A portion of this post can be a lesson plan for Jewish teens, with the image above as the trigger.

It would be an interesting exercise and not entirely out of context as a beginning to a discussion about Jewish values (that is, if Google defines our context).

The photo came up in a Google Image Advanced Search (free to use or share) for “Why be Jewish?” and struck me immediately as a conversation starter for this topic.

So, if showing this on a projector to a group of Jewish teens, some introductory questions to ask them would be:

What is your first reaction to this image? What strikes you about this picture?

How does this image make you feel?

What does this image say to you about Judaism? Jewish life? (the whole concept of talking about life within the framework of death is a teaching moment in itself). (Psalm 90:12, Psalm 39:5, The Kaddish, etc.)

What are some of your thoughts about Jewish belief?

It might be interesting then, to move from the image toward their personal beliefs about being Jewish.

What defines them as being Jewish? Push hard on this question…don’t accept answers that are superficial and have been called “bagels and lox” Judaism.

For us as parents and Jewish educators, answering this question for ourselves is primary, and not at all an easy task.

List at least seven things that define your identity as a Jew, and you might ask the teens to do the same.

It would make for a very rich conversation.

With that completed, you  might move on to your responses to why should our teens be Jewish?

It’s a basic question that we will need to grapple with for several reasons:

1.     In today’s open society, Jewish values resemble good old-fashioned American humanistic values.

Kindness to animals? Check.

Respect for the elderly? Check.

Caring for the environment? Check.

Social and humanitarian causes? Check.

Well, you get the idea. Our teens are so much a part of the American (Judeo-Christian) value system, that selling them on Jewish values is tough.

Not only that,

2.     Jewish teens don’t perceive themselves as different from their friends, nor do they want to be different.

Then the hard bare reality might hit——many of us don’t want them to feel different either….since we may well remember what that felt like. (So, what do we do with that? )

Among most teens that are not in day school, religion is pretty much a non-issue among their friends. In high school, most kids aren’t staying up into the midnight hours talking theology.

Chem? Yes.

Advanced Physics? Totally.

God? Don’t think so.

3.     Jewish teens aren’t so much interested in doing things that are devoid of personal meaning, and many rituals connected with Judaism have not passed                that test for them.

What’s been missing is context.

Ritual without it is pretty empty, since there isn’t the automatic compulsion to follow ritual for halachic  (Jewish legal) reasons.

You can try this. Just ask them how important it is for them to….say Kiddush. Motzi.

Thought so.  (We’re talking about most Jewish teens here, not those for whom a context has been provided).

4.      Back to the God thing. In high school, Reason is King. They haven’t delved far enough into the sciences to really, really comprehend the mystery of it all, which when they do, (later, in college perhaps) can be an awesome and spiritual experience.

Yes, they’ll talk string theory, and quantum physics, but won’t really be able to absorb all of its implications. (Check out an earlier post: Thinking about Religious Truths and Scientific Lies, ). In short, they’re not there yet.

So, we have a job to do.

Far more than even worrying about Bar and Bat Mitzvah drop-off.

We have to get them to want to be Jewish.  They need to Love Being Jewish. 

The very first step, is making sure our top seven answers are substantive.

Then we need to let our teens see how much we love it. 

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

This post is an updated version of a previous post called “Why should our teens be Jewish?”


Top Ten Questions You Should Ask When Visiting College Campuses Through a Jewish Lens

Finding your Jewish path at college

Finding your Jewish path in college

 

For my family, when selecting college options, it was never solely about the numbers of Jewish students on campus. It was more nuanced than that, because in today’s environment, there are so many more factors to consider other than statistics.

For example, a school may have a large Jewish population, but precisely due to that size, students might not opt for specifically “Jewish” activities when given the many choices there are in a large school.

So below is a top ten list of questions (actually ten main questions, with lots more in between) you might ask when selecting colleges that match your teen’s interest level for Jewish engagement.

Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, has a searchable online tool that answers some basic questions about sheer numbers of Jewish students, but does not offer specific answers to most of the questions below.

  1. Is there a Hillel or other Jewish options on campus (Chabad, Meor, Jewish Student Unions are examples). How far are they from the main campus? How well attended are the events they sponsor? Are there different choices for prayer styles? What is the attendance like? Are there students who take leadership roles? Is the staffing full or part-time? Does the Hillel consider itself an “Open Hillel”? Does the Hillel sponsor a Birthright trip?
  2. Is there an option for Kosher Dining on Campus? Is there open dining, so that students can eat at both places as part of the meal plan?
  3. Are there opportunities to major or minor in Jewish Studies? Is Hebrew language offered? If not, are there partnerships with other schools that have more choices? Will the school easily accept credits in these areas from other colleges?
  4. What is the environment like concerning Israel? Is there an active “Students for Justice in Palestine” group on campus? Have there been anti-Israel rallies? Is there a BDS movement on campus? Have any Israeli products ever been banned from campus stores?
  5. Are there travel abroad opportunities within the State of Israel?
  6. What is the school’s policy about Jewish holiday observance? Are there provisions on campus to celebrate Passover? Are there on-campus holiday services?
  7. Are there Jewish fraternities or sororities? Are they in the same location as other Greek groups?
  8. How many synagogues are there in close proximity to the campus? Is there an opportunity for students to participate at neighboring synagogues? Are there jobs in local synagogues for teachers? Youth group leaders?
  9. Has the college been in the news concerning issues surrounding academic freedom? Have the professors signed any petitions for political causes?
  10. What is the roommate selection process like?

If you feel a bit overwhelmed by this list, well….don’t. College costs are high, and the stakes are even higher. Ask away, then make a decision that is informed.

 

For more general information:

http://www.petersons.com/college-search/ask-experts-college-visit.aspx

 

 


For teens who want to write a better college application

Take five, relax, let yourself think about who you want to be.....

Take five, relax, let yourself think about who you want to be…..

 

Before you read further, you need to know this.

I am not a college advisor, consultant, or guru.

But I am a mother of two who gave her kids and their friends some advice in how to best present themselves on a college application.

My experience as a career consultant, evaluating and helping others write thousands of resumes helped prepare me for the task.

Whether due to my editorial help or not, thankfully, my kids got into the colleges of their choice.

I can relate to the intense pressure right about now that teens face in finalizing applications and putting the finishing touches on that all-important college essay.

With the upcoming flurry of activity surrounding Thanksgiving, I’m sure most teens will not be really, truly thankful until the last application has been sent off to the seeming abyss of the college admissions office.

Although much of the focus might be on the college essay, you might want to pay equal attention to how your application (or resume) reflects the story of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

Yes, you need to squeeze meaning out of every word so your essay (in addition to meeting the new 500 word upper limit for the Common Application) must be attention-grabbing. However, you can be equally thoughtful and creative with factual information.

Many teens overlook how they appear on the application or college resume.  Consider these points before you tackle the job:

  1. Know who you are. This is the most crucial thing you could do right now. Some call this ‘branding’, and although I may not love the term, thinking of yourself in the third person, as a brand so to speak, will help you define more carefully what you want to present. What are your interests, hobbies, skills? Are they reflected accurately in your activities? Could someone figure out what’s important to you by seeing the totality of your activities? If not, you may either have too many activities listed or too few. No one says that you have to write about every single thing you’ve ever done. If need be, edit out those things that don’t add meaning to your presentation. Being a marginal member of a group for a few years won’t add to the portrait you’re trying to paint.
  2. Learn how to write a resume. The experience will help focus you and help you limit your words. Make sure you use action words and show results where possible. For example: “created unique fundraiser that engaged over 70% of students, raising $5,000 as the most successful event that year.” is way better than “planned or chaired school fundraiser.”
  3. What experience can you share that will set you apart from the crowd?  Try to not to list things that are general, but instead show off your specific contributions. For example, “contributed to a monthly blog for the school paper that received regular reader comments….” instead of “wrote for the school paper” or “was a reporter for the school paper”. Similarly, if you list commonplace activities that all of your peers are also listing, well, it’s just ho-hum. Think hard about what you do that others are not doing. For example, taking additional academic courses shows that you’ll be able to handle a challenging course load in college.
  4. Show a commitment over a long-term to some activity, cause, youth group, camp, or educational experience, that perhaps led you to take on a leadership position. If you can articulate that, even better. For example: “participant in youth group for three years, taking on successive leadership positions and am now Vice President of Membership.”
  5. Make sure your language is colorful, descriptive, and not boring. Hopefully your personality will shine through and you’ll get to the college of your dreams!

Please comment if you have additional ideas to add, everyone will benefit!