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Time Flies by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

6 Jan

Time flies. You’ve heard that saying a million times. Well, I’m here to tell you that it sure does. I just spent a wonderful week with five of my six children, their spouses and three of my six grandchildren, celebrating my husband’s milestone birthday. Our youngest child is 31 and the family dynamics are so different when your children become adults. And I am here to tell you that it happens in the blink of an eye.

Moments ago and a lifetime ago, I was holding my babies. As any good Jewish mother would do, I had their entire lives mapped out and all I had to do was keep them safe and on the path and we would be fine. What I could never have predicated was how bumpy their paths would be. Each one had many periods of smooth sailing but each hit rough patches, some rougher than others but they all wandered off course many times in their lives. Sometimes it was because of matters that were beyond their control but most often it was because they made some bad decisions or had a period of time when their brains stopped functioning completely. During those periods, I felt like time was standing still and that the blackness would never leave. It was overwhelming to see my children lose control, be in pain, or worse, cause someone else pain. But that is part of parenting, as well.

This week we begin the Book of Exodus or Sh’mot in Hebrew. It begins with the birth of Moses. With the Egyptian Pharaoh commanding the midwives to kill all Hebrew males, his very survival is a miracle. At three months old, Moses’ mother makes the impossible decision to abandon her child in the river to try to save his life. I think about holding a three month old and imagining all the possibilities that lie ahead for that child. Rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses is raised by his own mother who acts as his nurse maid. As Moses is reaching adulthood, she again must abandon him to the Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ very first independent act is to kill an Egyptian. Even from a place of concern for his people, he made a decision that would cause him to have to flee and go into hiding. I am sure that act was far from the dreams his mother had for him. The consequences of those actions make it hard to predict that he would become the great leader we celebrate. And that’s the point. Perspective is everything.

I am now at a time in my life where I look at my children and see adults who are responsible, loving, hard working, compassionate people. They are now the ones holding the babies and praying that they will not stray too far from the path of their dreams. They became those adults because of the journey they made through their childhood and teen years. All of those experiences, both good and bad, have brought them to this moment. Some of it was painful and frightening but most was wonderful and went by much too quickly. And now, time flies. We are expecting our seventh grandchild in March and I marvel at our blessings.

It would have been impossible for me to have predicted what kind of adults my kids would become any more than I could have kept them from making the choices they made. What I can tell you is that I lived through it, laughed a lot, shed some tears, stayed awake some nights, beamed with pride, yelled at them, and kissed and loved them. So like Moses’ mother, who can brag that her kid became the leader of the Jewish people and hung out with God, I can tell you that each of my children has become exactly the person they were meant to be.

baby moses

An Attitude of Gratitude! by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

25 Nov

On Thanksgiving in my home, we have a tradition of going around the table to say what we are thankful for. The same thing is happening in many, many homes all over the country. We all have so much to be thankful for and that is the official day to publicly state our list of things and people for whom we are grateful. My kids think it is sappy and would rather start eating but I think it is important to take time surrounded by those most important to me to share our thoughts.

As I think about what I will say this year, I realize how much I have to be grateful for. I wonder if everyone feels this way? My life is filled with so many blessings and I know that so much of what I have to be thankful for is a direct result of the incredible people I am surrounded by on a daily basis, the families at Temple Beth El, the staff and clergy with whom I work, my family and friends. I don’t think I can find the words to express how much you all fill my life with blessings and love.

Every day at Temple Beth El, we share stories of incredible acts of kindness and courage that move us. We see people working tirelessly to make the lives of other congregants and community members better, happier, healthier and safer. We see people reaching out to welcome those who are new to help them find their place. We know that there are congregants passionately trying to change our community for the better. You have all touched our lives and the lives of so many others and I am so grateful.

So on behalf of those who will never be able to say thank you, allow me to tell you on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you. I am thankful to be among people who work so hard to make the world a better place. I love the quote by Albert Schweitzer, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Thank you for being the spark and I wish each of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.ThankYouwithKids


My Grandmother’s Shabbos Soup by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

3 Nov

Ordinarily, I would write Shabbat, but when I talk about my beloved Grandmother, I need to write Shabbos because that is the way she would have said it. I adored my Grandma Berdie, my mom’s mom. Everyone in my family did. She was the center of my maternal family’s world and lived to be 99 years old. When my son was born, her oldest great-grandchild, her name was shortened to G.G., for Great Grandmother. She always said it with a French accent! G.G. was widowed at 56 and worked until she was 70. She was smart, articulate, hard-working, kind and loving. Everyone adored her. She was also deeply religious. Her life centered on Judaism. She kept Shabbat and always walked to shul (temple). She kept a kosher home and was an exceptional cook. Her recipes were all the Jewish dishes you would expect but no one could make them like my G.G. Believe me, I have tried.

There is a story about a King who ends up eating a Shabbat meal at a peasant’s home and he realizes that he has never tasted anything so delicious. He gets the recipe and has his cook try to replicate the dish. To his dismay, no matter what they try, it never tastes as delectable as it did when he ate with the peasant. Finally, he returns to the peasant to ask him to help with the recipe and he discovers that what was missing from the dish was the most important addition, Shabbat. It was the spice and spirit of Shabbat that made the peasant’s food so extraordinary.

That story brings me to my grandmother’s Shabbos soup. Every Friday night dinner in her home, after lighting candles and saying the prayers, started with a steaming bowl of soup. There were many courses and everything was wonderful but I loved her soup. As a young bride, I meticulously wrote down all of her recipes and try as I might, they never tasted quite as good. When she would come to Charlotte to visit, I would have her come over to prepare my favorite things and take copious notes as I watched her taste and adjust her specialties to get them just right. Didn’t matter. When I prepared them, they were good but never quite as good.

And then something changed. I became the grandmother. I don’t know how that happened but somehow time has flown by and I am now the grandmother who cooks the special Jewish foods that makes Shabbat and holidays so special. I now understand that it wasn’t what my grandmother added to the soup that I couldn’t figure out. It was that my whole family was together and that we were sharing Shabbat.

Why am telling you this? For a couple reasons. Whether it is a traditional Jewish Shabbat menu or pizza, nothing tastes as wonderful as a Shabbat meal shared with special people and those special people are right here in our Temple. On November 14, 2014, the Religious School Committee is inviting all of our school families to join us for a Shabbat Pot Luck dinner. Click here for the details. There is no agenda for this evening other than to share the Shabbat experience together. Please RSVP and join us. As an added bonus, I am going to give everyone a copy of my grandmother’s Shabbos soup recipe. The second way to enjoy the sweetness of Shabbat is to join the Shabbat Supper Club program for Religious School families. Contact Cantor Mary for details and she will find the perfect group for your family to enjoy a monthly Shabbat experience. Click here for more information.

I hope to see you all on November 14th. I promise, every dish will taste superb!

A Shelter of Peace by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

15 Oct

Sometimes you don’t know that something important is missing until you get it. That’s what happened to our Religious School students and indeed our entire congregation during this holiday of Sukkot. Temple Beth El has always had a sukkah. The students of our school always decorated it and the clergy lead beautiful holiday services in our snap together sukkah. But we knew something was missing and Rabbi Judy reached out to Dr. Peter Hindel and asked if he would consider designing and building a larger sukkah. Peter had built some other small projects for us in the past and she trusted that he would be able to complete the task. He agreed to do it and went to work.

I have a hard time putting into words how grateful I am for the beautiful sukkah he created. It is so much more than a portable, three sided temporary structure. Our new sukkah has a story. It represents the journey of the Israelites following the cloud through the wilderness. It is a shelter of peace. It is a labor of love.

This past week it was filled with our students’ laughter as they decorated the walls. It was filled with their beautiful voices as we sang the songs of our family Sukkot services. Our clergy told stories and taught our students the proper way to shake the lulav and etrog. Families brought dinners to fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah. All week long our holiday was elevated by the beauty and symbolism of our new sukkah.

On behalf of all of our students, faculty and staff, I want to thank Dr. Peter Hindel for building a sukkah for us that was more than we could have ever imagined or hoped for. It will serve us well and will continue to be the source of celebration for many, many children celebrating Sukkot for years to come.



Butterflies in my Stomach by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

3 Sep


I am sitting at my desk in a panic because Religious School is only one week away. I can’t believe how quickly the summer has flown by. This is my fifteenth year and you would think that I could put the school back together in my sleep. You would be wrong. Thankfully, Tracey Lederer, my trusty assistant is always on top of registration and many of the other details that are necessary to get us off to a great start. But I feel a deep sense of apprehension and concern because I want to make sure that every year is better than the last one.

What are the new materials available? How can I make sure that we are on top of the latest technology and trends? What do I need to do to support the amazing faculty that we have at TBERS and how can I make sure that the new teachers feel at home and are ready to teach? It is an awesome responsibility and everyone connected with the school feels that pressure.

But what I worry most about is finding the words to convey how much I believe in our school and in the importance of giving Jewish children the best Jewish education we possibly can. I want every family to find community and feel that they are a part of something meaningful. Religious school is so much more than just dropping off your children for class.

We have a Religious School Committee that supports our school initiatives and organizes and implements social events, social justice and action projects, and teacher appreciation. They welcome our families on opening day and spend hours working hard to ensure that the school year ends with a Mitzvah Day that helps our community both in Shalom Park and the city at-large. On November 14, 2014, the committee has planned a Shabbat pot luck dinner that is open to all religious school families. It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Shabbat with old friends and make new ones. I hope you will join us for dinner and if you would like to find out more information about joining the committee click here.

Throughout the year there are many opportunities for our families to find a connection and a place to belong. There are grade level Shabbat experiences, parent class participation days, Holiday meals and services, Congregational Shabbat brunch and services, and so much more.

I can’t wait to see you all back in school this coming Sunday when classes begin. I also hope that you will take a few minutes to look through the school calendar you receive and find opportunities to come join our religious school family and enrich your experience.

On behalf of the entire Religious School faculty, staff and committee, I want to wish you and your family a healthy and happy New Year. By the way, we have a great Junior Congregation planned for all kindergarten through third graders.

Susan Jacobs
Director of Education

My Heart is in Israel by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

24 Jul

My first visit to Israel was in 1971. I was a rising senior in high school and I spent the summer along with 50 other teens on a USY teen trip. Israel in 1971 was invincible. The country was filled with a pioneer spirit. Young soldiers hitchhiked everywhere. There was no Intifada. We were able to travel to every corner of the country. There were a few minor skirmishes that summer but nothing that made us feel unsafe or even cautious. At the time, I thought it was a life altering experience. Forty three years later, I know it was a life altering experience. That summer indelibly imprinted my passion for all things Israel in my heart and soul. My deeply rooted Jewish identity was and remains tied up in a strong bond with the people and the land.

I have traveled to Israel a dozen times since then. I’ve gone on Federation missions, chaperoned TBE teen trips, taken my own family, participated in Partnership projects and most recently had the opportunity to join the interfaith trip with our friends from Myers Park Baptist Church. The excitement and anticipation I feel is always the same. For me, it is going home. I know who I will visit and what I need to bring them. I know where I will eat, sleep and shop. I have special spots that I love to take first-timers to visit because it is the perfect view or smell or taste. I know where I want to pray and that I will be overcome with closeness to God and to my fellow Jews in ways only possible in Israel. I feel relieved to walk the streets and to hear the tumult. I am almost giddy because I know my way around the streets of Jerusalem like someone who lives there or that the best falafel can be found on Ha Nasi Street in Hadera! I am at peace and filled with happiness. And, yes, I have been there when there was chaos and commotion. I have visited at the height of the Intifada when Israelis poured out of their shops and homes to thank us for coming. They were moved to tears that we had not forgotten them. I was not frightened. Until now.

Israel has always been held to impossible standards in world opinion but I have never felt such vehemence and hatred as I have these past few weeks. Maybe it is the barrage of 24 hour news channels reporting with such anti-Israel bias or the constant Facebook, Twitter and other social media feeds portraying the Palestinians as innocent victims but it seems as though the entire world has turned against us. I am frightened because I don’t want my people to feel alone and abandoned while they send their loved ones back into military duty or sleep with their children in safe rooms. I worry about my friends who live there and my friends who are visiting even in the midst of the struggle. I know that I need to do something to help. I know I need to make sure that I support Israel in any way that I can.

So I will be attending the Stand with Israel Community Rally on Sunday, July 27th at 2:00pm at Romare Bearden Park. I want to demonstrate my support and show my pride and love of Israel to our community and the world. I am hopeful that every Jew and non-Jewish supporter will join me. This is the time to come together as a community. This is a time to make sure that our voices are heard. I will also be making a pledge to “Stop the Sirens”. Our North American Reform Movement is working to help support millions of Israelis in harm’s way. The Reform Movement has joined with the Conservative Movement and JFNA (the Jewish Federations of North America) to raise and distribute funds to provide emergency aid and alleviate the pain and suffering of our Israeli brothers and sisters. At times such as these we especially feel connected to our people and I hope you will all join me by contributing generously.

I will go back to Israel as soon as I can. There is nothing that will keep me from setting foot in my Homeland. I have no doubt that it will be as wonderful as always. Until then, I will pray for Israel and for peace.


Our Students Visit Sinai by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

5 Jun

This past week, the Jewish world celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, commemorating the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. At Temple Beth El, our Shavuot service was created, written, and led by our 10th grade Confirmation class. We watched with pride as these teens shared their years of Jewish study, deep sense of spirituality, and love of Judaism with the congregation. How were they able to arrive at this milestone life cycle event in their Jewish lives? We bring all of our students to Sinai. That’s right! Our students are part of the nation of Israel that assembled at the foot of the mountain and received Torah.

In fact, our students visit Sinai every week. From preschool through post-confirmation, our dedicated clergy and teachers help our students receive a living, relevant, meaningful Torah that serves as their guide to a rich and full Jewish life. They learn that they are all B’tzelem Elohim, created in the image of God and that we value and love each of them. We build a foundation that will remain strong throughout their lives and help them become individuals who are proud of their Jewish identity and who contribute to their community.

When you walk through the halls of Temple Beth El Religious School on a typical Sunday morning, it is clear that Torah is alive and vibrant in every class and in every student. You will hear music and the voices of our children in t’filah singing Torah. You will see the beautiful Judaic and ritual art projects that they create to celebrate Torah. You can hear Torah and Jewish history come alive in so many creative ways.

Not only is this the time of year to celebrate Shavuot, it is time to give your children Torah by enrolling them in Temple Beth El Religious School. It is a precious and valuable gift you give them. You are helping them find their way to Sinai.

This past week we could feel the presence of Sinai in every Confirmation student who stood on the bima to lead the congregation. We know that their years of Jewish education have prepared them to bring their future families and the generations that follow to Sinai with them.

For information about Temple Beth El Religious School, click here.