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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

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Chanukah at Temple Beth El: Illuminating the meaning behind the “Holiday” of Lights –By Dara Gever, Director of Youth Engagement

3 Dec

Chanukah at Temple Beth El: Illuminating the meaning behind the “Holiday” of Lights

By: Dara Gever, Director of Youth Engagement

We have made it to the end of the November trajectory that shoots us through Thanksgiving and Black Friday, delivering us to the doorstep of the month of December like a package that arrives early.  Our seasonal obligations were relatively straightforward up to this point: make plans to bring our families together for Thanksgiving; navigate complex family relationships and accommodate everyone’s unique (and sometimes crazy) food requirements; wait in line for a discount on Black Friday; and exclaim that December snuck up on us upon looking at the calendar on Monday morning.

Suddenly, as though overnight, holiday wreaths have sprung up around malls and holiday lights decorate every nook and cranny of our public living space.  The Starbucks cashier wishes you a Happy Holiday, the dentist sends you a Happy Holidays card in the mail, and the world is alive with light shows and holiday editions of foods and drinks.  The anticipation of Christmas transforms the landscape of American culture, turning all public venues into celebrations of this non-Jewish holiday.

American Jews, particularly those who are Reform, are renowned for our ability to assimilate to the norms of contemporary American society.  In fact, the ability to conform to the society of which we are a marginal population has saved Jewish people from being expelled from society altogether for ages.  In general, our Jewish rituals are neatly compartmentalized physically: we attend services at synagogue; we celebrate Shabbat with those who are close to us, privately; we light the menorah at home.  We are Jews in the synagogue and home, and Americans outside of it.  The term “Holiday” represents society’s acknowledgement that other religions—Jews in particular—wish to be a part of American society, one that is founded on Christian values.  This term is an attempt to equate Christmas with the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, which usually falls very close to December 25th.  In other words, it is an attempt to inject Chanukah with a measure of importance by associating it with Christmas.  When the term “Holiday” is used during the month of December, it demonstrates how successfully American Jews have integrated into American society, after centuries of expulsion from communities of every generation.

Chanukah is certainly a unique Jewish holiday worthy of celebration, but we must be cautious not to fall into the habit of comparing a minor Jewish holiday with a Christian holiday that is, in comparison, colossal—comparable only to Easter in importance, truly.  As Dr. Ron Wolfson explains in his article, “The December Dilemma,” found on MyJewishLearning.com, some Jews will conflate Chanukah with Christmas by telling their children, “’Christmas is for Christians.  They have Christmas.  We are Jewish.  We have Hanukkah.’  In an attempt to substitute something for Christmas, the parent offers Hanukkah.”  The challenge that we face during December is teaching our kids about the special significance of Chanukah without comparing it to or competing with the significance of Christmas.

The good news is that Temple Beth El’s mission is to provide a super fun Chanukah celebration for every age group.  The k/1, 2/3, 4/5, and 6/7 junior youth group advisors have organized Chanukah events for all kindergarten through seventh graders.  ALL events for kindergarten-seventh grade will take place on Saturday, December 13th from 3-5 PM.  This date and time was chosen purposefully to maximize the convenience of dropping off kids of multiple ages.   The LIBERTY board has been working around the clock to plan our Chanukah lock in from December 12th-13th.   To find out more about all Chanukah youth, or to sign up and pay online, go to www.beth-el.com and look under “Temple Beth El Community Events” (you will have to scroll down a bit). There is also information about adult Chanukah programs on the Beth-El.com homepage.  No matter what age you are, there is a Chanukah event that you’ll love at Temple Beth El.

Even though we cannot completely solve the “December Dilemma,” we can embrace the “Holiday” season as a time to remind our kids why being Jewish is unique, special, and cause for celebration.

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!

Butterflies in my Stomach by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

3 Sep

butterfliesbook

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.

L’shalom,
Susan Jacobs
Director of Education

A Glimpse into the Jewish Summer Experiences of our Charlotte and Temple Beth El Teens by Dara Gever, Director of Youth Engagement

1 Aug

by Dara Gever

“Summer” is the smell of cold pool water on hot concrete, the taste of barbecue (although, as a vegetarian, I prefer grilled cheese), the feeling of the hot sun after months spent trapped indoors.  “Summer Camp,” for many of our Temple Beth El kids, means building and strengthening Jewish identity through innovative programs.

I am a firm believer in summer homes.  I have gone to sleep-away camp since I was eight years old and was a camp counselor for one summer.   This is why I am thrilled that the summer abodes of many of our Beth El kids are at Jewish camps.  Since this is my first full summer as a “Charlottean,” I experienced three incredible Jewish summer experiences for the first time: URJ Camp Six Points, Mecklenburg Ministries In Our Own Backyard interfaith camp, and URJ Camp Coleman.

Sports and Judaism—I never imagined how well they could go together until I experienced the magic of Camp Six Points, my first camp stop of the summer.  I was honored to have been invited to serve as visiting faculty member for URJ Six Points Sports Academy, which uses the sparkling (and air conditioned) facilities of the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina.  I joined several Charlotte campers for a session in which enrollment exceeded 200 campers.   According to the staff, they had more campers in that single session than they did in all the sessions combined just a few years ago, when the camp first began.

Even though the Six Points program promotes a non-conventional approach to Jewish education, this camp converged with Jewish learning in a very traditional way: Jewish learning was frequently centered around meal offerings for the day.  The staff and campers participated in song session in the chader ochal (the cafeteria), prayers before and after each meal, and a special Shabbat dinner complete with Challah and candles at the end of the week.  Every morning at breakfast, three or four staff members would perform a skit to act out a “Jewish Value of the Day.”  Once that Jewish value was taught, the campers could earn bracelets with the Jewish value printed on them as a reward for exemplifying that particular trait.  While I was at camp, we learned Jewish values of Community, Loyalty, and Compassion.  When kids exemplified these values, they earned respect from their counselors and coaches in the form of bracelets.   I loved taking pictures with our Temple Beth El crew at Six Points!

Camp Six Points

I was also fortunate to be able to spend an entire week with the Mecklenburg Ministries “In Our Own Backyard (IOOBY)” Interfaith youth camp, directed by Jason Williams.  Three Beth El teens, Abby Levinson, Darien Lewis, and Arthur Valdman, participated in the camp along with 17 other rising 9th-12th graders of different faiths.  The religions represented by the IOOBY participants ranged from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’I, and Unitarian Universalist.

The teens spent the entire day in the sweltering heat experiencing “A Walk in Their Shoes,” a simulation of what it’s like to be homeless.  We visited the Bahai Temple, meditated with a Buddhist monk, did Yoga at the Hindu Center of Charlotte, learned about Unitarian Universalist teachings and celebrities, experienced a Catholic mass, participated in Muslim prayer during Ramadan, and ended our trip at Temple Beth El Shabbat services.  In between visiting all of these incredible houses of faith, we did community service projects around Charlotte.  The IOOBY teens volunteered at “Sow Much Good,” a community organic garden; we helped the volunteers at Freedom School Field Day; we sorted clothes at the Crisis center and sorted food at Second Harvest Food Bank.  Our mode of transportation to all of these sites was the public bus system, so that we could experience first-hand the challenges of poverty in Charlotte.  At the conclusion of camp, the teens prepared and presented an interfaith service for their parents in which each teen told the group how the different visits to religious centers and community service projects had an impact on the group.  It was so touching to see how the next generation of leaders demonstrated a level of compassion and understanding that allowed them to celebrate their differences and create a strong bond that united these teens–not in spite of their different faiths, but because of the differences in their beliefs.

IOOBY 2014photo

The last stop of my summer camp swing was Camp Coleman, which I visited for one day with Rabbi Judy and Max Wallach.  Jewish tradition teaches that when you visit the sick you take away 1/60th of the illness. It also teaches that dreams are 1/60th of prophecy (of God speaking to us). And Shabbat is 1/60th of the World To Come. We would add, after spending Shabbat at our Reform movement’s Camp Coleman, that Coleman is also 1/60th of heaven. Our 21 Charlotte kids who attended camp Coleman this summer would agree.

Rabbi Judy and I visited Camp Coleman today to hang out with our Charlotte and Temple Beth El campers. Marlene Rosenzweig and Lori Handler put together gift bags for our kids that we handed out after lunch.

After mandatory optionals, where kids are required to make tough choices between playing in the lake, swimming in the pool, or eating fresh chocolate pita baked over a fire by the Israeli staff, among many more options, Rabbi Judy and I taught the 53 rising 10th graders, known as the Coleman Chalutzim. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer with a festive balloon and cookies while overlooking Lake Shalom. We had a great debate as to whether 50 years ago they would have made the choice to give up working a summer at Coleman during their college years to register African Americans to vote and to teach at Freedom Schools in Mississippi in 1964. They understood why, as Jews, they might do this mitzvah of fighting for civil rights.

Coleman

We are so proud of our 21 incredible kids who chose Coleman, the 24 who chose Camp Six Points, and the 3 who represented Temple Beth El in the Mecklenburg Ministries interfaith youth camp.  Our community and our movement are blessed to be able to offer so many different opportunities for engagement for our youth during the summer.  If you are looking for the perfect Jewish summer experience, do not hesitate to ask our clergy or educational staff!

Our Shabbat at Coleman- from Dara Gever and Rabbi Judy Schindler at URJ Camp Coleman

27 Jul

Coleman lesson ColemanJewish tradition teaches that when you visit the sick you take away 1/60th of the illness. It also teaches that dreams are 1/60th of prophecy (of God speaking to us). And Shabbat is 1/60th of the World To Come. We would add, after spending Shabbat at our Reform movement’s Camp Coleman, that Coleman is also 1/60th of heaven. Our 21 Charlotte kids who attended camp Coleman this summer would agree.

Rabbi Judy and I visited Camp Coleman today to hang out with our Charlotte and Temple Beth El campers. Marlene Rosenzweig and Lori Handler put together gift bags for our kids that we handed out after lunch.

After mandatory optionals, where kids are required to make tough choices between playing in the lake, swimming in the pool, or eating fresh chocolate pita baked over a fire by the Israeli staff, among many more options, Rabbi Judy and I taught the 53 rising 10th graders, known as the Coleman Chalutzim. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer with a festive balloon and cookies while overlooking Lake Shalom. We had a great debate as to whether 50 years ago they would have made the choice to give up working a summer at Coleman during their college years to register African Americans to vote and to teach at Freedom Schools in Mississippi in 1964. They understood why, as Jews, they might do this mitzvah of fighting for civil rights.

We are so proud of our 21 incredible kids who chose Coleman, the 24 who chose Camp Six Points, and the 3 who represented Temple Beth El in the Mecklenburg Ministries interfaith youth camp.  Our community and our movement are blessed to be able to offer so many different opportunities for engagement for our youth during the summer.  If you are looking for the perfect Jewish summer experience, do not hesitate to ask our clergy or educational staff!