The Journal of Youth Engagement checks in with Rabbi Ben David, whose congregation has been participating in the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution. The article “What the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Is, and Is Not” originally appeared in the Journal of Youth Engagement in October 2013.
In your original article, “What the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Is (and Is Not)” you highlighted what “revolution” meant for your congregation. We want to know: now that significant time has passed, what, if anything, has changed in your b’nai mitzvah process?
Our B’nai Mitzvah program continues to evolve. Most specifically, we continue to look for ways to allow the students and their families to own the process. For the students, this means not only picking their mitzvah project, but allowing them to select the verses they will chant from the Torah and what the music will be for their morning. We honor them in our Teen Night program the week before and after their simcha. Even these elements help them to feel ownership. We continue to work on family education as it pertains to not only B’nei Mitzvah, but all transitional moments across Jewish life.
When we last heard from you, your congregation was asking many questions, such as,
- What should sixth grade look like?
- What do we want our children to experience?
- What is the role of peer mentoring and community service?
Can you share anything about the answers you came up with to these questions?
In sixth grade, we are emphasizing family education more and more. We are increasingly convinced that experiential learning is ideal, especially for this age group as it allows them to live Jewish practices in a way that is not at all theoretical or pedantic. It’s a good age also to have students really transition to a place of their own, personal Judaism.
To this end, having families experiencing Shabbat together in conventional ways, such as Shabbat services and dinner, and slightly less conventional ways, including through art and social justice, has been really positive for all of us.
How has participating in the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution influenced your thinking around other areas of congregational life? What key components have you carried into work beyond b’nai mitzvah?
B’nai Mitzvah Revolution has given us permissions to tinker. To use a baseball metaphor, not every change has to be a big home run. Singles and doubles go a long way toward updating a program. It all adds up.
Benjamin David is the Rabbi of Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, N.J. He is the co-founder of the Running Rabbis, a global social justice initiative. He and his wife Lisa are the proud parents of Noa, Elijah, and Samuel.
This week, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36), a dangerous bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of gestation with only narrow exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life is in danger.
In advance of Wednesday’s vote, Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, issued a statement to emphasize the Reform Movement’s strong opposition to H.R. 36 and our firm belief in a woman’s fundamental right to make her own health care decisions. The statement reads, in part:
The women who need access to later abortions are often facing desperate circumstances, such as birth defects or fetal diseases that are undetectable until around the 20-week mark. To cut off abortion access at 20 weeks—an arbitrary point in gestation without medical basis—leaves these women without access to a critical health care service. Government policies must not restrict a woman’s right to make medical decisions in concert with her family, her doctor, her clergy, and whomever else she chooses to include.
H.R. 36 is part of a trend of anti-abortion bills at both the federal and state level. In recent years, Congress and state governments have increasingly sought to restrict access to reproductive health care, a step by step approach to stripping women of their right to make informed decisions about their bodies, their families and their lives. These include dangerous and restrictive policies like the building regulations and physician admitting privileges recently passed in Texas (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws, known as TRAP laws), the mandatory 72-hour waiting period that Missouri enacted last summer and bans on abortion after an arbitrary point in gestation—like H.R. 36—which currently exist in nine states.
The House originally planned to vote on the bill in January, on the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. Though it was expected that H.R. 36 would pass easily, a group of House Republicans indicated at the last minute that they would oppose the bill for its requirement that rape survivors report their assault to law enforcement in order receive an exemption to access abortion services. House leadership “fixed” the bill by amending this provision by requiring survivors either to report to law enforcement, or to see a medical professional at least 48 hours before the abortion, at a different clinic than the one performing the abortion. Though this requirement may seem more compassionate, patients would have to schedule two appointments, in two places—and to pay for both. Depending on the availability of health care services in her area, this requirement could be impossible.
The Reform Movement has long opposed 20-week bans and other legislation that undermines women’s fundamental dignity to make informed decisions about their own health. We believe firmly in a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions and to have safe, legal and affordable access to health care.
Our tradition emphasizes the sanctity of all life. By restricting abortion access after 20 weeks, H.R. 36 would endanger women’s ability to seek medical care to maintain the sanctity of their own lives. As our tradition commands women to care for their own health and well-being above all else, we must continue to fight to ensure that all women and their families have safe, legal and affordable access to all health care services, and that those services are not cut off after any given point in a pregnancy. Take action today; urge your Senators to oppose restrictive anti-choice bills like the 20-week ban!
This ancient Jewish festival is a time of “rejoicing in the harvest, rejoicing in this gift of Torah that God has given us, and rejoicing in the ability to learn from Torah in each and every generation,” says Rabbi Shira Stutman.The Jewish holiday of Shavuot, says Rabbi Shira Stutman, is a time of “rejoicing in the harvest, rejoicing in this gift of Torah that God has given us, and rejoicing in the ability to learn from Torah in each and every generation.” /wnet/religionandethics/files/2011/06/thumb01-shavuot.jpg
Watch more of our interview about the meaning of Shavuot with the director of community engagement at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC./wnet/religionandethics/files/2011/06/thumb01-rabbistutman1.jpg Watch more of our interview about the meaning of Shavuot with the director of community engagement at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC.
By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
When Eliezer Ben Yehuda set out to assemble a new, Hebrew language dictionary, he needed to create terminology for modern day concepts that are not found in our ancient sources. Although many of his words caught on and are used regularly, many others did not. Recently, I was reminded of two words for which there are no Hebrew equivalents, leaving us no choice but to use the Latin terms: koalitziyah and the less popular oppositziyah.
Last week – literally at the 11th hour – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu escaped political collapse by signing agreements with four different partners to form a narrow coalition with 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members. Although this strategy has been used before, such a coalition is both fragile and extremely difficult to maintain. What will happen, for example, if a single Knesset member is absent for an important vote? Although I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that because there is no Hebrew word for coalition it’s not a Jewish concept, there has been only one instance in the past in which a 61member majority came together in agreement – passing the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s.
This new koalitziyah was made possible because Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), two ultra-Orthodox parties, have returned from “exile,” which did not serve them well in the past. We in the Reform Movement are distressed by this deal, however, because it promises management of the rabbinical courts to the ultra-Orthodox. Although the Justice Ministry has overseen the standards and ethics of rabbinical court judges for the last decade, supervision of the courts will be wrestled away from this ministry and returned to the Religious Services Ministry, which Shas controls.
The coalition agreement with UTJ includes a clause that calls for a larger committee responsible for appointing rabbinical court judges, meaning there will be more coalition politicians and fewer women on the panel. UTJ also has been promised that orders requiring tiered burial – a massive waste of land compared to in-ground burial – will be canceled in ultra-Orthodox cities. In addition, appropriations to yeshivot will increase, the conversion bill will be reversed, and the issues surrounding the draft and the ultra-Orthodox will resurface.
And so it continues.
In his effort to form a coalition, Netanyahu took a page from the playbook of Israeli politics of old: Sell out to the Haredim because secular Jews don’t care about those things anyway. For Netanyahu, it’s all about holding on to power. In fact, on September 23, 2018, a date he eagerly awaits, Netanyahu will surpass David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving leader.
In a democracy, power must belong to the people. Sadly, in today’s Israel, an increasing majority of citizens wants nothing to do with those who hold the power — the rabbinate, their courts, and the obligations they impose on Israelis. Thankfully, the Israeli democracy is stronger than its parts. Indeed, the Supreme Court will prevail and checks and balances will continue to do their job. What’s more, our Reform Movement will continue to lead efforts encouraging Israelis to enhance their Jewish identity – to maintain their souls, their resources, and their character – even as the grip of state-sponsored Judaism tightens around them.
Indeed, it is easy for those who sit in the oppositziyah or across the ocean to wax lyrical about the long list of grievances prompted by the recent elections. At the same time, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we are providing essential alternatives. After all, that’s what today’s Zionism is all about — altering the course of the Jewish State so that it is meaningful to all the Jewish people.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg is president of ARZA.
Rabbi Lance Sussman, the senior rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA, wrote a piece published today in eJewish Philanthropy titled “Seeing is Believing: Visual T’filot and the Future of Jewish Worship.” He begins,
Three years ago, my synagogue agreed to install large retractable screens on either side of the Ark and mounted projectors on the back wall of our 900 seat sanctuary. With almost no resistance, we quickly transitioned from late 15th century technology to early 21th century modalities of communicating.
It was a relatively easy process. In addition to her musical talents, our Cantor discovered she had an inherent talent for developing liturgical power point. What size font, which colors, Hebrew versus transliteration, translation versus epitomes of the text, iconic images versus new art and still life versus video instantly presented themselves as questions we needed to address. One by one, we worked our way through the various technological and philosophical issues.
“Sooner. Stronger. Deeper. Longer.” That’s the motto that guides Nancy Bossov through her work as an early childhood education and engagement professional. Now the director of early childhood education at Temple Israel in New Rochelle, N.Y., Nancy came up with this motto while serving as the director of early childhood education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York. In practice, it means that engaging families in congregational life sooner rather than later fosters stronger connections to the congregation. This leads to a deeper experience for members, which translates into longer member-synagogue relationships.
Almost all synagogue leaders are concerned with their congregations’ membership numbers, and those same leaders report drastic drop-off rates for families whose children have completed their formal religious education. Although there isn’t a magical cure-all for membership retention, early engagement has proven to be a successful tactic.
Knowing this, the URJ gathered leaders from 28 congregations to participate in two early childhood-related Communities of Practice, Successfully Engaging Families with Young Children and Pursuing Excellence in Your Early Childhood Center. For 18 months, these leaders explored strategies and programs for achieving that “sooner, stronger, deeper, longer” member connection.
The findings from those Communities of Practice have just been published and are available in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum. The guide includes best principles; a syllabus and workbook pages to help you strategize about your engagement efforts; additional research; and helpful articles and other resources.
Because learning together is so important, the URJ just launched seven new Communities of Practice, including two designed to help leaders with early engagement: Building a Brand: Excellence in Reform Movement Early Childhood Engagement (for congregations that have an early childhood center) and Creating Connected Communities for Families with Young Children (for congregations that do not have an early childhood center). Visit the Communities of Practice group to read about these learning opportunities, and see this ongoing conversation for answers to frequently asked questions. Applications for the new Communities of Practice will be accepted through June 15th.
Seasonal Info: We invite you to join us at the 2015 URJ Biennial, taking place November 4-8 in Orlando, FL. Registration will open later this month. In the meantime, visit urj.org/biennial to learn more.
Tent Tip: The Tent’s powerful search tool can help you find answers to your questions and resources to help manage the sacred. Before posing a question to your fellow Tent members, or if you’re not sure where to find a resource, enter your search term in the search box located at the top of every page. You then can filter search results to more easily find what you need.