Jewish World

This is it — it is Elul. It is the time of year when we are given the gift of an entire month to reflect on our lives in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. It’s like a good warm-up before a workout — when we have prepared ourselves during the month of Elul, we are ready to use our teshuvah (repentance/spiritual turning) muscles well on the New Year.

My kids have often reminded me of the need for good stretching before and after exercise. I’m not good at this — I am impatient to get to the bike or the treadmill and get my heart rate up. To be honest I have to admit that I am lazy about stretching before my workout. And I pay the price: my muscles complain and sometimes ache, and it’s all my own fault.

My kids and I recently took a four-day hiking trip on a beautiful mountain trail. It was steep and rugged. They are a lot younger than I am and amazingly agile. I thought I was in good shape — until I began this hike. But I was intent upon keeping up with them and not holding our journey back. In pushing forward, we all forgot about the necessity of stretching — that is, until I was limping from injury.

Now nursing my sore tendon, I am reminded once again of the value of warming up — getting ready, being prepared.

So here we are — we can enter the New Year unprepared and risk that the journey of teshuvah, repentance and renewal, might not work. It could even leave us bruised and alienated.  All those words…all those prayers — they are for us, that we might emerge into the New Year feeling a sense of possibility, hope and optimism — a renewal of spirit.

The month of Elul is a gift. On this, its first day, let’s unwrap its potential to help us heal our wounds, repair ourselves and be closer in the New Year to our very best selves.

An Elul journey can include prayers, meditations, journal-writing, etc.  Our spiritual practice belongs to us — the challenge today is to decide what it will be, and to try our best.

I wish you a Hodesh Tov, happy New Month. This auspicious month of Elul is the beginning of our journey.

You can help create healthy and sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond.
An opportunity to support Hazon.

You may know of my passion for great food: organic fruits, vegetables and unprocessed foods. Hazon, a wonderful Jewish environmental organization, is doing great work as a leader in the Jewish Food movement and environmental education. With the help of Hazon, we can create systems for sustainable, ethically produced, healthful food so that future generations can continue to enjoy the earth’s bounty, as we do.

Hazon raises funds annually through a Labor Day Weekend bike ride in New York. I will be riding in this two-day Hazon NY ride – on the “Recon Riders” team, to support Hazon’s inspiring work.

I invite you to contribute to this cause. It’s a great way to make a difference.

If you would like to donate to Hazon as a sponsor for my ride, follow this link:

Or checks can be sent to Hazon.
(Please include a memo designating your donation to Amy Small’s ride.)
Makom Hadash
125 Maiden Lane Suite 8B
New York, NY 10038

If you would like more information about Hazon, visit their website:

Yom Ha’atzmaut always makes me feel very happy. I am proud to celebrate the flowering of the Israel, alive with creativity, Jewish culture, scientific innovation, outstanding scholarship, and success in building a nation. I think warmly and longingly of my many visits to Israel, walking the streets, breathing the air, surrounded by history, holiness and wonderful Israeli friends.


Yet, Yom Ha’atzmaut also makes me sad.  Our beloved homeland, the only Jewish national home, anticipated so longingly for so many centuries, is not at peace.  The challenge of living in a “hostile neighborhood” continues to strain Israel’s resources — emotionally, spiritually, physically and materially.  As a result, the tensions in Israeli society and the Jewish world are manifold, seeping into our consciousness like an electric current.


A frightening manifestation of this tension is the deepening and widening set of divisions in the Jewish community when we talk about Israel.  Who is a (real) Zionist? (and who is not?) Who is for peace? (and who is not?)  Who is a Jew? (and who is not?)  Who is an Israeli? (and who is not?) Who is our enemy (and who is not?)  In an environment of “us” and “them”, insiders and outsiders, the nuances and complexities of these challenges are too often dismissed in favor of platitudes. Our internal Jewish dialogue is marred by dismissive reactions to those who hold opinions different from our own. These tensions course through the American Jewish community, sometimes with much hostility.


Out of love for Israel, so many of us worry about her future.  We are passionate about contributing to her strength and sustenance. We all want Israel to Israel to thrive as a secure, Jewish democratic nation at peace with her neighbors! Just when we need to share our concerns and ideas, collecting our energies and talents  for mutual strength, we find it is difficult to have civil, respectful and productive conversations about Israel.


Israel’s challenges can surely feel overwhelming to any of us. Try as we might to exert our influence, we can’t control what happens.  But one thing each of us can control, one area where we can have direct and immediate impact, is in the internal relationships within our Jewish community. We can resolve to have difficult conversations together, to respect different views regarding Israel and to hear one another with openness. We can resolve to tolerate alternative narratives, even when we disagree.


Our people have lots of experience with discussion, debate and inclusive discourse. It’s the way of our rabbinic tradition, codified in the Talmud and centuries of commentary on sacred texts. Jewish scholarship has long embraced an appreciation for a variety of views and this has shaped Jewish culture for centuries. “Two Jews, three opinions,” we like to say, with a pride in our multi-voiced communal culture.


There is something very powerful in the Talmudic model, where minority views are preserved and discussed along with what ultimately became majority opinions. The mind sharpening reasoning of the Talmud is empowering. If, instead of acrimonious name-calling, labeling, accusations and dismissal, we choose to honor difference of opinions, we could accomplish so much more — in both focus and internal strength.  We need each other. The key is to facilitate an environment where we can all express our views, while listening and reasoning with each other.


Fortunately, there are good tools to help us conduct these emotionally-charged conversations respectfully in our communities. One example is the Jewish Dialogue Group, which offers training, guides, tools and consultations. Books such as “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” can offer practical advice.


This Yom Ha’atzmaut, let us resolve to celebrate Israel with a renewed commitment to the Jewish people. Let us reclaim the inclusive spirit of unity that has been such a great source of resilience in challenging times in our past.  In this way, we can strengthen our people and our beloved national homeland.


Master of peace,

Sovereign of peace,

make peace among your people Israel

and increase peace among all

who inhabit the earth

so that there will be no

hatred, jealousy, competition or victory

between individuals,

so that only love and a great peace prevail

among us all.

And may everyone know the love of the other,

so that we can all

join together and gather as one,

each person and his fellow,

and we will all speak to one another

and tell each other the truth.

O God – you are peace

and your name is peace.

Master of peace, bless us with peace.


This prayer is adapted from Nahman of Bratzlav. (From Kehillah Kol Haneshama, Jerusalem)

This column was published in the Orchard, the journal of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federation of North America, Spring 2011

In the week before Purim, the news from Israel of the horrific murders of the Fogel family in the West Bank community of Itamar momentarily transported me back to a visceral sense of sickly terror.  It’s been nearly three decades since I was awakened by a break-in while I was sleeping in my apartment. I was lucky – the intruder had come to steal and not harm, and he fled. But I still seize up with fear when I recall the moment when a strange man began to enter my bedroom.


Tragically, the evil person who entered the Fogel family home came with the most sinister intention. As they slept, the murderer brutally knifed them to death. Mother, father and three children were brutally murdered, leaving two surviving children. I can’t imagine the horror of the scene for those family members that night.


The expressions of unspeakable sorrow across Israel and the Jewish world were immediate and intense. The 20,000 people assembled in sympathy at their funeral gave testimony to the impact of this loss and the flood of grief that overflowed all over Israel and the Jewish world. Our hearts are filled with anguish.


This heart-wrenching loss was exacerbated by the fact that the murder was a political act.

Cruel violence in any circumstance is very traumatic, but this murder was meant to send a message and generate fear. This act of terrorism set off a firestorm of reaction within Israel and the Jewish world. Yet, the nature of that “message” has itself become the source of vigorous debate and disagreement within Israel and the Jewish world.


Some in the Right in Israel and America saw a lesson in this—that this murder was the result of the Left’s demonization of the settlers. They decried the delegitimization of the settlements in the West Bank perpetrated by the rhetoric of the Left. These voices, they claim, have created a climate that made the settlers targets. To their Palestinian adversaries, they countered with the phrase “they kill we build.”


The rhetoric came from the Left, as well. Some have taken this tragedy as an opportunity to drive home their view that the Israeli government’s stance regarding the West Bank and the occupied territories is poisoning the well of peace. They decry the settlements as illegal, and point to the settlers as radical, sometimes even violent, setting the stage for this type of vicious attack.


The recriminations flew wildly back and forth. This is very troubling to me. Here we are, a small, vulnerable people a generation away from the most evil, unspeakable violence brought upon any people, and we are ripping ourselves apart. Why is it so that we feel so weak and endangered that we turn on each other in blame?  Is this response a reflection of our most terrifying fear – that Israel’s future is at risk?  Why can’t we see that we need each other? Why can’t we support each other in our grief and in our fears?  Why are we so afraid to listen to each other’s worries and concerns?


In the zealousness of the Left and the Right, both sides have taken to staking out immutable positions. It’s become a morality battle.  In our pain and fear, we have demonized not only our enemies who harm us, but also our own family.  I was raised on the soothing and fulfilling words of “Am Yisrael Chai,” the “Jewish people lives!” This motto gave a newly empowered generation of Jews a sense of great possibility, courage and hope.  How can we sustain those feelings in an environment of accusations and demonization?


No matter how right one group may perceive their cause to be, resolution may only be attainable when they allow for the complexities to be present between them. Yitzhak Rabin understood this when he offered peace to the Palestinians after decades of violence.  A fanatical rejectionist murdered Rabin for this position. What lessons did we learn from that terrible day?  We should have learned the dangers of rhetoric that assumes absolute rightness and fails to acknowledge complexities. The danger to the Jewish people is that we will tear ourselves apart. How could a severely divided Jewish people have the capacity either to negotiate for peace or to hold the peace in the meantime? We need to foster the type of mutual respect that will strengthen us.


We need each other – we are family.  Let’s take a step back, draw in a deep breath and acknowledge that there is great complexity in Israel’s predicament. With mutual respect, let’s honor each other’s grief and fear. May our unity honor the memory of the righteous and blameless who have died because of cruel violence.









A Passion to Learn

I have just returned from a week of study at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where I have the tremendous good fortune to be a participant in the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative (RLI.) Here 27 synagogue rabbis have the opportunity to learn in an intensive four-year program that includes in-residence weeks in July and January, and 20 weeks of web-based classes throughout the year. RLI rabbis are chosen because we occupy leadership roles in North American Jewish life and are dedicated to ongoing intellectual growth.

All of us have varied hobbies and interests — we have a few golfers, some who love to cook, some musicians, a number of athletic folks, etc. But we are all united in our love for learning. Like the proverbial “kid in the candy store,” the members of our group all talk about their joy in the experience of intensive, concentrated and sophisticated learning. We have the gift of the extraordinary Hartman faculty, who represent some of the best scholars in the various fields of Jewish learning that Israel, as an international center of Jewish scholarship, has to offer. As the week of learning came to an end, we were asked to share feelings regarding the highlights of the week. It was difficult to sort it out — how could one rate one scholar’s teaching above another when they were all exceptional?

Focusing on the “Ethics of the Holidays” we studied Biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and contemporary sources with an eye to the values and ideas that emanate from our traditions. In a powerful reminder of the timelessness of our texts, each lesson offered us an innovative and very relevant message. We are all struggling with a changing and challenging world; it is comforting and encouraging to find ideas A Passion to Learn

I have just returned from a week of study at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where I have the tremendous good fortune to be a participant in the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative (RLI.) Here 27 synagogue rabbis have the opportunity to learn in an intensive four year program that includes in-residence weeks in July and January, and 20 weeks of web-based classes throughout the year. RLI rabbis are chosen because we occupy leadership roles in North American Jewish life and are dedicated to ongoing intellectual growth.

All of us have varied hobbies and interests — we have a few golfers, some who love to cook, some musicians, a number of athletic folks, etc. But we are all united in our love for learning. Like the proverbial “kid in the candy store,” the members of our group all talk about their joy in the experience of intensive, concentrated and sophisticated learning. We have the gift of the extraordinary Hartman faculty, who represent some of the best scholars in the various fields of Jewish learning that Israel, as an international center of Jewish scholarship, has to offer. As the week of learning came to an end, we were asked to share feelings regarding the highlights of the week. It was difficult to sort it out — how could one rate one scholar’s teaching above another when they were all exceptional?

Focusing on the “Ethics of the Holidays” we studied Biblical, rabbinic, medieval, and contemporary sources with an eye to the values and ideas that emanate from our traditions. In a powerful reminder of the timelessness of our texts, each lesson offered us an innovative and very relevant message. We are all struggling with a changing and challenging world; it is comforting and encouraging to find ideas in our texts that offer us fresh insights and guidance.

Mostly, we filled up our wells with the intellectual and spiritual rigor of learning. If our enthusiasm and ideas help to inspire the communities we serve, all the better. We certainly hope so! But in the meantime, we are all most grateful to the leadership and scholars of the Hartman Institute who have graced us with their gifts. And to the support staff who took care of us with such dedication and love. They have beautifully nurtured out passion to learn!



Debbie Friedman and Rabbi Amy Small in 2007 at CBH

In 1981 I attended my first CAJE conference (the Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education.) As a young Jewish educator, the experience was invigorating, inspiring, uplifting and transformative. I came home from CAJE and began the process of applying to rabbinical school.

One reason for the power of the experience was my first exposure to Debbie Friedman. Debbie was not only an extraordinary performer at the conference, but she was also a gifted teacher of a new brand of Jewish music. And she became a friend to many of us; so many of us were young twenty-somethings just like her, and we shared a love of being Jewish and a dedication to passing that love to everyone else. Debbie’s music gave us beautiful, engaging, contemporary, singable songs that brought Judaism to life for our generation. It made everything seem possible as Jewish educators.

I recall sitting in a basement common room in a dorm at Oberlin College at that CAJE with Debbie leading a kumsitz (a sing-along.) We sang for hours and hours. We didn’t need fancy bands or techno-accompaniment. Just Debbie and her guitar — it was magical.

Many of us returned year after year to CAJE, in those days it was the gathering place for the young upstarts who believed we could change Jewish education, making it fun, compelling and powerful. We looked forward to Debbie’s performances and workshops as our annual “fix” of our soul’s uplifting. We loved hearing her new songs as her repertoire expanded and we learned every word and melody.

Debbie began an annual choir at CAJE — those of us who chose this option spent time every day learning with Debbie and preparing for the concert on the last night of the conference when we would sing with her on stage. We soaked in every moment of Debbie’s music and humor and her genius as a teacher and song leader.

And Debbie was funny. She had a great sense of humor — she could be spontaneously silly, even when times were tough. Her performances were laced with her own narrative and often infused with much laughter.

So the years at CAJE and being in Debbie’s choir gave me the gift of time with her as a friend. She had a way of making everyone feel like family; she was so affirming and warm.

Around 15 years ago I had some personal difficulties and wanted to create a ritual of healing for myself and for others who could then benefit from my experience. So I approached Debbie and asked her if we could write it together, including original music. She loved the idea and encouraged me to call her to make time to work on the ritual together. But then life got in the way and I didn’t get to it. I moved on. The next couple of times I saw Debbie we spoke again about doing this, and she again expressed her enthusiasm for doing this with me. What a shame that my life direction took me away from this — I never did get to this project. Even years after the first idea, when I saw Debbie a couple of years ago, she encouraged me to work with her. I just thought I would get to it — one of those “someday” wishes that we sometimes lose in the noise of the everyday. And now there is no longer a someday. I missed the chance, and I am deeply saddened.

Several years ago I served as the rabbi on a Metrowest UJC mission to Cherkassy, Ukraine, to visit our partnership community there. I was asked to lead Shabbat services on Friday night. Before the service, I met with the women who are the lay leaders who have been leading services for the community. I asked them one at a time which melody they use for each prayer, and they kept saying “the traditional” melody. I asked them to sing a little bit of each one, and all of the melodies were Debbie Friedman’s melodies (which I thankfully knew by heart.) How did Debbie’s melodies come to be the ones they viewed as traditional? I later learned that Debbie had been to Ukraine a couple of years earlier to train Jewish educators in communities that were reclaiming Jewish practice for the first time in 3-4 generations. Anyway, a few months after my visit to Cherkassy, Debbie performed at the Community Theatre in Morristown. Our family went to hear her, of course. After the performance, Debbie invited me to come backstage to hang out. It was Chanukah and she was snacking on sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and insisted that I share hers with her– this was her way.  I told her about the experience in Cherkassy and it just delighted her.

I can’t remember how many times I have attended Debbie’s performances, there have been so many over the years. For that I feel so truly blessed. I was so proud to have Debbie perform for my community, Congregation Beth Hatikvah, in 2007. We shmoozed in my office before the performance and it was such a warm and loving reunion. Debbie brought me on stage to sing with her during the performance and I was just transported. It was a very special day.

Debbie transformed American Judaism, infusing our worship and ritual with joy and meaning. All of the contemporary singer-song writers in the non-Orthodox Jewish world are indebted to her. She profoundly impacted so many of us on a personal level. I was blessed to have had the gift of her music, her teaching and her warmth.

A light has gone out of the world. I pray that Debbie’s music will help us to find our way. May her memory always be for blessing.
“And you shall be a blessing, lechi lach…”

The Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem may not be an average tourist stop, but it should be. It offers powerful images and ideas regarding coexistence and peace. The museum is located on what was on Israel’s border with Jordan – literally, the “seam” — between 1948 and 1967. The seam divided Arab East Jerusalem from Jewish West Jerusalem.
To understand Jerusalem and the nature of the seam is to begin to grasp some of the realities underlying deep Israeli-Palestinian divisions. To appreciate the challenges of sharing land in this tightly populated, tiny place is a way to appreciate the compromises necessary for peace.
Some sections of East Jerusalem do indeed contain some significant Jewish sites (such as the City of David, Ir David, in the Silwan neighborhood) and Jewish neighborhoods, but it is largely Arab in population, culture and language and it is a Muslim holy city. Many of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem have a long history. Palestinians hope that this will be the locus of the capital for the future Palestinian state.
Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3000 years. It has unified and spiritually nourished us. It was the Jewish longing for Jerusalem for nearly 2000 years of exile that gave our people hope. The Jewish cry for a unified city comes out of this history and longing.
However, unifying Jerusalem assumes that both East and West Jerusalem must be Jewish and Israeli. Yet, given very high Arab and very low Israeli birthrates, this would create a new reality in which the Jewish majority would very quickly be lost. As many sociologists and politicians are coming to acknowledge, demographically, this would be the death knell to our dreams for Jewish Jerusalem, and even the Jewish nation.
But there are also considerable humanitarian concerns regarding the Arabs of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. A Jewish state must strive to live by the values and principles taught in Torah, such as: “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong…you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). (The use of the word “stranger”/ger is a reference to our neighbors who are not members of the Jewish people.) The success of the Zionist dream is to be found in how we treat each other.
In my opinion, there is no choice but to make compromises for peace, including the division of Jerusalem into two cities; one Jewish and one Arab. No less than the future health and well being of Israel is at stake.
Jerusalem’s Old City, where the Jewish and Muslim holy sites are literally right on top of one another, and adjacent to Christian holy sites, will require a unique international plan that will allow all three religious communities to share access. But the rest of Jerusalem can acknowledge its divisions with a new seam; a peace-promoting Arab-Israeli border.
I am a proud Zionist; I love Israel. For me this means that while we rightly demand peace and security from our Arab neighbors, we must also respect their dignity. For all of us, difficult compromises are necessary for peacemaking. The more peace, the more opportunity for reconciliation. Given the frightening external threats from Iran, Syria and their proxies in Hamas and Hezbollah, the need for progress on peace with willing Palestinian partners is even greater. Palestinians, most of whom want peace with Israel in a two-state solution, also need security. We need each other if we are face down these evils.
JStreet, is a new Jewish organization whose mission is to be: “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans to advocate for vigorous U.S. leadership to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to broaden debate around Israel and the Middle East in national politics and the American Jewish community.” It is creating quite a buzz in the Jewish world. In an environment in which dialogue about Israel has nearly broken down in the American Jewish community, a divisiveness is settling over us that is crippling our community’s strength. These issues, emotionally and spiritually charged, must be respectfully discussed in the interest of strengthening the Jewish people. JStreet is a welcome addition to this complex conversation. I encourage you to learn more at:
In 1967 Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and other territory in order to achieve security. Our focus now must be on winning peace – a peace that is secure, just, and long lasting. Let us do this attentive to the complexities, and with an open heart and mind.

(This post has also been posted on the blog)

This morning at the RRA convention we had real treat. Sandy Sasso and Sally Priesand spoke about their experiences in the early days as they began their journeys as the first women rabbis in North America. Gary Zola, director of the American Jewish Archives, capped off the session with a wonderful presentation, including historical documents and film/audio clips. It was good encouragement to us, as pioneering rabbis in a time of great historical significance, to keep our “stuff” and pass it along to the archives for the historical record.

Much I enjoyed Gary’s presentation, and felt inspired by it, I must admit that the session was touching because of Sandy and Sally’s reflections. While many of the women in the room have had funny, strange and disconcerting experiences as people have reacted to us as rabbis, Sandy and Sally have really endured much of the strangest and worst of it. Their experiences put my own personal narrative in perspective.

More than anything I was struck by the courage of these pioneering women, and the significance of their contribution to the Jewish people, to all of us and to me in particular. Since I was 14 I idolized Sally — as a teenager growing up as an active member of the Reform movement, it was Sally’s boundary- crossing that first inspired me to pursue a career, indeed a calling, in the rabbinate. I especially enjoy the opportunity now to be at Sally’s feet, learning from her, and getting to know her as a person. We who were among the first, have been through a lot — it has not been easy, but it has been immensely worthwhile to serve the Jewish people as rabbis. Given our passion and our collegial supports, we have pushed forward in breaking down more and more boundaries, and reshaping our Jewish world. We don’t often have time or context for self reflection about what we have done — Sally’s presence, and her stories of her full career in the rabbinate, served as a meaningful opportunity to examine our own journeys.

Having been a fan of Sally’s at a distance, I have different a connection to Sandy. Much as I have often spoken about Sandy’s role as the first Reconstructionist woman rabbi, and the second woman rabbi in North America, I have had the privilege for many years to call Sandy my friend. Today, as I listened to Sandy talk about her decision to become a rabbi, to study at RRC, and to serve our movement, I was reminded how very lucky we are that Sandy paved the way for us. And how blessed I feel to count Sandy as a colleague. Sandy’s many gifts of wisdom,  graciousness, and leadership are equaled by her courage. In her humility, Sandy won’t dwell on this. And, while I can identify with Sandy’s assertion that she just pursued her dreams without always realizing the weight and significance of her actions, I still hold great admiration for the fact that she has been such a gifted teacher and leader through all of it.

Sally, you continue to inspire me and teach me, and I am forever indebted to you. Sandy, you make me so proud to be a Reconstructionist rabbi and I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to follow in your footsteps. What a blessing you are to all of us. Thank you!!

I really don’t mean to be snoop, but I couldn’t help but notice the activity outside my neighbor’s house yesterday. We were enduring yet another snowstorm and I was set to spend the day at home. It happens that my treadmill is adjacent to our front window overlooking our neighbor’s house across the street. During my midmorning workout, a furniture delivery truck pulled up and stayed for a long while (assembling and moving things around, I imagined.) I was reminded of the baby announcement that this neighbor had just sent us, celebrating the arrival of their third child. So while when nearly all of us were safely nesting at home to avoid slippery roads, I thought of how life-affirming it was that on this day especially they were embellishing their home to accommodate a growing family.

I couldn’t help but smile again when the chimney sweep van pulled up to their house a short while later. Clearly, some things were just too important to wait for the end of the storm. Comfortable furniture, a fire in the hearth, and everyone home – what a warming thought. I thought: if only we could all enjoy the loveliness of nesting with our family, with nowhere to go, being home together.

So many of us spend our days rushing from one thing to the next; from obligations to chosen activities. We fill our days and evenings here in suburbia, and it can be exhausting and depleting. We don’t get enough snow days.

I was thrilled when we had our first snow day of the season two weeks ago. (I have to say that I am so lucky that my husband does the snow clearing for us most of the time, freeing me to enjoy being completely snowed in.) I have a “Pavlovian” response whenever I hear of impending snow storms – I think of making soup. My ritual is to head for the market before the storm to get lots of vegetables, and I spend the first part of every snow day in the kitchen cooking. On that first snow storm I was so enthusiastic in the kitchen that we just finished consuming the bountiful leftovers.

Thinking about the comfort of furniture, a fireplace, and fresh homemade soup, I realized that snow days are much like Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. In Jewish custom, we have the opportunity for replenishment every seven days. The Shabbat is holy space and time, an opportunity to “be,” rather than having to get somewhere or get something done. Its beauty is in the consciousness-shifting experience of standing still in time; with nothing to produce or create, we have a chance to remember and enjoy what is most important to us. Cherishing home, family, good food, friends, and community – ah, this is as restful and relaxing as an evening in front of the fireplace.

As I peered at the furniture truck across the street my mind wandered to the rooms of my own house, and the myriad memories of sharing life, love and joy with family and friends. We have shared much grief here too, but we have been comforted by a very loving community. What a blessing to have a house that is home. Sharing Shabbat around the dinner table reminds us of the millions of people who do not have homes or food or families or friends. With the time and space to truly experience appreciation, we are reminded to help those who are less fortunate and to repair the world of its terrible imbalances.

Snow days are great, but they’re not Shabbat. I chose to not wear my watch yesterday, and reveled in the “shabbesdik” (Shabbat-like) experience of being home for the day. But I did maintain a very full day of work, complete with appointments by phone, email and Skype. I know that Shabbat is more than this – it is a day to shut off the responsibilities of the rest of the week. Having a snow day reminded me of how important it is to hold onto and cherish the spiritual practice of Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom – Sabbath greetings of peace, everyone!

Among my fondest memories from my adolescence are the hours spent in Young Judaea programs. We sang Israeli folks songs for hours, danced Israeli folk dances with joy, and enjoyed the camaraderie of the group. It was heaven. I know these were formative experiences for me, growing my sense of Jewish pride and a love of Israel.

I envied the kids whose parents sent them to conventions, to camp (Tel Yehudah) and – wow, what a dream – to Israel! I did attend a couple conventions, as I recall, but I had some resistance to the cost and inconvenience from my parents, who unfortunately set limits on what I could do with Young Judaea (seems unimaginable now, but times were different then, I know.) I recall being sad when I missed opportunities that others were lucky enough to be able to grab.

So when my kids became interested in being involved in Young Judaea as teenagers, I could not have been happier. My son was on the regional board and then the national board and I was bursting with pride. My daughter and younger son followed, attending many conventions, becoming part of camp TY as campers and counselors. My older two kids traveled to Israel for Young Judaea Year Course, the flagship gap year program of YJ. It filled my heart with pride and joy to be able to facilitate this journey for my kids.

Year Course was, in my view, not only a realization of my dream for my kids. It was a great opportunity for their growing up before college, while developing strong Hebrew skills and a deepening love for Israel and the Jewish people. Sure, my kids had issues with some aspects of the program, but I didn’t consider the issues concerning—every program has aspects that work well and some that may not work as well at any given time and for any particular kid. The program was really great for my kids, as far as I was concerned.

After my older two kids went on Year Course, the cost dramatically shot up. My younger son, who had also collected some negative impressions from his leadership role in YJ, was not quite as keen on the centrality of Young Judaea in his life. I kept encouraging him to keep at it and look past one rough year, but his drift away had already taken him to a different place than his sibs. So when the cost of Year Course became a challenge for our family’s budget, my younger son pronounced it a closed issue. He wouldn’t be going.

I was very sad and struggled over this turn of events. I had a picture in my mind of all three of my kids being launched into their adult life through Young Judaea Year Course. It was hard to let go of that dream. We have had many reflective conversations about this in our family.

We are clearly living through a time of much transition and change in the Jewish world. Some established organizations are struggling, downsizing, or even sun-setting. New, innovative organizations are emerging even more quickly than many of us can count. So it is no surprise that the long established, historically strong Young Judaea organization is going through change. And it is also no surprise that new competitors are emerging. This week, my older son sent me the following announcement from JPost:

“Former Young Judaea head launches rival year program”

“It’s time to make Israel programs more competitive, affordable.” Former Young Judaea Year Course director Keith Berman, who announced his resignation from the organization last month, has launched a new “year in Israel program” for teens Monday aimed at stirring up competition for long-term programs here and making such experiences more affordable to young Diaspora Jews. See:

My son wanted my reaction. So, b’kitzur, in short, I’ll offer this view. I hope that this new program does well and I wish Keith Berman well. (I already recommended exploring this to a congregant who is considering a gap year program for his daughter.) I hope the competition helps to strengthen all of the programs who bring American Jewish kids to Israel for study and Jewish experiences. I pray that Young Judaea will transition through this time of change leaner and stronger. And most of all, I pray that lots and lots of Jewish kids come to know the pride and joy and love of being Jewish that Young Judaea helped me to find when I was a teen. I am grateful to all of the progressive programs that contribute to the lives of our kids, to well-being of the Jewish people and to ensuring our future.

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