Making Jewish Education More Accessible – EXCITING NEWS!!!

Friends,

This week’s Torah portion begins with a very important verse: “G‑d said to Moses: Say to the priestsAaron’s sons, and you shall say to them: ‘Let no priest become ritually impure through contact with a dead person…’” (Leviticus 21:1)  While I don’t want to get bogged down with the issue of ritual purity mentioned in this verse, I do want to draw your attention to what appears to be a very bad editing job.  Why does the verse repeat itself?  “Say to the priests” is immediately followed by “you shall say to them”.  Certainly this could have been written better!  Unless, of course, this poorly written verse is trying to teach us something deeper.  This is exactly what many wise Torah scholars argue: the first “say” is a command given by G-d to Moses, teaching him what to teach the priests; the second “say” is, according to scholars, a command given by G-d to parents – telling them what to teach their children.  Putting aside what exactly the parents are commanded to teach to their children, this verse is crucial because it is, according to many, the first time in the Torah that G-d instructs parents to educate their children.  We all know the emphasis Judaism places upon teaching our children – and, according to many Torah scholars – it all began here.

One of our most important goals at Ramat Shalom is to help you teach your children about Judaism.  Without a  knowledgeable, dedicated next generation, Judaism will have no tomorrow.  We are determined to make the words “l’dor va’dor/from generation to generation” a reality.

As our children get busier, as our lives grow more complex, Jewish educators find themselves facing more and more challenges.  Providing high quality, engaging Jewish education in a world where people barely have time to breathe, is no easy task.  Exciting our students and keeping them connected in a day and age where Instagram, Facebook, Instant Messaging and so much more are all just a click away, requires a great deal of creative thinking.  We must ensure that Jewish education evolves with the times.  This does not mean that we water it down and make it simpler.  On the contrary!  With today’s technology and our children’s willingness to embrace this technology, we have the ability to offer our children richer educational opportunities that are cutting edge and more accessible than ever.

As you know, beginning next school year, we are adjusting our Torah School schedule.  Our Sunday program will be expanded to three hours for our K-6th grades.  7th grade will meet on Wednesday evenings.  For our 3rd-7th grade students, we will be offering an optional Hebrew enrichment program on Wednesday afternoons at no additional cost.  Family days and special programs will be spread out throughout the year to encourage hands on learning and discussions.  In addition to all of this, I am excited to announce that Ramat Shalom is partnering with FYI Online (http://www.fyionlinelearning.com/),  a leader in online learning, to create a unique, interactive online classroom for our  older Torah School children.  The program, which I have been working on for months and will be ready by the end of the summer, will be an incredible new tool for our teachers, parents and students.  It will not be “busy work” or a high-tech computer game.  It will be an educational experience that will connect our students with their teachers and with important lessons in ways that will enrich their Jewish learning.  Through technology, the Torah School classroom will be accessible to busy parents who want to join their children in the learning experience.  Plus, the online experience ensures that a busy schedule is not an obstacle.  Torah School is there when you want it to be.  Keep in mind, our online program will not be a substitute for community and classroom learning.  It will be an amazing supplement to our Sunday and Wednesday programs and I can’t wait to introduce it to you towards the end of the summer.  One more important thing, thanks to the generosity of one of our families, our online program will be free to all of our Torah School families.  I am so proud that Ramat Shalom is doing so much to ensure that the next generation of Jews will be strong!

Helping Our Children and Teens Wrestle With Boston…

More horrific event have rocked our nation to the core.

In response to the terrorist attack in Boston, I am hearing how many Americans are feeling anger instead of fear.  In some ways, this is good as the terrorists want us to be afraid.  But, walking around angry is not going to help us.  What we need to do is focus our energy on finding ways to make our country safer.  The events that have unfolded in Texas, while most likely a horrible accident, have added to the sadness and awful sense of unease in our nation – making the attack in Boston even more difficult to comprehend.

We need to deal with the fact that the events in Boston have scared our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.  We might be angry – but lots of our kids, especially our older ones who are connected to the internet – are seeing and hearing the nightmare play out over and over again in gruesome images and videos.  I have heard from our older kids/teens and many of them are frightened.  Somehow, we need to disconnect them from the horror show that is running 24 hours a day online.  We need to talk to them about what they are feeling.  We need to remind them that we are doing everything in our power to keep them safe.  And we need to teach them that they can play a role in protecting themselves by being alert and reporting anything that seems “off”. They need to feel that they have some control in this crazy world.  I suggest that those of you with older kids visit this link to learn about the national “See Something, Say Something Campaign” and figure out ways to talk to your kids about helping us all stay safe and secure: http://www.dhs.gov/if-you-see-something-say-something-campaign

For those of us with younger children (and older ones too!), these link might be helpful:

As we struggle with more national tragedies, I know many are struggling with issues of good and evil, why bad things happen to good people and where is G-d at these moment.  I will tell you that I saw countless examples of G-d as I watched the footage and read the stories coming out of Boston.  If we somehow manage to turn our attention away from the horror and focus on the amazing stories of people selflessly giving of themselves, putting themselves in harm’s way to save the injured, donating blood after running a marathon – you will see how even in the midst of terror, there are holy sparks.  We can never stop looking for the good in this world. It is there – lifting people up at the lowest of moments.

Too often I have had to share the words of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav: “the world is a very narrow bridge; the essential thing is to have no fear at all.”

Remember, in order to have “no fear” as we cross this newest “narrow bridge”, we need to hold each other’s hand as we cross.  Together, we can move forward.

May those who were injured in Boston on Monday and in Texas yesterday be thoroughly healed.  May the families of those who lost loved ones

be supported and comforted.  And may the memories of those who were lost serve as blessings.

 

Remember 6,000,000 – Remember Kolin

I recently received

My Town Kolin, a newly published English translation of the story of Kolin, Czechoslovakia.  There are many moving and incredible aspects of this book – but one that sticks out to me is the list of close to 40 Torah scrolls from Kolin synagogues that were stolen by the Nazis and now safely at home in synagogues across the world.  Right in the middle of the list is Ramat Shalom.  As so many of you know, we are so blessed with our 300-plus year old Holocaust Torah scroll from Kolin.  To see our community’s name in print, linked to the story of Kolin and its Jewish community is so powerful.

A chilling aspect of My Town Kolin is reading the stories and seeing the photographs of Kolin.  The book gives us names and photographs of her residents, Jews who most certainly came in contact with our Torah scroll – Jews whose lives were destroyed by the Holocaust.  The book also shares poetry and other writings of people from Kolin, including this poem from writer Camill Hoffman who was born in Kolin on October 31, 1878 and perished in Auschwitz in 1944:

Bells

 

How strangely, from the depths to afar they chime,

As if a dream of fairy tales in them slept,

The old bells in the hometown of mine!

Many a man in wonder shook his head.

In the rotten belfry suddenly

The dark gold sounds…and in the evening,

Later, through the quiet valley,

Grim song carries on fluttering.

When abroad, at midnight

A pain, suddenly interrupts my dream,

I can hear the chime in the distance, faint…

As from a town, sunk in depths and quaint,

At sea, a swimmer hears the bells’ flight.

And nobody knows how it saddens him.

After reading Mr. Hoffman’s words, every time I see our Holocaust scroll, I hear the bells.  And, as I do, I feel the sadness, the pain and the loss.  But, at the same time, I see the faces of our b’nai mitzvah students who carry our Holocaust scroll through the congregation during their service.  As I do, I can’t help but imagine that Mr. Hoffman (whose picture is in the book) would smile as he watched one of his Torah scrolls being held by the next generation of Jews.  And, I believe, that with the help of our b’nai mitzvah, the sound of the bells is evolving into a sound of hope.

This Sunday, we mark Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day.  We will be having a special community-wide service Sunday morning followed by a presentation by our member, Hannah Temel, who is a survivor.  Tonight, we will talk more about Kolin and My Town Kolin.  Please join us.

Shabbat Shalom and may the memory of all of those we were lost in the Shoah be the blessing of our future.