The Ramat Shalom community mourns the death of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel who was killed by a terrorist while she was sleeping in her home in Israel yesterday morning. Her family, which includes a colleague and a friend of Cheryl’s, is in all of our hearts and prayers.

It’s hard to believe that today, July 1st, I officially begin my 15th year at Ramat Shalom! Abigail was a baby when Cheryl and I moved to South Florida in 2002. Jonah was just a sparkle in our eyes when we arrived and now we’re getting ready to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah on September 3rd (please mark your calendars as we’d love to celebrate with you!). The past 14 years have been an incredible journey and Cheryl, the kids and I are looking forward to continuing this journey with our Ramat Shalom family as we begin the 2016/2017 year.

As you may know, it’s common for rabbis, like professors, to take a sabbatical every seven years. I didn’t take a sabbatical during my seventh year at Ramat Shalom. Instead, I adjusted my schedule to work on a few special projects. As I begin my 15th year, granted one year off schedule, I will not be taking a sabbatical. I don’t have the desire to leave Ramat Shalom to travel or engage in projects that will keep me from our community. We have many B’nai Mitzvah, weddings and other simchas coming up that I’m looking forward to celebrating and there are a lot of programs, classes and gatherings in the year ahead that I want to experience with you.

That being said, I will be spending time this year working on some exciting projects that I hope to share with the Ramat Shalom family. Over the next few weeks, you will hear some more about these projects including our upcoming Mitzvah Month which will take place this November. Mitzvah Month will include a variety of special hands-on activities for all different ages. One of the highlights of Mitzvah Month will be a community trip to Immokalee, FL where we will work to harvest the tomato fields along with migrant workers whose health and well-being is something Judaism teaches us we must not overlook. In addition to Mitzvah Month, you will soon be receiving information about special Sunday morning learning programs for adults and post-B’nai Mitzvah teens. The first Sunday program in September will be a community building and trust workshop that will get us ready for the High Holidays. The program will be held at the Broward College Ropes Course and will get us relying on and working with each other in powerful ways, while we explore Jewish teachings on trust and relationships. A series of engaging courses taught by an impressive faculty that includes Cheryl, Amy Freund, Professor Michael Richmond, Cantor Debbie and Hillary Tescher will be part of our Adult Education offerings in the coming year. Our UF families will be excited to learn that in February, we will welcome Rabbi Adam Grossman, the CEO of UF Hillel, to Ramat Shalom. Rabbi Grossman will talk with us about Jewish life at UF and on campuses in general – and, if we’re lucky, he will share a little bit of his knowledge of Jewish superheroes. Two guest scholars speaking about Israel and a panel of rabbis (including me, Cheryl, Rabbi Salkin of Temple Solel in Hollywood and Rabbi Weinstock of Young Israel also in Hollywood) will be discussing the current state of American Judaism. Stay tuned!

In addition to these classes and programs, I’m working with two wonderful colleagues, Pastor Troy Gramling and Father Alberto Cutie, on an inter-faith “reality” series called “A Pastor, A Priest And A Rabbi Walk Into A Bar.” Playing on the old joke about clergy walking into a bar, the series will feature the three of us discussing complex religious topics in some of South Florida’s most well-known drinking establishments. It is our collective hope that the series will encourage much-needed interfaith dialogue and discussion. Production continues this summer and I look forward to sharing episodes with you as they are released.

As I begin my 15th year at Ramat Shalom, I am thrilled to be continuing my Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship, learning from some of the most forward-thinking Jewish leaders out there, writing for The Wisdom Daily and having the opportunity to explore ways in which Ramat Shalom and ISH, our outreach program, can be part of the cutting edge innovation that is going on in the larger Jewish community. I will keep you posted on the things I am learning from my fellowship. I’m eager to work with many of you this year to incorporate some exciting, innovative concepts into our synagogue community.

Cheryl, Abigail, Jonah and I are looking ahead to a busy July, filled with some special family adventures. We hope you are all enjoying your summer and we look forward to seeing you in August! Please remember to mark your calendars and join us on September 3rd as Jonah becomes a Bar Mitzvah!

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