Reach Out, Build Relationships, #MakeFriends

On June 14th, the Elijah Interfaith Institute brought together several influential religious leaders from across the globe to make a powerful statement: reach out to people of different faiths, talk to them, get to know them, learn from them, teach them and build real relationships. You can listen to part of the statement by clicking here or on the video above.

Sadly, as this video was released on Wednesday, our country was rocked by the shooting of congressmen, police officers and others who were attending a practice for last night’s Congressional Baseball Game. The attack appears to have been motivated by the gunman’s political beliefs. The coming together of Democrats and Republicans at last night’s game was a fitting response to the shooting. As I’ve shared many times this year, the political climate in our country is dangerously divisive. Starting in Washington and spreading across our nation, hatred of the “other” political party is rampant.  Certainly, the typical American caught up in politics would not take up arms against the “other” political party. This being said, we owe it to each other and to our children to bring back the art of civil discourse. The display of unity at last night’s game was nice, but it’s not enough. And we can’t and we shouldn’t rely on the folks in Washington to be the ones to start a more respectful conversation. It can and should begin with us – and if we want to continue building our country, we must begin this conversation.

I know that many of the global religious leaders featured on the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s video embrace theological, political and social positions that do not reflect my own. But, if they’re willing to truly talk with you and me – if they’re willing to forge real relationships with us – there is hope. We as Democrats, Republicans, Independents and members of other political parties here in the United States need to take to heart the lessons of these religious leaders. As Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh says, “No matter from which side of the mountain you’re climbing, we should be helping each other so that we can all get to the same place.” I believe we can do this. The violence that rocked our nation earlier this week teaches us that we must do this.

May Congressman Scalise, Officers Bailey and Griner, Zack Barth and Matt Mika be thoroughly healed. And may this be a Shabbat Shalom for us all.

Inspirational Teens

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Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with our incoming iServe Board (pictured above). iServe is Ramat Shalom’s 8th-12th grade teen program that was developed and implemented by our Educational Director, Beth Michell and one of our longtime teachers and members, Hillary Tescher. The program gives teens the opportunity not just to learn about the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam (Healing the World), but to actually roll up their sleeves on a regular basis and make a real difference out there. As I return from my sabbatical, I look forward to working closely with the iServe Board and all of our iServe teens. A special thank you to Jaime Fine, Wendi Harkins and Nikki Kopelowitz for their continued support of iServe!

Our teen board runs every aspect of iServe. It was truly uplifting and insightful to meet with our teen leaders earlier this week as they discussed what issues they wanted to focus their attention on in the coming year. Here’s just a sample of what was discussed:

  • Race and Interfaith Dialogue: The teens will be creating a multi-racial and interfaith discussion group that will give all participants the opportunity to share their own experiences and opinions while learning from each other. In addition to the discussion group, the teens plan to add a sports program that will get them out on the basketball court and showing off their skills.
  • Immigration: The teens want to go beyond what we’re hearing in the news about immigration. They understand that Jews take this issue very seriously and they want to learn more. So, in addition to studying the issue with me, they’ll also be learning from local immigration attorneys and agencies. In addition, they’ll get to know neighbors who are immigrants and connect with them in meaningful ways.
  • Lobbying: You can’t bring about Tikkun Olam without sharing your opinion about the issues that matter the most to you. Building upon Rabbi Andrew’s teen AIPAC (American Israel Political Affairs Committee) program which gave our kids the opportunity to travel to Washington and share their support of Israel with national leaders, Rabbi Cheryl and Hillary Tescher will help our teens figure out what issues matter most to them and how they can become powerful advocates locally and nationally for these issues.
  • Spiritual Entrepreneurship: With the help of local entrepreneurs, our teens plan to do their part to bring more compassion and kindness into the world by focusing on a specific social/economic/environmental problem in our own neighborhood and coming up with real solutions.
  • Trip to New Orleans: It’s imperative for our teens to make a difference at home – but they’re eager to learn about issues that other cities wrestle with. So they’ll be planning an April trip to New Orleans where they’ll have the opportunity to work with a social service agency, rolling up their sleeves and doing much needed work to literally help rebuild and repair homes and businesses in the Big Easy. Yes, they’ll also get some time to tour this amazing city. (And they’ll be busy creating fundraising events that will ensure that everyone can go on this amazing trip!)

While current events might have you feeling frustrated, I wanted you to see that our kids aren’t allowing the negativity that weighs on so many of us to get them down. They’re determined to make a difference. And nothing will stop them.

They did ask that I share with you what they have planned for the coming year. They also asked that if you have a teenager(s), please encourage them to get involved! And, if you are on Instagram, they hope you’ll follow them @iserve_ramatshalom.

To our students who have finished or are finishing finals (and our teachers) – welcome to the summer.  To our Early Childhood students who graduate on Monday – Mazal Tov. And to us all – Shabbat Shalom,