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February 13, 2015 / Rabbi Laura

Dear Mr. Moore

Dear Mr. Moore,

When I heard the news this week that you want to ban yoga pants in public I was outraged.  I was not outraged because I love my yoga pants and wear them even when I’m not heading off to yoga.  I was not outraged because such a law may single out and discriminate against women, while some rightly think it does.

I was outraged because there are so many other things going on in the world that we all – especially our lawmakers – should be paying attention to. There are many more pressing problems in your state of Montana, in our country and in the world that need resolution.  How about focusing your attention on:

The hate and violence that is racking our country? Example:  Craig Hicks, a North Carolina bully, killing three of his neighbors because of an alleged parking dispute.  Montana too has faced problems with hate and violence.

The fear and racism that is rampant in our cities? Example:  Ferguson, MO. And just after the tragic events in Ferguson this summer the Ku Klux Klan marched in your state spreading hate against Native Americans.

The pervasive intolerance and fundamentalism that is leading to senseless murders?  Example:  the murder of American aid worker Kayla Mueller

The growing numbers of homeless and hungry in our communities?  Example: Just this week, driving up Alvarado St in Los Angeles, I saw this homeless encampment under the 101 Overpass. I am sure you have homeless and hungry families in your state too.

 

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I could go on.

Mr. Moore, I think your priorities are in the wrong place.  Let people wear their exercise clothes in public.  (It might actually encourage people to go out and actually exercise and thus curtail some of the health problems our country faces.) As we say in Yiddish, gey gezunt – may they go in health.  Instead please consider exerting your political capital on making meaningful change in our country. Changes that will save lives and create justice in our world.

Sincerely,

This outraged American citizen, Rabbi Laura Novak Winer

February 6, 2015 / Rabbi Laura

ARJE Installation remarks

In the future I will look back on February 4, 2015 as one of the highlight days of my life.  Yesterday, in the presence of family, friends and colleagues I was installed as the president of my professional association.  Depending on how you count it, as of July 1 I will either be the 33rd president of the organization formerly known as the National Association of Temple Educators, or I will be the 1st president of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators.  My installation followed a historic plenary meeting of the membership in which we approved a name change of our 60 year old organization.  I am honored to take on this mantle of leadership and humbly share my installation remarks here for those who were not present to hear them.

I am so blessed that several members of my family are here, not only tonight, but all week. I wish my sons could have been here for me to embarrass. Max just began a semester in Israel on NFTY EIE, and Saul is newly employed in his first post-college job in the tech industry. We are hoping that he will someday earn enough money to support his Jewish professional parents in their old age.

Of course, my beloved husband Rabbi Rick Winer is here with me, always faithfully by my side. You may have seen my father, Mark Novak and mother Marsha Novak – a Jewish educator in her own right after a 40 year career in early childhood education – in some of our sessions over the past couple days. And while my brother Richard couldn’t be here, and sadly my twin sister Deborah fell ill, I am very happy that my other twin, my cousin Sara Getzkin is here. You may recognize Sara as one of the professional organizers from TLC’s Hoarders Buried Alive. Admit it, some of you do watch it!

And thank you, the members of our ARJE family, for being here and helping make this gathering an indispensable source of learning, support, collegiality, and friendship. Like many of you, I live in a remote Jewish community. We like to say that Fresno is 3 hours from everywhere. Despite the distances, most of the time I don’t feel so isolated because I begin almost every day of the week with some sort of meeting, conference call, or email exchange with Jewish education colleagues from around the continent. Living in a relatively remote community, far away from a community of Jewish educators, the work I do on behalf of our organization and with many of you fills me. I am personally enriched by these connections and relationships. Professionally, my interactions with Jewish education colleagues keep me abreast of challenges, successes, trends and innovations that are taking place in other communities and inform my work as a Jewish education consultant and doctoral student. The best remedy for feeling lonely or isolated as a Jewish educator is to get involved in the Association of Reform Jewish Educators!

Before sharing with you my vision for ARJE, I’d like us to take a couple of moments to study a piece of Jewish text. While I wish we could take time to go in-depth together, this setting isn’t the most conducive for that. So, I’ll introduce it and then ask you to turn to your neighbor for a very brief hevruta conversation.

Our text is from the Babylonian Talmud, masechet Eruvin. (Thank you to Rabbi Aaron Panken of HUC-JIR for bringing this text to the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis). There we read:

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Our Rabbis taught: How was the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) taught? Moses learned it from the mouth of God, then Aaron entered and Moses taught him his portion. Aaron moved and sat to the left of Moses. Aaron’s son’s entered and Moses taught them their portion. His sons moved aside, Eleazar sat to Moses’ right, Itamar to Aaron’s left… Then the elders entered and Moses taught them their portion. The elders then moved aside, and the rest of the people entered and Moses taught them their portion. In this way, Aaron heard each portion four times, his sons three times, the elders twice and all the people once. Then Moses left, and Aaron taught his portion [to those assembled]. Then Aaron left, and his sons taught their portion. Then his sons left, and the elders taught their portion. Thus everyone had heard the portion four times.

Take a few moments – 90 seconds – with a person near you to discuss: what does this text teach us about the educational process?

At this point in my remarks I paused so that people could discuss the question with a neighbor. I then invited a couple of people to share their responses with the group.

As I said, I wish we could spend more time with this. For now, let me share with you some of what I take from this passage. The primary lessons I take are three: shared teaching & learning, shared leadership and shalshelet hakabbalah, the passing on of a chain of tradition.

One could say that every person in our text, including Moses, is both a learner and a teacher in the process of transmitting the Oral Torah. Each person, or group of people, is able to engage in learning, not just once, but four times. And, each person, or group of people, is given the opportunity to be the teacher as well. I would suggest, that even am yisrael (the people of Israel) have the opportunity to teach as they take the lessons they’ve learned v’shinantam l’vanecha – teach them to their children.

The same can be said for us as members of this Association of Reform Jewish Educators. We all have the opportunity to serve as learners and teachers in the work of Jewish education. Over the course of these last four days we have learned from and with each other. Over the course of these last four days we have taught each other as well – about our visions for Jewish education, about the challenges and successes we face in our institutions. We each have Torah to teach. And we do that when we come together for our gatherings and professional learning opportunities, either virtual or in person, when we interact through our Facebook group or twitter or contribute to conversations in the URJ Tent on the Yammer network.

The second lesson our text illustrates is a model of shared leadership. We learn once again that Moses is not the sole leader of the people. He has a cabinet of co-leaders in Aaron, Eleazar, Itamar and the elders. They share the responsibility for teaching Torah to the people. Each does his part in his own way.

This model of shared leadership is one that we conscientiously embrace as an organization. Our work grows out of a foundation that values collaboration and consensus. We work together in teams. No one stands alone. So, while I stand here tonight, being installed as your next president, I know that I do not stand-alone. There are at least 50 other volunteer leaders in our organization who stand alongside me, as together we give our time and passion and energy to ensuring that our professional association serves your needs as Jewish educators in our Movement.

Third, our text is comparable to the opening passages of Pirke Avot, in which we learn that the written Torah is passed down from Moses, to Joshua, to the prophets. Similarly, in this text it is implied that the oral Torah is passed on. Yet, one unique difference is that in this text, the oral Torah is shared in the current community as well as passed on from one generation to the next. Each teacher stands side by side, contributing his own Torah to the conversation. And, each teacher stands on the shoulders on the ones who precede him. The shalshelet hakabbalah extends across not only time but also space.

As we begin this 60th year, we too are recipients of our shalshelet hakabbalah, our own chain of tradition. We too stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Our founders created a home address for Reform Jewish educators. Their vision has carried us to this day. With the ratification of our new name, we now carry that vision forward, reframing it for today in order to meet the needs of our diverse membership.

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Both our new name and mission reflect who we are as an association. We are Jewish educators who are proud of our profession, our expertise and the Torah we have to share. We are an association that is excited and optimistic about the Jewish future and the future of Jewish education. We are an association that takes care of its members when we enter into placement or are renegotiating a contract, or approaching retirement. We celebrate milestones. We are an address for high-level professional learning and networking with fellow educators. People are impressed when they hear that we are members of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators because our reputation is one of unqualified professionalism and excellence.

However, our new name and mission call us to face some real challenges as an organization.

As we know from our Salary and Benefits Survey, our members are not solely temple educators. Sitting in this room tonight we have: youth professionals, camp directors, supplementary school directors from a variety of settings, early childhood educators, consultants and coaches, day school professionals, and leaders in central agencies. For many of our 60 years we defaulted to thinking that our members work in congregations. That remains evident in the language we use and the way we talk about our work. So, while it will take time and work and patience, we have to change our mindset.

Additionally, it is incumbent upon us to revisit who are members are and who our members could be. I believe this to be one of our highest priorities. I am very pleased that we have already begun this work with a task force that is helping us take a first step, by identifying necessary new membership categories and proposing a dues structure that aligns with our new mission. Additionally, we have begun conversations with RYPA, the Reform Youth Professionals Association, to explore potentially merging our two organizations.

Our name and mission intensify who and what we have always been – a professional association. We must continue to support our members to the high level we have become accustomed to – to advance our profession, to advocate for the Jewish educator in the settings in which we find ourselves, to promote our growth as professionals. We are the same professional organization even better!

Our name and mission propel us to take a brave and bold stand as the voice for Reform Jewish Education.   The Jewish landscape has changed significantly in the last five years. Organizations have merged or contracted or closed their doors. Who is going to take a stand on Jewish education in our Movement if we don’t?

So what does this mean for us? Our Defining Our Voice task force is helping us answer this question. We have a voice that is heard only when we speak up. That voice emanates from each of us as we demonstrate our dedication to excellence and our steadfast leadership. That voice emanates for each us when we raise up, celebrate and convene conversations about Jewish education. That voice emanates from us when we increase our profile and presence in conversations in the Movement and the Jewish education community. As individual Jewish educators we should each align ourselves with ARJE in our bios, blog posts and online conversations. As an organization, we will continue to represent the Jewish educator in communal gatherings and conversations. And we must be prepared to invite and welcome other voices to our own table as we take our rightful place as thought leaders in the Reform Movement and in the field of Jewish education.

We have reached a watershed moment as an organization. It is incumbent upon us to live up to our new name and to realize our mission in concrete and meaningful ways. It will require a great deal of work on everyone’s part, tenacity in the face of challenges, and dedication to the tasks that lay ahead.

Our text from Eruvin concludes with a mashal, and example of a teacher and his devotion to his practice. Rabbi Preida had a student who required lessons to be repeated for him not four times, but four hundred times before he understood. One day, the student was distracted. Nonetheless Rabbi Preida persisted and repeated the lesson yet another four hundred times until his student understood. At that moment,

…A heavenly voice came out and asked Rabbi Preida, “do you prefer that four hundred years be added to your life, or that you and your generation merit the world to come?” Rabbi Preida replied, “that I and my generation merit the world to come.” The Holy one, Blessed be God, said to them: give him both this and this.”

May we each be like Rabbi Preida, committed to our work as educators, never giving up on those we teach. And may our Association of Reform Jewish Educators be like Rabbi Preida, meriting the benefits of our devotion to Torah and Jewish learning.

 

November 12, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

We’re not done!

shave for the brave

This month marks the 1 year anniversary of the #36rabbis campaign.  It was this time last year that my friends and colleagues Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr and Rabbi Phyllis Sommer dreamed up that crazy idea.  It was this time last year that Phyllis and her husband Rabbi Michael Sommer learned that their 8 year old son Sammy’s bone marrow transplant did not work and his cancer was back.  It was this time last year that they had to tell him there were no more options.  If you haven’t heard the story – you can learn more about it from Rebecca, via her recent TEDxTalk in Lehigh River Valley.

And it was this time last year that I committed to joining the #36rabbis Shave for the Brave campaign in support of the St. Baldricks Foundation. It was the least I could do to support the Sommer family and the thousands of others battling pediatric cancer.

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April 1, 2014

As we approach the first yahrtzeit (anniversary) of Sammy’s death in December, somehow Phyllis has found the strength to keep our efforts alive!

Through her efforts, an anonymous family foundation has agreed to a matching donation to the 36 Rabbis’ Campaign for the St Baldrick’s Foundation. They have offered $165,000 in a matched donation to any new and increased gifts to the 36Rabbis campaign. Once we reach our part ($165,000), theirs will kick in and the 36Rabbis’ Campaign will be at ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

While we have almost a full year to complete the match, I’m hopeful that we can complete it by the end of calendar year 2014…can we do it? Will you help me?

Sammy wanted to do something amazing in his life.  He did!  He inspired us all to make a difference.  May his memory continue to be a source of blessing and inspiration for all who are touched by his story. He continues to inspire me.

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October 15, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Ending and Beginning: Threads of Torah

It is somewhat surprising that it took me almost 20 years in the rabbinate to do it.  But I am glad that I did.  I did a comparison of the final chapters of Torah, V’zot Habracha and the opening chapters of Torah, B’reishit.  I wondered, what might they have in common?  What emerged for me was an impressive and beautiful series of threads and themes that help us see Torah as a continuous cycle.

Torah

Tonight, we celebrate Simchat Torah, the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle and begin reading it again. Tonight, the words of Ben Bag Bag, from Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) 5:22 ring truer than ever for me.  He taught: “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”

Here are just some of the parallels I found:

V’ZOT HA’BRACHA B’REISHIT
Giving of blessings Moses blesses the each of the Tribes.

 

 

God blesses the work of creation and the Sabbath.
Strength, fertility Moses blesses the each of the tribes, bestowing upon them abundance, strength to overcome challenges and future generations to inhabit the land.

 

 

“Be fruitful and multiply” is the very first commandment in the Torah.
Completion of a task V’zot Habracha is Moses’ final moments, the time in which he completes his task of bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land

 

 

“And God saw that it was good.” At the end of each day God reflects upon God’s work, declaring it completed and good.
Lifecycle moments We read about the death or Moses, as well as witness the birth of the nation as they make a final approach into the Promised Land.

 

 

We read about the creation of the universe and the birth of humanity.
Boundaries of the land We learn the boundaries of the Promised Land through Moses’ blessings and his viewing it from atop Mt. Nebo

 

 

We learn the location and boundaries of the Garden of Eden.
Helpmates/partners Moses and God have been partners in the process of bringing the Israelites out of slavery, through 40 years in the desert and to the Promised Land.

 

 

God creates humanity as God’s partner in completing creation. And God creates man and woman has helpmates to each other.
Disobedience & consequences Moses finally confronts the consequences of his previous disobedience and is prohibited from entering the Promised Land.

 

 

Adam and Eve face the consequences of eating of the fruit of the Tree and are expelled from the Garden of Eden.
Vision/Seeing God grants Moses the ability to see the full expanse of the Promised Land from atop Mt Nebo, a feat which is humanly impossible.

 

 

Upon eating of the fruit of the Tree Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened and they see their nakedness.
God “doing” for humans God buries Moses.

 

 

God clothes Adam and Eve.

So, tonight as we complete the Torah reading cycle, I know that really, the story is not over.  The end brings us back to the beginning. We turn it again to retell, to learn, and to uncover more of its wondrous teachings.

September 4, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Believe…in yourself

A couple of days ago, while on a challenging bike ride, I had a flash back.

I was about 9 years old, on snow skis, trying to ski down a run at Mammoth Mountain with my dad.

The run was a challenging one for me.  There were a lot of people skiing that day, and they were whooshing by me as I tried to navigate the steep hill and the large moguls.  As I was want to do, I was freaking out.  My internal dialogue with myself went something like, “This is too hard. I can’t do this! I’m going to fall. Someone is going run into me. This is too hard. I can’t do this!”

I eventually got myself to the side of the run, and burst into tears.

I let my fears take over and they brought me to a dead-too afraid to move – stop.

Such a flash back didn’t bode well for my bike ride.  Almost 40 years later, there I was, trying to make it up this challenging hill, very slowly.  My fellow riders were well ahead of me. The heat radiating off the pavement was over 90 degrees.  I was tired.

But, I am a different person now. I’m a big girl.  I understand my fears.  I recognize when that internal dialogue is taking me in the wrong direction, and I try to turn it off.  A friend of mine used to say, “Turn off the F*** radio! It does you no good!” Instead of saying “I can’t do this,” I changed my approach. “You can do this Laura. It’s not a race.  Just make it to the tree.  Good!  Now, just make it to that fence. Take a drink of water.  Great.  You can do it!”

I realized that back then, that little 9-year-old girl didn’t believe in herself.  She let her fears stop her.

Now, I believe in myself.  I can take on challenges – whether on my bike, or in my work, or by simply just stepping out of my comfort zone.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Yes, I might fall down.  Or I might make a mistake. But, I’ll learn and I’ll grow.

As I continue my own Elul reflection, I realize, I have to believe in myself if I’m going to succeed in this world, whatever it is I take on.  We all have to believe in ourselves.  Otherwise, we get stuck on the side of the hill, crying in the cold, wet snow, with life passing us by.

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The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation… #blogElul

September 1, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

The search within

I admit it, I troll job listings.  It somehow became a hobby of mine to read job posts – not only for my own potential emplyment and remuneration – but also for those in my circle of family, friends and colleagues who are in need of jobs.  Every couple days a posting comes in and I think, hmmm… who would this job be good for?

With more than enough people out of work right now, I know that the job search is not an easy one. More often than not, it requires the help of someone else.  Someone who knows someone who knows someone. Or, just someone, like me, who sees a job post and forwards it on with a note, “FYI, I thought you might check this one out.”

Elul asks us to do a different kind of search. A search within.  This kind of search though, must be done alone. Well, a rabbi or a therapist can help you. But a deeply personal search within oneself cannot come with an “FYI, I thought you might check this out.”

To do that real Elul work of searching within, reflecting on what you see, making assessments about what you like and don’t like – that is hard work.  Yet, there is a benefit at the end.  At the end of Elul, and through the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur process of prayer and repentance we can wipe away that which we didn’t like, we can embrace that which we did, and we can commit to change.  Such is the beauty of the Jewish process of t’shuvah, repentance.

So, on this 6th day of Elul, we still have time to undergo that process of searching within.  You never know what you will find.

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The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation… #blogElul

 

August 31, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

What do you know to be true?

What do you KNOW to be true?

That’s a question easier asked than answered.

Here is what I know to be true today:

1. I am blessed to have a family that unconditionally loves me.

2. There is a lot of hatred, fear and stupidity in the world.

3. We each can and do make a difference.

What do you know to be true?

know

 

In thinking about today’s post, I came across Sarah Kay’s TED Talk on this topic. (Its worth the 18 minutes!) Sarah helps us see that just because we know something doesn’t mean we understand it. She uses spoken word poetry and storytelling to unpack and find understanding.

What is your process for understanding that truth this, while knowing it as true, can also be confusing or complex?

 

The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation… #blogElul

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