Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mara Made Aliyah Now she Writes About the day

Cousin Mara fell in love with Israel and Tom and made aliyah.
Last week she and I had dinner in a cafe in Jerusalem. I made sure the restaurant was, as instructed, 90 seconds from a shelter. 

This is her most recent note home. She said I could share.

Hi All - 

The first thing I did this morning was roll over and check the news to see if the names of the 13 Israeli soldiers killed yesterday were published.  I nervously skimmed the names hoping not to see my friend's brother, who was in the same unit.  And it was a strange reality because while I sighed for relief that he was not listed, I knew those names were brothers to someone else, sons to grieving mothers, someone else's father, loving husband.  

On my drive to work, only sad songs played on the radio, still interrupted by announcements of falling rockets.  Everyone in my office, along with the rest of Israel, has the news up on their computers and nervously click "refresh" in case there is something new, more soldiers down, perhaps a cease fire, terrorists found, tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel discovered.  

This is life now.  Automatic away messages reply to our emails from people called to reserve duty, not sure whey they will be back.  The 8 o'clock news is filled with heart-wrenching eulogies from 10 year-old sons saying goodbye to their fathers and clips of soldiers, now of blessed memory, playing their guitar and making their friends smile.  There was even a post on Facebook asking people to do a mitzvah and come to the funeral of a "lone" soldier from Texas who made aliyah without his family, so his parents don't fly in from America to arrive at an empty funeral.  The message went viral and there will probably be 10,000 people in attendance.  

There is always an empty pause after you ask anyone how they are doing, unsure if you give the truth.  And the woman at the grocery stores not only says "have a good evening", but she throws in, "and I hope it's a quiet one too".  The only way I can explain the atmosphere is, it just feels heavy here.  Everything.  

In the meantime, there will continue to be anti-Israel riots in France, Denmark, Chile and England, a "die-in" staged in Boston, and perhaps the scariest of all, anti-Semitic marches springing up all over Germany - the largest one planned for this Friday in Berlin.  

Oy...I wish I could send a happier note, but I suppose I'm a bit bummed out today.  I just wanted to share the atmosphere, thoughts and feelings here.  John Kerry and Ban Ki Moon came for a visit, but the Backstreet Boys and Neil Young canceled their concerts this week.  

If anyone is looking for a good website in English, to get updates, you can check out Times of Israel or YNet   

Sending lots of love from over here, 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

War: A Time for Parents and Educators to Listen

Minutes after coming out of the bomb shelter last week, I saw a father and his twin toddler daughters  finish a meal and quietly chat in a Tel Aviv restaurant.  On the streets of Jerusalem a mother told me that her 7 year old son was managing the incoming rockets just fine. "Can we do it again" (go in the shelter), he asked? "I want to hear the boom, like the video game."

How can parents, and educators speak to children about the violence going on now? Can we pretend it is just like a game? The answer is obvious. Yet with our own uncertainties Israel seems a topic easy to ignore.

 As a Jew, Israel is the place where our cousins and friends live. It is the place our ancient mothers and fathers lived. Regardless of politics, regardless of what we might think, the world does see us, as Jews, connected to Israel. I have to wonder if it is harder to talk to children about Israel, or sex? Not sure. We need to try and here are a few suggestions from experts. 

According to Berman, Deiner and Lantieri, Educators for Social Responsibility, the first thing to do is  listen.  Children as young as four or five are exposed to what's happening either from their own experience, from the media, or from the chatter of adults. Simply, ask a child,  "Have you heard news about what's happening in Israel?" 

When you hear their responses you can help them put things in order. A young child's mind tends to meld information into a jumbled scenario. For example, a few facts might end up "If missiles are hidden in schools in Gaza, then there are missiles in my school." Talking about what children are hearing or fearing, with a trusted adult doesn't stir, but rather calms. No matter how frightening some feelings are, it is far more frightening to think that no one is willing to talk about them.

Young children-early elementary school--need to know parents and adults are there for them to provide protection. We have a Jewish vocabulary of Shema to help. We can exhibit sacred listening.  Our children need loving adults who are there to hear their questions, and feelings and the stories they are creating when making sense of events. Young children can know that God is listening. Shema says, you are not alone, all of Israel is listening too. 

According to Berman, Deiner and Lantieri older children, in middle elementary school and early middle school will be concerned when faced with violence with issues of fairness and care for others. Again, Judaism gives us a vocabulary to listen to, and engage our children. 

We can tell children that our work as Jews is to balance virtues, even sometimes when they are in conflict with one another. For example, we are obligated to care for others and  to care for self.

Care for others:
"It has been told to you, O Human, What is good, and God seeks of you: only to practice justice, To love compassion, and to walk humbly before your God." (Micha 6:8) 

 Take action care for self:
"When injury is likely, one should not rely on a miracle." (Kiddushin 39b)

Educators and parents can act as exemplars, sharing how they manage balancing the virtues of self care and care of others. Share what you do when these virtues are in conflict. Make your inner dialogue visible to them.  Children also need you to be  explorers. Explorers are adults who help children find their own views on what it means to care for self and to care for others. This is a conflict that we as individuals work to manage. This is also a challenge for countries and this is what Israel is struggling to do.

Educators and parents should be both exemplar, sharing their own story and explorer, helping children ask questions and search out their own answers.  (Wertheimer, Pomson, 2014) 

Adolescents have many of the same needs as younger children. They too need to share their emotions, be heard and be supported by caring peers and adults. Developmentally they will be drawn  to the ethical dilemmas that arise from the conflict.

Our job is not to give them the answer, not to shut their questions down, but to make accessible the rich resources of our tradition so they can grapple with the opinions they explore and express. They need rich content in their conversation. Facts trump newspaper headlines. Giving teens a chance to let their hands follow their hearts and move to action is also work that is in our power as parents and educators.

The times require us to do one thing with our children regardless of age, Engage. This is not, as the innocent child said, a game.  Our children, growing in a volatile world, need us not to shy away from the conversation. Let's put our arms around our children and bravely start the conversation.

Rich resources include:
JECC's "Responding to Crisis"

"Parents Talking to Children about Violence"

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Protect Your Ass Judaism

I am a liberal. My Jewish values are proudly expressed in "care for the needy, mend the world and work for equality regardless of our differences." These  core values , I label as Jewish, have made me a loyal Democrat. In 2008, 78% of my fellow Jews also voted Democratic. Since Roosevelt, the majority of Jews have  voted for the Democratic party even when groups of similar financial and social status have switched to Republican. Do we stay Democratic because we vote the way our parents did, or as I suspect, do we vote left because the value of helping those in need trumps self interest. Help those in Need, is an honorable brand of American Jewry. And today,  I wonder if our brand is getting in the way of another honorable brand of Judaism?

Protect Your Ass Judaism (PYAJ). We need to --without apology--yet with responsibility, protect our own asses.

Rockets are coming  into Beer Sheva, Netivot, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem from the south to the center and to the north of Israel. The sound of a siren starts like an innocent cat or a motorcycle but grows as a life alert "you have 90 seconds to find a bomb shelter." Less discerning as an American, my heart skipped with the sound of each cat and real siren.

Within a minute we heard BOOM BOOM. The Iron Dome works. Again, BOOM BOOM.  Prayer: please keep working.

To put an end to this, to HELP THOSE IN NEED, we ask: "Who is coming to the table to discuss 'How do we live in Peace?'" Israel said yes. Egypt is ready. Abbas is ready, and the leaders launching the rockets say no.

Hamas leadership says no to cease fire
I've been reading Righteous Victims, A history of the Zionist Arab Conflict 1881-2001, by Benny Morris. The history I'm reading is clear in my mind. It rubs against CNN headlines (YNET NEWS much better to follow events).

One vivid image I have from the historical reading comes from the years of the late 1930's and 40s.  In the same decades when European Jews were dying in gas chambers,  Jews in Palestine were gathering weapons, growing the Palmah and the Haganah to protect themselves. Could Ben Gurion and Weitzman have sat down with the Nazis and negotiated a settlement? Don't murder our people and we'll take them off your hands to live in the desert. The answer is obvious.

Jews learned how to fight and farm with a PYAJ policy.  They hid guns from the British under floor boards and built a social infrastructure so Jews could live as opposed to be pushed into gas chambers.

While in Israel this week I spoke with Jews from France-6,000 French are making Aliyah this year because of heated anti-semitism. I spoke to Jews from Spain--who said they are afraid to admit to being Jewish on the street and hide their identities. Jews from Argentina spoke about increased security because they fear bombings.

Awake from the bubble, I thought. History is here again. Oh this bubble bursting goes against my liberal 'we are all one leanings.'

In the fog of who is right and wrong Israel and the Jewish people are not saints. Mistakes are being made along the way. Like when right wing Israeli extremist brutally killed the Arab teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Their cruelty was out of  hate and sickness, not protection.

With our core values as American Jews we can ask how to help innocent Palestinians who are caught in the crossfire? The poor are pawns. We should do all that is possible to help them (e.g. knock on the roof missiles, leaflets and calls to leave, humanitarian aide). I don't think for one minute Israel intends to, or benefits, from the killing of innocents.  Can they do better? I'm sure, and anticipate they will learn to do that.

And with as loud of a voice, with a determination that our survival, the survival of our cousins and friends, our people, I say, Israel can and should put an end to relentless rocket attacks coming in to Israel on children who are trying to play in summer camp, parents driving to work and families eating a meal in their kitchens.

The role of diaspora Jews matters. It has since the 1880's and continues today. Heart strings get tugged when Ben Widerman on CNN says, "look at this home that has been destroyed in Gaza because the Cease fire has fallen apart. He doesn't say, "The cease fire that Israel accepted and that Hamas rejected."

Before I went to Israel,  I wrote
"I hate to talk about Israel because it becomes a yelling match of right and wrong." And so I demur.

 Yesterday, my son said, "Mom if people were speaking out against the rights of homosexuals, and even if there were screaming, wouldn't you speak up?"


My other son just said, "Can you write about politics on your blog?"

"I don't know, but it feels chicken not to."

So I'm speaking up.

I'm saying as clearly as I can I'm proud of my ability to be part of a HELP THOSE IN NEED JUDAISM.  And I'm as clearly saying, now is a time to express that Israel has the right to protect and prevent continued bombardment. If it is productive to think of ways to make a better peace, let's engage in that. Let's sit at a table and ask these questions and work together for action to protect all innocents.

PROTECT YOUR ASS JUDAISM is not contradictory to Help those in Need Judaism. It is an existential necessity that we shouldn't shy away from when we sit comfortably and safely in our homes. Your thoughts?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Code Red sirens: the counting

We are safe.

The news, I understand, creates a heightened sense of anxiety. Repeated images of explosions in the air and people dying rightfully cause worry. Let me share the counting I've experienced so far around air raids.

My first air raid happened in the Tel Aviv restaurant Suzannah Dalal. Shellie, Evie, Evie's friend and I were seated in an outdoor restaurant. We had ordered delicious drinks with flavors of fruit and cucumber
A loud siren, that could only mean, rockets blared.  I saw our young waitress, an Israeli who had gone to school at Lower Merion, run. I had bread in my head and took it with me in a crazy thoughtless way. Evie and her friend ran one way. Her friend, an Israeli, knew were to go. Shellie and I followed our waitress into a parking garage.

With bread in hand, we ran with another 30 people into the garage. Tova, an Israeli on the trip, assured everyone it would be fine. She explained the times in her life that this kind of warning would be sounded a few times a day for months. As the week has gone on, I've heard repeated stories fro Israelis about how this is something they experienced so many times before and seem, at least outwardly to take it in stride. "When I was a child," said a waiter who also tracks military action in the evenings, "the war was my favorite time," he told me. "We were moved to kibbutzim in the center of the country. So instead of going to school, we played and swam." I've learned it is common practice for kibbutzim to house one another, depending in the threat is in the south or north or..

In less than ten minutes (now they are saying Stay put for a full time minutes after the sirens) we returned to the outdoor restaurant and were served our dinner. Humus and salad and fish were the menu under the night sky with a cool breeze. I thought of the World War II air raids in London (everyone knows I watch a lot of old movies).

We then went to hear a concert. Just like that. A rocket overhead intercepted by the Iron dome and then we return to listen to music. One woman started to tear. "It isn't for us, it is for my Israeli friends whose children are going to fight."

On the bus back to Jerusalem came the second air raid siren, but we didn't hear it. When we arrived at the hotel a guard told us to "hurry hurry into the hotel." The lobby was filled with high school students on a trip. They had just arrived in Jerusalem from Spain. A wonderful trip was planned. Now they would stay in the hotel all day.

My hotel room was on the 17th floor. The calculation of imagination didn't seem to add up. I'm not experienced in how to manage this state of being but the thought of walking down 17 flights didn't sound great. "You don't need to go the shelter, just stay in the stairwell." (not sure about that) So I moved into a smaller room with my friend Lynnda. The best luxury we could have would be a night without sounds. Tova had told me to "leave your shoes and most important belongings by your side. We used to sleep in our sweat suits, so if you have to run, you've got what you need." Every floor has a stairwell, go to the stairwell if the sirens go off.

90 seconds from a shelter was the advice the next day. Make sure you can get to a shelter in that aount of time. And if not? A woman from the south of Israel told us "you lay down on the ground flat. Put your hands behind your head with your elbows out. It has something to do with physics."

Thursday, I think, the days are melding, Evie and I were walking on Emek Refayim, a a street with lots of restaurants and tourists. Another siren. First I looked at the sidewalk. Do we lay down with our hands behind our heads? I saw a woman running ahead and we followed her. We running along the sidewalk. It didn't make sense to me for a split second where are we running. The woman turned into a building. Ok, she must know. We followed her down the steps and down. Down I think was a good place to go. We walked into an avant guard theatre that unbelievably was putting on a one man show, called "Shelter."

Again the chat, where are you from, and what do you do?
The author of the play, an Iraqi Jew, explained he'd like to bring the play to the US. The woman we had run after was from England. And there is the basement was a young girl who had come from Westchester New York.

"Three I heard three" said Evie. She heard three booms. The iron dome had hit them. The news said there were five rockets over Jerusalem.

I try not to check Ynet news too often. But there is the real accounting. How many dead. How many injured. How many rockets. How much damage. How many days.

I appreciate the kind notes from folks wondering how we are doing. As you can see we go to the cafe, walk on the street and now know where to go when the siren blares.
I've never been good at math.
And now just writing I can see I can't add this up. I'm able to order cafe afuch and there are sirens.
I barely believe this....

I've just washed my feet off. We heard the sirens now, no time for shoes, 90 seconds to the shelter, down five flights of stairs, Evie, me and three young people, three booms, wait ten minutes, up the steps. Till next time.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jewish mothers' amulets-not enough

Today we are one in sadness. I heard people on the right, left and even the “I don’t even give a damn”  express sadness for the murder of three teenage boys hitchhiking home from school.  A friend who almost never discusses Israel texted: “A silent prayer for Gilad, Naftali and Eyal.” At work we were told no posting on social media. When laughter was heard at work, it was followed by the awkward, “no laughter today please,” pause. No one spoke politics. Today we were all parents and sisters and cousins of three murdered Jewish teens.

In our ears we can hear the teens’ mothers’ voices the morning they left for school the last time: “Did you take your coat? Be careful, have a good day, love you.” These are the cadences of Jewish mothers.

Rabbi Henry Cohen taught that Jewish mothers back in the day would say things like, “button up your coat,” or “eat another bowl of soup” as regularly as “good morning” because daily their children were sent into an unsafe world. Past the front door, a mother had no control of hoodlums, pogroms or conscriptions. So the extra dose was protection, an amulet, for a world cultured in seeking out Jews, the different ones, as targets for hatred.

In times of quiet, in times when Jews think they are just like their neighbors, a mother’s learned amulet, passed down from generation to generation, doesn’t go away.  

Mothers call out:

“Don’t you think you need a sweater?”

“Don’t go with strangers.”

“Call me when you get there.”

Children hear these amulets with rolled eyes. 
“Don’t you think I know when I need a sweater without you telling me?”

Today's headlines are a reminder that the world we live in is not so quiet and it is not always so safe to be a Jew. Today we remember that we are all Jews, regardless of our political hankerings. Today we stand together in loss.

As my friend texted: a silent prayer for three teenagers who loved basketball, singing and baking, who walked out from their homes into an unsafe world and now have left this world.

And let me ask for a not so silent prayer: this feeling of oneness shared today will hover a little longer so we can work together to make the path beyond our children's front door a little safer and a little more peaceful.

Hear together, today and tomorrow Rachelli Frankel as she spoke her last amulet to her son
 at his funeral, "Rest in peace, my child."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Mother Ship is Launching

The work begins. For six months I've been working on  The Jewish Education Project's 2014-15 plan  to support congregations and part time settings  I've documented the work of planning this blog. Steps have included engaging funders, lay leaders, educators, clergy, parents and our own agency--we've called it listening to 500 Voices.  Our Big and Ultimate work is to enable part time Jewish educational settings to create Jewish learning that moves to real life.

Our commitments to: 1) build on success and 2) push out the next frontier. Reality dictates we do our work with limited resources. Here's the Mother Ship (the plan for the year) we're launching. Was it worth listening to 500 voices?

Goal 1. Expand & Deepen Educational Changes in the Coalition of Innovating Congregations

  • I*Express                                                                                                                                          21 Congregations (many new to the Coalition) will adapt & launch new models of part-time learning
  •  Peer Networks                                                                                                                                 100  educators, teachers, clergy and lay leaders meetnig in small groups throughout the year to "gain the wisdom in the room," on innovation questions and needs
  • Boot-Camp                                                                                                                                          Fall and Winter in day and on line learning of Coalition resources and tools for new lay and or professional leaders in the Coalition 
  • In site-ful Journeys and Ambassadors                                                                                                Spring visits to wow places and with wow innovators who've created learning that impacts  
  • Private Consulting                                                                                                                               For sites who want to move at their own innovation pace and  agenda, they can work with a Jewish Education Consultant privately                                                                                                 

Goal 2: Document Success of Coalition to spread change in an Innovation Marketplace

  •       Impact Now                                                                                                                              Documents the stories 15 new models of Jewish part time education. The story  includes written and video documentation and impact on the learner. We'll test out  how we can share that story in a Digital Innovation Marketplace.
  • Learner Outcomes                                                                                                                                We'll convene think tanks, and tracking tools to help name and measure learner outcomes

Goal 3:  Imagine new Jewish part time educational settings (non congregations)

  •          We'll work with six communities across the country to hear the hopes and dreams of parents; build on children's learning and interests to create new models of part time learning

OK that's the Mother Ship. We're ready to launch. What do you think?

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Hate Talking about Israel

I love Israel. And really hate to talk about it. This is my challenge as I head out for a conference in Israel --the requirement of participation is "talk about Israel."

I love: People welcome with genuine zest. The American filter of politeness is absent so you quickly hear what folks really think Streets, the sands and trees make a palette of creams, and greens and blues I've never seen in another country. Everyone agrees the simple foods like tomato, lettuce, cucumber and coffee actually have a memorable taste in Israel..that is a flavor beyond a texture.

The staccato beat of the cities and the take-it-as-it-comes country tempo evens out my own rhythm and slows me down. When I leave Israel, inside my chest is a yearning to return to Israel that feels like the words from 1140 by Yehudi HaLevi "My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west..How can I find savor in food? How shall it be sweet to me?" Once you've tasted Israel,  you desire another mouthful.

 I love Israel because it is part of my Jewish story. Israel, Bnei yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, flowing with milk and honey, where your Uncle started (ok later I learned not quite a founder) a kibbutz, and where your cousin stepped into the water cut his foot and died, in 1948, and if there were a state of Israel there wouldn't be a Holocaust, at the seder we say next year in Jerusalem, and my Mom-Mom pushed the stroller with her son from door to door to sell Israel bonds and then in 1967 and then. And Israel did this and that to the Palestinians, holds prisoners, look at the Arab neighborhoods and their sewage systems compared to the Jewish ones, and they put up a wall and there are not equal rights, and they shoot down on people picking olives.

The full story of Israel tells the heroics of Israel creating the homeland for the Jewish people surrounded by Arabs trying to destroy them. "We didn't have trucks," a soldier from the Haganah once told me, "but we wanted to them to think we did. So we lined people up the distance of a truck, and gave them flashlights. Line after line it made the Arabs think we had a hundred trucks and weapons." And the story of Israel's falters and cruelty, of Palestinians being arrested, and thrown in jail and worse.

Every sovereign nation has it heroics and its shames. My support of an independent Jewish nation is unquestionable. Policies and procedures are questionable. And I support a nation--a different one-- for the Palestinians. I do wonder what right I, as a non-Israeli,  have to get into these debates. One of my son's gave me a wag of the finger to say, I do have a moral obligation to get involved in those conversations. Another son, wags a finger to say, "most people from >>>organization talk about Israel don't know the history, they are just talking out of emotion."

The emotions for me start to shift from love to...the other pole, because the fights begin. Someone is right and someone is wrong. It is the same reason I turn off MSNBC, Fox NEws and CNN. There is no truth or seeking of solution. Conversations is only "you are all wrong, all right, evil or good."

The conference is really about Israel education. When I told a colleague I was going he asked:
"Is it about advocacy or education." In other words is it about "stand with Israel no matter what," or is it about "learning the stories, writing your values into the story, learning to think critically, and being empowered to act."

My suitcase is packed with my history book, a deep breath and an extra ear, for extra listening. Can I avoid the hated quagmire of righteousness from the right, left and center?

If it falls into the pit of emotional battle arts, I'll go another a cafe to write a short story about  a family torn apart because they can't reconcile core differences. I'll order some tasty tomato, lettuce, cucumber and coffee. And instead of hating, I'll stick my head in the computer, and love.