Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Healing the Hate On Our Buses

Starting today, Philadelphia's city public transit, SEPTA, will carry ads with photographs from 1941 of a meeting between Hitler and Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian Arab nationalist who made radio broadcasts supporting the Nazis.  The hurtful slogan trolling the streets of Brotherly Love for the next month: "Islamic Jew Hatred: It's in the Quran."

Thirty-thousand dollars purchased this far right wing campaign. SEPTA fought to say no, but the courts said free speech dictates that The American Freedom Defense Initiative can have their say. This organization has grown by leaps and bounds in the US and Europe since 2010 with its purpose to Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). Shamefully, a Jewish woman, Pamela Geller is one of its founders. 

I confess my tribal nature-when a Jew does dumb and bad, it feels shameful.

The Interfaith Center of Philadelphia, led by a woman grounded by Torah values, Abby Stamelman Hocky, invites us to say

Not here. Not now. Not in our city. 

Abby asks that we "embrace our diverse voices and to unite to effect positive change. To stand in solidarity with those might otherwise be alienated." To counter the hate on our buses and in people's hearts go to:

Another Philadelphian, grounded in Torah, and committed to healing, not hating, is Dr. Barry Mann. His new book, Dreams of Peace, is a language primer for Hebrew and Arabic. Dr. Mann is a physician-surgeon-Chief Academic Officer- yet found the time to create an easy access language primer that helps readers learn Hebrew, and Arabic. He even found the time to teach the primer in a course to rabbinical students. We need a shared language if we are going to ever understand one another. This book is a great start.

Ibrahim Miari of the University of Pennsylvania comments on Dreams of Peace: "As a bilingual native speaker and instructor of both Arabic and Hebrew, I know through experience how language creates a window into culture and allows an opening for a new perspective. The innovations of this dual language primer demonstrate the similarities between the two languages, and may be one small step towards both facilitating language acquisition and fostering further understanding." 

Would people who spent time learning one another's language, and honoring their common roots, put hateful ads on city transit? Dreams of Peace is available on Amazon. Hey, I wrote the first reader review!

Salute to Abby and Barry for healing the hate.

I am inspired.

I take the challenge today to do something to heal the hate. What are you inspired to do?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Jewish Educators: Dust or Angels?

Hey Jewish Educator--who are you? Are you just below the angels --(if we just could get it right), single handedly growing the next generation of Jews?

 Or are you poorly-trained-trapped-in-a-box-folks who are as helpful in growing the next generation of Jews as the dust in your pocket?

The answer depends on who is standing on their soap box.
Beth Cousens piece in today's ejewishphilanthropy seemed to describe Jewish educators as both --a bit above the dust of Philip Roth's basement accomplishing little and right below the angels, single handedly able to make 7 years old know the depth and meaning of Judaism.

A few points to consider:

 1. There is no Jewish educational experience that can counter familial and societal norms. Let's humbly recognize that family values, practices and expectations not educators are the prime operating system for the Jewish development of 6-12 year olds. And when families check out and drop off, there is no Holy grail of education to counter the family.

2. Religion itself is having a challenging time in 2015 in USA--ala Pew and the rise of the nons. America at large is not having a religious field day. By overwhelming numbers Jews are proud to be Jews, but how much they know and do is far less. Again, what's the Jewish education that will counter prevailing societal norms?

3. Synagogues, Federations and a great deal of the existing Jewish organizational landscape is still standing for Torah, avodah and gemiliut chasadim while parents are simply asking: how do I raise a whole child in a very broken world?

Jewish education is one piece of a larger system that grows a child.  The more complicated truth is about the challenge of  families, societal norms and reshaping religious ideas to speak to people's real lives--not just Jewish education gone wrong . It is not as sexy as pointing the finger at the whipping boy of Jewish life--Hebrew school.

When we are at our best, Jewish educators connect the questions Jews have when they wake in the morning and when they go to bed at night with the wisdom, the rhythm and the comradeship of Jewish life. When we are at a our best, we make accessible each person's birthright so children and adults can discover their unique path and responsibility to making our challenging world a little better.

Next month, I'll have the results of interviews with 100 parents with children who attend the bolder newer models of Jewish education emerging across the country. From these interviews we hear parents who talk Torah with their children, change hectic schedules to make sure Shabbat is met, and act out Jewish teaching in their lives. I'm glad to add this new body of research to the narrative.

As we go forward, let's not pretend that Jewish education can make ALL the difference nor does it make No difference. Let's instead think about the more complicated landscape that impacts a child's life and how Jewish education can effectively be part and partner in that landscape.

Jewish educators are neither dust nor angels. At our best, we are...well what would you say from your soap box?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Anita remembered

To honor Anita’s full life I’d like to share the story of her last month. How she met this challenge  reveals her previous 84 years.

We had had our family Chanukah celebration. As always she brought something for the meal, and had a gift for everyone. We lit candles had latkaes and she said as she always did “Cyd I don’t know how you have the time.” She wasn’t quite feeling her self at the party, and the family said she should see the doctor. Henry tried twice “you’ll be the healthiest person the doctor sees all day, I’ll take you.” The next day she said she was feeling better and went on with her busy schedule.
That Sunday night she called Jay and reported she had a wonderful time out with her very good friend Bruce. They had gone to an Italian restaurant and listened to opera, something she loved. I don’t know what she wore but I could imagine her in a colorful print, with a necklace, pin and earrings and red lipstick and definitely with a smile. And perfect skin and perfect posture. Jay said she sounded the happiest he had heard in quite a while.

Ross was supposed to see her that Tuesday morning before he went back to school. And in a world of busy schedules, that was important to him. Her grandsons called, emailed and saw her on happy occasions. When Jay would say he spoke to his mom that was one of the first things he’d report, which grandson she had spoken to or had received email from.

Ross called Grandmom twice that Tuesday morning and when she didn’t answer he called Jay who found her in her apartment having had a stroke. In just a few minutes Roselle and Jay were by her side at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

When she could barely speak at first, Anita in the ER said over and over I love you, I appreciate it, thank you. Humble and asking for little only living with a stance of appreciation, these were her phrases with a crooked mouth and a straight heart. Anita told Roselle she was so proud of her many accomplishments including her new job which was going to be blocks from Anita’s apartment.

At first Anita was prepared for the fight to get back to her apartment living the full and interesting life she had made for herself.

Not surprisingly the family that she has shared every holiday, birthday and occasion with surrounded her at the hospital, Roselle and Henry, Jay and myself and Gary, Kabeera, A &N (Underage so I won’t put their names) Alex, Ross and Sam. A called her Great Grandmom Anita and had made a beautiful picture with a message that remained in her hospital room. Adam, Rebecca, and Anastasia joined the Grandmom vigil.

More surprisingly to us than our gathering around her, was her very full cell phone. Every day another friend was calling asking where are you Anita? Some of her friends we knew from her days as a school girl, and some we hadn’t heard of .But without question the cell phone, that rang with Havana gila ring tone every day with another friend looking and starting to worry about Anita. Flowers were delivered from a neighbor and from Bruce. The nurses told us what we knew, she was so kind.

Within a short week, we thought Anita was going to rehab and would hopefully be back to her full days studying, taking public transportation or off to a concert, or as Jay noted, “doing her own taxes.” And then things changed with Infections and flu on top of her stroke. And though her speech became clearer she became more sleepy.

No mother would want this, but the children who she raised were so devoted to her, feeding her spoon by spoon, talking to her and holding her hand. Roselle and Jay, sat by her side, and spoke to her with compassion. She’d open her eye to say, I love you. Both of them were professionals who have been trained to care for people at this phase of life, and yet both are very simply children with breaking hearts.

The true character of who Anita was, one that would inspire each of us, and be a role model is when she had to face that she wasn’t going to get better. Gary, both grandson and doctor, gently helped her understand what was ahead.

When we spoke to her about hospice and said, we’d like her to come to our house, she didn’t have a word about herself, she simply said, “I don’t want to be a burden.” And that was like her.

Anita understood hospice because in the last year, Jay took her regularly to see Bud, her dear companion for the past five years, in hospice. “I want to be comfortable,” she said, “like Bud.”  We never saw Anita cry in the last days. We saw each other cry, but not her.

When she was told about hospice, I said to her, “Do you want to speak to a rabbi?”

“No” she said clearly, “this is my decision.”

Again this is who she was, she did what she had to, independently, organized and took care of all the details. Her directions and wishes were “in the red folder,” “in the drawer” “in the back, on the left.” She had everything arranged. About her funeral she was clear she wanted it here.

And she said, “I want to look pretty.”

The night before she came to our house, we all sat around her signing songs and prayers. “We’re going to sing Yedid Nefesh Grandmom,” Ross said, Do you know what that means, “Beloved Soul,” she said from her sleepy state. “Where did you learn that?’ “At a class at Federation,” she said. Gary and Kabeera sang her Yedid nefesh at her bedside taking shifts from working in the hospital and caring for their children.

We sang that night in the hospital the song we sang every Shabbat, Shalom Aleichem and all of a sudden from her sleepy state, she was singing with us. Anita celebrated many Shabbat Dinners at our house, and it is our custom to say something that happened good in the week. Without exception, when it came to Anita’s turn she would say, “Coming here, being with all of you for Shabbat.”  At her bedside we read Eshes Chayil, a Woman of Valor, at the end of the psalm that describes a woman who cares for her family, keeps them clothed and cared for, has the love of her husband, she said from her sleep state, Amen.

Her last night in the hospital Ross slept by her bed and heard her say, “no more shopping, no more cooking.” She was making sense of what was happening.

Every night Anita was in our family room on hospice, we gathered around her and sang song after song. She loved music. Like Fridays nights when Jay and Roselle were young she and Saul had date night. They made cocktails and played music and danced together in their house. I remember Saul regularly bringing fresh flowers to Anita at the end of the week.

Alex and Sam led the song describing the angels that surrounded her
On my right is Mic-ha-el, “who is like G-d”, Alex said, “you are Grandmom”, on my left is Gabriel, “God is my strength, the strength you have given us and we are giving you” Alex said, in front of me is Uriel –“God is my light, just as you have been light guiding us” and behind me is Rapahel , “God heals and for all the doctors and care providers who are healing” and above my head is Schenicha.

Sam sang the contemporary Israeli song Hazelana hazelana save me.

We couldn’t save her. Anita asked for very little in her life, but she gave a great deal and in turn she was given the full love of her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Gemilut Chasadim, means acts of loving kindness, they are acts that you do knowing that you get nothing in return. Every hour of hospice was that kind of loving kindness. And The very last act of gemilut chasadim that Jay and Roselle did was to buy her a beautiful outfit to wear. As Roselle said, “she never splurged on her self, I want to do that.” And it was easy for Roselle and Jay to pick the colors the style. Classic and bright. They were fulfilling her wish, “I want to look pretty.” You’ve never seen a brother and sister, so respectful and loving of one another, so respectful in the way their mother had taught and modeled.

As her daughter in law I want to give testimony to all that she gave to her grandsons, countless hours of babysitting, attending their graduations, concerts. I know our children have known the great love of their grandmother and the last days of her life, I watched them each with their own tears, their own songs, their own tenderness, give her the greatest of love.

Sam shared quote that he said told Grandmom’s story, “love so strong without ebb and flow or crests and troughs, indeed lacking  any sort of motion so that it had become invisible to him these years..part of the order of things outside his head which he had taken for granted.”

We just expected Grandmom’s love to always be, did taken for granted..and now gone. Now her family and friends will carry her story and love in their heart.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Rabbi Came to Visit

From all the blogs I've ever written, the one that got the most attention (over 5000 hits) was the one that described why I left my congregation of over twenty-years.

The one I'm about to write, few will read. But it is just/more important to write.

We don't belong to our congregation now.

The rabbi from our former congregation heard a family member --my loved mother-in-law was in ICU.

He asked if it is was ok to visit.

We asked her in her sleepy state "Do you want the rabbi to visit?"
"Yes" she said and returned to her sleepy state.

The rabbi came.  And we appreciate this act of gemilut chasidim-of loving kindness.

I want to say we are not dues paying members any more. The rabbi was saying I SEE critical.

We were included as if were.

When comfort was needed, a rabbi who keeps OBGYN hours, came to visit and offer prayer.

We will be members again.

Say a prayer too.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Make it Safe to Mess-Up

"The blood clot almost killed him," a  medical student told me. "Hospital protocol required the man receive heparin, an anti-coagulant, upon admittance. So I didn't even check to see if he had received his doses. Except, in this case he wasn't given the heparin. The man clotted. It was my fault. He almost died." What did the med student do?

  Anonymously, she reported the mistake. Hospitals, she explained, have a system that encourages reporting of mistakes. Reveal the mistake, but don't tell them who you are. 

Her story made me think about a few of my own work mistakes.

I didn't send an invoice on time to a funder.

I wrote a proposal the funder didn't like.

I designed a day of learning and no one showed up.

As a result of my mistakes, no one died. But they are misses. Money is at stake. Quality is at stake. Our ability to continue work is at risk. These mistakes can't be ignored. The question is, is it safe to say, "I missed the mark?"

I don't need a system of anonymous reporting. Like most human beings, I wake up in the morning and try to make a positive difference at work. I bring my best. I work very hard –most days are 12 hour days. When I miss the mark, I'd like to feel that it’s safe to talk about and learn so I can do better next time.

During my career as an educator, I've worked in many organizations in the past. Some of those places claimed they were "learning organizations" where you can fail forward. And some places actually are safe places to mess up.    

Here are the 7 practices that separate the talkers from the doers. These practices may be seen in organizations – really in people. What do you think about the seven practices of bosses who make it safe to say "I missed?"

1. Make Humans Primary. 
The person sitting in front of you is first. "How are you feeling about this miss? What do you need?" "I care about you." (It really is ok to say that to an employee). The work comes next.

2. Genuinely use "we."
 Instead of "you missed," lead with, and mean it, "What could we have done
differently?" "What systems can we put into place to make a difference next time?" "I" sentences will emerge.

3. Honor the good.
 90% of the time the work is right on. Don't ignore the good and only put energy into the misses. Don't be afraid to lift up the good work and spend time thinking through what made something work so well.  Celebrate.

4. Move your sacred tongue. 
Words matter-as the poem says:
"I feel so sentenced by your words, I feel so judged and sent away… words are windows, or they're walls. They sentence us or set us free." (Ruth Bebermeyer) from Non-Violent Communication, A Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenberg

5. Model Mistakes.
 Bosses need to say I'm sorry. I missed. I tried to do something and for this reason it didn't work. I'll try again. When a boss can't get that out of his or her mouth, "I'm sorry, I messed up," it is not safe for an employee to do it either.

6. Rule with Middot (virtues), not emotions.
In word and deed let virtue trump judgment, jealousy, and the need to gossip. For example, don't jump to conclusions. Give employees the benefit of the doubt.  Lead with questions and curiosity. "Let's understand what happened."

7.  Support.
With reflection, needs for growth or learning are identified. Provide support – a course, a mentor, more supervision, observation of others... Each adult can identify, "What I need to do better." Then provide it. Then the cycle of trying, missing, trying, can include real learning.

I am an employee who has experienced both the lack of, and the benefit of these 7 practices, and I'm also a supervisor who tries very hard to embody the 7. Sometimes I miss. 

When I do miss, I know that folks won’t die like the man with the blood clot, but perhaps a little of their spirit or their ability to feel safe and take risks dies. That's a big loss, and for that I'm sorry,  and will try again.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Synagogues set the table for 22?

Mark and Ilene's suburban house is a hearth reflecting their heart--their values. A big white kitchen flows into a living area with a fireplace and a dinning table that seats sixteen, announcing "We're really glad you're here."  

Last night, Ilene and Mark hosted pot luck dinner for 8 couples.

Common among the couples enjoying soy-gluten-meat-dairy-free food ( allergic reactions avoided) were a lot of hyphenated last names, and friendships that have lasted over twenty years. We also share: belonging (belonged-ok we're the exception) to the same synagogue since our children were tots.

Over the past two decades, we've witnessed our collective 22 children grow to be adults, some now having their own children. I know the 22 well. All of them, I report, without hesitation, are: menches.

If I speak for myself, and then brazenly speak for the others at the long dinner table--we joined the synagogue so our children could get their Jewish education. What we didn't understand at the time, was that membership would lead to finding people who would be present for one another in sickness and in death, for world crises, like 911, and for personal traumas, like unwanted diagnoses.  We knew membership gave us places to sit for the High Holidays. We didn't know it would include a circle of men and women who would dance at simchas together and celebrate with songs and flowers.

Back in the 1990's, optimism and over confidence led us to the delusion that with the right book, and our own cleverness, we could conquer all we faced as parents. We didn't realize then how necessary it is to have adults actively in your children's lives to model values-- living striving and caring lives. Those 22 kids grew to be mensches, in some measure, because of the loving hand and ear these dinner guests have given--still give-- to one another's children.

The synagogue, I think, like Ilene and Mark's home, made space and time for us to really get to know each other, and to celebrate together. We engaged in learning that bound us together with a shared language. Torah helped us express and develop our values in word and deed. We got on buses to march on Washington, packed food baskets and raised funds for those in need.

 The synagogue was like a hearth reflecting a heart--values, enabling surviving and thriving as parents and citizens of the world.

In short, when we raised a glass of wine last night, we were toasting a group that has lifted each other's families up in the good and from the crud. We were toasting people who had encouraged and inspired one another to live more intentionally.

Last night, someone said to me, "Our children's lives are so different than ours. What will synagogues look like for them?"

I'm sorry to say, I work on that every day in my job, and don't know the answer.

What we do know, is that our adult children live in as challenging, if not more challenging world than we ever imagined. All the technology in the universe won't be enough to help them conquer what's ahead for them personally or what's churning in the globe.

One wish, I think we all hold for the 22 is  that they will grow to have a long table of friends to lift them up and navigate our crazy-assed world so they can leave it just a little better and they can find a little more wisdom, comfort and laughter. Our wish is for them to inherit their Jewish story, to enrich them, and the world.

What's the chance? What will it take?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Work in Review 2014

I'm busy writing mid-year reports for funders--never a fun activity.  Yet, I've learned forced reflection is a helpful thing.  We are so busy doing our work, we don't always stop and ask:
What did we accomplish? What did we learn? What's next-adjust?


1. More engaged with less resource.
Since July, the number of educational leaders engaged in the Coalition of Innovating Congregations has doubled-now 100 congregations are actively engaged in their questions around "How do we imagine Jewish leaning that matters in people's lives?" The Coalition in NY participates in the following programs:

a. Peer Networks: meeting at least six times a year to address self identified innovation questions
Thank you Suri Jacknis for your leadership

b. I*Express: launching educational pilots within 12 months by adapting new models of education created by educational pioneers
Thank you Rabbi Jen Goldsmith for your leadership

c. Private consulting for innovation needs; webinars; Innovation bootcamp and In-site ful Journeys (visits to innovation sites)
Thank you Rabbi Mike Mellen, Ellen Rank, Jessica Rothbart, Susan Ticker and Jessica Degrado for your leadership

This year, we have less staff and funding to support the tough task of re-imagining education.
We've learned: leaders are propelled by their own needs to make change and benefit from small groups for emotional support and problem solving. Peer networks benefit from facilitation by well trained staff.

What we don't know: With more self directed innovation work, less financial and outside professional support, and with increased peer support, at what rate/to what degree will changes in the educational system occur?

2. Harnessing the internet to strengthen impact

Duh: No congregation can do this innovation work alone. The wisdom of each program needs to be shared. So we've started documenting the powerful stories of places that have truly re-imagined education. We are working with 12 congregations to capture their stories. What we don't know is how best to tell the story on line so people are inspired to learn more and to act.   We do know people want "little bites," meaning easy access and quick to implement.

The innovation stories will be accompanied by demonstration of "learner impact and value." We've started parent focus groups to hear: What do parents hope for? What impact do parents see in their children from the innovative learning?  By spring,  we'll hear more than 100 parents' stories.

In the spring we'll do more testing of documentation work online. Does it spark and spread innovation? How can we do it effectively? Thank you Mike Mellen,  Leah Kopperman, Faigy Gilder, Anna Marx from Shinui, and Catherine Schwartz from NYU for your leadership.

3. Jewish learning Opportunities in non-congregational settings

With a generous grant from the Steinhardt Foundation we entered a new arena: non-congregational settings. Jewish learning is not just for synagogue members. The educational landscape is changing right under our feet. One size of education fits no one.

This grant enabled us to work with a JCC; a cultural center, a Chabad center, a synagogue offering non membership education, and a parent run co-op for children who attend Hebrew Charter Schools. As you know, in the charter school children learn Hebrew and Israeli culture and history, but can not engage in religious education because of church state separation. These programs therefore offer the "Judaism" component to kids who speak Hebrew and are connected to Israel.

Each of these sites has engaged parents in "hopes and dreams" conversations. The innovation work is not beginning with "what do we as leaders want for students," but beginning with the energy and desires of parents. Parents engagement from day one, we believe will bring about greater imagination and impact. This assumption will be tested as we move forward. We are seeing there is great opportunity in these alternative settings. For example, the JCC and cultural centers are prime for experiential-hands on learning. Thank you Rabbi Dena Klein and Tamara Gropper for leading this work.

We've done a lot of work. We set up new systems and processes and taken on new challenges.
This hard and inspiring work is possible because of a remarkable team that "jumps in and figures it out."

I appreciate the leadership of The Jewish Education Project for creating a place that always asks: What might we?
What did we learn?
 What's next?

 The story of Jewish Education is unfolding. May we be blessed to slow down and reflect in June 2015 and write to our funders:
What we accomplished, what we learned, what's next.