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Retired teacher unveils secrets of education

Retired teacher unveils secrets of education

Posted on 15 December 2016 by admin

22-year veteran Wolbe unlocks hidden keys to success in new book

By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP

An em

Photo: Susie Wolbe Dr. Susie Wolbe, the author of The Empowered Teacher, is a Mindful Schools instructor and certified academic language therapist.

Photo: Susie Wolbe
Dr. Susie Wolbe, the author of The Empowered Teacher, is a Mindful Schools instructor and certified academic language therapist.

powered teacher with great history in the community is sharing her not-so-secret tips through her recently published book, The Empowered Teacher: Proven Tips for Classroom Success.
Dr. Susie Wolbe, a 22-year veteran of public and private schools, retired from her principal post, but is not ever likely to stop educating others.
In a span of four years, Wolbe lost both of her parents and had two children get married. The circle of life was spinning.
“Lifecycle moments can bring you to your knees and have you wondering what you are going to do next,” she said. The notes she had kept were “calling to her,” and with the support of her friends and family members pushed her to publish The Empowered Teacher.
“It’s not a psychology or theory book, but a ‘to-do’ for the classroom,” Wolbe said.
The book addresses relationships and communication, management and planning, classroom involvement and beyond, support and partnerships, professional successes, personal growth and well-being.
“Once I stepped away from the day-to-day roles I’d had for so many years, I was able to look more objectively, and what seemed like common sense isn’t necessarily so ‘common’ in the classroom,” she said. “When you’re in the moment, and working with your students, you are pedaling as fast as you can to keep up.”
Wolbe taught many grade levels before serving as a principal for kindergarten through eighth grade for 14 years at Levine Academy. She also taught at Carrollton Elementary School and the Hockaday School.
“The book is a short-and-sweet ‘how-to’ that fits in a purse, can be tossed in a desk and looked at on-the-go. It works.”
Wolbe, who provides single- and multiple-session programs, works one-on-one, in groups large and small, and leads seminars in person, via teleconferencing, Facetime and Skype. She provides the ingredients and the recipes for success, but guides her clients to find their own way.
“I don’t want them to rely on me — but to learn from me,” she said.
For Patti Brooks, recently retired after 33 years at Lakehill Preparatory School, as teacher and head of the Lower School, bringing Wolbe in for a six-week series on mindfulness was a great success.
“You could see those participating really getting into the program, and you could identify the ‘mindful’ and ‘listening’ positions and literally watch them move through the practices,” said Brooks. “Dr. Wolbe is such a real person and I never felt like she was selling anything — but that her heart was in it entirely and that everything she shared came from her years of experience.”
Wolbe’s program at Lakehill, working with students, faculty and parents, focused on bullying and conflict resolution. Those tools helped Shannon Santos’ 11-year-old daughter succeed in school.
“The calming tools she provided will last us way beyond the classroom as parents are able to support their children at home,” said Santos, whose daughter Harper plays tennis 15 hours a week.
“Our daughter is very competitive and this wasn’t just a ‘teach her’ or a ‘tutoring’ session, but something we will all use. We need the recommendations as much as she does.”
Santos, Harper’s father and stepmother met with Wolbe.
“It was very relaxed and we regularly use the meditation methods she taught us.”
Pointing to direction with methods of breathing and meditation to assist with sleep, calmness, focus and more, Santos said that Wolbe’s advice has helped the whole family to keep calmer during the everyday frustrations with life.
“This allowed Harper to learn to be more focused, calm and mentally mature on the court. Athletes aren’t allowed any verbal contact during a match so she has to keep herself calm, during mistakes for example, and able to bring herself back to positive,” said Santos. “Dr. Wolbe worked on the concept that if someone is being mean or rude to you, it’s often them having a bad day — that it’s important to stay calm and let the other party work it out. ‘Never talk negatively to yourself’ was also an important point.”
That positivity is carried over from when Wolbe regularly told her students and others to have their “best day ever.” She realized that it wasn’t often enough that people were positive. She had wristbands made, she trademarked the phrase, and she began giving away the bands, in the carpool line and in the hallways, as a way of saying “Hey, I noticed you and you matter.”
“I had a student who’d had a rough day. We worked out the issue and I handed her a bracelet. That was that — I thought,” said Wolbe. “She went home and, seeing her dad had had a tough day, passed it to him. The next day, he parlayed the bracelet to her sister. It’s so easy to make someone feel noticed.”
Wolbe keeps a bag of the bracelets available on her website and in her car, and gives them out regularly.
“You can make someone happy anywhere,” she said. “It’s mindfulness — thinking and being aware of others in a way we often miss out.”
Another resource Wolbe makes available is her Protect, Project, Empower journal. With more than 175 quotes to move and strengthen the writer, Wolbe extends the success she’s had in journaling. “When you write something out, not on a computer, not typing, not for public ‘sharing,’ but when you take the time to just write your thoughts, it’s another form of exhaling,” she said. “It’s amazing what happens when you just sit and write. Sometimes it’s something to come back and reflect on and sometimes it’s just ‘that moment’ and you need to find a way to just ‘be.’ ”
Wolbe, formerly the “Roses” behind the children’s clothing manufacturing team of “Roses and Pearls,” is also a licensed real estate broker. She and her husband Ellis belong to Congregation Anshai Torah.
They have five children and seven grandchildren — five between the ages of 2 and 4. She enjoys reading, learning “anything,” volunteering through the National Council of Jewish Women, attending conferences and spending time with her family.
Wolbe’s advice and tools are well suited for the classroom, home life, sports and the workplace. In her blog, Wolbe advises that “if you’re disappointed today, or any day, remember, every single person can make a difference. You make a difference by what you say, what you do, how you act, and if you treat others with kindness and respect when you are working toward making this world, our world, the way you want it to be.”
For more information or to contact Dr. Wolbe, visit drsusiewolbe.com or call 972-345-0744.

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Finding inspiration from meaningful fast

Posted on 06 October 2016 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have fasted on Yom Kippur as long as I can remember and am nostalgic about the bagels and smoked fish break fasts with my late parents and aunts and uncles.
Truth be told, I’ve never been uplifted by the fast. I’ve never felt inspired by causing self-inflicted pain and starving myself. I fail to see what it accomplishes or how it makes me a better person.
I still have my health, thank God, and plan to fast this year, but would appreciate some inspiration to make it more meaningful.
Beatrice W.
Dear Beatrice,
I’m glad you still have your health, may you continue to enjoy good health this year and many more to come!
If the fast was indeed to cause pain and starve ourselves, I wouldn’t be very inspired to do so either. Furthermore, if the point was to feel pain, why do Jews traditionally wish others to “have an easy fast?” It should rather be “have a miserable fast!”
I think we need to reframe the entire concept of the fast on Yom Kippur, which will enable us to view it in a different light.
The source for fasting is in the Torah, which states “But on the 10th day of this (the seventh) month is the Day of Atonement… and you should afflict your souls…” (Vayikra/Lev. 23:27). “Afflicting” is interpreted by our sages in the Talmud to mean we should fast, hence the mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur. This, however, needs explanation. The Torah does not say to afflict our bodies, rather our “nefashos” or souls, through the fasting. This seems strange, as a fast would seem to afflict the body, not the soul. How can we understand this?
The answer is that the affliction is not the fasting itself. The fasting, which enables us to rest for a while from our physical pursuits, merely provides the backdrop to enable us to focus on our souls, which is the real point of the day. When we focus on our souls and how far we may have strayed from the right path, then the soul is afflicted with that realization. Maimonides points out that the mitzvah on Yom Kippur is not “to fast,” as with other fast days, rather to “refrain from eating.” When we are on a higher, more spiritual plane, we have the opportunity, indeed the mitzvah, of getting in sync with our souls and seeing how we can better ourselves.
The mizvah to “rest” from food and drink also includes desisting from bathing, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. All this elevates us to a higher, spiritual world where we can view the world and ourselves from a different vantage point.
My mentor, the late Rabbi S. Wolbe ob”m, once gave us a powerful illustration by which to understand the day of Yom Kippur and its laws. Maimonides, in discussing the final world of reward, says the following: “The World to Come has no eating nor drinking, rather the righteous sitting with their crowns upon their heads, and basking in the glow of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).” This is the feeling one has on Yom Kippur. This holy day encompasses a bit of the next world transposed to this world. On Yom Kippur, by refraining from the mundane pursuits of this world; we are elevated to an angelic state whereby we don’t need to eat. This is much like the angels have no need because they derive their sustenance from the glow of the Shechinah. With the closeness we enjoy we can intensely feel any distance from the Shechinah we have caused, and fulfill the mitzvah of teshuvah, or return, to God and our true selves.
May you and all the readers have an easy, meaningful fast and be inscribed in the Book of Life for a Sweet, Happy New Year.

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Dallas Doings: honorees luncheon, learning about disorders

Dallas Doings: honorees luncheon, learning about disorders

Posted on 22 September 2016 by admin

Submitted photo Lunch for gala honorees The Texas Region of the Bnai Zion Foundation has a tradition of hosting a lunch for the annual gala honorees. This year’s gala is Nov. 13, 2016, at the Westin Galleria in Dallas. Earlier this month, Diane Benjamin (left), president of the Texas Region of Bnai Zion, met at the Park Cities Club in Dallas with gala honorees, former Dallas Mayor Tom and Laura Leppert (center right and center left, respectively).  The couple will receive the Bnai Zion Distinguished Community Service Award at the gala.  Bnai Zion Foundation Texas Region Executive Director Avrille Harris (right) joined the honorees and Benjamin to thank them for their contribution to our community.

Submitted photo
Lunch for gala honorees
The Texas Region of the Bnai Zion Foundation has a tradition of hosting a lunch for the annual gala honorees. This year’s gala is Nov. 13, 2016, at the Westin Galleria in Dallas. Earlier this month, Diane Benjamin (left), president of the Texas Region of Bnai Zion, met at the Park Cities Club in Dallas with gala honorees, former Dallas Mayor Tom and Laura Leppert (center right and center left, respectively).
The couple will receive the Bnai Zion Distinguished Community Service Award at the gala.
Bnai Zion Foundation Texas Region Executive Director Avrille Harris (right) joined the honorees and Benjamin to thank them for their contribution to our community.

Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharon@tjpnews.com

Learn about common psychiatric disorders

As part of Congregation Beth Torah’s inclusion initiative, the synagogue is hosting a series of free monthly lectures on common psychiatric disorders. The first seminar is Sunday, Sept. 25, at 10 a.m. at Beth Torah, and will focus on depression.
Dr. Alan Koenigsberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UT Southwestern Medical School who also has a private practice, will conduct the sessions, and the public is welcome.
“Clinical depression is not a character weakness, personal flaw or self-inflicted condition,” he said. “It is not sadness or grieving, which are normal, if painful, reactions to serious losses. Clinical depression is more similar to diabetes, migraines, multiple sclerosis or high blood pressure. We can treat it, and we need to talk about it.”
Subsequent lectures will deal with anxiety, ADHD and other topics.
Last year Beth Torah became one of 16 Conservative synagogues across North America selected for a new effort to make Jewish communities more welcoming to people with special needs. The project is a partnership between the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Ruderman Family Foundation.
“Understanding problems like this is a big part of inclusion,” said Zelene Lovitt, who heads the Beth Torah initiative. “We’re proud to bring this to the community.”
Beth Torah is located at 720 W. Lookout Drive in Richardson, near the crossroads of Bush Turnpike and Central Expressway. For more information, call the synagogue at 972-234-1542.
— Submitted by Michael Precker

Susie Wolbe at Barnes & Noble

Noted educator and NCJW-Greater Dallas Section Co-Vice President of Community Service Susie Wolbe, Ed.D., has just published a book, The Empowered Teacher: Proven Tips for Classroom Success.
A special event in connection with this publication will take place at Barnes & Noble at Preston/Royal Sunday, Sept. 25-Tuesday, Sept. 27. Show a voucher at checkout or simply tell the cashiers that you are participating in the “NCJW Book Signing Event” and a percentage of your purchases will go toward NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women).
Vouchers are obtainable through NCJW’s website (ncjwdallas.org), Facebook, at the NCJW office and through the NCJW weekly E-Blast. Just present the voucher at checkout or inform the cashiers you are participating in NCJW’s Book Fair. Purchase of all items in the store are eligible for purchase within the Book Fair guidelines, including some Starbucks products.
Based on years of experience as a teacher and principal, Susie Wolbe outlines helpful hints to create an ideal learning environment in the home as well as in the classroom. It is a must-read for teachers and parents of young children. Members of the community are encouraged to purchase the book for teachers, libraries, synagogue and day school libraries and public and private schools.
From 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, stop by the special table in the front of the store to talk to the author, Dr. Susie Wolbe, about her book and to purchase an autographed copy.
— Submitted by Marlene Gorin

Adat Chaverim member participates in URJ high school semester in Israel

Abigail Kerner, daughter of Debra and Stephen Kerner, and Adat Chaverim member, is part of a cohort of 31 teens from across North America on the NFTY-EIE (Eisendrath International Experience) High School in Israel program from August through December.
The NFTY High School in Israel–Eisendrath International Experience (EIE) is a semester-long (four months) program for high school students in grades 10-12 in Israel. Named for the late Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, past president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now the Union for Reform Judaism, EIE is an intensive academic program and is fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The program was established in 1961 by NFTY, the youth arm of the Reform Movement. Many of the leaders of Reform Judaism today are alumni of this program.
NFTY-EIE is based on Kibbutz Tzuba, located in the Judaean Hills approximately 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. With very small class sizes, students take an advanced Jewish history class, an advanced Hebrew Ulpan, and their regular general studies courses to fulfill the requirements of their home high schools.
NFTY-EIE students have a unique opportunity to benefit from experiential learning. Tiyulim (field trips) are taken to visit whatever they are learning about in their Jewish history class. Approximately three days a week are spent outside the classroom on field trips. There are also numerous weeklong trips throughout the semester, including a trip to Poland to study the Holocaust, a week in Gadna (a simulated Israeli army training experience), and a hike across the country from sea to sea.
“I chose to join EIE because it meant a chance at the best experience of my teenage life,” says Abigail. “I was told that I could make a huge difference in my life as well as use this opportunity to search for who I am as a person and as a Jewish American.”
“The NFTY-EIE High School in Israel offers outstanding teens the opportunity to develop a deep sense of personal connection to Israel and the Jewish people while being inspired to explore their personal Jewish identity during four challenging and rewarding months,” said Paul Reichenbach, director of Camping and Israel Programs for the Union for Reform Judaism. “Students return home with heightened self-confidence together with a love of Jewish living and learning.”
Registration is open for EIE’s Spring 2017 and Fall 2017 sessions. More information can be found at www.nftyeie.org.

Yavneh junior Griffin Levine picked to represent USA at 2017 Maccabi Games

Yavneh junior Griffin Levine will travel to Israel as a member of the 18-and-under boys’ basketball team for the USA competing in the 20th International Maccabi Games next summer.
This is a tremendous honor for Yavneh and the Dallas Jewish community. Levine, the starting point guard on Yavneh’s varsity basketball team, traveled to Los Angeles this summer for tryouts. “Griffin is an incredibly talented, versatile player who is the consummate team-first basketball player,” said David Zimmerman, athletic director and boys’ basketball coach.
“He is like having another coach on the floor and he is always striving for the betterment of the team. We are so happy and proud for Griffin.”
The full roster was not released by press deadline.

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Dallas Doings: NCJW, Award, Holocaust survivor speech canceled

Dallas Doings: NCJW, Award, Holocaust survivor speech canceled

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Submitted photo Anna Kehde (left) leads the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action. She will speak at the NCJW meeting.

Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray
sharon@tjpnews.com

NCJW Meeting

The National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Dallas Section, will feature a program on “Bringing Gun Sense to Texas” at its Annual Spring Meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 7 at Bent Tree Country Club.
Anna Kehde, leader of the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action, will be the featured speaker.
As an organization that cares deeply about the safety of its children and grandchildren, NCJW is committed to bringing information to members, supporters and the broader community to help protect our families and friends.
At an upcoming meeting, NCJW Dallas President Caren Edelstein, and Rhona Streit, nominating committee chair, will present the 2016-2017 proposed slate of officers, directors for approval by the membership. The proposed 2016-2017 slate of officers is: president, Joyce Rosenfield; vice president administration, Renee Karp; vice president community service, Nonie Schwartz and Susie Wolbe; vice president financial development, Stacy Barnett; vice president membership, Amy Schachter; vice president public affairs, Elaine Bernstein and Jayme Cohen; vice president communications, Marlene Gorin; recording secretary, Jackie Fleschman; associate secretary, Jo Reingold; treasurer, Ellen Lasser; and associate treasurer, Teresa Rosenfield.
Directors to be approved include: Carol Alkek, Andrea Wolf Bleicher, Liz Cooper, Laura Diamond, Kristen Fagelman, Marilyn Fiedelman, Debra Levy-Fritts, Risa Gross, Jane Lachman, Barbara Rose, Randi Smerud, Debby Stein, Carol Tobias, Melissa Tone, Carol Weinstein, and Debby Weinstein. Proposed Nominating Committee members to be elected are: Robin Zweig, chair; Carole Cohen, Frieda Hudspeth, Peggy Millheiser and Rosie Stromberg, members.
“I encourage everyone to come hear what we can each do to ensure the safety of our children, friends, and families in the community,” said Edelstein. “Please join us for this important meeting.”
Cost is $18 per person. The meeting will be held at the home of a NCJW member. For more information and to make your reservation, visit ncjwdallas.org or call Nicole Gray 214-368-4405 ext. 102.
— Submitted by Suzi Greenman

Paul Kinberg, DPM, Accepts Award of Excellence

Mazal tov to Paul Kinberg, DPM, who was honored with the Award of Excellence on Sunday, March 20 by the American Podiatric Medical Association. Dr. Kinberg was nominated by Leslie Campbell, DPM, then president of the Texas Podiatric Medical Association. The award is presented to members in good standing in recognition of outstanding national accomplishments in scientific, professional, or civic endeavors. Nominees must have demonstrated outstanding service to APMA.
Dr. Kinberg graduated in 1974 from the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine (now Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine). He completed a preceptorship with Bernard J. Hersh, DPM, in Dallas in 1978. Among his awards are the Texas Podiatric Medical Association (TPMA) Distinguished Service Award in 2004, and a spot on Podiatry Management magazine’s 175 Most Influential Podiatrists list in 2006.
He has published countless papers and given lectures to contribute to and influence the profession.
A few words from those who nominated Dr. Kinberg:

  • Dr. Kinberg’s work on the ICD-10 conversion has (helped) many APMA members make sense of the change in how we bill our services. He has shown his leadership abilities as he has taken the reins on this project for APMA.
    — Joseph Caporusso, DPM, APMA past president
  • Dr. Kinberg spearheaded APMA’s plan for podiatric physicians in preparation for the ICD-10 initiative. This required an enormous effort with countless hours of dedication.
    — Kenneth F. Malkin, DPM
    There’s no one I can think of in this profession (who) has earned APMA’s Award of Excellence more fully than Dr. Kinberg.
    — Don Canada, TPMA executive director

Dr. Kinberg thanked his family and colleagues and those who recommended him for their encouragement. He thanked Don Canada for more than 25 years of work for the profession and for being a friend and mentor. He also thanked APMA Health Policy and Practice Director Scott Haag, JD, MSPH, for his unwavering leadership and skill and lauded the work of APMA Consultant Harry Goldsmith, DPM, and his dedicated service to podiatric medicine.

Holocaust Survivor speech canceled

“Holocaust Survivor and Hidden Child Simon Gronowski,” which was planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7 at Booker T. Washington, has been canceled.

 

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Joy foundation for successful marriage

Posted on 02 July 2015 by admin

Dear Readers,
It is with mixed emotions I am just arriving back in Dallas from Israel from my son Elazar and Aliza’s wedding, a heavy heart to leave our beloved homeland, but still filled with joy from all that transpired there this past week for my son and new daughter-in-law and our respective families.
This is with the backdrop of the upcoming fast of the 17th of Tamuz just around the corner, Sunday, July 5, which begins the annual three-week mourning period over the destruction of the Temple and subsequent exile from our homeland which lasts until today.
In that context I will share with you part of a d’var Torah which I delivered at the final Sheva Berachos celebration in Jerusalem right before leaving for the airport.
In last week’s Torah portion we read the famous story of Moshe striking the rock to get it to emit water for the Jews in the desert, rather than speaking to the rock as God had commanded him.
That transgression lost for Moshe his entry into the land of Israel, necessitating him to pass on the mantle of leadership to Joshua. A 12th century commentary, R’ Abraham ibn Ezra, explains that the reason the water didn’t come out miraculously upon the first strike, as well as why Moshe lost his leadership during this incident, was not really because he struck the rock. It was, rather, because he began the narrative by speaking derisively to those challenging him, saying “Listen now you rebellious ones, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?!” (Numbers 20:10)
By labeling them as “the rebellious ones,” Moses had created a subtle separation between himself and the Jewish people. Miracles are performed by God only in the merit of the Jewish people, not for an individual. Hence, the waters did not flow for him immediately.
My mentor, Rabbi S. Wolbe, ob’m, used this teaching of ibn Ezra to explain why, hence, Moses could not bring the Jews into Israel. Israel is the place of “Who is like you, Israel, one nation in the land.” The uniqueness of the Jewish people is its “oneness”; like there is one God there is one Jewish people; the sum total of all the Jews is one whole. The place for that unity and completeness is in Israel. Moshe, who lived his entire life for the sake of the Jewish people, uttered a statement which put a blemish on his unity with the Jewish people and could not be the one to usher them into the Land of Israel.
It was disunity, sinas chinam, or idle hatred and gossip against one another, which caused the destruction and exile from Israel. Israel is acquired threw unity and lost over discord. This is a very sobering fact, given the extreme disunity we sadly find in Israel today.
The converse of this, in a positive light, is the statement of the Talmud, “anyone who brings joy to a chosson and kalloh (groom and bride) is considered to have rebuilt one of the destroyed parts of Jerusalem.” The ultimate unity between two Jews is as bride and groom, and their connection is all the greater when it is one of joy; joy is the greatest bond. All those who contribute to their joy share in the bonding of the Jewish people; a true tikkun for the destruction which resulted from separation and discord.
We heard again and again, over the week of celebration, how our Chosson and Kallah are two individuals who bring together so many, are there to help all those in need of help in very deep and meaningful ways, always offering words of strength, building up others, helping others to achieve their potential, offering a smile, pat on the back and encouragement to those who need it and then some.
So many felt that way that we saw an almost unprecedented outpouring of love and joy from literally of hundreds of fellow students and friends, who couldn’t do enough to bring as must joy as they could muster from their hearts to the bride and groom. That’s nachas beyond nachas for us parents! And if that’s how they were before, as individuals, how much more so will they be now, united as a couple!
May this joyous occasion be for all a source of joy and a big step in the rebuilding of Jerusalem for all Jews for all time!

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Having a meaningful fast

Having a meaningful fast

Posted on 02 October 2014 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I have fasted on Yom Kippur as long as I can remember and am nostalgic about the bagels and smoked fish break fasts with my late parents and aunts and uncles. Truth be told, I’ve never been uplifted by the fast. I’ve never felt inspired by causing self-inflicted pain and starving myself. I fail to see what it accomplishes or how it makes me a better person. I still have my health, thank God, and plan to fast this year, but would appreciate some inspiration to make it more meaningful.

— Beatrice W.

Dear Beatrice,

friedforweb2I’m glad you still have your health, may you continue to enjoy good health this year and many more to come!

If the fast was indeed to cause pain and starve ourselves, I wouldn’t be very inspired to do so either. Furthermore, if the point was to feel pain, why do Jews traditionally wish others to “have an easy fast”? It should rather be “have a miserable fast”! I think we need to reframe the entire concept of the fast on Yom Kippur, which will enable us to view it in a different light.

The source for fasting is in the Torah, which states “But on the tenth day of this (the seventh) month is the Day of Atonement… and you should afflict your souls…” (Vayikra/Lev. 23:27). “Afflicting” is interpreted by our sages in the Talmud to mean we should fast, hence the mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur. This, however, needs explanation. The Torah does not say to afflict our bodies, rather our “nefashos” or souls, through the fasting. This seems strange, as a fast would seem to afflict the body, not the soul. How can we understand this?

The answer is that the affliction is not the fasting itself. The fasting, which enables us to rest for a while from our physical pursuits, merely provides the backdrop to enable us to focus on our souls, which is the real point of the day. When we focus on our souls and how far we may have strayed from the right path, then the soul is afflicted with that realization. Maimonides points out that the mitzvah on Yom Kippur is not “to fast” as with other fast days, rather to “refrain from eating.” When we are on a higher, more spiritual plane, we have the opportunity, indeed the mitzvah, of getting in sync with our souls and seeing how we can better ourselves.

The mitzvah to “rest” from food and drink also includes desisting from bathing, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. All this elevates us to a higher, spiritual world where we can view the world and ourselves from a different vantage point.

My mentor, the late Rabbi S. Wolbe ob”m, once gave us a powerful illustration by which to understand the day of Yom Kippur and its laws. Maimonides, in discussing the final world of reward, says the following: “The World to Come has no eating nor drinking, rather the righteous sitting with their crowns upon their heads, and basking in the glow of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).” This is the feeling one has on Yom Kippur. This holy day is a bit of the next world transposed to this world. On Yom Kippur, by refraining from the mundane pursuits of this world, we are transformed into an angelic state whereby we don’t need to eat, much like the angels are above eating and derive their sustenance from the glow of the Shechinah. With the closeness we enjoy, we can intensely feel any distance from the Shechinah we have caused, and fulfill the mitzvah of teshuvah, or return to God and our true selves.

May you and all the readers have an easy, meaningful fast and be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet, happy New Year.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at yfried@sbcglobal.net.

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Torah Study is one answer

Torah Study is one answer

Posted on 24 October 2013 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

The Jewish world seems to be in quite a raucous state of shock over the recently released Pew Study on the state of American Jewry. The results are quite alarming, and I wonder if you have any insights to share on the matter.

— Mark L.

Dear Mark,

friedforweb2Many of the results of the study you mention are, indeed, very alarming and unsettling. One of the most sobering findings is that one fifth of American Jews don’t identify themselves as Jewish by religion. The trend rises to one in three among younger Jews. This has catastrophic effects on American Jewry, as these “Jews of no religion” are very unlikely to marry other Jews, raise their children as Jews, donate to Jewish causes, have any connection to Israel, or see their Jewish identity as something important in their lives.

As one writer summed it up, “In short, most Jews of no religion have both feet out of the Jewish community — or at least are on their way to the exit sign.” Over 70 percent of all Jewish marriages are intermarriages (when you factor the Orthodox community out of the equation), and only 20 percent of the children of those intermarriages are being raised exclusively Jewish. And the dire statistics go on.

I am alarmed and have been for many years. That’s what brought me to Dallas to start DATA more than 20 years ago, to try to do my part to turn back the tide. Struggling with the decision to leave my beloved home in Israel and come to Dallas, I discussed it with one of my mentors, the renowned sage R’ Shlomo Wolbe, ob’m. He quoted to me an article written by Rabbi Shimon Schwab in which he proclaimed that American Jewry was in a state of spiritual holocaust. (This, uttered by a survivor of the Holocaust.) R’ Wolbe told me that we must not sit complacent during a time when our people are, spiritually, going up in flames. He ended: “You are going to Texas. That’s what needs to be done!”

I don’t want to oversimplify a very complicated issue or claim to have “the answer” of what to do, or that there even is an answer. If there is, it is certainly multi-faceted and with manifold, interlocking plans of action. The underlying theme, however, is clear. Education, education, education!

I don’t believe most Jews who are “on their way to the exit sign” are doing so maliciously or out of a conscious desire to escape Judaism. Rather, it is out of apathy, borne of complete ignorance of the richness, depth and beauty of our belief system.

A young South African Jew, known by his friends as “the skeptic” due to his rejection of anything Jewish, once attended our DATA weekend retreat after much arm-twisting by his friends. After a weekend packed with positive, engaging Jewish learning, during the time the participants shared their experiences with the group, the skeptic spoke. He said he agreed to come, certain that he would actually teach the rabbis a few things, as he already knew it all. But the opposite happened, and he found a weekend of immersion in real, authentic Jewish wisdom. For the first time, he felt proud to be part of this people and this amazing wisdom, and no longer wanted to opt out of the Jewish tradition. He ended by saying that he wasn’t yet ready to give up shrimp, but that from then on he wanted to date only Jewish girls and he believed his home should be a Jewish one.

That is a success. The proof is in the pudding. If every person reading these lines takes it upon himself or herself to introduce an unaffiliated Jew to an opportunity of authentic Jewish learning, we will make a difference!

A rabbi once visited pre-perestroika Soviet Russia as “a tourist.” The customs agents emptied out his suitcase at the airport, taking out numerous pairs of tefillin, tzitzit, shofars, mezuzot and books of Torah study. They looked at him and said, “Tourist, huh?!” They proceeded to return all the mitzvah artifacts to his suitcase, but left out the books. The agents said, “These you can’t have. … These are the enemies of the people!” They understood that if anything were to foster a Jewish feeling in the people the rabbi met, it would not be simply the mitzvot that he did; only Torah study could ignite the spark of their Jewish souls.

Let us understand what the Bolsheviks knew. Let’s find ways to communicate pure, unadulterated Torah, to ignite as many Jewish souls as possible. The resulting fire of Sinai could transform the Jewish people again into a proud and committed nation that will keep their feet inside the door!

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at yfried@sbcglobal.net.

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Yom Kippur: Day of sadness or joy?

Yom Kippur: Day of sadness or joy?

Posted on 12 September 2013 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi,

I often feel depressed when we get close to Yom Kippur, just knowing I’m going to be spending such a somber, sad day. Also, I feel like a rat because I have done so many things wrong that I feel like it’s chutzpah to even ask God for forgiveness. I would appreciate it if you could provide me with some insight that would make the day a little more palatable for me. L’Shanah Tovah.

Shari W.

Dear Shari,

friedforweb2Wow. If I thought Yom Kippur was a solemn, sad day that I just needed to live with for 25 hours, I would be depressed as well! It’s just that I don’t see it as a sad day at all; there’s actually a lot of room for joy on Yom Kippur, as we will see. Perhaps it is a different kind of joy than we’re accustomed to, but joy it is, nevertheless.

Let us look at the laws that are unique to Yom Kippur (aside from the laws which apply to every Shabbat and to Yom Kippur as well). There are five areas we are to refrain from: eating, drinking, marital relations, wearing leather shoes and bathing or applying oils on our skin for pleasure. How are we to understand these laws? Is God out to get us or to cause us pain?

The early commentaries explain that it is quite the opposite. On Yom Kippur the gates of Heaven are opened and the Al-mighty uplifts all those who are connected to Yom Kippur to their ultimate spiritual heights. Our tradition teaches that we become on that day like angels in Heaven. In the deeper sources it is said that we, for a day, actually enter a higher realm similar to that of Olam Habah, the next world. Maimonides writes, “Olam Habah has no eating or drinking; the righteous are sitting with their crowns upon their heads and basking in the bliss of the Divine Presence.” This means that in the next world the righteous will become like angels who have no need for physical food or drink. The “crowns” are their spiritual heights and connection to something higher; their sustenance to remain alive is the direct connection to the Al-mighty’s presence.

My mentor, Rav Shlomo Wolbe, ob’m, often said this statement of Maimonides about the world to come is also an apt description of Yom Kippur. It is a day in which we refrain from food and drink because we, as “angels for a day,” simply have no need for physical sustenance and other mundane pleasures. We, rather, spend the day in the very deep and profound joy and bliss of basking in the presence of the Al-mighty, whose presence is very palpable on that holy day.

That elevated state of consciousness and closeness to G-d is precisely what stirs us to teshuvah, the thoughts of repentance. When He brings Himself so close to us, we are ashamed of our wrongdoings and perform the confession (vidui), and resolve to improve ourselves. Rav Wolbe emphasized that the only time one should feel any sadness or remorse during Yom Kippur is when you are reciting the confession. The rest of the day is, as we said above, a time to feel deep and profound joy in the spiritual heights of this special day and in our close connection to the Al-mighty.

No matter how much you may have done wrong, God doesn’t want you to live in the past but to focus on a better future. That’s why it is misplaced chutzpah to think you can’t ask for forgiveness; that’s precisely what God is waiting for! His hands are stretched out, just waiting to embrace you. All you need to do is jump into the embrace and receive the immense love that He’s waiting to bestow upon you. Just tell Him that you want that connection and that love from here on, and you have it!

May you and all of us merit to connect to Yom Kippur on the deepest level — one that will grant us an eternal connection and a sweet New Year, with peace in Israel and for all of klal Yisrael throughout the world.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at yfried@sbcglobal.net.

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Jews are floodlights for world

Jews are floodlights for world

Posted on 29 November 2012 by admin

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

We continue this week with our correspondence with the singer Matisyahu.

Rabbi Fried,

I think my No. 1 question during the decade I was ultra-orthodox was as follows: How can we claim that we were chosen by God to be his special nation without saying it’s a racist idea? Conceptually, how is this any different from Hitler saying the Germans are the pure race or any other race or religion claiming they are the “special ones.” Granted, we are not out there murdering those who don’t believe as we do. However, it seems impossible to claim that we don’t see ourselves as better.

I never felt comfortable with this concept and never got a satisfactory answer.

Good luck, my friend.

— Matisyahu

Matisyahu,

Let us consider a light bulb. A light bulb is a receptacle for electric energy used to provide illumination. Multiple sizes and types of light bulbs are available based on the use one intends for it.

If you want a dim nightlight for your hallway or bathroom, you don’t need a very big bulb; it doesn’t need to receive so much energy, as you don’t intend to cast much illumination with it. If you intend to light up your living room, you need a larger receptacle for the greater energy needed. An even larger one is necessary to light up your backyard. Another whole league of bulb is needed if you want to illuminate a football field for a night game.

I think it’s fair to say that although all the bulbs mentioned above are of multiple sizes and give off diverse amounts of light, none of them are “better” than the other. As a matter of fact, it would be counter-productive to put a high-intensity flood light in your bathroom. And, needless to say, the nightlight wouldn’t do much in the backyard. Different doesn’t mean better or worse, it just means different.

As we find different purposes for light bulbs, we also find different purposes among nations of the world. We believe that every nation, Jewish or gentile, has a divine mission (or missions) to effect in the world — just as we believe that every individual person, Jewish or gentile, has a unique purpose for which he or she was sent to this world.

My mentor, the esteemed sage Rav Wolbe, ob’m, once gave a discourse showing which unique lessons are to be learned by a large number of nations and how we, the Jews, learn those lessons during our exile. Then, we will fuse them all together and incorporate them into our broader national consciousness when the ingathering of the exiles is complete at the final Messianic time of our national history.

Part of the unique role of the Jewish people is to be a “light among the nations.” This means that it will not do for Jewish souls to illuminate just our immediate surroundings. To be only a nightlight will not suffice. When God gave us the Torah at Sinai, He intended it to be an instruction manual for all of mankind.

This does not mean everyone needs to be Jewish; on the contrary, that would detract from each nation’s individual role. There are, however, lessons in the Torah how the gentile nations should conduct themselves under the rule of God.

It is incumbent upon the one nation to which the Torah was given directly, the Jewish people, to be that high-intensity floodlight so they can be a “light among the nations” — to conduct themselves in an exemplary way. That will make them a role model for the entire world; they will teach what it means to live with a relationship with God.

As we see, to be a “chosen nation” is a lot more about a higher level of responsibility than it is about being “better.” (And, for better or worse, the Torah also outlines in no uncertain terms about what is coming to us if and when we don’t fulfill that responsibility, as we have experienced throughout our Diaspora history).

At Sinai, we were endowed with the expanded souls necessary to be a receptacle for all that spiritual energy; we continue to receive it through the Torah for all time. May we live up to our responsibilities and truly serve as an inspiration for all of mankind.

Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at yfried@sbcglobal.net.

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Back to school

Back to school

Posted on 09 August 2012 by admin

Swafford brings passion for education to Levine

By Rachel Gross Weinstein

Kathleen Swafford was amazed by what she saw when she walked through the doors at the Ann and Nate Levine Academy for the first time. She had just stepped into a building full of children who were laughing, smiling and enjoying learning.

At that moment, she knew it was the right place for her.

Kathleen Swafford is the new K-8 principal at Ann and Nate Levine Academy. | Photo: Rachel Gross Weinstein

Swafford is the new K-8 principal at the Conservative day school in Far North Dallas, succeeding Susie Wolbe, who left in June. Swafford said she is blessed to have found a school such as Levine, whose stated mission is to inspire a passion for learning and graduate confident, ethical Jewish citizens and leaders.

“That mission is very meaningful to me and that’s why I was attracted to the school,” Swafford said. “My goal is for the children to continue finding a joy in learning. That message has been at Levine for a long time and I believe it’s important. I’m excited to learn more about Levine and develop relationships not only with the kids, but the staff, parents, lay leaders and teachers.”

Swafford said her immediate goals are to understand the culture of Levine and to be a resource for the teachers, parents and students. She said she doesn’t plan to bring in her own agenda as the new principal; she wants to be an asset to the school and build upon the academics and programs that have made Levine successful for so long.

She noted that she is also excited to be immersed in Jewish culture. Swafford isn’t Jewish, but worked as a teacher and administrator for many years at various Episcopal schools — including administrative positions at Canterbury School in DeSoto and Canterbury School of Florida in St. Petersburg — before coming to Levine.

“I’ve always worked at Episcopal schools where Jewish families feel comfortable, so Judaism isn’t foreign to me,” Swafford said. “All of the kids at Levine are proud to be Jewish and that’s really meaningful. I am going to be learning something new about Judaism every day and it will be great for the kids to see me learn, just like they do. What I love about Levine is that the Jewish studies teachers are amazing in helping the kids understand who they are and help them be critical thinkers.”

A Dallas native, Swafford has spent her entire career in education. She holds a degree from UT-Dallas in special education, with a focus on early childhood and gifted education, a master’s in elementary education from Texas A&M and a certification in gifted and talented education from SMU. Swafford got a second master’s degree in private school leadership from Columbia University in 2007.

Mark Stolovitsky, Levine Academy’s head of school, said he believes Swafford’s strong educational background and breadth of experience will make her successful in her new role. He said she is an asset to the Levine family.

“Besides her expertise, I love her curiosity, knowledge of education and her wonderful philosophy in building a strong environment at schools,” he said. “She leads with her heart, has integrity, wonderful values and she is eager to listen and learn. She understands the idea that Levine Academy makes mensches and I’m excited to work with her.”

Swafford said what she loves most about being in the education field is that she gets to see children learn and grow every day. Forming bonds with the students is also something that’s significant to her.

“I want the students to be able to come to me with anything,” she said. “Sometimes people think the principal’s office is only where kids go when they are in trouble, but I don’t want that to be the case. I want the kids to know that I am going to be there for them in any situation and hope to have a close, respectful relationship between me and all of the students.”

Above all, Swafford said she hopes to have Levine continue to be a very strong academic institution, but also have it be a place kids and teachers enjoy coming to every day.

“Everyone at Levine has strong religious and academic values and that’s remarkable,” she said. “Education is my passion and I see each child as an individual. Kids are honest, joyful and get up everyday with a fresh start and that’s what I love about them. It’s fun to go to work every morning and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I get to come in every morning and be with a group of people who are happy and delightful; that’s an amazing feeling.”

 

Pair proves you can go home again

Back to school means just that — back to their school — for Eliza Lavi Hochman and Yael Zbolon, two of Yavneh Academy’s newest faculty members. Both new teachers are 2005 Yavneh graduates.

Yavneh begins its 19th academic year Wednesday, Aug. 15. Some 118 students are enrolled, including a record 32 freshmen.

“I’m so excited to be here.” said Hochman, who began as an assistant Lady Bulldogs volleyball and basketball coach last year and adds girls physical education, health and general studies substitute teaching to her duties. “The girls I’m working with are much more talented athletes than we were, with the basketball team winning two major championships last year, but the Bulldog spirit is just as I remember it, and that can’t be beat.”

A graduate of St. Edward’s University in Austin, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in education.

“Coach (Chris) Walker was a great coach when I was playing,” Hochman said, referring to the Lady Bulldogs head coach. “He always ‘got us,’ but I can see how he’s grown and I’m looking forward to learning from him, still his student.”

For Zbolon, who graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and most recently St. Mary’s Law School, teaching AP government brings her back into the classroom to teach the subject she has studied with full heart.

“There is so much information that we as citizens need to know and, in this election year, I know it will be an exciting time to be teaching,” Zbolon said.

“Some of my students will be voting for the first time, this November, and before that we’ll have a good start on how our electoral system works and they will have a fundamental understanding of their responsibilities,” Zbolon said. “I remember the first time I voted, it was during my senior year, and I left campus at lunch to go vote. I want my students also to care about what they are doing, and to make educated decisions.”

Hochman and Zbolon are joined on Yavneh’s roster by the additions of new Judaic studies faculty members, Rabbi Michael Friedman and Rabbi Sandor Shulkes, and athletic director/boys basketball coach David Zimmerman.

“To have alumni on our staff is very exciting, and these two young women will be great role models for our students,” said head of school David Portnoy, who also begins his first year at the school. “It really is a testament to the culture of our school that they, who grew up here, and who were encouraged by our faculty, many of whom remain, would chose to return as leaders. For a head of school, this is a dream.”

Walker remembers Hochman’s efforts on the court as a student and appreciates the same as a coach.

“Eliza was a great player, an MVP and a leader on and off the court. She has already brought that to the court,” he said. “She relates well and has already built a great rapport with the girls, using her experiences to build them to be the best they can be.”

While at Yavneh, Hochman, the daughter of Yoosef and Faye, and sister to 2007 Yavneh graduate Elana and rising sophomore Alexandra, played volleyball and basketball, serving as captain in her senior year.

Zbolon is the sister of Rachel, who graduated from Yavneh in 2008, and the daughter of Tikva and the late Joseph Zbolon. She was a member of Yavneh’s mock trial, debate, international Bible Quiz and volleyball teams. She credits her experiences with mock trial and debate for influencing her future as a lawyer.

“Yael is one of my all-time favorite students. She was a great mock trial student and a wonderful person,” mock trial sponsor and Dallas attorney Warren Abrams, said of Zbolon, who took the bar exam in July and hopes to pursue a career in criminal law, in addition to her teaching.

Having worked with the district attorney’s office in San Antonio and for a criminal defense and immigration private practice, she said she has a fervor to share right versus wrong and the rights Americans are afforded.

“She’ll be a great attorney and Yavneh is very fortunate to have her as a teacher,” Abrams said.

Hochman and Zbolon attended Yavneh as the school was in transition, attending classes first at Congregation Tiferet Israel, then in portable buildings and finally in the then annex of Hillcrest Academy, located on Park Central Drive. The school’s current home, on the Schultz Rosenberg Campus, opened in the fall of 2005. Both women say while there is a new locale, size and exterior, Yavneh’s heart remains the same.

“I remember knowing that my teachers wanted me to develop my own independence and that is definitely still a big part of their commitment,” said Zbolon who has spent many summers working at Yavneh, helping to coordinate students’ schedules. “I see growth too — Spanish and French classes added, video courses and math and reading labs. The school has adapted to requests of its community and here, each student is the base of the schedule. That’s something I can’t imagine ever changing.”

Hochman added, “The new building is lovely, and yes there are more students, but at its core, Yavneh is the same beautiful warm place it’s been from the start. This is a family that really gets along, and I’m glad to have moved back home.”

With alumni in the fold as Yavneh begins its new school year, the school is certain to continue to be a strong, and meaningful, place of learning, officials said.

— Submitted by Deb Silverthorn

 

Area day schools gear up for new year

By Rachel Gross Weinstein

Students will soon pack their backpacks and say goodbye to summer vacation as the new school year approaches at local Jewish day schools. Although each is unique, they have a common goal to provide students with strong secular and Jewish educations.

Akiba Academy is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Head of school Rabbi Zev Silver said Akiba will continue to build on its reputation of “a superior academic program combined with building character and self-confidence in students” when the new school year begins Monday, Aug. 20.

Members of Robyn Herbert’s first-grade class sport their new uniforms on the first day of the 2011-12 Akiba Academy school year. The 2012-13 year begins Aug. 20, and the school will celebrate its 50th anniversary. | Photo: TJP Archives

Silver noted that some highlights for the new school year include the Judaic faculty helping students build connections with students in Israel through the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Partnership 2Gether twinning program; utilizing the campus to connect with Israel through the landscape that reflects Israel; and expanding the school’s resource department to ensure that the administration is addressing and learning the strengths and challenges of each student.

“As our school continues to grow, we will continue to ensure that we are carrying out the powerful statement of King Solomon: ‘educate each child in his/her own way,’” Silver said. “We will offer programs both in and outside the classrooms that will challenge children to move and grow outside of their comfort zones and maintain our focus on academic excellence as reflected by our standardized test scores.”

Silver added he is looking forward to the teachers continuing to convey to the students a joy and love of learning, inspiring them to become lifelong learners.

That is also the goal Mesorah High School for Girls, which cultivates a Torah-centered community of responsibility and friendship, according to the school’s website, www.mesorahhighschool.org. The mission is to instill in each student a love of learning and deep understanding of each one’s unique role as a Jewish woman.

In addition to the Torah-centered approach, Mesorah also offers college preparatory classes and focuses on the important to secular subjects like math, science, history, language arts, drama psychology and more. School officials also believe it is important for students to participate in community service projects.

Mesorah’s first day of classes will be Wednesday, Aug. 22.

A representative from Mesorah didn’t respond to emails or phone calls for comments.

Torah Day School of Dallas also has a big year ahead when classes begin Friday, Aug. 24. It is celebrating its 10th anniversary; a celebration is planned for later in the year.

“This is going to be another exciting year,” said headmaster Rabbi Yerachmiel Udman. “We have a great staff, students and families. The challenge is always finding ways to keep things fresh, and I believe we are able to accomplish that each year. Our mission and vision is to give our children the best of both worlds, providing them with a Jewish connection and a wonderful secular education so they are prepared to take on the world after they leave Torah Day School.”

Udman is looking forward to several achievements this year. Enrollment is at 320 students, which he said is the biggest start the school has had. In addition, Torah Day School is implementing a talented and gifted program through the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education; providing an expanded computer lab for middle schoolers; getting three smartboards (interactive computer screens that are the size of white boards); and adding 4,000 square feet of classroom space.

Texas Torah Institute, a Yeshiva high school for boys, will begin its second year at the Haymann Family Campus on Wednesday, Aug. 29, with a record increase in enrollment, executive director Rabbi Yaacov Cohen said.

More than 40 high-school students are expected this year, Cohen said, up from 30 last school year. TTI provides a seven-year program that emphasizes self-awareness and self-growth, while always valuing in-depth study, according to its website, www.ttiraffle.org.

Other than continuing to break in the new campus, not much is new at TTI, Cohen said.

“Every year is a new year,” he said. “We prepare our students for success in their career as well as in life by giving each student individual attention.”

The TTI curriculum is designed to give kids a breadth of knowledge and understanding of the Torah, according to its website. Additionally, all students are required to attend weekly classes focusing on character development, psychology, relationships and human nature, all based on Torah sources and texts.

Public-school students will begin classes the week of Monday, Aug. 27, with most bells ringing that day or the day after. Among non-Jewish private schools, Hockaday opens on Thursday, Aug. 23, while Greenhill, St. Mark’s, Episcopal School of Dallas and Parish Day School all start Aug. 28.

 

Takin’ it to the schools: Outreach efforts go public

By Josh Lipowsky

TEANECK, N.J. (JTA) — When Rabbi Adam Raskin arrived at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., last year, he was determined to reach out to teenagers uninvolved with the Conservative synagogue’s youth activities.

He approached the principal of Winston Churchill High School, also in Potomac, with a proposal to bring food to the school periodically, so he could schmooze with Jewish students during their lunch periods.

Rabbi Adam Raskin of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., — and formerly of Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson — brings kosher subs to a local public high school to connect with Jewish students there. | Photo: Courtesy Rabbi Adam Raskin

“I decided that the best way to connect with them is to go to where they are,” he said.

Raskin — the former longtime rabbi at Richardson’s Congregation Beth Torah — is not alone in that thinking. Jewish groups have long been reaching out to teens to fight post-b’nai mitzvah burnout. For several years now, some organizations have been taking Judaism directly to teens in their schools.

In 2002, a group of Persian Jewish students in a Los Angeles public high school decided that they wanted to do something Jewish and sent an email to a yeshiva in Israel that eventually reached the Orthodox Union. That was the beginning of the Jewish Student Union, the OU’s public school outreach program.

Now some 10,000 high school students, of various observance levels, at more than 250 JSU clubs across the country, get together over kosher pizza during their lunch periods to talk about Israel, what happened in class that day or anything else on their minds.

“It’s the one place in schools Jewish kids can spend time with each other,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, the international director of NCSY, the OU’s group for teens. “The ultimate goal is to encourage the kids to do something Jewish. Wherever that journey takes them is up to them.”

The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism doesn’t have a program similar to JSU, but the organization is looking toward “a whole new era of youth engagement,” said Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue.

“We’re also looking, in a very broad sense, at how we can better connect with children and teens and how we can strengthen learning in Conservative synagogues — not just classroom learning but all sorts of learning, experiential and otherwise,” he said.

In Maryland, Winston Churchill High welcomed Raskin on the condition that he handle all of his own promotion. Shortly after the High Holy Days, the rabbi began showing up in school with sandwiches from a local kosher deli, and some 30 students have joined him throughout the year. Some are members of the synagogue, some had gone to preschool there but haven’t been back since and some are completely unaffiliated, but all are welcome, he said.

“He wants to get to know everybody and make us have a good time, both at the synagogue and away from the synagogue, with our Jewish identity,” said Emily Dahl, a rising junior.

Jenna Cantor, a recent Churchill graduate, also praised the rabbi’s efforts.

“Everybody enjoyed coming together with their fellow Jewish students during a different setting during a normal school day,” she said. “It’s nice to bond over religion at school.”

Discussions have ranged from what it’s like to be Jewish in the school, to what happened in history class that day. The conversations are organic and student-led, Raskin said, and that’s the way he wants it — light and informal, allowing students freedom of expression.

“Some of the most interesting outcomes have been when everybody else leaves, some kids stay and talk about personal issues, share life stories,” he said. “That’s been tremendous. I don’t know where we would have had that opportunity or they felt safe enough to have that sort of conversation.”

The program has become so popular that Har Shalom parents whose children attend other area high schools have begun asking the rabbi to replicate the program. Raskin also has had preliminary conversations with the students about formalizing the event into a Jewish student club.

However, the most important result, he said, is the positive connections that the lunches are creating for the students with each other, the rabbi and the synagogue.

“Not everybody will do that for high-schoolers,” Dahl said. “We felt we were appreciated and he cared what we had to say.”

Until ending its national operations last year when it handed responsibilities to regional offices in San Francisco and Baltimore, The Curriculum Initiative had spearheaded Jewish programming on the national level for non-Jewish private schools for 15 years. Neely Snyder, director of teen engagement at The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore, runs the Teens Can Identify program there in 14 private schools, reaching 1,500 students, of whom 850 are Jewish.

“Many are looking to meet other Jewish students or reconnect with old friends,” she said. “And others are primarily interested in exploring their Jewish identity as they are beginning to define for themselves who they are and how they relate to the world.”

Some TCI programs in the past year have included challah and hamantaschen-baking, discussions on Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was held in captivity by Hamas for more than five years until his release last fall, and a week of events marking Sukkot — all implemented in collaboration with Jewish student leaders, Snyder said. TCI programming not only has enhanced diversity in the schools, she added, but also has led to personal growth among students.

Snyder credits TCI’s inclusion of Jewish and non-Jewish students as a reason behind its success.

“The Jewish cultural conversations and holiday celebrations held at these schools are open to everyone, and the Jewish students have demonstrated more interest in being present when their peers are there as well,” she said. “This also expands the conversation to universal themes so that anyone, regardless of background, is comfortable and has something to contribute.”

With TCI operating solely in private schools, issues that breach church-state separation are not brought up, but they do remain a concern for public school programs.

In 1984, Congress adopted the Equal Access Act, which allowed public schools to make their facilities available to religious student-led and -run organizations. The Supreme Court upheld the act.

The Anti-Defamation League, however, finds the idea of any religious organization in public schools “disturbing,” according to Steven Freeman, the organization’s director of legal affairs. Despite the Supreme Court’s approval, the ADL remains wary of blurring the line separating church and state.

“That line is a very slippery line,” Freeman said. “Now it’s a question of making sure there isn’t proselytizing going on.”

The ADL’s sentiment appears to be shared by the Union for Reform Judaism.

“We’re very uncomfortable with the notion of religion in public spaces,” said Rabbi Daniel Freelander, URJ’s senior vice president.

Some URJ congregations offer after-school programming for students, he said, also noting that URJ has sent youth group advisers to some prep schools at the schools’ invitation. Freelander praised efforts to reach out to unaffiliated Jewish students, “but it’s unlikely you’re going to see Reform programs moving into public school buildings,” he said.

When initially creating the JSU model, the OU, too, was concerned about separation issues, but looked to the plethora of Christian clubs meeting in public schools as precedent, Burg said. All students, Jewish or not and of any observance level, are welcome in JSU clubs and no proselytizing takes place, he added.

“There’s so much to be gained by going to them, especially when it comes to kids,” Raskin said of outreach efforts. “It just demonstrates that they’re an important population and we care about them.”

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