Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Telling Our Stories

(If you're reading this via Facebook post, you must click over to the original blog post to see an awesome picture of Brian Freedman at work. Trust me.)

In our last sessions with the professionals in our "Track Sessions," we practiced telling the story of our Hillel? What do we do? Why do we do it? What impact has it made? What impact will it make on the future?

What does it have to do with us?

(Brian from OSU and Micky from Towson, captivated with one another)

Telling stories is important because it connects our passion to someone else's, and hopefully makes them just as excited about Hillel as we are.

It's important for our students, their parents, our campus communities, and our supporters.

We each had two minutes to practice telling our stories to one another. Then again, and again, and again.

It was awesome.

(Brian's story ended with the word "chickens." No, really.)

What stories would you tell about our Hillel. If you could imagine yourself a year in the future, what story would you hope you can tell about what the next year will bring? What would each of those stories say about you, and the person you hope to be?

The Students are here!

Can I let you in on a little secret?

Hillel professionals? Without their students? Talking about Hillel stuff? After a few days, it's all good, but it's starting to get a little B-O-R-I-N-G. If you know what I mean.

(not boring anymore)

There are so many students FLOODING Wash U now, and they're all so excited to learn about Jewish dialoguing, engagement, and just making Jewish life so so so much more awesome on their campuses.

We are so excited to have them here we are giving them cookies emblazoned with the Institute logo. (Yeah, I stole one.)

Also, they get blue nalgenes instead of orange. I'm pretty sure they're going to pit us against each other in some weird psychological game based on who has what nalgene color. I'm kidding. But wouldn't that be AWESOME?

Substantive content hopefully coming soon.

If I am not for myself - Self-Care in Jewish texts

This morning, I'm going to be teaching at the EPIC Institute Beit Midrash (house of learning) session with Susannah Sagan, our unflappable Associate Director (and BRAND NEW EXEMPLAR OF EXCELLENCE WHAT'S UP) about Jewish Self-Care.

Hillel used to say:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?

We're used to viewing this text in a social service context, I think, or in a "get off your butt and do something" context. But as a rabbi, I see whispers of a call to take care of others around us by taking care of ourselves.

Using the following texts, we'll "plug them in" all around Hillel's famous quote to make a real-life plan for self-care in our busy Jewish professional lives. No one knows this better than our students - if we're not doing okay, we're certainly not going to do you - or Hillel - any good either.

Do not worry about tomorrow’s trouble, for you do not know what the day may bring. Tomorrow may come and you will be no more, and so you will have worried about a world that is not yours!

Talmud Bavli, Tractate Yevamot, 63b

In a place where no one behaves like a human being, you must strive to be human!

Hillel, in Pirke Avot 2.6

Despise no one, and call nothing useless, for there is no one whose hour does not come, and nothing that does not have its place.
Shimon ben Azai, in Pirke Avot 4.3

Do not give yourself over to sorrow or distress yourself deliberately. A merry heart keeps a person alive, and joy lengthens one’s days.
Wisdom of Ben Sira, chapter 30

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
Pirke Avot 2:21

Days are scrolls; write on them what you want to be remembered.
Bahya Ibn Pakuda

Stay tuned for updates from the "Track Sessions" (I think that means stuff with our own incredible staffs, woot!) this afternoon.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Waving Flags Doesn't Work Anymore

There's been a move from flag-waving tactics to emphasizing-Israeli-culture tactics in terms of Israel advocacy on campus.

People are looking to connect people to Israel with videos like this:

But: Is that all there is? Does that define what is supposed to make Israel so special and integral to our students' identities?

More and more, campus professionals are sensing a disconnect. Students are asking - what does this have to do with me? In the best cases, Israel ends up being an add-on.

What do we expect when our Israel celebrations are, honestly, kind of lame? We can't possibly wave any more flags, eat any more falafel, or listen to any more music with unintelligible lyrics.

The suggestion: When Jews in America celebrate Israel Independence Day, they're not identifying with it as "HOME."

Our challenge - to make Israel part of the Jewish narrative.
So, Buckeye Jews - do you think this sounds like something that would make celebrating Israel more compelling for you? What would be the best way to do it?

Live-Blogging the Hillel Institute 2011

Hi Buckeye Jews, fans, and loved ones! I've just arrived at the Hillel Institute 2011 at the beautiful Washington University in Saint Louis.

 I've only been here for dinner and the opening of the Israel Engagement Session, and I've already heard the word "amazing" three times. Also, the salad I had for dinner was amazing. So, four times.

The energy here is truly electric. On a personal level, I'm so psyched to see some of my rabbi besties and beloved colleagues. Also they bought us these Nalgene bottles, and honestly that's making everyone pretty happy since it's ONE HUNDRED AND TWO DEGREES in Saint Louis.

So, here's the official announcement - We are LIVE BLOGGING this event. Yep - anything that is worth hearing about, you'll get an eyeful of. Get excited.

Friday, July 1, 2011

One Time that Pounding the Rock Was Not Cool. At All.

This week in Shul: We're reading about more schlepping, more whining from the Israelites, and more Moses schvitzing over how to make them happy. Ho Hum, right? Wrong.

This time, God tells Moses that he can stand next to this giant rock, speak to it, and water will gush forth. Okay, says Moses. So he's standing there, in front of all the people, and he says, 

“Listen, rebellious ones! Shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” 

Then he hits the rock with his staff. He goes the extra mile, you might say. 

What Moses might have looked like standing on that rock, if Moses was a baby.

But God isn't happy, seeing as how Moses broke the first rule that you learn in Kindergarten and DID NOT FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS. There's another interpretation (Nachmanides, yes I did my homework) that says that Moses' sin was saying "Shall WE" vs. "Shall GOD," which implies that Moses might have had anything to do with making a desert rock spout water. Right.

Either way, Moses was not using his listening ears. God yanked the privilege of actually crossing into the Land of Israel right out from underneath him, saying,

         “Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel..."

This says to me that God doesn't need big, grand gestures or fancy words to be heard. Sometimes, less is more. And sometimes, doing something with humility speaks a lot louder than doing something with fanfare.

It also tells me that just because some members of the Tribe mess up sometimes, even our leaders, as a people, we can hold it together and be okay.  (Thinking this helps me feel positive when I read Jean's hilarious weekly Jewish Fail Awards.)

Not such deep thoughts this week, but I love the story itself. I love that the interpretations of it are so different, and that we're still really not sure of its meaning today.

 What are your reactions to this Parsha? What do you think Moses' sin was? Do you think he deserved what he got?

(D'var Torah for Parshat Chukat, Numbers 19:1-22:1)
(Photo Credit Elle Muhlbaum copyright 2011, OSU's own erev erev erev erev Rav, who just landed in the Promised Land.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Going Half-sies

halfsies.jpgThis article about the (apparently) large numbers of Orthodox teenagers texting on Shabbat, an activity that is forbidden according to Jewish law has gone viral throughout the Jewish blogosphere over the past few days.

There is, of course, a comment thread a mile long following the article. Here, in a nutshell, are the types of responses I've seen:

1. These kids and their parents are hypocrites for calling themselves "Orthodox."
2. There is no such things as "half-Shabbos," just like there's no such thing as being "a little pregnant" - you're either in or out.
3. These kids are addicted to their cell phones, how horrible, we should take them away from them right now but especially on Shabbos because it's clear they can't make any decisions for themselves.
4. Does half-Shabbos lead to half-kashrut? This is a slippery slope and we should be worried/scared/horrified that there are any kids that consider this okay. What will happen to observant Judaism????
5. It is sad that these kids' parents are working so hard to raise them/educate them/put a roof over their heads and this is how they repay them.
6. There are plenty of Orthodox people who disobey other Jewish laws, this is no different. *shrug*
6. Texting isn't actually forbidden on Shabbos, so they can do what they want.
7. You're an idiot, texting is definitely forbidden on Shabbos, check your sources and shut up until you do.

Wow. These responses fall into a few large categories:
  • Judgemental
  • Inflexible
  • Apathetic
  • Scared

Are those the attitudes with which we want Jewish  behavior to be challenged?

I've seen a few responses that say, "I understand." or  "They are just exploring."  Those are loving, and sort of understanding.  Still not helpful, though.

I haven't yet seen one that says "This is a challenge to us to better engage them in conversations on the sanctity/beauty/importance of Shabbat, so see what they think and how they feel."  

Huh. Thoughts?

(Photo credit: Dallas Poague 2008)