A renewed appreciation of bald Rabbis

893929_715159761829279_453605823_oThe week between Christmas and New Years reminds me a bit of the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Time removed from other time. Time of reflection. Time of taking stock. Today I am thinking about Rabbis. Growing up, I was in awe of Rabbis. They seemed larger than life. It would never have occurred to me to have a silly conversation with a Rabbi. It would not have occurred to me to talk about the Red Sox with a Rabbi. It certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me to go out to dinner with a Rabbi. Rabbis were separate. They stood tall, had large voices, wore robes and were a bit scary. Oh, and they were, of course all male and many bald. As a non-visual person, they all sort of looked alike.

Fast forward many years. The Rabbinic world has changed and my world has changed. As a professional working in the Jewish community there are Rabbis everywhere I look. To borrow an overused line – some of my best friends are Rabbis. A prerequisite of any early position I had in the community was that I learn to not be intimidated by Rabbis and that I be able to have honest and sometimes difficult conversations with them. Over the years I have done that. Although I have continued to have deep respect for them, I call them by their first names and treat them as equals. Sometimes I don’t even know that someone is a Rabbi.

Recently, my sense of awe in Rabbis has been rekindled. Like many, I have been touched deeply and profoundly by the illness and death of Superman Sam Sommer. Like many, I never met Sam and in physical life have barely crossed paths with his parents. (As an aside, although we generally refer to it as “in real life” I think we have all discovered a new reality and learned that real life can and does also happen via social media.)

I have been one of those from the sidelines with no words of my own. I have devoured the outpouring of words and love, been witness to tears, a lot of grimacing, and much head shaking. Individually, we all know that the world is not fair, but sometimes we are able to ignore that. Other times it hits us front and center. Collectively, this is one of those times. Those times can render us helpless and/or it can bring out the best in people. In this case, a generation of Rabbis has stepped up to the plate (yes, I now feel comfortable using baseball metaphors when I talk about Rabbis.) This generation is male and female. This generation wears jeans and tee shirts and listens to jazz, pop and rock music. Like past generations, this generation is committed to improving the world. To do so, this particular group of Rabbi’s has committed to shaving their heads to raise funds for and bring about awareness of Childhood Cancer. They are part of St. Baldricks 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave – although there are now many more than 36.  No amount of money or awareness can help Sam but it can change the course of the lives of others. In the midst of much talk of the Pew Study and the future of Judaism, what is happening right here and now is so powerful. The Rabbis are taking their commitment to Judaism and are leading in a new direction. They are bonding together, teaching us as they go, and collectively impacting the world.

I am once again reminded of how I felt as a child . I am in awe of my Rabbinic friends and colleagues who are changing the world one hair at a time. And, I do find it mildly amusing that for a short time the balding Rabbi will once again reign.  Fortunately, in 2014 the balding Rabbis will be both male and female.   We’ve come a long way, but clearly there is much for each and every one of us to do to make the world a better place.    A huge thank you to all (Rabbis and others) who are taking large and small steps to do just that and allowing so many to contribute along the way.

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September Magic

 

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Fenway Park, 2013

Last Shabbat I fell asleep to the voice of Julie Silver singing the words  “L’Dor V’Dor: Fom Generation to Generation” in my ear.   I woke up to those same sounds on Saturday morning.  The odd thing about it was that I was 3000 miles away from Julie, and hadn’t actually heard her voice for months.  Nor had I been to Shabbat services that evening and experienced any of the other wonderful contemporary musicians or their musical arrangements that often fill my heart and soul and keep the music on repeat in my brain. 

So, what had I done on Friday night to lead to hearing Julie’s voice, crisp and clear in my ear?  True confession.   I had sat on the sofa and watched a group of bearded guys win a baseball game.  That’s it.  

Superficially, that’s it.  Filling in the details, I had watched the Boston Red Sox clinch the 2013 American League East Championship, after totally crumbling in 2011 and finishing in last place a year ago. On one hand, just a game.  On another, for me, and for many others, so much more.  Within minutes of the win, with the players and the fans celebrating in the stands and on the field, my memory brought me back to 1967.  As many Boston fans (particularly of a certain age) will tell you, 1967 was a magical year for the Red Sox.  The Year of the Impossible Dream. In that year, despite all odds, on the last day of the season, the Red Sox won the American League Pennant.  Only one year previously, they had been in 9th place with a dismal record. 

On that brilliant October day in 1967, I was seated in the stands with my brother, my father and my grandfather. The game ended, and I along with thousands of others rushed onto the field.  As the radio announcer Ned Martin famously reported  “There was pandemonium on the field.” I was part of that pandemonium.  I grabbed a chunk of Fenway grass. The moment was magical and imbedded deep in my soul.   As a now rational, grown woman with grown children, I have often been in awe of how a baseball game and team can impact me so powerfully.  

During the course of my childhood there were only two places that I regularly sat in a row with my dad, grandfather and brother.  Those two places were Fenway Park and our synagogue.  Although I had never made the connection consciously, Julie’s voice in my ear on Friday night seemed to make it for me.  Possibly,  in part, that explains my passion for both of them.

In a light hearted way, but knowing that “many a truth is said in jest” I decided to see if I could draw any other connections between Judaism and baseball, between synagogue and Fenway Park.  Here’s what I’ve thought about.

1) Hard work, learning and fun can go together. Neither baseball nor Judaism was necessarily meant to be easy.  However, there is no reason that working hard to learn something can’t be fun. 

2) The importance of team and community.  In baseball it is a team.  In Judaism we call it a community.  Either way, neither baseball nor Judaism is a solo sport.

3) Everyone needs a day of rest in order to do his or her best.

4) A good manager can help people discover the right roles for themselves.  (Imagine if all Jewish communities worked to help participants find their places, find the spots where their unique gifts would be most appreciated, find the opportunities to contribute in the best way for them, and by each contributing their strengths thriving communities were created.)

5) Wouldn’t it be great to have a clean up batter and designated hitter?  I know that many of us in congregational leadership (both professional and volunteer) feel like we are both the clean up batter and the designated hitter. Wouldn’t it be nice to share those responsibilities?

6) Every day matters although it sometimes seems as if some days are more important than others.   At this time of year (in both baseball and Judaism) the “big games” take place.  However, although it doesn’t always seem true, what happens in the spring is as important as what happens in September.  A win in April, a meaningful Shabbat service in May, both truly have the same impact as a win at the ballpark or a full sanctuary in September.

7) You can turn things around.  If the Red Sox could do it, the Campaign for Youth Engagement can do it.  If the Sox went from 69 wins and 93 losses to 95+ wins, then the CYE can dramatically change the face of youth engagement. The Impossible Dream can truly be possible.

8) The young guys and the older guys are important.  You can’t win by focusing on one at the expense of the other.  The power is in the working together.

9) Baseball and religion can both be divisive if passions are carried to extreme, and can be unifying when treated with the respect they deserve.

10) It’s about building memories.  Memories are the building blocks upon which we create relationships, develop values and find our places in this crazy world.  Both baseball and Judaism have served that role for me and I suspect can do so for others.

And so, as the Red Sox head into the post season, and as we once again begin a new cycle of Torah reading, I will welcome the generations past as they appear in my memories, and will continue to work towards instilling passion for the Red Sox and Judaism into future generations.  L’Dor V’Dor!

 

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Back to School Isn’t Only for Kids!

As I sit on the porch in New Hampshire with the sun shining and the pond glistening through the trees in the distance, fall feels very far away. If only there was a way to slow down time.  (So far the only way I’ve found to do that is to “plank” – that tortuous position where somehow your “core” is strengthened – then I take notice of each drawn out second as I try to hold on for as long as possible. But I know that I can only plank for a minute or two a day – the rest of the day, time passes much too quickly). Before we know it, summer will pass and school will start.  For most, school implies children.  Children learn, parents teach.  However, one of the most important lessons I learned early on in my parenting is that children teach and parents learn. 

When I first became aware of that, I was awestruck.  It just wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  I had thought that I would impart my vast body of knowledge – acquired through twenty-seven years of living – and that my children would just soak it up. Wrong.  I still had lots to learn.  I began seeking out knowledge about parents and children, and that has kept me learning ever since.

A few years ago, I had the great privilege of joining the Adult Learning Faculty at Hebrew College to serve as an instructor in the program “Parenting Through A Jewish Lens.” I loved teaching the course, exploring with parents how Judaism informs their parenting journey.  Parenting has been going on for many generations and, although there are some differences, in many ways the struggles of parents have been the same throughout the ages; children have always begun as dependent creatures and parents have always striven to help them become independent creatures.  Children have always challenged their parents in a myriad of ways.  Parents have struggled with finding the best ways to teach, to discipline, and to help their children grow – to hold close and to let go. As a living religion, Judaism provides wisdom on these topics.  Participants might not always agree with the “wisdom,” but debating this makes for wonderful discussions, and discussion is an integral pat of Jewish learning.  In our course of study we created new Jewish wisdom together and built connections to one another.

I taught, they learned and then a funny thing happened.  They began to teach and I began to learn, just as had been my surprising experience 30 years earlier. And then, as previously, I realized that I wanted to know more. This time my appetite was whetted to learn more about Judaism.  Although I have a strong Jewish background, I realized there was so much more to learn. I asked myself the very Jewish question (found in Ethics of our Fathers) “If not now, when?” So last September, I enrolled in Me’ah, Hebrew College’s two year adult learning program, and began my 100 hours of Jewish study. I became a student where I was on the Faculty.  I went from teacher to learner once again.  Taking a class, being a learner, is a commitment – it takes time and energy.  Yet, the rewards for me have been wonderful.  Being exposed to great teachers, conversing with thoughtful students, and “connecting the dots” of living an authentic Jewish life has been powerful.  

And so, as I sit watching the pond, I am reminded that learning and teaching are totally intertwined and that, although challenging, the rewards of learning are immense. I’ll never learn it all, neither about parenting nor about Judaism, and so for me this is a life-long journey. While I’m not able to stop time to understand everything I’d like to understand, or to make summer last forever, I am looking forward to reconnecting with my fellow students after a summer away and diving back in to learning.  Image

[For more information on Parenting Through a Jewish Lens and Me’ah visit http://www.hebrewcollege.edu/adult-learning%5D

 

 

 

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The Ice Cream Cone Approach to Youth Engagement.

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Recently, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been full of stories and photos of campers and counselors getting ready for their return to camp, their trip to Israel or their adventure with a service-learning program. I am so happy for all them. They are following a path that we, in the professional Jewish world, have set out for them.  We’ve done studies, we’ve collected anecdotes and many of us rely on our own histories to understand the life impacting importance of a Jewish summer camp experience, a summer of service learning or a summer trip to Israel.  We look to many of these young people to be our future leaders and we are continually thinking about ways to engage them upon their return.  Those are all wonderful and important things to be thinking about and we should keep thinking about all of those things. 

However, in the meantime, there are thousands and thousands of Jewish youth who are not going to summer camp, not going to Israel, not participating in a Jewish summer experience this year.  They are the homebodies, or the ones in summer school.  Maybe they are the ones working to contribute to their family finances. Some have medical issues that need attention.  There are the musicians and the artists in our midst who need the blank slate of summer to create.  There are those who need or want to be home for any number of other valid and important reasons.

Let’s think about what we can do for them.  Not what we can do for them sometime in the future, but what we can do for them this summer, right now.  How can we (the established Jewish community) remind them that they too are valuable to us, that they too have a future with us, and that they too contribute to our community?  We cannot leave youth engagement solely to the wonderful camp and trip staff.   

We all need to be involved.  But involvement doesn’t need to be complex and it doesn’t need to be heavy and intense or scary. It doesn’t need to involve sitting around conference tables and scheduling meetings.   It can be as simple, fun and tasty as taking a walk with an ice cream cone.  What if the leaders in our communities spent an hour having ice cream with a younger person who is at home this summer? It could be a win/win situation.  Eating an ice cream cone with a younger person is generally more fun than eating one alone and choosing a flavor is more enjoyable in conversation.

Imagine what September could look like if, over the summer, Youth Professionals, Rabbis, Cantors, Educators, Temple Presidents, Synagogue Board members, and Teens in leadership positions each had one ice cream cone date with a younger person.  What if, before the ice cream melted, the younger person had discovered someone who listened to them, who respected them, who cared about them, someone who wanted to help them figure out their connection to Judaism?  Not someone who told them what to do or how to connect, but someone who listened to their passions, learned about their spark and helped them figure out their particular place in the chain of our tradition. 

And, what if all the older teens and adults who are committed to our communities, had the chance to share their stories, to get to know a younger person, to have an opportunity to learn about what the younger person was thinking about, what mattered to them, and who they were as individuals, not as a demographic?

I know that isn’t all it would take.  There would have to be follow up and more actions.  However, it could be a start.  It could be that one small step.  It could be the lighting of the match.  Or to invoke Humphrey Bogart “it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Think about it.  And, after you have thought about it, invite someone out for ice cream. (And if your diet doesn’t include ice cream, improvise.)

I think you will be glad you did.

I scream. You scream.  We all scream for ice cream.

 

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Life Lessons Learned at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2013.

Not only am I a life long learner, I am a 24/7 learner. My field is “life”, “families”, and other “communities” and I am always trying to learn and translate lessons from one venue to another. Sitting at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, eating an assortment of exotic foods, sloshing through mud, and listening to a wide array of high quality music, mostly jazz, I found myself thinking about how what was happening on stage related to life. Here’s what I learned in no particular order.

There is a time to be serious and a time to laugh. Both are essential.

Eye contact and smiles communicate a lot.

Listen to one another.

Respond to what you hear.

Let others express themselves.

Find ways to make others sound better.

Push the limits, but stay on stage.

Let others have the space they need to do what they need to do.

There is a time to back off and a time to move forward.

Having someone on stage doesn’t mean that those in the audience are not participating.

It’s not always about you, but sometimes it is.

Everyone needs different amounts of attention at different times.

You can say a lot quietly.

Older people and younger people can play together.

It is ok to not always know where you will end up.

We don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, but we must learn to improvise on it.

That’s it. Simple and complicated at the same time. It is up to us to apply these lessons to our own lives. By doing so, I believe we will be able to strengthen any and all of our communities.

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Lessons Learned While Sheltering in Place

 

Prayers, thoughts and connections from friends and family (near and far) do matter.

In times of crises, regardless of age, you want to call your mom.

We don’t keep as much food in our house as we did previously.

It is difficult to walk 10,000 steps when you can’t leave your house.

Our day to day fears do not always match reality.  

Spring has sprung in New England and it is time to smell the roses (and notice the forsythia).

Einstein and the Chasidic Rabbi were right.  Everything is relative.

Time passes in uneven increments.  Sunrise and Sunset are what matter most.

We live under the illusion that we know what is next, but we actually have no idea.  All we have is the present

Most of humanity is good.

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 Above are the lessons learned standing on one foot. The rest of this post is commentary: 

The first indicator could have been the silence.  Friday, April 19th was the 3rd Friday of the month. In our neighborhood in Cambridge, 3rd Fridays mean street cleaning. On street cleaning mornings, the bullhorns start early and continue intermittently for an hour or two.  “Street Cleaning.  No parking on the even side of the street, street cleaning no parking n the even side of the street”.  Loud and persistent.

On Friday I woke to beeps and rings, rather than bullhorns. Phone calls and text messages telling me to stay in my house.  For the next many hours, I followed those orders.   In those hours, I learned some new lessons and was reminded of some I already knew. 

1) Prayers, thoughts and connections from friends and family (near and far) do matter. 

 The messages poured in all day in so many forms. Each and every one of them made me feel connected, less isolated and bit more hopeful.  Although no one who checked in could actually do anything about the situation, it was reassuring (and a bit scary) to realize that all around the world I was being cared about. 

2) In times of crises, regardless of age, you want to call your mom. 

If your mom is alive you understand this.  If your mom is no longer alive, you really understand this.

3) We don’t keep as much food in our house as we did previously.

It was remarkable to me how little food we actually had in the house. The freezer, fridge and cupboards are pretty empty as I shop day to day at this phase of our lives.  I did scrounge up a half a half a Challah, half an onion, some old peppers, a can of tomato sauce,  some frozen pasta, and a bottle of wine which turned into a very nice dinner.  However, it also made me realize, in a profound way, that this is a common experience for many in our midst who never have food in their pantries nor the luxury of going to the market whenever they desire. 

4) It is difficult to walk 10,000 steps when you can’t leave your house. 

Although exercise has not always been one of my favorite things, I have become a fitbit addict the past few weeks. On Friday, I realized how blessed I am s to have the freedom and the ability walk 10,000 steps a day.  This past week that freedom was taken away from many in a horrific fashion and my legs and the ability to walk freely are feeling very precious.

 5) Our day to day fears do not always match reality. 

Thursday night I walked to  dinner a mile from home and contemplated walking home.  I chose not to, but certainly not because I thought the Boston Marathon Bombers were ready to, once again, wreak havoc on the neighborhood.  The fears that kept me from walking home were much more mundane and familiar.

6) Spring has sprung in New England and it is time to smell the roses (and notice the forsythia).

Outside our family room window is a beautiful forsythia in full bloom.  I opened that single blind and stared at the forsythia periodically through the day.  It was a respite for my eyes from the many screens to which I was glued. The forsythia reminded me to make sure and look around this week to all that is blossoming and blooming in our midst. Spring is a short season in New England and is easy to miss.

7) Einstein and the Chasidic Rabbi were right.  Everything is relative.

I was reminded of the Chasidic tale of the mother who complains to the Rabbi about her chaotic household.  She is told by the Rabbi to bring all of her animals into the house and then one at a time remove them.  After the animals are removed, her house feels calm although the children are still running around and nothing has changed.  Since Friday, the world has felt  safe to me and my crazy life has felt calm.  A reminder that everything is relative.

8) Time passes in uneven increments.  Sunrise and Sunset are what matter most.

Time followed a strange trajectory.  It was not broken up by hour long appointments or meetings that began or ended at a particular time.  Some minutes went very slowly and others flew by.  All day there was an undercurrent and backdrop of knowing that sunset would arrive and that would change everything.

9) We live under the illusion that we know what is next, but we actually have no idea.  All we have is the present.

My days are usually orderly, moving from point A to point B following what is in my calendar.  On Friday I truly felt that I had no idea what was going to happen next.  Did I have time to take a shower?  What if we were going to be evacuated? Was my wallet nearby?  This day brought a heightened awareness of the fact that regardless of our plans, we never really know what is next.

10) Most of humanity is good. 

Although the world has some bad guys in it, most of humanity is good.  So many people were trying  to do the right thing, so many put themselves in harms way to save others,  so many are searching for ways to say “thank you” to the first responders. Although this week of terror wreaked havoc on our lives, I believe it also helped us realize the beauty and specialness of those around us every day.

All  in all a surreal week culminating in an even more surreal day – a day I hope to not repeat.  Yet, the beauty of life is that, in the midst of one of the most challenging days our beloved Boston has ever experienced, there was much to celebrate and much to learn. 

 

 

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Shattered Glass

The sound of glass shattering.  Smiles and Cheers.  That was on Saturday night as Dan and Lauren officially became husband and wife.  Before Dan stomped on the glass, Rabbi Ettin reminded all of us sitting under a perfect Carolina Blue sky, that life is not perfection, that life has broken pieces, and that dealing with those broken pieces is a part of life and marriage.  Although I knew that was true, in that moment, surrounded by friends and family, the broken part felt far away.

Monday early afternoon Michael and I sat under that same perfect Carolina sky, drank our last Chapel Hill cup of coffee and reflected on the perfection of the weekend.  We were clearly glowing POG’s (Parents of the Groom). 90 minutes later sitting at Gate C7 something changed in the air around the gate.  I turned to twitter and saw “explosion” “Copley Square” “another explosion” “chaos”.  I’m a Boston girl through and through.  I am a Patriots Day girl. The first part of my life was spent living near Heartbreak Hill, the second in Lexington and I am now living the third half on the other side of the river, right across from the City of Boston.  I had two babies in April – with due dates measured in terms of proximity to Patriots Day.  My major pregnancy concern with Dan was “how would I be able to get to the hospital if I went into Labor on Patriots Day?  (As it turned out, I went into labor shortly after midnight when the roads were clear and Dan was born the next day. April 16 1985.  Happy 28th Birthday Dan!)

As always, we had to turn off all electronic devices as the cabin doors closed. Sometimes that is a welcome respite; Monday it was not.  An hour later we learned that the airport was closed and began to circle over Providence. The airspace opened and we touched down at Logan.   As I turned on my phone the messages flooded in from friends and colleagues.  The caring brought tears to my eyes and was my first indication of how horrific things were.   I spent Monday night glued to the television, almost unable to process what we were seeing.
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Glass shattering.  Blood everywhere.  Screams, Cries.  This was not the celebratory glass shattering of Saturday night. This was a shattering of so much that is impossible to put into words.   It was a shattering for all those who have ever been to Heartbreak Hill, to those who have run the marathon, or cheered on family, friends and strangers, as they needed a boost along the route.  A shattering for those who have ever been to an 11 am Red Sox Game, or have sung Sweet Caroline at Fenway Park.  A shattering for those who have wondered why Charlie’s wife didn’t just give him a nickel (rather than a sandwich every day) so he could get off the MTA.  A shattering for those who “love our formerly dirty but now clean water”.  If you have rooted for or against the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics or Bruins this is a shattering.  If your heart lurches from the beauty of Boston every time the Red Line emerges from the underground in Cambridge and crosses the river you are shattered.  If you or a loved one has ever spent time getting medical care from one of our wonderful hospitals, you are shattered.  And on.

Somehow each one of us must integrate the shattering of the glass on Saturday night and the shattering of the glass on Monday afternoon. The transitions between the beauty and pain of life are often seamless.  However, we can and will integrate the beauty and the pain of glass shattering by caring for one another, by continuing to find the good in one another, by smiling at strangers, by helping those in our midst who need it – today and everyday, by holding our families close, by listening to our children, by finding creative and constructive ways to express our angst and anger, and most importantly, by each of us continuing to do whatever we can possibly do to make this world a better place.    There will always be broken glass, there will always be challenges among us, but there will also always be beauty and strength within each of us.

“Boston, you’re my home” and you always will be.Image

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Painted Ponies, Passover and Youth Engagement

 

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“And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time…”

Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game

 For years this song has been an integral part of our Passover Seder.  It comes right after we talk about the roasted egg and is one of the more poignant moments of the evening.  I’ve learned to include Kleenex on our Seder Table because inevitably, several of the moms look longingly at their children, catch each other’s eyes and begin to tear up.  Recently we had to add an additional verse since the children had outgrown the “and now the boy is 20” verse.  

For years these words have symbolized the passage of time for me, as I think they do for many people. However, recently I wondered what else I could learn from these ponies. During  the plane ride home from the Youth Engagement Conference in LA last month I began thinking of them in terms of Jewish Engagement.

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So, how does my painted ponies vision work? Visualize a carousel, particularly one of those older, ornate carousels.  A variety of ponies of all colors and shapes make up the whole.  There are big ponies, smaller ponies; there are gilded ponies, spotted ponies, black ponies, white ponies, and red ponies.  Some of the ponies stay in place some move up and down. You get the picture. 

Here’s the thing.  Many people enter through the snaking line, although some just jump on from anywhere.  There are openings all over a carousel.  One can enter and exit from many places.  Regardless of where you enter, you can find a horse; you can find your horse. There is usually time to move from pony to pony as people sort out which pony they want to ride.  Occasionally someone will get on a pony and then decide, for whatever reason, that isn’t the pony they want.  They will dismount and find one that “fits them better”.  After a few minutes of maneuvering, most people settle down.

At that point, the attendant usually comes around and makes sure everyone is set and ready for the ride.

The attendant comes around and checks in with everyone.

What if congregations used the painted pony approach to youth engagement? Although historically congregations have a school and/or a youth group, what if they provided multiple entry points? What if, rather than act as gatekeepers to protect existing programs, congregational professional and lay leadership acted more like attendants whose role is to make sure that the youth have opportunities to safely experiment with different experiences?  What if the goal were to make sure that the youth were met wherever they entered and welcomed as full and whole individuals, not expected to leave parts of their selves at the door?  What if a teen could take a short break to be in the school play and still be on track to participate in the next ride? What if congregations felt free to create programs and opportunities of different shapes and sizes for youth, without a value judgment on one over the other?  And what if someone came and checked in, truly checked in, with each person who entered.

What if?  What if?  Just imagine the communities that could be created.

I love this image and want to explore it further, but one cannot host a Seder with song alone, so as I return to Passover Prep, I leave with the final words of the song ringing in my ear.

“There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty

Before the last revolving year is through.”

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The Sound of Silence

 

The past few days I have been thinking about the role that being alone vs. being with people plays in each of our lives and the importance of finding the right balance of social vs. solitude time.  This is true for us as individuals, this is true for us as parents, and this is true for us as educators and as synagogue leaders.  There is a lot of noise everywhere.  There are beeps, chirps, buzzes, rings, chimes – to say nothing of bangs, gongs, crinkles and more.  The world is a veritable symphony of sounds.  I live an interesting life.  I work out of my house, alone much of the time, and yet I look down upon a fairly busy street with trucks, cars, people, dogs and school buses passing by.  In many ways I am very much alone during the day, there is no one to laugh at my funny one liners, no one to growl at when I am frustrated, no one to gossip with at the water cooler.  I don’t even have a water cooler.   Yet, at the same time, there is always someone around, someone to look at, someone to wonder about.  Sometimes I create stories about the lives of those who wander by.  The student with the backpack, the young child rushing ahead of her mother, the older woman carefully walking on the cobblestones so as not to fall, the biker commuting to work.  These days, most everyone is in their own little world, bundled up tightly to keep warm as the temperatures plummet.  This contrast in my life has made me think about the balance of noise vs. quiet, of alone time vs. people time, that I need.  It has also provided me the opportunity to think about it in terms of others.

 

The world we live in gives us subtle, but strong, messages that connection is good, that being alone is bad.  We should make friends, we should find life partners, we should join synagogues or otherwise connect to communities because that is good for us.  Most of us don’t want to be the person who sits alone day after day.  Yet, I wonder if we are missing something.  I wonder if we are not offering people, young and old, all of what they need.  There are many kinds of people in this world.  To use Myers Briggs terms there are the I’s (introverts) as well as the E’s (extroverts). To simplify, extroverts derive energy from being with people, introverts derive energy from being by themselves.  Most of us are some combination.   Most of us need some contact with people and some measure of solitude, of connecting with ourselves.  As parents and educators, I think we focus most of our energy on the extrovert part, working to find ways to help children and adults connect and socialize with one another. However, it is just as important to learn to be comfortable by yourself.  That is a harder lesson these days.  There used to be more natural times when people were alone.  In the past, taking a walk was a solitary activity – now many people walk while talking on their cell phones.  Falling asleep used to be solitary, now many are on their Ipads until their last waking minute.  A recent article even pointed to large numbers of people using their smart phones in the bathroom.  There are very few spaces not invaded by others these days. 

As 2013 begins I urge us to think about this.  For ourselves, our challenge is to allow time to find the opportunities we need to recharge ourselves with ourselves, to find the quiet we need to hear the voice within us, to be alone often and long enough to learn and appreciate who we are.  Our challenge with our children, our students, and in our communities, is to make sure that we not only provide opportunities for socialization and connection to one another, but that we also provide opportunities for looking inward, for young people to be with themselves, to learn to treasure their unique beings, to learn to appreciate and not fear the sounds of silence and the absence of noise.   By so doing, my hope is that each of us and those around us, will continue to grow and develop and to have the personal strength to learn to recognize our own sound and to add each of our own unique sounds to the mix around us. Image

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Monday morning parenting thoughts

The grief of the past few days has been unimaginable.  Many of us are torn between watching and listening to the 24/7 onslaught of media coverage and the desire to turn off everything imaginable and run away into a world where Friday’s events could never ever take place. The faces of a grieving community, and most of all the missing faces haunt us.  In this internet savvy world we live in, there has been a flurry of advice to parents. My way of coping is to add my voice to the discussion.  My thoughts are simple and are focused on today, not on next week.  Next week we can talk about next week.

1) Be present.  That means that to the extent possible spend time with your kids this week.  And more importantly, that means that when you ARE with your children, be with them.  Play with them, talk with them, and create with them.  When you are spending time with them, let the phone go unanswered and let your email go unread for a few minutes.

2) Listen to your children.  And then listen some more.  Listen and then respond calmly and simply.  The exact words you use are less important than the fact that you are there to listen to what they are saying, thinking and feeling.   A “yes, it is scary” can be one of the most calming responses to a child.  No, you can’t promise them that you will keep them safe.  But you can be there when they express fear or sadness or have questions.

3) Turn off the TV and radio when you are with them.  They don’t need to keep hearing about it.  It will not help them.

4) Lastly, but not least – Find ways to process this for yourself.  This new reality will now have to be integrated into your life as a parent. You need to express it and process it so that you do not have to process it with your children.  If you are a writer, write something.  If you are a painter, paint something.  If you are a singer, sing something. If you are a doer, do something.  If you are a talker, call a friend, or go out with friends and talk about it.  Or find a coach, a therapist or a parenting consultant to help you integrate this into your life.  Getting help for yourself so that you can help your children is a sign of strength. As we are told every time we take a plan ride.  “Put the oxygen mask on your face before you assist your children”

It is true on airplanes, it is true during everyday life, and it is particularly true in times of crisis.

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