Thursday, March 29, 2007

Don't forget to count the Homer!

If you're like me, every year you try to count the Omer and don't quite succeed (one year we actually forgot to count at the second seder itself!). Although I have one friend who remembers to count by using post-its on the bathroom mirror, most experts recommend the use of an "Omer calendar" placed in a visible place.

A long-time favorite is Simon Jacobson's Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer, which is now available on-line thanks to Chabad. It makes use of the kabbalistic sefirot as a guide to daily reflection on themes for personal growth. "Counting the Omer: A Personal Journey" by Rabbi Rami Shapiro is similarly themed, making use of beautiful quotes and thoughtful questions to spark reflection.

Two other powerful resources are Rabbi Jill Hammer's Omer Calendar of Biblical Women and Penticon Technology's free Palm software Omer Calendar for handheld organizers.

Of course, others prefer to use The Homer Calendar to guide them through this period.

UPDATE: April 12, 2007: BZ (of Mah Rabu) has posted an on-line guide of individuals who are "blogging the omer" - marking each day of the omer with teachings or other commentary.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Modern day slavery . . . in Israel?!?

From the Israel-based Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT):

"Israel is a destination country for human trafficking. Women and children are brought into the country every year to be exploited as modern day slaves.

"Rates of human trafficking in Israel are alarmingly high though the exact extent is not known. Nearly all of the trafficking victims in Israel come from the former Soviet Union. Most victims enter the country through Israel 's border with Egypt. Once in Israel , victims are often sold and resold to pimps and brothel owners who force them to work in slave-like conditions. At every stage in the process, the victims are abused and exploited, often suffering severe beatings, rape and even starvation.

"Israel has made limited progress in the fight against human trafficking but more can and must be done. Significant resources must be dedicated to combating trafficking in Israel in the areas of prevention, protection, and prosecution."

Visit their website to learn more and to take action.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Five resources for Passover 5767

Although by no means a comprehensive list (or even necessarily the best of what's out there), here are a few gems that I've discovered over the past few days while researching the previous posts (in no particular order):

  • Eliezer Segel's modern classic "Uncle Eli's Special-for-Kids Most Fun Ever Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah" is written in the style of Dr. Seuss and provides brief, straightforward explanations of all the seder rituals and Hebrew terms.

  • Dr. Barry Dov Lerner's has a hosts a variety of downloadable Passover texts, including a variety of haggadas, a songbook, and a handy guide to creating your own "heirloom family haggadah."

  • The Jewish Agency for Israel hosts an astonishingly comprehensive variety of educational resources for Passover, and in five languages.

  • Rabbi Mark Zimmerman at provides (Ashkenazi style) audio clips for most of the prayers and songs of the seder.

  • And finally, among the many Passover resources of the Distance Learning project of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America is Dr. Steve Brown's guide to leading a Passover seder based on his many years of experience leading model seders.

Happy Passover, everyone!

Seder Suggestion: An Empty Chair for Darfur

Rabbi David Levin-Kruss offers this idea (which has generated some controversy on the Lookjed discussion group):

Like many, I watch the events unfolding in Darfur and wonder what I can do to help.

This year I have decided to use our Pesach seder as a way to further the cause and I suggest you do the same. Rather as in the days of the Soviet Jewry movement I propose that we leave a chair empty for those in Sudan and donate the cost of one meal to a charity working to alleviate and change the situation. We could also ask our guests to donate rather than to bring gifts.

In the Vehee She'amda prayer in the haggadah we read that in every generation others have stood against us to destroy us, but the blessed Holy One saved us. This is an appropriate point to say something along the following lines:

"In this prayer we read that we are and have been persecuted. Let's remember that we are not the only persecuted in the world and that others suffer too e.g. those in Darfur. Let us pledge today to act as G-d's mouth and hands by speaking truth to power and doing what we can (politically, militarily, financially, and personally) to bring about a better situation. Let us hope that next year we will not need to leave a chair open to mark those who do not share the freedom we have."

For more information about what is happening in Darfur and what you can do, check out these resources from Raising Awareness Destination: Darfur (RAD:D), founded by High School student Sarit Rosenstock and hosted by Areyvut. Organizations seeking funds for relief and advocacy efforts include American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief (JCDR), Jewish World Watch (JWW), and the Save Darfur Coalition.

This final organization makes it possible to take immediate action by sending an email to President Bush.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pluralistic graduate program in Teacher Training in Israel

This comes to us via Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi:

The Shalom Hartman Institute is now accepting applications for the third cycle of Melamdim – The Russ Berrie School for Teacher Training. Bi-national and multi-denominational, Melamdim brings together graduate students of all denominations from across North America and Israel for an intensive two-year M.A. program in partnership with Tel Aviv University.

Along with a $10,000 annual fellowship, Melamdim students receive:

  • Grounding in the philosophical foundations of Judaism taught by leading scholars at the Institute
  • Graduate level studies in Jewish Thought at Tel Aviv University culminating in an M.A. degree
  • Hands-on weekly teaching experience at high schools of different denominations
  • Creative pedagogical workshops
  • Educational fieldtrips
  • Assistance in job placement in Israel or North America
  • On-the-job mentoring for two years

In addition, Melamdim has an optional "Rav Mehanech" track through which distinguished students who extend their studies for two more years become ordained as rabbinic educators for North American community schools.

For further information, please contact us by email at or by phone at (972 2) 567-5350.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Classic Jewish humor

A short cartoon of a classic Jewish joke by Nick Fox-Grieg.

"Although the details differ between versions, the scene remains the same: a priest challenges a rabbi to a debate on the spiritual condition of Jewish people. But neither speaks the other's language, and...well, I won't spoil the punch line."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Peace will come

I haven't seen this posted anywhere on the web, so I thought I'd post it here: The words to Sheva's song "Salaam" (a/k/a "Od Yavo Shalom") in Arabic:

Se-oofa ya-ati al salaam aleina (3x)
Wa Ala a Kool

Aleina wa ala kool a-lalam
Shalom Shalom

[Peace will come for us, and for everyone. Peace - for us and for all the world]

Saturday, March 10, 2007

What is "Service Learning?"

Heard the buzzword, but not sure what it means? Having difficulty explaining how service learning is different from community service or volunteering?

Thanks to Lev Metz and Sulam: The Center for Jewish Service Learning, a project of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, here are two links to help you out: A short video by the Corporation for National & Community Service, and a PowerPoint presentation courtesy of NSLC, the National Service Learning Clearinghouse.

Here is a one-sentence definition from this second organization (as part of a longer article):

" Service-learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities."

They offer this example:

"...if school students collect trash out of an urban streambed, they are providing a service to the community as volunteers; a service that is highly valued and important. When school students collect trash from an urban streambed, then analyze what they found and possible sources so they can share the results with residents of the neighborhood along with suggestions for reducing pollution, they are engaging in service-learning. In the service-learning example, the students are providing an important service to the community AND, at the same time, learning about water quality and laboratory analysis, developing an understanding of pollution issues, learning to interpret science issues to the public, and practicing communications skills by speaking to residents. They may also reflect on their personal and career interests in science, the environment, public policy or other related areas. Thus, we see that service-learning combines SERVICE with LEARNING in intentional ways."

Sulam (apparently an acronym for "Sherut la'Am," although I didn't actually see this said explicitly anywhere on the site), provides a searchable database of service opportunities in the greater LA area - you enter the type of volunteering in which you are interested and your availability and the website finds all appropriate matches. Based on the number of hours you complete and whether or not you write a reflective paper, you receive a Spotlight award from the BJE and are eligible for various sorts of public recognition. Perfect if you are looking to do a Bar/Bat Mitzvah "mitzvah project." Another organization, Areyvut, also provides a long list of project ideas, volunteer opportunities and a growing, searchable database of bnai mitzvah project ideas (largely in the NY area).

For those who'd like to get into the subject in a little more depth, a detailed and theoretically grounded approach to service learning (from which the above picture is taken) can be found at the Joint Educational Project of the University of Southern California.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is "redesign" enough, or do we need more radical changes?

Last fall, JESNA launched the Lippman Kanfer Institute Wiki with some pretty fabulous intentions: To map out "an agenda and strategy for ensuring that Jewish education is maximally effective and relevant in the new century." Predicated on the belief "that vigorous conversation about important issues in Jewish education is itself an important tool for change," the idea of the site is to use the technology of the internet to generate discussion.

The keystone of the site is Jonathan Woocher's article Redesigning Jewish Education, but to my mind the component that has the potential to be the most useful - and controversial - is the list of noteworthy programs. Although the website grants that most have not been "rigorously evaluated," it notes that "many show clear signs of success in terms of participation, longevity, and the positive responses of participants." Currently the site lists 27 such examples of best practices in the field, and encourages the viewer to add others.

The site also hosts an article by Dr. David Ariel on Consumer Choice and Jewish education. He suggests that

"...Jewish education could embrace the TIVO model ... becoming a subscription service that allows consumer choice within a limited range while also pushing new content to consumers based on the pattern of their preferences. What is true in the consumer arena is true in Jewish education: While people know what they want, the successful Jewish educational service will provide what people don’t yet know they want..."

(The final article currently on the site is my own, on Synagogue Schools and Congregational Agendas. Aw, shucks!)

No surprise that I find the idea of generating dialogue around this content exciting -- after all, that's the agenda of this blog as well. But the idea of using a Wiki to host these articles is, I think, a truly innovative way to push for a real negotiation of ideas. Imagine a website that functions like the Wikipedia, in which articles are being written and rewritten by interested parties, who then debate the validity and relative merits of these changes on highly active "talk" pages.

Unfortunately, readers haven't taken the site quite that far. So, rather than being an interactive or collaborative experience, the Wiki is still currently functioning much like any other website.

The real problem, though, is that conversation happens on separate "dialogue" pages, in which all one can view are the topic headers for individual threads. So, in order to encounter gabebabe's critique of Woocher's article, you would first have to pick the correct one of the five separate pages in which there is space to comment, and then click on a subject header that reads "Redesigning is a..." Only once you get to the actual page will you learn that the rest of the header is "...Rehashing of Ill Defined Concepts" [harsh, dude!] . gabebabe writes:

"...We have a working model of how to transform conventional schooling into experiential education that is being used in schools across the country. There are already dozens of schools around the country which have made the commitment to transform their schools into learning environments that challenge their students’ Jewish emotional, intellectual, physical, social and/or spiritual responses through approaches through the philosophy of experiential education. They are doing this in their classrooms in the heart of what we call formal education. What they have already accomplished demonstrates how outdated this article is."

What would make the Wiki a truly unique endeavor would be if gabebabe would add the programs he has in mind to the list of noteworthy programs -- and then explain how they accomplish what the other ones don't. While he's at it, he could critique some of the other interventions that are already listed.

With many others contributing through a wiki-fied give-and-take, including people personally involved in the programs being critiqued, perhaps we would collectively be able to arrive at meaningful criteria by which to evaluate Jewish educational reforms, standards for what we mean by "success," and ideas that can be implemented broadly. As an aside, Shulshopper (currently in beta) has the potential to offer a similar contribution to the world of prayer - if, for example, it were possible to search not only for the synagogues that receive the highest ratings, but also the ones that generate the most discussion (although that's not currently on the to-do list for the site).

I'd love to see the Lippman Kanfer Institute wiki embody one of the five strategic changes that Woocher proposes in his article: To become a "hothouse" for collaborative innovation. A fully utilized wiki could

"...draw considerable attention to the processes of innovation and diffusion ...encourage collaboration among key constituencies that need to work together for change to occur...promote the sharing of information among those involved in change in diverse settings...afford opportunities through collaborative inquiry to deepen and refine our understanding of both specific innovations and the process of implementing new approaches generally."

This would require a redesign of the website, which in truth isn't really set up right now to encourage people to edit the content (although I'd be delighted to see my own article reformatted for this purpose). It would truly be a transformation of its current use into something entirely different and far more risky. And, maybe this is a good analogy for what needs to happen in Jewish education writ large.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Job Posting: Executive Director for Limmud NY

Limmud NY is a cutting-edge grassroots organization that works all year to create a festival of Jewish learning and culture for Jews of all ages and backgrounds from across the New York metropolitan area. The Executive Director will manage Limmud NY’s development and growth.

Now in its fourth year, Limmud NY is described by Lynn Schusterman as having a “level of creativity that many Jewish organizations spend years trying to build.” This event, or conference, is the Jewish expression of more than 90 volunteers and reflects the diversity of their ideas and thoughts. The multi-media formats of sessions throughout the weekend include music, text, film, lectures, and hands-on workshops, appealing to Jews of all ages and all backgrounds. With more than 800 people in attendance and over 300 sessions throughout Martin Luther King weekend in the Catskills, this event is a celebration of the vibrancy of Jewish life.

Job Description:
As Limmud NY moves from being a start-up organization to a more established one, the Executive Director will work closely with the Board of Directors, Advisory Board, 90+ volunteers, funders, and local Jewish organizations to build Limmud NY’s capacity and further solidify its long-term sustainability.

Specific responsibilities will include:
• Providing guidance and direction to a growing organization, in close partnership with the Limmud NY Board
• Managing a growing budget (currently around $700,000) and maintaining day-to-day financial oversight of Limmud NY
• Creating a long-term development plan, and raising the funds necessary to sustain and build Limmud NY. Currently Limmud NY raises about $375,000 mostly through foundation gifts. As the organization develops, we anticipate a greater focus on individual gifts and other new sources of funding
• Overseeing one staff person and one intern, and working with 90+ volunteers in the planning and implementation of Limmud NY’s annual conference
• Further developing and implementing a strategic plan
• Collaborating with a volunteer committee to plan and implement an annual fundraiser
• Maintaining and developing relationships with other Jewish communal organizations
• Providing consultation to new Limmuds around the country on an as-needed basis

Job Requirements:
• 5+ years experience in fundraising and program management
• Familiarity with the New York Jewish community
• Commitment to a broad understanding of Jewish life and learning
• Openness to working with a very active and involved Board
• Experience with and love of working with volunteers
• Ability to attend occasional evening and weekend meetings
• Self-motivated, energetic, flexible

Masters Degree preferred. Excellent writing, communication, and interpersonal skills. Proficient use of Excel. Knowledge of Donor Perfect Online a plus.

Start Date: June/July 2007
Salary: Commensurate with experience.

Submit resume to

Monday, March 05, 2007

Job Posting: Family Learning Coordinator at Congregation Emanu-El of NYC

Please forward this posting to anyone you think might be interested:

Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York

Congregation Emanu-El, the first Reform congregation in New York City, seeks to hire a part-time (20 hours / week) Family Learning Coordinator. This is a new position that is being created as an outcome of a year-long process of re-envisioning congregational learning.

The Family Learning Coordinator will be responsible for the planning and execution of formal and informal learning experiences for Nursery and Religious School-aged students and their families during and outside of school hours. Key responsibilities will include developing, directing, and evaluating holiday and Shabbat programming, field trips, and social action projects, and teaching both in and out of the classroom. Although this will be a largely programmatic role, the Coordinator will manage certain financial and administrative tasks (such as bookkeeping, registration, and publicity).

The Family Learning Coordinator will:
• Broaden and cultivate the target base served by formal and informal family programs
• Assess the interests of this population, and develop new educational, social, cultural, and religious initiatives
• Support the creation and execution of parallel learning opportunities for parents and home-learning experiences, including content delivered via email and the synagogue website
• Staff all family activities and events, including retreats and planning meetings
• Hire and supervise additional staff, volunteers, and chaperones as needed
• Develop adult leadership and build family participation.
• Evaluate and assess family programs and student achievement.

The ideal candidate:
• Brings new ideas and the ability to implement them
• Has both formal and informal educational experience
• Builds a pluralistic and Reform Jewish environment
• Has a strong understanding of family dynamics and child development
• Is familiar with Hebrew language and Reform Jewish liturgy
• Is committed to professional growth
• Is a team player, working collaboratively with clergy, other teachers, and parents
• Has excellent communication and organizational skills
• Is passionate, fun, enthusiastic, creative, and energetic
• Thinks big picture: How family activities fit into congregational living and learning

Candidates with a background in songleading, drama, and/or ropes-course are especially encouraged to apply. This is a challenging position that brings with it tremendous opportunity for achievement. We seek reflective practitioners who are committed to professional growth, are effective team-members, and who are able to share a love for learning and of Judaism with all members of our synagogue community. An advanced degree in Education and/or Judaic Studies is preferred.

The position requires evening and weekend work throughout the academic year. The ideal starting date will be July 10, 2007. This is a half-time (20 hours / week) position and salary is $25-30K based on experience. The Family Learning Coordinator will be supervised by the Director of Life-Long Learning.

To apply, please send a cover letter and resume to Saul Kaiserman at