Friday, April 17, 2009

Best Practices: Holocaust Memorials

In honor of Yom Ha-Shoah, this is a guest post from Leah Zimmerman, the Director of Education at Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, California and Temple Beth Israel in Pomona:

Two of the most active and distracted boys in my Kitah Zayin (7th grade) class stood together in front of a room full of their peers and their parents and presented their Holocaust Memorial. A single tree in the center of a field with a single headstone alongside it. Around the perimeter of the field was a barbwire fence. They explained the simplicity of their design and the way that it remembered all the people who had died. The moment of their presentation was quite noteworthy. But it was the fact that they had met on their own time outside of class to create this entirely of wood that totally floored me. Why hadn’t they just goofed off and blown off the assignment or the idea? Why did they take it to heart and create something genuine?

In another project, three statues surround reflective pool: a Jew, a homosexual, and a gypsy. “We made these statues colorful for a special reason. The Nazis wanted everyone to look the same (blonde hair, blue eyes, Christian, etc.) so by making them colorful we are showing that even though everyone looks different we are all equal.”

I asked the students, “What motivated you to do these projects? Why do you think you did such a great job?” The students told me that they loved the opportunity to be creative and work with art materials. When we reflected on this experience and why it had been valuable, the students told me that it gave them a chance to make the material meaningful. I too noticed that their projects demonstrated what they had each personally connected to most. For one group of students it was the stories of surviving and how hard the surivors had worked to find a way to live. For another group of students it was stories about the partisans who had fought against the Nazis despite the odds. Some students thought more about how to create symbols of memory and others about how to create something that would engage the audience and require the audience to experience and learn.

The students have told me many times that they learn more when they get to work together in groups. As they planned, designed and created their projects I could see them huddled together leaning forward towards each other listening, watching and sharing their ideas. In their small groups they talked about what was important to them, shared ideas back and forth and came to consensus about what to do. Each group did something unique and different. While some students took a stronger leadership role in the design or assembling materials, each student contributed ideas and helped to create the final product. As I watched the groups working I could see how one student sharing an idea or an insight sparked another student to share another idea. Groups of students emerged as teams as their common goal and common purpose brought them in synch with each other.

The students impressed themselves and each other with their creations. By seeing what they could create and what their friends created, they realized how much they had learned and its relevance for our community. The same is true for the parents. Majority of the students felt that sharing the projects with their parents helped them to show the parents what they learn in Hebrew school. “Because when they ask you what did you learn today, I just say “nothing.”

Having a communal moment where the students, parents and I all revel in what has been learned brings us together as a community and builds our commitment to working with each other. In creating memorials for our community, our students had created for themselves an memorable event of learning and reflecting.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Telling Jokes in Auschwitz

This comes from my friend Hal Cohen, on behalf of his friend Mikal Reich:

I am writing to all my friends for a bit of help...

Please vote for this short film about my dad, called "Telling Jokes In Auschwitz."

Please vote today. If it gets enough votes it will air on PBS this Saturday. (I think it would make my dad really happy and I don't do that a lot.)

It's behind by 200 votes right, so we need all the clicks we can get [editor's note: It is behind by more than 400 votes at the time of posting].

Here's the link...

(It's the film in the middle.)

And if you can, please post/send this link to your friends. If you have already, thank you. If you don't, don't feel guilty, but 6 million...

Thanks so much,

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

It's spring, and funding is in the air

Legacy Heritage Programming LLC announces two new exciting non-denominational funding opportunities for synagogues in North America seeking to (1) strengthen congregants' engagement with the State of Israel or (2) integrate music throughout congregational life:

Legacy Heritage Innovation Project: Israel Engagement supports synagogues using an integrated approach to deepening adults' and/or children's connection to the State of Israel. While Israel advocacy may be an aspect of the approach, the primary purpose to support connection with the people, culture, and history of Israel.

Legacy Heritage Innovation Project: Music supports synagogues strengthening Jewish identity through the creative use of music in multiple aspects of congregational life and in programming for different age groups.

Grants: For the next funding cycle (8/09-7/10), the Legacy Heritage Synagogue Innovation Project will award grants of up to $25,000 to selected synagogues. Grantees may be eligible to apply for additional funding of up to $25,000 per year for up to two additional years. In any given year, congregations may apply for funding only from one Legacy Heritage Innovation Project track (Congregational Education, Israel Engagement, or Music).

Proposals will be evaluated on the basis of the following criteria, among others:

  • Extent to which the proposal integrates Israel or music into programming for different age groups and across multiple aspects of congregational life, e.g. Torah, avodah, gemilut hasadim. For example, preference will be given to proposals which incorporate Israel awareness or music frequently and regularly into congregational prayer, study and action. Grants are not intended to support one-time or "stand-alone" programs.
  • Degree to which the proposal is sustainable (maximally uses funds to develop capacity within congregation, training existing staff and lay leaders, targeting reusable resources, integrating approach within existing structure of congregation, etc.).
  • Extent to which "best practices" are exemplified in the proposed initiative (the possibility of the proposed program being adapted by other congregations, organizations, etc.).

Online grant applications and more detailed information may be obtained at, or by contacting Rabbi Marc Margolius, Project Director, at 212-578-8190 (ext. 106) or The deadline for completing the online application is Monday, May 11, 2009.

The project is sponsored by Legacy Heritage Programming LLC, an affiliate of the Legacy Heritage Fund Limited.

How Spiritual are America's Jews?

The first-ever comparative national study of spirituality among American Jews and Christians demonstrates that young Jews are more spiritually inclined on every available measure than their elders. The historic large gap in spiritual orientation between Jews and others is narrowing, especially among younger adults, those 35 and under. The S3K Synagogue Studies Institute report, written by Professors Steven M. Cohen and Lawrence A. Hoffman, both of Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, draws upon a web-based national survey of 1596 Jews and 1520 respondents drawn from the general population.

This growth of spiritual receptivity among young adult Jews can be attributed to 3 factors:

  1. The growth in the number of Orthodox Jews, especially among people under 35.
  2. The parallel, and even more substantial, growth of intermarried families and Jews by choice, both signifying the growth of Jews with Christian parents, husbands and wives. These family members appear to render their Jewish relatives more open to, and comfortable with, the ideas, expressions and language of spirituality.
  3. Even non-Orthodox Jews with two Jewish parents (a shrinking population sector, albeit still a majority) are more receptive to spiritual language than older counterparts.

As ethnic ties among American Jews diminish -- with more non-Jewish parents, spouses, children, friends and neighbors -- American Judaism is becoming, in broad terms, less ethnic and more religiously and spiritually oriented.

These findings have serious implications for Jewish communal policy makers, rabbis, educators, and planners. More American Jews are expressing interest in the study and experience of spirituality. The two population segments showing especially elevated spiritual concerns are precisely the two major demographic growth sectors of the Jewish population: the Orthodox, and Jews with at least one non-Jewish nuclear family member.

As spiritually oriented American Jews grow in number, seminaries will have to educate students to show comfort with spiritual language, and help congregants with their spiritual search. Congregational rabbis, especially those serving large numbers of intermarried families or the Jewish children of the intermarried, will find greater demand and greater receptivity to spiritual language and concerns in the years to come.

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