Jul 31, 2011

Jerusalem Report: "Ethiopian Dreams, Israeli Realities"

Jerusalem Report: 

Ethiopian Dreams, Israeli Realities

An Ethiopian who became a Conservative rabbi struggles to make a difference in a community harmed by the flawed reception offered by Israeli authorities.

Rabbi-nurse Yefet Alamo 
Photo by: SARAH LEVIN
RABBI YEFET ALAMO SAYS that he is, and always has been, a dreamer. 
He had to be a dreamer, he smiles, to survive. Almo, 52, emigrated from Ethiopia, an agrarian society, to Israel, a post-industrial society, at the age of 22. His dreams, he says, helped him face anti-Semitism in Ethiopia. They guided him as he made the terrible journey from Gondar through the Sudan, suffering thirst, hunger and fear, walking for weeks, escaping the threats to his family's life and his own. They aided him when he arrived in the Jewish homeland, only to find that Israel rejected his Judaism. And those same dreams for a better society have given him comfort as he continues to struggle religiously, serving as Israeli's only Ethiopian Conservative rabbi.

He speaks like a man who believes in his dreams, his tone upbeat even when talking about the difficulties. Today he lives in the settlement of Adam in the West Bank, just north of Jerusalem. The two daughters who were born in Ethiopia are married – to Israeli Ashkenazim, he emphasizes, and his son, born in Israel, is about to finish his military service. He has one Sabra (Israeli-born) grandchild and another on the way. Finding that he was unable to make a living as a rabbi, he works as a practical nurse in Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem; his wife is also a nurse at another Jerusalem hospital. "I refuse to depend on anyone or any project for my living," he says passionately, but adds that he insists on "working for the community, for acceptance of our ancient traditions and for the respect that our people deserve."

Alamo recalls the many challenges he faced growing up in Ethiopia. "As a young boy, I suffered a lot from the non-Jewish Ethiopians – they cursed me, they bothered me," he says. In Ethiopia, his religiously observant parents destined him to be a kes, a revered community spiritual leader. From his early teens, he lived in a village near his home with a group of kessim, who taught him Jewish ritual and observance.

But even in Ethiopia, he says with a broad smile, "adolescent troubles can mess up even the best plans." He married at the age of 17, which was young for Ethiopian men; five years later, with two daughters, he decided to come and live in Israel, despite the dangerous journey.

When he arrived in Israel in 1981, he says, "I quickly realized that my suffering was not over. It hurt me to see the situation that my fellow Ethiopians were living in.

Those were the years when the government didn't want to bring the rest of the tribe here – we were disconnected, separated. I joined the few who were protesting, trying to catch the government's attention.

"What hurt us so terribly was to find out that the state was demanding that we Ethiopians, who had kept the most ancient traditions of the Jewish people, abandon those traditions, just as we were fulfilling our most cherished and ancient dream – to come to Jerusalem, to the Holy Land."

Naively, he says, he had thought that the Israeli religious establishment would welcome them because they were the only ones left who still performed ancient Biblical customs.

"But on the contrary," he says, "we were despised, rejected. We were told to renounce our practices, the rituals for which we had endangered our lives. Here, they were considered worthless. This was a terrible blow for the whole Ethiopian community."

They were expected, he says, to renounce their most precious practices in favor of the halakha, which is the compendium of Jewish law and includes Biblical, Talmudic and rabbinic law as well as customs and traditions.

It is observed, in largely identical form, in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions.

But the Ethiopians, living isolated from the rest of the Jewish world for centuries, had developed their own laws and rituals, based on their interpretations solely of the Bible.

He cites examples. "In Ethiopia, issues of purity were essential. We used 'purifying waters,' as a regular part of our lives – for women after giving birth, after menstruation, for mourners, for anyone suspected of having been in contact with something impure.

A man who went to another city for a length of time would also have to be purified by a kes upon return to his village, in case he had become impure in the city."

Although the State of Israel brought the Ethiopian Jews out, the Israeli rabbinic authorities refused to fully recognize their Judaism. Their kessim were not recognized as rabbis or religious leaders, so they were not permitted to perform marriages or to rule on public religious issues. Furthermore, in order to affirm their Judaism, for purposes of marriage, for instance, the Jews of Ethiopian origin had to undergo a modified conversion procedure, which included symbolic letting of blood (in lieu of circumcision) and immersion in a mikve (ritual bath).

"We had dreamed for generations about the moment that we would arrive here. And after the terrible hazards of the journey, when we finally arrived, we were told that we were not Jewish enough.

"And it was difficult for the kessim, especially the oldest among them, to admit that Jewish life had progressed across the centuries and that the halakha developed in the Jewish world, outside of our lives and traditions," he continues. "In the eyes of the kessim, accepting halakha is a demand that they abandon the rules of the Torah. I believe that, with a little good will, it would have been possible to include the ancient Biblical traditions and values that we had kept for centuries in current reality. What harm would that have done? But the rabbinate had no compassion, no mercy. They acted maliciously.

They needed to have total control over the practice of Judaism, leaving no place for us and our customs."

And almost all children were sent to religious boarding schools, the message being that "at least the second generation would be normatively Jewish."

The Ethiopians have come to recognize, he says, that the Jewish world has progressed beyond the Biblical interpretations of Jewish law and now accept the notion of halakha. "I think that all in all, we were rational, we were those who acted with responsibility – we have accepted the changes. We just didn't want to be considered with such contempt.

We didn't want to stop respecting our spiritual leaders, our kessim, our values."

IT WAS THIS CONTEMPTUOUS attitude that pushed Alamo into the arms of the Conservative movement.

Accepting that in order to be a religious leader he would have to study to become a rabbi, he applied and was accepted to a prestigious Orthodox yeshiva. "The head rabbi told me that he was happy to see me among his students, and then he added, 'You'll see, we'll make good Jews out of you.' As if my fellow Ethiopians and I were not good Jews.

I felt I had always been a good Jew, and the rabbi's comments were crude and rude. And oh, how that hurt me."

He left the yeshiva. "I was willing to accept that I had to fill in the gap between my traditions and developments over the centuries. But I wasn't willing to accept their malicious arrogance."

He studied practical nursing in order to make a living and was active in Ethiopian causes. By chance, he met a group of Conservative rabbis at a demonstration for Ethiopians' rights. "I had no idea that such a movement existed. These people said they were observant, religious Jews, but they didn't look like any of the religious Jews I had met. I discovered another type of Israeli Jew and I felt an irresistible attraction to who they are and what they offer."

What he found irresistible, he explains, was the inclusiveness of the Conservative movement. He understood that the Conservative movement would also demand that he observe halakha and that, as a rabbi, he would have to base his religious decisions on its premises, but "they were not coercive and they accept different people."

The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem accepted him to their rabbinical studies program, even though he had no academic degree. "I had no money, either. But they were outstanding – they decided to give me a chance. They were sincerely interested. I loved studying. I had a tutor who translated into Amharic for me. Those were the best days of my life in Israel."

He seems to have come to a religious balance.

He now views the kessim as part of Jewish spiritual life, but accepts the halakha as that which guides religious life. For this reason, he says, he has had no difficulty in accepting the Conservative movement's interpretations of halakha that include, for example, a large measure of gender equality, which was completely unheard of in Ethiopia.

After his ordination, Alamo attempted to establish a community. "I didn't want to establish a Conservative Ethiopian community.

I wanted to create a Conservative community in which Ethiopian and non- Ethiopian Jews would pray and live together, side by side. Remember, I told you I'm a dreamer. I wanted to create a place with one Torah, one people. But I was alone with my dream. I appealed to many organizations, to the Ministry of Education, but it didn't work.

I guess my dream was too big."

He says that he failed because he was unable to raise the funds to establish the community, although it is clear that Conservative Judaism, with its modern Western roots, may have been far too much of a stretch for the observant Jews of Ethiopian origin to accept. Alamo emphasizes that despite his innovations, he felt that he was well accepted by both his fellow Ethiopians and the kessim, because, he says, "they trust me and know that what I want to do is in the interests of the community. They know I have no intention to pull them apart.

"I was desperate, depressed," he recalls.

And then, again, he found hope when he was accepted to the Mandel School for Educational Leadership, a Jerusalem-based, multi-year program. "Once again, it was a great period," he recalls.

Having given up the idea of serving as a community rabbi, Alamo continued his practical nursing to earn a living and is active as aJewish educator. He has a regular television program on the Amharic cable channel, where he discuss the weekly portions and uses these homilies to emphasize the importance of education for the Ethiopian community. He relates that he receives hundreds of letters from viewers, many asking for his advice. In addition, he serves on the board of the Ethiopian National Project, a multi-year program intended to implement broad-based policies for the betterment of the Ethiopian Jews.

THE LOSS OF THEIR RELIGIOUS life and the sending of their children to religious boarding schools, combined with the social welfare authorities'misguided approaches, have left the Ethiopian community in a precarious position, Alamo says. "Our spiritual leadership was broken; parents lost their authority over their children.

And the result has been that we have about 5,000 delinquent youth. Social workers, psychologists, people like that who graduated from Western academic schools imposed their Western notions and concepts on us and looked down at us. They didn't understand us – they had no idea about our customs or our ways, and they imposed themselves on us. They destroyed our community, and now the community is closed within itself, living in poor, underprivileged neighborhoods. Our youth are lost – today they are delinquents, tomorrow they will be criminals."

These are, he acknowledges, the same mistakes that were made in the attempts to absorb the immigrants from other non- Western countries. He smiles sadly. "So why did they make the same mistakes all over again? We were so few – there were barely 80,000 of us – why did the authorities try to break our leadership?" Today, Ethiopians are still subjected to different religious requirements than other Jews, which indicate that their Jewishness is still essentially in doubt in the Jewish state.

All Israeli Jews must be married through the rabbinate, since Israel does not recognize civil marriage, but Ethiopians must register with Rabbi Yossef Hadana in Tel Aviv, who has been appointed by the Chief Rabbinate to assess if they are, indeed, Jewish. Alamo says that that Hadana is "strict but fair." But if Hadana does not recognize the applicant's Jewishness, they must be go through a complete conversion procedure.

Only after they have obtained a document attesting to their Jewishness, are they able to marry any other Jew. Most choose a Sephardi rabbi to perform their wedding ceremonies, because, Alamo says, they are more comfortable with the Sephardim, who traditionally are more liberal and tolerant in their interpretations and observances. "There is a whole new generation that has religiously found its place in Israeli society. I have even seen Ethiopians among the Breslover Hasidic groups, singing and dancing in the streets."

But he still recognizes the severe problems the community faces and places his hope in the Ethiopian National Project. "It is the only project that was conceived, programmed and implemented by Ethiopians for Ethiopians, with all the sensitivity and understanding that we need. I believe that only when Ethiopians will take care of themselves and their problems will things really improve."


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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
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Jul 29, 2011

JOSH KORNBLUTH: "TWO ABRAHAMS"


JOSH KORNBLUTH: TWO ABRAHAMS


The Old City of Jerusalem is a taut knot at the center of multiple strands of spiritual longing.  It is divided into Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian "quarters" — but when you walk through the narrow old winding streets, you quickly see that the separations aren't so neat in a place where menorahs can easily be found for sale in the Muslim quarter.  In fact, it takes great energy and imagination to see the inhabitants as being unconnected to one another — the Jews and the Muslims and the Christians and the Armenians and the atheists and agnostics who maneuver among the uneven, foot-polished cobblestones, buying and selling, praying, chatting on a shady stoop, following in the footsteps of their savior or their sister or their ancestors.  It takes an act of will to mentally undo the knot that binds Jerusalemites together — to insist on a counter-reality in which these are clearly different types of beings, rather than fascinating varieties of one species, a species with a compulsion for crossing over.

A guy like me might easily be lulled by the Old City into a vision of a peaceful, multicultural world — until he looks up from his sweetened Turkish coffee and sees the young Israeli soldiers standing a few feet away, submachine guns hanging at their side.  And a terrible thought comes to him: They won't shoot me — I'm a Jew.

*     *     *

I became a man on July 18, nearly three months after my 52nd birthday.  After a dusty, head-bumpy morning of archeological digging (at the ancient city of Beit Guvrin), an afternoon visit to the spectacularly beautiful gravesite of first Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion and his wife (who hated living in the desert — but when you're married to an icon, what are you going to do?), and a glorious, splashelicious hour or so at the Ein Avdat Oasis (a side note: Jews seems to gravitate toward baptism), we arrived at Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh.  I'd always thought of kibbutzim as basically big, socialist farms, but in reality many — like this one — have survived into the present day by turning themselves into, essentially, hotels or holiday resorts.

After a mercifully quick dinner (don't ask), our group headed over to a large water tower that had been painted with friendly, colorful graffiti.  We climbed a metal ladder to the top, then found ourselves looking out over a dazzling desert landscape as the sun set.  It felt perfect.  Menachem Creditor, my friend and rabbi, with the help of our brilliant guide Jared, had gone to extraordinary lengths to make my bar mitzvah ceremony special.  Menachem had borrowed a Torah from a temple in Jerusalem for us to use — and amazingly this Torah had been rescued from Vilna (also known as Vilnius), Lithuania, where the grandparents of one member of our group, Michael Tarle, had fought as partisans against the Nazis.  About 265,000 Lithuanian Jews were murdered by the Nazis — 95 percent of the population.

The previous day, at Yad Vashem, Michael had given a moving tribute to his grandparents, one that had us all in tears.  The fact that the Torah at my bar mitzvah happened to come from the place where Michael's brave grandparents had lived, and fought, was a coincidence — the kind of coincidence that reminds me of something the writer Richard Price likes to say: "God is not a second-rate novelist."

Menachem had also borrowed a guitar, and he led us in song and prayer.  Others in our group  added lovely prayers and wishes for me on this occasion of my belated bar mitzvah.  (As I understand it, technically I became "a bar mitzvah" — and thus a man — when I turned 13, simply by virtue of my chronological age.  But here I am referring, of course, to the bar mitzvah ceremony, which I undertook later in life, by my own choice, and with the guidance and collaboration of Rabbi Creditor and numerous friends and family members and people in my community in Berkeley.)

I had intended to memorize my Torah parsha – the passage from The Book of Numbers, set to a musical "trope," that had been assigned to me — but my middle-aged brain, outfitted with pre-Pentium processors, had proved unequal to that task.  So, as permitted by Rabbi Creditor, I held a "cheat sheet" over the beautiful Torah scroll (containing a transliteration of the Hebrew, as well as my musical transcription of a recording that Menachem had made for me) and sang  into the desert air.  (I plan to learn Hebrew eventually as I continue my Jewish studies.)  Then I read my drasha – my personal response to my Torah parsha.

Then Rabbi Creditor said a prayer, or sequence of prayers (I was quite overwhelmed emotionally, and don't remember all the specifics), and the sun set, and a nearby peacock cried out, and Menachem wrapped a prayer shawl around me and my wife and son and I kissed them both, and even now as I write this (in a hotel room in Sheboygan, Wisconsin) my heart seems to fill up with more than blood, more than what will end, more than all that we have lost — with what might be, with what already is.

*     *     *

We traveled by jeep over the rough terrain of the Golan Heights.  It was quite bumpy.  I thought, Yesterday I became a man; today I might become a eunuch.

*     *     *

There is a McDonald's at Masada.  This is not something I expected to find at the site where Jewish Zealots once committed suicide rather than be taken into slavery by Roman conquerors.  I resisted the urge to wander over to the counter and order a Very, Very Unhappy Meal.

Like so many of the places we visited in Israel, Masada raised feelings of incredible, and perplexing, complexity.  Were we meant to celebrate zealotry, or suicide?  Was the Israeli sense of being constantly besieged a vestige from earlier times, or a very accurate perception of present circumstances?  An Israeli man who heard me asking a long question, along these lines, of our guide later approached me and tried to explain how it feels to live one's entire life with the daily threat of extinction; his tone was friendly, not combative — he was reaching out to me, trying to convey what life was like for him.  And in that brief encounter I felt a challenge to my self-protective attempts to separate myself from all this painful history, and the confusing present, and the terrifyingly unknowable future.

Dig down into Israel's past and you find multiple, quite often contradictory layers of conquest and victimization.  You think you know where you stand, but you don't: there are always more layers to uncover.  From Herod's splashy palaces to the Golden Arches of today, dominant cultures try to make their mark — but eventually someone else ends up walking all over you.  Perhaps the best we can do is to hold hands and share the moment.

*     *     *

The Dead Sea is a place where people willingly inflict pain and discomfort upon themselves, then agree that they had a wonderful time.  It was hotter than Hell when we got there.  We rode in a little trolley pulled by a tractor that was driven by a guy who hated his job, hated his life, hated us.  We covered parts of ourselves in legendary mud that was, it shouldn't have come as a surprise, boilingly hot.  We rinsed off that mud in showers of hot, sulphurous water.  We then stepped gingerly over hot sand to the rapidly receding waters of the Dead Sea itself — which turned out to be, yes, incredibly hot (though a bit cooler as you waded in deeper).  We then did the thing you do in the Dead Sea — which is to lean back and float, on the salt-choked water, and marvel at how buoyant you have become.  This is a little bit fun until you try to stand up again — and realize that this isn't so easy: your buoyancy seems to prevent you from shifting your weight in such a way that your feet will go back down.  So you panic a bit, and start splashing around, and get saltwater in your eyes — so that now your eyes sting (along with any portions of your skin that have been recently shaved, or scratched).  You rinse out your eyes under yet another hot shower, then stagger back to the trolley driven by the sullen, bitter man on the tractor.  In the humid, sulphur-smelling locker room, you change out of your salt-encrusted swimming suit back into your regular clothes.  You order a slushie at the little cafeteria.  You make a mental note never to visit the Dead Sea again (and perhaps to be wary of all tourist attractions that have the word "dead" in their name).  You gratefully pile into your air-conditioned tour bus, murmuring, along with everyone else, that yes, you did have a wonderful time.

*     *     *

One day we met Avraham and Ibrahim — in other words, two guys named Abraham, one a Jew from Michigan and the other a Christian Arab who has, for many decades, lived in a kind of exile from his village.

Avraham Loewenthal is a remarkable artist who does paintings inspired by the mystical Jewish writings of the Kabbala.  (The Kabbala was, of course, originally the creation of the singer-songwriter Madonna, but since then centuries of Jewish mystics have made it their own.)  Avraham was a dude in the Detroit area when he read a book called Jewish Meditation, by Aryeh Kaplan, and his mind was blown.  It's still blowing — he moved to the spiritual city of Tzefat and for the past 10 years has been studying Kabbala and making art.  He has a wispy beard, and says "Awesome!" a lot, with such enthusiasm that you find yourself saying "Awesome!" a lot yourself, and smiling.  Avraham believes that nothing is coincidence, and that the highest purpose of humanity is to be altruistic.  I would imagine that he'd be a terrible poker player.

Much of Tzefat has seemingly attained the mystical status of a tourist trap, but Jared (as usual, the consummate guide) led a few of us to a lovely café, where we watched a woman do some weaving and sipped fruit shakes.

Our encounter with the other "Abraham" — Ibrahim Issa — came later in the day, and was a moving highlight of our trip.  We met him in what remains of his village, Bar'am.  When he was a boy, he and all the other Christian Arabs who had lived, he says, peacefully with everyone (including Jews) to that point, were evacuated by the Israeli military.  Since then Ibrahim — now 77 "and a half" years old — and the others in his community have repeatedly been told (by the Army chief, by a series of Israeli prime ministers, and even by Israel's Supreme Court) that they have every right to return; and yet, they have not been allowed to do so, other than in occasional gatherings at their old church, which has recently been rebuilt.  His people — Maronite Christians — have lived in this region for 1,600 years.  He has been waiting 63 years to be allowed to move back.  In the meantime, his village (most of it leveled by Israeli bombardment, in some vague action of supposed retaliation) has been turned into an Israeli "national park," where there is virtually nothing to indicate to visitors that they are walking in, and on, his ancestral home.  The public bathrooms, which we used, are located in the structure that used to be Ibrahim's childhood home.

And yet he's hopeful!  As Ibrahim spoke — in Hebrew, with Jared translating for us — we saw the pain that he still feels at the enforced diaspora of his community.  But when one of our group asked him whether he still expects to be allowed to return home — after 63 years! — without hesitation he says, "Yes!"  I felt this "yes" as kind of an antidote to the terse "no" I'd gotten from Barbara, the Jewish settler who'd had us in her home in the West Bank, when I'd asked her if there was anything we Americans could do to help move her region towards peace.  At the same time, Ibrahim seemed to share with Barbara a sense that it is not the vast majority of people who are causing the difficulties, but rather their leaders.  "It is perfectly reasonable that Jews, Muslims, and Christians can live together peacefully," he said, "but the politicians cause all the problems."

I asked Ibrahim whether he felt the irony (though that seemed a rather weak word) of his community being treated by Jews much as the Jews have been treated throughout our history.  His answer was poignant: "It definitely  happened to the Jews — that was their disaster.  And now they're doing it to us — that's the pain!"  Later he said, "I don't have a relationship to the State of Israel; I love the people of Israel!"  Indeed, many of his children have served in the Israeli army.  Other children of the former inhabitants of Bar'am have become lawyers, and are working assiduously to win their cause in the Israeli legal system.  (Though one has to wonder, since the Israeli Supreme Court already told them that they could return, only to be "overruled" by the military, how much they might actually achieve this way.)

Ibrahim walked us back towards the parking lot.  He said, indicating a now-barren stretch of land, "I played right here when I was a boy.  That's why it still burns.  I see with my own eyes every single friend I played with here."  He said, "We can't take up guns; the power of words is the best we can do."  He urged us to write to the Israeli leaders with a simple message: "What's up with Bar'am?"  He said, "I'll pay for the stamp!"

Michael Tarle, the member of our group whose grandparents fought the Nazis as partisans, went up to Ibrahim and told him that, in the story of Bar'am, there were so many similarities to what Michael's grandparents had experienced in Vilna.  The two men embraced.  We trudged past a sign that said, "Bar'Am National Park: Enjoy Your Visit! — Israel Nature & Parks Authority."  As we boarded our bus, I looked over and saw an old man, still standing erect, walk slowly to his car.

*     *     *

On Friday, the day before we were due to return home, we visited the ancient city of Tzippori, which is being painstakingly excavated, and where, we were told, Jews and Romans once lived together in relative peace.  As at earlier stops on our trip, we considered the complicated and often porous membrane that has separated Jews from other cultures, and simultaneously connected them to those other cultures as well.  As Monty Python trenchantly notes in The Life of Brian, the answer to the question "What did the Romans ever do for us?" is quite lengthy, actually.

Later, on a pluralistic Masorti (a.k.a. "Conservative") Jewish kibbutz, a woman rabbi from the States proudly showed us the mikva — purifying ritual pool — that she has rebuilt, and now maintains, where men and women and same-sex couples are welcome at any time.  We heard from another rabbi on the kibbutz of a new generation of Israelis who are "drifting away from Judaism, because they feel it's not theirs."

In the evening, back in Jerusalem, we attended a shabbat service with a local Masorti congregation.  We walked through an alley, over broken glass, to get there.  The service was held in what had been built as a bomb shelter.  Rabbi Creditor and members of the local congregation led the celebration, in which we welcomed shabbat, inviting the spirit of this holy day of rest and reflection to enter us.  Beautiful children played on the floor.  Menachem led the congregation in soaring, joyful song, and even a lively dance around the room.

Welcoming shabbat in a bomb shelter — that seemed to encapsulate our Israeli experience.  The people in this room were seeking a home within a homeland that frequently makes them feel like outsiders, even as the Jewish nation struggles to find a way to feel at home itself.  Amid the songs and the prayers, I wished for a world that feels like home for all of us, and for a pluralistic Israel that can help show us the way.


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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
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A Vision from Home


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 from Rabbi Creditor 

A Vision from Home 

 

25 Tammuz, 5771

July 27, 2011

Dear Chevreh,

 

It's good to be home after returning Monday night from the CNS Israel Trip.  But, oy, does it hurt to have left home behind.  

 

And how appropriate to be torn between homes in the midst of the "Three Weeks" on our

Masada

calendar between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av (Tisha Be'Av), days which recall the destructions of both Jerusalem Temples, among other moments of loss in Jewish history.  

 

Tradition has suggested that the following tragedies occurred on Tisha Be'av: the negative report of the spies in the desert, the fall of Betar (the last holdout of the Jewish people in the Bar Kochba Revolt), the edict for the Spanish expulsion of Jews was issued, and World War I began. Historicity is perhaps less important than meaning here. Tisha B'Av is a day of loss. It is, simply said, a very sad day for the Jews.  

The Partizans' Memorial at Yad Vashem

 

Just last week I stood with our CNS Israel Trip chevreh in the Judean Desert, looking out from Masada atthe very Roman camps that marched against 2000 years ago - and eventually exiled and destroyed - the remnants of the Second Jewish commonwealth.  Just last week CNS member Josh Kornbluth marked his Bar Mitzvah, reading Torah and sharing a drasha overlooking the Negev.  (His drasha and reflections from the trip are available online here.)   Just last week CNS member Michael Tarle stood at the Partizan's Memorial, ritually marking the heroism of his grandparents, both Partizans from Vilna, Lithuania.  Just last week the Netivot Shalom chevreh joined in Shabbat Davening with the Masorti community Mayanot in Jerusalem.  Just last week... Just 2000 years ago... 

 

The tribulations of Jewish History, interspersed with miracles of survival and creativity, are just dizzying.   

 

We live this dizzyness on Tisha B'Av, refraining from eating, drinking, bathing, intimacy, wearing leather shoes, and learning Torah (except for topics pertaining to the day).  This year our community will mark Tisha B'Av in the following ways: 

1) Erev Tisha B'Av (Monday, Aug. 8):  We will meet in the CNS Library at 8:00pm for Ma'ariv and for the Book of Eicha, followed by a few of the Kinot, traditional sad-songs.  People should bring flashlights, and prepare to sit on the floor (if possible), as it is a traditional sign of mourning, which Tisha B'Av is for the entire Jewish People.  We will say the service, not sing it.  The tone for this evening is unique in Jewish tradition - soft, sad, and somber.  There is an additional tradition to not reach out to those around us, not even to greet others, sequestering ourselves somehow to alone-ness despite gathering together.  It is both magic and painful.
  
2) Yom Tisha B'Av (Tuesday, Aug. 9):  We will be joining together with Congregation Beth Israel for Shacharit starting at 8:00 am at Beth Israel (1630 Bancroft Way, Berkeley)where services will follow the customs of Beth Israel. Following Shacharit and Kinnot there will be a learning session at 10am. 
 
3) Tisha B'Av Minchah at Netivot Shalom (Tuesday, August 9): We will gather at 7:15 pm in the CNS Library for Minchah and Torah Service. Unique to this Minchah Service is the practice of wearing Tallit and Teffilin (traditionally not worn on the morning of the holiday). Minchah marks start of the shift in the somber mood of the day towards Tu B'Av and the seven weeks on consolation.
I long to return to Israel, its sacred scent and dizzying array of complex issues so recent I feel them to my core, barely able to remember where and when I am.   But tradition teaches us that those who remember the destruction of Jerusalem and feel the brokenness of the world will be part of their rebuilding

May that be so, soon and in our days,

Rabbi Creditor

 

Congregation Netivot Shalom | 1316 University Avenue | Berkeley | CA | 94702

Tisha B'Av Schedule @ CNS 5771

Tisha B'Av Schedule @ CNS 5771

Tisha B'av (the Ninth of Av), which begins Monday, August 8th (at 8:06pm) and continues on Tuesday, August 9th (at 8:42pm), is the day upon which we remember (and some mourn) the lost Jerusalem Temples. Tradition has suggested as well that the following tragedies occurred on Tisha Be'av: the negative report of the spies in the desert, the fall of Betar (the last holdout of the Jewish people in the Bar Kochba Revolt), the edict for the Spanish expulsion of Jews was issued, and World War I began. Historicity is perhaps less important than meaning here. Tisha B'Av is a day of loss. It is, simply said, a very sad day for the Jewish people.  On Tisha B'Av itself, it is traditional to refrain from eating, drinking, bathing, intimacy, wearing leather shoes, and learning Torah (except for topics pertaining to the day). 

This year our community will mark Tisha B'Av in the following ways:

1) Erev Tisha B'Av (Monday, Aug. 8):  We will meet in the Library of Netivot Shalom at 8:00pm for Ma'ariv and for the Book of Eicha, followed by a few of the Kinot, traditional sad-songs.  People should bring flashlights, and prepare to sit on the floor (if possible), as it is a traditional sign of mourning, which Tisha B'Av is for the entire Jewish People.  We will say the service, not sing it.  The tone for this evening is unique in Jewish tradition - soft, sad, and somber.  There is an additional tradition to not reach out to those around us, not even to greet others, sequestering ourselves somehow to alone-ness despite gathering together.  It is both magic and painful.

2) Yom Tisha B'Av (Tuesday, Aug. 9):  We will be joining together with Congregation Beth Israel for Shacharit starting at 8:00 am at Beth Israel (1630 Bancroft Way, Berkeley)where services will follow the customs of Beth Israel. Following Shacharit and Kinnot there will be a learning session at 10am. 

3) Tisha B'Av Minchah at Netivot Shalom (Tuesday, August 9): We will gather at 7:15 pm in the Library of Netivot Shalom for Minchah and Torah Service. Unique to this Minchah Service is the practice of wearing Tallit and Teffilin (traditionally not worn on the morning of the holiday). Minchah marks start of the shift in the somber mood of the day towards Tu B'Av and the seven weeks on consolation.

Tradition teaches us that those who remember the destruction of Jerusalem and feel the brokenness of the world will be part of their rebuilding.  May that be so, soon and in our days.


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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
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RHR-NA: Is Your Rabbi a Human Rights Hero?

RHR-NA: Is Your Rabbi a Human Rights Hero?

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America is searching for rabbis who are human rights heroes.  Is your rabbi the one?  If so, nominate your rabbi as a human rights hero! Active community members from all over North America are invited to nominate their rabbi as a human rights hero. Two rabbis will be selected to be honored in person at the RHR-NA celebration on December 8, 2011 in New York City, as a guest of RHR-NA. Click here for more information and nomination forms.

What does it mean to be a Human Rights Hero? 

Nominated rabbis will be leaders in promoting human rights within their communities in North America and/or Israel and the Palestinian territories.  They are strongly committed to working towards the dignity and worth of every single person in society, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Jewish belief that every person is a creation in the divine image.  

Who is eligible to be nominated as a Human Rights Hero?

To be eligible, rabbis should work within a Jewish community setting, such as in a synagogue, school, camp, JCC or other related organization. Rabbis must live and work in North America. Rabbis who work full-time for social justice or human rights organizations are not eligible. Rabbis for Human Rights-North America board members and staff members are not eligible.  The two winners must be available to attend the celebration in New York City on December 8, 2011, as a guest of RHR-NA.

Who is eligible to nominate a rabbi?

Nominators must consider themselves members of the nominated rabbi's community.  A nominator may be a synagogue member, a student, a parent of a student or camper, a JCC member, or someone who participates regularly in activities organized by the rabbi's community. Nominators may not be staff members of the rabbi's community. Self-nominations will not be considered.

How do I nominate my rabbi?

To nominate your rabbi, please fill out the following form and write a brief statement (250-300 words) about why your rabbi is a human rights hero. Please include the names and e-mail addresses for two additional members of your rabbi's community who would be willing to submit supporting recommendation letters. Those individuals will receive an e-mail from RHR-NA inviting them complete an online recommendation form.

Once your nomination has been processed, you will receive a confirmation e-mail.
 

How will rabbis be selected?

A selection committee has been formed to review all nominations and pick our two winning rabbis. Five distinguished rabbis make up the selection committee: Rabbi Peter Rubinstein in New York, NY; Rabbi Amy Eilberg in Mendota Heights, Minnesota; Rabbi Will Berkovitz in Seattle, Washington; Rabbi Aaron Levy in Toronto, Canada; and Rabbi Andrea London in Chicago, Illinois. Please do not contact selection committee members regarding this program. We choose to disclose this information so that the selection process is clear; any emails sent to the selection committee members will be deleted without review. Thank you for respecting this request.

All applications, complete with supporting letters, must be received by Wednesday, August 24, 2011, by 7:00pm EST.



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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Jul 28, 2011

Measuring Success: "How Do You Create a Data Driven Culture? Step 1: Framing the Issue"

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How Do You Create a Data Driven Culture? Step 1: Framing the Issue

Recognizing the value of data is an important first step, but how can nonprofits move beyond this to teach employees at all levels of their organizations to make data-driven decisions, not anecdotal, emotional or knee jerk decisions? 

Last month we introduced you to the 7 Steps to Data Driven Decision Making. Here, we will share detailed insight into the critical first step, Framing the Issue, using examples from our clients' experiences with the process.

Framing the Issue

Nonprofit employees do not need to be statisticians to effectively analyze data and make data-driven decisions. In fact, most of the organizations we work with find the actual analysis of the data to be the most straightforward part of the process. The biggest challenge organizations face is really taking enough time to clearly identify the issues they are trying to understand.

When organizations do not adequately frame the problem, they usually collect the wrong data or incomplete sets of data. This leaves them confused as they try to make sense of their analysis and draw conclusions to enable decision making.

Many concerns pass by the desks of nonprofit professionals each week and there are many potential projects and analyses that they can choose to undertake. When a concern arises, how do leaders know which ones need to be studied and which to devote their limited resources toward understanding better?

We suggest leaders ask the following questions to assign a priority to the issues and to understand what work will be involved in exploring them further:
• How did this issue come to my attention?
• How many people does it impact?
• What proof do I have that this problem exists?
• What else do I need to know in order to evaluate this issue?

Case Study 1: Foundation

Sarah works as a Program Manager for a capacity-building foundation that gives grants to nonprofit organizations. The nonprofits that receive the grants create volunteer engagement in community service projects. Her foundation's mission is to increase the number of volunteers engaged in community service and maximize the percentage of volunteers retained from one year to the next.

How did this issue come to Sarah's attention?
Based on conversations with grantees and anecdotal evidence gathered while visiting offices, Sarah's team felt that its grants were effectively increasing the number of people engaged in service across the state. The team knew that some of the nonprofits that received grants were more successful with volunteer engagement than others. They used volunteer retention to evaluate the effectiveness of their grants. However, Sarah did not understand what factors drove increases or decreases in retention.

The foundation had been collecting a wide range of data related to its grants, but had never analyzed it to understand trends and relationships between the metrics. As the foundation experienced external pressure to report its impact more quantitatively, Sarah was asked to evaluate the portfolio of grants so that the foundation could measure its long-term impact. 

How many people are impacted?
If the foundation disbursed funds to the most effective nonprofits, the number of volunteers serving in the state would increase. The foundation indirectly served over 30,000 clients through its grants at the time and hoped to increase this number. In addition to clients served, hundreds of volunteers worked in the grantee organizations across the state.

What proof is there that this issue exists?
Sarah's data showed that some organizations had low volunteer retention rates. Several of these organizations had been receiving funds from the foundation for years and continued to have low retention rates. 

What else does Sarah need to evaluate this issue?
Sarah collected information contained in the annual grant reports that would help her see which metrics contributed to low retention rates. She hoped that this would help her understand why some grants performed better than others. 

Case Study 2: Private school
John is the principal of an independent school that teaches students from kindergarten through 8th grade. His school seeks to equip its students intellectually and socially for success in high school and beyond. 

How did this issue come to John's attention?
John heard a few complaints from parents that the math program in his school was weak and did not equip the students with the knowledge they needed to be top performers in high school. He did not know if this was just the perception of a few parents or a bigger issue that needed to be addressed. 

How many people are impacted?
The complaints came from parents whose children were students in the middle school, grades 5 through 8. Parents of elementary school students had not complained.

What proof is there that this issue exists?
In addition to parent comments, middle school standardized test scores were lower than the average compared to other independent schools. 

What else does John need to evaluate this issue?
John needed to collect information from all the parents in his middle school to understand the perceptions of more than just those who complained. 

Why Frame the Issue?
By asking these questions, nonprofit leaders can effectively prioritize the many issues they could potentially explore. This pattern of inquiry also clarifies the nature of each issue and the data that will be required to fully understand them. Framing the Issue sets the foundation for the remainder of the 7 Steps: Hypothesis Development, Data Collection, Data Analysis, Interpretation, Decision-Making and Communication. 

Be sure to check out our newsletter next month, when we will delve into Step 2: Hypothesis Development. 

If you have further questions about this approach or are interested in the Building Data Competency program for your organization, email info@measuring-success.com.

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

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