Jun 27, 2009



Editors, Daily Planet:

We, the 40 East Bay rabbis who are members of the East Bay Council of Rabbis and serve the local Jewish community, support freedom of the press. We also support good journalism. We believe that coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be fair and honest. The Daily Planet has a right to publish its views and the views of its readers. Those who disagree have the same right. Those who have voiced their opposition to the Daily Planet's coverage are entitled to speak and be heard. It is not accurate to label everyone who has disagreed with positions expressed in the Planet as militant right-wingers. Critics of views expressed in the Daily Planet come from a number of political perspectives. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, and as rabbis who come from a variety of perspectives, we encourage people to explore many sources in learning about this important issue.

The overwhelming majority of the members of the Jewish community of the East Bay, the people we serve and represent, and of the citizens of the United States, support both Israel and the peace process. Many in the Jewish community have been vocal opponents of some Israeli government policies and are part of the community's dialogue. The Jewish community does not censor criticism of Israel and neither its leadership nor its designated representatives are engaged in a campaign against the Daily Planet. We decry any efforts by anyone who would stifle the flow of information.

At times criticism of Israeli government policies and actions has crossed over into classically anti-Semitic expression when it targets Jewishness itself as a blameworthy status—as did the Kurosh Arianpour commentary the Daily Planet printed some years back. Disseminating hate speech against any ethnic or religious group, while it may be constitutionally legal, is not acceptable when allowed to stand on its own in a community paper and given the appearance of reasonable discourse. Hate speech against any group is unacceptable; in the same vein we would expect that the Planet would refrain from printing racist or homophobic material. The claim of freedom of the press does not excuse journalists from meeting the standards of civil discourse.

Rabbi Andrea Berlin

On behalf of the East Bay Council of Rabbis

Jun 26, 2009

jewish week: "Choose Life, Not Kiddush Clubs"

NY Jewish Week: Choose Life, Not Kiddush Clubs
by Philip Lanzkowsky, Howard Trachtman And Irving Zoltan
Published on: Jun 17, 2009

It is now widely acknowledged, after years of denial, that alcoholism is increasingly prevalent in the Jewish community. In suburban Baltimore, two centers are already dedicated to the treatment of recovering Jewish drug addicts and alcoholics. It is estimated that approximately 10 percent of Jewish men have problems with excessive alcohol intake and dependence. Although this figure is less than other religious groups where the incidence may reach 30 percent, the number is still unacceptably high. 

The extent of the problem among Orthodox versus less observant Jews is open to debate but many professionals have expressed concern that the Orthodox lifestyle may provide opportunities for alcohol abuse and that religious practices may provide justification for and mask excessive alcohol ingestion.  The most disturbing fact is that young Jews seem to be more vulnerable to alcohol abuse than their parents. This is reason enough for Jewish parents to set a good example and avoid behaviors that promote inappropriate alcohol consumption.

As pediatricians, we are troubled by the prevalence of Kiddush Clubs in Orthodox shuls and the availability of hard liquor for the congregation at Kiddush after services. The habit of having a drink during prayer services arose in the small shtetls of Europe before the full impact and adverse effects of alcohol on health were appreciated. We think that the practice of drinking hard alcohol on shul premises promotes and sanctions behavior that can have deleterious effects on younger members of the community. 

Regular meetings of Kiddush Clubs provide an implicit sanction for a form of covert drinking. It provides a veneer of respectability and exclusivity, suggesting a "coolness" about those individuals who are part of this private, select drinking group. These adults become the enablers of youth drinking. This is well described by Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union: "It's not only drinking, it's idealized drinking which is a very, very bad message for the kids." 

What validation and sanction for this behavior does a child or adolescent need more than "I saw it in shul?" The Orthodox Union voted in 2005 to recommend that affiliated synagogues end Kiddush Clubs. Although many congregations objected that this was an excessive response to isolated incidents of alcohol abuse, other enlightened shuls have curtailed their Kiddush Clubs. Other denominations, such as Reform temples, have never established this practice.

There are numerous publications in the pediatric literature detailing the adverse effects of alcohol exposure on susceptible children and adolescents. An extreme example of the physical danger of alcohol is illustrated in a recent article in Newsweek by Lisa Miller that describes a young "orthodox" man who became so drunk on Shabbat that he drove his car into the oncoming traffic lane, rolled his car and crashed into a cottage. It is our contention that there are vulnerable children in our communities whose latent propensity to excessive alcohol intake may be triggered by Kiddush Clubs and the drinking of hard liquor on shul premises. 

Pediatricians have advocated for bans on smoking and fought against advertising campaigns directed at adolescents. These efforts have achieved a substantial reduction in smoking among young people. They have convinced pediatricians that they can change unhealthy practices and combat long-standing, condoned behaviors. As pediatricians and members of Orthodox shuls, we believe that banning Kiddush Clubs would help protect vulnerable children and adolescents.

In discussing this matter with local synagogue leadership, the common justification for continuing the practice of drinking in shul is that there have been no adverse consequences in their particular locale. In addition, they feel that it is a custom that they cannot easily challenge because it is too deeply rooted and the participants are frequently senior and otherwise respected congregants. Drinking hard liquor in shul is a prevalent practice that has ardent followers but serves no constructive purpose in Jewish communal life.

We do not want to address issues regarding the impact of Kiddush Clubs on decorum in synagogues, the inappropriateness of interrupting services, or disrespect for prayer engendered by participation in Kiddush Clubs. We do not even touch upon the potential liability that synagogues may face through property or personal damages to congregants or others that might occur following alcohol ingestion on shul premises.

A laissez-faire attitude towards Kiddush Clubs in general, an inexplicable timidity in confronting club members, and a misguided attempt to minimize the problem by asserting the involvement of only a small group of outliers are all unacceptable strategies. They evade parental and congregational responsibility to ensure that children are not exposed to unhealthy habits especially within the confines of the synagogue. Kiddush Clubs are a phenomenon unique to Orthodox Jews. Rather than choosing to hide behind the banner of tradition, we encourage confronting this potential health problem in a straightforward manner. 

In an effort to foster the protection of the younger members of the Jewish community from the potential development of abnormal drinking behavior as adults, we strongly urge that the drinking of alcohol (other than Kiddush wine) be prohibited on the synagogue premises. We call upon like-minded medical professionals and other individuals to assert their influence in their communities to once and for all put an end to social practices that foster abnormal consumption of alcohol in shuls.

Philip Lanzkowsky and Howard Trachtman are professors of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, and Irving Zoltan is assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Einstein.


Jun 24, 2009

written by a proud member of Netivot Shalom, shared by her proud rabbi!

Catholic to Kugel

With an African-American Christian mom and a Jewish dad, Michella didn't know where she stood--until she found that conversion was her answer.

June 10, 2009


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2009 issue of JVibe, the magazine for Jewish teens. Reprinted by permission.

I had always thought about going to synagogue. But it wasn't until a year-and-a-half ago that I stepped foot in one for the first time. I was 12. Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., was warm and spacious--not like the cold pews I was used to sitting in during services. That night I stayed for the Shabbat service, and when it ended, my dad introduced me to the congregation. We joined them for Kiddush, and met some of the kids.

Being in a new environment was a scary thing. Everyone had obviously known one another for a long time, and I was just meeting them for the first time. I was shy about starting new chapter in my life, but I decided that I would come back and give it a try.

Michella Ore and friends

Michella Ore (far L) and friends.

You see, I'm Catholic. My mom is an African-American Christian, and my dad is a mixture of Nigerian, Native American, Russian and German--and is Jewish by birthright. After years of attending a Catholic school, I realized that Judaism allowed me to question things in ways that Catholicism did not. Judaism offered me the opportunity to learn from the Scripture but also to question it. During my elementary years in Catholic school, I had always questioned whether Jesus was the son of God. I felt that we are children of God and that no one person should be singled out as more God-given than the rest.

Learn Fast

After more than a year, I still learn new things at synagogue every week. When I'm not able to go to services, I read the weekly Torah portion. I have also been attending a bat mitzvah prep class on Sundays in which we discuss Jewish women and their influences on the Torah.

In the beginning of my process of conversion, I had to learn how to read Hebrew. It was tough at first, but not being able to sing along in services was motivation to learn. I got help from a friend at Netivot Shalom, who taught me the basics. I also studied on my own, and now I can keep up with services and sing the psalms and prayers myself. But the most difficult thing has been studying religious texts and balancing my regular schoolwork. Add to that my extracurriculars and social life, and you have a pretty busy 14-year-old!

There were times when I was frustrated with Hebrew and days of religious observance when I had to decide whether to go to school or to synagogue. When I decided to go to school, I was questioned about what's more important. I have since learned that religion and education are equally important, and I need to find a balance so I can get what I need from both.

Faking It

The process has not been smooth sailing. People have sometimes called me a "fake Jew." Because of my mixed heritage, I've been told I don't look Jewish--I've even been questioned about how I could possibly be Jewish. To me, stating that I'm a Jew should be enough information. I believe there's no such thing as a fake Jew. The term is usually directed toward converts and those whose mothers aren't Jewish, but I feel as much of a Jew as anyone. If you are a Jew at heart, you're Jewish--period. As future generations are born, fewer Jews will still look like the "stereotypical" Jew.

Converting is important to me because I want to officially be confirmed as a Jew. I want to be acknowledged throughout the world as a Jew, without a doubt from anyone. Converting will state on paper what I have felt all along. Being Jewish is more than a religion to me; it's a way of life. People say that being Jewish is just a religion, but it's more than that. I know atheistic Jews who don't believe in God but still consider themselves Jews. I have learned that Jews don't just read the Torah, they live by it. And this is one of the reasons I was drawn closer to the religion and the culture.

It's My Life

I hope the conversion process teaches me what it means to be a Jew, including the many devastating events Jews have experienced so I can share that pain and support with those who need help. I want to have a Jewish household when I grow up and pass along the teachings to my children. Along the way, I may even gain a thicker skin--after hearing that I don't "look" Jewish, I hope to learn how to ignore negative comments and instead focus on my goals.

In January, I flew to Boston (my first time on an airplane!) for an event run by The Curriculum Initiative (TCI)--a Jewish educational organization serving independent high schools. I was uneasy about the people I was going to meet during the weekend. From what little I had heard, East Coast Jews aren't that tolerant of "diverse" Jews. So when I arrived and saw that the event was being led by an African-American Jew, I was pleasantly surprised. While I was in Boston, I met many types of Jews from different ethnicities who had diverse views on politics. The trip stripped me of my ignorance and reinforced my decision to convert.

Throughout this intense process I have learned that we must follow what we know is best for ourselves, even if other people don't see it that way. I haven't had everyone's support, but I know it's the right answer for me.

Michella Ore lives in Berkeley, Calif., and attends private school in the Bay Area. She enjoys music and art and is really proud of her latest black-and-white print. In the future she wants to become a scientist and reside in a villa with her loved ones.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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AP news story for Parashat Korach: "Dead Sea peril: sinkholes swallow up the unwary"

Dead Sea peril: sinkholes swallow up the unwary

In this photo taken Thursday, May 28, 2009, a woman covered in mineral mudAP – In this photo taken Thursday, May 28, 2009, a woman covered in mineral mud stands by the Dead Sea. Geologist …

EIN GEDI, Israel – Eli Raz was peering into a narrow hole in the Dead Sea shore when the earth opened up and swallowed him. Fearing he would never be found alive in the 30-foot- deep pit, he scribbled his will on an old postcard.

After 14 hours a search party pulled him from the hole unhurt, and five years later the 69-year-old geologist is working to save others from a similar fate, leading an effort to map the sinkholes that are spreading on the banks of the fabled saltwater lake.

These underground craters can open up in an instant, sucking in whatever lies above and leaving the surrounding area looking like an earthquake zone.

The phenomenon, Raz said, stems from a dire water shortage, compounded in recent years by tourism and chemical industries as well as a growing population. "This is the most remarkable evidence of the brutal interference of humans in the Dead Sea," he said.

The parched moonscape, famous as the site of biblical Sodom and Gomorra, is the lowest point on earth and runs more than 60 miles through Israel and the West Bank.

Large sections of the coast are fenced off and signposted in Hebrew and English: "danger, open pits" and "sinkhole area ahead." But it's too expensive to inspect every place for danger. Just two months ago an Israeli hiker wandered into an area that had no warning signs and was critically injured when he fell into a sinkhole.

While such accidents are rare, Raz says there are up to 3,000 open sinkholes along the coast and likely just as many that haven't burst open yet. And they're having a big impact on Israeli development plans.

The collapsing terrain has forced authorities to close a campground, date groves and a small naval base, and to scrap plans for 5,000 new hotel rooms, said Galit Cohen, director of environmental planning at the Ministry of the Environment.

The holes, also found on the Jordanian side of the sea, are the result of the Dead Sea having shrunk by a third since the 1960s when Israel and Jordan built plants to divert water flowing through its main tributary, theJordan River.

The holes form when a subterranean salt layer that once bordered the sea is dissolved by underground fresh water that follows the receding Dead Sea waters.

The main road along the shore has been torn apart by streams whose energy is increased because they are flowing farther to reach the receding sea, and all construction along the strip between sea and highway is banned, Cohen said.

Both Israel and Jordan evaporate Dead Sea water to extract its phosphates and have built hotels along the coasts for the thousands of tourists who come in search of the curative powers of Dead Sea mud, or simply for the experience of floating unsinkably in its salt-saturated waters.

Only micro-organisms survive in the Dead Sea, but indigenous species of fish, amphibians and snails live in small nearby ponds fed by underground springs, and these could be wiped out as the Dead Sea gets smaller, Raz said.

Many of the changes are masked at the pricey resorts on the sea's southern end, which lie on the banks of a large artificial pond built by the mineral industry. But around Ein Gedi, the kibbutz or communal farm where Raz lives, the Dead Sea's shrinkage is evident.

Twenty-five years ago Ein Gedi built a spa by the sea. Now it's a one-mile trolley ride from the water.

"Any visitor that's come back for a second visit in these last 10 years would see a dramatic change," said Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an advocacy group. "The sea has run away from the cliffs and it's exposed kilometers of mud and sea floor."

No quick solution is in sight.

The World Bank is studying a proposal to dig a canal from the Red Sea, more than 100 miles south, to replenish the Dead Sea's waters. But with costs estimated at up to $15 billion, there's little optimism it will happen.

Without a solution, the sea is expected to shrink to lose another third of its area over the next century.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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Jun 23, 2009

Dan Schifrin: "The Lovely Bones"

Dan Schifrin: "The Lovely Bones"
The New York Jewish Week

The marrow of life: Jon Galinson, with his family, needs a stem cell transplant.
The marrow of life: Jon Galinson, with his family, needs a stem cell transplant.

by Daniel Schifrin
Special To The Jewish Week

"Transmissions flow from your heart to Mine, trading, twining my pain with yours. Am I not — you? Are you not — I?"
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, "I and you."

There are moments when the idea of Jews being "one" transcends the clich├ęs of both community and continuity.

When my friend Jon Galinson was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer, requiring a stem cell transplant, it was likely that his match would be another Jew of Ashkenazic descent. Our community in Northern Californi
a, where the Galinsons live, sprang into action.

At our synagogue, Berkeley's Congregation Netivot Shalom, a drive to register 100 new donors for Be The Match, the national bone marrow registry, delivered almost three times that. And at the annual Israel in the Gardens festival, the community's largest public Jewish event, the booth set up by Jon's friends and family seemed to exert a gravitational pull on the proceedings, as people crowded around to learn more about Jon, as well as the medical procedure that could save his life.

Since I am incapable of entering into a communal experience without analyzing the language and narrative that underlie it, I started exploring the physical and spiritual symbolism of a donor offering a sample of his or her bone marrow to a stranger, and I was shocked to see how the spiritual, physiological, communal and literary converged.

Figurative language, as we often forget in our urban and technological world, usually reflects our primal experience in the natural world. We talk about feeling something "in our bones"; an interest in art, or in music, being "in our blood." 

The Bible is full of this. In the second story of the creation of Eve, Adam muses on her formation from his rib, describing her as being "Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh." The liturgist Marcia Folk, in "The Book of Blessings," quotes Isaiah in a new Rosh Chodesh prayer over wine: "It shall come to be from one month to the next/that your hearts will rejoice/and your bones will flower like young grass."

Moses, before he can deliver the Israelites, must find the bones of Joseph to return to the Holy Land. In "The Jewish Book of Days," Jill Hammer offers this interpretation: "Throughout the 40 years of wandering, the bones whisper to the Israelites of their distant past and their still-unimagined future. Then the bones are planted in the land as if they were seeds, to bring new life to the people as they build anew home."

Then, of course, there is the prophesy of Ezekiel, whose vision of communal revival in the valley of dry bones is among the most moving in our tradition.  
What is striking to me about this language is that bones evoke not skeletons, or our calcified remains after death, but the opposite — life, creativity, possibility. In a way this supports our medical knowledge about bone marrow, which, in the large bones of adults, produces new blood cells.

Not only that, but to echo the spiritual undertones in Heschel's poem above, the fact that one person's bones could give life to another is suggestive of the divine spirit that flows through all of us.

Finally — giving God the last word — Ezekiel is told that "these bones are the whole house of Israel." In my interpretation, this "house of Israel" is the community of people who are animated by the attempt to keep the divine spark alive, moving as one toward a higher purpose that occasional comes into sharp relief. 

All this comes full circle, not just to Jon Galinson but also to today's House of Israel. For the life that might be saved by a donor match is not just Jon's, but the community's as a whole. Ezekiel's vision of a "lifeless" community, for a contemporary audience, might translate into a Judaism that is inert, passive and without agency. By engaging in a mitzvah like registering to possibly save a life, a community finds itself — as the dry bones did — back on its feet: "I will put My breath into you, and you shall live again." 

Note: To register as a (potential) donor, one must be between 18 and 60, and in good health. The process requires a simple cheek swab. Promo code JonGalinson reduces the cost of online registration at www.BeTheMatch.com to $25. 

Daniel Schifrin is writer in residence and director of public programs at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

G'vanim: Denominations

Dear Chevreh,

The newest issue of G'vanim: The Journal of The Academy for Jewish Religion, was just posted online, and I have pasted below the table of contents and a note from the editor, our colleague, Rabbi David Greenstein (full disclosure: I was honored to be one of the contributors).  The conversation, which centers around the notion (and question) of Denominationalism is provocative, and worth pursuing, I believe.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org 

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G'vanim: The Journal of The Academy for Jewish Religion
Volume 5, Number 1


This issue of the Journal is divided into two parts, each of which includes essays of new ideas and insights. In the first part, David Greenstein shares with us his thoughts on reexamining Jewish marriage with an emphasis on equality of the sexes. Ellis Rivkin, who predicted the dissolution of the Soviet Union long before it happened, affirms the authenticity of all previous forms of Judaism and how it impacts on today's Judaism. I look into the two different views of lighting the Sabbath candles. The second part of our Journal is devoted to a symposium on the future of the different branches of Judaism. Herein lies a great difficulty – a problem of sorts. Kol hathaloth qashot (all beginnings are difficult). Although we invited Rabbis from the different branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal – to participate, you will note the absence of certain of those voices. Our questionnaire contained the following:
  1. Do you currently identify with a particular denomination or movement? If so, which one?
  2. What do you think are the positives and/or negatives of identification with a movement?
  3. How would you describe the future of the current movements?
  4. What challenges or changes do you foresee?
  5. What are the realities and what are the possibilities of interactions among the different Jewish branches currently? In the future?
  6. What are and what will be the effects of pluralistic developments?
  7. Do you think new movements will develop?
  8. Is the denominational structure of North American Jewry meaningful abroad—in Israel or in other communities?
It is interesting to see the responses of Menachem Creditor (Conservative), Leonard Kravitz (Reform), Noam Marans (Conservative), Stephen Pearce (Reform), Robert Seltzer (Reform), Rav Soloff (Reform), Gilbert Rosenthal (Conservative), and Martin Rozenberg (Reform). The essays are brilliant, insightful and provide ample food for thought. Jerome Chanes (Orthodox) was kind enough, in a most skillful way, to respond to the essays. Now it is for us, as Hillel put it, to go and study.

Editorial Board


Equality and Sanctity: Rethinking Jewish Marriage in Theory and in Ceremony
David Greenstein
Read article (PDF)

Lessons From the Past: Mutation As a Mode of Jewish Survivals
Ellis Rivkin
Read article (PDF)

How Are the Sabbath Candles to Be Lit?
Bernard Zlotowitz
Read article (PDF)

S Y M P O S I U M: The Future of the Different Movements in Judaism

Participants: Conservative Judaism and Denominationalism
Menachem Creditor
Read article (PDF)

Reform Means Change
Leonard Kravitz
Read article (PDF)

Denominationalism and Its Discontents
Noam E. Marans
Read article (PDF)

Denominations in a Pluralistic World - Where We Are Headed
Stephen S. Pearce
Read article (PDF)

Prophecy and Predictions
Gilbert S. Rosenthal
Read article (PDF)

The Realistic Challenges Confronting the Liberal Jew
Martin Rozenberg
Read article (PDF)

Toward a Post-Ideological, and Therefore a Post-Denominational Liberal Judaism?
Robert M. Seltzer
Read article (PDF)

The Fifth Mutation
Rav Soloff
Read article (PDF)

S Y M P O S I U M     R E S P O N S E
Denomination, Post-Denomination, Trans-Denomination: Whither, Indeed, American Jewish Movements?
Jerome Chanes
Read article (PDF)


Norman E. Tutorow: The Autobiography of Jesus: As Told to the Centurion Cornelius Nepos IV, A Tale of Everyman,
Reviewed by Martin S. Rozenberg

Bernard Avishai: The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel Peace at Last,
Reviewed by Paul Kushner

Edward Kritzler: Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean
Reviewed by Harry A. Ezratty

Read book reviews (PDF)


a recommended Summer book list

Shalom Chevreh - 

I thought you might be interested in this for some summer reading suggestions.  The coordinator of a Jewish Mindfulness class I've taught in Marin County was sweet enough to collect all the books and a few articles I've recommended over the past year, and organize them into a list.  Enjoy!  

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Creditor

·        If This Is A Man by Primo Levi (also known as "Survival in Auschwitz")

·        Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton

·        New Reform Prayer Book called Mishkan T'filah, by CCAR Press, http://ccarpress.org/mishkan/

·        G-d at 2000 by Marcus Borg

·        When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Harold Kushner

·        Dying Well by Dr. Ira Byock

·        The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Maurice Lamm

·        The Death of Death by Rabbi Neil Gillman

·        Does the Soul Survive by Elie Kaplan

·        Should We Burn Babar? by Herbert Kohl

·        Pete Seeger's Storytelling Book by Pete Seeger

·        The Next Place by Warren Hanson

·        The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

·        All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

·        Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

·        As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

·        My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

·        The World To Come by Dara Horn

·        The Blessing of A Skinned Knee by Dr. Wendy Mogel

·        Be Yourself by Rabbi Bradley Artson

·        I Asked For Wonder by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

·        Overcoming Life's Disappointments by Rabbi Harold Kushner

·        Good Omens by Neil Gaiman


1.      "Near and Far" and "How to Light Shabbat Candles" from www.myjewishlearning.com

2.      "What Is It About Bedtime?" by Menachem Creditor http://www.seventyfaces.com/dvar/rabbicreditor/what-it-about-bedtime

3.      "Be Yourself" by Rabbi Bradley Artson, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Weekly_Torah_Portion/reeh_artson5762.shtml


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

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Jun 22, 2009

a wonderful article from Alban on Evaluation, Change, and Assessment (adapted for use in Jewish communities)


How Will We Know?

by Sarah B. Drummond (adapted for use in Jewish communities)

Spiritual leaders often rely as much on sacred inspiration as they do on a strategic plan. In even more cases, they rely on intuition and gut feelings when putting a new program on the ground. Leaders have a hunch that there is a need to reach out to a population, to serve a community, or to try something new. So they make a foray into new territory to give something a try. If that foray goes well, they must backtrack to answer crucial questions about leadership, resources, and sustainability. Program planning models can help them do this, just as they help in the creation of new initiatives or the re-creation of lapsed initiatives. Even programs that appear to be working well "on their own" cannot continue over time without effort, intentionality, and structure.

Leaders tend most often to build upon and strengthen programs that are already up and running than to create new programs. A junior-high youth group emerges from a gaggle of sixth graders playing air hockey after shul. A men's fellowship grows out of an annual fishing trip. A food pantry morphs into a soup kitchen. It is leaders' responsibility to create infrastructures that uphold such initiatives and that anchor programs in the life of a community, connecting them to the resources they will need to sustain life beyond the happenstance and haphazard phase. The theoretical resources that have been most helpful to me in midcourse, whereby a free-flowing activity becomes a structured program offering, have come from the world of institutional change theory. The more we understand about change as leaders, the better equipped we are to guide the change toward fulfilling our organization's mission as effectively and faithfully as possible.

New programs in a community—even a historic community like a long-established shul or university—are like teabags in a cup of hot water. Over time, they change the color and nature of their setting, even if just a little. Change leadership theory can help a person responsible for leading or creating a program to consider what must go into such a program and the institutional change it will, by nature, create.

Harvard Business School's John Kotter proposes eight steps toward program planning in an institutional setting to create a program or change initiative that is bound to succeed. Each of Kotter's steps has something special to say to a leader in a religious organization, but there are three in particular to highlight here: urgency, communication of the change vision, and short-term wins. I single out these because, in my experience, they are the steps religious organizations skip most frequently, at the peril of their programs' success.

First, urgency: I once heard that a rabbi telling a shul to change when it sees no reason to do so is like a doctor prescribing chemotherapy to someone who comes in complaining of a headache. A leader who urges change without first helping participants to see why change is necessary is bound to fail. Conversely, to frighten participants into willingness to change is both unethical and manipulative. It is common in religious organizations for leaders to cry wolf, scaring stakeholders with "the sky is falling" warnings to promote a particular agenda. Leaders might, without ill intent, frighten each other and parishioners with dramatic presentations on declines in membership or giving. Yet I have never heard of a shul membership drive that succeeded when the motivation of those doing the evangelism was fear. Finding the right level of urgency is an art in leadership.

Second, communicating the change vision: We all know that participants in religious organizations tend to be busy people, often "joiners" who participate in numerous other communities. Although this is not always true, it is true often enough that leaders must consider how to communicate change to over-stimulated people. In the case of many change initiatives in religious organizations, communications are designed for the deeply involved and over-conscientious. The very involved are precious members of faith communities, but communications about change should not aim for them. They should aim toward the middle—the attention span and engagement of the typical person, rather than the especially invested member. If we communicate clearly and often, the very attentive participants in the faith community may be puzzled by the frequency, but the word will get out.

Third, generating quick wins: Change tends to move slowly in religious organizations. When change happens slowly, it is hard to see. Think of the proverbial activity of "watching grass grow." Leaders need to be mindful that the energy that moves a change effort ahead comes from enthusiastic participants who want to see change; if those participants cannot see change, energy is bound to flag. Kotter suggests that leaders must build in short-term successes that make a visible splash in order to keep energy for change running high.

Of these three, the nature of visioning in religious organizations has a special consequence. In faith-related institutions such as shuls, participants might hold a variety of images about the true mission of the organization. In a business setting, one can assume that all hope the business will be profitable. In a religious organization, however, some might see a successful ministry program as one that brings in new disciples, while others want to take better care of current members. Some might see individual spirituality as most important, while others believe that communal togetherness is the ideal. In such a context, where it is not uncommon to find a row of ten people, no two of whom agree on what the organization is truly "for," talking and thinking about vision are crucial.

When creating a new program or renewing a continuing program, leaders must describe what success would look like. They then must talk together, early and often, about how they will know whether that vision of success is coming to life. Because it is easy to forget to ask these questions during a program planning process, I encourage leaders to ask themselves continually while designing their programs, "How will I know?" How will I know if we are meeting our goals? How will I know if we are making the right kind of progress? When leaders are mentally in "planning mode," they focus a great deal of their energy on the programs they are planning and what successful programming demands. Yet the program's success is not meant to stand only on whether participants enjoyed it. Rather, the program is meant to bring about transformation in the lives of individuals and communities. How will we know if this is happening, especially if our attention is consumed by making the program function?

Leaders in religious organizations must consider process and outcomes simultaneously. If the process associated with a program—the lived experience of a program initiative—goes poorly, the program will fail to attract or retain participants. If participants attend entertaining programs but experience no growth or transformation, the process might be excellent, but the outcome will not live up to its goals. During program planning, leaders must work together to build in both process evaluation and outcomes evaluation. That means they must have a mental, and eventually written, idea about both what a successful initiative might be and do, and what kinds of transformation they would like to encourage.

All life is cyclical in some way, and even historic ministry programs wax and wane over time. If leaders are focused mostly or exclusively on program offerings rather than on the goal toward which those programs strive, they can easily get stuck. The program offering becomes distanced from its original goal and stops achieving that goal, and then the program outlives its purpose. If leaders put purpose first, they are free to change program offerings as time and circumstance dictate. Over time, different means are required to meet the same goal. Leaders who put the program's goals first do not get too attached to particular means for reaching those goals, providing the opportunity to always keep their shuls focused and fresh.

Comment on this article on the Alban Roundtable blog


Adapted from Holy Clarity: The Practice of Planning and Evaluation by Sarah B. Drummond. 

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jun 18, 2009

NJ Jewish News: "Conservative movement hosts educators’ confab"

Conservative movement hosts educators' confab
Johanna Ginsberg, NJJN Staff Writer

What does a glow stick have to do with learning to daven? Which of the multiple intelligences does a Passover seder address? And why should high school students put Abraham on trial for the attempted murder of Isaac?

The answers are:

1. Just about everything, according to Alex Weinberg, author of the Siddur Sim Shalom Remix 2.0 curriculum.

2. All of them, according to Suzi Adelson Wainer, director of professional practice at the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.

3. It's one of many creative projects that grabs high schoolers' attention and keeps them engaged in Jewish learning, according to Ron Isaacs, rabbi of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, where he also is a coordinator of the Hebrew high school.

The three educators were among the eight speakers at the Conservative movement's Conference on Synagogue Education held June 10 at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen.

About 70 educators came for the day-long conference sponsored by United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism. It was a first for the Conservative movement's umbrella organization.

"We tried to come up with something that could give the teachers and the principals some in-service [training] — not really filling the total void of CAJE, because I'm not sure anything can, but to try to do this as a service to our congregations and to the neighboring regions," said Michelle Rich, director of education and youth activities for USCJ's New Jersey Region.

CAJE is the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, which held a national Jewish education conference every summer for 33 years but canceled the 2009 conference due to the economic climate.

The USCJ conference covered tot Shabbats and Hebrew high school and just about everything in between.

"I want people to walk away with new methodologies, new ideas, something to recharge their batteries," said Rich.

Weinberg, a Princeton native who serves as director of congregational education at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore, was the clear conference draw. His innovative methods for teaching prayer are based on experiential learning.

For example, in explaining that glow stick-davening relationship, he said that when he begins a session on the "Yotzer Or" — "Creator of Light" — prayer, he distributes glow sticks to his students and has them identify their own association with light.

"When I do this with kids, they're lying on their backs, they're holding their glow sticks over their heads, and there's a big, long string. They say what their connection to light is and put their glow stick on the string and it's like a whole starry night," Weinberg said.

He said that when the youngsters get to actually talking about the prayer after that experience, working through the siddur text "they have that anchor…to guide them through that discussion."

The educators walked away wowed by his presentation.

"I came just for him, " said Leah Beker, director of the religious school at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston. "We try all the time to add more to our tefila curriculum and make it more meaningful and successful, and I know he's another part of the puzzle that will help with my program."

Sherri Morris, director of education at Congregation Beth El in South Orange, called the speaker "impressive" and said she plans to adapt Weinberg's ideas for experiential prayer for a wide community of students at her synagogue.

While some teachers and religious school directors were soaking up what Weinberg had to offer, others were learning in concurrent sessions.

Sam Shapiro from Congregation B'nai Israel in Basking Ridge, just 20 and sporting a baseball cap, was among the younger teachers at the conference. He started his day at a session run by Dr. Shoshana Silberman focusing on how to run great ice breakers at the beginning of class. "I got a great book with a lot of different activities and some good notes on how to start a class off, how to make it active and how to warm kids up with brain teasers to get them interested in a subject, and where to go from there," he said.

A little later in the day, Isaacs was busy sharing tips for running a successful Hebrew high school. Perhaps his most important tip came when he instructed educators to set a goal — student retention. Offering the same creative programming each year sets students' expectations and provides the excitement of anticipation, he pointed out.

Meanwhile Wainer taught about multiple intelligences by analyzing the Passover seder — which parts of the ritual involve math, analysis, movement, art, and more.

Some educators attended the conference because they missed CAJE; most, however, said they came to learn.

"You need to take every opportunity to expand whatever knowledge base you have," said Gail Buchbinder, religious school director at Temple Beth Ahm-Yisrael in Springfield. "These conferences are chock full of those sort of experiences. You see something new in the field, you meet with your colleagues — it's a treat. If you come away with one big idea, it's great. If you get more than that, it's a bonus."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Jun 17, 2009

Announcing Kesharim Independent Minyan Partnership Grants

Announcing Kesharim Independent Minyan Partnership Grants

In 2008 the USCJ Kesharim Committee awarded 6 grants to Independent Minyanim who arranged partnerships with USCJ congregations or regions.  We are pleased to announce a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to be awarded in early September, 2009.   
This project's goal is to build on and strengthen the growing movement of independent minyanim, enabling and empowering Jewishly committed young adults to develop the communities, programs, and initiatives they seek within the Halachic framework of Conservative Judaism. 

The initial grantees used the funds in a variety of ways, including:the purchas of
food and utensils for Shabbat kiddush and meals; purchase of siddurim, chumashim, or other objects used to enhance the prayer experience; sharing the costs of a partner congregational educational program (to subsidize and encourage minyan participants to attend); printing and copying some promotional materials; and  providing a scholarship to the Mechon Hadar independent minyan conference in Boston. For a copy of the RFP and application, click here, Applications.  Proposals are are due by August 1.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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MSNBC/The Washington Post: "PBS to ban new religious shows"

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PBS to ban new religious shows: Compromise ends threat to stations that already broadcast church services
By Paul Farh, The Washington Post
updated 2:14 a.m. PT, Wed., June 17, 2009

The Public Broadcasting Service agreed yesterday to ban its member stations from airing new religious TV programs, but permitted the handful of stations that already carry "sectarian" shows to continue doing so.

The vote by PBS's board was a compromise from a proposed ban on all religious programming. Such a ban would have forced a few stations around the country to give up their PBS affiliation if they continued to broadcast local church services and religious lectures.

Until now, PBS stations have been required to present programming that is noncommercial, nonpartisan and nonsectarian. But the definition of "nonsectarian" programming was always loosely interpreted, and the rule had never been strictly enforced. PBS began reviewing the definition and application of those rules last year in light of the transition to digital TV and with many stations streaming programs over their Web sites. The definition doesn't cover journalistic programs about religion or discussion programs that don't favor a particular religious point of view.

The vote at PBS's headquarters in Arlington was good news for five PBS member stations that carry religious programs. Among them are KBYU in Salt Lake City, which is operated by an affiliate of the Mormon Church; KMBH in Harlingen, Tex., operated by the local Catholic diocese; and WLAE in New Orleans, operated by a Catholic lay organization.

The vote also means that WHUT, operated by Howard University in the District, won't be required to drop its telecasts of "Mass for Shut-Ins," a weekly Catholic Mass that has aired on the station since 1996 and locally in Washington for more than 50 years.

But, warned by PBS of the upcoming review, WHUT put the program's producer, the Archdiocese of Washington, on notice that it would drop the program if the PBS board voted to ban religious programs. The archdiocese then made alternative arrangements, negotiating a contract with WDCW (Channel 50) to pick up the half-hour program on Sunday mornings.

Moving the program, which is broadcast free by WHUT, will be disruptive to viewers, said Susan Gibbs, the archdiocese's spokeswoman, and expensive — the contract with WDCW will cost $60,000 per year.

"I think we were good for WHUT because we brought a committed and dedicated audience to their channel," she said. "It would have been nice for us to continue being there, but I think we were good for them, too." Gibbs was unsure whether the contract could be broken.

WHUT General Manager Jennifer Lawson said yesterday she didn't know where the program would end up. "It's not a question of taking them back," said Lawson, who chaired the PBS committee that recommended the policies adopted by PBS's 27-member board yesterday. "It's my understanding they made a decision to move to Channel 50 because they found some advantages. The decision is for them to make."

PBS's board also voted yesterday to allow PBS stations to air religious programs on digital TV channels and Web sites they operate as long as these channels don't include PBS programs or brand identification. This could open the way for cash-strapped PBS stations to lease unused digital TV channels to religious broadcasters, as station KOCE in Orange County, Calif., has already done.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31400910/ns/us_news-washington_post/

© 2009 MSNBC.com

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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