Are Fireworks Essential to Spark Enthusiasm?

Are Fireworks Essential to Spark Enthusiasm?

Do you remember the song This Magic Moment by Jay and the Americans? Magic moments occur throughout the course of the Jewish year. Sometimes, the magic is overt and apparent and other times, we have a greater hand in creating our own magic.

At either end of the Jewish calendar lives a major week-long festival. In the springtime month of Nissan, we celebrate Pesach. It is a massive undertaking to create a seder with its numerous accouterments, not to mention the weeks of advance preparation for the holiday’s arrival.

On the other side of the year, in autumnal Tishrei, we celebrate Sukkot. This holiday, too, requires a great deal of preparation: erecting a sukkah, securing a lulav and etrog, and eating—if not sleeping— outside no matter the climate.

While the similarities are striking, there is a fundamental difference between the two that can be gleaned from the recounting of their respective biblical sacrifices recited in the Mussaf Amidah (additional holiday service standing prayer).

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Dropping a Pin: Finding Professional Development in Unexpected Places

Dropping a Pin: Finding Professional Development in Unexpected Places

Geography is not my strong suit. In fact, the blue Trivial Pursuit wedge represented the category that usually kept me from winning that famous ‘80s board game. Like many American Jews of my generation, my life and classroom experiences left me under informed about most places on the globe other than the United States, Eastern Europe and Israel.

You can imagine my enthusiasm when I learned our professional team would have the opportunity to accompany our foundation’s trustees and rising trustees to the little known country of Malawi in south-eastern Africa. Our site visit with a new grantee, Innovation Africa, gave me the chance to add a new country to my shortlist of spots I could find on a map. It also gave me a chance to answer this key question: why would a foundation committed to proliferating Jewish wisdom and values in the contemporary world deploy such a large delegation to visit unknown villages in Africa, so far from the heartbeat of Jewish education and outreach?

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Distinction: The WHY of Jewish Education

Distinction: The WHY of Jewish Education

Twice in the last two weeks I heard the “Find Your WHY” construct referenced at Jewish education conferences. Interestingly, this platform for stimulating organizational clarity around purpose, first introduced in 2009 by Simon Sinek in his “Golden Circle” Ted Talk, is finally emerging in the Jewish education field. 

I am hopeful this is a signal that we are getting real with the most pressing challenge facing Jewish education today. I am hopeful we now recognize how urgent it is for those involved in Jewish education to align on mission and purpose. If it were not challenging enough to agree on a universal mission, the real challenge comes in designing the components of Jewish education to produce the results our sacred texts deserve.

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Embrace the Value of Failure

Embrace the Value of Failure

“What can you tell me about your failures?”

This is a topic I commonly bring up with an organization before we consider making an annual gift to them. In asking about failure, I am hoping the organization can share specifically what didn’t go as well as they had hoped and what they are learning from this experience.

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The Mezuzah As Inspiration To Be Courageous in Jewish Education

The Mezuzah As Inspiration To Be Courageous in Jewish Education

As we merited to make the journey, yet another year, from slavery to freedom, from the constraints of Egypt to the open desert, it is incumbent upon us to find the relevance of Passover in our lives.

There is a remarkable piece in Gd’s method of preparing the Jews to leave Egypt. Gd commands every Jewish household to take a lamb into the home for a few days, then slaughter it and mark the doorpost of the house with its blood. Imagine being in that place for a minute. Take a lamb, the very animal that is worshipped as a deity in the hostile society in which you live…care for it, then risk your life to kill it so that its blood will protect you from Gd’s final devastating blow. To take this action required such a deep trust in Gd, that most of the Jews didn’t do it. Most assimilated and were lost and only a minority followed Gd’s word and left Egypt.

This marking on the doorpost – it was the first mezuzah! Jewish Egyptians were challenged to distinguish their homes, not with a subtle mark, but with a bold, emphatic and risky statement. Gd clearly had an eternal message in this and it applies to us today.

As educators and investors in Jewish education, we are partners with the holiest institution since the beit hamigdash stood – that is the Jewish home. Many Jews, I would guess, the vast majority, have no idea that the holiest place is in fact, not the synagogue, but the home. Some even think, “I am a bad Jew because I don’t go to synagogue!” When in fact, every Jewish home has equal potential to instill the Jewish identity and values that sustain the Jewish people. The Jewish institutions that we devote ourselves to are extensions of the home. School is not a substitute for, but an essential limb of the home. When families choose to entrust their children’s education and direct their dollars to Jewish day schools, they expect an experience that, like their homes, is distinctly Jewish.  Distinction is in our DNA and has enabled our survival throughout the ages. Scattered to all four corners of the Earth, distinction is the unifier that has made survival possible. Gd said, “mark your houses” because the values that you hold inside, are the hallmark of the Jewish family that will distinguish you for all time. When Gd commanded us to make ourselves distinct, it was by the unit of the home, not the individual.

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