Missing the Jewish holidays? We’re approaching a minor one, Tisha B’Av or the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. We observe this holiday each summer usually at the end of July, beginning of August. Unfortunately, no BBQs or big family meals. It’s a day where we abstain from eating and drinking. While it is not the most fun holiday, it is definitely one of the more important holidays we observe during the year.
This year Tisha B’Av starts the evening of July 31st and ends the night of August 1st. The 9th of Av is the day the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. The temples were the center of Jewish life and practice from around 957 BCE through the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. During this period of time, Jewish life looked a lot different from today. Rather than praying to God, animals were sacrificed on an altar in the Temple. It’s probably not something that would really fly today, now would it?
So how can we, our children, and our communities commemorate this holiday that seems so far from us? First, we can remember, which is always important for all of the tragedies our people have faced in the past. Second, we can be grateful and appreciate the Judaism that we are so fortunate to have today. The Destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem forever changed the way that we exist as Jewish people. While it is considered the saddest day of the year, out of this terrible destruction came great light and beauty.
There is a story that is told in the Talmud about two rabbis walking in the rubble of the Temple in Jerusalem. One is completely distraught that the Temple is gone and does not know how they will continue. The other rabbi tells him not to worry, because God does not crave animal sacrifice, but rather the offerings of the heart. Now that we do not have a Temple in Jerusalem we each have to look inside ourselves and offer something of ourselves in order to preserve the Jewish tradition and community. What does this look like? This Tisha B’Av let us each commit ourselves to one mitzvah, one good deed, we will do the week of Tisha B’Av in remembrance of the Temple. This is a perfect way to commemorate this minor holiday because it is through deeds that we sustain the Jewish people and the greater world.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful summer and a meaningful Tisha B’Av. May your exploration of mitzvot/good deeds be rewarding and meaningful for you.
Partnerships Make Our Community Stronger
As the rabbi-in-residence at ShalomLearning, I get to do some pretty awesome things. Aside from writing these articles, I also get to see the inner-workings of an organization that cares deeply about its mission, its students, its educators, and most importantly, its community. One of the hardest things an organization has to do is internal reflection and decision making.
Recently, ShalomLearning decided to focus on partnering with congregational schools – to ensure their success and growth by providing curriculum and professional development that embraces technology. With 80 synagogue partners expected this fall, and an 82% retention rate, the program’s success in these communities is evident.
In addition, ShalomLearning offered an online program for students who don’t attend traditional congregational school programs because of geographical or other constraints. Many of the participants are US military family stationed abroad or in remote areas that lack a solid Jewish community. I was very honored when ShalomLearning leadership asked if my organization, Online Jewish Learning, would take over this program.
Online Jewish Learning has been providing one-on-one tutoring for ShalomLearning for the past few years, and in my role as Rabbi-in-Residence at ShalomLearning, I have made other countless connections in this community. Therefore, I can be confident that Online Jewish Learning will continue the same fantastic ShalomLearning program to these students this fall. I am so proud to be part of Jewish organizations that are working together, utilizing each other’s strengths to provide the best options for the greater community.
One of the most important parts of being a Jewish educator is creating experiences that meet families and students where they are. We understand there isn’t just one way into Jewish learning. People come from different backgrounds, lifestyles, affiliation, and skill base. Through the partnership of ShalomLearning and Online Jewish Learning, we’re able to provide an engaging Jewish education to a larger spectrum of families.
Thank you for letting us teach your students. The greatest honor a teacher can have is that their students teach them as well. We have learned a great deal from your students’ insights, questions, and discussions and look forward to another year of Jewish learning with you.
Finding Meaning in the Highs and Lows
Living in the diaspora (outside of Israel), we don’t always celebrate the holidays that occurred this past week: Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). As someone who grew up in Israel, I remember being in school and hearing the siren marking the moment of silence both on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron. Many of you may have seen the videos of cars stopping on the middle of the highway for the duration of the siren and people getting out of the cars. It is incredibly powerful standing in silence as a community to remember the lives and memories of those who are no longer with us.
These solemn holidays are immediately juxtaposed with the joyous celebration of the establishment of the State of Israel, Yom HaAtzmaut. We go from mourning and sadness to the most celebrated day in Israel. This video, from BimBam, explains the holidays well – including the contrast.
Why this sudden change? And what can we learn from it? Israelis live in the moment. Each moment is celebrated to the fullest because of the reality of their world. They can not live every moment in fear of the enemies that surround them, nor can they ignore that there are many who do not believe Israel should exist. As a rabbi, one day I may be leading a funeral service, and the next day a baby naming. Life is about navigating the stormy waters and hoping to see a rainbow at the end. We will experience ups and downs, but we must find balance and making meaning at the other end.
It is my hope for us as we emerge out of this month of exciting Israeli holidays and another school year comes to a close that we try to maintain the balance in our lives. Together we can we navigate the challenges and the joys with patience and hope.
From Hannukah to Purim – Hakarat HaTov
It has been a few months since the light of Hannukah filled our homes, and the joy of celebrating the holiday of light with our families is almost a distant memory. As Jews, it is strange to be “holiday-less” as we are always celebrating or commemorating something. It has felt like a few months of “holiday vacation” (with the exception of Tu B’Shvat) where we took a break from the often unhealthy (but delicious) Jewish food and got back to our daily lives.
It is also an “empty” few months in the sense that we are not filled with the joy that comes with celebrating with family. However, do not fret as a very exciting holiday is approaching – Purim! Like Hannukah, Purim is a holiday where we commemorate that our people almost met a tragic fate, but thanks to the heroism of several characters (Mordechai and Queen Esther) our people stood up for our beliefs and ultimately won!
Many of us know the Purim story: King Achashverosh doesn’t like his queen, so he holds a contest for a new queen. Esther, a nice Jewish girl, enters the contest after being nudged by her uncle Mordechai. The king’s evil sidekick Haman has a different plan for the Jewish people and convinces the king to rid all of the Jews in Shushan (Persia) on a certain day. Long story made short, the king does not know his new wife Esther is Jewish. When she risks her life by revealing her identity, she saves her people! Talk about gevurah (courage)! A very happy ending to a risky situation.
How is this month’s value, hakarat hatov, connected to the Purim story? The Jewish people have been through many ups and downs, and like the Purim story, have often avoided a tragic fate; however, we always recognize or identify the good in any situation. The Purim story could have been tragic but due to Esther’s gevurah (strength), courage, and pride in being Jewish, she was able to create a positive outcome for the Jewish people.
We, too, can recognize or identify the good; the tov in any situation. In our daily lives we face ups and downs. In addition, with social media and the internet, we are aware of global acts of anti-semitism or other types of adversity and hate. We can dwell in the sadness of the world, the prejudice and the pain, or we can find the good, the tov, and do our part as Esther did to fix the world and to do tikkun olam. May we all find the strength to pursue the tov even in the darkest situations or experiences. Wishing you all a Chag Purim Sameach, a very happy and joyous Purim.
A Hannukah Message from Rabbi-in-Residence, Rabbi Danielle Eskow
Hannukah – every Jewish child’s favorite holiday. We all understand why-kids love anything that means chocolate (gelt), games (dreidel), and of course… presents!
I am not going to preach the usual rabbinic story which is that there is no basis or reason for presents. I, too, give my children many presents on Hannukah.
Hannukah also happens to be one of my favorite holidays as a Jewish educator. Why? Hannukah gives us an opportunity to explore the wonderful value of gevurah or strength, courage, and bravery. The Hannukah story tells us of the experiences of the Maccabees and their amazing victory over the Greeks. It’s a true underdog story.
The Hannukah story teaches us about the values of strength, courage, and bravery while also teaching us that even the “little guy” can overcome in a challenging situation. Most importantly, the Hannukah story about Judah and the Maccabees teaches us that a little gevurah (courage/bravery) can spark a greater change in our communities and the world.
We hold the story of this holiday dear here at ShalomLearning. In our gevurah or bravery/courage unit we speak a lot about the bravery and strength of the Maccabees and their persistence in protecting, cultivating, and living Jewish lives and maintaining the tradition.
In our world today we are confronted with hate, prejudice, and antisemitism even in our own communities. Jewish people around the world are faced with situations that connect us directly to the Hannukah story and test our gevurah in the face of adversity. Our students, both in the synagogue and in online classes, are learning how to cultivate their gevurah in their own lives: on the soccer field, in the halls at school, and at home.
We at ShalomLearning hope through our curriculum, discussions, and experiences that our students are having in the classroom that they will be be sparks of change- spreading the light they learn here at ShalomLearning- the light of Torah and our tradition in the greater Jewish community and the world.
As you and your family gather around the glimmering lights of the Hannukiyah this Hannukah, may your home, hearts, and families be filled with hope, love, and joy for the year ahead. May the light of the Hannukiyah spread sparks of gevurah (bravery) into our lives and into the world around us.
Wishing you and your families a Chag Hannukah Sameach-a Happy Hannukah from all of us at ShalomLearning.