“There is nothing more whole than a broken heart,” said Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787–1859), also known as the Kotzker Rebbe. Tonight the Jewish people welcome a lesser known, somewhat mystical, Jewish holiday, Lag B’Omer. MyJewishLearning summarizes it’s key elements in this great article.
As a child, I remember this fun holiday featuring BBQs, bonfires, and whiffle ball games with friends and family. Most of that is not possible right now.
It is fascinating that tonight we are instructed to take a break from this “period of semi-mourning,” as we arrive at the 33rd day of our count off from Passover to Shavuot (Sferat Ha’Omer). A popular notion is that on this day the mysterious plague which killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students suddenly ended. This very well might have been Akiva’s students’ death count in the Bar Kochba rebellion (132 C.E.) against the Romans, and the rabbis needed to choose their language carefully for the political ramifications. But I find it a little strange that of all things, it is a plague that is the chosen description for this massive loss.
Most of us have never experienced a pandemic. It is hard reading the daily news, let alone juggling all of the challenges that this intense disruption of our normal lives has created. But I would like to remind us all that spiritual highs in life are almost always preceded by lows. Perhaps you can think of bending an elastic band back to give it the maximum thrust forward. That might be where we are at right now. If you feel that you are experiencing a low point in your life, this might be a perfect time for you to recognize that you are generating spiritual energy that will bring you to a higher consciousness. Whenever we are going through hard times, there is an opening to your heart. You become more compassionate, more thoughtful, more soft and loving. These spiritual qualities will lead you to a better destiny.
I hope that this newsletter finds you and your loved ones healthy. And I pray that our own mysterious plague will end soon. But in the meantime, happy Lag B’Omer, and I hope that you can recognize when your spiritual energy is building despite any low points you encounter.
ShalomLearning has been providing our educational materials and training for free to help Jewish educators in their sudden transition to virtual classes. We’ve been listening to all the requests and noticed there was a large demand for Passover lessons to use in Zoom (or any other video-classroom tool). Therefore, we pulled sections from our Koach Hadibbur units, edited it to work as a stand alone lesson, and made it available for free.
In this lesson, students learn about the story of Passover, and then use Google Slides collaboratively to retell the story in ten words or less with one image on one slide. Teachers can share the student-created slides for families to see and/or use at their seders.
The notes under the slides provide instructions for the teachers and a link to the “activity deck.”
We hope many educators are able to use this interactive Pesach lesson
In New England, the beauty of the changing leaves around are as breathtaking as the spiritual wake up call which buzzes inside us. Can you feel the changes all around you? Can you turn your negative behaviors, relationships, and your mis-steps around to becoming a better you? In Judaism, it is imperative that we participate in making the world a better place and make a stand for our fellow human beings (yes….the doing) while not forgetting it is ultimately nurtured by who we are becoming (ahh…the being).
Thank God we’ve lived another year, and Rosh Hashanah brings a fresh start with a celebration of the birthday of the world. Perhaps it’s because it’s all I’ve ever known, but It always feels fitting in the autumn. What’s that gliding down heading my way? What’s that in the shofar I hear? Oh yeah…Its Teshuvah time!
Now of course, the act of repentance shouldn’t merely be seasonal. In truth, it is a lifelong process that touches every season of the human experience if you’re doing the spiritual work of repentance. There is no reason to wait until Yom Kippur to admit your wrong-doings, apologize to those you’ve wronged, ask forgiveness, and promise never to do it again. (Note: the previous sentence contains the four main steps of teshuvah).
There is something extra special about this time of year, when we come together as a community for collective prayer, delving into where we’ve gone astray, and individually, we work on arduous self-reflection in order to “turn things around” and to be our best selves moving forward.
Jewish tradition refers to archery when searching for the perfect word for our unintentional sins as cheit, which literally means to “miss the mark.” Haven’t we all missed the mark at some point? The good news is that we can try again to get closer to our best destiny. Preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur helps us draw a line in the sand and begin again. We can reset our intention and re-focus our attention.
Teshuvah is also great for looking at your organizational targets. Each of the past 5 years, The ShalomLearning team has set measurable goals and scaled up our programs nationally. From 300 students and 15 teachers at 15 synagogues in 2015 we’ve now grown partnerships with 110 synagogues, working closely with over 800 educators and 6000 students enrolled in 5780 (2019-2020)!
Getting back to your spiritual path, It is not easy to get things “right,” and hit our targets with the things that truly matter – deeds of loving kindness, studying Torah, connecting with our Creator, and performing tzedakah, to name a few essential mitzvot.
So… how do you know when you’ve truly completed teshuvah? You will know when you come across the same situation in life where you made the previous mistake for which you’ve already atoned, but this time, choose the right thing to do. Our beloved 12th century Jewish philosopher, Maimonides (aka Rambam) called this epilog fifth stage “Teshuvah Gemurah,” Complete Teshuvah.
His students would ask, “But Rabbi what if you are not faced with that same situation again?”
“Don’t worry,” Rambam smiled, “You will.” He also knew a thing or two about Karma.
May you all take the lessons of life and turn things around to be your best selves as I wish you a sweet and happy New Year with blessings of strong and vibrant learning communities deeply rooted in Jewish values.
L’Shana Tova U’Metukah!
Summer is just around the corner! As the rhythmic clock of the Hebrew School academic year winds down, ShalomLearning students are concluding with our seventh unit, Shalom. As many people know, the three most popular translations of Shalom are “hello,” “goodbye,” and “peace.” In the ShalomLearning Jewish values lessons, we take a deeper dive into the etymology via the word’s shoresh (root) which is shalem meaning “completeness.”
Our curriculum designers intentionally and brilliantly saved Shalom to be the final value of the year because there is a sense of peace in being complete. And of course, in Judaism we look towards the next question, “are we ever truly complete?” Part of our nature is to continue to grow and learn and strive to become the best authentic selves we can be. What we do in life, our actions (hopefully mitzvot) are of paramount importance, to strive for social justice and contribute to a better world (tikkun olam) but even higher, the zenith, the ultimate destiny is who we become. We grow in order to be. Where are we growing? What are we becoming? As I look back on the years with ShalomLearning, I am constantly amazed by our growth.
In 2011, founders Devin Schain and Andrew Rosenberg created our first cohort of seven students with one teacher (Rabbi Yakov Majeski) at one partner site in Bethesda, MD. We grew our team and resources to include a curriculum for grades 4-6. Incrementally we added on additional features and levels, expanding our Jewish communities of practice and commitment to pluralism and inclusiveness. The 2018-2019 enrollment consisted of 5128 students and 643 teachers at 98 partner schools. Collectively, if we look at our community as one and complete, this is the largest Hebrew School in the world!
This fall, you will notice we’ve expanded our offerings to include:
- Lessons (28 per grade) for eight different grades (K-7),
- More hands on training and mentorship for teachers with seven in person workshops this summer and additional webinars,
- A new iteration of learning prayer through gamification (ShalomLearning Escape Room 2.0), and
- Meaningful partnerships with over 120 synagogues across North America – both large and small of various affiliations.
We are committed to be more than just a provider. Rather we are partners with each congregation, helping every community make their educational independent visions a reality. I am so proud of what our learning community has accomplished. May you all continue to grow to be your best selves and enjoy the journey in striving for Shalom. “Summer lease hath all too short a date,” (Thank you Shakespeare!) and I look forward to starting anew in the fall as we continue to grow together.
This fall (September 2019) ShalomLearning will offer three new levels of our values-based curriculum (K-2). Similar to grades 3-7, our lessons tie Biblical stories, prayers, holidays, and Jewish text to a value. In addition, for these grades, we focus on arts, literature and experiencing the values through the senses.
Here’s a sample activity from our Yom Ha’atzmaut unit for first grade. Keep in mind, this is just one piece of a larger lesson plan.
Israel has so many wonderful foods. We are going to taste a few today. If children have tried some Israeli foods in the Kindergarten lesson, choose a different food this year, or stick with a favorite and remind students of their taste test last year.
Serve as many of these foods as you have access to.
- Israeli salad (Tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, salt, pepper)
- Hummus (could serve with cucumbers, carrots, pita)
- Chocolate spread (goes on the pita)
Spend some time doing some exploration about the foods. For example, ask children to wonder what hummus is made from. Have some chickpeas on hand to show them. Students can even try their hand at mashing the chickpeas to make their own hummus.
One reason the Israeli salad is the most well-known dish of Israel is that the cucumber has a long history in that region of the world. Ask students when they might eat an Israeli salad. Share that Israeli salad was part of the traditional Israeli breakfast at home before cereal became popular.
After tasting the food that you have, have a conversation with the students about what they liked or did not like. What was the same as what we eat, and what was different?