Jewish Dad Blog

Lag B’Omer in 2020

Lag B’Omer in 2020

Shalom Chaverim,

“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.

Gratefully yours,

Josh

Staying Positive Through The Crisis   (Scroll down for today’s post)

Staying Positive Through The Crisis (Scroll down for today’s post)

In the spirit of our current Jewish value unit: Koach Hadibbur, The Power of Words, I am going to post one good thing a day BECAUSE of this awful pandemic. You heard me- a good thing coming out of this crisis. Is that even possible? Let’s start with today, March 27th. Check back here each day to see the daily positive thought.

March 27 / 2nd of Nissan: Global CO2 emissions are down. Newly learned video conferencing behaviors are probably here to stay. And business travel and office spaces overall will probably permanently diminish after this crisis abides. More time at home with your family and better carbon footprints all around. Great article here https://e360.yale.edu/features/coronavirus-holds-key-lessons-on-how-to-fight-climate-change

Shabbat / 3rd of Nissan

March 29 / 4th of Nissan: Courteousness. Physical Distancing has been so very difficult. And yet, if you’ve been brave enough to go shopping and wait your turn to get in-keeping 6 feet apart has really brought about the “No after you,” culture. Granted everyone is terrified of getting contaminated, but there is something civil going on. People are feeling that everyone is in this together.

March 30 / 5th of Nissan: Household Chores. Some children are learning to do chores and help out around the house for the first time. It’s embarrassing to admit, but too many of us GenX parents have done way, way too much for our children (including the infamous helicopter parenting), depriving their abilities to learn not only self-reliance but the deeply satisfying reward of communal responsibility and the joy of contributing. Parents are drowning in getting their kids started on homeschooling, while learning how to work at home, watching their retirement accounts take a nose dive into an abyss or worse yet, figuring out what to do if they suffered one of the millions of layoffs across the country (if they have not already). This is our World War-ish moment, and parents are finding a newfound toughness. We are not asking our kids to help out with bribes or a “pretty please.” We are demanding help from our children. And the feedback I am getting from our ShalomLearning parents with this newfound authority is that the kids were waiting for these demands and stepping up to help. Honoring your parents is indeed one of our 10 commandments. Doing everything for your kids while they play video games is not! The stakes are too high now, to not see the value in compliance (which is what so many of us parents have been longing for from our children).

March 31 / 6th of Nissan: Appreciation of community and people and checking in on the ones we love. Have you ever felt such a need? How are they feeling? How are they doing? Have you done a zoom hang out with some old friends? If not, give it a try. The preciousness of having the privilege to know someone, whether at work or in play is sacred. We ARE creatures that relate to one another in profound ways. We need each other now more than ever. And compassion and kindness have finally grown as a priority to what was becoming an increasingly distant, self-centered society. There is a course correction happening in attitudes that are filled with positive energy and appreciation for “the other.” We are not alone in this universe. And the longing to clink glasses and share our hearts with a friend or loved one is something that we will not take for granted on the scale that it was occurring before this crisis, ever again.

April 1st, 2020 / 7th of Nissan 5780: Appreciation of physical contact. The ability to touch someone or play with friends. The current reality of keeping things safe is a whole new meaning for “6 feet under.”  How we’ve taken our daily physical contact for granted! I am talking about the privilege of being able to shoot hoops with some pals or lay on a high five, or even to sit on a park bench. All is off limits for at least another month in this extended age of quarantine. Social media hasn’t figured how to give a supportive hug to a friend. “There’s an app for that” won’t cut it this time. But this blog is about what’s positive. Our appreciation is growing and that is positive.  When we come out of this Corona protective measure to stay 6 feet away from everyone, we will appreciate the magic of physical contact with others so much more. So in the meantime, be grateful for all the people that you have touched in your life. Prepare yourself for a ramped up version of awe and wonder of being on this journey with our fellow humans when this awful virus is cured. Everyone you meet is in this lifetime together, and there will come a day when the masks and gloves are off again and you can shake someone’s hand, look them in the eye and say, “I appreciate you.” And you might even be able to touch your face afterwards without living in fear of contamination. 

April 2nd / 8th of Nissan: Social Media is finally actually social. On the opposite side of yesterday’s reflection, I have a newfound appreciation for social media. Quite frankly, I’ve had no patience for social media over the years. And I do remain disgusted how personal data is bought and sold to the detriment of throwing elections and revolutions and tremendous horrors of public humiliation that have even caused deaths (In fact, our rabbis taught us long ago that to shame another in public is a form of murder, and quantifies it to being like 1/60th of death). Very powerful stuff and really a drain on anyone’s time if you just wanted to retrieve a message from an old friend. I joined these platforms to do the bare minimum, but now… things are different. Anything powerful like fire can burn you but…it can also warm you and help you cook and fill your house with light. With so many people in lock down, we need social media more than ever to stay connected. I can’t tell you how many people are sending me facebook live links to so many amazing musicians doing live performances.

Friday, April 3rd / 9th of Nissan: Amazing music creations and followings. We are inside a flood of creativity in the arts and music and writing unlike anything the world has ever seen. I am hoping that musically, there will be a ton of great new albums from great artists and so many people that have wanted to learn instruments but never had the time. Now they can finally be giving it a whirl. I predict that when this pandemic calms down enough to see music in public, everyone will want to get out and have fun and share their amazing new creations and genres. A revival and renaissance in 2021will resemble the Woodstock music festival of 1969 and draw in writers and painters getting together. This upsurge of creativity will approach the artistry of the great impressionist period of the 1870’s. And we shall all marvel in awe and wonder. And all of this will be due to the great “shelter in place” mandates of 2020. 

Saturday, April 5th / 12th of Nissan: Shabbat

Sunday, April 5th / 11th of Nissan: A growing desire to change the current reality that the workers we need the most are often the most underpaid and badly treated. This is not just the paramedics, doctors and nurses who are obvious heroes, risking death every day to save lives. But I am referring to the caregivers at nursing homes and workers in the fields and grocery delivery people.  The pizza delivery person is now a full on hero! Last week, I saw a news clip of New Yorkers, outside the Emergency rooms, applauding the healthcare staff, police and fire department as well as the essential workers who are keeping the lights on, keeping the supermarkets stocked, and risking their lives to deliver the food. Columnist Sarah O’Connor points out the uncomfortable truth of our labour market: as the workers we need the most are often underpaid and badly treated. It is time to make amends. And once the economy has recovered, these jobs will be made better, with more rights and hire wages.

Monday, April 6th / 12th of Nissan:  Attitudes to health may also change for the better. Washing your hands for a full 20 seconds was a habit that was hard to enforce even in hospitals, “may be one of those behaviors that we become so accustomed to in the course of this outbreak that we don’t think about them,” Conis adds.

 

CEO Letter: Hakarat Hatov

CEO Letter: Hakarat Hatov

Dear Friends,

Hakarat Hatov literally translates to “recognizing the good,” but as we do with all of the values at ShalomLearning, we ask our students to take the meaning one step further and dig a little deeper. This is when our students begin to realize the profound importance and even holiness in a Jew’s obligation of “seeking joy and being grateful.”

Personally and professionally, I have so much for which I am grateful. Last week, while in Florida producing a video with our partners at the CJE of the Palm Beaches, I arose early to do a sunrise run on the beach (something I never get to do at home). I searched for “best sunrises,” in the area, and found mine here.  At 6:30 am the breathtaking beauty of God’s work had me on my knees in tears. I was in awe. My attempted run soon turned into a much more important morning prayer of deep gratitude to our Creator with a supplication for healing and guidance amidst the horror of the events for our children and families in Broward County. “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart,” the Kotzker Rebbi used to say.

There are no words I can say in response to the horrors we witnessed and heartache we felt after the tragedy in Parkland, FL the other week. For now, I can only say I am so grateful to all of the teens who are speaking out and leading what perhaps could be a revolution for a safer world.

I also want to use this opportunity to express my gratitude toward each of our 37 supporters for the William and Audrey Farber Family Foundation’s 2017 $500,000 matching Challenge. I have listed each of you below in recognition of your support that enables ShalomLearning to bring new advancements in education technology, innovative curriculum design, and professional development to the Jewish learning community. ShalomLearning is empowering Jewish children, families, and teachers all over North America to ignite a new passion for Jewish education. I am so very grateful for you and all of our past supporters. Thank you for helping us do the holy work that we do.

And may you have a Chag Purim Sameach!

Gratefully Yours,

Josh

ShalomLearning 2017 Supporters

ShalomLearning is grateful to everyone who contributed to our organization in 2017 and helped us meet the $500,000 match challenge set by the William and Audrey Farber Family Foundation. Here is a list of contributors (in alphabetical order):

Anonymous
Anonymous
Carol Auerbach
Adam Bernstein
Jodi Blecker
Terrie and Bradley Bloom
Michael Bohnen
Barry Borenstein
Jennifer Byrne
Larry Chafetz
Fred Claar
Vicki E. Fishman
Bram Frankel
The Lorraine and Jack N. Friedman Commission for Jewish Education
Linda and Michael Frieze
Neil Glickfield
Jefferey Grinspoon and Jon Foley
Peter Genes
The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation
Steve Harris
Debi and Evan Himelfarb
Zev Lanton
Mark Levitt
Anne and Yehuda Neurenberger
The New Kalman Sunshine Fund
William Passer
PELIE
Erica Reder
Stacy and Andrew Rosen
Sarah and Devin Schain
Susan and Lewis Schoenberg
David Silver
Ricky Schechtel
The Scherr Family Foundation
Stacy Schusterman
Jane Slotin
Sarah Steinberg
Diane Troderman
Joshua Troderman
Stefanie Pessis Weil

 

Notes of a 21st Century Jewish Dad – Gevurah

Notes of a 21st Century Jewish Dad – Gevurah

Gevurah

Just a little note: as a writer, I’m changing the names of my wife and kids to protect their real identities. Also, from time to time I might incorporate stories and feedback from other parents into these characters and others, to give voice to the many ways ShalomLearning affects the lives of our children and families. 

Hannah and Jonah have some friends over for a massive game of dreidel and a Chanukah party. Killing time waiting for Kristens' amazing home-made egg-free Latkes.

Hannah and Jonah have some friends over for a massive game of dreidel and a Chanukah party. Killing time waiting for Kristens’ amazing home-made egg-free Latkes.

Sunday night, December 13th, 2015. 5 pm. 8 hours after the kids’ ShalomLearning morning sessions. We lit all the Chanukah candles tonight right next to the hamster cage by the window, as we celebrated the 8th and final day, where the miracle is at its strongest. After singing our songs and prayers, Jonah, staring at the glow of the 8 candles with his 8 year old eyes asked, “I wonder how far the light of our sun shines out into space?”

My 10 year old, Hannah, with the pinache of a brooding artist exploring scientific information, was the first responder tonight, “well… most of the universe is empty space and darkness anyway.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.

She turned our attention to the blog about dark matter, “only 4 percent of all that space and energy is light.”

“Overall, dark energy is thought to contribute 73 percent of all the mass and energy in the universe. Another 23 percent is dark matter, which leaves only 4 percent of the universe composed of regular matter, such as stars, planets and people.”

“That’s not very much,” Jonah calculated while spinning a dreidel.

“But that’s all we really need,” Kristen replied.

Hannah brought us back to astrophysics, “the universe is expanding even faster than anyone thought and most of it is this ‘mysterious dark matter’.”

“Well,” I replied, passing out the dreidel bingo cards, in a way it can be easier to find when you are surrounded by darkness…that little spark of light will help you find your way.”

Later that night, after the kids were in bed, Kristen’s words came back to me about the 4%, “that’s all we really need.”

here we are having an epic game of chanukkah Bingo

here we are having an epic game of chanukkah Bingo

Some might say that those numbers are a grim revelation of an overwhelming dark power that is knocking out the galaxies of light.

But what if it was never about quantity in the first place?  There is only one area to turn for value and that is quality.  Perhaps this dark matter is indeed pure nothingness and it can expand all it wants to.

All that matters is the little spark of light that we hold on to.  I’ll take this 4 percent of light any day over eternal nothingness.  To me, that is Judaism. We take it on faith and we cling to the light. We carry on because well, we carry on.  The odds have always been stacked up against the Jewish people from the beginning of monotheism. The universe can spin its space and nothingness and darkness for 13 billion years like the hamster on the wheel next to our menorah: it moves and moves but goes nowhere.  It seems like a waste of energy. (Hmm..but we could hook up the wheel to a generator some day…)

I am putting my faith in an honest 4% of matter that I know is real because everything else is well…darkness?  There is a goodness and a sweetness that only the light can provide, like a glimpse into the best part of eternity.

For me, there is no question in my mind that this cosmic operation, we are meant to be a light unto the nations. We just have been handed a torch and have to find new ways in every generation to keep it burning, that’s all. Otherwise the light could go out. And it feels amazing to know that we are doing everything we can, when we say, “Not on my watch.” ShalomLearning is reinventing Jewish education to speak to a new generation in a new way, but that Light has not changed. And it is up to all of us to keep it going.

Notes of a 21st Century Jewish Dad – B’tzelem Elohim

Notes of a 21st Century Jewish Dad – B’tzelem Elohim

B’tzelem Elohim

Just a little note: as a writer, I’m changing the names of my wife and kids to protect their real identities. Also, from time to time I might incorporate stories and feedback from other parents into these characters and others, to give voice to the many ways ShalomLearning affects the lives of our children and families. 

8:45 am, Sunday. “Mom, Dad, come check this out,” Hannah and Jonah beckoned us in to the living room. They were prepping for their 9 am lesson at ShalomLearning with the laptop propped open.

When I was growing up, I loved watching cartoons with my brother and sister on weekend mornings. Things have changed more than a tad in the media since the 70’s, but who doesn’t like a short video clip for “homework?” That was what ShalomLearning was laying out and the kids were digging it.

The first clip was called “Hoop Dreams,” a video of an autistic boy in Rochester, who loves being manager for his high school basketball team. His enthusiasm and dedication was an inspiration to all the players. But the story was how the coach put him in a game just to give him the feel of suiting up. Low and behold, he ended up scoring 20 points, 6 baskets were consecutive 3 pointers. His first game off the bench and the whole school rushed the court and carried him around the gym. “That kid is amazing!” Jonah concluded. We all agreed. “That whole community is amazing!” Kristen added, moved by how everyone cheered for this boy at his first game.

The next clip was an introduction to the “Please Touch” theater group of all blind and deaf actors, one of its kind, that headquarters itself in Israel, but travels around performing their original play. “Those actors are amazing!” Hannah remarked.

Amazing stories! Amazing people! We got it. Things inside rarely are the way they appear on the outside.

8:55 AM. We talked about how God’s essence is in us all and we should always show respect for everyone we encounter.


10:01 AM. Their 9 am classes had ended. “Dad, do we have a Torah around?” Hannah asked.

Could it be? Hungry for more? “Sure, we have a Tanach” I replied, happy to accommodate. “No fancy scrolls, but it will do the job.”

“Can we look up where the ‘B’tzelem Elohim’ verses are?”

A minute later our whole family was gathering around a Bible for a deeper look.

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.

And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

(Genesis Chapter 1:26-27)

The usual observation is that there seems to be a decision to make mankind, and it is done by a recommendation of a plural group of angels, “Let US make man in OUR image.”

But Hannah was focused on something else.

“And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

The word that kept jumping out at her wasn’t the plural or even the “image” piece, but rather a sensitivity of “created.”

“Why does the creation word (Barah) appear 3 times in one sentence?” she asked

“That is a fantastic question,” Kristen pointed out. “What do you think the Torah is trying to teach us?”

“Maybe it’s because the image of God inside us all are the things that we do that are creative,” Jonah offered.

Much better than Bugs Bunny to start the day.

Something wonderful is happening here. My takeaway is that creativity itself is holy. Listen to that creative voice and inspiration in whatever you do because it is part of that timeless part of us all.

Are you having any interesting family discussions from ShalomLearning? Let us know. Send us your moments.

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