We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
This is one of my favorite units, B’tzelem Elohim – honoring the image of God in others and ourselves.
There is a sacred charge in the Torah that Judaism’s beautiful belief that we, all of humanity, are created in the image of God. We should ask, “What does it mean to be made in God’s image?” And perhaps the most demanding question, “What are you going to do about it?”
Most biblical scholars agree that in Genesis 1:27, regarding the conceptualizing of God creating male and female in the Divine image should not be interpreted as a physical image. We’re not looking to bring in anthropomorphisms after all, but rather our task seems to be clearly one of a spiritual endeavor.
And yet, one of the most interesting things I have observed as a religious school educator over the years is the surprising staunch reluctance of many Jews to talk about God.
Praising God in an “official” prayer service is a key component and at the heart of the matter of the service itself. (Worship and service are both accurate translations of a Hebrew word for prayer: avodah). However, in the day-to-day appreciation of our holiness and the sanctity of the moment, as a collective people influenced by a deep respect for science and a pluralistic, secular humanism, we fare poorly in the “Praise God” department. I encourage you to “take a time-out for God.” Find that still, quiet voice, your timeless soul, whether through prayer, meditation, or service to others. You do not need to look far to find the eternal. Ask your child about his or her thoughts on God. Children are experts at pointing out the awe and wonder all around. It is the jaded adult who falls into the cynical shutting down of revelling in the mystery of creation.
This year, Shalomlearning has partnered with over 400 teachers in 73 synagogues of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and independent denominations. Each of these communities are learning about B’Tzelem Elohim at the same time in different ways. Yet, it’s not surprising that the 4,000 ShalomLearning students will reach similar conclusions: We all have a spark of God in us, and if we can see (or hear or sense) the holiness and goodness in humanity, we can be better guardians of the earth and of each other. We must protect the downtrodden and the poor; expand our inclusion of those with disabilities; refrain from judging people by their looks or gender identity or sexual orientation; do more “to see” the image of God in everyone. For when you get right down to it and look inside, we are all the same. We are the timeless connection to the holy, to the creative spark, to the Image of God: B’tzelem Elohim.
Shana Tova! Our year is off to a great start here at ShalomLearning! We are so excited to launch another great year of learning, engaging discussion, and thoughtful questions in our classes and communities. Our numbers have grown significantly, and we welcome our new friends along with our old ones. We look forward to all the joys this year brings for our extended ShalomLearning family.
In our last academic year, ShalomLearning outperformed all of our goals: delivered quality Jewish education to over 2,500 students, trained over 250 educators, and strengthened partnerships with 50 congregations.
Thanks to your involvement, ShalomLearning’s programs continue to scale up at a very exciting pace. As of this writing, we have grown our synagogue partnerships yet another 40% for this current academic year, bringing our total synagogues partners to 73 in 21 different states, Canada, and Bermuda (and we’re still hearing from congregations that need our program)!
ShalomLearning’s deep commitment to professional development, easy to use virtual classroom tools, engaging Jewish values curriculum, and blended Hebrew programs create meaningful relationships between teachers, students, parents, and their Jewish communities.
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!
“All that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of peace.”
-Tanhuma Shoftim 18
Shalom Chaverim- Hello Friends,
We’ve made it to our seventh and final unit for the school year: “Shalom.”
Our last four lessons are all about peace, and there is no finer way to end the semester.
Many of the wisdom traditions see peace consciousness as our true self, where there is nowhere to “get to.” By merely rediscovering our true essence, or rather, our timeless and boundless souls, one is immersed in a state of peace. That is beautiful, and meditation is an incredible way to connect to our “wholeness” or “completeness” which is the root of Shalom.
I could write about the soul all day in my personal passion for the metaphysical, but in search of a deeper connection to the ShalomLearning community, I researched in the physical world. Turns out that there are precisely six “colleges of war” in the United States. I am not a fan of war per se, but I also understand that security is an important value too. Until there is a complete consciousness change of only seeking peace in our world, we certainly need our military. Our brothers and sisters of arms are selfless heroes and they are doing an amazing job at keeping us safe in the United States, Israel, and other countries that value freedom. Thank you to all those that protect us.
But I am also happy to report that there are 40 other colleges that offer programs and degrees in “Peace Studies,” such as in Peace and Conflict Resolution.
And yet Judaism has been doing this for thousands of years: striving for social justice, human rights, ethical behavior, conflict management, etc. Our “degree in peace studies” is simply “living a Jewish life.” As I touched on in the last newsletter, Jewish wisdom helps develop more evolved compassionate and just human beings. And we define Shalom as “helping to create a calmer more peaceful world.”
Shalomlearning graduates understand how their Jewish values help them live meaningful lives. Whether it is creating social change in their mitzvah projects, learning the numerous prayers for peace from our Tefillah program, “Shalom Bayit” (peace in the house), or even just understanding that Shalom is in the root of “Jerusalem” from our Israel Studies integrations – our students get it. They are the next generations of peaceful warriors.. And what an honor and a privilege it has been to study together all year!
I look forward to 5778 and continuing to build a more just and peaceful world together. May you have a wonderful summer and shine the light of peace wherever you are, and most importantly, who you become.
Passover is just 2 weeks away. As we edge closer to redemption, experiencing our celebration of freedom from slavery (with still so much work still to do), we are deep in the heart of our 6th core Jewish value, Koach HaDibbur, the power of words.
Words matter in Judaism.
When you hear a truth or a wisdom that resonates, deep inside your soul, it can carry you to be and do your best. Gathering a greater understanding of our destiny and purpose as a people is not easy to do in a few minutes. This week, I heard a wonderful teaching from Rabbi Irwin Kula in an email from our friends at CAJE in Miami. In this J-Insider video from 2009, Rabbi Kula summarizes the current context of Jewish education so very well,
“Jewish wisdom helps us become more evolved human beings.”
For thousands of years we have strove- and continue to strive- for ideal relationships with our fellow human and to be more compassionate. Paramount in this relationship is the clear instruction not to gossip (lashon hara). Yet, when it comes to ideas, there is a sense of obligation to share wisdom when one comes across it. Indeed the opposite of gossip, would be to share words that are filled with light.
As you will see in this month’s newsletter, we have scheduled our Summer Training Conferences where our educators will share experiences to help each other improve. The power of their words contain some of the most valuable lessons. With our growth, we are now holding two separate conferences to maximize participation.
Words can move and inspire. Below are my two favorite quotes from “non-Jewish” sources taught in our Koach Hadibbur unit. I could go on forever on how much these words mean to me, but they are so powerful, lets let the words speak for themselves. May you all have a Passover full of joy and wonder and powerful words at your seders!
Chag Pesach Sameach!
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela
“We strive to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
– John F. Kennedy
As the Jewish calendar month of Adar begins today, we have arrived at our fifth value from our Jewish Values curriculum: Hakarat Hatov. This is one of my personal favorites, when our students begin to realize the profound importance and even holiness in a Jew’s obligation of “seeking joy and being grateful.”
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 a step further.
When you look at the etymology of being Jewish, “Judaism” comes from the name “Judah,” (Yehuda in Hebrew) the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. At his birth Leah said, “This time I will thank God” (Genesis 29:35). Yes, the root of our tribe’s name is “Hodah” which means “to give thanks,” thus at the very essence of being Jewish is to be thankful.
According to Harvard Medical School, giving thanks makes you happier. Positive Psychology research has proven that the benefits of being grateful are enormous (such as improved health, quality of life in relishing good experiences, dealing with adversity, and building stronger relationships). There are several things that you can do to boost your graciousness like keeping a gratitude journal, writing and hand delivering letters of gratitude, praying, etc.
In my family, every Shabbat, just before or after the Friday night Kiddush, we go around the table and everyone contributes some “good news of the week.” This is a tradition my wife and I picked up from one of my first Jewish education mentors, Rabbi Fred Benjamin. At Rabbi Benjamin’s house, we passed the kiddush cup around while everyone had a turn holding the good news and reflected on one thing for which they were thankful. The cup that was filled with with wine and blessings of joy literally overflowed even more with the gratitude. Plus, all food and drink always tastes better with a blessing before hand. I encourage you all to try this tradition!
Countless of our non-Jewish friends after joining us for Shabbat have shared with us that they have brought the “good news of the week” into their homes. I have long known that whatever one focuses on is real to that person. The key to a successful life is not in material things, but rather it is in gratitude and appreciation of life itself and those we love.
I am so very thankful to be part of the ShalomLearning community and my prayer for you during this point of our curriculum is for all of you to bring in more “good news of the week” into your lives and into your homes. Share your joy with your family and friends. It is The Jewish Way (a great book by Rabbi Irving Greenberg). Your kids will thank you some day for this gift of gifts (being grateful for gratitude itself). So… If you haven’t done it yet, I recommend you start with some good news of the week.
And may you have a chag purim samaeach!