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!
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):
Terrie and Bradley Bloom
Vicki E. Fishman
The Lorraine and Jack N. Friedman Commission for Jewish Education
Linda and Michael Frieze
Jefferey Grinspoon and Jon Foley
The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation
Debi and Evan Himelfarb
Anne and Yehuda Neurenberger
The New Kalman Sunshine Fund
Stacy and Andrew Rosen
Sarah and Devin Schain
Susan and Lewis Schoenberg
The Scherr Family Foundation
Stefanie Pessis Weil
Our students in grades 3-7 are starting their fifth unit, Hakarat Hatov which is translated as gratitude; recognition of the good; appreciation.
Having an attitude of gratitude may not be a natural state for all of us. Developing a sense of appreciation is a learned behavior – a habit of noticing everything from the gift of life to physical things. We can begin to develop this practice through direct instruction, storytelling, modeled behavior, and experiences that reinforce the habit of Hakarat Hatov.
Judaism refers to the Biblical creation story as a confirmation that the entire world really belongs to God. We are but caretakers of all we possess, including our bodies and souls. That understanding should free us from jealousy and avarice and should empower us to share what we have with those in need and encourage us to use our resources to continue the creation.
How do blessings show gratitude? Make up your own blessing for something in your family.
Gratitude is a good stress reliever. Next time you or your child feel stressed, recall three things you are thankful for.
Happy New Year! It’s here! Yes, the chai secular year of the century: 2018! We love the numerical equivalent of life and how sweet it is that this month’s unit is Achrayut, which literally means responsibility.
In between your dozens of appointments and zipping your children around from one frenzy of activity to another, you might be wondering, “What’s so sweet about responsibility? It’s important to keep commitments, yes, but sweet?”
Well, at ShalomLearning we strive for our children to become mensches IN ACTION; thus, we define our values with a bit of a drash (interpretation) for their central role in the ongoing Jewish tradition of living a purpose driven life. Achrayut charges us to be responsible and to “leave the world a better place.” It is no accident that this value times in alignment with the upcoming (January 30th) Tu B’shvat holiday.
Tu B’shvat, also called Rosh Hashanah La’ilanot, is the new year (birthday) of trees. This holiday grows more important every year. These days, we are subjected to the highest levels of corporate greed and grossly funded agendas to convince people that they are part of a system that they can not change.
That is not the Jewish way. We are the original activists. We strive to make the world better, our relationships stronger, and our spirits unbreakable in our connection to the sacred. We have a holiness code, and love is at the center of it. (That is another article, but check it out in Leviticus 19:18). Love is the ultimate value, and yes, we take one day a year to officially hug some trees, and if you have a sedar, it always opens deep conversations.
James Cameron is releasing a new film this week:, “The Game Changers.” It exposes the horrendous exploitation of the agribusiness and environmental impact of meat production, but more importantly it offers a profound solution for both our bodies and the environment by switching to a plant based protein diet.
It’s a great example of the social consciousness of the next generation and reminds us all to keep a lookout for things that this wonderful generation will be leading the charge, as we break away from the grip of the dark side of the status quo.
Many are taking action to improve the way we grow and consume food recognizing that we are the caregivers for the planet and stewards of the environment. I hope you have a chance to host or attend a Tu Bishvat seder with your family and friends. Look for links and resources in this issue. Chag Sa’ma’ach!
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!