Tag: jewish

Making Passover More Meaningful

Making Passover More Meaningful

Many of you may still be clearing away snow, but Passover is just around the corner. Here are some ideas to make your holiday more meaningful.

Do the kids get fidgety during the seder? Try putting these fun props on the table. And for fidgety grownups, consider using this humorous haggadah: “For This We Left Egypt?”

Is your family is more traditional? Author Jonathan Safran Foer has compiled a haggadah with traditional text accompanied by essays written by other modern Jewish writers.

Do you buy a roasted shank bone for your seder plate? Ready to try roasting one of your own? Here’s how you can do it yourself. Also, you shouldn’t have to go a week without brownies, so here is a kosher for Passover (and gluten free) brownie recipe.

And just when you think you have learned everything you need to know, here are 9 things you didn’t know about Passover from MyJewishLearning.

A Purim Message from Rabbi-in-Residence, Rabbi Danielle Eskow

A Purim Message from Rabbi-in-Residence, Rabbi Danielle Eskow

It is time for one of our children’s favorite holidays: Purim! Why, you might ask? Similar to Chanukah, kids love a fun holiday that includes eating fun foods, dressing up, and more. Purim seems more similar to other “American” holidays, such as Halloween. While it is customary for us to dress up and celebrate that our people survived at the hand of evil Haman, Purim could not be any more different than Halloween. So do not worry, you do not have to hang up your Haman hat or Achashverosh crown, but let’s take a closer look at this holiday that we have all come to love so that when we do dress up and eat those delish hamenstaschen cookies, we infuse it with a deeper meaning!

Purim is a holiday that took place in a place called Shushan. Long story made short, the king was looking for a new queen and a young Jewish woman named Esther entered the competition (under the nudging of her uncle Moredchai) and by becoming queen actually ended up saving the Jewish people from the evil decree of Haman (the king’s right hand man). It is a true Jewish underdog story: the world was out to get us, we persevered and did not shy away from our Judaism and tradition, and as a result we survived! This is why we celebrate, dress up, and of course, eat a lot of hamentaschen cookies!

What is the deeper message of Purim that we can share with our children and families? The Purim story teaches us to be proud of who we are as Jewish people and not to shy away from our Jewish identities when the going gets tough. The story is infused with the values that we learn together with your students each week: betzelem Elohim and gevurah to name a few! Had Haman viewed each and every person as created betzelem Elohim perhaps the whole drama could have been avoided! Esther and Mordechai demonstrated great acts of gevurah-standing up against the king and his evil sidekick and in turn saved the Jewish people!

The takeaway message is this: We will face situations in our lives where our gevurah will be tested. What will we do in the face of adversity? How will our children act if they one day face anti-semitism? The characters of the Purim story teach us that each and every one of us can be a gibor a hero. Each of us has the power to stand up for ourselves and for others: our family, our friends, our community, our people. The true message of Purim is that each of us has the power to create incredible change in the world. While we may dress up this Purim and mask our faces in favor of another-we can also work to strengthen our true Jewish identities and in turn, ensure that a threat like the one in the Purim story-can never come to be again.

Wishing you and your families a Happy Purim!

Notes of a 21st Century Jewish Dad – Gevurah

Notes of a 21st Century Jewish Dad – 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.

A Message from Executive Director, Joshua Troderman

Dear ShalomLearning friends and families,

The spirit of Teshuvah is all about starting over and focusing on the things that matter. And since revising our strategic plan in 2015, we have experienced a wonderful new beginning for ShalomLearning.

Thanks to a generous grant from The William and Audrey Farber Family Foundation, I am happy to announce that we have met the $500,000 matching challenge grant from the William Davidson Foundation for 2015.

But we cannot rest on our Laurels there. As Rabbi Tarfon said In Pirkei Avot: “The day is short and the task is great…” The Farber family is joining forces with the Davidsons and wonderfully raising the bar by doubling the Davidson matching challenge in 2016 and 2017. Moving forward it is now officially “a double matching challenge.” Every dollar raised up to $500,000 in 2016 and 2017 respectively, will mean three dollars raised for Jewish education. What an amazing partnership with two visionary families.

It is rare to see the impact of any innovation happen so quickly and that is exactly what we are witnessing here at ShalomLearning. Thanks to the herculean efforts of my fantastic staff and the incredibly talented and committed Jewish educators in the ShalomLearning family, we have gone from 300 to 600 students, and from 15 to 50 teachers. These are the central outcome numbers from our plan and next year, our target is to double once again to 1200 students. It is going to take a lot of work, but I know that we can get there.

We are all students in life. And in the spirit of sharing the experience from “the other” (I Thou) perspective, ShalomLearning will be beginning a series of blogs from different stakeholders’ perspectives. Coincidentally, I am also a Shalomlearning parent, so this month, am beginning a blog called “Notes from a 21st Century Jewish Dad.” I hope that you like it. Please feel free to send us your stories and testimonials on how ShalomLearning is touching your life. We want to hear from you.

Joshua Troderman