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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

Notes of a 21st Century Jewish Dad – Teshuvah

Dear friends, 

I’m not only the luckiest guy in the world to have the greatest job in the world – working with the most talented educators in the world – but I’m also blessed to be a ShalomLearning parent with a third grader and a fifth grader, who are learning in our virtual classrooms this year on Sunday mornings. In the spirit of growing our community of parents, I thought I’d try my hand at a personal blog on how the ShalomLearning lessons are helping my family shape our Jewish sensibilities and helping us to live a better life. 

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. 

My plan is to write at least one blog post for each of ShalomLearning’s seven units. I hope you enjoy! Please feel free to write back or comment anytime, as I really care about how ShalomLearning is impacting your lives. 


“You are beautiful when you are angry,” I told my wife Kristen. But this wasn’t worth fighting about. (Most arguments aren’t.) I took a breath and let it out, “Ok. I am sorry that I put the dishes in the wrong cabinet. I wasn’t paying attention.”

She rolled her eyes, as she caught the popping toast lefty, with psychic precision, the perfect amount of butter already cued up on the knife in her right hand “I know that you think that it is no big deal,” she buttered, “but these things matter…”

“You know what matters most at the end of one’s life?” I offered on top of the cutlery scratching as I recalled what I read last night, “The 5 F’s.”

“Are the first two, ‘first focus’ on what your wife tells you, for example… remember to put away the dishes in the right cabinet?” She chided me while I handed her the raspberry jelly and a separate knife, carefully keeping the jar contents as gluten free for her celiac.

“Not exactly…but family is close to the top. I read last night, that according to a wealth manager, they

Family Selfie

Family Selfie!

are in the following order of importance: faith, family, friends, fitness and finance.

“Faith’s number one?” she threw me a nod, while pouring a cup of tea.

“Yeah, well one is…the loneliest number,” I replied

“Yes, but you’re not exactly Harry Neilson either…”

“I am not sure if he said the Shmah before bed every night”

Sunday morning. 8:59 am in our Brookline household. My eight-year old son, Jonah, is in the sun-soaked dining room facing a laptop, drawing on paper with crayons waiting for his third grade ShalomLearning class to start. And in the living room, my ten-year old daughter, Hannah is logging in through my wife’s imac, next to the freshly delivered toast and tea Kristen just brought her.

Both kids are in their pajamas. It is a lucky day today as Hannah’s travel soccer game isn’t until noon and Jonah’s drum lesson isn’t until 2. This is Luxury compared to usual schedule crazed fall weekends, no early morning sports games.

But the academics are well underway, as ShalomLearning had already dedicated the opening four weeks of lessons to the overarching topic of “Teshuvah.” Our kids are doing their Hebrew School at home this year: one hour, one day a week while meeting with their virtual communities of peers around the country; a schedule and a community that works in harmony with the common frantic schedule of a modern family.

9:03. “Kids are all set, “ I reported. “Still on the Teshuvah unit,” I told Kristen, meeting her back in the kitchen.

“Four lessons in four weeks spent on just the concept of “repentance?” Kristen asked, while baking gluten free, eggless muffins in the kitchen.  We were discussing unit one of the ShalomLearning curriculum.

“How guilty do we want our kids to feel? Yom Kippur’s only one day, “ she joked.

 “I know, huh. What is next? Confession booths?”

“I bet there’s an app for that,” Kristen didn’t miss a beat. Quick Google-check on my iphone by the coffee machine…”Yes there is and Catholics love it…five stars.”

“I wonder if I had that app if I would have liked Sunday school more when I was a kid?”

Jonah setting the table for his sister as part of her 5th grade Teshuvah dinner assignment

Jonah setting the table for his sister as part of her 5th grade Teshuvah dinner assignment

“It’s good for me that technology hadn’t caught up then, perhaps you wouldn’t have been so open to raise your kids in an intermarriage if your Sunday school had better resources and professional development.”

“You’re not going to quote the 2013 Pew study again?” she begged.

“Not enough coffee yet, don’t worry,” I assured.

Well it means that ShalomLearning has treated the concept of Teshuvah as one of the core values of Jewish Identity. Creating the groundwork for proper forgiveness and ultimately how we treat each other in this world is of paramount importance.

My eyes catch the bag of food and supplies that Kristen has created for “The Family Table” food drive to drop off at the synagogue (yes we are members of a shul too). I remember once again that it is the relationships that we create and the people that we help, that matters most in this life. I stir that thought into the cup of Joe, getting ready to walk through my children’s lessons again.

9:30. Teshuvah permeates our house these days on both sides of the equation, parents and children. The good news is that it is never too late to set things right and start again. “As long as they are still here,” I say to myself, passing my father’s picture by the piano.

So here’s the deal…turning ourselves around when we go astray and being our best selves is central to living a Jewish life. Teshuvah is a process that lasts a lifetime, and each day we begin anew. Each day, and moment to moment, we have a choice on how we behave.

I return to the kitchen, “So four lessons seems fair since this is going to take a whole lifetime to get it right for all of us.” Kristen looks up from her ipad and I give her a hug.

“You might need more than one lifetime in your case,” she hugs me back. “Just put the bowls on the right side of the cabinet.”

We’d love to hear from you! How is the ShalomLearning curriculum impacting your family? Let us know.

Download Lesson Plan