Monday, June 29, 2015

It's official and it started at camp!


Arthur and I are pleased to announce that Lital is engaged to Cole Leiter from Raleigh, North Carolina.  He is the son of Prof. Jeffrey Leiter and Carrie Knowles, author and artist.  Lital is a teacher at DC Prep Charter School in Washington D.C..  Cole is the Press Assistant & Digital Media Manager for Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Denver, Colorado. 

I am pretty sure this is as close as we are going to get to an official announcement.  What is not mentioned in the paragraph above is how proud we are of the paths Lital and Cole have chosen.  Lital is a teacher at an urban school deep in the heart of D.C.. She teaches Second and Third grade science and Cole has worked on the Hill for 2 different Members of Congress doing press work. Lital and Cole met at OSRUI and truth be told, that is one clear cut reason to send your children to Jewish camp.  The first time I met Cole was at camp when he was reading Torah at Shabbat morning services. Even now that I know he only did it to make a good first impression, it doesn't get any better than that for me.

Growing up, both Cole and Lital were active in their congregations and at their respective colleges.  Lital was confirmed, a madricha, counselor at OSRUI for over 5 years and a Hillel Intern at the University of Wisconsin.  Cole was also confirmed, a madrich, counselor at OSRUI, Co-President of the Williams College Jewish Association, managed the kosher kitchen, and actively organized for a two-state solution in Israel and Palenstine for JStreet and JStreetU.  Both of them spent a semester in Israel on EIE during High School.  

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I can hardly believe that Lital is old enough to be married.  I recently celebrated 25 years at Lakeside Congregation and when I began in the summer of 1989 Lital was only 10 months old.   It's like that scene from Father of the Bride when Steve Martin's daughter tells him she is getting married and all he sees is her as a 7 year old.  Our baby is getting married. We couldn't be prouder of her and Cole who is already so much a part of the family.

They are millennials in many ways but feel strongly about their Jewish identity and frequently attend shabbat services for young adults at a variety of minyanim (smaller groups that meet at synagogues) in D.C.. We are so proud of the way 
they have sought out religious experiences that fit the way they would like to be a part of the Jewish community and people.   They have a wonderful life ahead of them and we are happy to be a part of this journey. 

I am so proud that Cole chose to ask Lital to marry him on the same day the Supreme Court ruled that marriage for all people is a constitutionally protected right across our country; their commitment to social action made the day even more meaningful.  As we look forward to a year of planning, praying and providing advice for our simcha next year I think we can all agree it truly is possible that "love wins."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Shabbatot: Enjoy and Relax

Come this Friday June 26!
I love our 6:00 pm Shabbatot T'filot (plural of Shabbat and service) especially during the summer.  We try to have as many of our t'filot outside as possible and I love to come to unwind and then go home to Shabbat dinner.  My Friday afternoons usually include time to make a nice dinner so I can get to Lakeside on time.  You could also order Pizza or order your favorite take out for dinner.  Shabbat is a time to take it easy and enjoy.

Getting into the habit of coming to Friday night services is just that a habit.  If you have not been come and try it out.  Enjoy our music and lean back and relax. Not in my area?  Try out your local synagogue; I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised and I am happy to send some recommendations your way of synagogues to try.  

During the summer and especially on Shabbat I also look forward to reading for our Lakeside Book group or just fun.  This summer I have already read:  The Orphan Train, Boston Girl and for young adults: Ember in the Ashes and The Red Queen. I leave for  OSRUI in a few weeks where I have SOME time to read.  On my list is:  The Mathmeticians Shiva, The Museum of Ordinary Things and this is just the beginning.

Take a minute, take a breath and enjoy our summer.  I look forward to seeing you at services.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

First Year: Home for the Summer: For College,High School or any age


Before Ethan came home from his first year at University of Wisconsin, Madison we received this letter:  

First Year: Home for the Summer (according to the U of W)


Before you know it, your student may be packing up and coming home for the summer. We have a few tips for conversations you may want to have with your student to ensure a smooth transition for everyone.
  • Schedule time with your student to make sure activities that are important to you aren’t lost in the shuffle.
  • Have a conversation with your student about expectations for schedules, housework, and behavior during the summer. Decide whether the original rules of the house still apply, and also consider some extra flexibility to take into account your student’s new-found independence and autonomy.
Ethan and his roommate Aman
I love having my kids home for the summer and then they go off to camp.  We didn't have much time with Ethan as he is off to OSRUI this week. Jonathan will be home and enjoys Friday night T'filot at Lakeside.  We tried to hit all the high points with Ethan before he left: favorite meals and visits to see his grandparents. I tried my best to keep some of these points from the letter in mind. My main advice with any age child is to keep the conversation going.

 I acknowledge that summer is different. and more relaxed.  Your children may not have any scheduled classes so looking over Hebrew or B'nai Mitzvah assignments may not be at the top of the to do list.  I always tell all my Hebrew students that they need to do some Hebrew review over the summer or they will backslide from where they were in May when they left Hebrew school.
Convocation, Kitah Gimmel

Kitah Aleph

A great way to practice is to come to Summer T'filot which are always at 6:00pm and we try to have them outside, weather depending.  If you want to participate in t'filot just let me know.  Find a fun Hebrew game on line and check out Behrman House's games. 

Enjoy your summer and remember Shabbat still happens every Friday and Saturday.  Friday Night T'iflot are at 6:00pm and Torah Study is at 9:30 am on Shabbat with a short t'filah at 10:30am.  I hope to see you at our Summer T'filot or just stop by for a visit.  I will be at OSRUI for a few weeks in the middle of July.  I will be available by email even when I am at camp.

Enjoy your summer.  Read some Hebrew, do some Mitzvot and have some fun.



Friday, May 22, 2015

Tears of Joy and Confirmation on Shavuot

Ethan's Confirmation
I am a crier.  I misted up watching the last David Letterman Show and was even misty when watching Jimmy Kimmel talk about David Letterman.  I out and out cry at different t'filot, simchas, Yom Hashoah, even the send off for the bike trip at OSRUI, Tour L'agam. When we send off Tour L'agam the campers are leaving for a 1,000 mile trip around Lake Michigan.  When my own son went on this trip I had to hold myself back from sobbing.
Will Rivlin and Ethan leave for Tour L'Agam

Why all this talk about tears before Shavuot?  Our confirmation t'filah (Sunday, May 24 at 10:30 am with Yizkor) will be sure to start me crying.  We have 5 students this year and I am so proud of all of them.  I have known most of them since they were 5 or 6.  I make a short presentation to them as I do to my B'nai Mitzvah students and I hope I can get through it.

All of these students have grown up here and will be speaking on Sunday.  The theme of their t'filah is Questions.  This is not a spoiler alert but here are the questions they will be asking and answering on Sunday:

Questions from our Confirmation Class 2015-577

 Is religion still important?

 What do you most value about being Jewish?

 Can Judaism survive interfaith marriage?

 Is world peace possible?

 Is the Torah historically accurate and factual?

I may print their answers in another blog but I hope you come and hear them discuss and debate these important concepts.  We will also be celebrating this milestone with their families and our congregation.  I am sure I will shed some tears as I say Mazel Tov.  It will not be goodbye  though but L'hitraot, so long,  as I hope to see most of my confirmands back next year as Madrichim, teacher aides.  Chag Samaech.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thank you for 25 years; I am just beginning!



Last week Lakeside Congregation honored me for 25 years as their Educational Director.  Lital was one years old when I started and both both boys, Jonathan now 23 and Ethan 19 were born during my tenure.  It was a beautiful evening and I am honored and humbled by all the accolades.  I love my work and am passionate about Jewish education at my congregation, at OSRUI and with my work in ARJE (Association of Reform Jewish Educators, formerly NATE).  
My family from left, my sister, Wendy Shanker,Arthur, Jonathan, my Dad, Jerry Michaels, Lital, me, Ethan and my mom, Marian


My children grew up at Lakeside and had to attend many t'filot, all had B'nai Mitzvah there and were confirmed as well.  A highlight of the evening was a great skit, written by my faculty, (mainly Debbie Harris) which highlighted Jewish women throughout Jewish history.  Sarah, Hannah Senesh and Emma Lazarus to name just a few. They raided my costume closet, which is almost as large as my "regular" clothes closet and Ethan was the MC and Lital and Jonathan were the women through the ages.  Jonathan was a great sport and they were all very funny.  Video to be posted later.  
Members of the Chicago Association of Reform Educators (CHARGE)

Another highlight of the evening was celebrating with many colleagues. There is over 200 years of Jewish experience in this particular group of Jewish educators and many people joined us later, sent regards and I thank all of them for being with me on this special night.  


There was also a very funny top 10 reasons to Work for Vanessa which included allusions to  tidiness of my office and surprise announcements before Religious school on Sunday mornings. My faculty work hard to make our school a community where students learn and are proud of their Jewish identity.  I could not do my job without them.  

25 years is a long time.  I usually joke that I was hired right out of high school but the truth is that I have learned much over the years.  I have deep ties in the community and love that he some of my first students now have children in my school.  Nothing speaks louder of Jewish continuity than that.  

Recently I was asked as part of a professional evaluation what I was most proud of in regards to my job.  I answered that I believe I am most proud of the relationships I have created over the years. Seeing families in the community and having the ability to ask about their children, grandchildren or going to weddings of students from our Religious school makes me feel proud and really just fantastic. 

I always encourage students to come back and check in with me.  Over the years I have written 100’s of recommendations for students and for my staff for everything including working at OSRUI to applying to Rabbinical school.  This is my real success and this is what I am most proud of that students and families come back to see me, check in with Lakeside and stay a part of the community.  I am not sure this can be measured. On to the next 25 years.  
My students are my garden!  
(Photographs by Benji Sagarin)



Friday, April 24, 2015

Yom Ha-atzmaut, Israel Independence Day and VOTE for ARZA: LAST CHANCE

The news from Israel has been so exciting this week.  On Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month when you can read Torah, the Woman of the Wall actually read from a large size Torah at the Kotel, Western Wall in Jerusalem and my niece who is on EIE for her Junior of high school was there.
This week Israel went from the seriousness of Yom Hazikaron, memorial day to the ebullience of Yom Ha-atzmaut, Independence day.  I love watching my Facebook feed as my friends, family and colleagues as they celebrate, post pics, videos, songs and fireworks about the week in Israel. It's almost like you are there but you are not.

One way to have your voice from the United States count in Israel is vote in the World Zionist Organizations elections and vote for ARZA.  This vote will help send more people to the WZO congress in October and they will vote on what types of projects will be funded in Israel.  Whether progressive programs will be funded or Orthodox schools and projects.  For $10 anyone age 18 and older can vote in this election.  It is so important for everyone to vote in this election.  This is a vote for progressive Zionism in Israel, for egalitarian programs, staff and so much more.  ARZA, the Reform Zionist Association has even more to tell you about the importance of these elections.  Our own Rabbi Ike Serotta is on the slate of Reform participants and if we get a high percentage of the votes he may be able to go to the Zionist Congress in Israel in October to vote on all of these issues. Voting closes on Thursday April 30th!

Let me know if you vote and I will be reporting back and will let you know how many votes ARZA got in these elections. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How do we welcome the LGBTQ Community within our community?

In Philadelphia at the most recent  ARJE.  (Formerly NATE, now the Association of Reform Educators, see my blog from last month) annual gathering in February I attended two sessions on learning  to work with the LGBTQ community.

 (Lesbian. gay,  bisexual & transgender. Q stands for questioning – someone who is questioning their sexual and/or gender orientation. Sometimes, the Q stands for “queer,” a term reclaimed by some LGBTs for political reasons.)

 I enjoyed learning with Phoenix Schneider who is the Director, LGBTQ Initiative at Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia.  I learned terms such as Cisgender which  is a word that applies to the vast majority of people, describing a person who is not transgender. If a doctor announces, “It's a girl!” in the delivery room based on the child's body and that baby grows up to identify as a woman, that person is cisgender.  Cisgender and transgender, are just a few of the terms and language we learned in our sessions. 


Currently at Lakeside we are also participating in a training initiative program with the Response Center on LGBTQ.  We are working on creating a safe space at Lakeside and we are committed to being Allies in our community.  Included in our training initiative is our clergy, educators and lay leaders.  It has been an interesting journey and I have learned quite a bit along the way; how to be a welcoming community, how to respond to and be sensitive to all types of issues.

We are meeting next week for the 3rd time to talk about action items for our congregation.  One idea I want to implement is changing our school registration forms.  It will be easy to change the gender question to have a fill in the blank then to check off  Male or Female.  I hope this will be one of many ideas in our action plan.  

 I am sure in the next 5 years we will have transgender students as well as members of our community.   
One challenging issue is to have a non gender specific bathroom in the building.  Right now we do not have a designated bathroom although Rabbi Serotta has a private bathroom and that is a short term solution.  I hope that perhaps one day we will have a family bathroom which would help all of our families young and old.

Once we have completed our action plan I am sure we will share it with the congregation.  If you have any suggestions please feel free to comment here or email me.  

I look forward to continuing to learn, adapt and help our programs and congregation to reflect the community around us.  Thanks too to Phoenix Schneider for a great session to start off this most recent journey.