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. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The first time I heard a Holocaust survivor tell their story.

 I have heard many Holocaust survivors tell their stories.  When I toured the Holocaust Museum in Skokie I recognized many of the survivors because I had heard them speak over the years.  I thought back and realized that the first time I heard a Holocaust survivor was at the University of Michigan and it was my friend, Daniel Derman's mother, Lisa Derman.
Lisa in Chicago after the war

The year was 1978 and I was a freshman. Holocaust survivors were not speaking like they do today and  it was the first time that Lisa had told her story of escaping Poland and fighting in the Resistance.  It was a lecture hall of over 100 students in a Jewish history class and while she spoke the room was silent as we listened to her unbelievable story.  She always ended her talks with hope and telling her audience how many families members there were now since she and Aron, her husband had survived.

 I had a personal nrelationship with Aron and Lisa and heard many of their stories over dinner, visits and speaking at different educational opportunities.  I cherish all of those memories and stories.  No matter how many times I heard the stories I would be in tears by the time they finished.  Lisa was the master storyteller but I don't think I can recall a time I saw her that Aron did not shout out from the audience to add a fact or perhaps correct her.  Lisa and Aron are gone but their stories still live.  Check out their story and hear their voices yourself.  Listening to the videos are very comforting and it is hard to believe they can't come to Lakeside and tell their story in person.  A few years ago their son Daniel came to Lakeside to start the second generation telling of the story.  The sanctuary was very crowded and like when Aron and Lisa told their story the room was silent listening.  Telling stories couldn't be more important, whether you were in the Holocaust, live in Israel, or are from the south side of Chicago or Highland Park.
Dr. Daniel Derman, 2nd generation

I realized early on as an educator that my students would be the last generation who would be able to meet Holocaust survivors in person and hear them speak.  I work hard to bring speakers to Lakeside Congregation for our students, parents and Adult Enrichment participants.

This Sunday, April 12 at 10:00 am we have the opportunity to hear the story of Estelle Laughlin at Lakeside.  Grades 6-10, their parents, congregants and anyone in the community is invited to come and hear her speak.  I know this will be a meaningful program and we will begin the morning with T'filah; remembering those that perished in the Holocaust.  I look forward to hearing Estelle's story and she will be signing her book, Transcending Darkness after she speaks. I know that Estelle also has hope as she tells her story.   There are many stories of the Holocaust and we are fortunate to hear Estelle's this week.
Estelle Laughlin

Friday, March 27, 2015

What's in a Name? What is Change? Blog Exodus #7 Tell

In February I attended the National Association of Temple Educators Annual Gathering in Philadelphia and we left it was the Association of Reform Jewish Educators.  During the 4 day conference we examined "Engaging Our Changing Jewish Community".  Our keynote speakers included:  Bruce Feiler author of Walking the Bible and Charles T. Lee, self proclaimed idea maker at Ideation and David Bryfman. All 3 of them told their story and helped us to start thinking about all types of changes, innovation and even disruptive change.

This week I was beautiful West Orange, California for ARJE leadership meetings.  We meet to plan for the upcoming year and beyond. 
Leading T'filot at ARJE leadership meetings
We discuss and  exchange ideas about where our organization is heading. We have t'filot together and I am always honored to lead t'filot with my colleagues. 


 This time we had a hard time remembering to  say our new name ARJE.  Many times in the heat of an impassioned speech NATE would just fall out.  We actually had a swear jar for every time we called our organization by it's OLD name.  That helped and we raised money but as I have said: Change is never easy.
Swear jar


Many people have asked why we changed our name from the National Association of Temple Educators to the Association for Reform Educators.  The simple answer is that National and Temple educators does not adequately describe all of our members anymore.  Our organization also celebrated their 60th Anniversary this year and in 1955 the year of our formation the name was accurate.  Now as we welcome members from many different Jewish institutions, Early Childhood, Youth directors to just name a few of our new members; Reform educators is a much more apt description.  We have members from Canada, Israel and other places not located in the United States and therefore National no longer applies as well. 
There was much thought and deliberate care put into the name process.  There was a lengthy task force which then brought the ideas for new names to a leadership meeting.  We broke into groups talked about the different names and it because apparent that one name was favored by the group.  We talked, dreamed and visioned what a new name could be and what would take us into the next 60 years.  I am always energized when I spend time with colleagues and come home with new ideas. This time I saw a great sign at the congregation that hosted us.  They had made a banner which proclaimed they had been accredited.  I can't wait to do my own sign here at Lakeside and let everyone know we have been accredited  3 times which equals  21 years out of the 25 years which I have been at Lakeside!
At Lakeside our sign will read:  Accredited for 21 Years!


I am a week late to Blog Exodus but this post does fall under 6th of Nisan Tell!  I am using it!


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cheers For 60 Years; Ad Mayah Ve-essrim



Jerry and Marian Michaels 1955


My parents will be married 60 years this January and coincidentally the place I have worked at for 25 years, Lakeside, is also celebrating 60 years. 60 years is a long time. I am sure my parents and others who have reached their 60th anniversary can attest to that.  To do anything for 60 years you must work hard, love what you are doing and change with the times.  I think my parents and Lakeside have been very successful on these points.  

My parents moved to Crystal Lake, Illinois in 1959 after being married for 5 years.  My 27 year old parents moved to farm, the only place they could rent at the time as my father had bought a veterinary practice.  They had one car and my mom had one baby and one on the way.  Her only phone was a party line with the people across the street.  It was not an easy life.

I know that Lakeside’s beginnings were also humble.  We began as a school and then went on to become a synagogue.  Our founding members were very thoughtful when they went to build a structure and they were sure not to leave the future generations with a mortgage. Today we are very grateful that we don’t have a mortgage and we are able to keep fundraising to sustain Lakeside.

I am sure my parents could not imagine how their relationship and also their situation would change over 60 years.  The small town of Crystal Lake which they moved to is now a sprawling community.  Although there are not many Jewish families in Crystal Lake there is a synagogue closer to my house then my home congregation which was in Elgin.  My father still practices at Fox Valley Animal Hospital on Route 14 in Crystal but the whole area has exploded.  My parents are now grandparents to 5 great young adults (if I may say so myself!)
Michaels-Ehrlich-Shanker Families, Cuba Dec 2014
Lakeside has also weathered many changes.  We have a full time Rabbi, Cantor and Educational director.  We also have a song leader, teachers, a Hebrew school and t’filot, services on Friday night, Saturday morning, Sunday morning  and holidays.  I am sure some of our founders would be surprised at our programs which our younger families assume are  long standing traditions at Lakeside.  

In our 7th and 8th grade class we had an opportunity to interview different generations of Lakeside members. Our students heard about programs from Lakeside’s history and got a crash course in Classical Reform Judaism.  We are editing these interviews and hope to show them at our Cheers for 60 years.

Motzei Shabbat, Saturday night February 7 we will have a celebration at Lakeside, Cheers for 60 years.  Our celebration, for adults and children, will begin at 5:30 pm and you just need to RSVP to come to this party.  What a wonderful way to help us celebrate.  We are taking a Lakeside picture at about 6:30 pm and you will not want to miss that.
I am in the bottom row.



I am in bottom row and the last 3 in the second row
For 25 of Lakeside’s 60 years I have had the honor to be the educator. Check out all the pictures of me in our confirmation pictures on the walls at Lakeside.  I have been honored to  watch families grow and been a invited over the years to my students’ weddings, B’nai Mitzvah and of course family funerals.  The Jewish blessing May you live until 120 is often written as "till 120" (in Hebrew: עד מאה ועשרים שנה; "Ad Mayah Ve-essrim Shana" or in Yiddish "Biz Hundret un Tsvantsig").
The most often-cited source is Genesis 6:3;Then God said, “my spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.

In Deut. 34:7 the age of Moses upon his death is given as 120, but most importantly it says "his eye had not dimmed, and his vigor had not diminished." To have one's mental and physical faculties—that is why Jews wish someone via "till 120

I wish Lakeside Ad Mayah ve-essrim, until 120.  I know the next 60 years will bring change, nachos,(pride in coming generations)and and we will be a wonderful spiritual and educational home not just for us, but for our children and our children’s children.  
Lakeside Congregation 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

Je suis Juif, We stand with you!

It is not easy to teach elementary school students about current events.  Is is even harder to teach our Jewish students about the events of last week. How do you explain what has been happening in Paris and in the world?  Last week in grades 4,5 and 6 all of our students gathered together and discussed the events in Paris and then took this picture, JE SUIS JUIF.
Lakeside Congregation Standing with our Paris Family

I sent this picture to Rabbi Tom Cohen of Kehillat Gesher in Paris France.  Rabbi Cohen was moved and sent out our picture to his community.  We are also the "Talmud Torah" mentioned in Rabbi Cohen's article about the situation in Paris,Letter from Paris.  Please read this letter for a first hand report from Paris.  Rabbi Tom Cohen and his wife Rabbi Pauline Bebe have 2 congregations in Paris and they live in the Morais, the Jewish neighborhood in Paris.

In this day and age there are many disparaging comments about social media including Facebook, twitter and the like.  I am so glad my students were able to connect so quickly with our "family" in Paris.  I will tell everyone this Sunday at our weekly T'filah how important this picture and gesture is and how much it meant to the Jewish community in Paris. 

I look forward to more outreach and I know that our students will be connected to Jew all over the world during the life times.  Think how easy it is today to get information and who can imagine what the future holds for us in the area of communication!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cuba 2015: Family Trip/Mission/Experience of a Lifetime

The Crew

8 days in Cuba with 3 generations is not easy to describe but my over 700 pictures and videos will definitely help me tell the story.  I suppose all vacations have a story but I think that Cuba's story has many chapters some to be still written.  There are so many facets of this trip that I hope to explore over the next few blog posts.

Cuba is a country full of contradictions, communism vs capitalism, rehabilitated vs dilapidated buildings, poverty of the Cubans vs the opulence for the tourists and no religion under Communism to a new Jewish community. We were able to bring tzedakah to the 3 different synagogues which we visited. I know they appreciated both our monetary tzedakah and the other gifts we brought, including   over the counter medications, makeup and some clothes.  The synagogues are growing smaller by the month.  Many of the young people are making Aliyah and although the remaining remnant knows that this is good it is still sad to see the community shrink.  

El Patronato Synagogue, Havana
We met with the leaders of 3 different synagogues, 2 of these Presidents were women.  There are no Rabbis in Cuba now.  They bring in a Rabbi from Chile to do weddings en masse, B'nai Mitzvah and other rituals. The Jews of Cuba have learned how to conduct services and to have a very meaningful Jewish life without clergy.  We went to Friday night T'filot at El Patronato Synagogue and felt very at home. T'filot were led by 2 congregants one of whom was a teenager.  Of course we could read the Hebrew prayers but we were also surprised that we knew most of the tunes as well.  We did not understand the d'var Torah in Spanish which was given by another congregant.  

I think when there are no clergy sometimes congregants are forced to participate and this gives a special flavor to rituals and t'filot.  I was happy to see that there were many young people in attendance and at the end of the service they all came to the bimah and led us in Adon Olam.    

In other posts I will write about our People To People visits which were with  different cultural and artistic as well as other thoughts on Cuba.  


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

B'nai Mitzvah: It is never too late; Ask these women!

Torah Sisters
Last Shabbat 3 women became B'not Mitzvah at Lakeside Congregation.  They had studied together for a year and lead a beautiful t'filah including chanting Torah and each giving a D'var Torah. Janet Friedman, Denise Goldberg and Blair Waddick all brought their different life experiences and Jewish traditions to our service.

I can tell you that they worked hard for over a year to get to last week.  They were a support for one another and got to work and study with Rabbi Serotta, Cantor Davis and myself.  They learning to read Hebrew, chant Torah, talk about their Judaism and write a D'var Torah.

I am the proud teacher of Kitah aleph not only for students in our Hebrew school but also Kitah Aleph for adults.  It is not easy for adults to learn to read and then sing in a new language.  All three adult students had gone through the B'nai Mitzvah process with their children and had seen first hand the joy and the tears that a simcha can bring to a family.  When they first began their process I don't think they realized how transformative this experience would be from reading Torah to addressing their congregation/community.
At the top of our Ark we have the words: Torah, T'filah, Tzedakah and Kehillah.  Our adult B'not Mitzah embodied all 4 words of these value laden words.  They chanted Torah with grace and poise and lead us in T'filah by leading prayers and reading their d'vrei Torah.  Their Tzedakah component included tzedakah center  pieces of pasta, tomato sauce, and other food to donate to a food pantry at their extended Kiddush lunch. They also donated much needed table cloths to the congregation which will be used many times over in the future.  Their Kehillah was evident in our sanctuary which was filled to brimming with parts of their shared community and our Lakeside family.
Denise's hand made Tallit with pictures of her family

I addressed the 3 B'not Mitzvah on the bimah as I do every week at Lakeside and was able to tell them I was proud of them as role models and as active participants in many different areas of our congregation.  Janet has 2 children going through our Religious and Hebrew school program and often volunteers in the school office, Denise has been a teacher in our Religious school for over 20 years and her children are involved in our program as well.  Blair joined Lakeside when her daughter was grown but she and her husband come to services, adult education programs and classes.  We could not have asked for a better class.

I will need a new class though and I started looking for the next Adult B'nai Mitzvah class last week when  announce from the bimah we will start one soon.  Please if you have any interest in learning to read Hebrew, chant from Torah and find a new place in the Lakeside family just let me know.  We haven't set a start date for the new class but we are always looking for new members.