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. 

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