Friday, April 20, 2018

What does Mitzvah mean to YOU?

Lakeside Congregation at the Northern Illinois Food Bank 2018
One of the first things I teach in my school is that Mitzvah means commandment and it is not as many adults and students believe "good deed".  With Lakeside Congregation's Mitzvah day around the corner on Sunday May 6,  I hope that you will take a minute to think about this differentiation between a good deed and a mitzvah.  Many Mitzvot are good deeds, visiting the sick, comforting mourners and rejoicing with bride and groom.  These mitzvot are all listed in a prayer traditional Jews say daily and one that is in our siddur, Elu D'varim, these are the things you can do without measure.  You can always help sick people, study in the synagogue and honor your mother and father without any limitations.  These are commandments.  These commandments will not put in the poor house or really cost you any money and that is why they are all in one list.

I do believe that some of my younger students when think that mitzvot are good deeds. When asked to list mitzvot they will tell me that walking the dog, cleaning their room or taking out the garbage qualifies as a mitzvah.  I am NOT one to discourage our children from doing chores but I usually point out that not mitzvot.  I hope that this distinction can show our adults and students how Jewish values creep into their lives daily.  To honor your father and mother daily takes kavennah, intention.

Perhaps this list will help you as you strive to understand how Jewish values permeate your life without you really even realizing it.

Here is the English translation of Eilu D'varim:

These are the things the fruits (=interest) of which a person enjoys in this world, but the principal
remains for him in the world to come:
Alex collecting bikes to repair for his Mitzvah project
1. honoring father and mother,
2. deeds of loving kindness, (Gimilut Chasadim)
3. early arrival at the study-house morning and evening,
4. hospitality to guests,
5. visiting the sick,
6. dowering the bride,
7. accompanying the dead (to burial),
8. devotion in prayer,
9. making peace between a man and his fellow,
10. and the study of Torah is equal to them all.
(b. Shabbat 127a)
Mitzvah Day Fair of Mitzvah Projects
I am always surprised that when we ask our B'nai Mitzvah students to do 13 hours of Mitzvot or service over the years before their ceremony that we never get push back.  Students willingly find projects that they are passionate about and I am so proud of what they do.  If you count up the number of students over the years that have done projects since I instituted the practice it would be over 8,000 hours of Mitzvot.  Many of our students go on to do much more than just 13 hours of Mitzvot and they all mention their projects in their  d'vrie Torah (ok, perhaps it is on the outline that I give them and they HAVE to mention their projects).  I do believe that some students upon hearing that a friend has worked with Keshet, our local organization for children who are differently abled, thinks to themselves, hey I can do that too.  
After you have taken a look at this list I hope that you can find some time to sign up for Mitzvah day at Lakeside or in your own congregation.  I look forward to discussing on line or in person what is a mitzvah and how we can ask our children to do even more! See you soon or at least on Mitzvah Day!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Traveling to Israel-Come for the fun; stay for the experience!

Someone once asked me how did I get to be so crazy, mishugana, for Israel?  I started to think about it.  Was it my Rabbi growing up who talked about Israel as we studied in his library with my sister and 2 other students?  No, I don't think it was Rabbi Rose who did it, although he did emphasize the importance of learning Hebrew, which now that I think about it he taught us in Ashkenazi Hebrew.

In Jerusalem in early 1973
Of course my parents were influential in all that my sister and I did as we were growing up.  They traveled to Israel in 1968, 6 months after the 6 day war.  They had a very charismatic guide who sold them on the country which was only 23 years old at the time, and he taught them about our history and heritage.  My parents were excited to return as a family 5 years later with us in tow.  We too had a fun time in Israel in the spring of 1973 before the Yom Kippur war and some of the joy left Israel.

Junior Year Abroad in Jerusalem
Maybe it was the Israeli Hebrew tutor my mother found for us as she and her husband came out every week to McHenry, Illinois to teach the same 4 girls who also studied with our Rabbi.  This time we learned Sephardi Hebrew and could converse enough to order a coca-cola in Jerusalem when we traveled there.

It also could have been the Young Judea youth group my mom started at our synagogue.  My mom was a part of Hadassah and this was their youth group affiliate.   I became very involved and eventually chose to go to their national camp in New York, Tel Yehudah.  I went to a Jewish/Zionist summer camp with 500 other Jewish teens for 2 years.  Coming from Crystal Lake, Illinois I had never seen that many Jewish teens in one place before.

I eventually spent a year in Israel, Junior Year Abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I met my husband, Arthur.  I loved that year and all my successive trips to Israel  more than any other place I have traveled. In fact,  you are not traveling in Israel you are going home.

Now is the time to make plans to come with Lakeside Congregation to Israel next December 2018.  I like nothing better to see Israel through the eyes of people who have never been and are coming back after a long time away.

We will be traveling with ARZA and I know that you will have the time of your life.  Take a look at out trip and call me and let me know if you are interested!  I promise you will not be disappointed!

Last Lakeside trip to Israel in 2013