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Adding Some Jewish Into Your Week: Shema Yisrael

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Here are some reflections on this week's Torah reading, Parshat Vayechi. 

This week's Torah portion features Jacob (now famous from the previous stories of wrestling with an angel and as the father of long-lost son Joseph) on his deathbed.  As was the tradition at the time, he blesses his twelve sons.  At first glance, this event may not seem that significant, the blessing they say is one we have heard many times before "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad," "Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." 

What is noteworthy is that this is the first time that arguably the most famous sentence in all of Judaism is featured. Most people believe that the events that take place on Mount Sinai, after the exodus from Egypt, launch the birth of the Jewish people.  God passes down the Ten Commandments through Moses, and the Jewish people's covenant with God is born. Let me challenge that perspective. What if we think about Jacob's blessings and the first recitation of the Shema as the birth of the Jewish people instead? 

As part of Jacob's blessing to his sons he assigns the tribes to be different and to have unique roles in the community: leaders, priests, soldiers, judges, farmers, scholars, and so on.  Just as Jacob blessed his sons to be different, today there are many roles and ways that people practice Judaism.  We have many sects and movements that Jews subscribe to. Jews can be Reconstructionist, Humanist, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Messianic, and Karaite, just to name a few.  

There was one thing, however, that kept all of the brothers together: the Shema. Even after Jacob blessed them all to be different, they came together as one people in their recitation of the Shema on his death bed. In the same way, each different type of Judaism recites the Shema in some form that is meaningful for them and believes in the same higher power, whatever form that takes. We are all united in the words that form one of the central pillars of our faith, and in doing that, we are united as a people just like Jacob's sons. 

Adding Some Jewish Into Your Week: Joseph's Dreamcoat

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Looking for a new way to think about Judaism this week? Here are some reflections Parshat Vayigash to add a modern perspective to this week's Torah reading.

This week's parsha (Torah reading), Vayigash, finishes the story of Joseph that we started reading last week. If you're like me and don't have it in you to memorize every part of the Torah, here's a quick recap of what happened over the course of our last two parshiot

We started with Joseph receiving his "coat of many colors" from Jacob, and his subsequent capture and sale into slavery by his jealous brothers. After being sent to jail, Joseph is brought to Pharoah to interpret his two dreams, and makes his well-known prediction that there will be seven years of prosperity, followed by seven years of famine. Pharoah decides that Joseph should oversee the collection and distribution of food for all of Egypt. Fast forward a few years, and Joseph's brothers have come to ask for food because of the famine. Joseph (who is completely unrecognizable to his brothers) tests them by accusing them of being spies and thieves, and accuses Jacob's youngest son, Benjamin, of stealing a goblet. He demands that Benjamin stay as his slave, while the others can go free. Judah steps up to the plate, defends Benjamin, and heroically asks to be enslaved in his place. In this moment, the brothers "pass" Joseph's test and Joseph knows, through their actions, that the brothers are different people than the ones who abandoned him so many years before. 

Now, I imagine when you saw "Parshat Vayigash" and started reading this reflection, you may not have expected the plot of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat." It is a well-known, well-loved story- I couldn't help singing "Close Every Door" the whole time I was writing this summary. That's the cool thing about the Torah and Jewish learning, you can find it everywhere, and often without realizing it or thinking too hard. Because of this famous retelling of the story of Joseph, we already have a connection to what's been happening in the last few Jewish weeks.  

 As Jewish educators and leaders, it's our job to find and create connections between the individuals we work with and classic Jewish thought and texts, but what if we don't know how? 

We can thank scholars, authors, screenwriters, tv and film producers for their help. Our tradition is so rich with interesting stories that versions have been used for all kids of commercial purposes including movies and TV shows. The Rugrats have adventures for both Hanukkah and Passover. Disney Channel has the movie "Full Court Miracle." There's a NBC show that features a modern retelling of King David's story called "Kings," and full Biblically inspired storylines on the CW's Supernatural. There are even movies like "Exodus: Gods and Kings" and "Noah" that incorporate biblical commentaries into their retelling of classic stories. 

When we come across stories in the Torah that are hard to connect with, we shouldn't just write them off or ignore them. We should look for modern versions or find a way to tell them ourselves. One reason Jewish life has thrived over the course of history is that there are so many ways to relate it to our lives. Let's challenge ourselves to look for them!  

How a Road Trip Changed My Life

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How a road trip changed my life

When I was in 9th grade, I went on a road trip that changed my life. I boarded a bus with a group of teens that I had never met before, and we traveled across the country. The purpose of this trip was to see things that we had never seen before, and to learn more about a variety of subjects through their respective hall of fames. On this trip I visited the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Although I was a huge fan of football and baseball, I was not a huge fan of Rock music. To my surprise, looking back, my favorite and most memorable part of the trip was walking through and exploring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not only did I learn a ton, but through the interactive exhibits and music making work shop I gained a ton of new respect for a music genre that I was not all that interested in.  

Looking back that trip gave me many memories, new friends, and hundreds of pictures and also an appreciation for something new. It is something that I look back on very fondly, and that I want others to experience too. Because of this, I have decided to run a similar trip, with a couple of added twists, for teens around the Chicagoland area. Whether you have interest in each stop of the trip, or just one or two, you might find that by being around a great group of people, and traveling to some amazing and beautiful places can become a trip that you will cherish for many years to come! 

The main stops on the trip include:  

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! 

Location: Cleveland, Ohio          

Size: 6 Floors and over 50 exhibits! 

Newest Inductees:  

ELO, Joan Baez, Journey, Nile Rodgers, Pearl Jam, YES, Tupac Shakur 

Some Highlights Include:  

Each floor takes on a different Era of music, from the Oldies and the British Invasion, to Classic Rock, to the Rise of Rap, and the Right Here Right Now (Modern Bands), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has something for everything! Each exhibit has interactive aspects, video and visual aspects, and of course a ton of Musical aspects.  

The Baseball Hall of Fame! 

Location: Cooperstown, New York.    

Size: Three floors and nearly 20 exhibits  

Newest Inductees:  

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, John Schuerholz, and Bud Selig 

Some Highlights Include:  

Diamond Dreams (An exhibit dedicated to the Women of Baseball)  

Autumn Glory (A look at every world series in History, including an entire Cubs 2016 World Series display!)   

The Base Exhibit (An entirely interactive exhibit)   

The Hall of Fame (Complete with bronze plaques for each MLB Hall of Fame Player.)  

The Pro Football Hall of Fame! 

Location: Canton, Ohio            

Size: 82,300 Sq Feet, and Newly Renovated  

Newest Inductees:  

Morten AndersenTerrell DavisKenny EasleyJerry JonesJason TaylorLaDainian TomlinsonKurt Warner

Some Highlights Include:  

Interactive Area (Includes a Teletrivia game, Call-the-Play-Theater, an all-new Madden EA Sports video game display and other exhibits such as a display devoted to officiating.) 

Hall of Fame Gallery (which houses the bronze bust of each enshrine) 

Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery (Recaps every Super Bowl played to date. home to the Super Bowl Theater, an incredible presentation of a NFL Films production.) 

Niagra Falls, Maid of the Mist!  

Location: Buffalo, New York 

Some Highlights Include:  

“Journey into the heart of one of North America’s most powerful waterfalls. Hear the thundering roar of 600,000 gallons of water falling right before your eyes. Feel the Mighty rush of the mist on your face aboard the Maid of the Mist.” 

Our Time is Now: My Journey with Jewish Civic Engagement

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Ariel Sheffey is currently a sophomore at Northwestern University, but in high school, she participated in a two-year fellowship program run by JUF’s Campus Affairs and Student Engagement Department. This year, that department has teamed up with Springboard to create a new program: Launchpad: Jewish Civic Engagement. We asked Ariel what it means to her to get involved in her community and how she lends her voice to issues she is passionate about. If, like Ariel, you want to make a difference in your community, sign up for Launchpad: Jewish Civic Engagement today! 

Launchpad


Civic engagement has long been part of my life. Throughout my experiences working in political offices, engaging with the Jewish community, and being an advocate on my college campus, I have learned not only the importance of community involvement, but also the extent to which young adults are truly able to make an impact. My first real experience with activism was through a high school internship with a political grassroots organization in my congressional district devoted to campaigning for candidates in local, state, and national levels of office. From planning and staffing events to writing press releases, managing social media accounts, and hearing from a multitude of esteemed speakers, I found myself fully immersed in the world of community organization.  


From this experience, my political activism grew. I interned in the legislative office of my state representative, fielding calls from constituents and learning about the relationships between elected officials and those they represent. I volunteered on a congressional campaign, getting a chance to see how campaigning works when all resources are devoted to one specific election. And I continued to work for the same organization where I began—this time, as the internship coordinator, an opportunity that allowed me to improve my leadership skills, become further integrated into the management team, and give back all that I had learned over the previous years to a new class of interns.  


However, I’ve found that activism is most meaningful to me when it draws from my Judaism. Tikkun Olam—repairing the world—and Klal Yisrael—uniting the Jewish people—are Jewish values that I have found to be especially formative in my civic engagement, and I have been lucky enough to benefit from opportunities that have allowed me to experience that intersection deeply. Through JUF’s Campus Affairs and Student Engagement Department, I spent two years as a part of a cohort that engaged in meaningful dialogue about activism, learned from professionals about the most effective advocacy and messaging strategies, and travelled to Israel and Washington, D.C. to meet with journalists, government officials, and more. And the one-on-one conversations that I had with such influential individuals demonstrated to me that the distance between teenagers and policy-makers is significantly smaller than it seems. We, as passionate community members who will ultimately shape our world’s future, can make an impact now, and the advocacy skills that I learned in high school have largely shaped my activism on my college campus.  


Ultimately, I’ve learned that civic engagement done right is a lifestyle, not an occasional hobby. In a world that is constantly changing, one must always be cognizant and reactant, lest the resultant policies threaten us, our communities, and our futures. Even in the microcosm that is my college campus, change is dictated by those whose voices are the loudest—something I have witnessed for both better and worse through student government resolutions, newspaper opinion editorials, rallies, and protests, many of which I personally have been a part of. As Jewish leaders, we need to make sure that we, too, are those voices, both now and throughout our lifetimes. 

-Ariel Sheffey


How Music Helped me Connect to My Judaism

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Last year, I traveled to a conference called Songleader Boot Camp (SLBC) in St. Louis, Missouri. At SLBC, I raised my voice in song along with hundreds of other Jews from places all over the world who, just like me, felt an indescribable connection to Judaism and the songs we have sung for centuries. For an amazing five days, we studied the art of song leading in Jewish communities and learned the tricks and tools to make us the best leaders we can be, both on the stage and in our everyday lives.

At SLBC, I was able to relate to Judaism like never before, and I easily connected to people that I just met, from all over the country as well as Israel. Although I was one of the only teenagers at SLBC last year, I was treated just like everyone else. It wasn’t just me either. Everyone, no matter who they were, no matter if they were expert songleaders or just beginners, was treated with the same level of כָּבוֹד, or respect, as everyone else. Participating in SLBC was truly an amazing experience and I feel so blessed to have shared it all with others who love music as much as I do.

SLBC School Break

This year, SLBC is taking the experience a step further by partnering with Springboard to create a Teen Track. This track is being created with young adults in mind, focusing on the skill development and community building that will be particularly meaningful to us. If this new track is anything like what I experienced last year, it is going to be amazing. I hope you will consider joining me there!


Wishing you a fantastic song-filled Sunday!

-Marc Luban, 10th grader

Adding some Jewish into your week: Making Hanukkah Modern

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Looking for a new way to think about Judaism this week? Here are some reflections on Hanukkah to add a modern perspective to the upcoming holiday this month.

When we think about Hanukkah, we often focus on the same major details of the story: Antiochus told the Jews that they could no longer observe their mitzvot or read from the Torah. Judah and the Maccabees rose up and fought against him. Upon winning the war, the Macabees restored the Temple and discovered that there was only enough oil to light the menorah, but a miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days. After years of repetitive Hanukkah discussions and programs, is there a way to make this year's Hanukkah experience feel fresh and different? I'm glad you asked! 

There are many unexplored questions in the version of the story above. What do you think the Maccabees' uprising looked like? In any conflict, difficult trade-offs must be made. Do you think that the Maccabees engaged in morally questionable activities in their fight to protect their religious freedom? How does the Maccabees' resistance compare to those who have engaged in different types of protests in world history? How does it compare to what's happening today? 

Whether you're a person engaging in your own struggle to find modern meaning in the Hanukkah story (see last week's blog post for more on the Jewish value of struggle), a teen or youth professional interested in creating a new Hannukkah program, this year, consider putting our heroes on trial.  

Taking the Maccabees to Court: The People vs. Maccabees 

  • Split into two sides: Prosecution and Defense.  

  • Have both sides consider leaders and movements throughout world history who protested those in power such as Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luthor King, Malala Yousafzai, the HaganahLechi, and Etzel from the early days of Israel, and more. Consider the different forms of protest people engaged in and how that impacted their cause.  

  • Have both sides call witnesses from throughout history to defend or attack the actions of the Maccabees.  

  • After the trial have participants vote on whether the Maccabees were justified in their decision to fight the Greeks or if they should have engaged in a more peaceful resistance 

We hope you enjoy this modern-day approach to a holiday classic. For more information on this program, or for help with other program ideas, get in touch with Daniel Warshawsky  



Why I'm so Happy I went on a Springboard Program Last Spring Break

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Spring break for me usually consists of big trips and swimming pools, but freshman year (last year), I didn't have anything planned. My mom asked me how I felt about going on a Springboard school break trip. At first I thought it wasn't for me, but then I remembered hearing about the program during my summer at Camp Chi so I read about the activity options.  One of my favorite things to do is cook and bake. I love making cupcakes, cookies, and other creations. Cooking with new friends and having baking competitions sounded awesome- I signed up for BreakAway: Master Chef immediately.

Camp Chi Teens

Fast forward to March when I got off the bus at Camp Chi. We started by getting a tour of the Perlstein kitchen at Camp Chi and meeting some of the kitchen staff.  This was a great way to get another perspective of how a kitchen works. After the tour, our leader explained how we were going to be cooking many different things, but first we needed to learn the basics. We started out with carrots, onions, celery, and a chef's knife. By the end, we were chopping carrots into tiny pieces and dicing onions with no problem. Later on, we were grateful to have Chef Stephanie Goldfarb give us some tips on how to prepare food (and eat it too!). She owns a supper club in Chicago and explained how restaurants take a lot of work, patience, and creativity to run.

Cupcakes

These lessons were helpful in the big activity we did on the last day. By that time, we had already made challah, knishes, perfected our hummus skills, and learned to roll and stuff a perfect sushi roll. But we were reminded that practice makes perfect, so much so that they make TV shows out if it! We did an activity based on the Food Network show, Chopped. We were split into teams and given some weird ingredients like root beer, turkey, an orange, and an onion. As a team, we had to create an appetizer and a main course, and as a group we made the dessert. I remember that my team worked so hard to make a sautéed tomato, (pareve) cheese and onion pizza and a seared turkey with orange root beer sauce. The hard work paid off, and we won the competition! My favorite part of the activity was making a cake and decorating it together as a group. We made some funny designs and ate a lot of frosting.

BreakAway Master Chef

My decision to participate in BreakAway: Master Chef was one I will never regret. Improving my cooking and baking skills was so great and getting to experience it with friends that I still keep in touch was icing on the cake. 


-Adina Grossman, 10th grade

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