The BJE March teaches powerful lessons of Jewish history and personal Jewish identity with a profound impact on participants. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Los Angeles delegation, along with...
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This presentation is for Early Childhood and Day School educators, as well as board members. The program is 90 minutes long, including time for Q and A.
There is no need to RSVP however if you are outside of the BJE network and wish...
On Friday, May 15th at 2:30 PM teens, parents and survivors came together through a Zoom meeting to hear the incredible story of Estelle Nadel, BJE March of the Living Holocaust Survivor. While on the March, teens typically have the opportunity to hear the stories of our Survivors each day as we travel from site to site. Since we were not able to do this with teens this year, Survivors will be sharing their stories of resiliency, strength and endurance with teens, family and friends through the BJE March of the Living Survivor Talk series.
Estelle Nadel was only a child when she and her brother escaped Nazi captivity through a tiny window in their jail cell. Once free, Estelle and her brother lived in hiding for two years and ultimately arrived in the United States in 1947. She attributes her survival to singing and music as a personal escape from the horrors she came face to face with.
It took Estelle a long time to start sharing her story of survival but now that she does, she says that she feels called to speak. As a witness to the Holocaust’s horrors, she feels that it is her duty to rebuke those who deny that it happened. “There’s very few survivors left, and a lot of them don’t want to talk about it. I want the world to know that there was a Holocaust.” she said. “There's so much denial, that every time I get a chance to tell my story, I feel like I’m fulfilling something, for something that people are denying.”
Space is limited and will be on a first come, first serve basis. Please contact Liat Vorobiev for a link and log on credentials.
Estelle will also allow time for a few questions at the end. Special thanks to Sabrina Cohensedgh (BJE MOTL 2020 alum from Milken) and Ann Mizrahi (BJE MOTL 2020 alum from de Toledo) for being a part of the planning process. We look forward to having you join us!
Each time I venture out amidst the pandemic that has, already, taken so many lives, I think about what changes in behavior (beyond behaviors directly related to containment of the virus) might be appropriate in response to the events of recent months. One answer came to mind as I visited, via Zoom, a thirty-minute pre-school session engaging (somewhat) the attention of my grandson and his two year old classmates. During that time, I reflected on words that the teacher sang with her students: Modeh ani (“I thank You”), a declaration traditionally recited on waking up each day.
Modeh ani begins by acknowledging the gift of life, after having been, so to speak, “dead to the world,” while asleep. It closes with Hebrew words that lend themselves to two different translations: Your (God’s) faithfulness (to humankind) is great, and Your (God’s) faith (in humankind) is great. This statement of orientation to the day starts with gratitude and points toward fulfilling the trust represented by the blessing of awakening anew.
By way of actualizing the spirit of modeh ani, the Talmud suggests embodying attributes associated with God; for example, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, consoling mourners and burying the dead (Sotah 14a). Another rabbinic text instructs: “Just as God is gracious and merciful, so too you be gracious and merciful (Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, commenting on Exodus 15:2). This approach to life is the subject of a book by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a beloved teacher, scholar and prolific author.
In a volume titled The Way Into Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World), Rabbi Dorff notes that “tikkun olam” as a reference to social action is of very recent origin, dating to the 1960s; while the term “tikkun olam” appears much earlier in rabbinic literature, the way it is currently invoked is, decidedly, a phenomenon of the latter part of the twentieth century. That said, Rabbi Dorff “unpacks” longstanding Jewish teachings relating to such matters as helping the poor, how we speak to one another, supporting people in times of need and joy, family relationships, and more. Whether under the rubric hesed, tzedek, mishpat or other such terms, Jewish teachings and the values they express characterize, in Rabbi Dorff’s words, “the world we all should strive to create.”
The pandemic starkly reminds us of the interdependence of humankind. The work of containing coronavirus involves the dedicated efforts of specialists and responsible conduct on all our parts. The project of world repair – shaping a world that reflects the ideals we are collectively capable of realizing – begins with gratitude; it is something to which each of us can contribute.
Dr. Gil Graff is the Executive Director of BJE.
BJE is thrilled to partner with Days of Gratitude, May 22 - May 30. Please join us - www.gratitudedays.com.
The approach of Shavuot (this year, beginning Thursday night, May 28) – associated in Jewish tradition with experiencing Torah at Mt. Sinai – is heralded in the cycle of weekly Torah study by the start of the Book of Numbers, the opening chapters of which were read last shabbat. This fourth book of the five books that comprise the Torah is known in Hebrew as “Ba-midbar,” literally, in the desert. Much of it is devoted to recounting aspects of the Israelites’ desert journey over the course of decades, describing challenges and responsibilities that are integral to living in community. This book immediately follows the Book of Leviticus, largely focused on matters of religious attitude and behavior. Neither book excludes the “other” dimension; each has a different emphasis.
While, in the sequence of these biblical books the focus on “peoplehood” immediately follows the book sometimes known as “instruction for the priests,” on Shavuot itself we read the Scroll of Ruth that, in its first chapter, flips the sequence. When Ruth, a widowed Moabite woman, tells her mother-in-law, Naomi, that she insists on accompanying her on the latter’s return to Judea, she famously declares: “your people are my people; your God is my God” (Ruth 1:16). Here, too, the dimensions of peoplehood and religious identity are both included in Ruth’s declaration.
For millennia, Jews understood themselves to constitute both a people – however scattered – and a religious community. During the nineteenth century, there were Jews who tried to define “out” all but the religious dimension of Judaism, and others who advocated Jewish nationalism with the aim of becoming “a nation like all other nations,” defining out any religious dimension of national identity. The contiguity of Leviticus and Numbers and the opening of the Book of Ruth remind us of the dual nature of Jewish identity in its fullest expression.
Describing the scene at the base of Mt. Sinai, the Torah relates: “and Israel encamped (singular verb, in the Hebrew text) there, opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). Though plural verbs are used in the prior verse, describing the people’s journeying and encamping, the classical medieval commentator Rashi (1040-1105) notes that the Israelites stood at this defining moment “as one.” It was an encounter of shared religious experience with an unparalleled sense of peoplehood.
Unlike Sukkot and Pesach with their assorted holiday symbols, Shavuot is non-descript. Its hallmark, over time, became the study of Torah, with some staying up all night engaged in Torah study. Interestingly (and quite understandably), this practice became more widespread as the coffee trade expanded from the Middle East to Europe.
In reflecting on Shavuot and the practice of devoting the holiday to Torah (in its broadest sense) study, I am reminded of a memorable encounter I had with Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983), one of the most influential American Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, understood Judaism as a “dynamic religious civilization.” He understood that peoplehood and religion are inextricably interconnected aspects of Jewish civilization; that Judaism is a “synthesis of peoplehood, culture and religion.”
After retiring from teaching generations of rabbis and teachers at the Jewish Theological Seminary (where he served, 1909-1963), Kaplan continued to lecture widely. While I was enrolled in a course in Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Kaplan was invited to deliver a guest lecture. Needless to say, the self-selected group of students enrolled in a course on Jewish thought, eagerly anticipated the appearance of this important savant.
Mordecai Kaplan came to class with a Hebrew Bible that looked quite well used. He proceeded to flip to a variety of passages, asking whether we (undergraduate students) were familiar with or able to interpret those passages. We were, we quickly established, individually and collectively quite ignorant.
Kaplan was explicit in advising us that if we presumed to meaningfully relate to Jewish philosophy we would do well to ground ourselves in the classical texts of the Jewish people. This challenge, of course, can never be more than a work in progress, as the sea of Jewish learning is vast (but, as Hillel said of undertaking Jewish study, “if not now, when?”)! Shavuot reminds us – as did Rashi and Kaplan, who held very different notions of the experience at Sinai – that it is a combination of peoplehood and religious experience that defines Judaism, and that Jewish education is an essential part of meaningfully engaging with that life-enhancing combination.
Dr. Gil Graff is the Executive Director of BJE.
Below is an announcement of a group of webinar series Impact from a Distance that we are sharing with you. These webinars are being sponsored by Catapult Learning in the hope that you might find these relevant topics supportive during these...
BJE’s impact is felt throughout greater Los Angeles. These are just a few
ways we’re making a difference this year.
Across the Jewish spectrum, Jewish schools in Los Angeles receive a wide range of services and support from BJE.
From birth through young adulthood, young Jewish people in Los Angeles are engaged in Jewish life through BJE programs and accredited or affiliated schools.
BJE leverages the strength of our vibrant community to generate public and private funding that benefits Jewish educational programs and institutions throughout Greater Los Angeles in a wide range of ways.