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Note: The opinions expressed here are solely those of each individual blogger and do not necessarily represent the views of TRT.

Ready, Set, Learn!

May 2013

Benayim, May 2013

What makes TRT different from other Jewish schools?

When I was in Hebrew School, you had two very clear choices: conform to the schedule, content and student population, or find a tutor who would privately help you achieve your goal, most often just the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony.  I went three times a week to an orthodox, Sephardi school where I learned two things: I loved learning this stuff, and I couldn’t use what I learned in class when I sat high up in the women’s section on Shabbat morning.

That feeling of being on the outside looking in stayed with me until I got to college and realized that I could return to the Jewish classroom, alongside my male peers. I went straight to rabbinic school after graduating, and never looked back.

A Taste of Jewish Memories

February 2013

Benayim, March 2013

I love the model seders we do at TRT, but they also present me with a dilemma. I think there is something magical and wonderful in rediscovering holiday foods only when it is appropriate to eat them. I eat hamentashen on Purim, latkes during Hanukkah, blintzes on Shavuot and yes, matzah on Pesach.

        That first bite that we taste just before the meal takes me back as surely as a trip in a time machine. I can see the Egyptians bearing down on us as we run for our lives toward the Sea of Reeds. I can feel the dough baking in the hot sun. I can hear the resonance of a frightened people who think they will die in the desert, with just manna to sustain them. I can taste our communal story in every single bite of matzah.

Dedications Old & New

November 2012

I’ve thought a great deal about dedication lately – as one in particular drew me 6,000 miles away to a quiet, windswept corner of Tel Aviv. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we were invited to witness the naming of a beautiful new street in my father’s honor.  Members of Israel’s cultural elite were present, as was the mayor of Tel Aviv and a number of musicians. As family and friends watched, my mother gently pulled aside a velvet cover to reveal a simple sign: “Distinguished violinist, humanitarian and lover of Israel.”  We cried, they clapped and it was soon over.

A short concert followed, and several people spoke about my dad’s role in the nascent country’s cultural beginnings. And during the course of the many speeches, I realized that the dedication wasn’t about the ceremony at all.  It was really about the intense commitment one man – my father – had for a country the world didn’t always support as passionately as he did.

Some people take the first plane out of Israel when fighting erupts. Others take the first plane back, because they know, deep within themselves, that they must bring healing in whatever way they can. My father brought his music to be a salve for those who were afraid, or anxious, or wounded, and when he played, people stopped and listened and understood he was there just for them.

My dad – alternatively described as an American, a Russian immigrant, a citizen of the world – was really an Israeli at heart. And when he landed here, he knew he was home. Long ago he promised our mother, Vera, his partner in life, that she would always be connected to this land if she agreed to marry him and move to New York. It was a promise he always kept.

Dedication is not about a ceremony; it is about what lies in one’s heart.

The same can be said as we light our candles for Hanukkah. It is not about the act of kindling the hanukiyyah; it is all about the story that was the architect of the nine branches.  It is all about a small group of Jews who risked everything for the freedom to be Jewish. Not rich or famous or beloved: just Jewish.

2,000 years later, we still remember the struggle that brought down an empire and began a nation that still persists today. How amazing is that!

And it became clear to my family that it was very fitting that the place that will carry my dad’s name exists surrounded by people who feel as passionately about the country as he did. As passionate as the Maccabees who fought for that country and made it enduring, vibrant and vital. Just like him.

May his memory and his dedication always be an inspiration as well as a blessing.


Teaching Jewish Values

September 2012

Teaching Jewish values in a temple is not a news flash, but how we do it here at TRT may be a little different from what you thought. We have showcased the “Middah of the Month”; we have encouraged our students to stretch their comfort level when we bring them to a cemetery instead of talking to them about Jewish end-of-life values; we have had them walk around the building for a solid six minutes to underscore the tenuous stamina of a child who has a rare neurological disease; and we have offered our students the choice as to where their collective tzedakah contributions will go. We get hundreds of requests for money every week: how do we know which to support and which to let others support? How much should we give and how often?

Creating a Relationship With Israel

August 2012

Unless you’ve taken a trip to Israel (or experienced Mrs. Klein’s “virtual tour” over a 12-week period), chances are that creating some connection to this incredible land is a little difficult. The hardest part is not locating it on the map, despite the fact that it covers less acreage than the state of Rhode Island. The real question is: how do we evoke a feeling about Israel that will help our students create a meaningful relationship with her?

I’ve always found that creating a concrete understanding works best to reinforce a message, so this year, we have planned a new “one day intensive extravaganza” that will bring food, music, archaeology, history and a unique “You’re in the Army Now – Israeli gadna” program to TRT. On February 25, from 10-3 p.m. for all our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, we have invited Amit Shuker, a lieutenant in the Israeli Army Special Forces, to present a simulation of an Israeli Army Basic Training program, to learn by experience how these values of trust, respect, cooperation and leadership have become an integral part of each soldier’s life. We want our students to discover their own abilities to lead, work as a team and interact with others. By participating in this exercise, we hope our students will:

-       make a connection to the state of Israel by taking part in the Israeli culture

-       hear Hebrew by learning new words from the daily Hebrew language

-       bring the Hebrew language and the Israeli culture to the kids’ hearts and minds

       while experiencing it in an exciting way

-       understand that Israel is “the home of all Jews”

-       support Israel and raise awareness of Israel for children of the next generation

Following a brief Israeli lunch and song session, we will offer four short workshops that will include the following on their tour:

1. Jerusalem, where they will create prayers for the Wall

2. Tel Aviv, where they will view a “museum” of Israeli objects/documents

3. The Golan, where they will build a kibbutz in Legos

            4. Masada/Dead Sea, where they will sift through sand to discover ancient artifacts.

Is there more to see and experience?  You bet, but this is a tangible introduction to the land, language and spirit of Modern Israel. If you want to be a part of this day, please let us know and we will include you.

One day, perhaps, you and your children will visit the actual sites described above, and build on the emotional foundation we have instilled in you at TRT.

L’Shalom and l’hitraot (see you soon),

Rabbi Shira Stern 

Prays Well With Others

August 2012

Prays Well With Others

My favorite poster making the Facebook rounds is below, because it captures for me the essence of what we teach at TRT:


In this super-charged political climate, when some people proclaim the need to return to prayer, they don’t necessarily mean the “Shema” or “Avinu Malkeinu.” They are referring to their own prayer experience and don’t hear the cognitive dissonance when they tell us we should be in church more often. Sometimes, when I gently suggest we too are “prayerful” when we attend temples, they understand and respond, “Of course! You go to a Jewish church.” It’s up to us to help them understand what we do, where we pray and when we celebrate the Sabbath and holidays.

To do that, our kids need to be comfortable with and aware of all our own traditions so that they can incorporate them into their lives as they mature. They need to dance with the Torah on Simhat Torah, light candles on Hanukkah and come in costume to hear the megillah. They need to know the differences between erev Shabbat and Shabbat. They need to know the basic prayers, and when to say them. That’s our job to teach and yours to reinforce.

At the same time we want our kids to have the ability to understand that there are many spiritual paths to God, and Judaism, though paramount to us, is but one of them. We want our kids to be so proud of who they are that they are excited to share our rituals with others. That is why I love when I see our students bringing friends to Rock Shabbat, or to our Purim carnival or to our candle lighting on the Friday night during Hanukkah.

This year, Passover and Easter coincide – though the seders are the two nights prior to the Christian celebration of Easter Sunday. It means we can invite friends who might not be at all familiar with our holiday to taste, hear, see and experience our communal journey to freedom. Welcoming people who pray differently to our seder table makes more people aware that our ways are not “strange,” just different. At the same time, if you have friends and family who invite you to Easter Sunday mass, or a celebratory meal, go ahead (you might have to bring your own matzah), and learn what their holiday is really like, well beyond the chocolate bunnies. We can learn about the spiritual message important to them, and they can develop a deeper understanding of our haggadah’s message. After all, we represent so much more than flourless cake and bitter herbs.

Let’s make sure our kids pray well together, AND pray well with others, too.

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