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“Everything I learned about Judaism I learned at Jewish pre-schools.”
I troll lots of webpages and early childhood education catalogs for new ideas to incorporate into our school. You never know what visual memory tool in bright colors or attractive, touchable materials might spark an interest in children these days, what with all the images flooding TV and children’s videos and internet sites vying for their attention.
I try to do good things for other people; a phone call when no one else remembers, a birthday card, a shiva minyan. Sometimes I’ll do a hospital visit, or sit with a family as they watch their loved one slowly weaken in hospice. I don’t always manage to do everything I intend to do; sometimes I fall short.
Each year, we challenge ourselves and our students to integrate a “middah of the month” – a core Jewish value – into our lives. We have studied “forgiveness” and “not gossiping”; our students have learned about “gratitude” and “being content with what we have.” This year, we will include specific projects based on the middah of the month to ensure that we not stop at just understanding the value, […]
Recent events in Monmouth County have highlighted the pervasive undercurrent of anti-Muslim rhetoric and action in our community. Sometimes it comes out in print or on social media; sometimes, it is hateful language directed at kids in school. And then there are the times that a slur or a spray-painted message appears on a house, or school or locker, so no one sees the deed being done, just the result.
And it has to stop.
Far away, in a little town called Whitwell, Tennessee, there is a museum that looks remarkably similar to a circa World War II railcar. Its reason for existence is to teach the world about intolerance. That fact is in itself unique, but for a larger perspective, not 40 miles away from Whitewell is the Rhea County Courthouse, where, in 1925, a teacher was convicted for teaching evolution during the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. The trial upheld a statute which outlawed teaching any theory that denies the Divine Creation. If that were not enough, it is rumored that the infamous Ku Klux Klan was begun just a hundred miles away in Pulaski,Tennessee.
I was reminded recently that what we do in school may feel a little daunting to parents whose Hebrew School days were a while ago or non-existent, thereby putting a damper on those parents helping their kids to learn. (I feel the same about math homework, which I stopped overseeing as soon as our children reached middle school. Lucky for our kids, Don felt more analytically capable.)
From the Desk of Rabbi Stern I love back to school shopping – I love the smell of new pencils, the first crackle of new notebook bindings, the pens, the book covers, the three-ring binders, the closely-lined looseleaf paper and the excitement of preparing it all for a new year of school. I love back […]
The Mishna says, “Lo haMidrash haikkar, elah ha ma’aseh” – “Study is not the essence [of life]; rather, it is how we translate the study into action that counts.”
As we approach summer, our office goes into high gear planning the coming academic year. We plan holiday celebrations, special programming and guest speakers. Often, we include trips within driving distance of the temple to bring the core curriculum to life. We try to be creative, inspiring and thought-provoking to encourage our students to ask questions: after all, this is one of the most important things we teach.
From the Desk of Rabbi Shira Stern
How do you know whether you’ve been successful in Jewish Education? When do we as parents, as teachers and as leaders of our community see a correlation between the planning and the programs and the final product: young Jews connected to their community?
From the Desk of Rabbi Shira Stern
We teachers of Religious Schools have a dual responsibility when we prepare our classes: we want to infuse the children with facts and feelings that will help them identify strongly with Judaism and all things Jewish, and we want them to understand their place in the world at large. We need to help them grow as Jews, and at the same time, help them adapt to a life they will live outside their Jewish bubble.
How do we do both?
The pursuit of Happiness doesn’t always get us to our goal – but the pursuit of goals offers the possibility of happiness.
It’s comforting to me that every year, at least once a year when we gather together on the High Holy days, we get a chance to return to the Garden of Eden. The sound effects include birds chirping, monkeys nattering and waterfalls gently cascading down a cliff. It includes Adam and Eve frolicking amid the trees and grasses, naming animals and enjoying the full glory of God’s new splendor. They are described as blissfully happy, and permitted everything within their reach save the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. An idyllic sort of life.
On the morning of Yom Kippur, when God pretty much has the opportunity to command us to action, we hear a challenge instead: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Choose life? Why not, “follow my laws to the letter, or else you will be punished?” Why not, “you have no choice but to do as I say,” because God is, after all, God? Why is choice so important? Because the truth is, we all have choices in life: where we live, with whom we develop relationships, where to work and yes, where to belong spiritually. Especially here in Central Jersey, where opportunities to find a spiritual home are plentiful, why choose TRT?
I once had a student in my old congregation who wanted to become Bar Mitzvah, and he was willing to attend school, study his portion and learn how to lead our morning service. He had tried to affiliate with other schools, but because he also had Cerebral Palsy, they told him it was beyond his ability. We said, “Why not try?”
It was my first lesson in breaking expectations, and one I made sure not to forget. Last I checked, Patrick was fulfilling the requirements for his Ph.D. and was traveling extensively in South America.
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.
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.
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 […]
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?
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. […]
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 […]