Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Access Israel

A scene from "Not By Bread Alone,"
a play performed by deaf and blind actors at Na Laga'at
Marc Rosenstein has been blogging from Israel for the Reform Movement for years in a blog called "Galilee Diary." Rabbi Rosenstein made aliyah to Moshav Shorashim, a small community in the central Galilee, founded in the early 1980's by a group of young American immigrants. He is presently the director of the Israeli Rabbinic Program of HUC-JIR, as well as the director of the Makom ba-Galil, a seminar center at Shorashim that engages in programming to foster pluralism and coexistence. His blog arrives in my inbox every Wednesday as part of the Union for Reform Judaism's 10 Minutes of Torah

The Jim Joseph Fellows visited Na Laga'at, which he discusses. If we have not been discussing the needs of learners who encounter the world in ways radically different from the majority, we are not doing our jobs.  Discuss. This is cross-posted from the URJ Blog and to Davar Acher.
"You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall you’re your God: I am the Lord."
-Leviticus 19:14
For years we had a subscription to the theater series at the Karmiel auditorium, which brought plays from the various repertory companies around the country. But we got bored with the selection a few years ago and decided to go it alone, and create an a la carte cultural schedule for ourselves. But long days and frequent evening meetings make it hard to keep up the resolve. We have been seeing more movies. And we just made our Second Annual Excursion to the Opera in Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv Opera House is elegant and impressive.

On our way to a matinee of La Traviatta we went strolling in Jaffa port, an old area in the process of gentrification. One of the attractions there is the Na Laga'at ("please touch") Center which produces a play in which all the performers are blind and deaf, and offers a dinner served by blind waiters in complete darkness.

We stopped for brunch at their Kafe Kapish, where all the waiters are hard of hearing. There's a white-board and marker on each table. It was pleasant (and delicious), and brought to mind the large number of such enterprises one encounters scattered around the country: For example, Nagish Kafe (a pun on "we will serve" and "accessible") here in the Galilee, that employs persons with mental handicaps and illnesses, and the cafeteria at HUC in Jerusalem which is run by a similar foundation.

Then there is Lilith, a high-end gourmet restaurant in Tel Aviv whose kitchen staff are trainees placed by Elem, an organization working with marginal youth. Also, in addition to Na Laga'at, the Holon Children's Museum has both a "blind experience" involving a tour through a complex of different spaces, including a snack bar, in total darkness with a blind guide; and a parallel "deaf experience." The blind experience is so popular that reservations must be made months in advance.

In Old Acco one can shop at "The Shop for Meaning," run by young people with physical and sensory handicaps, for craft items made by the handicapped as well as various imported fair-trade products. Kivunim, the foundation that runs the shop, also operates a pre-army preparatory program for handicapped youth; we partnered with them last fall to operate a circus project for visually impaired Arab and Jewish teenagers. Maghar, an Arab village east of us, has a disproportionate population of deaf, due to in-clan marriages.

The answer of the director of the local community center? to host an international festival of theater of the deaf. A few miles away in Karmiel one encounters Alut-teva, a vacation village for families of autistic children, where they can relax in a setting where they are relieved of the tension and awkwardness that often beset such families on vacation in more public places.

And a particularly impressive story is that of Adi Altschuler, who, eight years ago when she was 16, was moved by her relationship with a neighbor with cerebral palsy to try to organize a mixed youth group of handicapped and "normal" kids. The project succeeded beyond her wildest expectations and today "Marshmallow Wings" is a national youth movement with chapters all over the country.

It has always been a source of some frustration that Israel, with its history of wars, and the ingathering of refugees, was not more conscious of the need for accessibility, and in general of the requirement to accept and integrate the handicapped. Perhaps our sensitivity was dulled by the strand in Israeli culture in its formative years that glorified strength and self-reliance, and was ashamed of helplessness and victimhood.

We still have many challenges in this regard. On the other hand, consciousness has risen a great deal in recent decades, and the number of heroes, both volunteer and professional, out there fighting on this front is really impressive, as is the creativity of their projects.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Connections: Where Good Ideas Come From

Bear with me for a moment. My wife says I tell my stories three times too long. When you view the video below, my ramblings might make sense. Maybe.

#JED21 is a Twitter Hashtag for people tweeting about "Jewish Education in the 21st Century. Someone (I am not sure who) has been publishing a a (an online newspaper developed from connections the publisher has through twitter) called #JED21. This past Sunday, it included a link to an article about a group of Israelis who had in the course of an hour developed a free program to link Google+ to your FaceBook Profile. I had tweeted it and posted it to G+ and FB. The #JED21 published it and credited me. So I tweeted:
Read The #jed21 Daily ▸ today's top stories via @carlossguzman @lookstein @lmeir ▸
Yosef Goldman
I also tweeted about some other journals that had come to my attention: Yosef Goldman is someone I have never met. In his online profile he describes himself as a "Rabbinical student, Heterodox Jew. In to: religion in society, music, environment, lgbtq activism, mideast peace, interfaith, Judaism & Jewishness. progressive." (sic) We connected through Twitter (@yosgold). His is called The Jewy Journal. He tweeted this past Monday that a new edition was out:
The Jewy Journal is out! ▸ Top stories today via @babaganewz @irajwise @shmarya @jdubrecords @jwaonline
I am @irajwise! I was thrilled! So I retweeted.

Judah Isaacs
And Judah Isaacs is the Director of Community Engagement for the Orthodox Union. Coincidentally, our children who are now 18 were in day care together in Oak Park Michigan when they were toddlers. His is called The Jewish/Community/Ed Daily. That link is to Wednesday's edition, in which he linked to my previous blog post. And yes, I retweeted!

Jonathan Woocher
So yesterday I get tweet from Jonathan Woocher, Chief Ideas Officer at JESNA and Director of the Lippman Kanfer Institute. He wanted to talk about the proliferation of different Jewish Educational Paper.lis and tell about a called New World of Jewish Education, which JESNA now publishes.

The concept of the as I see it is to allow anyone to become a curator of information on a regular basis, by following people who they think are worth “hiring” as reporters for their newspaper. Each has its own unique voice. While there is much to be said for one-stop shopping, I am mindful that my parents used to read both the Sun Times AND the Chicago Tribune.The internet has made it possible for everyone to have a voice. Whether anyone listens depends on what they say and even more, how well they reach out.

So I started to compose a reply via e-mail (sometimes 140 characters doesn't get the point across - witness the Tea Party sponsored Republican Presidential Twitter Debate) to Jonathan, and wanted to reference something from the Jewish Educational Change Network he helped develop. (Go there. Not yet. Finish this and watch the video. Then go to and join. Really.)

And that is where I found this video, which Jonathan had posted. So watch the video. Visit the publications. Start one of your own (and please feel free to put the link in the comments on this blog). And let's keep combining our hunches and making new ideas...together.

Now go to and join. Really.
I am going to buy the book now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Support your Local Sifriya!

This came across my Google + feed from Mofet International. (Yes I am on Google +. Yes I am happy to be in your circles and have you in mine. Yes I will send you an invite if you need one.)

Does this tell us we should be revamping and investing more in our synagogue libraries? I think so. 

Does this suggest we begin gathering data on how our members use our library and ask them what would make them use it more? I am certain.

How do you, your school and your members utilize your sifriya? (And yes, I think we should use and teach the word sifriya to identify how our library differs from the public library.)

++ Click to Enlarge Image ++
A Librarian's Worth Around the World  | Infographic |

Friday, July 8, 2011

Making Meaning Together

This will be in my synagogue's August bulletin. I submit it is an important lesson and invitation for all Jewish educational institutions.

I had the very good fortune to join a group of fifty synagogue educators in the Leadership Institute in learning with Dr. Larry Hoffman, a professor at the Hebrew Union College in New York. His lesson was a titled Limits, Truth and the Anxious Search for Meaning: The Changing Rhetoric of Leadership. He described different ways Judaism functioned through history, using the observance of Shabbat as a lens.

He described the period from biblical times through the middle ages as the age of limits. Essentially, Judaism was focused on rules. We observed Shabbat because it was required. In the book of Exodus (31:13-17) we learned that violating the Sabbath could lead to death or worse. Halakhah (Jewish law) consisted of rules that defined how we functioned as members of the Jewish community. It worked for a long time.

The age of enlightenment at the beginning of the 19th century brought something new. The freedom to be a part of the larger, non-Jewish world around us meant that the limits were not enough. We learned about how Jews in Salonika began hanging out in coffee houses on Shabbat. And what’s worse, they were ordering and paying for the coffee! Rabbi Hoffman described this as a symptom of a larger issue – namely that the game of limits was no longer working for a lot of Jews. Many Jews stopped believing that God would punish them.

The new game used the language of truth. We were in the age of Jeffersonian democracy, of liberty, equality and fraternity and of science uncovering all of the truths of the universe. Reform Judaism arose and introduced the sermon – an opportunity for rabbis to teach truth. We became the only Jews who rose for the Shema because it was the biggest truth in the service – and became known as “the watchword of our faith. There is much more to these concepts, but the exciting part comes next.

Rabbi Hoffman says that we are living in another revolutionary time right now. The game is changing from truth to one of meaning. Science has taught us that it cannot give us all of the truths in the universe. It tells us that our merely observing the world changes it.

The game of meaning means that we are interpreters of our world. Our task is to make meaning of the world and our experiences in it. We are active partners with God in the ongoing creation. We go back to Genesis and read that God created the universe and saw that it was good. God didn’t see limits or laws. God didn’t call it truth. God called it good. Rabbi Hoffman suggests that our role is to make it good.

We need to make up our our own life and worlds. It can be an overwhelming and daunting task. But if we believe that we have the freedom to try and develop the confidence to do it, we can create a beautiful and awesome reality. We are not interested in limits. Truths, he says are  a dime a dozen – you can find all you want on Wikipedia. We need to know that life is worthwhile. That we can make things better. That is what Judaism is all about.

The job of Jewish leaders (professionals and lay people – you) is to give our people real competence is areas of Judaism to use them to build their lives. So I want to invite you to step up to this challenge. As a member of B’nai Israel, your family is a part of a vibrant community. Among us are searchers and builders, teachers and learners, connectors and sticky people, those who like to pray, hang out or world repairers. Come in and talk to us, call, text, e-mail or tweet.

Come to services. Take a class. Join a committee. Meet someone new. Get together with someone you know well. Build a sukkah. Join a car pool. Let’s make some meaning together.

Cross posted to Davar Acher