Sunday, July 29, 2012

Help my campers learn...about Judging Others Favorably (Part III)

Here is the third and final round of responses from my campers in my Kesher class called Do the Right Thing at Eisner camp in Great Barrington, MA. (A new round begins Tuesday, and we will be exploring issues surrounding our ideas about God) The campers are entering 8th and 9th  grades this fall (they are in two groups). You can see the first round of questions in my posting last Thursday night and the second round from last night

Today we discussed the answers posted yesterday and ended the day by writing answers to questions built from the Middah of Machrio L'Chaf Zechut - Judging others favorably. Please take a look at the campers' responses and share your thoughts, other ideas and texts below or on Facebook!

1. Joshua ben Perahiah, said: “When you judge anyone, tip the scale in his/her favor. Judge the whole of a person favorably “. (Pirkei Avot 1:6) What does that mean and why should you do it?

SB: This means that if you're going to judge someone, judge them positively instead of negatively - go out of your way to see their good side.

PP: It means when you judging someone to see if they are right or wrong you should always "tip the scale" in their favor and say they are right. We should do it in camp because it will make resolving conflict easier. (Hashem will tip the scale in your favor when weighing out YOUR mitzvot and deciding whether you will go to Gan Eden or Gehenem).

MG: When you judge someone you should give them the benefit of the doubt. You should do it because you do not yet have their opinion/side of the story.

LL: It means that you shouldn't have such harsh prejudice toward others because they might not be as "bad" as they appear.

TN: Compliments. Not insults.

HA: Don't look at the bad things about a person but you should look at the good things about a person.

GM: If you are judging a person for the first time, you should judge them in favorable way. I think this is important to do because it is better to have friends than enemies. A person could be having a bad day and snap at you. If you decide they are therefore a bad person, you are creating animosity, when really, if you gave them another chance he/she could be a potential friend.

ER: If you judge a person without getting to fully know them then give them the benefit of the doubt say positive comments rather than negative ones.

2. Nachman of Bratzlov said: "The Talmud says that we should always judge other people favorably. We must also judge ourselves favorably." What does that mean and why should you do it?

SB: This means we must have self-confidence and see the good in ourselves.

PP: If you look at yourself too critically and think you are always wrong, you will have a very low self-esteem.

MG: It means you do not know how others see you. You only know how you see yourself.

LL: It means you must think of yourself well and you should do it because if you judge yourself harshly and think badly of yourself, others will think badly of you as well.

TN: Don't bring yourself down when you look at yourself, notice your beauty, you only have pros, no cons.

HA: Don't be so harsh on yourself either. We should do this because it will bring up confidence and self-esteem.

GM: You shouldn't hate yourself for making a mistake.

ER: Instead of talking harshly about myself and never looking at the bright side, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and give yourself some slack because if you do it your life will be better because you won't be judging yourself so harshly.

MS: Because how can you expect anyone else to love you if you can't even love yourself.

3. How do I resolve conflicts or disputes with others?

SB: Either by talking with the other person or simply by spending some time apart until we are both ready to forgive each other. Apologizing works too.

PP: I solve conflicts with others by looking at the conflict from their perspective and walking in their shoes (To Kill A Mockingbird - Atticus Finch) I see how I would feel if I were them and usually helps me to resolve my conflict.

MG: Find both sides of the story, as well as the story from the perspective of someone neutral. You should not judge until you know exactly what happened.

LL: I compromise with them or just talk it out and figure out why we are in a conflict if I don;t know already. If I know why we are in a conflict then I work something out, and it might not be a compromise specifically.

TN: Calmly, compromises, apologies, noticing what you did wrong, not telling the other person what they did wrong all the time.

HA: I apologize for what I did and be calm.

GM: I resolve conflict by COMMUNICATING.

ER: I solve them by trying to come up with a reasonable compromise for me and the others.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Help a group of campers learn!

I have said before that one of the principal reasons I became a Jewish educator had to do with my experiences at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute – a Reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I was a camper, counselor, unit head and faculty member over twelve summers there. I am at Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts right now for my sixteenth summer as a faculty member. That means I have spent part of more than half my summers at camp.

One of the things the faculty does at Eisner is called Kesher (connection). We each create a series of small group learning experiences for the older units of camp during our time here. This week my Kesher class is called Do the Right Thing: An Eisner Joint. The overall themes were determined by surveying last summer’s campers during the winter and we (the faculty – rabbis, cantors and me) each designed our courses and created descriptions in the spring. Then they got to express their own preferences. Her is the description of my current offering:

You are faced with tons of choices every day. Some you make automatically. Others require some serious thought. Where do you look for the values you will apply to make your decisions? Your parents? Your friends? Society all around us? Judaism? We are going to look in all of those places to wrestle with some tough issues. Then we are going to take our conversation online and go viral. We will create a blog using writing and video and send it out to the universe. Then we will see what the universe says and engage in a potentially viral conversation!

Today we discussed three questions around the concept of Emet – truth. Here are the questions and some of their answers. We discussed them at length after they wrote them. Please respond here or on Facebook to the questions or to their answers. We will look at your ideas in our next session! I am using initials to protect their privacy…

1. Do you think it is ever okay to omit something when sharing something important?

Yes, not telling the whole truth to protect someone’s feelings is acceptable. When someone asks about someone else, it’s okay to highlight the good parts of their personality and stopping there. AM

Yes, to keep me from getting into copious amounts of trouble. HS

Sometimes telling the WHOLE truth can distract from what you are trying to say. TJ

Yes, when saying something would hurt someone without having any positive effect, or to keep a promise. RK

Yes, if it would endanger someone. SI

Yes, if it would help someone. For example, if they were afraid of fire but loved roller coasters, and you knew this great roller coaster had flame throwers, you might not tell them. That way they would try the roller coaster and love it. If they knew about the flame throwers they might not ride. (There was a lot of conversation about this!) MW

It might depend on the age of the person you are talking to. Some things might be too complicated or frightening for young children. HR

You might choose not to tell the whole truth in order to keep a confidence – something you promised to keep secret. GM

Yes, if the whole truth would do more harm than good. TT

Yes, if it is to protect someone’s privacy. RA

It’s okay if it doesn’t alter the entire story. JE

2. Do you think it is ever okay to sugar coat the truth?

Yes. When hate something your parent made for dinner, you might gently urge them not make it again or so often… MW

It depends on the situation and who benefits. LG

No. I is better to be honest so the person you are talking to doesn’t embarrass themselves. SI

Yes, like #1, this can spare someone’s feelings or keep a situation from going bad. JD

Ok in a teaching situation. RK

It’s OK in order to make someone feel better or more confident. My friend was nervous about coming to camp and I told her that lots of our friends were excited to see her. I exaggerated a little bit to make her feel better. AP

No, because it is only hurting yourself more and it does not do anything to help you – even though I do sugar coat it sometimes! MP

Yes, ignorance is bliss! DE

Yes. Sometimes a little sugar coating can make a hard truth easier to take. JJ

3. Do you think is ever okay to actually lie?
Yes, although it is best to avoid it if at all possible. JJ

Yes, but only if the truth is really painful and doesn’t need to be told. MP

Yes, to save a life, protect from unnecessary harm or if it is a harmless joke. NS

It is okay to lie when the answer won’t hurt anyone and it’ll make somebody feel better. To me, it’s all about making people happy and balancing that with telling the truth. RK

To shield them from harm. HS

Intentions matter. LG

Yes, if it will help people in the long run. MW
Again, please help our conversation and our learning by jumping in! More tomorrow!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A View to the Past with an Eye to the Future: The Reform Movement Celebrates 60 Years of Camping

This was published by eJewishPhilanthropy on July 17. It was written by one of my mentors. He's the bomb. So is camp! I am headed to Eisner Camp where my sons are (one as a camper, one as a counselor) to serve as faculty. Camp is one of the main reasons I became a Jewish educator.

by Jerry Kaye

This summer marks 60 years of Reform Movement camping. This Shabbat, July 21st, we will mark this milestone at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. But the real celebration is focused on the influence of camp on generations of Reform Jews.

Born in 1952 on the shores of Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) camping system has grown in leaps and bounds. The URJ now operates 13 camps across North America with specialty programs focused on the environment, special needs, Israel, sports, leadership and more. Our camp and Israel programs now serve more than 10,000 campers each summer.

But these metrics aren’t what matters most for the future of the Jewish people. As the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s study CAMP WORKS: The Long-term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp (2011) showed, “summers at Jewish camp create adults who are committed to the Jewish community and engaged in Jewish practice.” The relationships and ideas that are nourished at camp represent the real vitality and impact of the past 60 years of Reform Jewish camping.

Take OSRUI as an example. The acres have grown from a mere eight to over 200; the facilities have expanded from a few buildings to a full campus. And activity choices have expanded dramatically.
But it’s still the people who have made the difference over the years. Campers have gone on to become rabbis, Jewish educators and cantors, as well as congregational leaders, taking their rightful places in the world of Jewish leadership.

One example is Daniel Shapiro who spent years as a camper, counselor and then unit head. He is now the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Ambassador Shapiro will tell you that the many years that he spent at OSRUI were crucial to his understanding of Jewish life and to his love of Israel.

Possibly the most famous URJ Camp alum was Debbie Friedman z”l, who started in the early 70’s as an enthusiastic young woman dedicated to changing the face of Jewish music throughout the world. She spent years as a counselor teaching our campers to “Sing Unto God.” Debbie’s commitment to OSRUI didn’t end when she moved on to sharing her music in every corner of Jewish life. She always identified OSRUI as her home as she created Hava Nashira, the songleading and music workshop that now welcomes nearly 250 camp staff, cantors and music teachers from every corner of North America. Jeff Klepper, Debbie and I mentored those new to Jewish music as well as seasoned musicians. Debbie returned to Oconomowoc whenever called to create a concert or just to teach children the splendor of liturgy.

That’s what camp is all about – it’s about creating an environment where Jewish youth can find a spiritual home. The most important place at camp is not the arts or sports centers, it is a simple log on the ground with a youngster on one end and a caring rabbi or counselor on the other end, learning together to love Judaism.

The future holds great promise for Jewish camping as we create new relationships with congregations, collegians, synagogue leaders and parents who all come together to celebrate the uniqueness of a camping movement that found its roots on the shores of Lac La Belle some 60 years ago.

Jerry Kaye is the Director of the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Camp in the Classroom?

There have been a number of articles and a bit of buzz about making religious school  more like camp. My teacher Jeffrey Kress wrote "So, You Want Your School To Be More Like Camp?" back in March. My camp counselor and colleague Roberta Louis Goodman has created "Camp NSCI" for the 3rd and 4th graders at North Shore Congregation Israel in suburban Chicago:
"Camp NSCI with its ruach (spirit) interpreting Torah through drama games and film making, and cool materials for visual arts, Hebrew chuggim (electives) that have included sports, cooking, smartboard, computers, ipads, yoga, games, singing, visual arts and more!"

And even one of my congregants, who grew up at Camp Ramah has asked for our music curriculum to become more like his camp memories (I think we are almost there, Ted!).

I have been thinking for a while about this and what I might have to say here. My first impulse is to agree with much of what Jeff has to say in his article in the Jewish Week. We have to ask what about camp do we want to emulate. And like him, I believe there are certainly some aspects we can draw from the camp experience. And I will blog on that later in the summer. From Eisner Camp. Where I am going on Sunday. Because camp is a huge part of why I became a Jewish educator.

But here's the thing: while there are many facets to what is the "essence" of Jewish camping, I believe it all comes down to the 24/6+Shabbat aspect. It is the total immersion of the camper in the community of camp. It is the keeping of parents and school friends at arm's length for 2 - 8 weeks that allows the camper to enter a completely different head space. There are mores at camp that have little meaning at home. Some good, some less attractive. But they are components of an immersive culture that take campers to a different world. Eisner director Louis Bordman calls it being "under the bubble." It is a magical place. And so is nearly every other Jewish camp.

But that was all my first impulse. Yesterday my Club Ed shipment arrived from Torah Aura Productions.*  Inside was a copy of Experiencing Jewish Prayer.Wow.

So I grew up at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Where Joel Lurie Grishaver tested what eventually became Shema is For Real and the Prayerbook Board Game.  As a camper in 1975, I remember the staff and my rabbi, Mark S. Shapiro, taking us on a journey through Jewish prayer each day during Shiur/Sicha (today we call it Limmud), culminating in the Prayerbook Board Game. It was the second iteration of the program since Joel had developed it and OSRUI had published it.

Since then, Joel has used it as a springboard for the Shema is for Real Hebrew curriculum and he has revised the original as the All New Shema is for Real. He has been doing the experiential approach to teaching prayer for longer than most people have been able to spell experiential. Each version was designed for a new generation of teacher and student. Yet each left a decidedly "classroom" feel to it.

Experiencing Jewish Prayer is something else. In some ways it is another take on Shema is for Real. Which is a very good thing. But it is so much more. As I read through it this morning, I was imagining teaching with it. I didn't feel myself in a classroom. I felt like I was under a tree or on the Quad at Eisner having a lot of fun with campers who were getting into the idea of talking about and more importantly playing with the idea of prayer.

There is a version of the classic four corners game with several questions about God. The visual representation makes it easy for a teacher who has never been to camp to visualize how to make it work in a classroom. There are texts for chevruta study. In invitation to create a human sculpture of a car wash that feels like it comes from the New Games Book - a standard in my library as a camp counselor. (You should get one!) To understand the idea of long and short brakhot, it invites students to team up, get a siddur and analyze actual brakhot to determine which is which. It is filled with stories and analogies and metaphors.

I still believe that for religious school to become like camp, we need to keep the students overnight for a few weeks and separate them from their own bedrooms and social media. But I think that the peulot (activities) in this book will give my teachers a very real opportunity to make prayer come alive in ways we had only been able to do at camp or in youth group. I am buying one copy for every teacher in the relevant grades to start off. And one grade will be using this as a text as well.

If you are not a member of Club Ed (Torah Aura's review approval service), then call them at 800 BE TORAH and order a copy for your review. You will be glad you did.