Monday, August 27, 2012

What Can We Really Learn >From Chabad: A Conservative Perspective

Some of you know I have an attitude or tone when the topic of Chabad comes out. I own it. Today in eJewishPhilanthropy, Rabbi Paul Steinberg does some very constructive evaluation of Chabad and its activities in comparison to the Conservative movement. As a Reform Jew, I do not feel competent to judge what he says about Conservative, but I can easily see how his analysis can apply or be adapted to apply to my movement as well. I believe this is a very well written and very important piece.


What Can We Really Learn From Chabad:
A Conservative Perspective

Posted: 26 Aug 2012 09:45 PM PDT
by Paul Steinberg

Excuse me, are you Jewish? Have you put on tefillin today?” Many of us recognize this signature introduction to our Chabad Lubavitch brothers. I certainly do. Actually, I should disclose that I have personal history with Chabad, having attended a Chabad day school and Camp Gan Israel, and, for several years, my family went to a Chabad house every week for Shabbat and holidays.

I am no chabadnik now and, in fact, I feel very much at home in the pluralistic, historical, and multi-faceted ideology of Conservative Judaism. Still, as a Conservative rabbi, Chabad has an impact on me, especially in the form of friends and congregants who eagerly tell of the warmth, personal appeal, and authenticity they feel at Chabad houses. I understand the attraction, for I knew my Chabad rabbis well. I also appreciate identifying the striking contrasts between what happens at Chabad houses and relatively large Conservative congregations like my own. 

I also absolutely agree with Professor Steven Windmueller’s recent article identifying what he considers to be Chabad’s success, when he suggests that we should learn from what Chabad does that works. Yet, when I hear the accounts and read the articles that compare our congregations with Chabad, I am not always convinced of an honest and fair accounting of our differences whereby we both define what we mean by Jewish organizational success and candidly acknowledge the reality of American Jewish sociology.

In order to make any comparison with Chabad and identify their success, we must first understand Chabad. Chabad is a movement that started in the territories of modern day Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Poland. It is a Chasidic movement that is most famous for its emissaries, known as shluchim. These shluchim, numbering over 4000, go all over the world (and there don’t need to be too many Jews for them to go there) from Congo to Columbus, Ohio. With these dedicated shluchim, Chabad has managed to place itself not only on the national Jewish agenda, but also the international Jewish agenda.

One of the extraordinary things about Chabad is that, although it is a Chasidic movement, most of its followers are not Chasidic, nor are they even Orthodox, nor are they likely to become so. Indeed, Chabad houses offer a warm and accepting environment where there are no strings attached at all. In this regard, Chabad’s model of communal engagement is actually the opposite model found in most of the Jewish world. 

For most congregations, the basic model goes something like this: you become a member, and then you receive services and become a friend. The Chabad model reverses it: they provide services and become your friend, and later you’ll want to pay them something because of everything they do for you. They never expect anyone to become a member; there is no explicit expectation or demand for financial, communal, or even Jewish commitment.

So then, what is Chabad’s goal? What do they want? They nobly want us to do mitzvot or mitzvos (fulfill Jewish commandments). And why do they want us to do mitzvos? Because of messianism. That is to say, doing mitzvos – “changing the world one mitzvah at a time” – helps to bring about the messiah. 

Messianism is the belief that there is a messiah (the mashiach) and that he is coming (they are sure it’s a “he”), and, for some in Chabad, he has already been here (we’ll discuss below). Messianism has been at the heart of the mission of Chabad for at least the past hundred years, and they believe that it is their job is to hasten the coming of the messiah by encouraging mitzvos, specific ritual acts. Chabad has their own version of a top ten list of mitzvos, and the performance of those mitzvos has cosmic significance, potentially tipping the spiritual balance toward the messiah’s arrival. In other words, putting on tefillin in the street, eating a kosher meal, or spending a Shabbat at a Chabad house just one time and never doing it again is an act that has the power to tip the celestial scales. Therefore, the role of the shluchim is to encourage mitzvos in order to accelerate the coming of the messiah.

Over the past 50 years, Chabad has taken this message and skillfully packaged it into media and slogans – slogans that are particularly catchy in America, such as, “We want mashiach now!” Wanting something and wanting it now, after all, is about as American as apple pie. However, what is fascinating about this religious ideology is that it doesn’t take much to motivate the mashiach and get him here now. It doesn’t require keeping 613 commandments, it doesn’t require a lifetime of service, and it doesn’t even require a sustained commitment to the Jewish community. They claim that for mashiach to be here, it requires us to “just add goodness and kindness,” something of which no one could possibly be opposed.

What most people notice about Chabad though, is how it has proudly promoted traditional Jewish culture in the public square. Many are familiar with their telethon dancing rabbis and street-tefillin shluchim. And don’t forget the gigantic Hanukkah menorah that Chabad introduced to the world, as shluchim are raised on forklifts in public malls and plazas to light the lights. Chabad’s presence is prominent at the Kotel in Jerusalem, in the cyber world of the Internet and even at the White House in Washington. Furthermore, their marketing products such as publications and magazines, as well as collective distribution are the envy of many in the Jewish organizational world.

Finally, what we also associate with Chabad is the image of the Rebbe himself as the centralizing source of inspiration. No other Jewish leader in modernity has achieved his status of popularity. One only needs to see his face to know what he represents – and what he represents is not without controversy. To this day, banners donning his photo, mounted at storefronts and at the entrance of the Chabad Lubavitch Yeshivah on Eastern Parkway read, Yechi Melekh Ha-Mashiach (“Long Live the King Messiah”) and “MESSIAH IS HERE: Add just goodness and kindness.” These markers leave little doubt as to who they believe is the messiah. However, since the Rebbe’s passing in 1994, Chabad has worked very hard to shift its messaging regarding the Rebbe as the messiah, but still has not changed the banners.

So, now that we have a context for Chabad, we can better assess the question of its success. Professor Windmueller and others pronounce Chabad’s great organizational success, corroborating the claim that Chabad is possibly the most successful Jewish outreach organization in the world. Maybe they are. But that would only be success according to their own goals of bringing the sum number of mitzvot performed into the world for the hastening of the messiah. These, however, are not our goals at all.

Frankly, it is unwise and misleading to contrast the totality of Chabad’s successes with our own because we are working toward two totally different sets of goals. Such comparisons often result in more confusion and doubt about who we are than inspiration and solidarity in our own vision of Jewish life. And there are good reasons why we are who we are and not who we are not. For example, the fact that Chabad is able to get someone to put on tefillin in the street once so as to tip the balance in favor of a messiah is irrelevant for Conservative Judaism. Our goal is to help Jews live an integrated, whole life of mitzvot, so that each of us contributes to an ongoing and evolving world of goodness. We measure ourselves by different goals and ask ourselves different questions:
  • Are we helping Jews to live an embodied and rich life of mitzvot?
  • Are we heightening and expanding Jewish life both locally and nationally throughout America?
  • Are we building a stronger feeling toward the State of Israel and an expansion of a robust Jewish life there?
  • Are we helping to bring Jews of different streams and ideologies together to work in a pluralistic and respectful manner toward common aims?
  • Are we providing ample opportunities for more Jews in America live a life of Jewish learning?
  • Are we contributing to the advancement of scholarship and research in Jewish studies?
  • Are we working to improve relations between Jews and non-Jews?
  • Are we engaging Jews in honest and mature conversations about God?
  • Are we helping Jews enroll their children in a Jewish educational programs, Jewish summer camps, and Jewish youth groups?
  • Are we guiding Jews toward a rich inner spiritual life, including prayer?
  • Are we advancing Jewish civics and actively applying Jewish values toward worldly ethical problems?
These are the kinds of questions that we ask of Conservative Judaism. I don’t think we ask these questions of Chabad and I’m not certain it would do any good because they are not the questions they ask of themselves. Plus, if we did, I’m not too sure they would fare very well on the affirmative side.

There is no denying that our Conservative institutions need fixing in many ways, especially now, as we find ourselves in what seems to be a very unstable time. That being said, we are supremely aware of our own deficiencies and peccadilloes because we are experts at stacking up the self-criticism, jumping at every complaint, and overreacting to any demographic downturn. It’s good to remember that inspiring Jews toward authentic, serious Jewish living has been a challenge since the time of the Torah. Why should it be different today? Of course, complacency and hubris would be foolish and we should continuously seek out best practices. Yet as we look to those virtues of success (as identified in the questions above), let us neither overstate others’ nor deny our own.

Lastly, if there is anything we can learn it is to be resolute in our ideology and our message of relationships and connectedness. For us, it’s about connecting the wisdom of the past with the advances and insights of the present – connecting Jewish thought with Jewish practice; Jewish law (Halakhah) with ethics; Jews with other Jews of all varying denominations and perspectives; Jews with non-Jews, Jews with the State of Israel, and Jews with God. We believe in a world that moves toward more connectivity in all its glorious Jewish diversity, and bound by the unifying force of the oneness of God. It is from this place of authentic, religious vision that we are compelled to set our benchmarks and measure successes.

Rabbi Paul Steinberg is the Senior Educator at Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles, CA and is the author of the award-winning series, Celebrating the Jewish Year (JPS, 2009). He also teaches at the Graduate School of Education at American Jewish University and is working on his doctoral dissertation on the Bar Mitzvah at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nine useful lists for educators

Here is a pretty good list of lists of tech tools for teachers! Originally published at 



CEM Tweeters provide some of ed-tech’s best resource lists on getting connected and digital literacies


EducationWorld has a list of five must-follow users to help you get in the pinning groove. As part of Connected Educator Month (CEM), social media-savvy teachers and education professionals are using Twitter, blogs, and publications to get information out as quickly and easily as possible, and are using lists in many ways.

Browsing CEM’s Twitter, #CE12, the editors at eSchool News have highlighted some of the most popular lists Tweeted, as well as some that may be most helpful to our readers.

From educator-recommended apps designed for specific subsets of 21st century literacies to 14 of the best ed-tech Tweeters, and from the best CEM speaker quotes to the 10 technology commandments for connected learners, these lists are classroom-tested and educator-approved.

Have a list you consult or know of a list that’s popular among peers? Be sure to provide your links and recommendations in the comment section!

[In no particular order]

To celebrate CEM, the NYT asked every educator who has written a guest post for their publication to detail “one important thing you’ve learned from someone in your personal learning network” and “what one person, group, or organization would you recommend every educator add to his or her PLN?” The list provides more than 100 people, organizations, sites, and other resources readers can learn from, as well as shared insights on how to learn from them.
Adam Heckler, a twenty-something who works in ed-tech where he advises K12 schools on how they can better integrate technology into their environment, says he has a long commute to work and likes to use those 45 to 50 minutes to listen to some innovative and helpful ed-tech podcasts. From ISTE to EdReach, topics range from flipped learning to ELA, and much more. Heckler also has many more quick-hitting lists and discussions that can be found here.
Knowing who to follow on Twitter can be invaluable for educators—a fact that Educational Technology and Mobile Learning also realizes. In this list, these ed-tech Tweeters are among the most prominent in the field and their tweets can save time and energy. One of the Tweeters listed, Tom Whitby–a professor of education, founder of #edchat, the education PLN Ning, and the Linkedin group ‘Technology-using Professors’–is one of the main Tweeters on CEM and has provided many of these lists as well.
This list is useful when it comes to knowing what it means to be a connected educator.’s Justin Marquis Ph.D. pulls his commandments from Fractus Learning’s “The 10 (EdTech) Commandments” that he says have a lot to do with helping educators be successful in a connected educational setting; however, “as the focus of online learning should be on the students themselves, some tweaking…turns them into a handy guide for the successful connected learner in the digital age.”
Though focuses on educators, SmartBlog on Education focuses more on the student side of connected learning, understanding that “today’s students can communicate, collaborate, cooperate, and connect with the world in meaningful ways…” The blog explains that it’s up to the educator to support students in doing this effectively.
Following their advice for a connected students, SmartBlog on Education also provides a list that highlights what Linda Yollis—an elementary school teacher for more than 25 years—calls “meaningful ways to engage and motivate” young students. Yollis began her blog, Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog, in 2008 to share activities with parents, and over time it has become a centerpiece for the classroom: students help manage the blog and are learning the basics of how to comment, and that audience matters.
Langwitches, an education Flickr group, posted a straight-forward chart of education apps for specific skills/literacies. Literacies include: Information Literacy, Media Literacy, Network Literacy, Global Literacy, Create/Critical Thinking, and Communicate/Collaborate. Each skill/literacy has nine apps listed.
Though Pinterest may still be considered a great place to post wonderful recipes for peach cobbler, it’s also becoming a place for innovative educators to post thought-leading ideas. “The key is to follow others who actively use Pinterest to collect great classroom- and education-related resources and ideas,” says EducationWorld. “Who you follow really matters because it directly influence the quality of content you see when you visit Pinterest…we’ve put together a list of five must-follow users to help you get in the pinning groove.”
9. Stephanie Sandifer’s “Favorite quotes” from CEM
Sandifer, who runs the blog ‘Change Agency’ to write about “education reinvention, evolution, and revolution,” blogs almost once a day about CEM, providing a wrap-up of the day’s key take-aways from sessions and forums (she also provides great lists on other CEM education topics). In this post, Sandifer lists some of what she considers the most inspiring, or accurate, quotes from CEM leaders and participants.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Elul 3: The Secret by Norman Lear

Do you know about the Jewels of Elul? It is a daily meditation for the month of Elul, which leads up to Rosh Hashanah. Craig Taubman and Rabbi David Wolpe are in their 8th year of coordinating and sharing thoughts from a wide variety of people to help us in our preparation for the season of repentance and renewal. Three days ago (I am behind), they shared this gem from Norman Lear, a famous Jewish educator (many of us attended his classes on television: All in the Family, the Jeffersons, Maude, Sanford and Son and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, just to name a few). This year the focus is on the art of aging. After reading this, I hope you will go to the Jewels of Elul site. There you can read the introduction to the series, get caught up, and sign up to receive them via e-mail each day this Hebrew month. In advance - L'shana Tova!


Age has been on my mind all my life. When I was a kid I had a giant shock of black hair that was like a helmet because it was stiff with a product called ‘Slickum’. To comb it, I had to dip my head in the sink and wash my hair every day. That’s the first time I can remember thinking, “What if this is the secret to a long life? Dipping your head in the sink every morning. How do we know?” Since then there have been hundreds of other odd activities – eating a Tootsie Roll just before dinner, picking one’s nose while driving – that I’ve thought might contain that secret. For years I’ve eaten a salad every morning, and all but convinced myself that’s it. (At the least, it must come closer than the nose thing.)

I have been privileged to share my lifetime with dozens of my friends and colleagues, some of the funniest people I know. Bea Arthur made me laugh so hard I felt it in nooks and crannies of my body I didn’t know existed. I was there when an exchange between Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner turned into the 2,000-Year-Old Man. I really believe that the true secret to longevity could be laughter. It might be the memory of a slapstick scene, or a lineof dialogue by Larry Gelbart or Herb Gardner, or one of the hundreds of moments on one of my shows when an actor – an O’Connor, a Hemsley, a Lasser or a Stapleton – took what was on the page and turned it into something funnier than I could have ever imagined. Or today, something from South Park, Family Guy, Modern Family or Louis C.K.

All of it, I’m convinced, has and still does add time to my life.

Norman Lear is a producer, director, writer, activist and philanthropist. His credits include All in the Family and The Jeffersons.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Starting a New School Year: Nine Tips for Collaboration

As I did yesterday in The Power of the Positive Phone Call Home , I am sharing another great post from the bloggers at Edutopia designed for new teachers but useful to all teachers. It was written by Terrell Heick, described as an "educator focused on social improvement through learning innovation." That's him at the left. I think he has some very keen insights for teachers and translating them to the religious school setting does not require a lot of sweat. I invite your suggestions and interpretations. BTW: PLN is Professional Learning Network - those colleagues, both in person and online, with and from whom you learn and explore your own professional development.

Photo credit: weejin

Late August or early September is a make-it-or-break-it time for educators. The non-stop, brutal schedule that is a school year starts with all the finesse of trampling elephants, and doesn’t relent for the next nine months (not coincidentally, the same amount of time it takes to gestate a baby). That makes starting the year right important -- and there are few more critical pieces to an educator's success than collaboration.

Collaborating In the Classroom

1) Call Home
Yes, having a blog is great, and you're ahead of the curve if you use Edmodo, Facebook, Schoology or any other of a number of platforms built to help educators and families connect. But as busy as you -- and the parents of your students -- are, the more personal the initial communication, the better. If you can make five phone calls each day before heading home, you should be able to reach out with a positive message to each parent by the end of the first month of school. An alternative is hand-written postcards, but phone calls -- or better yet, face-to-face meetings -- are ideal.
2) Use Team-Building Activities
Team-building activities are excellent ways to get the year started right by connecting with students. So many students believe that they're starting off the year at a major deficit. Success -- or mere participation -- in an early team-building activity can change that.
3) Know the Names
This can be huge challenge for some teachers (don't ask me how I know), but do whatever it takes to learn the names of your students. Use your district's grade and attendance software if it provides student images from the year before. Developing five-minute games to start each class will help speed the process. Use assigned seats or nametags. Whatever you do, learn those names, and do so quickly. Nothing de-authenticates a relationship quicker than, "I really care about your learning Mr. -- wait, what's your name again?"
Collaborating In Your Building and District
4) Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
We all have comfort zones, some more confined than others. You need not live beyond your comfort all the time, but don't be afraid to step outside your normal stomping grounds to make new friends, or at least show yourself to be accessible, curious and ultimately collaborative even if you're not a social butterfly.
5) Show Up Early to Meetings
Oftentimes, more collaboration happens in the five minutes before a meeting than in the meeting itself. Showing up early isn't always easy, but if you're going to try, better August than March. And during meetings, try building off your colleagues' ideas in PLCs, Data-Team, team and staff meetings. This can go a long way toward laying the groundwork for future collegial dynamics. Using stems like "Piggy-backing off what Lianne said . . . ," or "Duane's insight regarding the posting of learning targets was spot-on . . . " helps build a collaborative atmosphere that's conducive to deeper future connections.
6) Use Post-it Notes
The most thoughtful ways to collaborate are also the simplest. Post-it notes reacting to an idea given at a staff meeting or thanking another educator for his or her effort are casual but meaningful ways to build trust and a collaborative spirit in a school. Stick one to the screen or door of a fellow educator with a specific, authentic message, and establish the helpful tone of your working relationship early on.
Your Global PLN
7) Ask for Help
Early in the year, many other educators worldwide face the same challenges you do. Pinging your PLN early on can make them feel needed, and equip you with resources it might have taken you hours of Googling to find.
8) Connect Little with Big
Connecting your local colleagues with those national and global can spark new professional relationships while honoring everybody involved by showing that you're thinking of each one. And because keeping distance through digital networks is easy, it’s totally different from setting up your best friend for a blind date. Totally.
9) Prune your Networks
While that Pinterest account or Facebook group may have served you well last year or even last month, our needs as educators change as we grow. You may need more of this, and less of that. So prune your networks without guilt. Move on. The world's greatest teachers survived for millennia without social media. Your world won't stop spinning because you stop using the platform that you held so dearly this time last year. In fact, I'd be more concerned if changes weren't made.
It's About the People

Getting the school year started right can mean calling home with a positive message, stepping out of your comfort zone or simply asking for help. The connections you make in August can serve you well through the trials of K-12 education. You never know when you're going to need help -- from an encouraging smile to a better way to assess a standard. While the Internet and social media are great, they are merely tools to connect you with the people behind all of the accounts. With so much to do, it can be easy to push collaboration back, but this can have a long-term erosive effect on your happiness in teaching.

The earlier you start, the easier it becomes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Power of the Positive Phone Call Home

Summer is speeding to a close. Camp and vacation are over (Prague was wonderful - I will tell you about soonish). Working like crazy to get ready for the new year when this posting from Edutopia came across my inbox. Edutopia has been a favorite professional resource for many years, starting back in the days it was a printed magazine.

They have a fantastic New Teacher Support section, and today's piece by Elena Aguilar is fantastic. I have asked my religious school teachers to have a "just because" conversation by phone with each of their student's parents by the end of October every year. Most do it. And most of the great feedback I hear from parents come after that call happens. They are thrilled and delighted by it. It is more direct conversation than they have during our "Meet the Morim" session or even during pick up or drop off. You don;t have to be a new teacher to get the importance of this. Enjoy. The original is found at


Elena Aguilar
Leadership Coach
from Oakland, California
When I first started teaching and was overwhelmed by the demands and complexity of the job, my survival strategy was simply to take all the advice that came my way and implement it. So when my wise mentor suggested that after the first day of school I call all of my second grader's parents, I did so.

In spite of my exhaustion, I called each family and introduced myself. I asked a few questions about their child. I said that their kid had had a good first day. I said I looked forward to working together.

Throughout that year, and the years that followed, I continued this practice -- I had an intuitive feelings that it was key: The positive phone call home. After the first days, as soon as I'd identified the kids who might be challenging, I made it a goal to call home with positive news every week. I'd share this goal with my students, greeting them at the door with something like: "I'm so excited to see you this morning, Oscar! I am going to be watching you really closely today so find some good news to share with your mom this evening. I can't wait to call her and tell her what a good day you had!"

When I taught middle school, this strategy made the difference between an unmanageable group of kids and an easy group. You'd be surprised, perhaps, how desperately an eighth grade boy wants his mom (or dad or grandma or pastor) to get a positive call home. On the first day of school I'd give students a survey that included this question, "Who would you like me to call when I have good news to share about how you're doing in my class? You're welcome to list up to five people. And please let them know I might call -- even tonight or tomorrow!"

First I'd call parents of the kids who I knew would be challenging, those I suspected rarely got positive calls. When an adult answered the phone, I'd say, all in one long breath, "Hi Mrs. ____? I'm calling from ____ middle school with great news about your son, ____. Can I share this news?" If I didn't immediately blurt out the "great news" pieces, sometimes they'd hang up on me or I'd hear a long anxious silence.

Some of these kids were difficult, extremely difficult. However, I was always able to find something sincerely positive about what he or she had done. As the days followed, I kept calling -- "I just wanted to share that today when ____ came into my class he said 'good morning' to me and opened his notebook right away. I knew we'd have a good day!" Sometimes I'd stop in the middle of class and in front of all the students I'd call a parent. The kids loved that. They started begging for me to call their parent too. It was the first choice of reward for good behavior -- "just call my mama and tell her I did good today."

What shocked and saddened me were the parents who would say, "I don't think anyone has ever called me from school with anything positive about my child." I occasionally heard soft sobbing during these calls.
I'd first used this phone call thing as a strategy for managing behavior and building partnerships and it worked. However, after ten years of teaching I became a parent and my feelings shifted into some other universe. As a parent, I now can't think of anything more I want a teacher to do -- just recognize what my boy is doing well, when he's trying, when he's learning, when his behavior is shifting, and share those observations with me.

I know how many hours teachers work. And I also know that a phone call can take three minutes. If every teacher allocated 15 minutes a day to calling parents with good news, the impact could be tremendous. In the long list of priorities for teachers, communicating good news is usually not at the top. But try it -- just for a week -- try calling a few kid's parents (and maybe not just the challenging ones -- they all need and deserve these calls) and see what happens. The ripple effects for the kid, the class, and the teacher might be transformational.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Help my campers learn...about God (Part I)

Last week, I invited you to contribute to a conversation I was having with a group of teenagers at Eisner camp about Middot (ethical values). Some of you did, and thank you very much! You enriched the discussion with your ideas and the campers felt appreciated by you. Beginning yesterday I began learning with a new group of campers (entering 8th and 9th grade) with anew topic - God. Here is the description they were given:
God. Really? 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!
So once again, dear readers, colleagues and friends, I invite you to read both the questions I posed them and some of the answers (there are 21 of them, so it takes a long time - check back later for more responses) they wrote in their journals before beginning the conversation. Please post your answers in the comment section below or on my Facebook or via e-mail (I will transfer it back here. If for some reason you prefer to remain anonymous, the comment section here will allow it or ask me to make it so in your message to me. In advance, thank you for participating in this crowdsourcing experience!

1. Describe the God you believe in (or don't believe in):
BR: The God I don't believe in grants miracles and actually hears us when we pray.
JM: God is not real and does nto look or sound like anything. 
LDM: For me, God is an image to go to or think of when you need answers. Some people need an answer to everything, so they turn to God or a holy piece of writing. I do believe in God, because I am one of those people who needs answers.
SC: I'm not sure if I believe in God, but the God I do not believe in is the one that elts war happen, innocent people get hurt and people we love die. The God I do believe in creates miracles and wonders in the everyday world.
SPS: I don't believe that there is a man or a woman or a being that is all-knowing and all-mighty.
KK: I don't believe in a God that is all-knowing and powerful, or one that controls everything that occurs. If God was that powerful, things like the Holocaust wouldn't have happened and God would have protected the Jews.
TS: I don't believe in a God that is in everything or a God that makes things happen on their own without real people acting on it or trying.
JF: What is God to me? Many people have different perceptions of God, but I have my own. God isn;t a life-like creator, he is a listener.Everybody needs someone to look up to or someone who is always there for them. When I'm in pain and I don't want to say anything, I speak out loud when no one else is around.
BM-P:  I'm not sure exactly what I believe in. I haven't quite figured it out yet. I think there isn't NO God, but I don;t think there is an all-powerful God that decides everything.

2. One time when I had a sense that God might be near was...
BR: When I sat at the Kotel and put a message between the stones.
JM: No time at all. 
LDM: Every time I pray I think that God can hear me. I mean, I know that isn't very practical because there are billions of people praying to the same God, but I also felt as if I "sense" God. 
SC: During services at Eisner camp.
SPS: When there are weird coincidences or something that I really want to happen actually happens.
KK: I have never had a sense that God was near. I don't feel a connection to anything, even when I go to temple. I don't sense that God might be near.
TS: When something good happens I thought was not possible to happen becomes true - that is when I sense God.
BM-P: When I was with my great Grandpa after his heart attack and stroke, and I culd see him react and get better right before my eyes.

3. When other people (Jewish or not) talk about God, I think...
BR: ...that it is good that other people think God is real, or that if they don't they still consider discussing the topic.
JM: ..that I know everything about God and these people are makign things up about him.
LDM: ... that God is the same for most religions - our God, Jesus' father and Allah are all the same.
SC: ...that everyone has a slightly different view. Some people have stronger beliefs than others and some people don't believe at all.
SPS: ...I think about how everyone has very different opinions about what God is.
KK: ...about how I don't believe in God and it makes me curious what other people believe in.
TS: ...I don't react because everyone is different so they all believe something else.
BM-P: ...they could be right or they could be wrong. But I always keep an open mind, because one of their answers could become mine.