Jewish History

Making a Difference

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Be the change that you wish to see in the world

Mahatma Gandhi

Starting from the Bottom Up

It is 2019, and the grassroots, bottom-up approach has been proving itself to be the way change happens. This is happening in so many fields, including education – and there is no reason why it should not apply to Jewish Education.

How do we adapt?

The internet, technology and social media have changed the way we interact. They are vying for our attention, and that of our children. It has a losing battle, once you allow that small device into the home – and I am not here to say that you should or should not do that. What I am saying is that, the impact on the Jewish Educational system is inescapable.

Where do we make the change?

How do we make a difference?

How can we get our school on board?

I am a firm believer in the vitality and relevance of Torah to our life. I believe that the goal of a Jewish Education system cannot be just to convey information or preparing for a BJE test. There has to be a deep commitment to, and belief in, the reality of Torah. Only with that in mind, can we proceed with confidence into the unknown future of Jewish education, learning, leadership and change.

As a jewish-educational-entrepreneur (for lack of a better title), I work tirelessly to convey this message to laypeople, parents, schools, administrations, synagogues and publications. Having spoken to many schools and rabbis and community leaders in the past three years, I realized that the change cannot come from the top down.

Schools, institutions – they are all systems that have to run a certain way. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility to their parent bodies, congregants, and general clientele. This is both a vital part of the system, and what can make it very hard to move, when necessary.

That is where I come in. I believe that with social media, today, we can engage people in new ways. Not only students. I am not talking about creating multimillion dollar online curriculum – that has its place. I am talking about inspiring educators and just simply – Jews – to respond to the call of Torah. To realize that it is real, that it can be vitalized in the classroom or the synagogue without expensive materials, without learning new curriculum but rather, with a change in approach.

This week I took action.

I spoke to several colleagues who are on board with me, and said “guys, let’s do an Instagram Live session on this De’Ara Tanach Map”. We have been trying for two years to figure out the logistics of doing this with our own school, while I am traveling the country doing this with other schools. Instead of talking about it – let’s be the change we want to see.

To find out more about the map, and see a video about it: http://foundationstone.org/Store/store.html

The results we incredible. The three teachers were super-energized and excited about the possibilities of integrating this simple and powerful tool. Social media is playing its part, and we are reaching people in new ways, bringing the change from the bottom up. Here is a short video from the excitement:

Enjoy the clip! Subscribe to my YouTube!

Walk through tour of the Brooklyn Museum

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A spontaneous get-together between Brooklinian friends, celebrating a birthday on a Saturday night. And what better place to celebrate than – the Brooklyn Museum!

On the first Saturday of the month, the Brooklyn Museum is open – and free – until 11PM. It’s all a buzz, with DJs, dancing, music and lots of noise – and vibrance. We chose this need to do a casual walk-through tour, highlighting anything from #InfiniteBlue – and Lapis Lazuli, to Ancient Near East: Assyria and Egypt.

More pictures coming later. And meanwhile:

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Shana Tova 5779

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Rosh Hashana is about self-calibration: Being in touch with ourselves, with the world, and sharing in its creation. If we are in tune with ourselves, we can listen to the world, and through it – to God, as “he” whispers to us.

I don’t have a cliche apple and honey picture, but this picture tells a story.

My short experience of 34 years has taught me that when we stop fighting ourselves, stop fearing our uniqueness, and let the force of life flow through us – amazing things start to happen.

This picture is a confluence of amazing things happening to me, through being open, vulnerable, truthful and embracing my creativity: A second year in a job I love, connecting between my passion for teaching, for entrepreneurial jewish education and technology.

Mercava (represented here by Moshe Azizollahoff) the one hand, which is connected to my entrepreneurial side, meeting new enthusiastic colleagues at Magen David Yeshivah, where I continue as a formal educator – on the other side.

May this be a year where we breakthrough our barriers, embrace our uniqueness, and share ourselves with the world and bring it more happiness. Shana Tova! שנה טובה ומתוקה

The Age of Empires Strikes Back

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Returning customers, especially for the same tour, is very encouraging. Both pictures are of today’s group at the Metropolitan Museum.

The right-hand picture is of returning customers from last year. Mrs. Gitta Neufeld, head of educational development at Allegra Franco School of Educational Leadership (second from right) attended my tour in June 2017, and hired me as a teacher at Allegra Franco. I am looking forward to beginning my second year teaching there.

Take it from her:

(amidst the hustle and bustle of the Met’s closing hours – this is being cleaned up slightly, but bear with us for 22 seconds!)

 

Superman and Tisha b’Av

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Superman - Man of Steel - Image from: https://movieweb.com
Cover image from: https://movieweb.com

It was last Shabbat in the Golan Heights when I had a profound and timely experience: Being in the land that was bequeathed to Reuven, Gad and Manasseh, while we read the Torah portion that discusses it (Num. 32:33), right before Tisha b’Av, the day in which we deal with the destruction of that area.

I was asked to address the youth in an agricultural community on Shabbat afternoon, and was honestly a bit hesitant. It is one thing to share my story with American educators and students: I grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City, and that comes with a unique perspective that is very valuable in the diaspora. But it is quite another to speak to kids who grew up in the land, and perhaps even take it for granted?

That is when I thought about Superman and Tisha b’Av, a concept which I have used in summer camp, and which has worked with kids and teenagers on several occasions, with surprising effects. So what is this idea?

Tisha b’Av brings out the worst in religion: Suffering, mourning, synagogue and fasting, and the best part is, it is in the midst of the summer vacation. No swimming for over a week!

It is a challenge to engage youth who are already jaded or perhaps overstimulated from attempts to make Judaism alive, relevant and meaningful to them. And yet, I find Tisha b’Av to be a special opportunity to do exactly that – if I prompt the question of relevance from the start.

The talk with the youth revolved around two main ideas.

  1. Tisha b’Av has the status of Mo’ed – generally understood as a ‘holiday’, but clearly not a happy one. Mo’ed actually means “an appointment in time” (e.g. Gen. 18:14), and just as Passover is a time for Freedom, and Sukkot is a time for Joy, Tisha b’Av is an annual meeting in time. But a time for what? For loss, mourning and destruction (Lam. 1:15)
  2. Tisha b’Av didn’t happen because we cried. We cried because it was Tisha b’Av. Just as we say that we left Egypt on Nissan because it is a time of redemption, so too all of the ‘bad stuff’ is associated with Tisha b’Av, because it is a designated time for destruction. Why? Why do we need such a time?

 

Superman and Smallville

smallville
Photo from: https://www.hulu.com/smallville

Background: The origin story of Superman relates that he was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father Jor-El and his mother Lara, moments before Krypton’s destruction…. Discovered and adopted by a farm couple from Kansas, the child is raised as Clark Kent and imbued with a strong moral compass. Early in his childhood, he displays various superhuman abilities, which, upon reaching maturity, he resolves to use for the benefit of humanity through a “Superman” identity (from Wikipedia: Superman).

The 2001 series Smallville follows Clark Kent in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas, before he becomes known as Superman (from Wikipedia: Smallville).

The main idea: Upon discovering his true identity, Kal-El / Clark Kent’s ambitions and life goals change. He is imbued with deep purpose, and knows that life as he knew it was no longer the same.

The idea of Tisha b’Av is an awakening, a profound realization that all of the symbols that we hold dear, from the Promised Land to the Two Temples in Jerusalem – could be lost. As long as we have not fulfilled our full potential, there is no compromise. We cannot settle for mediocrity.

It is painful. It is cruel. It is uncompromising. And precisely because of that, it is the most meaningful holiday, and the most hopeful. Jewish tradition says that the Messiah is born on Tisha b’Av. It tells us that we have a superpower, that we are meant for greatness, and that we should never compromise.

May this be the last Tisha b’Av in mourning. May we merit to bask in the Light of Truth, and rejoice in the true beauty of a united and rebuilt Jerusalem.

Some of the youths’ responses (translation, and Hebrew below):

My takeaway is that I will never give up until I find myself in a place where I am making a difference, and fully utilizing my capabilities

…that I am really part of something big, whether it is the Jewish People or Humanity as a whole

Truth be told, it was one of the more interesting discussions, it…gave me a different perspective on Tisha b’Av and also on our lives as a whole in Eretz Yisrael, and that we need to appreciate our lives here…

 

 

Parasha Pearls for Shabbat Hagadol

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This week, Parashat Tzav and the Shabbat before Pesach, is called שבת הגדול – the “Great” or “Grand” Sabbath.

Why is it called Shabbat Hagadol?

School children learn the story of how the Hebrews tied the pascal lamb to the bedpost on the sabbath before the very first Passover in Egypt. But this was a risky thing to do, as  the Egyptians deified the lamb. However, G-d protected us and it was a grand display of His benevolence that not a single Egyptian tried to hurt us for holding their gods at bay.

But come now, seriously?

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Student proudly demonstrates an artifact he found in relation to Pesach and Shabbat haGadol

On a Museum tour with ninth graders from Magen David Yeshivah High School, which I lead in early March, a student discovered a Ptolemaic period deity in the form of a ram – representing the Egyptian god Amun-Re, often represented in that form.

This student will never forget that!

Ram headed sphinx at Karnak.jpg
Ram headed sphinx of the god Amun-Re at Karnak. From: http://www.travel-pictures-gallery.com/

Tasting and Torah – Rebirth of Shomron part 3 of 4

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Interview with Tzvi (Greg) Lauren – co-founder of Heart of Israel Wines

Social media links: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

This segment of the series of articles “Rebirth of Shomron” has been fermenting “in the barrel”, so to speak, for the last half year. In honor of Rosh Chodesh Adar – the new Hebrew month in which we celebrate Purim, specifically with wine, I would like to bring out this “vintage” article. But much has changed since…

I met Tzvi over a year ago in New Jersey. Being that I love Israeli wine, and he imports it, we instantly started thinking of ways we can integrate our entrepreneurial ideas to advance Torah and Wine. It was not until this past Saturday night (February 11, 2018), that our plans came to fruition.

Tasting and Torah was an intimate evening organized by Heart of Israel Wines, featuring a selection of wines from Shiloh Wines. Speakers included Tzvi and his partner Yehoshua, Amichai Lourie – winemaker for Shiloh Winery, Rabbi Yair Shachor -from the community of Ma’aleh Levona, and myself. We hope that this is the first of many such events.

 

 

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Talking Torah with Rabbi Yair Shachor and winemaker Amichai Lourie

You can click he for a link to the video of my talk at the Tasting and Torah with Shiloh Winery, and on here for a link to the entire program.

This interview took place in the summer, when Tzvi’s company was still called “West Bank Wines”. The old name itself was controversial, and has a story you will hear about in the interview. A few notes (from Tzvi himself) about the new name:

The company is now starting to import its own wines, and with their main customers being people in middle America, it made sense to have something simple, catchy, which still bears a connection to what it is about, and is not politically charged. Furthermore, after many requests from residents of Judea and Samaria, and promises to change the name, they finally owned up to their word and changed it.

Practically, Judea and Samaria is too long a name. They went for something universal and simple. Since heartofisraelwines.com would have also been way too long, the new top level domain “.wine” adds some panache to the new website, and here it is!

https://www.heartofisrael.wine/

Some background

Tzvi was born in Ukraine and grew up in the NYC metro area. With a background on Wall St., he made aliyah to Israel in 2010. The story of West Bank Wines started in 2015 with a chance encounter, while Tzvi was working for a an NGO called World Yisrael Beytenu. From there Tzvi began working on building an American brand for Lev Ha’olam, a company distributing various boutique goods from mom & pop producers in Judea & Samaria.

Tzvi eventually realized that the product he had a calling for was actually hiding in plain sight and pivoted the project to wine.

After looking up Israeli Wineries through Google MapsTzvi brought a list to his now business partner Yehoshua Werth in Monsey, NY, and they now regularly feature wines from Judea and Samaria, and you can follow their reviews and events on social media. He then set out to start visiting a few: Har BrachaShiloh, Hebron and Beit El wineries, all along Route 60.

Tune in for some stories about these valuable connections, and the world that it opened to him. These wineries are run by very special people, who are keenly aware of the place they live in, and the revival of Judea & Samaria through its booming wine industry. Every winery has a Biblical and Jewish history story linked with the location, and that story is the key to appreciating the wine. As Erez Ben Saadon of Tura Winery said, “When you love the Land, the Land loves you back”. A land that was mostly desolate for near two millennia becoming fruitful and productive again is a testament to the deep love of a people to their homeland.

The name “West Bank” Wines naturally had people raise their hackles, on both sides of the fence. Tzvi talks about how he arrived at this name as well as some of the reactions he has received, and the impact it had on his resolve to keep the name…which has now changed to Heart of Israel Wines.

Some fascinating research has been done into the grapes indigenous to the region, the history of how these grapes were forgotten, and how the grapes we now have in Israel, got there. That, and other areas of history, research and stories are discussed.

We hope you enjoy!

Links to content from the interview

Heart of Israel Wines: Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

Articles and Videos:

  1. Dr. Shivi Drori, Ariel University, on the revival of 2,000 year old grapes: Here is a link to a short video on the science of reviving the grape, and here is the full lecture.
  2. Professor Ian McGonigle, Harvard University, and his article about Israeli Wine in Times of Israel.

Heart of Israel Wines reviews:

Three reviews by 2007 world #1 sommelier Andreas Larsson:

  1. Mount Hevron – Reserve Syrah 2009 – Judean Hills
  2. Psâgot – Single Vineyard 2013 – Benjamin Mountains
  3. Gvaot – Masada 2012 – Judean Hills

 

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