Archive | January 2016

Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month SH’MA


When we teach the Sh’ma to children at the OJC, we often use sign language to provide an important pathway into the meaning of “Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.”  The sign for “hear” is not used; rather, we teach “pay attention.” Hands on either side of our face draw out, focusing our attention on what is important.


As we enter the month of February, we will honor Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month with postings and congregant highlights to remind all of us to pay attention. If God is truly One, then we are all connected. A holy community like ours is not complete if we do not ensure the inclusion of all of God’s children, all created in God’s own image.

We invite you to join with us as we pay attention. May the month of February remind us to be aware and inclusive throughout the entire year!

Rabbi Drill and Rabbi Scheff

Tuesday morning quarterback

In the aftermath of the defeat, it is easy to poke holes in the game plan, to second guess decisions, to know better what would have delivered a victory. Kick the field goal with 6 minutes to go, take the points and let the defense give you another shot to win. Go no-huddle to get the “D” on its heels and slow down the pass rush. Throw to your biggest target on the 2-point conversion and let him make the play. On Monday morning, we all know the right call. Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

The Tuesday morning quarterback, however, offers an entirely different perspective. We recognize–a day removed from the emotion, the pain, the  lingering heat of the moment–that more goes into a decision than the information we have. We are not the ones on the field, in the battle, feeling the ebb and flow, sensing the momentum and energy level of those truly engaged. Our new perspective allows us to forgive, to look ahead, and maybe even to acknowledge that the events over which we excoriate have no lasting affect on our happiness, our sense of self, our lives.

Perhaps it is in anticipation of our “Tuesday morning quarterback” nature that God tells us upon our arrival at Sinai to sanctify ourselves for 2 days and to be prepared “on the third day” for the revelation of God’s presence. On Day One we arrive at the mountain and encamp, probably exhausted from a two-month journey. No doubt we are dissatisfied with the accommodations, the weather, the menu. By Day Two, we all know a better place we could have stayed; some of us claim we would have been better off had we stayed in the comfortable surroundings of our subjugation. Enter Day Three, and we are looking ahead, ready to take in the sights and sounds that signal a new beginning.

The same can be said about the way we manage conflict or offer criticism in general. In the heat of the moment, our emotions get in the way of objective evaluation and constructive feedback. In the aftermath, we are good at recognizing what we would have done differently. In the after-aftermath, we can exercise empathy, understand motivating factors, evaluate our own desire to critique, and determine how–and even if–caring criticism is to be offered.

Sure, we will probably fall back on old patterns at some point. Every Sunday afternoon quarterback has a Monday morning waiting on the other side of the dawn. Win or lose, the quarterback will be second-guessed. But Tuesday will come, and with it the wondrous possibilities of the many Sundays to follow.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

Deep Listening

Join me now to consider four possible levels of conversation: Conform, Confront, Connect, and Co-Create as taught by Dr. Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute.

This past week, I spent two days continuing my work of visioning a new identity for the Rabbinical Assembly, the professional organization of Conservative Rabbis worldwide. We were challenged by Liz Alperin Solms and Marie McCormick, our change project facilitators,, to understand and experience deep levels of productive conversation.

Our work over the past year has been anchored in a passion to re-envision a new path for the RA, ensuring a vital and vibrant future for Conservative Judaism.

Over the past year, I have been part of this exciting Vision Team of fifty rabbis representing a variety of years of experience and professional paths.

Throughout the work, I have been sensitive to the fact that the change work we are doing for the RA is translatable to our OJC community. I share with you now the ideas of deep conversations so that we can apply them to our synagogue life.

At the first level of conversation, Conforming, we talk “nice,” speaking to try and provide what the other person wants to hear. We use polite routines and empty phrases to conform to expectation. “Yes, of course, what you care about is important to me.” “No, of course, I don’t think that you are being difficult – I am glad to hear your thoughts.” “Sure, that’s just fine with me.”

Next, Confronting. We talk tough. We speak from an unshakable position of our own beliefs and understandings. Because we are our point of view, we become defensive. In these conversations, I am right and therefore you are not.

At the third level, Connecting, our conversations are reflective inquiries. Now I speak from a place where I see myself as part of the whole. I might still think differently from you, but now I want to know why. Rather than defend my position, I want to connect with you and come to understand your viewpoint. “I may not agree but I hope that you will tell me more about that.” “I have never thought about the issue in that way before.”

Finally, Co-Create is the fourth level. At this deep level of experience, conversation is a generative flow. I understand my place as being part of a collective, I practice stillness and experience the flow. This final level of conversation leads to collective creativity. In co-creating conversations, we might feel that something extraordinary has entered the space.

When I learned about collective creativity, I suddenly saw that our Rabbis of Tradition understood generative flow. Talmud teaches that when two people sit together to study Torah, the Shekhina, the nurturing aspect of God, rests upon their shoulders. The students of Torah lose their sense of separateness in the connection through Torah.

Our project facilitators explained that most conversations in our lives happen at one of the first two levels, and indeed, both are necessary to live successfully in the world. Sometimes we have to just be polite. Sometimes we just have to say what we really think and stand by it.


But if we want something to change and grow, we must dig deeper in our conversations. If we want our synagogue to prosper and thrive in adaptive and exciting ways, we must practice conversations at the third or even fourth level.

Scharmer’s theory about conversations for change feels very Jewish to me. To succeed as a community, we must let go of the inclination to begin every conversation from our own point of view. For success, we must say: I am part of something bigger than myself: this synagogue, this history, this particular people, this covenant with God. To fully participate in such a collective endeavor, I must listen carefully for clues about what you think and remain open to the possibility that my thinking is not enough. Together, we are stronger, wiser and more creative.

I look forward to continuing the conversation,

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

Israel through our children’s eyes

This past Friday morning we returned from OJC’s 2015 Israel Experience, having had a wonderful time soaking up the beauty and vibrancy of the land of Israel. We enjoyed sharing our experiences with you daily on Facebook. The true authors of this guest blog entry, however, are thec hildren on our trip. These nine children, ages 6 to 21, inspired us throughout each moment of this trip.

Now, in their own words:

Rayna: Having an experience of visiting Israel is not something that everyone is able to do so, I would like to first say how fortunate I am to be on this amazing trip. An exciting ten hour plane ride across the world to the Asian continent was a pretty interesting experience on its own. This ride was especially exciting because I got to sit next to my OJC friends Victoria and Jeremy! After getting almost no sleep at all on the flight we landed and quickly headed straight to our first activities: sheep herding (not as easy as it sounds) and tree planting.

Israel 15-4 Sheep

Samuel: When you think of Israel you think of Masada, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem etc. But, in Israel there are lots of interesting things that will blow your mind. Israel was the home of the ancient Jewish people, so as soon as we landed on Thursday we headed over to a place near the Ben Gurion airport called Neot Kedumim, a nature reserve representing the Biblical times. There, we planted trees because 60% of Israel is desert. At the same site we became shepherds! We played a game where one team had to herd all of the sheep into a stone circle in a certain amount of time. Some of the sheep were quite rebellious! It was a lot of fun. After that, we headed to Machane Yehuda, the “shuk.” There we walked around and saw all the different kinds of stores and street stalls. Finally, we staggered back to the hotel and collapsed.

Israel 15-5 Shuk

Jeremy: At the Machane Yehuda outdoor market, we sampled all different kinds of foods, drinks, and even some spices. Some examples of refreshments that we had were smoothies (etrog flavored!), coffee, halva (compressed sesame seeds with sugar), olives, and pita bread stuffed with Georgian cheese! We’re talking about the Asian country Georgia, not Georgia in the United States. Even before Machane Yehuda, we made our way over to a spot (Tayellet) where we had a post card worthy photograph view of the city of Jerusalem. We could, see everything. We also said prayers there for wine, Challah and Shecheyanu.

The next day was in the Old City of Jerusalem, where we had a wonderful day under the Temple mount in the tunnels. We learned all about the design and structure of the stones of the Kotel. We learned about how King Herod designed his own style of stone now called “Herodian Masonry.” It was really hot down in the tunnels, but it was fun and educational!

Israel 15-1 Ammunition

Rayna: After two exhausting and full days, I don’t know what the rabbis and our tour guide Julie were trying to do to us children, but starting at sundown on Friday we had to walk everywhere because it was Shabbat! I actually enjoyed Shabbat because, like I told my father, it felt like a holiday that happens every weekend! On Friday night we prayed together at the Western Wall – it was really nice. We went to synagogue on Shabbat morning and even though they spoke Hebrew it was a great thing observe!

Jeremy: Saturday was very different from Shabbat at home. Here in Israel, I got the experience of walking to a synagogue with the group, including the rabbis. The synagogue was Orthodox style, with the men and women separated by a curtain down the middle of the sanctuary. They did open up the curtain for the Divrei Torah though. They were in Hebrew and I therefore did not understand what they were about. I found Shabbat to be a nice experience. For one thing, it was a day in Israel that wasn’t jam-packed with tourist activities and sights. I would totally do it again if the opportunity permitted itself.

Grace: My favorite part of the trip thus far was today and our trip to Masada. After about fifty minutes of hotheadedly hiking up the Snake Path and yelling at the more fortunate cable car riders, we arrived at the top. The magnificent view took our breath away once more. As Jeremy mentioned, King Herod built part of the Kotel, but he also created the palace on Masada. After his death, it was used for a Roman army base. When the Sicarii, or Dagger Men, of the Jewish rebels infiltrated the base, they used the palace as a safe hiding space for three years, until the Roman soldiers finally made it to the top. The Romans surrounded the Sicarii. In the depths of their desperation, they decided that they would rather kill themselves than surrender to the Romans and be killed, mutilated, or sold as slaves. It is told that no one survived. We learned that what actually happened up on Masada many years ago is a little unclear. All I know is that the view there is beautiful and I liked hearing the various stories, however horrific they may have been.

Israel 2015-2 Dead Sea

Our next stop was the Dead Sea. This sea is so salty that it is impossible to have any life there. This is why they call it the Dead Sea. The salt also causes anything to be extremely buoyant, so you can literally float on the water. It’s a phenomenon that is so difficult to explain, but so amazing to experience. When we arrived at the shore we saw people walking around with the infamous mud spread over their bodies. The salt in the water magically made it completely buoyant! It was amazing. At first, I was nervous about experiencing something so odd to me. I didn’t understand how salt could make water turn into something so easy to float in. Once we finally were able to lay back in the water and experience the impossible, there would be no turning back from the fun. We laughed with our friends, attempted to get into the weirdest positions while still floating, and just relaxed in the cool sea.

My experience in Israel so far has been an amazing experience, a phenomenal one. I have loved it with every bit of my heart, and I hope, sincerely, that I will come back soon.

Israel 15-3 Kotel

Milo: This winter break, I was lucky enough to get to travel to Israel. Today we packed up our suitcases to head up north. On the way out of Jerusalem we stopped a few times. Our first stop was Yad Vashem. While we didn’t go inside the museum itself, we saw some of the monuments outside of it. The first thing we saw were the trees planted in honor of the non-Jews (righteous gentiles) who worked hard trying to save Jews. There were trees lining the stone path for a few hundred feet, and each tree had a plaque with the name of the honored person. The path that the trees bordered led toward two statues. The first statue was an engraving of a group of Jews being taken to a death camp. They looked frightened and broken. Their heads were bent, and in the background you could see Nazi soldiers’ with bayonets and helmets herding the Jews forward. The second statue was an engraving of Jews who looked strong and prepared to fight.

israel 15-6 F16

These words and images are just a sample of what we were blessed to hear and see throughout our time in Israel. Most meaningful of all was the desire expressed by each child on the trip: to return again soon; to continue exploring Israel, her history, and her connections to our Jewish identities; to be a part of supporting Israel as she strides into the future with hope.

With great appreciation for these days with our OJC Family,

Rabbi Ami Hersh and Rabbi Craig Scheff

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