Archive | November 2016

Breast Cancer Awareness Does Not End on October 31

Time collapses each time I have my annual mammogram. Months and years fold in upon themselves like an accordion. My last mammogram was a year ago and yet, as I signed in at the reception desk today, it felt like I had just checked in not a month before. How does the just-been-here-just-done-this feeling surface every year?


Millie Ibarra walked 39 miles for Avon Breast Cancer Walk 2016


Millie Ibarra, our family nanny and dear friend, is a ten-year breast cancer survivor. I made my mammogram appointment today, November 30, to honor her birthday. I know that it has been more than ten years since Millie’s diagnosis, but when I put on the robe before the mammogram, time collapsed for me. It felt like just a moment ago that I was sitting in an office at UMDNJ with her, listening to Dr. Clark tell us that Millie had stage four breast cancer.

My mother and maternal aunt both died of metastasized breast cancer. I bring them with me into the cold, antiseptic room with the spaceship-like imaging machine every year, wishing that they had benefited from all the advances in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment of the past decades. Although my mother’s twentieth yahrzeit is in two weeks, it feels like just a minute ago that she was on the phone, telling me that the cancer had spread and that it was time for me to come home to help her. I packed up Josh, just five months old, left the older three at home with Jon and flew to Maine. Time collapses.

For my mom and my aunt and Millie and my friends, and for the scores of women at the Orangetown Jewish Center who are fighting or have fought breast cancer, I religiously make my annual mammogram appointment . And I go on time. I say a prayer, smile bravely through the test and leave, hearing the precious words, “Looks good! We’ll mail the report.” The Breast Center provides bouquets for every woman and I always choose yellow roses, my mother’s favorite.


One year, the technician could not find any yellow roses amidst the pinks and reds. When I burst into tears, she put her arm around me. “Don’t take any roses this year,” she said. “Next year, take two”. I am one of the lucky ones; the seven in eight, not the one in eight.

Breast cancer awareness does not end on October 31st each year. Women (and men who are at risk) must stay vigilant all through the year. The courageous women of Orangetown Jewish Center who established the Pink Bag Project take care of each other and anyone who is diagnosed as time goes on.

On December 9 and 10, they are bringing Pink Bag Project Shabbat to us at Orangetown Jewish Center. Melissa Rosen, Director of National Outreach of Sharsheret, will join us for Shabbat to teach about breast and ovarian cancer awareness, research, treatment and family support. The purpose of this Shabbat is to share ways to support caregivers of family and friends who are ill. Join us on Friday, December 9 at 6:00 pm for services and Dinner and Dialogue (RSVP today to Diane Goldstein, and on December 10 for Shabbat learning during services and after kiddush.

And if it has been more than a year, if you have let time slip by, consider making your mammogram appointment today.

With prayers for good health,

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

OJC Mitzvah Mission 2016, Conclusion

The beauty of Jerusalem was on full display this morning, as our running club jogged through the gentrified railway station and the German Colony and the rising sun burned through the early haze to clear the sky. Our first formal stop was the Masorti Kotel, the spot where we are most comfortable praying as a community, and one that has generated much controversy in the last months. The Israeli government has failed to implement legislation, passed last year, that would formally extend the Kotel, its plaza and its security, to the southern end of the western wall. Our presence here is, in part, a stand for what we believe and what we expect from the state we call our Jewish homeland.

The morning service was participatory and upbeat; Amy Schwartz led shacharit, Linda Varon and Mikalah Weinger read Torah. Most special of all, however, was the moment our group quietly stepped over to the next Torah station at the wall to complete a minyan for a family’s bar mitzvah celebration. When they boy looked up from reciting his blessings, he was shocked to see 23 of us standing around him! And when we started to sing “mazel tov,” we could see the boy’s joy and the parents’ emotion and appreciation. It’s always amazing how the most meaningful moments are often the ones not planned. Add one more beautiful mitzvah to the list of the many fulfilled this week!

We drove west to Motza, where we visited Beit Yellin, established in 1860 as the first Jewish agricultural settlement outside the Old City. We learned the history and historical significance of this home, now rebuilt and revitalized by the Jewish National Fund. An hour of digging, planting and staining gave us the satisfaction of preserving a piece of our pioneering history and beautifying another natural setting.

Our closing lunch once again was an emotional time of sharing impressions and highlights, validating our decisions to commit to this unusual and challenging experience, whether for the first time or the eleventh.

As I sit on the plane anxiously awaiting takeoff, I am looking forward to my own pillow and a restful Shabbat. Leaving Israel, however, is never easy. There is so much work still to be done. That being said, I take solace in knowing that, as the sun sets on this mission, in 4 short weeks I will return with our OJC Israel Family Experience with a group of 39; and in one short year, the sun will rise upon OJC’s 12th annual mitzvah mission, November 12-19, 2017. Join us!

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Craig Scheff

OJC Mitzvah Mission 2016, Day Four

Yoav greeted us at Ahava this morning as family, with all his warmth, sincere care and passion, as if we had just come home after a semester abroad. He enthusiastically described the new projects taking place around the village; in particular, a soccer field where children and their fathers typically play on visiting days, accompanied by coach, social worker and therapist. At other times, groups of children play together, observed by the social worker who will then sit the boys down and process their interactions. Brimming with pride, he shared that Ahava had just been awarded another 5-star rating for the beauty of its facility, and a certificate of recognition for its efficient operation as a nonprofit. And he attributes these successes–at least in part–to our OJC contributions and the unique relationship we share.


So much life, empowerment and hope in a place potentially filled with so much pain. Mikalah spent last evening partying with girls of Ahava, ages 6 to 17, at an opening event for an initiative called the “Girls Project.” It was a night of music, food, fun, and companionship, celebrating healthy relationships and positive self-image. We met with the class of children beginning the process of study towards bar mitzvah and gave them watches donated to us back home. We delivered beautiful artwork from our own Naaseh/USY kids to our host families.



And finally, we created another beautiful space (with the assistance of the talented staff) that serves, literally and symbolically, as a place of life, growth, fruition and hope.



That’s what this place is all about. That’s what we want to be all about. And as we finished the day gazing at Jerusalem, we realized that’s what this land of Israel, at its heart, is all about.


Laila tov,
Rabbi Craig Scheff

OJC Mitzvah Mission 2016, Day Three

Day 3 of our 11th annual mitzvah mission to Israel was graced with a brilliant blue sky and a warming sun, so any work outdoors today was going to be welcome. It was great to be back at Ahava, seeing familiar faces of children and counselors who anticipate our arrival each November, hearing “the group from Orangetown” being acknowledged with familiarity and gratitude, and sweating a little from our physical labor.


We started the day in “Rob’s Corner,” which we created and dedicated last year in memory of Rob Katz z”l and Danny Klein z”l. Being there today was particularly poignant, given that this date was Rob’s birthday, and this was where he celebrated for nearly the last decade. This home for children “at risk” held a special place in his heart, and Rob was beloved by the administrators, staff and children alike. We quietly prayed, and rededicated our efforts to honor the legacies of 2 beloved people, to stretch beyond our comfort zones and to give freely to others.



The Ahava stories of resiliency and generosity–those of the children and of their caregivers–continually inspire us; but we have come to recognize that we inspire them as well. The work of our hands can be seen all around the village, and the village administrators have expanded their vision of what is possible. As a result, our projects have become more intricate, artistic and interesting, and the village facilities more beautiful.




Our group broke into pairs to share lunch with the children and their caregiver families, and our experiences in this setting are always quite diverse. Some home settings are quite functional, familial and warm; others exhibit difficult dynamics of disciplining adults and oppositional children. I happened to sit next to a talkative 15 year-old boy who shared with me that, before coming to Ahava, he had been in a residential facility that could not teach him to address his challenges. In contrast, three years at Ahava, along with the loving discipline of his second family, have given him the skills and confidence to overcome his past and to look ahead with a sense of hope.

Tomorrow we return to Ahava to complete our flower gardens, trellises, planting, painting, photography project, bracelet-making and mosaics. We’ll celebrate with, and offer gifts to, this year’s bar mitzvah class. We pray that God will bless the work of our hands so that it–and we–may serve as a legacy to the benefit of others.


Happy birthday, Rob. Miss you.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

Day 2 – On a mitzvah mission

Part of the beauty of this group is that sometimes, honestly, we don’t know exactly where we are going or what to expect. “Roll with it,” we tell ourselves, because our intention first and foremost is just to be here, and when we show up to support an organization that is doing some good for someone, chances are we’ll do some good as well.


ALEH is that organization that collects small change on El Al flights in order to make a big difference in the lives of those with disabilities. We chose ALEH as our first project, and started our day south of Tel Aviv, in Gadera, where we met the special people who give hours of their lives, 6 to 8 each day, to teach, care for and grow with individuals from infancy to 60 who experience a wide range of disabilities. We entered ALEH’s school after a brief introduction and instantly found ourselves bewildered by the severity of the disabilities–physical, cognitive and emotional–of the people with whom we had chosen to interact. The “projects” we were meant to undertake with the consumers were frustrating and futile attempts to establish some level of communication. The discomfort was evident in our body language.


Until, that is, we started seeing each child, teen and young adult as individuals. First, we strung beads, guiding their hands, or pushed them gently in their swings. Next we held their hands. And finally, we danced. The sounds and smiles, followed by the jumping and swaying, gave expression to the excitement we all felt in connecting. (Sorry, no pictures allowed of the consumers.)


And when the songleader led the residents in the Hebrew song “Thank you for all You, God, created,” several of us were reduced to tears. How astonishing to hear such expressions of gratitude from those with such challenges in their lives–for God’s goodness, for their teachers, for each other, for us. How could we ever be the same?

We took a deep breath to recover from the emotion of the morning by finding respite in the shade of my sister’s back yard. We filled our bellies with pizza, pita and falafel while enjoying the home hospitality and Randi’s story about our family history, dating back to 1949, on the moshav. Thank you, Randi and Avi, for opening your home!


By 2:30, we felt like it was Day 3 of the mission, but we had one more stop to make before heading to Haifa. BINAH (“wisdom”) is a “secular yeshiva” in Tel Aviv where Israelis of all sorts join in Jewish study, social action and community empowerment. “A Home for the Creation of the Nation’s Soul” is the vision towards which the movement works, and “secular” Israelis are lining up to reclaim their Jewish heritage as expressed through this vision. We toured the depressed area of Neve Sha’anan, near Tel Aviv’s central bus station, to learn how this neighborhood came to be the haven for asylum seekers and migrant workers from the African continent.


Once at the yeshiva, we engaged in a text study that led us to reflect on how Israel wrestles with preserving its character as a Jewish state while representing the highest ideals of our tradition, remembering that Israel is, by and large, a nation of refugees. Needless to say, Israel and the Zionist dream is still a work in progress.

All in a day’s work. Small change, big difference.

Rabbi Craig Scheff



Partners for Peace, Day Five

I bring you Rabbi Drill’s continuing journal from Israel:

As we walked back to our hotel from dinner at Piccolino in Jerusalem’s city center tonight, one of the trip participants pointed out that we had been on the go for fourteen hours! Today flew for me; every moment filled with deep new understandings.
Our day began at the impressive St. George’s Cathedral, where we met with Rabbi David Rosen and Rev. Canon Hosam Naoum to hear about the many ways in which they try to fight back against growing insularity, lack of trust and extremism as people of faith. Hosam explained his complex identity as follows: “I am a Christian, an Arab (but not a Muslim), an Israeli (but not a Jew), and a Palestinian (but not a terrorist).” He mused that this difficult, complicated identity is perhaps a gift as it enables his role as a bridge builder. Rabbi Rosen suggested that he also has a multiple identity. “For conservative Jews, I am liberal and for liberal Jews, I am conservative.” Once the rabbi of the largest Orthodox congregation in South Africa, he became Chief Rabbi of Ireland before coming to Jerusalem. He told us, tongue-in-cheek, that places seem to improve when he leaves. Both men agree that religion is one of the problems in the region but can also be part of the solution. Rabbi Rosen described the tragedy of a zero-sum approach; Palestinian dignity and Israel security are intertwined and so there is a need for dual empathy.

Our next meeting, certainly to become one of the highlights of this trip, was a meeting with Meredith Rothbart and Mohammed Joulany of Kids4Peace.
As these two colleagues and dear friends described the work that brings together Palestinian and Jewish children in Jerusalem and prepares them for coexistence through six intensive years of programming, they showed us what could be possible. When Meredith’s three-month-old son Ishai started fussing, Muhamed picked him up where the baby quickly fell asleep in his arms. At the end of their presentation, Meredith mused that in 20 years, Ishai will undoubtedly be serving in the IDF. She said, “I hope he doesn’t look back at this photograph of him passed out in Muhamed’s arms and see a terrible irony.” There was not a dry eye in the room.

After experiencing worship at the Cathedral where Rev. Naoum asked everyone there to pray for Jerusalem, for the Israelis and the Palestinians, we left for a tour of the seam, an in-depth seminar with Col. Danny Tirza,  the developer of the security fence. As he explained the history and psychology of the fence (although media calls it a wall, only 5% of the entire 451 kilometers is concrete wall), I realized with a shock that many of my Christian colleagues did not know even the basic history of the first and second Intifadas. Placenames like Sbarro Pizza, the Dolphinarium, Park Hotel, Hebrew University Cafeteria, and Supersol, bus numbers like 6, 823, 32, 22 — all were completely unknown. That which is seared into the soul of the Jewish community was brand-new learning from many of my friends on this trip.

Our trip to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity was followed by a visit to Shorashim, a new initiative of community building and grassroots advocacy by settlers and Palestinians working together.
We heard the heart-wrenching stories of Shaul Judelman and Ali Abu Awwad who shared with striking honesty their narratives of assumptions, prejudice and violence and how they both changed over time. Each of them came to a place of understanding that cooperation and knowing the other is the only way forward. Shaul told us about how he learned that the person we are afraid of is afraid of us. Ali Abu told us about how he was transformed from a terrorist to a peacemaker.
When we said goodbye, I looked into the eyes of both these men and shook their hands, thanking them for their heroism, for taking the risk to step outside of the cultural assumptions of their communities to try to build a different future.

Dr. Peter Pettit, one of our trip leaders, framed the core lesson of Partners for Peace: every historical experience, every conflict and every cultural trauma takes place in three steps: events happen, we experience events, and then we create narratives about those events that we carry with us. To those narratives we must commit ourselves to listen open heartedly. We do not have to agree, and we do not have to change our own narratives. But we must acknowledge the narratives of the other if we are ever to break out of this conflict.

With prayers for peace in Jerusalem,

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

Partners for Peace, Day Four

Day four from Rabbi Drill in Israel:
Shavua tov! Wishing everyone a good week ahead.
Shabbat went out here in Jerusalem at 6:15 with havdalah and a teaching perfect for our mission here in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Rabbi Len Gordon suggested that the sharp distinctions drawn in the blessings of havdalah – between holy and secular time, light and dark, the people Israel and other people, the seventh day and the six working days – create a hierarchy where one half of the dichotomy is judged as good and the other as bad. Wouldn’t it make a better world if the distinctions drawn did not lead us to make judgments against the other? When will we understand that judging the other to their detriment creates a world based on fear and distance?
We began our day on Friday with the lessons of what happens in the most heinous instance of creating hierarchy and judging the other negatively as we visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Museum of the Shoah. I have toured Yad Vashem many times, but the impact of being there with an interfaith group was profound. Hearing stories and new information, I saw tears in everyone’s eyes. Language was no barrier when the Hebrew memorial prayer was chanted. After walking silently through the Children’s Memorial with its infinite number of flickering candles, my clergy partner, Reverend Barbara Hoffman, fell into my arms to weep. As Holocaust scholar Shlomo Balsam told us, “Yad Vashem does not only tell the tragic story of the Jewish people but of all humanity.”
Before Shabbat came in, we met with Kadi Dr. Iyad Zahalka to learn about Muslim Friday prayer. Gathering to pray and celebrate together each Friday on the day of the creation of humanity is a decree of the Koran. Muslims live from Friday to Friday, seeking to be close to Allah and to each other. Kadi is a judge of Sharia’a Law much as a rabbi adjudicates Halacha (Jewish law) on matters of personal status here in Israel. Dr. Zahalka is the chief judge for all of Jerusalem’s Sharia’a courts and is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and Bar Ilan University. It was a privilege to learn from this gentle, articulate man.
Shabbat came in with my greatest gift of all: Sarah, Sagi and Josh as my guests for the entire Shabbat.
The group walked to Azarat Yisrael, the Egalitarian platform of the Kotel, for Kabbalat Shabbat prayer. Back at the hotel, we shared Shabbat dinner and I think that nothing will top the feeling of being able to bless my children surrounded by my new friends on this mission. My kids and I spent a completely relaxed Shabbat praying, eating, walking and catching up. In the afternoon, our group studied Torah and gospels together. After havdalah, my Christian colleagues taught us about Sunday worship, sharing examples of an invocation, teaching, and giving testimony. The highlight for me by far was hearing Reverend Tommie Pierson sing To God Be the Glory in his beautiful tenor voice.
We walked together to a popular Jerusalem cafe for dinner and a private concert by Wast el Tarik (Middle of the Way), a mixed Jewish-Arabic ensemble.
As the group leader explained, two musicians from West Jerusalem and two from East Jerusalem live only 20 minutes apart, but in reality, so much further away than that. Music becomes a way for them to create together and to know each other’s lives and realities. Music is the middle place where they can meet. Person by person, song by song, they yearn to heal the brokenness in this land.
Shavua tov! Blessings for peace from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
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