Tag Archive | Chanukah

A Light in the Window in East Ramapo

“I don’t just wish there were solutions, I believe that there are solutions to the problems in this district,” Dr. Deborah Wortham, Interim Superintendent of the East Ramapo Central School District  insists. She explains how she is building a team and finding solutions despite the enormity of the issues and roadblocks in her path.

She is greeting children in their schools every day and working on recognizing the strengths in the administrators and teachers. Every day she sends out a message of empowerment to every classroom in every school in the district. Building collaboration between the community, the schools and the families and their children is her goal. She says that a community is as strong as the education of its children, and she is working to ensure that the children receive the constitutionally guaranteed education they deserve. Dr. Wortham told us that she cannot start with one task and then move on to the next. The needs of the district require a full court press. And indeed she seems to be doing so during very, very long days. Even a hint of what she does in a day makes me feel dizzy.
Dr. Deborah Wortham sees her task as the Interim Superintendent as healing a broken district so that the East Ramapo Central School District can become a creative school system that leaves a legacy of greatness.
How does she do it? I watched her teach, acknowledge and cheer at a School Board Meeting that Rabbi Scheff, Deb Roth and I attended in November. I was amazed by her unflagging energy, but I did not understand the source of her drive.
The source of her strength, however, became clear to me after sitting next to her for a two and a half hour meeting with the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice.

Dr. Cohen and Clergy Dr. Wortham and Clergy

Dr. Wortham did not take a difficult position as Interim Superintendent because she wanted to leave her old job or was ready for a big challenge. She came to East Ramapo because she feels called by God to do this work, this daunting and seemingly impossible work. She told us that she makes no apology for her deep faith and close relationship with God. Her mission is to be what she calls an Educational Evangelist. I wanted to stand up and cheer when she described herself in that way. Dr. Wortham is fearless because she is using her blessings and gifts for the benefit of those who need them. For the four weeks during which she has been in her position, she told us, she has been filled with the grace of doing the work that God expects of her.
She listened to our concerns and responded to our questions, dedicating precious time to clergy leaders because she believes that the community must work together to heal and to repair.
On Sunday night, we will light the first candle of Chanukah, placing our menorahs in our windows to publicize the miracle.

Chanukiah

During the darkest time of the year when the days are short and the night feels endless, we cast our light outward to cheer and enlighten others. Dr. Deborah Wortham, it seems to me, is like one of those lights in the window. I pray that her energy and optimism stay with her as she continues on her mission of healing and education.

Dr. Wortham and PMD

What can we do? We can continue the work of supporting and advocating for the children of ERCSD. We still need a full time monitor with veto power in the District. We still need a long range plan to overhaul governance in the District. And we can all roll up our sleeves and give time to the children of the schools.
To become a DOVE, a volunteer from OJC who helps teachers in the Early Childhood Center at Kakiat Elementary School, contact sallykagan@gmail.com. If you are able to organize congregants and friends who would serve as mentors to high school seniors in the District, contact me.

Happy Chanukah! Let your light shine!

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

Counting up to 2016

Okay, I admit that I am not a big fan of the countdown to the new year. I find the experience fairly anti-climactic. Jewish tradition teaches me that time spent anticipating a time to come is wasted time. What matters most is what we do with the time we have.

Our Talmudic sages teach that the reason we ascend from one candle on Chanukah’s first night to eight on the last night, as opposed to counting down the days of the holiday, is that we are meant to ascend in holiness, not to descend. We therefore count up our days after Passover to the day we celebrate receiving the Torah.

The lesson speaks to me. I don’t enjoy counting down the days left in a vacation. I much prefer to look ahead to each day of celebration, adding to the joy, as opposed to counting down the days to its conclusion.

On the eighth night of Chanukah, I lit a chanukiah in my grandparents’ kitchen, reflecting on their 75 years of marriage and a celebration of time that would bring most of their children, grandschildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren together. Their lives have not been easy, though they have certainly had many causes for celebration. Surviviors of the Holocaust who have experienced their share of loss, their lives have been enriched by a generosity of spirit and a sincere appreciation for every relationship they share. A phone call today, a lunch date tomorrow, a card game the next day, a get-together with children on the weekend, a great grandson’s bar mitzvah in the summer — each day presents another opportunity to add a deposit to the time bank of our lives.

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On this first day of 2015, we can start counting up to 2016. Each day can present an opportunity. Each experience can be a jewel added to a treasure chest of time and experience. May we never wish the time away, may we never miss today by wishing for tomorrow. May 2016 arrive after 365 days completed with a sense of accomplishment, appreciation and ascension.
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Wishing you a happy and healthy 2015,

Rabbi Craig Scheff

Festival of the Daughters

What is a group of women doing in someone’s living room one night each month, introducing themselves with their matriarchal line and passing a candle from one to the next? We are celebrating Rosh Chodesh, the Jewish new month, a time designated by the rabbis as a festival for women. Rosh Chodesh Celebrations began this year to bring together women who are raising children at home for evenings of study, sharing and celebrating.
Each month our gatherings have been uplifting and meaningful. Through tears and laughter these women have found support and understanding in a close circle of OJC congregants, luxuriating in the gift of time dedicated to self and community.
Last night was a special Rosh Chodesh celebration as the group of younger moms met together with Sisters in Spirit, a group of OJC women whose nests are empty facilitated each month by Sally Kagan and Miriam Suchoff.
Rosh Chodesh Tevet is unique as it falls in the middle of a holiday, on the seventh night of Chanukah each year. Among the Jewish communities of North Africa, this auspicious night was designated as the Festival of the Daughters — a time for the generations to celebrate together. And so that is what the two Rosh Chodesh groups of the Orangetown Jewish Center did last night: we brought the generations together to celebrate.
One of the Rosh Chodesh Celebrations participants wrote about how much she enjoyed the special evening, “I always look to learn from the older, wiser and more experienced women (and men) in the world and often say that those sage people (like my dad) are hard to find these days. Their simple advice is so enlightening and comforting.”

Blessings 4

Together we lit the chanukiah and immediately felt the magic begin.

Second group with ChanukiahGroup with Chanukiah

After our opening ritual, Sally told the story of brave and wise Judith who saved the Jews who were under siege by the evil Holofernes. Sally’s storytelling technique was engaging and fun; you’ll have to ask her for a synopsis, but be sure to ask what she pulled out of her basket at the end of the story!
We used the lighting of seven candles to open us to seven questions about women we admire, blessings we would bestow on daughters, our own gifts to family, and more.

Hillary with candles

There were tears and words of support and much laughter. We concluded the evening with each woman offering a blessing to the woman to her right.

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Without a doubt, there is magic in a Rosh Chodesh group. A group of women empowers one another to reach inside and tap into a place we often ignore. The group energizes us so that people not only feel good about themselves, but about the women surrounding them! As Sally Kagan says, “This is the essence of women gathering for Rosh Chodesh: that we all have the ability within our souls to capture the roots of our faith, the belief that we can nurture and be nourished by one another, and to understand what those first women in the red tents knew: that through the camaraderie and learning we are stronger!”
If you are a woman of the Orangetown Jewish Center, we hope that you’ll join one of the Rosh Chodesh groups. Contact me at Rabbi.Drill@theojc.org for more information. If you are a blog reader who is not connected to the OJC, be in contact for information on how to create a group of your own. And if you are a man, be happy for the women in your life that there is a safe and nurturing place for us to grow in a Jewish context.
Enjoy this eighth night of Chanukah. I pray that the lights in the darkness bring optimism to your hearts.
Chag Chanukah Sameach and Chodesh Tov, Happy Chanukah and Happy New Month,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

On the third night of Chanukah, my rabbi said to me…

A past-president of our synagogue, Nohra Leff, once said to me, “I don’t just believe in miracles, I EXPECT THEM!” What a great way to go through life. Expecting miracles means that we engage in behaviors that ultimately create an environment where what some perceive as the “miraculous” becomes that much more possible.

expect miracles

In the fall of 1995, I took a job as part-time cantor at the OJC. Still a full-time student and father of two young boys, I treated the job like it was the fulfillment of a dream. A year later, I was negotiating my first contract to be Student-Rabbi and to stay on as Rabbi after my ordination. I was advised by people “in the know” to avoid such a commitment. After all, the synagogue had gone through so many rabbis in its relatively short history, and I “could do better,” according to the more experienced. Three years later, another past-president, Michael Scolnick, would ask me how long I thought the honeymoon could last. I am glad to say that, even in my 20th year, I still feel like we met just yesterday. Okay, maybe just the day before yesterday.

When I speak to rabbinical students in their final years at JTS, I try to emphasize that every synagogue community has the potential to be a place that can be transformed and re-dedicated to Torah, service and deeds of loving kindness. That can only happen, however, if the rabbi is willing to see him or herself as spending the rest of their professional life serving that one community. If we invest ourselves in a plan believing that we have only two years to work toward achieving our goals, then we doom ourselves to failure; but if we invest ourselves planning for the long term, we can create an environment where the seemingly impossible is indeed achievable.

miracle ahead

In the midst of Chanukah, we consider the nature of miracles, and the role that “dedication” (the literal meaning of the word Chanukah) plays in making one day’s worth of oil last for eight, or in leading one small band of soldiers to victory against overwhelming odds. I am so proud of what we have achieved and how we have continued to grow as a Conservative egalitarian community. Beyond our impressive numbers, we have attained a level of learning, service to the broader community, participation and spirit of which we can all be proud. The dedication that has brought us to this place in our history, however, has also given us the wisdom to understand that we must continue striving to build and to deepen relationships; to reach in to our membership and to reach out to those still searching; to develop more pathways into our OJC community, into a life of purpose and meaning, and into relationship with God; and to lookto the future with faith, optimism and vision. Some people might call our success a miracle. Perhaps we have witnessed something miraculous as a community; if so, the miracle only happened because of the wise people–presidents, boards, volunteers, congregants, professionals and clergy–who were looking for one, who expected one, and who acted to create the environment where such a miracle could take root.

3rd night

Chag Urim Sameach,

Happy Festival of Lights,

Rabbi Craig Scheff

 

Gratitude, Light and Miracles at the OJC

Like you, I cannot count the number of emails and posts I have received regarding the confluence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah this year.  Before I delete them all from my in-box or my attention, I want to consider the importance of this week for us as Jews, Americans, and members (or friends) of an amazing synagogue in Rockland County, New York.

GRATITUDE: Two holidays falling together on one day helped me ponder the gratitude I feel about being an American who is free to be an observant Jew.  In our family, we take turns around a table filled with three generations, sharing what we are thankful for. This year, we then turned to a chanukiyah sculpted by my father-in-law and chanted the blessings of the holiday. We had too much to eat, laughed at family stories told year after year and held quiet conversations to catch up with family members who live far away. We are blessed and recognized it with thankfulness.

LIGHT: The rabbis taught that the soul is God’s candle. When we kindle the lights with the shamash each night, it is clear to see the wisdom in this teaching. The flame is not diminished in the least as it touches the wicks of each night’s candle, causing each one to light.  So too with us. When we share the light of our unique souls, we are not diminished in the least. Rather, we spread light to others.

MIRACLES: This past Shabbat, Rabbi Scheff spoke about the requirement of human initiative to bring about miracles large and small in our day.  Consider the fact that Mitzvah Day has turned into Mitzvah-Week-and-a-Half and we can see how many congregants have taken the steps to bring about moments that should not be taken for granted.

Mitzvah-Week-and-a-Half began on Sunday, November 17 when a dozen congregants joined Rabbi Scheff in Israel for the annual Orangetown Jewish Center Mitzvah Mission.  Members of the group carried with them cozy hats knit by our congregants for children in Kfar Ahava, our beloved residential program for children who must be removed from abusive or neglectful homes. Watches were wrapped with gift cards created by our sixth grade Religious School students as b’nai mitzvah gifts for the children.  Teenager Tamar Weinger (traveling with her dad) brought rainbow looms with her and taught the children how to make the bracelets that are all the rage. Members of the Mission spent important time at the residence, renewing bonds, assisting children in a mitzvah project of their own, and celebrating the milestones of Kfar Ahava.  They also volunteered with Leket Yisrael and toured a handicap-accessible nature path in the north.  I hope that you read all about the adventures and miracles created by our fellow congregants in Rabbi Scheff’s daily letters from Israel.

Like all important Jewish days, Mitzvah Day began at sundown of the day before. Young children and their grownups gathered with Rabbi Ami and Loni Hersh and their boys for Havdalah and a movie. While the kids were engrossed in the movie, the adults created blankets for hospitals and nursing homes.

Youth Director Sharon Rappaport and kids make art

At the same time, our Ruach group (grades four and five) led by April Kupferman met to bake for the homeless.

Mitzvah Day, November 24, was an example of the OJC at its very best. A dozen congregants were trained in CPR at the Orangetown Ambulance Corps while one hundred congregants donated blood.

volunteer breakfast

After a breakfast and presentation about Leket Yisrael, congregants participated in a variety of activities in the synagogue as well as at a local nursing home, the Hi Tor Animal Shelter and the Salmon House, one of the Jawonio Group Homes for adults with disabilities.  In each gesture and interaction, our congregants were empowered to know that they can change the world. We can argue over the definition of “miracle” — but to me, the day was miraculous.

Mitzvah Day co-chairs Carolyn Wodar and Lorraine Brown

Kol hakavod to Lorraine Brown and Carolyn Wodar and their amazing team of volunteers for creating a meaningful, successful day.

We didn’t stop there!  Tuesday evening, November 26 was the OJC’s first hosting for Helping Hands of this new season.  For eight years, we have participated in this important interfaith Rockland County initiative that provides warm, dry places to sleep and hot meals to people who are homeless in our neighborhood.  OJC takes it to a different level under the enthusiastic guidance of Gabi Lewy, Geof Cantor, Jack Teadore, Susan Edelstein and Bruce Machlis who gather a large crew of volunteers to shop, set up, cook, greet and stay overnight (thank you Bruce and Liza Machlis!). Helping Hands guests at the OJC experience gourmet meals, donated warm clothing, and the respectful friendship of a crew of teens who participate year after year.

Opportunities for your own miracle making abound at the OJC!  Contact Adele Garber or Maddy Roimisher to find out how you can give your time and energy to the Chesed Committee.  Maybe next year, when Thanksgiving and Chanukah no longer coincide, I’ll be writing about Mitzvah Year instead of Mitzvah-Week-and-a-Half!

Join us on Tuesday, December 3 from 6:30 to 7:30 pm as we light Chanukah candles together as our amazing OJC community celebrates our countless miracles!

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

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