Tuesday, August 28, 2012

an interesting Forward piece by Debra Nussbaum Cohen: "Why Don't Girls Wear Kippahs At Camp Ramah?"

Why Don't Girls Wear Kippahs At Camp Ramah?
August 28, 2012, 6:00am, 
By Debra Nussbaum Cohen


Eons ago, it seems, when Boychik was in elementary school and not the towering young man he is today, we went to a Camp Ramah parlor meeting to get a feel for the camp where we expected to send him for his first overnight summer experience. It seemed like an obvious fit. We belong to a Conservative shul and Boychik attended a Jewish day school. Since Ramah is the Conservative movement's network of camps, it would be a place where he could continue engaging with Jewish values and skills — while playing gaga.

After the camp's director gave his presentation, I asked if campers were expected to wear yarmulke, and for those over 13, tallit and tefillin. I was surprised when the director said that boys are. Full stop. No mention of girls. So I asked about girls. He deflected, and I asked again. Girls may wear the ritual items if they wish, he said, but they are not required to. When I asked why, he said because Conservative Judaism is a pluralistic movement and not everyone comes from an egalitarian home or synagogue. This was from the director of a camp not in the South or in Canada, where you might expect conservative attitudes from Conservative rabbis, but from the camp designated for New York City-area kids.

That early experience with Camp Ramah came to mind when reading this recent piece by Rabbi Elyssa Joy Auster, who discussed her surprise that the girls at a different Ramah camp were neither interested in wearing kippot nor expected to.

Little seems to have changed in the years since the Camp Ramah parlor meeting. There is much that Ramah camps do well, including teaching Hebrew and engendering a love for Israel. But modeling ideal religious behavior is also part of the job of the Conservative movement's camps — even if that means managing expectations of parents who might object to their daughters wearing kippah, tallit or tefillin.

Unfortunately, there is still a high degree of ambivalence in the Conservative movement about Jewish women's observance of these ritual customs. Rabbi Auster goes so far as to say that it reflects a lack of support for women as religious leaders and for developing female lay leadership. Perhaps that's true. I'm not sure, but I do know that when the ambivalence is transmitted from the top, it's not going to change.

The camp Ramah website says:

The current mission of Ramah is to create educating
communities in which people learn to live committed Jewish
lives, embodying the ideals of Conservative Judaism.

I would argue that both women and men wearing kippah, tallit and tefillin embodies the ideals of Conservative Judaism, of passion for observance and an understanding of our rituals. Are there challenges facing the movement's leaders at least as pressing as this one? Certainly — starting with articulating why someone should choose to be a Conservative Jew. But I see this as part and parcel of the overall challenge facing the movement, and the response ought to include articulating and modeling all of the reasons that it makes sense to identify as Conservative Jews, living wholly as Jews and wholly in the modern world. Teaching attachment to the ritual objects that are part of living embodied Jewish lives is part of that process.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/161520/why-dont-girls-wear-kippahs-at-camp-ramah/#ixzz24rhobSLM

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Koach college student survey

Koach college student survey

by Dan Ab -  Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Koach is the Conservative movement's organization for the benefit of college students. Since I was critical of some of their recent challenges I wanted to also note something positive. In advance of their next planning meeting (in about 1.5 weeks), they are doing a survey of college students and recent (in the last year) graduates. If you fit this description and have opinions about how a national organization can contribute to egalitarian Jewish observance on college campuses, please take their survey as soon as possible: savekoach.org/survey

If you're not part of the target population for the survey, but you've got opinions, why not share them in the comments below? Some of their leaders read comments posted here.

Here are my opinions:
The survey includes a draft vision/mission. Both are focused on "supporting educational & experimental programmings on campuses." This treats Jewish practice like another course, as though college students are all still learning what it means to be Jewish. At the core, this ignores college students as practicing adult Jews. The Conservative movement has opinions on what it means to be an observant Jew, so I'd expect a college organization to support that goal.

Given Koach's limited resources, what would this mean? It means connecting students to resources for observance on or near their campuses. Keep track of where students who are Ramah/USY alums or whose family went to a Conservative synagogue go to college. Make sure these students know what resources exist in their college communities, whether these are Hillels, local synagogues, and local independent minyanim. Even in small towns, you don't need a Chabad house or even locally paid staff to have local families host students for Shabbat dinners. If Koach can identify campuses with small Jewish populations, but students who might still want a Jewish community, those are targets for more active engagement, whether directly from Koach or by bringing them to the attention of other organizations. Particularly for campuses with few Jewish students, the Koach conventions and Koach-led networking between campuses can be good resources for observant students.

I also think a web presence focused on news and opinion is not the best use of resources. Anyone can post an opinion, but it takes resources to make a site have high enough quality to regularly attract college students. The website could be a place that contains resources on Conservative Jewish practice (perhaps in collaboration with the Rabbinical Assembly to make a resource that benefits more than just college students). The resources currently there seem to be only slightly beyond an introduction to Judaism class. If there's student-generated content on a website, it needs to live in this decade and let students regularly contribute. I'm not sure what this would look like, but forum that allow pseudonymity or anonymity where students can ask questions and get feedback regarding Jewish life on campuses or ask opinions from Conservative rabbis might be a good start. Simply including a way for a student enter their name so that someone can help connect them to families in the local Jewish community would be beneficial.

Overall, I'm glad to see someone in Koach is trying to get feedback from current students about the organization's purpose. Even if you don't have any positive connections to the Conservative movement, how could a hypothetical national organization with a $1 million dollar budget and a goal of supporting egalitarian and observant Jewish life on campus have benefited you?

On Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 4:04 AM, <shefa@yahoogroups.com> wrote:
> ________________________________________________________________________
> Please forward to college students!
> Posted by: "Nina S. Kretzmer" ksnygirl@yahoo.com ksnygirl
> Date: Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:08 pm ((PDT))
> Dear hevreh,
> In two weeks, United Synagogue will be hosting a KOACH Summit to discuss what KOACH is and what it should be. I am involved in a group called Save KOACH which has been working around the clock to raise money and gather student input about a new foundation for Conservative college outreach. We need students to take the following survey as soon as possible: http://savekoach.org/survey
> Without their input, we cannot fully represent them. Please send this to the Jewish college students you know, even those from Class of 2012.
> Kol tuv,
> Nina S. Kretzmer

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Chancellor Eisen Rocks Aerobics, a 6'8" Bar Mitzvah Boy, and Happy 20th to Ramah Yachad-Ukraine!

NRC Website Banner
National Ramah Commission, Inc. of The Jewish Theological Seminary

August 24, 2012

6 Elul 5772

JTS Chancellor Eisen Rocks Tefillah Aerobics at Ramah!


"I continue to be amazed at the vibrancy of our Ramah camps."
                                                            - Chancellor Arnold Eisen, JTS

Tefillah AerobicsThis summer, Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary visited Ramah Outdoor Adventure in the Rockies, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, and Camp Ramah in New England. While at Ramah New England, he dived right into the Ramah experience as a baker at Cafe Ramah, but not before his early morning session of Tefilah Aerobics led by JTS and Ramah alumnus Rabbi Jeremy Ruberg. Watch the Chancellor (far left) dance with the 6th graders of Solelim.              read more...

About his visits, Chancellor Eisen reflected:

"I continue to be amazed at the vibrancy of our Ramah camps. Thousands of campers and staff living joyously in Jewish time and space is one of the most important experiences we can provide for Jewish strength and survival. My dialogues with teens were nothing less than inspiring. I believe that ongoing support of Ramah and close partnership with Ramah is fundamental to the mission of JTS, not in any way a peripheral concern. We must re-dedicate our movement's leadership to building serious Jewish commitment and qualified future leadership, and there is simply no better place than Ramah camps for this to take place." 

 6'8" Israeli Basketball Player

Becomes Bar Mitzvah 


Although I love playing basketball with campers and staff when I visit Ramah camps, I was less than thrilled to be guarding Guy Levitsky, a 6'8" new Israeli sports counselor at Ramah Canada during June staff training week. Needless to say, he scored at will. Little did I realize ... read more

(Blog post from Rabbi Mitch Cohen,
National Ramah Director)
Guy Levitsky

 Register Today

for Two Amazing Israel Trips

Ramah Bike Ride
Join Ramah for five days of biking or five days of hiking through Southern Israel, plus Shabbat, all while raising money for Tikvah, Breira, and Yofi, Ramah's programs for children, teens, and young adults with special needs. Register today for the second Ramah Israel Bike Ride or Ramah Israel Hike Trip: Ramah Hikes the Negev. Registration is fully refundable through December 1, 2012.

 Happy 20th Birthday,
Ramah Yachad-Ukraine!

Ramah Yachad-Ukraine
Twenty years ago, in a former Soviet Army officers' resort, Camp Ramah Yachad-Ukraine was born. ... Gila Katz, founding director of the camp, recalls, "When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, there were only Communist camps to attend. I so wanted to go, but my parents never allowed me. My dream was to attend a camp." That dream came true in 1992 when then director of Midreshet Yerushalayim, Rabbi Yossi Penini, asked Gila to run Camp Ramah Yachad in its first... read more

 Ramah Rabbis in the News

and in the Blogosphere


(Rabbi Eliezer Havivi, Ramah Darom)

Hava Nagila and Questions of Jewish Joy
(Rabbi Joel Seltzer, Ramah Poconos)
(Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, Ramah Berkshires)

Monday, August 20, 2012

JTA: "Takin’ it to the schools: Jewish Outreach efforts go public"

JTA: "Takin' it to the schools: Jewish Outreach efforts go public"

Members of the Jewish Student Union of Greater Atlanta, an organization for Jewish teens who attend public high schools, making dreidels for Chanukah.  (Courtesy National Conference of Synagogue Youth)

1 out of 3

Other Media

Members of the Jewish Student Union of Greater Atlanta, an organization for Jewish teens who attend public high schools, making dreidels for Chanukah. (Courtesy National Conference of Synagogue Youth)


TEANECK, N.J. (JTA) -- When Rabbi Adam Raskin arrived at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., last year, he was determined to reach out to teenagers uninvolved with the Conservative synagogue's youth activities. 

He approached the principal of Winston Churchill High School, also in Potomac, with a proposal to bring food to the school periodically, so he could schmooze with Jewish students during their lunch periods. 

"I decided that the best way to connect with them is to go to where they are," he said.

Raskin is not alone in that thinking. Jewish groups have long been reaching out to teens to fight post-b'nai mitzvah burnout. For several years now, some organizations have been taking Judaism directly to teens in their schools.

In 2002, a group of Persian Jewish students in a Los Angeles public high school decided that they wanted to do something Jewish and sent an e-mail to a yeshiva in Israel that eventually reached the Orthodox Union. That was the beginning of the Jewish Student Union, the OU's public school outreach program.

Now some 10,000 high school students, of various observance levels, at more than 250 JSU clubs across the country get together over kosher pizza during their lunch periods to talk about Israel, what happened in class that day or anything else on their minds. 

"It's the one place in schools Jewish kids can spend time with each other," said Rabbi Steven Burg, the international director of NCSY, the OU's group for teens. "The ultimate goal is to encourage the kids to do something Jewish. Wherever that journey takes them is up to them."

The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism doesn't have a program similar to JSU, but the organization is looking toward "a whole new era of youth engagement," said Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue. 

"We're also looking, in a very broad sense, at how we can better connect with children and teens and how we can strengthen learning in Conservative synagogues – not just classroom learning but all sorts of learning, experiential and otherwise," he said.   

In Maryland, Winston Churchill High welcomed Raskin on the condition that he handle all of his own promotion. Shortly after the High Holidays, the rabbi began showing up in school with sandwiches from a local kosher deli, and some 30 students have joined him throughout the year. Some are members of the synagogue, some had gone to preschool there but haven't been back since and some are completely unaffiliated, but all are welcome, he said.

"He wants to get to know everybody and make us have a good time, both at the synagogue and away from the synagogue, with our Jewish identity," said Emily Dahl, 16, a rising junior. 

Jenna Cantor, an 18-year-old recent Churchill graduate, also praised the rabbi's efforts.

"Everybody enjoyed coming together with their fellow Jewish students during a different setting during a normal school day," she said. "It's nice to bond over religion at school."

Discussions have ranged from what it's like to be Jewish in the school to what happened in history class that day. The conversations are organic and student-led, Raskin said, and that's the way he wants it -- light and informal, allowing students freedom of expression.

"Some of the most interesting outcomes have been when everybody else leaves, some kids stay and talk about personal issues, share life stories," he said. "That's been tremendous. I don't know where we would have had that opportunity or they felt safe enough to have that sort of conversation."  

The program has become so popular that Har Shalom parents whose children attend other area high schools have begun asking the rabbi to replicate the program. Raskin also has had preliminary conversations with the students about formalizing the event into a Jewish student club.

However, the most important result, he said, is the positive connections that the lunches are creating for the students with each other, the rabbi and the synagogue.

"Not everybody will do that for high-schoolers," Dahl said. "We felt we were appreciated and he cared what we had to say." 

Until ending its national operations last year when it handed responsibilities to regional offices in San Francisco and Baltimore, The Curriculum Initiative had spearheaded Jewish programming on the national level for non-Jewish private schools for 15 years. Neely Snyder, director of teen engagement at The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore, runs the Teens Can Identify program there in 14 private schools, reaching 1,500 students, of whom 850 are Jewish. 

"Many are looking to meet other Jewish students or reconnect with old friends," she said. "And others are primarily interested in exploring their Jewish identity as they are beginning to define for themselves who they are and how they relate to the world."

Some TCI programs in the past year have included challah and hamantaschen-baking, discussions on Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was held in captivity by Hamas for more than five years until his release last fall, and a week of events marking Sukkot -- all implemented in collaboration with Jewish student leaders, Snyder said. TCI programming not only has enhanced diversity in the schools, she added, but also has led to personal growth among students.

Snyder credits TCI's inclusion of Jewish and non-Jewish students as a reason behind its success.

"The Jewish cultural conversations and holiday celebrations held at these schools are open to everyone, and the Jewish students have demonstrated more interest in being present when their peers are there as well," she said. "This also expands the conversation to universal themes so that anyone, regardless of background, is comfortable and has something to contribute."

With TCI operating solely in private schools, issues that breach church-state separation are not brought up, but they do remain a concern for public school programs. 

In 1984, Congress adopted the Equal Access Act, which allowed public schools to make their facilities available to religious student-led and -run organizations. The Supreme Court upheld the act.

The Anti-Defamation League, however, finds the idea of any religious organization in public schools "disturbing," according to Steven Freeman, the organization's director of legal affairs. Despite the Supreme Court's approval, the ADL remains wary of blurring the line separating church and state.

"That line is a very slippery line," Freeman said. "Now it's a question of making sure there isn't proselytizing going on."  

The ADL's sentiment appears to be shared by the Union for Reform Judaism.

"We're very uncomfortable with the notion of religion in public spaces," said Rabbi Daniel Freelander, URJ's senior vice president. 

Some URJ congregations offer afterschool programming for students, he said, also noting that URJ has sent youth group advisers to some prep schools at the schools' invitation. Freelander praised efforts to reach out to unaffiliated Jewish students, "but it's unlikely you're going to see Reform programs moving into public school buildings," he said.

When initially creating the JSU model, the OU, too, was concerned about separation issues, but looked to the plethora of Christian clubs meeting in public schools as precedent, Burg said. All students, Jewish or not and of any observance level, are welcome in JSU clubs and no proselytizing takes place, he added.

"There's so much to be gained by going to them, especially when it comes to kids," Raskin said of outreach efforts. "It just demonstrates that they're an important population and we care about them."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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