Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is Your Family a Mixed Bag? If so, You’re Not the Only One

           My colleague and master teacher here at the Friedman Commission for Jewish Education, Lynne Lieberman, recently taught a class at the Mandel JCC entitled, “Is Your Family a Mixed Bag?.” It was a weekly course to learn more and share experiences about families with members of different faiths and their connection to Judaism. The course was intended for anyone and everyone who was interested. Well, that’s just about all of us, right? I know that certainly includes me, and I don’t think I know of any of my friends who don’t fall under this category either. SO, one would think that Lynne’s class would be packed, but sadly, it was not. Perhaps it wasn’t being offered on a convenient day/time or maybe because people didn’t hear about it or people weren’t even looking for it (**sigh**).

This got me to thinking about these “mixed bags” that we all have and the issues, conversations and conflict that arise. Do you find yourself asking: Who do we invite to our family Seder? Can I invite my non-Jewish relative for an honor at my child’s baby naming or Bar Mitzvah? At the end of each calendar year, does your family discuss the “December Dilemma”?
{read this great article that took that discussion a bit further}
If we are all asking ourselves these questions, where are we getting the answers? If not at a class like the one Lynne was leading, then where? Are you talking to your friends? Other family members? Your clergy? Anyone? Who do YOU turn to when you have interfaith issues, questions, concerns or want to explore one faith or another? Do you look online for answers? I wonder if our local parents of different faiths feel comfortable going together to temple or to church? Do local families know that many of our local rabbis are open to discussing Judaism with non-Jews, offering classes and even performing conversions? Are any of the wonderful online resources used at all? 
In the work I do every day with our Jewish community partners (temples, Jewish organizations, JCC, etc.) planning family engagement opportunities, I can’t tell you how many times the conversation turns into a discussion about how we can make whatever family program, service or event we are planning inclusive for everyone. The professionals and board members understand that nowadays every family is a mixed bag.  The real dilemma is how do we make the two meet? How do we get our “mixed bag” families involved and engaged in our Jewish community that desperately wants to include them?
This is really tough, and there may not be one clear cut answer. It seems to me that we may need to call in a Matchmaker to make this “shidduch”! Or, maybe it’s still an evolving relationship that will take more time. I am not sure.
For now, I am encouraged to see that local families are starting to recognize and identify themselves as real “mixed bags” and are interested in exploring what that means and how they can fit into our Jewish community. I am proud to work with others at the Friedman CJE like Lynne who are so knowledgeable about not only Judaism but other faiths and how they intermingle and relate to each other.  I am blessed to have a job here where I get to help people every day connect to our Jewish community and to find something that speaks to them and helps their families grow no matter what kind of bag they own.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hiking Boots to Heels--How Connecting Families to Jewish Life & Learning Takes A Lot of Shoes

As I turned the corner from the owl exhibit to the snake display at Busch Wildlife I caught a glimpse of my hiking boots reflected on the glass of the boa’s habitat. This made me smirk a bit, but only for a second because my attention was quickly redirected to the four-year-old blond-haired girl tugging on my PJ Library® t-shirt. She was pointing to a dead mouse in the snake habitat. “Shhh,” I said, “it’s sleeping”. I thought it was a pretty good instant response; the little girl just smiled at me and moved on to the next exhibit.
I don’t wear hiking boots every day, but how cool is it that there are days in my work that I do? On that particular day, I was on a “Teva Trek” (Jewish nature walk) with preschool families. We wandered through a local wildlife preserve, looking at animals, appreciating nature and talking about the PJ Library® book, Fox Walked Alone. To see and hear these four-year-olds holding hands, walking together in pairs (just like the animals in the book), recalling the Hebrew word for “fox” (it’s shu-al, btw) and talking about showing kindness to animals the Jewish value of Tza’ar Ba’alei Hayim, (“the suffering of living things”) was pure excitement for me, their teachers, their parents and for the children. I could see their big smiles as they held up their homemade binoculars to look closely at the animals and when they got a high-five from our Shlichim (Israel ambassadors) for saying a Hebrew word correctly. It was a great morning.

That one great morning took weeks to plan with our partners: The One School at Temple Beth Am in Jupiter and with our Israeli Shlichim from our Jewish Federation, and boy did it pay off.
The children had a blast, the parents had fun too. But for me, it was what they left with that made the difference. Some left with a better understanding about nature, animals and the Jewish value. Others left with an understanding of what our Shlichim do while they are here from Israel in our community. Most left with my favorite takeaway— the knowledge that a PJ Library book can come to life in a new way and in a different place. 
I love these kinds of mornings. I don’t always get to see them first-hand:Most of our collaborative programs (over 30 each year) take place without my physical presence at the actual program/event. But on this day, with my hiking boots on, I could see for myself some of what happens all over our community almost weekly—a real Jewish connection is made.
After I said my “L’hitraot” (Hebrew for “see you later”), I went directly to the nearest Starbucks bathroom for a quick change from my hiking boots and cowboy hat to high heels and a business suit. Then I drove back to the Friedman CJE offices to make a presentation to our Board of Directors—another exciting opportunity, getting to tell others about the work we do every day! 
After my transformation, I entered the boardroom, USB thumb drive in hand, to give a Powerpoint presentation about the Jewish Family Life department and how we cover the 900-square- mile area that we call our Jewish community. I gave our board a thorough presentation about how we reach and engage young families raising Jewish children, acting as the concierge for parents to the Jewish community. I talked about collaborative programs like the Teva Treks, Story Times and Tot Shabbats, along with the consultation work we do throughout the community creating experiential Jewish learning opportunities in our preschools, religious schools and day school. My feet ached a bit by the time I finished (they probably would have rather I stayed in the boots), but in the end, the board members were engaged in our story, asking questions, wanting to learn more—which was even more exciting for me. 

By the end of the day when I finally took off my heels, it had been more than 12 hours since I had put on my boots. My feet felt sore but my heart felt GOOD. As I returned both pairs of shoes back to my closet, alongside the others, it dawned on me how engaging families really does take a lot of shoes!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

BTS (Back to School and SHUL!)

It's Back To School time, hooray! Time to gather those school supplies and to check to see how much of last year's uniforms will make it through another year. I am giddy as I read fliers for Open House events, Back to School Nights and First Day Coffee clutches. This gets me excited. A fresh slate, a new year with possibilities, for my kids and for me. So much to learn and to do. Not just for the secular learning, but for Jewish learning as well. A new year of Jewish education, learning about the holidays, traditions, values and teachings. A new year of 11 new PJ Library books coming to your home (and 1 awesome CD). 

Jewish learning may not be your first thought as we reset our alarm clocks and setup carpool situations, but I feel that now is the time for us think about it as well. Some parents choose a Jewish education for their children at a local synagogue. Others choose to "home-shul" their children, making everyday an enriching Jewish experience to learn from. For some, a Jewish day school is the right place for their child to learn and grow and to connect to his/her Judaism. Kudos to all of those efforts. Exposing our children to the richness of our religion and culture is an amazing gift. 

But, what about us, the parents? Sure, we probably went to religious school and Hebrew school ages ago, did the bar/bat Mitzvah thing. Maybe some of us were confirmed, went to a Hebrew High School or High School in Israel program or, maybe not. This has gotten me thinking, what about me? What am I learning? When do I have time to learn? Does helping my daughter with her Hebrew homework count? Is there more out there that I can learn from my religion? More that will help me in my life, as a professional, as a wife, a friend, a mom? The answer is probably a very big YES! And, this fall I am committed, not just to my children's Jewish education, but to my own. And, I challenge other moms and dads to do the same. For me, I will seek out the offerings at my spiritual home (my synagogue) and here at the Friedman CJE (www.cjepb.org) where adult education is being revitalized. I hope to share some of what I learn with you in the months ahead. So, happy Back To School time and don't forget to put yourself on the syllabus of Jewish life.

Register for PJ Library in the Greater Palm Beaches
List of local synagogues
Our Community Jewish Day School-Meyer Academy
Friedman CJE

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Passover Happens! -a reposting!

[this blog entry was so popular this time last year that we decided to repost it this year]

No matter where you are, who is visiting, which kid is sick, or what is happening in your life, Passover happens. This was made very clear to me by a friend last week as we started to talk about First Seder on Monday, April 14th.  I can feel the rise in  the anxiety level of some of my friends, I can see it in the eyes of some of the PJ library parents I run into. I say, fret not, have no fear, we can tackle this Passover, Seder and all, with gusto while having a good time.

I know one BIG fear is, what will the kids do at the Seder table? Will they behave? Will they embarrass you? What can you do to prepare them? These are valid concerns, but when looked at in a different light, when expectations are realistic, and with some preparation, a Seder can be a joyful experience that you and your children will talk about all year.

There are so many great resources available to us (visit http://www.cjepb.org/ to see full calendar), online chat rooms about Passover menus and recipes, Pinterest boards full of recipes and craft ideas, books for children (I recommend No Matzoh for Me by Nancy E. Krulik) and even a downloadable 30 Minute Seder Haggadah (http://www.30minuteseder.com/) whose testimonials claim to “save Passover” by blending tradition with brevity. I also like this easy to use guide online for a Developmentally Appropriate Pesach Seder for children ages 4-5 years old, designed by the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism). There's even a funny look at the holiday in the online article: "Sedering with Kids” with helpful tips and tricks.
 
These are all great places to start. And starting early is the key. Begin talking with your children NOW about the upcoming holiday in language and on a level they understand.
  • Take out Passover children’s books from the public library (or from your own PJ Library at home) and read them nightly for the weeks leading up to the holiday.
  • Download free Passover coloring pages from the internet and hang them around your home.
  • When the big night(s) come, assign jobs for the kids at the Seder: passing out of the kippot, serving the matzoh, going to wash their hands, opening the door for Elijah, etc.
These will all get the kids focused on a task and take them out of their seats enough so that they won’t get fidgety during the Seder.

Some other tips:
  • Seat the children with the adults. Creating a “kids table” is nothing more than asking for trouble.
  • Invest in some on the table distractions (a bag of plagues toys or finger puppets of the Seder plate objects) and incorporate them into your Seder meal.
  • Use your child’s favorite Passover book to tell the story of the Exodus instead of the one in your own Haggadah.
Most importantly, if you are excited, the kids will be excited. Passover is a totally interactive experience for the whole family to treasure. Still nervous about Passover happening? Contact me at the Friedman CJE, with questions and concerns, I am here to help and connect you in the Greater Palm Beaches.
Amy, a.bergman@cjepb.org, www.cjepb.org

Not registered for the PJ Library? Go to: www.pjlibrary.org, it's FREE!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Meshuggeneh Thanksgivukkah!

There's been a lot of talk about this year's convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, spawning online chatter full with wonderful recipes, decorations and activities. There are Pinterest Boards, websites and Facebook events feverishly discussing how we can best celebrate two holidays at once, with our Turkey
Turkey Menorah created by local PJ Library family, the Fridmans.
menorahs, acorn dreidels, and cranberry applesauce to accompany our latkes. As a creative person myself, I love all these discussions and the excitement I see whenever the rapidly approaching "Thanksgivukkah" is mentioned.


I also am sensitive to the fact that there are some built in downsides for families to this once in a 70,000 year holiday "collision". The question of: "With whom and where do we go for Thanksgiving/Hanukkah?" is never more daunting now that the Thanksgiving weekend also encompasses half of the nights of Hanukkah. 

For many families there are always decisions about where to go for Thanksgiving, especially when family is not local. Here in the greater Palm Beaches, this is true for over 75% of our local young families. Yes, most parents of young families raising Jewish children do not have their own parents living here locally. This may seem odd for a community rich in grandparents, but it is true. For some, this scenario may lead to some difficult decisions and some stress. Where "balancing" the family time by splitting Thanksgiving and Hanukkah visits were the solution in the past, this year it is not an option. Not to mention, our local children's winter break will NOT include a Jewish holiday this year.

So, what to do? CELEBRATE Thanksgivukkah in the best way you can, with whomever you can; it is a once in lifetime experience for everyone to enjoy. CREATE other times and occasions to celebrate with other family members in December. There are four Shabbats in the month, make one (or more) special! USE technology to "virtually" bring others to your Thanksgiving/Hanukkah dinner table or candle lighting.
READ a great Hanukkah story together, there's so many to choose from on the PJ Library website. FIND a local Hanukkah event or program to attend with your children. Thanksgivukkah will be one of those holidays no one will forget, so make it "unforgettable" for you and your family.

Continue to Connect, Learn and Grow in the Greater Palm Beaches, visit www.cjepb.org

Gobble Tov!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Holiday Reality Check


This one statistic always throws me for a loop: “only 20% of our young families raising Jewish children in the Greater Palm Beaches have an older generation living locally”. Hard to believe, but it’s true. Most of them do not have their own mothers or fathers living close by. One would think with the amount of residents over 50 in this community that this statistic would be higher---but it is not.

So, what does this mean? It means that the older generation, the ones who typically are the keepers of the family’s Jewish traditions, recipes and customs are not here to pass them along. Sure, recipes can be emailed and Skype sessions at holiday dinner time can take place, but the reality is-- our local parents are on their own. Or are they?

Instead of this scenario creating a dearth of Jewish life and celebration, quite the opposite seems to be to happening. Many local parents without local family around have reached out to each other, creating their own “new traditions” and forming groups to celebrate together and share customs.


Potluck holiday dinners and fun impromptu gatherings seem to be the solution. There’s challah baking, groups going to services together, Break the Fast meals and lots of “celebrating” happening. It may not be the same without grandma’s chicken soup or your favorite uncle’s stories, but it is happening HERE.


I wonder what their next steps will be.  How will our local families raising young Jewish children continue to connect each other and to their Jewish community? Only time will tell. I only hope they continue to take advantage of ALL this community has to offer, here’s to a great 5774!

Continue to Connect, Learn and Grow in the Greater Palm Beaches, visit www.cjepb.org

Friedman CJE’s calendar of events for Young Families Raising Jewish Children: https://www.cjepb.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=184&Itemid=355
 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Playing with Dolls

I never played with dolls when I was a little girl. I enjoyed my matchbox cars, blocks and my collection of miniature NFL helmets (I could name each team and their hometown by the time I was 10). This is why it is baffling to me how 30 years later, I can be so in love with two adorable dolls.

Bim and Bom's traveling house
was lovingly built by
 local PJ Library dad, Howard Fleischer
and beautifully painted by PJ mom and
Meyer Art teacher, Adrienne Turk.

Bim (the girl doll-carpenter) and Bom (the boy doll-baker) are part of the traveling curriculum project we created here at the Commission for Jewish Education to visit schools, Jewish community centers and synagogues  around our community (the Greater Palm Beaches) this year. They are the brother/sister main character duo from the PJ Library book, Bim and Bom, A Shabbat Tale by Daniel J. Swartz. They, along with their associated curriculum materials (created in part by local educators) and interactive components, are visiting classrooms (early childhood- 2nd grade) and joining in at family events and programs throughout the community.

Bim and Bom are actually the third traveling curriculum project the CJE has created and shared with the community. I am always amazed at what each location, school, class, teacher, student, child, mother, father, grandparent, etc. does with them. Yesterday was a "travel day" for Bim and Bom which means they come back to me for a quick refreshing (and a hug) before they carry on to their next location. I carefully fix them up, straighten their hair, wash their clothes and make sure the kit has everything it needs to go to the next stop.   I also take a minute to peek at their "scrapbook" which is a record of everything they do. Teachers paste in photos of what they did with the dolls and they record the curriculum pieces that "grew" from the students in response to Bim and Bom. They share what the students wanted to investigate as a class, and what Bim and Bom inspired them to learn about. You would not believe where a 4-year-old can go in his/her little mind after reading about how Bom bakes challah each week for those who can not afford it.

Inside the house on wheels is where all
 the scrapbook,  curriculum binders, music, and of course,
Bim and Bom are stored.

Yes, I love these dolls---not because they are soft and adorable and almost three feet tall, but because they are already inspiring the children in our community to think about mitzvot, to cherish their siblings and to explore new ideas. I love these dolls because they are challenging teachers to listen to their students and to let them steer the course for where today's lesson plans may go. And now, as I pack Bim and Bom into their house once more, I know that when I see them back here in about a month, I will love them even more.

For more information about this project, contact Amy Bergman, a.bergman@cjepb.org or Robyn Hurvitz r.hurvtiz@cjepb.org.