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Have You Questioned Your Faith Lately?

Posted on 01/25/2013 @ 07:11 PM

Twenty-one years ago this weekend, I had the pleasure of celebrating my Bat Mitzvah on Shabbat Shira (“Shabbat of song”), when we are taken back to the moment when B’nei Yisrael were challenged with trusting G-d to lead them through the Red Sea as the Egyptians advanced. The parsha contains Shirat Hayam (“song of the sea”), in which B’nei Yisrael give thanks and recognition to G-d for G-d’s role in saving their lives. This song is included every day in Shacharit (morning services), and as a result, I have a regular reminder of the gravity of my Bat Mitzvah and the words I chanted that day.

I remember that on that day, I chose to accept my own personal struggle. Do I have trust in G-d? Will I allow G-d to challenge me in life? How do I understand the role Judaism plays in my life? Every time I hear Shirat Hayam I am reminded of this. It’s not enough for me to know that B’nei Yisrael accepted their challenge - I have to be open to my own as well. As the years pass, my understanding of that personal challenge changes. The things I grapple with now are very different from those when I was a teenager, but what remains constant is my openness to the struggle. If I do not continually ask myself the tough questions about my faith, where does that leave me? Where would that leave each of you?

One of the most defining aspects of Judaism is that we are encouraged to constantly challenge ourselves, our practices, and our faith. What are the moments in your life that allow you to face this in yourself? When do you challenge your beliefs, or question your practices? Take pride in your willingness to question and change – without change we become stagnant and our beliefs can lose their meaning. This Shabbat, in honor of the Israelites’ challenge, think about your own beliefs and challenge yourself to regularly recommit yourself to the things you believe in.

This Shabbat Message was brought to you by Aleeza Lubin, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Midwest Hub

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When Was The Last Time You Made Bread?

Posted on 01/18/2013 @ 07:11 PM

When was the last time you made bread? No…REALLY made bread? Tilled and fertilized the field, planted, harvested, and threshed the wheat, and then ground and sifted the flour? As good as your best bread recipe might be, chances are you probably get your flour out of a bag like most of us do.

Just as we learned at Staff Conference that the birkat ha’mazon is particular moment of gratitude for our abundant food when so many people have so little, the prayer said over bread, the motzi (הַמּוֹצִיא in Hebrew), finds it origin in a Biblical text. Unlike the birkat ha’mazon, however, the motzi’s origin is a bit more complicated.

Psalm 104 describes the natural world as deliberate and harmonious, all deriving from God’s wisdom and intention. In verse 13-14 we read:

מִפְּרִי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ תִּשְׂבַּע הָאָרֶץ מַצְמִיחַ חָצִיר לַבְּהֵמָה וְעֵשֶׂב לַעֲבֹדַת הָאָדָם

לְהוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן-הָאָרֶץ

the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your work

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use

to bring forth bread from the earth

According to the author of this psalm, it is humans who bring forth food from the earth, not God! How then are we to explain the language found in the motzi?

מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ... …melekh ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.

….Master of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Did the Rabbis intend to remove human beings from the process of bringing food to the table, positioning God as the ultimate Nourisher and Provider? If the beracha existed in isolation then it would seem like that. However, knowing the source for this blessing changes the meaning completely. By claiming that it is God who ultimately provides bread, those who say the blessing are given the opportunity to reflect on the entire process, even those aspects which are outside of human power and ingenuity. So much of traditional Jewish practice and thought insists on the partnership between God and humanity even in something so mundane-seeming as producing a loaf of bread.

A more enriched understanding of Jewish practice allows us to dig a little deeper and wake up our most commonplace rituals, turning them into moments of profound connection.

This Shabbat Message was cooked up by Rabbi Zac Johnson, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Western Hub

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Who Will You Learn From Next?

Posted on 01/11/2013 @ 07:11 PM

Just the other day, I was describing staff conference to a newer colleague as a mix of a family reunion, learning conference, and work meeting. When you work a summer or other immersive program with someone, you become much more than just colleagues. We live together, eat together, learn from each other and help one another through easy and hard times alike. We rely on each other.

As we approach BBYO’s annual staff conference, I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite pieces of Jewish text. In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot (“the wisdom of our forefathers”), verse 6 includes this line: “Provide for yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend; and judge everyone charitably.” One of the things I love about this text is the connection made between friends and teachers. We learn best when we are in a comfortable and supported environment. We are most open to personal and professional development when we trust that those around us want us to succeed.

But I also appreciate that this text doesn’t assume that teachers – or friends – come passively. Provide, get – these are active, intentional words which underscore personal responsibility toward our own development. We must be proactive by seeking out the learning opportunities, and teachers (formal and otherwise!) who surround us – and discover what knowledge is available.

Many have looked quizzically at third portion of this passage – judge everyone charitably. Though a seemingly incongruous part of the maxim, it’s this last piece that seals the deal on this text’s special place for me. If we are going to be good teachers, students, friends, human beings, we have to approach everyone assuming the best of intentions, as painfully difficult as that might be. We have to assume that the person who comes late to a session at staff conference was involved in a very important phone call. The person who lingers in the door with their lunch is not snubbing you; they’re waiting to be invited to sit down. And that quiet, new staff member you’ve never met before – just wait until you see what they can teach you.

So as we go into Staff Conference 2013, keep this quote in mind and be challenged by it. And always ask yourself – what new friend can I learn from next?

Prepared by Rachel Meytin, Director of Panim & Jewish Enrichment

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Getting To Know You

Posted on 01/04/2013 @ 07:11 PM

This Shabbat we will read one of the most transformative lines in the whole Torah: “A new king arose over Egypt, and he did not know about Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) That simple concept - knowing about someone - still has the power to alter our communities.

What does it mean to “know” our neighbor? Our colleagues? Our constituency of families and teens? As we press forward with our membership and recruitment of 8th graders, we should always remember that we must know our neighbors. Know what is going on in our community; know our families; know our teens. Investing the time to know this new group of potential leaders could yield dividends beyond your wildest dreams. That wide-eyed 8th grader that paid membership yesterday might just be your Regional Godol in a few years. That shy 8th grader who is afraid of high school may be our future International Mit-Mom.

The reality is that, as our numbers grow it is harder for us to maintain that personal relationship that goes so far with our teens and their families. We are here to provide an opportunity that few other organizations can tout - the ability to provide meaningful, enriching leadership and Judaic programming enhanced through simply getting to know each other.

As we welcome in 2013, we should remember that we count our members not in aggregate (XYZ region has 500 members), but rather one at a time (XYZ region has one member, and another, and another - 500 times).

This Shabbat Message was brought to you by Justin Pollack, Program Director, Gold Coast Region BBYO

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How Will You Remember 2012?

Posted on 12/21/2012 @ 07:11 PM

In the Bible, Joseph after a transformation from slave to high ruler, reveals his identity to the brothers who sold him into slavery.

And Joseph said unto his brethren: 'Come near to me, I pray you.' And they came near. And he said: 'I am Joseph your brother, who you sold into Egypt. And now do not be grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me into slavery; for G-d did send me before you to preserve life. (Genesis 45: 4-5)

Instead of placing blame on his brothers for his enslavement and all that ensued, Joseph saw it as a positive, as it led to so much opportunity for himself and the Jewish people.

It’s common to close out a secular year reflecting on our life. We have the opportunity to think on our regrets and focus in on things that didn’t turn out how we’d planned. However, we also have the opportunity to learn from Joseph and reframe our history in a positive light. Instead of thinking about all the things that didn't go right, celebrate those that did and resolve to continue on those paths. Life throws us all curveballs. It is up to each of us to decide how we remember the experience and the outcome.

Over the next week and a half, as you celebrate two Shabbatot, and hopefully enjoy some rest and relaxation, think of Joseph and what his attitude allowed him to accomplish. How do you want to remember this year?

Shabbat shalom, and happy (secular) new year!

(This Shabbat message was brought to you by Jessica Leving, GMR Program Associate, and Aleeza Lubin, Midwest DJE)

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How Much Do You Value Hanukkah?

Posted on 12/14/2012 @ 07:11 PM

The great Jewish thinker, Maimonides, says people should be willing to compromise their personal dignity to promote the Hanukkiah as a symbol of God’s redemption of our national dignity.

The mitzvah of lighting a Hanukkah candle/lamp is a very well-loved mitzvah and so one needs to be very careful to do it in order to proclaim the miracle and to add praise to God and gratitude for the miracles he did for us. Even if one has nothing to eat except from tzedakah (handouts), one should borrow money or sell one’s coat in order to purchase oil and lamps to light. (Laws of Hanukkah 4:12).

Last week several of us looked at this picture and reflected our thoughts going into the holiday of Hanukkah. Some people spoke of the pride and strength this image projects while others spoke of the gratification in knowing that today, 70+ years after this picture was taken, the hanukkiah is still shone in windows around the globe as a symbol and proud projection – yet the Nazi party has no strength at all.

As we head into these last few nights of Hanukkah, I hope you celebrate our freedoms – of expression, celebration, dedication – and the strength with which we proudly declare to the world our Judaism and our commitment to making it a better place for the future.

If you wish to add to the conversation, please click on the picture. If you don’t see your coworkers’ thoughts, click on “comments and reactions” immediately under the caption.

May the ever-growing light of the Hanukkah menorah spread light across the globe and into each of your lives.

Chag Urim Sameach – happy holiday of lights!

This Shabbat message is brought to you by Rachel Meytin, Director of Panim and Jewish Enrichment.

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What's In A Picture?

Posted on 12/07/2012 @ 07:11 PM

What’s in a picture?

1. Go to http://bbyodje.tumblr.com/ 2. Take time looking at the picture posted. This seemingly simple photo has a lot going in within it. 3. What do you see? What contrasting imagery strikes you from this picture, from the most basic observation to the most abstract associations? 4. Post your comments and reactions. 5. Check back to see comments and reactions from all over the country. 6. Feel free to share with your teens, colleagues, stakeholders, and community partners.

Online platforms make it easier than ever to engage with others. BBYO is a leader making Jewish content as approachable and accessible for as many teens and families as possible.

This Shabbat message is brought to you by Rabbi Zac Johnson, Western Hub DJE

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On the Road Again- A traveling Shabbat Message

Posted on 11/30/2012 @ 07:11 PM

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” -Ernest Hemingway

In this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, Jacob journeys back to Canaan after a 20 year stay in Charan. These years, if you recall, happened after he fled Canaan following some mayhem Jacob caused with his family. Jacob is a little anxious about returning home and about his relationship with his brother. Fortunately, the story turns out to have a happy ending -- Esau and Jacob reunite, and Jacob is renamed, “Israel” (he who prevails over the divine) after a fight with an angel. Just a regular day with a typical family.

Journeys are not easy, and it’s often hard to predict where they will end up. As a BBYO professional, I consider myself to be supporting and helping every teen find their journey throughout BBYO and hopefully their future. We are lucky to have the opportunity to provide many different paths for them to choose from, and we hope that they learn from whatever choices they make. Like Jacob, teens must decide if they will come home, if they will wrestle with tradition, if they will adopt a new name and a new identity as they move through life.

While we consider our work as creating journeys for teens, our own personal journeys are still unfolding. We are in a different place than our teens -- some of us have families, we all have careers, but we are all still continuing on our own personal journeys.

Although you’ve come far on your journey, there is so much more to accomplish. This Shabbat lets all take a step back from navigating other’s paths to take a look at our own. As our life’s journey unfolds, where have you been and where do you want to go?

This week’s Shabbat message was created by Kevin Falik, Memphis BBYO Program Director

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Um... Thank You?

Posted on 11/16/2012 @ 07:11 PM

There’s a Jewish tradition that we should say 100 blessings each day -- over food, prayer, waking up, practically every action we take. But realistically, how often in your hectic lives do you pause to think… what am I really thankful for?

How often do we take the chance to think about what we have in our lives, what we’ve accomplished in the last day, week, month or year? If you were to create a list of your 100 blessings, what would it contain?

I am thankful for my family, friends, and colleagues. I am thankful that as a North American I have the freedom, not only to live and pray as a Jew, but to work for a Jewish organization. I am thankful that as a Jew I have a homeland; Israel and even in times of crisis I know it can persevere. I am thankful for the smaller things in life – like a new book to read or time to myself. The big things matter but we can’t lose sight of the smaller ones that are also worth thinking about.

What are you thankful for? What have you accomplished in life since the last time you stopped to think about giving thanks? What are you hoping you’ll give thanks for later today, tomorrow or next year? And, for those who celebrate Thanksgiving, as you gather with family and friends next week, you have a perfect opportunity to reflect upon what the past year has brought to you, and create your own list of blessings.

Thankfulness is contagious. Please share what you’re thankful for by tweeting it with #BBYOThanks by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend (but please don’t tweet on Shabbat!). We’ll compile the list and share it back with everyone.

We give thanks to Danny Bittker, Program Associate of Michigan Region, for crafting this Shabbat Message.

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Hurricane Sandy and Camels: What's Above and Beyond?

Posted on 11/09/2012 @ 07:11 PM

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Chayai Sarah, Abraham sends his servant Eliezer on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

Eliezer goes in with a plan. He asks G-d to present to him somebody who will not only give him water from the well, but who will also offer to go above and beyond and to give water to his 10 camels. This is no small task - retrieving enough water for 10 camels takes a significant amount of time and strenuous labor. Sure enough, not only does Rebecca give Eliezer water from the well, she also goes above and beyond and brings water for his camels. Rebecca says “yes” before being asked, and it is clear to Eliezer that she is the person for Isaac.

In order to accomplish BBYO’s mission, we also need teen leaders, advisors, community leaders, and BBYO professionals who are dedicated and hard working, who are willing to go above and beyond to help others in their community, and who are willing to say “yes” – sometimes even before they are asked.

This story is special and timely to me for several reasons: · Personally: My husband and I just celebrated our first anniversary of committing to go above and beyond to each other and to our family. · Communally: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy so many are going above and beyond to help others. · Nationally: Just this week, American citizens exercised their right to vote for an American President, Senators, and Representatives who they think will work hard and go above and beyond to lead our country.

How will you go above and beyond what is asked or expected of you? And how will you inspire others to go above and beyond with you?

(This Shabbat message was prepared by Casey Topol, BBYO New England Region Program Director)

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What Do You Do Now?

Posted on 11/02/2012 @ 08:11 PM

Whenever a natural disaster strikes, particularly when we’re geographically distant but emotionally near, we struggle with how to respond. Aside from the practical question of what can be done to ease the burden of so many affected by Sandy, how do we come to terms with a natural world which is the cause of so much destruction, loss, and pain?

Our teens are rallying themselves and organizing their own response, but what is ours – as individuals, as people with friends, colleagues, and loved ones in the affected area? As Jews?

Here are three initial things all of us can do this weekend to have a positive impact and demonstrate our communal responsibility for our extended family. Give time. You probably know someone in the affected area. Give them a call. Let them talk – or if they’re talked out, let them listen. Follow their lead and just be there for them. Give blood. The combination of a natural disaster with a widespread weather emergency has resulted in a significant shortage of blood. If you can’t give blood, you can volunteer at a blood drive. Most communities collect blood both through the Red Cross and through hospitals. Give money. It’s not the amount that matters, but the fact that by giving you are concretely assisting the community’s ability to get back on their feet. You can give to a specific organization (maybe ask your local friends when you’re talking to them) or check out: the URJ fund, the UJA-NY fund, and the Jewish Federations of North America fund. In addition, Uri L’tzedek is a justice organization that’s helping on the ground in NYC. Beyond these tangible actions, many of us are also struggling spiritually with how to internally respond to this tragedy. In the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami in March, 2011, Rabbi Shai Held from Mechon Hadar wrote a powerful prayer that is quite relevant today: Ruler of Creation, Master of the world: Have mercy on all those who are suffering from the raging waters and the storming waves. Have compassion on Your creatures – Look, O Lord, and see their distress; Listen, God, and hear their cries. Strengthen the hands of those who would bring relief, comfort the mourners, Heal, please, the wounded. Grant us wisdom and discernment to know our obligations, and open our hearts so that we may extend our hands to the devastated. Bless us so that we may walk in Your ways, “compassionate ones, children of compassionate ones.” Grant us the will and the wisdom to prevent further disaster and death; Prevent plague from descending upon Your earth, and fulfill Your words, “Never again shall there be another flood to destroy the earth.” Amen. So may it be your will.

Our responses, both physical and spiritual can change how we are affected by an event. Each of these actions will not only help others but will change how you internalize what happened.

So - what will you do, this weekend and beyond, to help all people affected by Hurricane Sandy, including yourself?

(This Shabbat message was prepared by Rachel Meytin, Director of Panim & Jewish Enrichment)

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You Want Me To Go Where?

Posted on 10/26/2012 @ 08:11 PM

What if I told you to pick up your life and leave it for a new one? This place is nowhere close, unknown, and you won’t be able to go back. It will not be an easy trip and you will face challenges you’ve never dreamed of.

To most of us, leaving a familiar place sounds unfathomable. Yet, this is what Abram (eventually, Abraham) does when God tells him to do so in this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha. And, in many ways blindly following someone else’s lead is actually not far removed from our everyday lives. Every day, in BBYO offices across the globe, teens walk in with a vision that we can’t really see. They see their future and need us to go with them. As professionals we are tasked with many things; It is important that we know that one of our most important roles is taking that blind step with our teens.

At staff conference we talked about the idea of building a “yes, and” culture -- one that accepts the challenges, the crazy, the impossible and responds with energy and positivity -“yes, and...” It is important that the “and” can encompass many things, but that all of them build to the challenge of shepherding our teens on a journey of change for themselves, the Jewish community, and the world. The change they dream is often “unfathomable” to those on the outside. We must accept that what will come might currently look dark, but that if we want to understand we must light the torch and begin walking together.

As those that get the honor of walking with these teens, we are blessed to be the agents of the agents of change.

How will you say “yes, and” to lead BBYO teens onto the path of change this week?

(this Shabbat message was crafted by Mitch Liebeskind, BBYO Director, Baltimore and Mikah Goldman, International Program Associate)

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How Are You Seeking Peace?

Posted on 10/19/2012 @ 08:11 PM

How are you seeking peace?

For centuries, olive branches have taken on the universal and symbolic meaning of peace and prosperity. Consider the following story in Greek Mythology: There was a certain Greek city that both Athena and Poseidon wished to become patron of and to give their name to. They competed for this honor and offered the city one gift each. Poseidon struck his trident into the ground and produced a saltwater spring. Athena planted an olive tree. Because of the contribution of olives and olive oil, and the peaceful nature of planting a tree, the residents accepted Athena’s gift and named the city Athens.

Towards the end of the flood in this week’s Torah portion (Parshat Noach) when it seemed that maybe the floodwaters were receding, Noah sent out a dove to see if there was dry land again. After an unsuccessful attempt, the dove brought back an olive leaf to Noah, and Noah knew that the flood waters were subsiding.

The object that the dove brought back could have been a rock, another type of leaf, or really anything that meant that dry land was exposed. Instead, it was an olive leaf – again a symbol of peace and a symbol that the destroyed world was now safe and that peace had replaced the raging waters.

Bakesh Shalom V’Rodfehu (To Seek Peace and Pursue It) is an important Jewish value. As leaders in BBYO, when conflict arises in our organization we have an opportunity to seek peace. Let’s strive to create a culture of extending the olive branch to those with whom we disagree, and to model the value of seeking peace to all of those who affiliate with our organization.

How will you seek peace during this upcoming week?

(This Shabbat message was led by Jessie Greenspan, Program Associate,BBYO Lake Ontario Region)

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If You're Not Working, Can You Take A Break?

Posted on 10/12/2012 @ 08:11 PM

If you’re not working, can you take a break?

During the Havdallah blessings that close Shabbat, we say המבדיל בין קודש לחול - Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol. We distinguish between time that is kadosh (holy), and time which is chol (commonplace). In thinking about any Shabbat practice, this phrase is always forefront in my mind. Shabbat is created explicitly to give us a break from the rest of our lives. Our workweeks, our meetings, our daily responsibilities – all have a different context as we separate from them for 25 hours and celebrate that break.

During the High Holy Days, it’s easy to miss that distinction for Shabbat. There are so many days where regular life is suspended, when we’re already celebrating, learning, feasting and resting, that Shabbat’s uniqueness gets lost. I actually really look forward to the end of the holidays, as it marks Shabbat’s return to its rightful place. We will finally have a full week of work and school. We will finally be back to a place where we can look forward to Shabbat for all it is supposed to be. Shabbat without the work-week just doesn’t have the same distinction.

And really, if you’re not working – can you take a break?

(this Shabbat message was led by Aleeza Lubin, DJE, Midwest Hub)

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What Are We Supposed To Be Joyful About?

Posted on 10/05/2012 @ 08:11 PM

What are we supposed to be joyful about?

In the biblical book of Devarim 16 (Deuteronomy), we read a long passage describing when and how the Jewish harvest festivals should be celebrated. In the description of Sukkot, verse 15 reads:

שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, תָּחֹג לַה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בַּמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר ה': כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ, וְהָיִיתָ, אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ. You shall hold a festival for Adonai your God seven days, in the place that the Lord will choose; for Adonai your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.

What can this agrarian-based message of hope and joy offer us urban folk? As my teacher Rabbi David Hartman has written, joy is not solely expressed in the celebration of Sukkot, but is a fundamental aspect of living a full, Jewish life. Rabbi Hartman describes three types of joy:

· Joy as the feeling of dignity and of adequacy, when you feel someone responds to you and accepts you as the person you actually are. · Joy as the product of complete actions, fulfilling tasks which have obvious and meaningful ends. · Joy as the feeling of expansion, going beyond one’s self and feeling that another has become part of your own consciousness.

For Hartman, these three types of joy are essential to human beings feeling as though they are in nurturing and stable relationships, with other people, and with God.

For us, as stewards of the experiences which are helping build the hearts and minds of young Jews, are we providing our teens with moments of true joy, as Hartman defines it? What might be the differences between ‘having fun’ during programs and experiencing joy?

May you all have a Shabbat Sukkot of true simcha!

(This Shabbat message was written by Rabbi Zac Johnson, DJE of the Western States Hub)

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Who Would You Invite?

Posted on 09/28/2012 @ 08:11 PM

Whew – what a busy two weeks: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, lots of introspection, much judgment, tons of food, no food… Glad the holidays are over! Oh, wait. They’re not.

Tishrei is four weeks of fun, and Sukkot begins on Sunday evening. Sukkot has much to explore, including the building of the sukkah itself and the lulav and etrog we wave each day. One interesting modern-ish addition to the holiday is the idea of inviting “ushpizin” – guests – into your celebrations. Almost all Jewish holidays encourage guests, but on Sukkot we go a step further by inviting a series of Biblical heroes to highlight the important roles they play and messages they can bring to our lives today. Here is a modern take, listing ushpizot (female guests) along with the more traditional list.

Consider the question: Who would you invite? Who, alive or dead, famous or not, would you want to sit down and have a meal with? What questions would you ask? What would you want to tell them about your life, your Judaism, and your celebrations? Please see the attached (or downloadable) one-pager of questions and suggested lists of ushpizin. If you have a list to suggest, please email it to rmeytin@bbyo.org and we’ll compile a BBYO resource.

So… who will join you in your Sukkot celebrations? (This Shabbat Message was coordinated by Rachel Meytin, Director of Panim and Jewish Enrichment)

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It's 4 PM. Do you know where your reflection is?

Posted on 09/21/2012 @ 01:54 PM

We, as an organization, have core values and structure (even an educational framework!), which we are constantly revisiting to find room for improvement and ways to grow. We also always strive to push ourselves professionally and personally. Yet how often do we take time just to reflect?

That is the goal for this Shabbat -- but for ourselves.

This coming Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Shuvah is a reference to t’shuvah (returning, retracing our steps, coming home), the act we are challenged to engage in during the 10 days of repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

These 10 days can be awesome and special. We are given 10 solid days of personal therapy to reflect upon ourselves and the past year – at no charge. This is the time to pause and think about YOU and your life’s framework. Where do you have room for improvement in your life? Where are places you have excelled this year and would like to continue to grow? What are your hopes and dreams for the year to come, and how can you make them happen?

How will you take your own personal framework, reflect, and rebuild it to be bigger and brighter in the year to come?

(this Shabbat message was led by Mikah Goldman, Jewish Enrichment Team)

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Preparing for the High Holy Days

Posted on 09/14/2012 @ 08:11 PM

How are you preparing for the holidays?

We’re in the final days before the High Holy Days. Some have been gathering each morning to hear the shofar while others have picked their apples and are ready to dip them in honey. And some communities have already begun saying selichot, prayers of repentance. All through Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, people prepare. We prepare to celebrate and consecrate, to examine ourselves and to atone for our transgressions. These are not easy tasks! As we get closer to Rosh Hashanah on Sunday night, our minds and bodies need to match our words as we reflect, seek forgiveness, and request to be rewritten in the book of life for another year.

Thankfully, we are blessed to have Shabbat immediately precede Rosh Hashanah – giving us a perfect opportunity to rejuvenate before we launch fully into the holidays. There are many ways you can prepare your body and mind, including:

Go for a run or a swim.
Take a yoga class or meditate.
Pray.
Take an extra long nap.
Eat plenty of healthy foods and drink lots of water.

Rosh Hashanah is one of the most significant days of the year. Just as you would prepare for any other significant moment, do what you can to free yourself from the stresses of the week past so that you can move into the holiday with intentionality. That preparation will go a long way as you contemplate the significance of the year ahead, learn from the year behind, and immerse yourself in the celebration of the new year.

This Shabbat message was led by Aleeza Lubin, Midwest DJE

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Life Unplugged

Posted on 09/07/2012 @ 08:11 PM

Tags: Shabbat

Do you think you could unplug for a whole day? With multiple screens always an arm's length away, and with lives like ours where there is always something else which could use our attention (another email to check or another status to post), the idea of unplugging for a full 24 hours is near impossible to fathom, now more than ever. Because of this, different people from all walks of life, religions, and cultural heritages are joining national movements like Sabbath Manifesto and Unplug & Reconnect which urge people to put down their devices and fully enjoy certain aspects of our lives which may get pushed aside in our busy, technology-saturated culture. The folks at Sabbath Manifesto even came up with 10 Principles to help people start building their own days of rest, some of which might sound familiar...

1) Avoid technology
2) Connect with loved ones
3) Nurture your health
4) Get outside
5) Avoid commerce
6) Light candles
7) Drink wine
8) Eat bread
9) Find silence
10) Give back

Whether it's doing just one or all ten of these principles, do you think you could challenge yourself to turn off the computer, put down the phone, and make your own Shabbat, whether it's Friday night to Saturday night, or Tuesday? Let me know what you think!

This Shabbat message was led by Rabbi Zac Johnson, Western States DJE

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Jewish Life in 6 Words

Posted on 08/31/2012 @ 01:23 PM

How would you sum up your Jewish identity or contemporary Jewish life in six words? Smith Magazine and Reboot (www.rebooters.net) collaborated to produce a new book called Six Word Memoirs on the Jewish Life – a compilation of six-word entries, each called a Six Word Memoir, and here are some examples: • Everything with us a question, why?
• Chosen for something. Not sure what…
• Bagels, bagels, bagels, bagels, bagels, lox!
• An atheist, yet still a Jew.
• Moved to Israel. Rest is history.
• Crosses don’t work on Jewish vampires.
• Birth bris bed bath and beyond.
• My mother worries, therefore she is.
• A half Jew gets wholly ostracized.
• Tried to explain gefilte fish. Failed.

If you are looking for a novel icebreaker or program, consider having teens create their own Six Word Memoir on their Jewish life and then having them share it with each other. We invite you to share with us your own Six Word Memoir on Jewish life!

This Shabbat Message was written by Ira Dounn, Northeast Director of Jewish Enrichment

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