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When is a prayer like a sacrifice?

Posted on 04/05/2013 @ 08:11 PM

Tags: prayer

The Torah portions over the last few weeks have focused on the different sacrifices, “korban or korbanot,” that God described to Moses. These sacrifices included sin offerings, peace offerings, and offerings for various holidays. They were to be performed on the altar in the Tent of Meeting and eventually at The Temple in Jerusalem. But once The Temple was destroyed, sacrifices can no longer be offered. So, how can these laws be relevant to us today?

To answer this question, let’s start with the point of the sacrifices themselves. The meaning of the root of the word Korban actually translates to “closeness.” Korbanot (plural) were given in order for the Jews to bring themselves closer to God. When the Holy Temple was destroyed, the Rabbis developed prayers to replace the act of sacrifice in the temple and bring people closer to God. Prayer services follow the same repetition patterns (three times daily with an extra on Shabbat) and share many of the same focus points as sacrifices did. Prayers - and then communal prayer services - become the way in which Jews could acknowledge a higher power, give thanks, atone for sins, and bring themselves closer to God.

For some, prayer is an effective way to achieve “closeness” to God, to Judaism, and to spirituality.  Reciting traditional prayers can bring someone not only closer to the divine, but also to the generations of Jewish people who recited the very same words.  Prayer services can help build kehillah (community), console an individual in distress, or help an individual deepen their own Jewish identity.

In January, ONR BBYO was honored to be given our very own Torah by a very dedicated donor. Right before Pesach at our Regional Convention, I had the honor of working with a teen to plan and lead a Shabbat morning service and Torah reading for his very first time. He later expressed that this experience was one he will never forget and helped him feel much closer to his Judaism.

For many of us, however, traditional prayer may not always be a comfortable or familiar route to achieve “closeness.”  This Shabbat, I challenge you to pick a circumstance in your life that you are thankful for, wish to atone for, or seek help for, and think about expressing that wish through a prayer. It doesn’t have to be a traditional prayer – you can even write your own. Even though we no longer make sacrifices on the altar in the temple, and even for those of us who don’t regularly attend services at a synagogue, prayer can still be a powerful vehicle to bring us closer to our religion, spiritually, and the sometimes seemingly outdated laws of our Torah.

This Shabbat Message is offered by Leora Hoenig, Program Associate, Ohio Northern Region


How do our mouths celebrate a holiday?

Posted on 03/29/2013 @ 08:09 PM

Tags: seder

Dear Midwesterners,

For the first time in over a decade, my parents and I had seders together this year.  Whether it was because I lived far away, or making plans was too cumbersome, Pesach had never been a family-oriented holiday for me they way it is for so many others.  After we said goodbye to our first night’s hosts around midnight, my mother turned to me, saying “I never knew you were supposed to discuss what is written in the haggadah! That was the best seder I ever had!” With just a little conversation, my mother’s Jewish life had been profoundly renewed. 

There is an ancient mystical teaching about Passover, which says that the Hebrew word for the holiday, Pesach, may be divided into two separate words, rendering it as peh sakh, meaning, ‘the mouth speaks’.  What is the connection between this holiday and speech?

The Torah says: and you shall tell your child on that day 'It is because of this did Adonai take me out of Egypt...'.  The word haggadah itself, means telling.  Children may not be present, no one else may be present, but one is expected to tell the story of Passover, even if just to themselves.  Clearly, the act of speech becomes central to the evening:  questions are asked and answered, songs of Hallel (praise and thanks) are sung--even the haggadah itself claims: whoever elaborates upon the telling of the exodus from Egypt is deemed praiseworthy.  Speaking to each other at our seders and hearing the voices collected in the haggadah are acts of the freedom we have achieved for ourselves and desires for others who are still enslaved. 

Most significant, our seder gives us the opportunity to sing with one another.  We are directed through a very ordered service, but we do not end with more reading or debate. The last two segments of the seder, the words of Hallel and the songs of Nirtzah,indicate that it is songful praise which is the high point of the seder, and perhaps the real reason we came together in the first place.  Singing can achieve what the spoken word may not—pure joy

The haggadah is a tool to help us undertake a powerful practice: our speech—the embodied act which takes up most of our wakeful hours—is transformed.   The seder allows us all to become teachers, storytellers, and singers, the most influential members of Jewish society.  We use these nights to practice that which might be outside of our wheelhouse--that we all might leave, like my mother, emboldened to talk about Jewish texts and customs, as well as our Jewish lives, confidently and authentically.

This Shabbat Hol HaMoed (intermediary days of Passover) message was written by Rabbi Zac Johnson, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Western Hub.


We've Sprung Ahead- Now Bring in the New You!

Posted on 03/15/2013 @ 05:54 PM

BBYO Shabbat Message of the Week

When I was a special education teacher in New York, I had a colleague explain to me about the ebbs and flows of a teacher’s motivation. She said it was like a parabola-- we start off really high and full of motivation in September with lots of creative ideas and lesson plans, then in the middle of the year (mostly winter) it hits a low point when we are all lacking innovative ideas and enthusiasm. At the end of the school year is when the motivation goes up again, we get excited for the summer and motivate our students to end the year with a bang.

What if we kept up the motivation and enthusiasm all year? Not just in the beginning and at the end?

Luckily, we are about to hit a time of renewal. Spring is the time of the rebirth of nature, of renewed growth and actualization of latent potential. This is intimated in the very first mitzvah that the Children of Israel were commanded, before leaving Egypt: "This month is for you the head of months; it is for you the first of the months of the year." The root of the word for "month," chodesh, is identical to the root of the word "new," chadash. Thus, "this month," the month of Nissan, is the source of all "renewal" that will appear throughout the year.

Most people who work on a school year calendar don’t consider this time of year to be a first month. We are in a period where the programming year is winding down, summer programs have not yet started, and honestly, some of us may be lacking motivation. And yet - spring is the time to find that latent potential within our teens, and within ourselves! We need to push forward and have that same sense of enthusiasm and dedication we did in the fall.

And so, a challenge for us all: Let us do something NEW and innovative this month. Can you create a new program? Tackle a problem a different way? What will you do to renew yourself to make sure you’re at your best and help create miracles for those around you?

This Shabbat message was renewed by Sheri Rosenberg, Program Associate - Nashville


What Builds The Relationship Between America and Israel?

Posted on 03/08/2013 @ 07:11 PM

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei, the Jewish people were tasked with helping to build the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). Not only did they give, they went above and beyond. Moses had to limit the amount that people could give in this important project. The Israelites were committed to ensuring a safe haven for the centrality of their tribe - - just as Jews today are committed to a strong, vibrant, and safe state of Israel. We are fortunate that America and Israel have a strong relationship. America provides Israel with vital military support and $3.1 billion thanks to the Foreign Aid Bill. American and Israel soldiers partner on joint military training, exercises, and development (e.g. Iron Dome, Israel’s state-of-the-art missile defense system and the Arrow Missile Defense System). But it’s not just military collaboration! Take, for example, the case of Re-Walk, technology developed in Israel that allows paraplegic individuals to walk again, which is being used heavily in the United States.

This past week, 60 BBYO teens were part of 13,000 pro-Israel advocates convened in Washington DC for three days of engaging discourse and learning about the most important issues facing Israel and the American-Israeli partnership today. As part of the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference our teens learned about new Israel innovations, listened to Vice President Biden proudly proclaim the US’s continuing support as an ally of Israel, heard from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Congressman Eric Cantor and Senator John McCain, and engaged in a wealth of interactive discussions and learning opportunities.

As our teens learn from experiences such as AIPAC’s Policy Conference, Israel is much more than just war and hummos. I urge you to explore the wealth technologies, arts, culinary treat and secular and religious thought that Israel is adding to this world. Together we can build the America-Israel relationship through our creative and engaging SpeakUP! programs. We can steer our movement to continue to build this relationship, and to see what we are doing as central to the future of Israel and Jewish people around the world.

(Joey Eisman, Associate for Israel and Global Jewish Peoplehood, advocates on behalf of a strong America - Israel relationship and on behalf of this Shabbat message).


How Can We Ask The "Big" Questions?

Posted on 03/01/2013 @ 07:11 PM

What is the difference between wisdom, understanding, and knowledge? In this week’s parsha, Ki Tissa, Adonai chooses Bezalel to be a central figure in building the Mishkan (tabernacle), as he possesses all three key qualities. Rashi explains that they are distinct, as wisdom is something learned from others, understanding comes from within oneself, and knowledge is presented from G-d.

Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are qualities to aspire to, but there is an inherent challenge posed if we are to achieve all three; we must be in conversation with others. How can we gain wisdom from others if we do not engage in learning and dialogue? How can we grapple with our own understanding if we do not bounce ideas off our friends? And how can we perceive G-d’s gift of knowledge if we have no one with whom it is shared?

This week I attended a training session for the Ask Big Questions initiative. This campaign, initiated on college campuses, poses questions like “Where do you feel at home?” and “For whom are we responsible?” The Big Questions are framed so that the topics matter to all, are answerable, and allow participants to share their own stories (wisdom) and internalize the issue at hand (understanding). The beauty of our BBYO communities is that we can guide our teens through similar experiences, adding in the third layer, knowledge. How do our stories resonate based on the Jewish values we possess?

Our teens are caring and concerned citizens, who are looking for ways to explore the issues that surround them. Asking the “Big” questions provides a forum for those conversations, where they can push themselves and their peers in the search for understanding of how to make the world a better place.

Adonai chose Bezalel for the immense task of creating the Mishkan because he possesses wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Imagine what our teens can achieve if we help foster the development of their spirits to the same level? What big questions can you ask today?

Who created this Shabbat Message? Aleeza Lubin, DJE Midwest Hub


Unleash Your Inner Superhero- Or Fairy Godmother

Posted on 02/22/2013 @ 07:11 PM

This weekend marks the joyous holiday of Purim (February 23rd-25th) aka “Jewish Mardi Gras.” commemorating the victory of the Jewish people over their oppressors. One of the strangest ways Jews commemorate this holiday is by wearing costumes. What is the connection to this bizarre practice and the actual story of Esther? To truly understand this question, we must have a good understanding of the story.

King Ahasuerus loved the young woman Esther more than any of his other women, and he made her his Queen. He was not aware that Esther was a Jew, for Mordecai, her relative and guardian, advised her not to reveal her true identity.

Haman (hissing sounds), the king’s prime minister and villain of the story hated the Jews (especially Mordecai, because he would not bow down before him) and convinced Ahasuerus it would be in the kingdom’s best interest if the Jews were eliminated. The King gave Haman permission to deal with the Jews as he saw fit, and Haman made plans to massacre them.

Mordecai convinced Esther to speak to the King on behalf of her people. When Esther approached him, King Ahasuerus listened to her story and was outraged by what he heard. He had Haman hanged on the gallows that had been intended for Mordecai, and appointed Mordecai as prime minister in Haman’s place.

How is this drama in any way connected to the practice of dressing in costume? Some say we dress up in costume to commemorate Esther, as she “masked” her identity as a Jew to the King. Even more, it was the “unveiling” of Esther’s true Jewish identity that allowed her to successfully save her people.

This Purim challenge yourself to act in the name of Esther, and try to present your “true” self. In choosing your Purim costume, select something that speaks to your “true” nature – whether dressed as a superhero or fairy godmother. Look at the ways you might mask yourself throughout the year – what could you gain by unmasking? What truth could you share? What might change because of that?

Ultimately, Purim allows us to see past all facades. It allows us to look at our true selves and see the power that lies within each of us.

Recipe for easy Hamantaschen 3 eggs 1 cup granulated sugar ¾ cup vegetable oil 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract ½ cup orange juice 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 cup fruit preserves, any flavor

Directions Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until lightly and fluffy. Stir in the oil, vanilla and orange juice. Combine the flour and baking powder; stir into the batter to form a stiff dough. If dough is not stiff enough to roll out, stir in more flour. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 1/4 inch in thickness. Cut into circles using a cookie cutter or the rim or a drinking glass. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of preserves into the center of each one. Pinch the edges to form three corners. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool for 1 minute on the cookie sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

This Shabbat-Purim message was discovered by Melissa Hertwig, Program Associate for Pacific Coast Region in Los Angeles, CA.


A Shabbat Shalom

Posted on 02/15/2013 @ 07:11 PM

Here is how the afternoon is shaping up: 1500 teens, 150 staff, 300 volunteers, another 50 parents, friends and alumni. One Shabbat.

Over two thousand Jews will celebrate Shabbat together tonight – singing songs and eating a delicious meal. We are all eating dinner together, and the crescendo of singing the birchat hamazon, the blessings after the meal , will be amazing to behold. I am anxiously anticipating the shivers I will feel as I hear the in- and out-of tune voices all joining together.

But, to be honest, that’s not what I’m most excited about. Right after services we’ll continue being one community, but the teens have created 24 different and distinct Shabbat services to lead here at BBYO’s International Convention. One of the many awesome things about this – besides the sheer number of services and all the hard work done by our teens – is the show of pluralism and willingness to explore new ways to experience Judaism. Our teens envisioned these services, selected the prayers and wrote the scripts. We have Reform-style and Orthodox-style services taking place next to each other. There are services that focus on modern Israel’s additions to technology and on the unity of all Jews around the globe.

I am always proud of our teens when they work hard and put their minds to creating new innovative ways to stretch their peers. I’m always proud when the teens are willing to try something and push themselves beyond their natural comfort zone. Tonight and tomorrow, I am doubly proud of what these teens have created – and what we will all be experiencing.

Prepared by Rachel Meytin, Director of Panim & Jewish Enrichment


Find Your Wings: We Are All Guardians...

Posted on 02/08/2013 @ 07:11 PM

What does the image does the word “guardian” conjure for you? A guardian angel? A handsome knight on a white horse who has been sent forth to protect a princess? There’s a midrash that discusses in which ordinary people become guardians in four ways: · The unpaid guardian: The idea that a person assumes responsibility for another's property without having to be asked. They are acting purely based out of duty and loyalty to another. · The paid guardian is reimbursed for his loyalty to the owner and is assumed to provide a higher level of care. This guardian assumes responsibility, even when damages have been caused to the property beyond their control. · The borrower is responsible to return what has been given to him intact, or make good on its value. This guardian has a higher obligation to make the owner whole because they did not pay to use the item. · The renter who pays for the use of the property upfront and assumes responsibility for returning the property intact - even if the damages are out of their control.

The idea that we have different types of guardian roles is something that we can apply in our lives as BBYO professionals. When we think more beyond traditional property and focus on the guardianship that we provide to our community – these levels of responsibility remain just as relevant: · We ask our teens to look out for each other just out of loyalty. · We ask ourselves, and our teens, to reach for a higher level of responsibility and be held accountable. · We often take on new projects. When we do, we have a responsibility to pass our previous projects intact and with integrity. · We strive for new partnerships, “renting” the resources, people, and even good names of others by providing our support to the partnerships in order to enhance the broader Jewish community.

This idea of guardians is essential to how we operate. It’s how we create community – looking out for each other and holding each other accountable to excellence. We must remember that our duty goes beyond each individual and ultimately is our duty and loyalty to the Jewish community that should drive us.

I challenge you to always strive to be the guardian of your BBYO “property” - our reputation, our teens, and, of course, the future of the Jewish people. Fly on!

This Shabbat Message took flight by Chloe-Anne Ramsey, BBYO Associate Director and BBYO Connect Director, Atlanta Council


You Can't Do It Alone

Posted on 02/01/2013 @ 07:11 PM

Not many Biblical characters get a Torah portion named after them. There is no Parshat Moses, no Parshat Aaron, or Parshat Miriam. However, this week’s parsha –in which the 10 Commandments are read – is called Parshat Yitro after Moses’ non-Jewish father-in-law, Yitro! What did Yitro do to deserve this rare honor?

When the Jews were in the desert and on their way from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, Moses found himself overwhelmed by the amount of disputes that he had to adjudicate. People would wait in line all day to bring their disputes before Moses. And for Moses, because he was hearing cases all day, there was no work-life blend. Yitro noticed this and said: “The thing you are doing is not good. You will become burned out and the people will also get tired of waiting in line. This is too overwhelming a task for you and you can’t do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18).

So Yitro suggested to Moses to delegate the more minor hearings to capable and committed people and to share the caseload with them. This shortened the day-long courtroom line, and allowed Moses to focus on the most complex cases and to have a more manageable portfolio.

Yitro’s message is as relevant to us today as it was to Moses then: You can’t do it alone. Without our capable and committed volunteer advisors, we would not be able to accomplish what we achieve with them. Without the teamwork and collaboration of BBYO’s dedicated professionals, the momentum and scope of AZA BBG IC 2013 would not be possible. I invite you to express gratitude to those people in our organization and in your lives that make what you have accomplished and what you achieve possible.

Yitro teaches Moses, possibly the greatest Jewish leader in history, an essential lesson on leadership and shared responsibility. And if Moses can’t do it all by himself, who can?

This Shabbat Message is brought to you by Ira J. Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Northeast Hub, and is dedicated to his grandmother, Evelyn Dounn of blessed memory, who has made possible so much so much of what he was and is able to accomplish.


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


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


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


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


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)


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.


What's In A Picture?

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

What’s in a picture?

1. Go to 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


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


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.


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)


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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