In a recent post on a Jewish educators facebook group I belong to called JEDLAB, someone asked this question.
“What do you find to be some of the most over-used, cliched words/terms/phrases in Jewish education today? (you know the ones that you hear over and over again that seem to lose their meaning because everyone uses them over and over and over again).”
The words members posted were ones like “21st century, innovation, engagement, inspiration, student-centered, blended learning, cutting edge, experiential” and many more. I have used many of these words in my career which led to conflicting feelings about the question. You see, I actually dislike the question, yet at the same time completely understand it.
I dislike the question because it minimizes the importance of giving definition to the framework of a school and the models of teaching and learning used. Having a shared understanding of how and why we educate our students is important. It helps ensure families choose the school that is right for them, it enhances student and staff culture as they understand the mission and it helps guide the teaching and learning down a cohesive path. The problem of course is when the shared language becomes a shared set of buzzwords that do not accurately represent the school, but rather they are used as a PR mechanism with little substance to support them. While that is a problem, it does not mean that the “buzzwords” used are always hollow. As someone else posted in the group “can you really use a word over and over again so much that it loses meaning? All these words have meaning. When people misuse them, they misuse them! But they still have meaning. Cliche is itself a cliche.” That is what is comes down to. Are the words used to describe a school being misused? How can you tell? Ask.
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “The Two Sides of Trust.”
Rabbi Stulberger is visiting our alumni in Israel. Here are some pictures of the boys:
Here are some pictures of the Girls Division Alumni:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” Mark Twain
Mark Twain ends without an answer to a question that history begs. However, the Torah makes sure to give us the answer. The Possuk tells us in this weeks Parsha that “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Yaakov, each man and his household came” (Shmos 1:1) The commentaries explain the need for the second half of this Possuk, is to underscore the source of Bnei Yisroel’s ability to persevere through the dark days of Golus Mitzrayim. It is the integrity of the Jewish household that is the greatest single strength in the survival of the Jewish people. This integrity says the Medrash was maintained by Bnei Yisroel not changing their names, language and attire.
This message is an eternal one, it is what got Bnei Yisroel through Golus Bavel as well as what will get them through Golus Edom. This message needs to be transmitted to our children – if we want to be part of the continued survival of the Jewish people we need to be vigilant in not losing our identity as Jews and vigilant in making sure our children internalize this message.
While not changing one’s names, language or attire are all external attributes and one may question and ask what difference does it make if I wear baggy pants or if I use inappropriate language? the reality is – it does make a significant difference. The Messilas Yeshorim (The RAMCHAL) tells us how the external influences the internal. This idea can be used both from a negative perspective as well from positive one. As an example perhaps is addressing one’s child with their Hebrew name. It speaks volumes about who he is. In a world where the majority of individuals are seeking an identity let us do all we can to help our children with theirs.
Last week we had the VTHS Shabbaton and it was amazing. Before I begin let me give a huge shout out to Rabbi Semmel for organizing such a high quality program and to all the Rebbeim and staff who supported the Shabbaton.
The first night when we arrived we were greeted with many inches of snow, below freezing weather and a wild wolf that we quickly adopted as part of the pack. Did any of this stop the students from tobogganing, snowball fighting, playing football, drinking gallons of hot chocolate and having an all you can eat hot dog campfire? Not at all! It was a great start to an exciting jam packed Shabbaton that ended with what I believe to be the most important aspect, or at least reflection, of any good Shabbaton; the Kumzits!
If you are reading this and it is the first time you have heard the word “Kumzits” let’s turn to our good friend Wikipedia. “Kumzits (קומזיץ) is a compound-word in Hebrew derived from the Yiddish words קום (come) and זיץ (sit). The word is used to describe an evening gathering that Jews partake in. Everyone sits together, be it on the floor or on chairs, and sings spiritually moving songs.” In our case, we sat on snow covered logs and sang beautiful Jewish songs led by our amazing Rabbi Moshe Samuels.
Now, you may be asking yourself why would I highlight the Kumzits when the students also went skiing, snowboarding or tubing, played laser tag outdoors at night in the snowy woods, experienced possibly the greatest mentalist ever known to man, beautiful student D’Vrei Torah, inspiring Zemiros, competitive games, great food and more! Why the Kumzits?
I suppose to answer this question you have to understand my belief in what the goal of any Shabbaton should be. For ten years I had the pleasure of facilitating nearly 100 Shabbatons for West Coast NCSY with a singular goal each and every time; to inspire the attendees through a positive Jewish experience. What is the formula? Unlike Coca-Cola, there is no secret formula. It involves amazing staff, high quality fun and educational programming, exciting activities, good food and opportunities to experience Judaism with your friends. This is a formula VTHS has known for as far as I can remember and I will never forget the VTHS Shabbatonim I attended back in the day. Yet, the Kumzits is how you can tell the formula worked.
At VTHS we hope the students have an amazing time on a Shabbaton. We hope they connect more with their peers, Rebbeim and staff. We hope our students enjoy Shabbos and all the Torah learning that happens. We hope they like the food, entertainment and activities. When all of these elements come together we hope that a student leaves the Shabbaton happy and more inspired for everything VTHS has to offer. We don’t survey the students to know if it all worked. We just take a look at the Kumzits.
At a successful Kumzits students sit or stand, arms around each other, singing, smiling, laughing and even sometimes crying (happy tears of course). It is generally at the end of the Shabbaton and is the culmination of everything wonderful that occurred over the past days. It highlights the increased connection of the students and staff as well as a deeper connection to Judaism. The Kumzits at the most recent Shabbaton was exactly that. Set in the woods, snow on the ground, bonfire in the middle, incandescent lights strung around the trees, students joyfully singing and the talented Rabbi Samuels leading the songs letting us all know that the Shabbaton was clearly a success!
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “Know Who You Are.”
Some of the boys went snow tubing on the Shabbaton. Watch their GoPro video:
We just returned from one of the best Shabbatonim ever!
The chain restriction up to Angelus Oaks were just lifted as we left for the Shabbaton. We arrived as the temperature dipped to 21 degrees at the Winter Wonderland where we would stay for Shabbos. Before bed, the boys topped off the evening with a hot dog cookout, tobogganing and football in the snow.
Half the group woke before dawn to daven and leave for skiing at Snow Summit. The second group got to sleep late (6:30) and left for tubing in Big Bear. They returned to enjoy the snow and prepare for Shabbos.
Singing & dancing at Kabbolas Shabbos; wonderfully tasty food; divrei Torah by the students & rebbeim; time spent with friends. If you want to really know what Shabbos is like on a Shabbaton, you will have to join us for the next one.
Laser tag: in the dark… in the woods…in the snow
Motzei Shabbos was jam packed with amazing Laser Tag games in the snowy woods, football round-robins, a melave malka, mentalist show (he knew you would be reading this) and an outdoor midnight kumzits (a toasty 27 degrees) with smores led ay Rabbi Samuels.
Don’t believe we can pack so much fun into a Shabbaton? See for yourselves:
In this weeks Parsha we will read about Yaakov’s demise. As Yaakov’s children approached the Me’aras HaMachpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) to bury their father, they were prevented from doing so by Esav. Esav asserting that he had not sold Yaakov all the benefits of the firstborn and since Yaakov had alreadsy buried Leah there, the remaining plot belonged to him. The brothers tried to appease him but he would not relent. Finally they agreed to send Naftali — whose swiftness resembled a deer’s – to run back to Egypt to retrieve the deed and prove the authenticy of the sale. In the meantime, one of Yaakov’s grandsons, Chushim ben Dan, became aware of what was happening. He was called Chushim because he was deaf. Unable to follow the dialogue, Chushim wondered what was going on. The brothers somehow conveyed to him that Uncle Esav was not letting them bury his grandfather until Naftali returned from Egypt. Chushim exclaimed, “And until Naftali returns, grandfather’s body will lie here in disgrace?” This was too much for Chushim to bear. He took a stick and knocked off Esav’s head, allowing the Shevattim to proceed with burying their father Yaakov. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks why was it specifically Chushim who was worried about Yaakov’s honor? What about the rest of Yaakov’s family? Why were they willing to put up with Esav delaying the burial?
Explains Rav Chaim: When Esav first approached the brothers they justified to themselves that it would be better to delay the burial for a short while and deal with Esav politely. But when Esav did not accept their argument, they justified again. After each stage of the dialogue, the brothers gradually got used to the undignified situation and when the suggestion was made to send Naftali to Egypt they had gotten used to the delay in Yaakov’s burial so they acquiesced. Only Chushim, who was not involved at all in the arguments, once informed, recognized the situation for what it was – a disgrace to his grandfather’s honor and hence, only he acted.
Says Rabbi Chaim this story highlights a person’s capacity to acclimate to any situation. While this phenomenon may have a lot of positive outcomes it can also produce inertia and stagnation. Life has to always be about growing and moving forward and as the Vilna Gaon tells us “If man is not ascending he is inevitably descending”
Recognizing our ability to get used any situation necessitates a reexamination of our goals every so often. This is important for us as an individual, as a spouse, as a parent and as a family. Chazal tell us the way to do this is by asking ourselves the same question that Chushim asked “Mai Hai” what is this? The format for change Chazal tell us is through questions. We need to create an environment where people feel safe to ask questions. By seeking answers we can effect change.
25 degrees feels a lot warmer when you are roasting hot dogs by a bonfire.