by Logan Kramer
Over the past three years, NFTY has taken me to plenty of random places. I’ve held events with my temple youth group in public parks, enjoyed extensive layovers in airports across the country, gone to socials at amusement parks, and visited more congregations than I can count. As I’ve traveled to all of these places, one thing seems to stay the same. I consistently attract confused looks from strangers and passersby, whether I’m chanting the blessing over a Havdalah candle or dancing with friends to NFTY-TOR’s signature “Every Time We Touch” dance.
Surprisingly enough, the moments that attract weird stares are some of my favorite things about NFTY. It’s not that I like the stares themselves, but I appreciate that NFTYites have the amazing capability of turning any space into a holy one, moving our kehilah kedoshah, our holy community, from sanctuaries to parks to airports no matter what stares we might receive along the way. What each person brings to this community is far more important than where we are located on a map.
In this week’s parashah, T’rumah, Moses receives detailed instructions from God about how to build the Tabernacle and various objects to go inside it. Each Israelite is encouraged to bring something to contribute to the Tabernacle, which will be built so that they can easily take it apart and bring it along on their journey through the desert. God tells Moses to “speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering” so that everyone can be involved in this community effort (Exodus 25:2)
What’s key in this situation is that God doesn’t just ask Moses and the priests to make contributions to the Tabernacle. “Every person whose heart inspires him to generosity” is asked to bring an offering to help build the Tabernacle as a community (Exodus 25:2). Today we may not be accepting gifts of copper, oil, and ram skins to build a physical tabernacle, but we must accept each individual’s gifts and talents to build a stronger kehilah kedoshah. In NFTY, we bring our voices to join together in prayer, our shoulders for friends to lean on, and our smiles to brighten each other’s days. We build a tabernacle every time we come together by sharing whatever we can to build up a strong, welcoming community.
This strong, welcoming, inclusive community is something we strive to achieve in NFTY on every level from small temple youth groups to the larger North American community. As teens, we stereotypically have trouble accepting others, especially if they’re not seen as “cool” or “popular.” For me, NFTY is a break from this world. At NFTY events I’m my true self and never feel like I have to hide my quirks or act a certain way to be accepted. I can be loudly and proudly Jewish, and I’m surrounded by others who feel comfortable being loudly and proudly Jewish too. Just like the Tabernacle contained many different materials within its structure, NFTY is inclusive of many different types of teens.
NFTY has done an amazing job over its 75 years of existence fostering this community. But now we have the perfect opportunity to extend our tabernacle. This year at NFTY Convention, we set a precedent with programming that brings together teens from both NFTY Convention and BBYO International Convention across the street. Teens in BBYO are just some of the thousands of Jewish teens around the world involved in Jewish life through dozens of youth organizations like ours. Why not connect with them and invite them to be a part of our kehilah kedoshah? When we partner with movements like BBYO, we can make our tabernacle even larger by involving Jewish teens worldwide to join us.
Take a moment to look around you. These people sitting next to you are the future of the Jewish people. In this room, sitting amongst us, are future rabbis, educators, NFTY advisors, and leaders. In a few years, it won’t matter that we were a part of a specific region in NFTY, or even that we were a part of NFTY versus BBYO, USY, or NCSY. In a few years, the names of the youth movements we belonged to won’t divide us as clearly as they do today. What will matter is that teens from these movements will all be part of the same Jewish communities. We will all reside within the same tabernacle. We will be one big Jewish community, and there’s no reason we cannot or should not invite that to happen now.
In this week’s parashah, God is very specific with the instructions to build the Tabernacle and the things that go inside it. Almost 90 verses are dedicated to specifying everything from exactly what size the Ark of the Covenant should be to how to connect the intricate curtains in the Tabernacle. Today it’s not quite so easy. There’s no step-by-step guidebook for how to make a welcoming community of Jewish teens. We each have to choose how we welcome others into the holy communities we’ve created. In addition, as a larger NFTY community, we have to figure out how best to include teens from other youth movements within our tabernacle.
It’s now our responsibility to make these decisions. Just like the Israelites “whose heart[s] inspire[d them] to generosity” in the desert, we as NFTYites are being called upon to enhance our communal tabernacle by including other Jewish teens within it. Like our ancestors in the desert, we need to respond to that call with generous and open hearts.
Logan Kramer is the NFTY Convention 2015 d’var Torah competition winner; this d’var was delivered to a live audience at NFTY Convention. Logan is a member of Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, TX, and North American Federation of Temple Youth’s Texas Oklahoma Region (NFTY-TOR).
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By Eva Rubin Steen
The leaders of Temple Beth Torah, a community that always has held inclusion and acceptance as core tenets, realized a few years ago that we were not doing a good job of welcoming those who face physical, emotional, or cognitive challenges. We recognized, too, that by excluding even one family member from participating in Jewish life, we were effectively excluding the entire family. Including all who wish to join in the life of the synagogue enriches each of us, so our lack of welcome was painful for too many families, which in turn hurt our congregation and the broader Jewish community.
Once we identified the issue, our board of trustees immediately and wholeheartedly endorsed the creation of Shaareinu (Our Gateways), which strives to open new gateways for individuals (and their families) for whom participation in all aspects of synagogue life – worship, religious school, and programming – is limited by various challenges.
We established four lay-led task forces and involve more than 80 congregants as volunteers in welcoming into congregational life individuals and families who are affected by physical, emotional or cognitive challenges:
- Our Education Task Force brings religious school teachers together with volunteers from the congregation who are trained in learning disabilities and classroom management techniques. Task force volunteers plan and present workshops for our faculty that address such topics as how best to structure the classroom, implement behavioral analysis, and deal with different learning styles and teaching strategies.
- Our Technology Task Force installed an assistive listening system, which enables those who wear hearing aids and others with hearing loss to follow along with what goes on in the sanctuary. Although no one complained before we put in our telecoil hearing loop, as soon as the loop went in, many congregants admitted that they had hearing problems and thanked us for helping them have a better experience. We also installed a live internet streaming video system – accessible by computer, mobile device, and many television cable boxes – to bring worship and programming to congregants who are homebound.
- Mental health issues are the focus of our Nefesh (soul) Task Force, which, together with other community groups, co-hosts panel discussions and seminars that address numerous mental health challenges related to parenting, anxiety, school violence and bullying, alcohol and drug addiction, and similar topics. These seminars often are co-sponsored by Jewish Family Services, United Hospice, or other community groups, and many of our volunteers offer their professional expertise as presenters. Nefesh also maintains an extensive list of mental health resources on the congregation’s website.
- Our Chesed (loving-kindness) Task Force seeks to increase the sense of connectivity and community within the congregational family by supporting each other in times of sorrow and rejoicing in times of joy. In addition to reaching out to those who are celebrating a simcha, are homebound, ill, or in mourning, Chesed, together with Nefesh co-sponsors programs that address such topics as caring for the aged and visiting the sick.
The benefits of these endeavors to those with disabilities in our community should be fairly obvious. What is less obvious, however, is how extraordinarily rewarding this work is to those of us who volunteer in this initiative. As our congregation’s former leader, Rabbi Brian Beal, was fond of saying, “The collateral good of this initiative cannot be overstated.”
Indeed, in addition to the personal fulfillment our many dedicated volunteers derive from this work, our congregation now excels in including all people in synagogue life. We are proud to be featured as an “exemplar congregation” on the URJ’s disabilities inclusion website, and we look forward to ongoing Shaareinu offerings this spring on such topics as positive parent-child interactions, memory improvement, eating disorders, CPR, and autism.
Eva Rubin Steen and her family are longtime, active members of Temple Beth Torah in Nyack, N.Y. A past president and former member of many committees and task forces, some of which she chaired, Eva continues to serve on the board of trustees
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Yesterday’s twin attacks in Copenhagen are a tragic reminder of the fragility of peace, security and pluralism. Our thoughts and prayers, of course, go out to the victims and their families. Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, issued a statement, saying: “The attacks in Copenhagen are an assault on our values and on all free and democratic societies that embrace human dignity.”
The rest of the WUPJ statement follows. We will update this post as more information becomes available.
WUPJ Condemns Copenhagen Twin Terrorist Attacks
On Saturday, February 14, and Sunday, February 15, two terrorist attacks in Copenhagen left three people dead and five police officers wounded. The first shooting was at a café that was hosting a discussion on free speech. Hours later, a synagogue and Jewish cultural center were attacked.
The victim of the synagogue shooting was a young Jewish man who was controlling the entrance to the synagogue while a Bat Mitzvah celebration was underway inside, according to the head of Denmark’s Jewish community.
The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) condemns these cold-blooded acts of cowardice. Such savagery proves a sad but undeniable truth: the enemies of the Jews and Judaism in Europe are the enemies of freedom everywhere.
The WUPJ mourns with the families and loved ones of the victims of these latest terrorist attacks on European soil.
President of the WUPJ Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander stated that “The attacks in Copenhagen are an assault on our values and on all free and democratic societies that embrace human dignity. While today is a grim reminder that no one and nowhere is immune from such acts of barbarism, we will together remain vigilant against those who wish to strike at our most cherished freedoms.”
According to the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) President Leslie Bergman: “Jihadist inspired acts against Jews will become a European problem when the violence extends beyond Jewish targets (such as in Toulouse and the Brussels Museum). Eventually, if uncontrolled, the Jews will become a sideshow in this challenge to European civilization.”
As an organization rooted in the teachings of the Hebrew Prophets, the WUPJ promotes justice and equality, democracy and peace, personal fulfillment and collective obligations.
These Jewish values are humanity’s greatest hope to combat and ultimately defeat such personifications of evil as the one that reared its ugly head on a Saturday evening in Copenhagen.
But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
וְקֹויֵ֤ יְהוָה֙ יַחֲלִ֣יפוּ כֹ֔חַ יַעֲל֥וּ אֵ֖בֶר כַּנְּשָׁרִ֑ים יָר֙וּצוּ֙ וְלֹ֣א יִיגָ֔עוּ יֵלְכ֖וּ וְלֹ֥א יִיעָֽפוּ
Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, WUPJ President
Michael Grabiner, WUPJ Chairman
Leslie Bergman, European Union for Progressive Judaism President
Miriam Kramer, European Union for Progressive Judaism Chairman
Dr. Philip Bliss, WUPJ Advocacy Committee Chair
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