Seeing the World Through a Jewish Lens

Posted on 09/09/2022 @ 06:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

Liset Leyva (Temple Beth Sholom), Yuliette Antunez Gonzalez (Temple Judea), Myriam Azubel (BTBRC), Jenine Simon (Alper JCC), Marissa Halle (BTBRC), Jen Katz Burk (Temple Beth Sholom).

Imagine the family that goes to synagogue just for the High Holy Days and perhaps a few other times a year.
They might go because it is their family’s tradition. They may go out of a sense of obligation to or respect for their older relatives.
The family sits in the service, barely opens the mahzor/ the special High Holy day prayer book, nor do they participate by reading responsively or singing along.
This whole time, the children are observing their parents.
They see them sitting in the service, looking disconnected, maybe also a bit tired or bored.
Eventually, they ask their parents if they can leave the sanctuary to play with their friends.
There seems to be nothing fun about Jewish holidays when this is what our children are exposed to on a yearly basis.
Doron Kornbluth, in his book Raising Kids to Love Being Jewish, writes: “Most Jews look at Judaism with Yom Kippur glasses –  seeing Judaism as serious, solemn, and anything but joyful.”
Yet, anyone who celebrates Judaism all year long knows that’s not true.
Kornbluth reminds us that being joyful pervades Judaism and our tradition. We just have to find a way to introduce parents and their families to festive and celebratory Judaism.
This was one of the inspirations for the development of the Jewish Resource Specialist (JRS) Initiative.
Three years ago, the Miami Jewish community, through generous funding from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and under the leadership of CAJE, embarked on the JRS pilot program as a way of addressing how we can impact families of young children to connect and stay connected to the Jewish community.
Jewish Resource Specialists (JRSs) are now embedded in 4 early childhood education programs: the Alper Jewish Community CenterBeth Torah Benny Rok CampusTemple Beth Sholom and Temple Judea.
They are the teachers/leaders looking at all facets of the Early Childhood programs in their institutions through a Jewish lens.
They are prioritizing parent and family engagement and are strategizing how to best reach out to very busy parents in order to share Jewish wisdom and tradition that can profoundly impact their own and their children’s wellbeing.
The JRS also work with teachers to help them elevate their own levels of Jewish learning so they in turn can present Jewish wisdom in compelling ways to the children and their parents.
How fitting it was that the Torah portion coinciding with the recent Jewish Resource Specialist (JRS) professional development retreat was “Re’eh” – See!
“See, I set before you today a blessing or a curse: the blessing, when you heed the command of the Lord your God with which I charge you today; the curse, if you heed not the command of the Lord your God and swerve from the way that I charge you today, ….” ~Deuteronomy 11:26-28
In this passage, we are reminded that we can see Judaism as bounty that enriches our lives.
We can choose a perspective that sees Judaism as a spiritual system that brings meaning to our relationships and our work.
We can embrace Jewish wisdom and tradition and bring it into our homes, celebrating with joy and laughter.
It’s a choice and it’s a perspective.
The 6 Jewish Resource Specialists (JRS) and their ECE directors, are dedicated to creating personalized learning and engagement opportunities for parents and families.
In this final year of the JRS pilot program, the JRSs finally have an opportunity to reconnect with parents after a 2 ½ year hiatus from parents being allowed on our ECEs campuses due to the Covid pandemic guidelines and restrictions.
Finally, the JRS’s have the opportunity to really SEE and get to know the parents: the values they hold most dear; the dreams they have for their children and their families; the questions they have about Jewish thought and practice and how it can impact the quality of their families’ lives.
And most importantly, the JRSs, along with their team of teachers, directors, clergy and the lay leaders within their ECEs, have an opportunity to help parents transform themselves and their families into active and joyful celebrants of Jewish tradition and culture.
As we look forward to the beginning of 5783, may we all “Re’eh”- see the infinite opportunities to welcome Judaism into our lives.
May we choose blessing and celebration and see the joy inherent in Jewish life and living.