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Reconstructionism Today, February 2017
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.In Memory

Stephen Philip Cohen, Ph.D., z”l, author, academic, and activist. Father of Rabbi Tamara Cohen, RRC ’14.

Teena Hendelman, z”l, founder of the Ottawa Reconstructionist Havurah, now Or Haneshamah.
 
May their memories and contributions to our community be for a blessing.
 
.Bryan Schwartzman, Communications Associate at RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Welcome the stranger.
 
That value – or commandment – is woven into the fabric of Judaism and put into practice by Reconstructionist congregations across North America, including New Jersey’s Bnai Keshet. Over the past year, during a time of increasingly heated rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims, many members of the congregation have built relationships with a group of Syrian and Iraqi refugees living nearby.
 
That relationship-building is a continuation of the congregation’s history of engagement with refugee and immigration issues. For years, a group of members regularly visited with detainees at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Elizabeth, N.J. (The site has since been relocated.) Then, on Christmas Eve of 2015, the synagogue hosted more than 100 people from ten Iraqi and Syrian families for a “traditional” Jewish Christmas dinner of Chinese food.
 
“What was so powerful about that night was we tried to share with our guests how much our families were in similar circumstances one or two generations back,” said Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, RRC ‘02, whose grandfather emigrated from Russia in 1912. He added that the congregation wanted to make a statement that, despite whatever disagreements may exist over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish and Muslim communities can and should be allies.
 
The dinner was a story in and of itself, but it represented just the start of a deeper commitment.

Bnai Keshet members Katherine McCaffrey and Melina Macall – who organized the Christmas Eve dinner – spearheaded a fundraising campaign to pay off one refugee family’s debts and travel costs. The duo raised more than $7,000 in 72 hours.
 
Then, McCaffrey and Macall started the congregation’s Syria Supper Club, which earned coverage from National Public Radio.

“It’s a way for newly settled refugees to become partners in fundraising efforts and to use their own skills and talents to help themselves. It is also a wonderful opportunity for cultural exchange,” said McCaffrey, an anthropology professor at Montclair State University.
 
Here’s how it works: Families host dinners in their homes cooked by a member of a Syrian refugee family. Every attendee pays $50, which more than funds the meal, and the Syrian family takes home the rest. The most important part is that everyone enjoys the meal sitting together. Oftentimes, other Syrian refugees come as guests of the hosts.
 
“People are really attracted to this story, it is a connecting force,” said Rabbi Tepperman. “We are bringing the world a little closer to the world we envision.”
The Little Gate-Crasher
.Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, a Reconstructionist, is a writer, teacher, and disability advocate. She recently authored The Little Gate Crasher: The Life and Photos of Mace Bugen, about a man with achondroplastic dwarfism, 43 inches tall with an average-sized head and torso set on small, twisted legs—who turned a “handicap” into a powerful tool he could use to his advantage.
 
Reconstructionism Today could tell you all about it, but Gabrielle tells it better. Check out her video.
.Rachael Burgess, Communications Associate at RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

It is that time of year when we begin to drift away from our new year’s resolutions. Some of us promise to make healthier choices for our bodies. Maybe we resolve to be kinder and more patient with our children or the adults around us.
 
Then life happens. We become distracted. Urgent things shift our attention. We are immersed in stress. We forget about our resolutions.
 
While we can’t control the world’s chaos, we can change how we interact with the stressors in our life.
 
To explore how to practice patience in stressful times, Director of RRC’s Multifaith Studies and Initiatives Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, RRC ‘82, teamed up with producer Jeannie Hopper to create a podcast miniseries called Spirit in Practice.
 
This four-part podcast is co-hosted by Rabbi Fuchs Kreimer, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, RRC ‘85, and psychotherapist Barbara Breitman, who is the Director of Training for RRC’s Jewish Spiritual Direction Program.
 
In the podcast, guests from many walks of life pose questions ranging from how to find patience in a difficult situation to how to stay motivated as we work even when it drains us. A panel of religious leaders from various faiths weighs in to share how rituals and spiritual practice can answer these and other questions about everyday living.
 
For example, the first episode, launched on January 18, began with a question from a young activist. She was seeking the energy, patience, and courage to carry her through her work. She asked how she could sustain her community commitments, her loved ones, and herself through, as she put it, “the next four years, the next lifetime.”
 
In response, panelists shared experiences, reflected on practices, and read from texts that helped them to focus on the purpose for activism, to  remember to trust their instincts, to recall joyful moments. The panelists were Rabbi David Jaffe, author of Changing the World from the Inside Out; Kameelah Mu'min Rashad, Founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation; and Roshi Enkyo O'Hara, abbot and founder of the Village Zendo in New York City.
 
We just launched episode two, From Anger to Love, when Sister Catherine Nerney, Rabbi Liebling, and Celene Ibrahim respond to a young activist who is dealing with anger toward those who oppose his campaign and toward allies for not doing enough.
 
The variety of voices, traditions, and ideas from the panelists remind us that there are many tools and methods available to anyone coping with challenges.
 
The podcast is available now on the RRC website, Stitcher and iTunes. You can also stay up-to-date on new episodes through the Spirit in Practice e-mailing list, Facebook and Twitter pages.
 
Spirit in Practice is supported by the generosity of the Henry Luce Foundation.
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Many in the Jewish community (and across many religions) struggle with understanding the Bible. Many are even unfamiliar with basic Biblical stories. There are several reasons why people feel disconnected from these texts, but Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill, RRC ‘14, hoped to close that chasm. Rabbi Jaffe-Gill received a $2,000 Auerbach Grant to fund a bi-weekly Bible study called Torah Study for Skeptics, which gathered together Jews and non-Jews in the Virginia Beach area, stirred lively conversations and brought Jewish tradition, culture, and thought to stories in the Tanakh. Below is an excerpt from her report.
 
The Innovation:
Torah Study for Skeptics is a bi-weekly Bible study workshop in Maryland geared toward adults and teens with limited Bible study experience or who question previous lessons and meanings of the Hebrew Bible. Participation is open to Jews and non-Jews, though discussions emphasize interpretations rooted in Jewish tradition and culture.
 
The text for the program is the student edition of the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. All study is done in English with reference to Hebrew keywords to encourage interested participants to learn Hebrew. Students who attend all four sessions of the workshop will receive the Tanakh to keep. Some participants bring a Christian Bible for private comparison of English translation and a few bring The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford) for the commentary.
 
Each session of Torah Study for Skeptics is freestanding, with participants attending or skipping sessions according to their own needs and schedules. There is no charge.
 
Texts are chosen according to a variety of criteria, not necessarily based on the parashat hashavua (weekly Torah portion) in any given week. Selection criteria may include Jewish holidays; secular observances; current events; themes such as women’s status, tikkun olam, Jewish identity, “toxic texts”; or group consensus on a text of interest, among others. The workshop facilitator often conducts mini-lectures on background information such as the PARDES levels (four levels of interpretation, from the literal meaning through mystical) of Torah study, theories on who wrote the Hebrew Bible, when the various sections were written, and major events in ancient Jewish history.
 
Liberal Judaism does not approach the Bible as historical fact or direct communication from a divine source, but instead as written and edited by humans and open to interpretation. Furthermore, the identity or formulation of “God” is up to each individual. The workshop encourages participants to draft original midrashim. The facilitator often references Reconstructionist Judaism in discussions involving the God-concept and freedom of interpretation.
 
The Impact:
The primary goals of this program are:
  • to give unaffiliated Jews an opportunity to study scripture outside a synagogue or worship service
  • to provide affiliated Jews an opportunity for Torah study that may be different from what is offered within their congregations
  • to reintroduce Torah study to Jews who may have been alienated from further study by their youthful experiences in synagogue and religious school, who lack institutional Jewish background, or who view scripture as irrelevant or spurious but who value their identities as Jews
  • to make a tiny dent in the overwhelming lack of knowledge among diasporic Jews of foundational Jewish texts
  • to excite in a few people an interest in learning biblical Hebrew
  • to put copies of the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh in homes that would not otherwise have one
Torah Study for Skeptics has met most of these goals. Workshop attendees are both unaffiliated Jews and Jews who are members of congregations. It has brought several Jews back into Jewish life. Many participants have said they learned things about the Bible and Judaism that they never knew or had been taught in a way they found disagreeable.
 
Two participants have even expressed interest in learning Hebrew and having adult bat mitzvah ceremonies.
 
Please look out for reports on the Innovation and Impact Team’s projects in future issues of Reconstructionism Today. If you would like to discuss Torah Study for Skeptics or other programmatic ideas with the Innovation and Impact Team, please contact Cyd Weissman, Assistant Vice President for Innovation and Impact and instructor of Jewish Education and Entrepreneurship at RRC-JRC. You can reach her at cweissman@rrc.edu or 215.576.0800, ext. 257.
Reconstructionist Ritualwell
.Blessing One's Parents
In partnership with CLAL, here are some prayers, meditations and texts for blessing our parents...
.Purim
Check out the latest blog posts, rituals, and prayers for Purim...
.Upcoming Networks

Are you ready to dream about and build the Jewish future you want to see?
 
Reconstructionist Learning Networks connect you with people across geography and perspectives. Explore the crucial questions of Jewish life that just can’t be Googled, and that matter most to you and your community. Join a Learning Network to dream, explore, connect, learn and take action.

Networks meet three to six times a year online for about an hour each session. At least six people are required for each network. Networks are capped at 12 participants unless otherwise specified, and a waitlist will be created if a network reaches capacity.
 
You can register online at www.jewishrecon.org/networks.
 
If you have any questions, please contact Rory Schonning at rschonning@rrc.edu or 215.576.0800, ext. 131.
 

March
3/29/17 How can we foster enriching interfaith conversations that invite people to dare to understand?
.Upcoming Events

Chesapeake Day of Learning and Celebration
March 19, 2017
Laurel, MD
Please join us at Oseh Shalom for a day of learning at 2:30 p.m. followed by the annual celebration and a buffet dinner honoring our Chesapeake volunteers. Attend one or both programs!
 
For more information, visit our website or contact Jackie Land at jland@rrc.edu.
Pacific Northwest Shabbaton
May 5-7, 2017
Camp Solomon Schechter (near Olympia, WA)
Register now to celebrate Shabbat with us in the Pacific Northwest!

We’ll explore how Judaism gets passed on within communities, how to teach and learn, and what changes are needed to nourish Jewish life. There will be programming for adults, children and young adults. For infants to age four, childcare will be provided by pre-registration.

For more information, visit our website or contact Jackie Land at jland@rrc.edu.
Camp JRF 2017
Camp JRF is all about the joy of summer camp with the freedom to be who you truly are. We’re a lively, welcoming, and diverse community where kids explore Judaism in their own ways and become the best versions of themselves. It’s no wonder that so many campers call us home!
 
Learn more about this extraordinary place at CampJRF.org and then sign up for a magical summer—your kid will feel part of something bigger than themselves, and they’ll want to experience that magic year after year.
.Reconstructionists in the News
 
Just for a Time Like This: Consulting Judaism to Find Moral Courage and Engage in Civic Discourse
eJewish Philanthropy
 
The Beautiful Story Behind This Viral Photo From A Chicago Airport Protest
Huffington Post
 
Light through the cracks
Times of Israel
 
The First Reconstructionist Birthright Journey
Times of Israel
 
About 20 Rabbis Arrested During Protest Over Trump Travel Ban
New York Times
 
19 rabbis arrested during protest at Trump hotel
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
 
19 rabbis arrested outside Trump's Manhattan hotel to protest travel ban
New York Daily News
 
Cops arrest rabbis protesting Trump travel ban
Fox 5 News
 
Rabbis Sit in at Trump Hotel, 19 Arrested: NYPD
NBC 4
 
Hate in America: Anti-Semitic Incidents on the Rise
CNN Tonight with Don Lemon
 
Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Bo with Rabbi Adam Zeff
Jewish Journal
 
A show of support for Philly Muslims
Newsworks
 
Leaders from several faiths come together to send message of solidarity
Fox 29
 
The Executive Order on Refugees and Immigration is an Affront to American Religious Freedom for All
Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign
 
Fallout from Trump immigration order roils on
Delaware Online
 
Israeli-Canadian Singer To Give Rare Performance In Toronto
Canadian Jewish News
 
Donald Trump is on The Warpath to Standing Rock, and Jews Must Battle Him
Forward
 
Why Translate the Zohar? (A Q&A)
Canadian Jewish News
 
Or Shalom, S.F.’s only Reconstructionist synagogue, marks 25 years
J. Weekly
 
First-time campers can look for indicators
Cleveland Jewish News
 
Human Race Spiritually Hardwired to Respond to and Act on World Suffering
Jewish Exponent
 
Associate Chaplain Ira Schiffer Announces Retirement from Middlebury
Middlebury College
 
Jews Join 50,000 Others in Philadelphia Women’s March
Jewish Exponent
 
100 U.S. Religion Scholars Write Scriptural Letters to Trump’s Administration for Its First 100 Days
Tablet
 
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College to Train Campus Chaplains in Multifaith Encounters
eJewish Philanthropy
 
Have You No Decency? Midrash and the Centrality of Love
Times of Israel
 
Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Vayechi with Rabbi Joanne Heiligman
Jewish Journal
 
Jews Honor MLK Day Through Social Action
Jewish Exponent
 
Syria Supper Club: Reaching Out to Refugees, One Dinner at a Time
WNYC
 
ERASE Racism President To Speak About Fighting Racism in 2017
Prweb
 
The Secret Jewish History of Strange Fruit
Forward
.Inspiration and Connection
At a recent gathering of synagogue presidents and rabbis at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York, rabbinical student Mackenzie Reynolds offered a d'var  Torah that speaks to our uncertain times.

Get your three-minute Torah fix any time with the latest podcast by rabbinical student Sandra Lawson. Check out Minute Lessons From the Torah online, iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher.

Join members of other Reconstructionist congregations on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for wisdom, news and special announcements.


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The Jewish Reconstructionist Communities in association with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) provides services for more than 100 congregations and havurot where members help create the Judaism they want to live. RRC is a progressive rabbinical school­­ where people of all backgrounds engage intensively with Jewish texts, thought and practice. As a combined organization, RRC / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities make up a unique kind of entity in the contemporary Jewish landscape.
 
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