Shabbat Shalom Elvis Costello

When I first heard Elvis Costello was coming to the Ithaca State Theatre I was really excited. Elvis Costello? In our tiny town? Wow! What’s wrong with the world? What’s right with the world?

After all, Elvis Costello’s music was a backtrack to my university days and I still have the T-shirt from the “Mighty Like a Rose” tour concert at the legendary London venue, the Hammersmith Apollo. And now Elvis Costello would be in Ithaca, upstate NY? I just had to go.

state theatre Apollo

And then I began to think, is it worthwhile to attend a concert out of nostalgia? Two decades on and I still kinda like the ephemeral energy of the songs but my musical tastes have changed, I’d actually rather be listening to David Daniels.

And then I looked up Elvis Costello on the internet and read that he had participated in a boycott of a concert in Israel. My rose-tinted nostalgia balloon burst. Any desire to attend the concert entirely evaporated.

The most notable aspect about this was the conversation with the kids. They were perplexed that I was so excited at first, (isn’t it cute how kids are always intrigued about their parent’s formative years?), but then had decided against attending the concert.

This then led to a very interesting discussion about the ins and outs of not attending a concert because of the performer’s views – when was this justified and when not?

In turn, our discussion led to the topic of why somebody would want to boycott Israel, which, of course, led to a discussion of anti-Israel sentiment. And so we ended up talking about anti-Semitism.  The question the kids wanted to know was:

“Why would anybody be anti-Semitic?”

These types of conversations are like swimming in the ocean. It is very easy to very quickly get out of one’s depth and comfort zone.

I grew up in a household whose Judaism was shaped by anti-Semitism. The heavy hot breath of the Holocaust was not too far behind, our lives saved by the fact that Hitler was unable to invade the UK. Anti-Semites lurked around every corner waiting to pounce and destroy. My sister and I spent many hours analyzing our circle of friends and speculating which ones amongst them might be noble enough to hide us if the Nazis came to power again. And also which of our friends might betray us – we were only too aware happened to Anne Frank. And now my kids were asking why somebody might be an anti-Semite?

With all this swimming through my mind I began to frame my reply. But before I could get any words out my youngest piped up with her suggestion:

“Maybe people are anti-Semitic because they’re jealous that Jews get to have parties all the time.”

The discussion between the kids immediately veered off into if Shabbat counted as a “party”.

I was so astonished. This is my children’s Judaism? Parties all the time? Don’t they realize we just got through Tisha b’Av and Yom Kippur is around the corner? Have we attended too many simchas recently?

And then I realized what they were getting at – growing up in Ithaca, USA their entire experience of Judaism is positive. For these children, every kiddush oneg is a party, their life is full of richly rewarding Jewish events entirely untainted by any worries about anti-Semitism. This is wonderful and, I think, part of the promise of America. I hope they can cherish and nurture this attitude into a Judaism that sustains them for their entire lives.

And that discussion as to whether Shabbat counts as a “party”?

The kids concluded between them that apparently it most definitely does!

Shabbat Shalom everybody! Party on!


ETA To adapt a phrase from this excellent blog post, I should add that my hope is that “excitement about being Jewish” will naturally flow into adherence to the rules.


Annual TBE Picnic!

Sisterhood Picnic The annual TBE Sisterhood Picnic was held at the Upper Treman Pavillion last Sunday. I noticed this year we did the signage–last year, the park had a little difficulty figuring out who we are, and had us on the board as “Temple Beth-El Grove,” confusing us with, I presume, the Bethel Grove Bible Church! We all knew what they meant, though, and no harm was done.

This year, we filled the Pavillion with food and friends. The weather was absolutely perfect. Kids played frisbee and enjoyed nature, parents hiked, and everyone got to visit with old friends and get acquainted with new faces. The one downer was that Rabbi Glass is still recovering from his injury, and couldn’t make it this year. We all hope he is recovering well, and rested for the busy holiday season coming up.

The desserts were good. Really good!

The desserts were good. Really good!

Corn was roasted on the grill, and everyone brought dairy dish-to-pass. And, as always, the Temple kept it green with reusable or compostable dishes and flatware. Click on the picture to learn more about the TBE Green Committee, and how you can help.

No plastics were harmed in the making of this picnic!

No plastics were harmed in the making of this picnic!

A big thanks to Roz and the rest of the Sisterhood for another great picnic.


Yael and her cheerful purple hair!


Ribbons dancing in the breeze


Getting acquainted


Lecture announcement “Liberating the Mind and Heart”

Albie Sachs

“For me, the anti-apartheid struggle was a form of combating racism, which had manifested itself in antisemitism, reaching ghastly proportions through the genocide. But it was all part and parcel of a similar form of inhumanity of human beings to other human beings.”

Albie Sachs

Lecture title: Liberating the Mind and Liberating the Heart:  South African Experience in Dealing with Terrorism and Torture

Thursday, August 29, 2013 4:30 – 5:30PM

Biotechnology Building, G10, Cornell central campus

Albie Sachs is a Jewish anti-apartheid activist, lawyer, judge, constitutional scholar, campaigner for justice and human rights. Albie Sachs paid an enormous personal price while engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle; he was imprisoned, tortured and forced into exile where he was the target of a state-sponsored terrorist attack during which he lost an arm and an eye.

” And I function more comfortably and easier without an arm than I was able to function after the sleep deprivation and solitary confinement.”

He returned to South Africa post-apartheid to participate in the writing of South Africa’s democratic constitution and to become a judge in the constitutional court.

This lecture is a terrific opportunity to hear a global leader address important international issues from a personal perspective.

The event is free and open to the public.


UPDATE The video of this lecture is now available for viewing. Deeply moving and highly recommended.

A couple of parents have asked me if this is suitable for kids and I would say without yes without hesitation; there is no gruesome content at all, certainly surprising given some of the subject matter. Rather one comes away with an awe inspiring embrace of humanitarianism, a further tribute to this remarkable individual and his place in history. As a point of reference, my 12 year old’s comment was that she found the talk “very interesting”.

At 00:28:50 you can hear Sachs discuss terrorism and the ANC response at a time when the PLO was capturing headlines hijacking airplanes.

At 01:07:00 you can hear Sachs talk about what Judaism and being Jewish means for him.

Click on picture below for link:

Albie sachs talkETA I recommend skipping the introduction, the talk itself begins at 00:09:20.

How can synagogues evolve?

The Fall 2013/5574 issue of “Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism” has some very interesting and thought provoking articles on the theme of “How can synagogues evolve?”

CJ magazineIn particular I was struck by Dr Ron Wolfson‘s article summarized as: “A leading Jewish thinker says synagogues will succeed in engaging people only if they foster meaningful relationships”.

CJ relationship
This is a powerful quote. It does seem that synagogue leaderships need to do more than write checks but what does it mean to “foster meaningful relationships”? Checks and fundraising we can measure, these are tangible and clearly important.

How can we measure “meaningful relationships”?

How do we account for their impact?

Should synagogues leaderships be expected to both fundraise AND also foster meaningful relationships? Are these reasonable expectations of the synagogue leadership?

There is always a lot to think and discuss in this publication. A big thank you to Rochelle P. for directing attention to this particular issue.


Wegmans for the holidays

wegmans 2013No particular endorsement – I think it is terrific that this type of thing is available in Ithaca.

September always is incredibly busy with the start of the academic semester and sometimes it is so much easier if somebody else does the cooking, although this option does get pricy. We have ordered the complete meals from Wegmans before – they were pretty tasty, and we all enjoyed the food.

wegmans food



Summer Camp

Just dropped off the kids at Eden Village camp

Eden village camp

The drop-off went smoothly and the parents were treated to a tour of the campsite which is very impressive – gorgeous landscape with fabulous buildings and a vibrant buzz. Really makes one wish we could go back in time and experience this as a young camper.

Later that evening after arriving back home (a 4 hour drive), we received this message (below). It is my youngest daughter’s first time away from home and I was really happy how well the camp communicated. It makes a big difference when other teachers/caregivers connect to parents in this way. We are not helicopter parents but, as a nuclear family whose closest relatives are 4000 miles away, this type of communication allows us to connect to the outline of our children’s experience and helps us as parents as we reflect/amplify/complement/interpret/educate etc, with our children. Thank you to Vivian Stadlin for allowing me to share this email.

Dear families of these AMAZING YOUNG HUMANS who are all snugly tucked away in their bunks! 

This summer’s theme at Eden Village is “Attitude of Gratitude.” Being grateful is at the core of Jewish practice, and science is bearing out our ancient wisdom: turns out it’s a key to feeling happy and rich. Day one of Summer 2013 and gratitude is everywhere: the team here in the office is marveling at how smooth and lovely opening day was, the vast vast majority of the campers are psyched to be here, Yoni and I are so happy about this year’s staff and how Eden Village has risen to a new level of intentionality around program design, ongoing staff training and more; we’re grateful to you for trusting us with the most unspeakably precious beings in the world so we can share in guiding and inspiring them….. Gratitude!


Below is a window into what it’s been like since drop-off time.

After the activity stations on the farm, each cabin group set out on the “Havurah (friendship) Hike” – a tour of camp places and people to get to know the lay of the land. Stops included our herbalist’s apothecary; a music circle where our music director, Pesach, taught our mission song; the health center to meet our live-in nurses and for lice checks; the art room for a collaborative project; a brief yoga and jumping-around session with “Pulse” director Michele Dana; an intro to the Beit Shefa (“House of Abundance”, aka dining hall); colorful presentations from our Specialists about the diverse interests campers can explore here, and time for each bunk to craft a skit that introduces their bunk, which they later presented at the opening campfire.

After the Havurah Hikes, we met as tribe groups: Yesod (foundation) is 3rd and 4th grades; Tiferet (balance/harmony) is 5th and 6th grades; and Keter (crown) is the Specialty Immersion folks. We played games that got us knowing each others’ names, running around, learning about each other and enjoying ourselves, then went to unpack and create our nests. 

After the unpacking time, we gathered on the field outside the dining hall for the full-camp opening ceremony. People called out the range of places they’d just come from – the 73 campers here came from at least 11 states this morning. In Eden Village tradition, we re-enacted our coming together by first running away from the circle for 10 seconds while yelling…. and then soaring like birds back towards the center, where we blew a looooong shofar blast then taught & sang the “shehechyanu” song. This is a prayer that means “thank you for bringing me to this day,” which we say when we’ve reached a new and important moment. From here, we sat down where we’d been standing in a big clump around Yoni, and he gave over guidelines for living here – rules that help everyone feel grounded and know that everything here is grounded in rigorous supervision and safety, both physical and emotional. 

In his characteristic funny, accessible, dynamic way of communicating, which gets kids of any age laughing and also totally on board, Yoni shared that here, what’s “cool” is being kind. Everyone agreed that they like getting “kind-ed”, and they like being kind to others too. We also shared that every staff person wants extremely much to help them have the best week of their lives, and if they could use even more support, one of their biggest jobs as a camper is to communicate to us. Our staffers are all cultivating their intuitive superpowers, but we also need help by hearing what’s going on in words.

Generally speaking, the beginning of camp focuses on creating community and welcoming everyone, both returning and new campers, and helping everyone settle comfortably into camp life. We have many tools to that end, including getting everyone familiar with the schedule and layout of camp, games to help campers learn names and be playful, and activities that help build trust and connection among everyone in the bunk, including staffers. 

Food is important too. We had a spirited dinner outside on the lawn, all organic as usual, of extremely tasty (and free-range, local) grilled chicken or grilled portobellos and tofu dogs, corn on the cob, roasted sweet potatoes, extensive salad bar, and watermelon for dessert — easy, familiar food, with gluten-free, vegan, etc. diets accounted for as always. At the blessing after the meal, kids rekindled the tradition of standing up to really sing it out.

From dinner we went to the beach, where a witty and wackily costumed pair of MCs (Program Director Simone and Summer Assistant Director Josh — both extraordinary leaders along many dimensions) hosted our opening campfire. Each bunk shared their inventive skit/cheer and staffers theatrically introduced themselves. A personal highlight was seeing how the whole camp ended up circle dancing around the fire afterwards, with the sunset reflected on the lake and the kids’ energy so high. Somewhere in there, Yoni saw a blue heron flying over the lake and pointed it out to a bunch of kids who were wowed right along with him.

From there, Yesod and Tiferet went to their bunks for some cabin time and bedtime, and Keter met with their mentors of their specialty to map out their upcoming projects – a lot of buzzing excitement within that group. For one thing, they are planning an overnight in the woods, with the cullinary arts kids planning all the cooking!  Yoni and I peeked in on the Yesod bunks’ bedtime rituals and saw beautiful goal-setting sessions where cabinmates brainstormed plans for these upcoming days, circles where cabinmates shared highlights from the day and hopes for tomorrow, and Shma prayers and lullabyes sang.

I would love to hear from other parents what type of summer overnight camp experiences they choose for their kids, and what are the goals and considerations that go towards in making that choice.