Category Archives: General

Jewish Learning on an Oil Rig

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Guillermo works in the oil and gas industry, a career path that placed him smack dab in the middle of rural Canada. If the location wasn’t a big enough challenge, Guillermo’s busy schedule made it impossible for him to attend synagogue or be a part of a Jewish community.Help us help Guillermo.  Donate today

Or so he thought. When his girlfriend sent him to MyJewishLearning.com, he found just what he was looking for.

“I work in a remote area,” Guillermo told us, “so by frequently visiting MyJewishLearning.com, I can still feel connected to the Jewish tradition, and keep up with the Jewish calendar.”

Guillermo's quote

Guillermo started by by reading the weekly Torah portion commentaries on MyJewishLearning and studying the Jewish holidays. Soon he discovered the depths of what MyJewishLearning had to offer, exploring the Jewish history section and beefing up his knowledge of Jewish culture and rituals.

“MyJewishLearning.com helps me grow in understanding the tradition, religion, and spirituality,” Guillermo said.

Now, Guillermo’s career has moved him once again, this time to a more urban area with an actual Jewish community. Yet Guillermo still finds himself frequenting the virtual learning space of MyJewishLearning, knowing that the path to deepening his understanding of the Jewish faith has always been right at his fingertips.

MyJewishLearning is a non-profit organization that depends on donations from people like you to cover 85% of its operating budget. For the last 10 years, MyJewishLearning has helped people like Guillermo learn about and connect with Jewish life. Help make sure we’re here for the next 10 years by making a tax-deductible donation today.

Donate Now!

Posted on September 14, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Aly Raisman: Jewish Olympic Champion

Aly-Raisman-Jewish

Who else felt like shedding a tear last night when Aly Raisman took home gold in the individual floor exercises? There has been no shortage of Jewish champions at the Olympics in the past (Sasha Cohen or Sarah Hughes, for instance), but something about this Jewish American champion just strikes me as so spectacularly Jewish, I can’t help feeling an extra sense of  pride.

For starters, you can’t ignore Aly’s floor exercise music-it’s an upbeat, Hava Negila–and she has been quoted as saying she wanted to use the song because “there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there.” Aly’s pride in her Jewish roots blasts out into the stadium, for the whole arena (and the millions of the viewers watching around the globe) to behold.

Then, of course, Aly’s parents became famous, for their kvelling Jewish spirit that took over while watching their daughter perform. If you haven’t seen the viral video of the Raismans that some NBC genius decided to film, it’s worth going over to the NBC website to watch. The Raisman’s hilariously pained expressions, the stress they feel vicariously for their daughter’s success–well if that didn’t remind you of some Jewish parents, I don’t know what will.

The fact that Aly won gold for a performance to a song so associated with Jewish life and tradition just hits me somewhere deep.

Yes, the International Olympic Committee refused to publicly take a moment to honor the Israeli athletes who were killed in Munich 40 years ago. But Aly’s beautiful tribute to her Jewish roots is reminding viewers that being Jewish at the Olympics can trigger a different sort of tears–tears of joy.

 

Posted on August 8, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Over and Out

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Two weeks ago, I told my boss I was leaving. This is at my day job, understand–not my job job (writing poems and books and movies), or my real job (taking care of some kids, and doing my best to keep them from killing themselves and each other, and possibly teaching them some stuff), but rather the place where I’ve spent 8 hours of most days of the past four years. Ten hours, if you add in the commute.

It’s kind of an incredible math: There are 24 hours to a day, one-third of which is spent at work, another one-twelfth getting there, one-third to one-quarter (6-8 hours, on average–admittedly, an optimistic average) sleeping, in preparation for the onslaught of your day. What’s left should be a lot of time (another 8-10 hours, right?, if you’ve been keeping up with the math), but where does it all go? Praying. Cleaning. Eating. Posting dumb stuff on Facebook. Trying to write.

jewniverse

Far and away the biggest thing I’ve done with the past few years is Jewniverse–which, if you haven’t been getting it, is a daily email I’ve been writing and designing that’s better, I hope, than the title suggests: something cool and interesting and novel that you’ve never heard of, that’s in some way Jewish. You can subscribe here–too late to catch most of mine, but good people will still be writing (I’ll still be one of them, occasionally), and I’ve still got a month of stuff ready to go out. The website is not quite live yet, but in a week or two, if you go to thejewniverse.com, there’ll be a ton of these things to check out.

(And then I’ve done a bunch of other stuff, like these videos and these articles and this blog, and omg I threw years of my life into this blog, and one day I’ll separate the cool articles from the stupid video posts, but I don’t know when…but it’s weird, saying goodbye.)

So that’s been the past two years. It’s weird to say goodbye to your babies, especially since, unlike actual babies,it’s not even like my old posts are going to come back from college or invite me to their weddings or put me into a nursing home or something.

But it’s been good. Daniel, my editor, made a point of telling me that, over the past 2 years, I’ve written and sent out 4.7 million emails. Most of them have been short, under 200 words, but it’s still pretty powerful and an amazing gift that I’ve been able to. And it’s totally dumb of me to say thank you to you for reading and listening, but I’m going to say it anyway.

I’m still around. I’ll still blog (hopefully more, now that I’ve got time!) at matthue.com, and I have a new book coming out next year! I’m moving on–starting Monday, I’ll be writing video games for Wireless Generation, and I’m hugely excited, although right now I’m more nervous and anxious about it. But I’ll see you around. It’s a small Internet, after all, and it’s only getting smaller.

Thank you.

(Yeah. That’s all I meant to say.)

Thank you.

Posted on July 13, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

We’re Hiring an Editor!

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MyJewishLearning.com is seeking a full-time Editor to lead its editorial team.

The Editor will oversee the website’s content conceptualization, production, editing, and distribution. This includes supervising the editorial calendar, multiple blogs, e-newsletters, social media engagement, online classes, and special projects. The Editor will also manage our collaborations with partner agencies. The Editor will be responsible for all day-to-day operations of MyJewishLearning.com, including managing and supervising several staff members. The Editor will report to MyJewishLearning, Inc.’s Director of Operations.

Qualified candidates must have at least 3 years of relevant experience and significant knowledge of Judaism and Jewish life. Experience in web publishing and editing is desired. Ideal candidates must be comfortable with a broad array of new media with a desire to learn more. Those applying should be self-motivated, highly organized, detail-oriented, and responsive to deadlines. Candidates should be experienced managers–of time, people, and projects

The job includes full health and dental benefits, as well as professional development opportunities. This position is located at our New York City headquarters.

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume and an answer to the question below to jobs (at) myjewishlearning.com:

In 300 words or less, tell us about a website that MyJewishLearning.com can learn from and why.

Posted on June 25, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

And the Rabbi Is….

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It’s been awesome to watch the Real Top Rabbis contest unfold — nearly 250 of you sent in stories about your favorite rabbi that touched and inspired us.

And today’s the day we add up the votes. We’re excited that we could play a part in honoring all these rabbis, and that we could tell these stories to a wider audience. And we’d just like to share with you the winner of dinner for two and a massage: Rabbi Matthew Soffer.

Rabbi Soffer is rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston. He’s also the director of the Riverway Project, which engages 20′s and 30′s in his community. You can read his nomination here, or read more at his own blog and Twitter.

We’ll be taking Rabbi Soffer to a well-deserved night of dinner and a massage. But we’d like to congratulate and thank all of the rabbis who participated — and all the rabbis out there who help us, every day, on the grand scale and the individual scale, for both the big moments and the everyday moments. Thank you, rabbis!

Posted on May 8, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Name Your Favorite Old Synagogue, Win an iPad

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Here’s one way that you can help out a historic synagogue — and help yourself in the process!

Congregation Beth Elohim, a landmark synagogue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is a finalist in the American Express Partners in Preservation Program. As finalists, they have a chance to win up to $250,000 to restore their beautiful stained glass windows in the main sanctuary.

congregation beth elohim american express

They’re the only Jewish institution named as a finalist. They’re up against such prestigious institutions as the Guggenheim Museum and the Apollo Theater. To win, they need your votes. Here’s how you can help:

- Vote daily at http://pipvoting.nationaltrust.org/detail/10

“Like” them on Facebook and share the link so others can do the same

- Encourage your family, friends and neighbors to vote for CBE

- Join them for “CBE Connects,” an open house event, on Sunday, May 6 from 2 to 5 p.m.

And to thank you for voting in person at CBE or tagging the CBE Facebook page in your status update, they’re raffling off a year’s free membership at CBE and an iPad. So vote early, and vote often!

Posted on April 30, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

MJL is Hiring!

Calling all smart, talented, writerly, computer-savvy, and unemployed people! MyJewishLearning.com is on the hunt for an Editorial Assistant to join our team. Besides working with an awesome crew (seriously, we’re great, and we’ll get you donuts for your birthday), you’d be working in a lovely, casual Manhattan office and getting hands on with everything that goes into running a Jewish website, which is actually quite a lot.

Here’s the official job description:

MyJewishLearning.com. is seeking a full-time Editorial Assistant to join its dynamic team.

Tasks for this entry-level job will include researching editorial and visual content, loading and updating content to the website, creating e-newsletters, responding to inquiries, as well as supporting the general projects and needs of the editorial team.

Qualified candidates should have an interest in working in web publishing and have a strong knowledge of Jewish life and traditions. We’re looking for someone who can manage multiple tasks at one time, has an eye for detail, and brings energy and creativity to his or her job. Previous experience writing, working with content management systems, and Photoshop are a plus.

Benefits include health, dental, and vision insurance, retirement plans, and an allotment for professional development.

Preferred Experience: 0-2 Years

To apply for this position please submit a resume, cover letter, and writing sample to jobs@myjewishlearning.com

About MyJewishLearning.com

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Offering articles and resources on all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life, the site is geared toward adults of all ages and backgrounds, from the casual reader looking for interesting insights, to non-Jews searching for a better understanding of Jewish culture, to experienced learners wishing to delve deeper into specific topic areas.

 

Posted on March 28, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Breaking Bad Habits

“It is too late to prepare when temptation is actually at hand.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger

Sometimes you find yourself dangerously close to a piece of cheesecake. It inches even closer to you, begging to be eaten. “I can’t help myself,” you find yourself saying, as if an extra-terrestrial being has taken hold of you and forced down the cake. This reminds me of a trouble-maker I went to school with whose yearbook quote read: “Lead us not into temptation. Just leave us alone. We’ll find it.” Kicking the cheesecake habit is hard. But it is not impossible if you will it.

Even though they say that bad habits are hard to break, Charles Duhigg, in his recent book The Power of Habit, argues that the more we know about how we form our habits, the easier they are to change. He amasses scientific evidence to show that difficult tasks repeated multiple times become rote. We may barely think about what we do when we shoot a basket, drive a car or take a shower because we go into automatic pilot. We’ve done things so many times that our bodies engage even if our minds are coasting. David Brooks, writing on Duhigg, claims that, “Your willpower is not like a dam that can block the torrent of self-indulgence. It’s more like a muscle, which tires easily.” It needs to be fortified.

If repetition is the key to habit then recalibrating behaviors and doing them again and again differently becomes one critical way that we break bad habits and willfully choose new ones. When we learn new routines and practice them repeatedly we “teach” ourselves how to adopt best practices. It is awkward at first but still do-able. Research done at Duke University shows that 40% of our behaviors are made through habit rather than intentional decisions. With a little concerted mental effort, we can reshape old habits.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir (1798-1866) was a Talmudic scholar and the first Gerer Rebbe, a Hasidic sect popular in Poland. Many stories and legends have evolved about the Rebbe’s piety and knowledge. Martin Buber, in Tales of the Hasidim, shares a well-known story about the Rebbe. When his mother died, he followed her bier, begging for forgiveness. He spoke to his mother’s coffin, “In this world, I am a man who is much honored and many call me rabbi. But now you will enter the world of truth and see that it is not as they think. So forgive me and do not bear me a grudge. What can I do, if people are mistaken in me?” Perhaps he understood that those who came to her funeral were doing so out of honor for him, taking away from his mother’s honor. He apologized.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir did not posses any research from Duke University, but he did spend a lot of time contemplating the battle of good over evil. He warned his followers: “There will be many and grave temptations, and he who has not prepared himself for them will be lost.” You cannot prepare yourself for temptation when you are standing in front of it. You will not have had time or forethought to form the good habits you need to overcome desire. Imagine going to Siberia in the winter. Only when getting there do you realize that you need a coat. Ill-prepared, you cannot stay. But this would never happen because we check the weather before we travel. We can also check ourselves before we enter a situation which we suspect will present a test of our willpower. Temptation according to the Gerer Rebbe is something we prepare for precisely because he believed that temptation is a test: “it shows what within you is dross and what is true metal.” When your temptation level feels like jello, it’s time to remember Rabbi Yitzchak Meir and remind yourself that you’ve got nerves of steel.

Temptation is overcome by forming good habits and repeating them. That’s true when it comes to speaking well of others, praying, giving charity, studying, exercising, visiting the sick, and spending time with our families. We know where temptation lives, but research now helps us understand that we can knock on another door.

Posted on March 24, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Harry Potter Talks Jewish Day Schools

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This is hilarious: Imagine there’s a Jewish day school called Chagwartz. And imagine that their biggest donor, Lucius Malfoyberg, suddenly withdraws his support. What will the headmaster, Rabbi Dumbledore, do??

Here’s a brilliant take on it:

GoAnimate.com: Chaim Potter by PEJEjds

Our friend (and sometimes hilarious columnist) (sometimes-columnist, not sometimes-hilarious) Ken Gordon made this video. (And, for another take on the Harry Potter legend, check out this article I wrote about an eon ago: Chaim Potterovich and the Sorcerer’s Kiddish. Wherein I debate the real relationship between Kiddish and Quidditch, naturally…

Posted on March 5, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Deciding How We Fit into Jewish Day School

Earlier this week, the AVI CHAI Foundation together with the Steinhardt Foundation posed a question to the Jewish community: What would make day schools more attractive to non-Orthodox parents? This has been a key topic in the Jewish world of late, as seen with articles like this one in Sh’ma from MyJewishLearning contributers Rabbi Jill Jacobs and Rabbi Susan P. Fendrick. As part of this dialogue, the following post from Amy Meltzer explores why she has made the choice to send her kids to Jewish day school.

A few years ago I began writing a Jewish parenting blog called Homeshuling. The blog title is a play on the word “homeschooling.” Just as some families choose to educate their children at home because the local schools don’t meet their needs, we choose to celebrate Judaism (mostly) at home because the local synagogues don’t meet our family’s needs.

jewish day school

I’ve written about the many ways we’ve created a rich Jewish home life: baking challah for our Shabbat table each week, painting murals on the walls of our sukkah, preparing handmade Purim baskets and filling them with my great-grandmother’s famous hamantaschen, and even hosting a backyard Lag B’Omer campfire complete with bows, arrows and kosher marshmallows.

But the dirty little secret of our success as homeshulers is that although we don’t step foot in our local shul that often (and before you start hurling stones comments at me, yes, we are members, and yes, I’ve served on several committees to try to improve our offerings for young families), another Jewish institution is at the heart of our family’s Jewish life. We are a Jewish day school family.

Ours is hardly the typical profile for a day school family. First and foremost, my husband is an atheist who was raised Catholic. Second of all, we live across the street–literally a stone’s throw–from an excellent public elementary school. Third, as two teacher-parents, one of whom left the workforce for five years to be home with our young children, well, let’s just say we are the 99%. Paying tuition does not come easily to us.

And yet, the choice to send our daughters to the Lander-Grinspoon Academy was an easy one. If we weren’t going to make the synagogue the center of our Jewish life  (and as an intermarried family with young children, that would have been a tough sell–the services are mostly in Hebrew, they’re long, and admittedly, I don’t like shul enough to make a convincing sales pitch week after week), then how would we and our children become part of a Jewish community?

Our Jewish day school is so much more than the place our kids go to school. It’s where we’ve found our Jewish community. It’s where we’ve met the families who sit at our Shabbat table and eat our challah, who’ve added their artwork to our sukkah mural, who exchange Purim baskets with us, and who’ve added wood to the fires at our Lag B’Omer picnics. We come together for simchas–when our children receive their first siddur and when they read Torah for the first time–and holiday celebrations–the annual Hanukkah play, the superb Purim shpeil. We celebrate each other’s life cycle events, and mobilize as an army of cooks, cleaners, babysitters, and nit-combers when one of us falls ill.

Jewish day school has also put us on Jewish time. When the school is closed for every single Yom Tov–holidays many of us would probably not observe (um, Shemini Atzeret is what…?)–we come together for our own versions of holiday celebrations: picnics at the park, leisurely play dates, and yes, even sometimes shul.

Many people think Jewish day school is only for Orthodox or very observant families. From my perspective, it’s precisely because my family is decidedly non-Orthodox that a Jewish day school is such a great fit. My level of faith and observance is simply not strong enough to create a Jewish life for my kids that feels organic and seamless. School does that hard job for me.

When Zoe wanders though the house singing Adon Olam and Od Yavo Shalom; when Ella writes her very first book in writing workshop about loving Passover; when my children casually switch to Hebrew at the dinner table; when my kids urge me to give tzedakah to every panhandler on Main Street: these are the moments when our day school tuition dollars (reduced by a generous financial aid packet) aren’t just painless; they are a pleasure.

I’m not suggesting that Jewish day school is right for every non-Orthodox-intermarried-shul-disdaining-middle-income-fan-of-public-schools family. Not every Jewish day school is as welcoming to non-traditional families as ours, and not every day school is as flat-out wonderful (check out our video for just a hint of why we love it so much).  But I am certain that it’s been the right choice for us.

Amy Meltzer is an educator, author and mother of two. She blogs at Homeshuling, where she writes about raising Jewish children while spending very little time in synagogue. She is the author of two children’s books, A Mezuzah on the Door and The Shabbat Princess.

Posted on February 9, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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