Monthly Archives: January 2013

“The Power is YOURS!”


Captain Planet’s values never go out of style.

Did you grow up watching Captain Planet? (I didn’t – but that’s a long story; apparently I have some catching up to do on cartoons and sitcoms of the ‘80s and ‘90s). The point is, if Captain Planet were Jewish, he would be preparing right now to celebrate his favorite holiday: Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees.

The timing of Tu Bishvat seems perfect; it follows a period of introspection where we reflect on our past year and make resolutions for the coming year. But, by the end of the month, we look outward – at our external world and think about how our existence impacts the environment and what we can do to make this year a better one for the trees-our universe. Better yet, congregations can come together and make a communal commitment to our universe.

These are just a few of the many ways in which congregations can make the sacred experience of going to the synagogue more environmentally friendly (remember, as Captain Planet would say, “The power is YOURS!”):

  •  Flowers in the sanctuary: Use living plants in pots, not cut flowers.
  •  Candles: Beeswax candles are the most environment-friendly choice.
  • Bulletins: Go paperless! Email out your congregational updates.
  •  Programs: Congregations that distribute programs at services can place a container at the exits so that the programs can be recycled.
  • Kiddush cups: Congregants can keep their own reusable glass at the synagogue or can be asked to bring a cup with them to services.

Youth can also play an active role in improving our environment. In fact, a communal focus on the environment can also serve as a bridge-builder—all religions have lots to say about the environment. Youth groups from local churches and synagogues can join hands to promote a cleaner environment. Actually, an interfaith coalition to preserve the environment might be of interest to Captain Planet—his diverse group of “Planeteers” were just that sort of youth group. So, young and old, we all have the power to help and respond to the needs of our trees, and our environment as whole.

And guess what?

We can even get a little help from Captain Planet.

That’s right. The Captain Planet Foundation helps us exercise our powers to help the environment by funding initiatives that inspire youth and communities to participate in environmental stewardship activities. Preferential consideration is given to requests seeking seed funding of $500 or less and to applicants who have secured at least 50% matching or in-kind funding for their projects.

Do you think that your congregation has the power? Do you have an idea for a great project? If you do and you require funds to put it into action, please find information about how you can apply for the funds right here. Don’t forget to share your ideas with the rest of us!

PS There are also a lot of great Jewish environmental organizations, such as: Canfei Nesharim, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and Hazon


Posted on January 23, 2013

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

My Problem with Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The Civil Rights Movement is one of the most compelling chapters of American history. State and federal governments were right to set aside a holiday to celebrate its achievements – and without a doubt, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the movement’s most eloquent and charismatic spokesman. His tragic death made him a martyr to the cause of justice. And yet, every Martin Luther King Day, I find myself resisting this exclusive focus on Dr. King, who has come to represent the sum total of the movement for most Americans.

Sit-ins: a communal form of activism.

Sit-ins: a communal form of activism.

This idea struck me most recently when I was attending a presentation by a group of students from McComb, Mississippi, who were taking part in a special locally-focused civil rights course. The two high school students noted that while they had heard of Martin Luther King, they had no idea of the civil rights history of their own town.  Prior to the class, they had never heard of Herbert Lee, a leader of the McComb black community and fighter for civil rights, who was murdered by a state legislator in 1961. As part of the course, these students have interviewed several community members who played a role in the local movement.

 These students have done tremendous work uncovering the civil rights history of their own community. This exciting McComb Legacy Project shows that all of our communities have an important civil rights history that needs to be preserved and understood. Our heroes are not just carved into monuments in Washington. They still walk the streets of our communities.


Ms. Brenda Travis, a hero you’ll find on the McComb Legacy Project website

The most important lesson of the movement is how regular people came together to change this country. The best book about the Mississippi movement, Local People, by John Dittmer, sums up this idea in its very title. I fear that by focusing exclusively on the life and achievements of one great leader, we lose sight of the idea that we all have the power to change the world.

It’s true. We do have the collective power to change the world. It happened right here, during the Civil Rights Movement.

So today, challenge yourself to learn something about other great leaders like Bob Moses, Ella Baker, Aaron Henry, Fred Shuttlesworth, Fannie Lou Hamer, and so many more.  Even better, look into the civil rights history of your own community (be it north, south, east, or west). I am sure you will uncover local heroes who helped ensure the continuation of Dr. King’s dream.

Do you have family or community members who fought for civil rights? How will you honor this legacy?

Posted on January 21, 2013

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

From the Collection: When Life Gives You Wood, Make Ducks

I was in North Mississippi, visiting my husband’s family for the first time over Thanksgiving when I first heard about “the blind.” Being Jewish and from the North I had never heard this term, but after lunch we drove through the eerily empty and beautiful  delta fields out to his father’s duck blind. It was a camouflaged hideout, made to fit eight people and two dogs. They had flooded the field to attract ducks flying south for winter and filled the water with elaborate decoys that, with a flip of a switch flapped their wings, signaling to ducks flying overhead that this was a safe place to land.  When I asked about the small camp stove, I learned that the space served more as a clubhouse on early weekend mornings than a place for serious hunting.

I was reminded of that blind when I first spotted this beautifully crafted decoy in our museum collection. Created as a commemorative piece, it’s not bound for the flooded fields, but lives in our collection instead, as a symbol of both Jewish and Southern heritage.

Carved wood from Temple Ashe Chesed in Vicksburg

Carved wood from Temple Anshe Chesed in Vicksburg

This duck comes from a synagogue in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Vickburg’s Anshe Chesed dedicated their first house of worship in 1870.  Like all great southern celebrations, the program began with a parade from the B’nai B’rith hall to the new temple, led by a police escort and Jaeger’s Brass Band from New Orleans.  The congregation spent over 100 years in the building until the late 1960s, when they decided to move out of downtown and build a smaller temple. Their original building was torn down.

Made of Wood from Mississippi's first synagogue built after the Civil War, it was Dedicated Temple Anshe Chesed May 16, 1868 and was located at 1209 Cherry Street, VicksburgGift from Benji L and Betty Lee Grundfest Lamensdorf"

“Made of Wood from Mississippi’s first synagogue built after the Civil War. It was Dedicated Temple Anshe Chesed May 16, 1868 and was located at 1209 Cherry Street, Vicksburg
Gift from Benji L and Betty Lee Grundfest Lamensdorf”

Before the old synagogue came down, though, congregants wanted keep something to remember it by. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to honor an important southern institution than to manifest it in this traditional art form.

Congregants Benji and Betty Lee Grundfest Lamensdorf  had a set of these wonderful decoys carved from the wood remnants of the temple, and one of them made its way into our collection. They serve as a reminder of what Jewish life once was, and still is in Vicksburg. The congregation, now over 160 years old, has shrunk significantly, but they still hold lay-led services and social gathering on most Shabbats. You might say these birds of a feather have done a great job sticking together, and we hope they continue to do so for many more Shabbats to come.

Posted on January 18, 2013

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