Author Archives: Rachel Stern

Rachel Stern

About Rachel Stern

Rachel Stern is the Director of Education at the ISJL.

Blessings Over Burdens

This year, I decided to give the #BlogElul challenge a try. I am mostly posting Facebook statuses to explore each day’s idea, but wanted to share this longer post about one of the words that truly is meaningful to me: Bless.

I like to say that life is about perspective, choosing to see things as a blessing rather than as a burden. Sometimes it can be challenging to make this mental shift. How do we go from burden to blessing? Like so.

They're with the band.

They’re with the band.

Burden: My twins just started high school. They are at the same high school as my step-children. It’s the first time all four kiddos are at the same place. Thanks to having twins, and our beautiful blended family, we have three freshman and a sophomore! Yes, you read that correctly. Imagine the upcoming graduation parties!)

All four of them are in marching band, and Friday was their first football game. (In case you didn’t know, Texas football is a BIG DEAL.)

Getting the three freshman situated this week has been an adjustment for both my husband and me, as well as for the kids. Early morning and afternoon practices, mounting homework, still keeping up with work and religious school and all of the day-to-day business of life… all of us are facing a pretty steep learning curve. By the time the first game arrived, we were already mentally and physically spent. We got home from the football game at 11:30pm. The kids were drenched from sweat, starving, crabby and anxious because while it was so late, they still needed to finish homework and they had a quiz the next day. The family meltdown was on its way, BUT.

Blessing: I’m re-framing the burden, the stress, the hectic schedule… because when I look back on this first week, my kids are experiencing a whole new, exciting phase of life. One week in, and they are already learning so much. I had the chance to volunteer and meet some new people along the way. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, they were patient and kind. I even met a woman who shared with me that my father delivered her children, and that he had meant so much to their family – making me glad, once again, that I moved back to my hometown of San Antonio.

The Mighty Cougar Band!

The Mighty Cougar Band!

I got to see my kids perform, and they were AWESOME! They all lit up when they saw my husband and me at the game. We sat in the stands with amazing friends and ate popcorn (one of my favorite foods). My kids came home to a late night snack, a cool shower, and a comfy bed. The next morning dawned early… but the coffee was brewed, and we were ready to go again.

Burden? Nah. Blessing. Countless blessings, indeed!

This post was written as part of the #BlogElul project. The entire month of Elul is traditionally a time of reflection before the High Holidays. We welcome your reflections, too!

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Posted on September 3, 2014

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

Judaism Blooms Each Summer… In Jackson, Mississippi

You may not picture central Mississippi as central to Jewish life. But every summer, one of the most dynamic Jewish conferences anywhere takes place in Jackson, Mississippi.

A session at last year's conference

A session at last year’s conference

Every June, Jewish educators from throughout the South, and great presenters from around the country, gather together for three days of learning, networking, celebration and inspiration at the ISJL’s teacher training institute, AKA “the education conference.” While Jackson may not be known by most as a Jewish metropolis, and most folks wouldn’t guess that this Southern town is the location for one of the leading Jewish education conferences in the country, the simple truth is that if you come to Jackson in June, you’ll know it’s true.

That conference begins this Sunday, and as always, I couldn’t be more excited. Volunteer teachers, along with full-time educators, rabbis, and Jewish professionals from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and all over the region will sit beside one another, sharing challenges, sharing best practices, and of course, sharing meals. (Hey, you can’t have a Jewish event without food!)

I’m certain this year’s conference will lead to wonderful connections, great stories and plenty of what I like to call “goosebump moments.” For now, our team is working hard to take care of every single last-minute detail so when participants arrive Sunday, everything is in place. We’re watering the seeds and can’t wait for this blossom to once again bloom into beautiful life, nurtured in the warmth of a Mississippi summer.

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Posted on June 20, 2014

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

Flying the Friendly Skies

shutterstock_167734952I’m what you would call a reluctant business traveler. While I am the director of the Education Department of the ISJL, with the main office being in Mississippi, I actually live in San Antonio, TX.

Thanks to technology, I mostly telecommute, but once a month I fly into the Jackson office. I HATE flying. I mean I really HATE flying. Although I fly a lot, I am a very anxious flyer and as a result I have developed a very fixed coping routine mixed with superstition, prayer, and just a splash of OCD. I will spare you the details but just know that I recite the Shema A LOT!

What makes matters worse is that most of the people around me seem to be fine with flying.  Some of them even look cheerful and like to make all kinds of new friends. It shouldn’t surprise you that I am not fond of plane chatting. I am often in my own world of Shema-ing and yoga breathing, and don’t really feel much like hearing where people are headed or the reason for their travel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rude and I will always answer questions when asked but I have figured out what to politely say that will end the conversation quickly.

Here’s how it usually goes:

Passenger: Is this trip work or fun?

Me: Work.

Passenger:  What do you do for work?

If I say I work in education, there are immediately more questions….

Passenger:  Oh, are you a teacher? What grade do you teach? What subject do you teach?

Then I have to explain that I’m not actually a teacher…..

Me:  I actually work in the-non profit world.

Passenger:  Oh, how interesting.  What’s the name of the non-profit?  What does it do? Have I heard of it?

When I bring up the word Jewish, the questions/comments reach a whole new level…

Passenger:  Oh!  Are you Jewish?  I have a Jewish friend named ____________.  Do you know him/her?

The conversation/questions can go on and on and can involve my own personal belief system or could just involve some comments about Jewish foods they have tasted. Regardless, I just want to sleep or cope with my flying anxiety, so I have come up with what to say that provides some information but that shuts down the conversation as soon as possible.

This has become my new go-to response?

Me: I work for a non-profit providing educational training and developing curriculum and programs.

This usually sounds uninteresting to most, and I am done with my plane chatting for the flight (phew!). But every once in a while, someone really just wants to chat. Last week on my flight was one of those times. She was a nice middle aged woman who let me know that she was going to visit her son and help him to move into his new apartment. She had an art magazine in her hands and continued to let me know that she was a painter. For her day job she worked for a printing company in Jackson. She was getting ready to retire in the next few months and paint full-time. After she had given her me her back-story, I knew that she was ready to hear from me and that my usual end the conversation technique would be ineffective.

Nice lady:  What do you do?

Me: I work for a non-profit providing educational training and developing curriculum and programs.

Nice lady: Oh!  That’s exciting.  We do a lot of printing for non-profits.  What’s the name of your organization?

Me: The ISJL.

Nice lady:  Oh my goodness!!! We do all of your printing!

Me: You do!? I’m the one that has y’all printing all of those spiral-bound curriculum books each year. They are lessons for the teachers we work with. I’m soooo sorry that we get them to you so late each year, but you always come through for us.

Nice lady: We just love working for y’all.

Me: I’m so glad to have the chance to say thank you.  Those lessons are important to many schools and we couldn’t do our work without you.

Nice lady: I have a Jewish friend named____________.  Do you know her?

Even though my conversation that morning ended up being predictable, this one was also special.  Sitting next to me was a stranger that I couldn’t do my job without. She took our words, ideas, and experiences and literally put them on the page so that we could share them with roughly 500 teachers throughout our region. It was a nice connection, and a chance for me to say thank you. After we chatted LOTS more, I returned to my role of grumpy business traveler… but with a pretty full heart.

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Posted on June 4, 2014

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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