Author Archives: Rachel Stern

Rachel Stern

About Rachel Stern

Rachel Stern is the Director of Education at the ISJL.

The Hobby Lobby Hanukkah Hubbub

This week, my Facebook news-feed is filled with outrage about the fact that Hobby Lobby won’t carry Hanukkah decorations. Many Jews are upset by this; some are even calling it “anti-Semitic.”

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But is it anti-Semitic of a Christian company to not sell Hanukkah decorations?

Merriam-Webster defines anti-Semitism as “hatred of the Jewish people” or “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews”. Is an openly religious Christian store not selling Jewish holiday objects really hatred of the Jewish people?

Perhaps all of this would be less of an issue if the representative in New Jersey who answered the phone had been trained of a more neutral way to explain this. I think her using the term “you people” is indeed offensive, but that’s not the company. Incidentally, Hobby Lobby does say it is now investigating the actual comments made by the employee.

To me, this is merely an act of ignorance and poor training. Hobby Lobby has the right to order and sell whatever merchandise they want. Would we blame a Judaica store for not carrying Christmas ornaments? What if the staff of the Judaica store said “oh, we don’t carry objects for non Jews”?

This is not a far-fetched; sure, Hobby Lobby isn’t a “Christianica” (new word) store, but it is a Christian store. Just read the Hobby Lobby Statement of Purpose:

In order to effectively serve our owners, employees, and customers the Board of Directors is committed to:
Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.
Offering our customers an exceptional selection and value.
Serving our employees and their families by establishing a work environment and company policies that build character, strengthen individuals, and nurture families.
Providing a return on the owners’ investment, sharing the Lord’s blessings with our employees, and investing in our community.
We believe that it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured. He has been faithful in the past, and we trust Him for our future.

 

This is a crystal clear worldview, spelled out institutionally for the company. Perhaps we are the naive ones to expect to find Hanukkah decorations at a place that defines its mission so clearly. We may not like that we will have to go elsewhere for our holiday decorations, and maybe because of that we will decide to not go there for anything at all – which is completely within our rights. But this is not an act of anti-Semitism. If they wouldn’t sell their products to Jews, or were discriminatory in their hiring processes, and that sort of thing – that would be another issue. But that’s not what we’re discussing here: The issue is simply that they are not selling products for a religious holiday outside of their corporate religious adherence.

In the South, we are very familiar with dilemmas like this. We live in the buckle of the Bible Belt. This incident was in New Jersey, but feels familiar. But I’m hesitant to call something “anti-Semitic” when it’s really just “a different demographic.” We can always shop at Michael’s, or Target — or, of course, our synagogue’s Judaica shop, where there will be plenty of Hanukkah decorations, but probably no candy canes.

Posted on October 2, 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

Why Do I Exercise? Two Words: “B’Tzelem Elohim”

As a Jewish professional, I am always looking for ways to connect Judaism to our lives. “Professional” Jews know that our students, congregants, and communities look to us as models for how to live a life filled with meaning and purpose.rachel running

One of the first lessons we teach Jewish children is that we are created b’tzelem Elohim – “in God’s image.” For some of us, being created in God’s image is a reminder to be God-like, showing as much kindness and compassion as we can. For others, being created in God’s image is a warning not to tattoo or pierce our bodies. For me, at this stage in my life b’tzelem Elohim is more literal: it means that God gave me my physical body to take care of, nurture, and cherish.

That’s why every day, I think about what I put into my body; every day, I find the time to move; and every day, I seek out things that make me happy. These acts not only keep me well physically, but also they also heighten my spiritual awareness. This has become as much my Jewish practice as the study of text or praying.

I am also just as much a role model for my students and staff by taking care of my body as I would be for my Jewish knowledge. I believe this very deeply: taking care of our physical selves honors a gift given to us by God, and is a very Jewish thing to do. And yet, the Jewish professional field is overwhelmed by unhealthy lifestyles, too little sleep, too little exercise, a state of imbalance and poor health. The irony in this is that research shows undeniably that people are more productive when they eat well, exercise, and get sleep.

The Jewish world closely mirrors the rest of society in the issue of weight and nutrition. And, sad but true - it’s especially bad in the South.  I wonder, though, if we as Jewish leaders have an obligation to model healthy living – focusing not just on mind and spirit, but also on body. When we talk about obesity and health, emotions run deep, as this is something many people struggle with and few are comfortable discussing. So how can we, as a Jewish community, help and support each other in this arena?

What does being b’tezelem Elohim mean to you?  Do you think Jewish leaders should model a healthy lifestyle?

Posted on August 30, 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

Regional Community Building & The Blessing of Skype

Skype. Gchat. iPhone.

These are some of my primary tools in my modern Jewish education career.

Utilizing technology is important for pretty much all Jewish educators these days, but when you’re serving an entire region, they become more than enriching add-ons. They become absolute necessities.

I work as a virtual supervisor (not a term that was thrown around much back when I was in grad school at HUC!). That means that while I’m based in San Antonio Texas, the other ten people in my department are based out of the ISJL office in Jackson, Mississippi. When I first took on this role, I admit that I worried: what if my staff didn’t get what they needed from me.  Mentorship is so important, and I want to always be a good supervisor to my staff.

But then I recalled my previous professional settings where I had supervisors who were sitting just inches away, and yet remained completely unavailable to me.  I began realizing that meaningful connection isn’t just about physical presence, though that is important (and I do fly to Jackson quite frequently). It’s about mental presence. It’s about tuning in, and being responsive, and being accessible. Reachable, even if that means leaning pretty heavily on technology. Most of all, it’s about communication. And so that’s what I’ve committed to: being an always-mentally-present supervisor even when I wasn’t always physically present.

How Rachel Stern's staff sees her, most of the time: a friendly face on the Skype screen.

The way I work with my staff mirrors the way we work with our Southern communities, often quite far-flung, and ensure their positive Jewish experiences. My unconventional supervision succeeds because it fits with this model. My staff is constantly on the road, serving nearly 80 congregational schools.  We guide hundreds of teachers and reach thousands of students, from afar – but again, thanks to email and messaging and video conferences, we are always in touch.

Each community we serve receives a weekly email from their fellow.  We distribute a monthly e-newsletter from the department.  We are on daily calls, webinars and Skype sessions with our communities.  Most importantly, we see them three times a year, and we make every moment count.  When we aren’t teaching or leading a program, we are celebrating Shabbat with families at their dinner tables, we attend birthday parties for the children of the congregation, and we schmooze in the homes of our host families.

We have the privilege of becoming part of the community – and technology helps make it possible. Particularly in a region like the South, where there are more small Jewish communities than large ones, and often many miles separating these communities, anything that helps strengthen connections and communication between people is truly a blessing.

Hmm. Anyone know a good bracha for kicking off my next Skype session? ;-)

People worry that this age of technology is creating distance between people.  For us, it allows our impact and contact to be greater.  How do you use technology to connect to others?  We would love to hear your stories and comments.

 

 

Posted on August 27, 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