Tag Archives: rabbi

Southern Seders on the Passover Pilgrimage

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Rabbi Klaven and friend in Natchez, Mississippi

Right now, Rabbi Matt Dreffin and Rabbi Marshal Klaven are in the midst of the Passover Pilgrimage, journeying to communities throughout the South to lead seders and Passover programming.

Here is one of Rabbi Klaven’s first updates from the road: “Question: What do you get when 10 Jews and 50 non-Jews get together? Answer: An unforgettable 1st Seder on the ISJL Passover Pilgrimage. This evening in Natchez reminded us all: to go great distances, we cannot go at it alone; but –as the Bible says– we must go as “a mix multitude!” Thank you, Congregation B’nai Israel and all our wonderful friends there!”

The Passover Pilgrimage continues through April 20, with stops in more than half a dozen Southern states:

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Seders along the way take place at congregations (including churches), and additional pastoral visits and events are planned. As ambassadors for this festival of freedom, the rabbis are excited to share their thoughts along the way and post-pilgrimage. In the meantime, we wish them safe travels and will continue sharing periodic updates on the ISJL Facebook page, as well.

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Panama City, Florida – Seder Seagulls!

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Posted on April 15, 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

The Golfing Rabbi, Counting Cars

Golf. A sport usually reserved for the hoighty toighty, and/or generally older crowd. A sport where people ride in little carts and get out of them to whack a tiny plastic ball into a tiny plastic cup.

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Rabbi Matt Dreffin, a few years ago.

Of course, if you’re someone like me, a native of Florida who grew up surrounded by the sport, you just might fall in love with it at a young age. (I received my first new set of golf clubs when I became Bar Mitzvah!)

When I go golfing, I usually pull up to the parking lot, lace up my spikes, and immediately feel insignificant. Why? My little Jetta was several years older, and thousands of dollars cheaper, than the BMWs and Maseratis that occupied the spaces around me in my former locales (South Florida when I was growing up, then Southern California when I was in rabbinical school).
But then I moved to the South. The vehicles in the parking lot changed. And…

I STILL felt insignificant.

Not because of my car’s value, but now, due to its stature. The sheer size of the vehicles surrounding me was intimidating. Liberties and Tundras and Blazers, oh my!

As a rabbi who spends many weekends on the road, I try and sneak in a round of golf on a local Southern course wherever I find myself. (Full disclosure, I cannot consistently break 90.) Most recently, after a great weekend at a synagogue in Jackson, Tennessee, I had the realization that I was surrounded by trucks! It felt like every vehicle parked nearby was a Ford F-150, a Jeep Wrangler, or something even bigger.

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Awestruck by this, I literally began counting cars, discovering that 13 out of 21 vehicles (a whopping 62%!!!) were trucks or SUVs. My initial reaction was “Is this the status symbol in this area? It’s not how quickly your Porsche can accelerate to 60 miles per hour, but how what pound-feet of torque your Chevy has?”

Then it occurred to me that these golfers might live a different lifestyle – the kind that requires a different vehicle. After all, my father, a plant facilities manager at a North Georgia summer camp, has not one but TWO trucks. He uses them to carry two-by-fours, potted plants, and all manner of large items returning from one of his daily (sometimes hourly) trips to the hardware store. His vehicle isn’t about status, it’s about function.

Maybe some of my ideas about golf, and golfers, need some adjusting. Plenty of people down here love the game that I enjoy so much, no matter what any of us drive. Maybe our region dictates our driving choice more than our hobbies do.

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But whatever the reason, there sure are a lot of trucks around these parts, and not just at the golf course. I counted 21 trucks/SUVs out of 29 vehicles in an airport lot the other day. It’s a phenomenon – but what the phenomenon indicates is still something to wonder about…

Maybe I’ll chat about this with my fellow golfers out on the course at the Delta Jewish Golf Open this weekend.

Do you notice the vehicles around you in different settings? Ever had any revelations while “counting cars”?

Posted on November 11, 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

Bully on the Bimah: Bar Mitzvah, No Matter What?

Picture this: a really mean kid.

A kid who spends each day at school calling others names, like fat and loser. He chooses specific targets to publicly humiliate. He excludes people from the lunch table where their own friends sit, getting other kids to “vote out” someone who was once their friend, which they all do for fear of becoming the next target. His behavior is documented, but his parents take no responsibility, and the school needs more concrete evidence before they can suspend him. He faces no consequences, despite behavior that is hurtful, harmful and unacceptable.

In fact, that same year, he stands on the bimah and is welcomed with open arms as an adult in the Jewish community. His bullying is known to many, but he is given another title: Bar Mitzvah.

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In most congregations, to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah, there are many requirements to fulfill. A students must attend x number of services, master the prayers, learn Torah and haftarah portions, and write a speech about what he/she has learned during this process. We ask that students adhere to the guidelines that Judaism provides for living a moral and ethical life. But what about the children who go against what the Torah instructs us to do? If a student is a known bully, do we ignore that as long as his prayers are memorized and his speech pays lip service to kindness and being a good Jewish adult?

Judaism instructs us clearly that it is a sin to shame another person. Many Jewish children’s first lesson is the Golden Rule: love your neighbor as yourself.  And if you do something wrong, you HAVE to make it right. The Jewish system of teshuvah, repentance, provides explicit guidelines instructing us how to make right our wrongs.  The essential step of teshuvah is taking responsibility and saying sorry for your actions.

When someone converts to Judaism we conduct a Beit Din (mini jury) as part of the conversion ceremony, to determine if the candidate for conversion is ready and that her intentions are good ones. What would it look like if we had a similar vetting for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah student? What if our clergy and tutors interviewed and even convened a Beit Din with their B’nai Mitzvah students before they began working with them? What would that look like? Would it involve other children – the peers of the bully?

Perhaps part of Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation should be letters of recommendation, in which the recommenders needed to answer some pointed questions about the student’s behavior and character. These recommendations could come from teachers, peers, community members.  We could ask the Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidates to answer questions in an essay that describes their character and intentions.

Does it seem extreme? Consider this story.

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Recently, a high school coach from Utah suspended his entire football team because he caught wind that some of the players were involved in cyber-bullying. Those of us in the South know that you DON’T mess with football – but this coach did. His brave gesture was so against the norm that it made national news.  This coach made examples of his players, showing that being a good person is the main requirement for any life experience and if this requirement is not met, then additional experiences and privileges are taken away. The football players could earn back their spot on the team through participation in community service.

This act not only had a direct consequence on the players but also offered a public message to the students that had been mistreated that they mattered, and that people were there to help them.

If a coach can do it, why can’t a rabbi? Or a teacher? We’re the ones who have the chance to show all kids they matter, and maybe even through teshuvah and attention, turn a bully into a mensch. What a mitzvah that could be.

Do you think bullies should be allowed on the bimah? Should a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student’s treatment of others be considered?

Posted on November 6, 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

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