Friday, March 29, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- Shemini and Kashrut

In this week's parsha, Shemini, the people receive the laws of kashrut. What is outlined in the Torah is fairly simple; what's evolved out of those simple rules over the past two millennia is a little more complex. There are now hundreds (if not thousands) or rules for food preparation and food consumption (though none require "blessed by the rabbi," a common misconception). But I have found that the laws of kashrut can actually be summed up quite succinctly.

1) There are animals we don't eat.
2) The animals we do eat must be slaughtered in a way that causes them the least amount of pain and suffering and demonstrates our respect and gratitude for their sacrifice.
3) We do not mix meat (the food of death) with milk (the food of life).

I know it's not always easy (or convenient) to find kosher treats to send to school for birthday celebrations. Therefore I'm happy to announce that there's a new kosher bakery in town! Pastries by Randolph in Arlington is a kosher bakery with all kinds of delicious cakes, cookies, and pastries, some of which can be made to order. Please consider giving them a call the next time you're looking for something special. They were one of our sponsors for the B'nai Mitzvah celebration (they provided the rye bread and macaroons).

B'tayavon! (Good eating!)

Related image
Widely used kosher symbols, or heckshers.
If you find these symbols on the package, the food is kosher!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Purim's Big Idea

Originally published March 10, 2017

The celebration of Purim seems to have been designed with young children in mind: cookies, costumes, parades, carnivals, goody bags, songs, and silliness. Yet, the story of Purim itself is decidedly child un-friendly. We read about gluttony, greed, misogyny, xenophobia, and attempted genocide. And don't forget the execution at the end. So what should we focus on when teaching this story to our children?

Image result for purimI used to ask my fourth and fifth graders to identify the 'big idea' in a story, and I used to think the 'big idea' in Megillat Esther is that one person really can make a difference. But this year I see a new 'big idea.'
King Achashverosh was willing to follow the suggestion of his evil adviser Haman and kill all the Jews in Persia, until he learned that his beloved wife was Jewish.  In that moment, the Jews in his kingdom became less amorphous; they became real people. At least one Jew in his kingdom had a face, a mind, a personality. If Esther, a Jew, was a real person, then all the other nameless, faceless Jews must be real people, too, none of whom deserved to die because ONE Jew had refused to bow down to Haman.

In today's world, where increasingly it seems as if different groups, for different reasons, are trying to identify an 'us' and a 'them,' and to pit 'us' against 'them,' I think it's important to remember who 'them' are. They are all Esthers.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Good Deeds Day in Our Area

Originally published on March 9, 2018

Good deeds dayIn this week's parshaPekudei, the Israelites are commanded to build the Mishkan, or portable sanctuary. They donate such quantities of precious metals, precious stones, fabrics, animal skins, wood, herbs, and oils that Moses has to tell them to "stop doing work for the offering of the Holy." The people are described as "wise hearted" and "generous hearted." They are people whose "hearts uplifted and inspired" them. Such was their desire to contribute to the building of a sacred space that they gave more than what was strictly needed.

What a good problem to have. And what a valuable lesson to impart. We can give for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes we give because we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether we're donating resources or our time, giving provides us with the opportunity to build stronger connections with our community. Working together to do good brings us together in more ways the one.

Click here to learn more about Good Deeds Day, a day dedicated to giving and participating across the world, and how you and your family can give to your community. Agudas Achim Congregation will be participating; stay tuned for more information!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Remarks Given at Preschool's B'nai Mitzvah Celebration

Welcome to Agudas Achim Preschool’s thirteenth anniversary celebration! Some of you are here because your children attend our preschool, or they did a few years ago. Many of you are here simply because you believe in our mission and support us.

Some of you are here because you heard we were serving deli, or because you thought the idea of a mitzvah DJ party without all the teenagers sounded like a brilliant idea. Whatever your reason, thank you for being here tonight.

So, what’s it mean that Agudas Achim Preschool is entering its adolescent phase?

Most people probably don’t remember their teen years fondly. In so many ways, it really was the toughest, most confusing time in our lives. It was a time that came with so many changes, so many doubts. But what we might have forgotten is that it was also a time that came with so many possibilities.

Our adolescence was the first time in our lives when we realized what we were capable of. When we discovered our passions. When we realized that the path ahead was full of limitless opportunities. When we first began to figure out just who and what we wanted to be when we grew up.

So, for the preschool, our adolescence will mean finding new ways to grow and learn as a community. We’ll find new ways to challenge ourselves, all the while striving to be the best preschool we can be, to serve the children in our synagogue community and the children in our neighborhood the best way we know how: with joy and laughter, patience and gratitude, passion and creativity, and with the knowledge that we are all created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. It is our purpose and our privilege to respect and nuture the divine spark in each and every child who walks through our doors every single day.

There are scores of people to thank for the past thirteen years. I’m going to forget someone, and for that I apologize.

First, Elliot Stein, of blessed memory: Your early financial commitment to the preschool was a testament to your belief, a belief based on your life experience, that it is our responsibility as a community to nurture and educate the next generation of Jewish children as well as build strong and lasting relationships with our neighbors.

Jack Moline, Bob Myers, David Sattler, of blessed memory, and so many other truly dedicated moms and dads: This, all of this, was your idea. Thank you.

Barbara Fiedler: You stepped up, more than once, when the preschool needed a steady hand. The preschool simply could not have survived without you.

Mirza Lopez: You never once wavered in your commitment to the preschool and you always, always made it a priority in our community.

Bob, Beth Robbins, Neal Kramer, and others: I’m not sure whose idea the playground was, but I do know it could not have been built without your vision, dedication, and hard work.

To all the directors who preceded me, Galeet Westreich, Barbara, Sue Finger, Sue Keitelman, and Debbie Howard: Your commitment to early childhood education and to this job in particular is evident in ways that cannot be measured.

On a personal note, to the professional staff I’ve had the privilege of working with, Steven Rein, Elisheva Dienstfrey, Chaya Silver, Miri Bernovsky, and Barry Nove: Your counsel, your understanding, and your friendship has sustained me in more ways than you know.

To the synagogue staff who regularly put in more hours every week that most everyone realizes, Jack and Diana and Cheryl in the kitchen, Kat and Erica and Marya in the office, Elmer and Pat and KB everywhere else in the building: In ways large and small, you make it so we can open every single day.

To every member of the congregation, preschool VP and board president and board member: Thank you for believing in our mission and for supporting us in our endeavors.

To every preschool parent volunteer: The countless hours you have dedicated to this preschool are evident in every classroom and in the faces of every child.

To anyone who has ever donated any money to the preschool ever: Thank you. Just thank you.

To every teacher: The best teachers make the best schools. We wouldn’t be where we are today without each of you and the love you bring to your job.

To all of our families: Thank you for sharing your most precious gifts with us each and every day. We are humbled by the trust you place in us.
And to all of the preschool’s children: This is all for you.

Finally, there are scores of people to thank for this evening as well.

To my friends at Gesher, the only Jewish day school in Northern Virginia: I can’t thank you enough for being here. I’m looking forward to celebrating with you at your 36th anniversary celebration in just a few weeks.

To all of our event sponsors, Pastries by Randolph, Everything Entertainment, and Clay-smile Entertainment: We so appreciate your support and generosity, and your connection to our community.

To the dozens and dozens of raffle donors: Your generosity has been overwhelming. Please note that every single raffle item in our truly amazing raffle has been donated. I know I’m excited for the drawings at 9 pm because I can’t wait to see who wins!

Finally, there are no words to express my deepest thanks to Stefanie Byrne, parent volunteer and event planner extraordinaire. No one but your husband Paul and I will ever truly know the hours you put into this event, as well as the hours you put into the Fall Festival back in November. To say you’ve gone above and beyond is a bit of an understatement. Please join me in giving Stefanie a round of applause, since she won’t let me honor her any other way. And, help me in wishing Stefanie and Paul a Happy 11th Anniversary, which is today!

One last thing: as with any milestone celebration, it’s appropriate to express gratitude for the milestone itself. There’s a Jewish blessing that means, “Thank you, God, who has granted us life, who has sustained us, and who has enabled us to reach this moment in time.” Please join me if you can: Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.

Thank you!

Outdoor Magic

Early childhood educators have long known the   benefits of outdoor play . To name but a few, outdoor play improves physical and mental heal...