Kvell and Tell

Kvell and Tell

  • Kvell and Tell – February 10 2020 – NewGround: A Jewish-Muslim Partnership for Change

    NewGround: A Jewish-Muslim Partnership for Change
    by Myron Dembo

     Congregation Or Ami’s Center for Jewish Learning recently sponsored a program with NewGround: A Jewish-Muslim Partnership for Change. Founded in 2006, NewGround is creating a national model for healthy relations, productive engagement and social change between American Muslims and Jews. The focus of the program is to learn to appreciate each other’s differences.

    One of their programs, Muslim and Jews Inspiring Change (MAJIC), gathers a select group of Jewish and Muslim teens who begin the year with a fall retreat and meet twice a month to learn about themselves and their peers and how organizations in their communities respond to major social issues. Their views are shaped by discussing different issues in pairs and small groups led by adult group facilitators, and working on educational and social projects throughout the year. Graduates of the program shared deep learning about embracing differences and transcending boundaries. 

    Many attendees entered Or Ami’s sanctuary prepared to listen to presentations about Jewish-Muslim relations. However, we were surprised when asked to pair up with a person we don’t know and to speak to each other about: An experience where you felt gratitude for something someone did for you. The ground rules were that we could not interrupt or respond to what our partner said. Our only responsibility was to listen. After two minutes, the other partner responded to the same question. A second topic was then introduced: Share an experience where you were impacted by someone with a different background from you. The purpose of these activities was to illustrate the program’s emphasis on teaching participants how to listen.

    One adult attendee was paired with a young girl from the MAJIC program who explained that she was raised in a Reform Jewish background. During one of her first MAJIC sharing sessions, she met another peer who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish environment. It was clear that they experienced Judaism differently. Initially, it was difficult for each to understand their different life experiences. However, after months of a learned listening process, they came to understand and respect their different ways of experiencing Judaism. The year-long dialogue between these students illustrated that not only Jews and Muslims need to learn to respect each other, but they also learn that there are many ways for Jews and Muslims to understand the differences within each of their own religions.

    The program’s co-director, Andrea Hodos, emphasized that learning how to listen is a key attribute when moving from a position of fearing differences to ultimately appreciating the benefits of differences. This deep process takes a great deal of practice, especially since researchers report that we remember only between 25% to 50% of what we hear. Listening is a skill that must be learned just like any other skill. Ms. Hodos showed a video of students commenting how their improved listening skills helped them to understand themselves and others with different religious and life experiences. The activities used in the program have important implications for developing programs dealing with conflict resolution, and appreciating cultural and religious differences.

    Visit the program’s website at mjnewground.org to learn more about their many activities.

  • Kvell and Tell – January 18 2020 – B’nei Mitzvah With Disabilities Find Their Way to the Bimah

    B’nei Mitzvah With Disabilities Find Their Way to the Bimah
    by Rahel Musleah
    (excerpted from Hadassah Magazine, to read full article CLICK HERE)

    …some synagogues and organizations have created inclusive programs. At Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Calif., another URJ exemplar congregation, children with disabilities are integrated with other children, echoing the trend in general education. “Everyone was present at Sinai, including people with special needs,” says Rabbi Paul Kipnes, 55, who runs the b’nei mitzvah program. “You come with the kid and we work with you. It’s so ‘non-special’ that I don’t even notice it anymore,” he adds, noting that he has taught a child with autism to sound the shofar and another who is deaf to sign his Torah portion. Adaptability and creativity are key, he says. However, experts emphasize that it is also essential that educators have the right training and tools available to ensure that all the children involved in an integrated classroom benefit—not just those with special needs.

    For his part, Kipnes held hands on the bimah with Jacob Gilbert, who has autism, sensory disorder, intellectual disabilities and social ineptness and needs touch pressure to calm his body. Jacob’s teacher held his arm and rubbed his back when he chanted Torah, haftarah and other prayers, and when Jacob sat down, he interlaced hands with the rabbi’s. It brought everyone to tears, says his mother, Heather Gilbert-Bakalor, 45, an early childhood educator.

    Jacob is now in the synagogue’s youth group. “His bar mitzvah was the shining moment of his life,” his mother says. “It opened up his potential. He knows what he’s capable of now.” 

    CLICK HERE to read the full article

  • Kvell and Tell – November 18 2019 – L’dor Vador

    In a speech at Hebrew Union-College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Or Ami congregant Seth Front kvells about the positive impact that Congregation Or Ami interns and rabbis have had on his daughter Amanda:

    L’dor Vador
    by Seth Front

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the expression l’dor vador, from generation to generation, because this past August marked the 30th yarzheit of my father, Rabbi Henri Front (HUC ’55), in whose name we have a scholarship. And let me say, it is always an honor and privilege to be here again at the Hebrew Union College, an institution that was so beloved by my father.

    I’ve been asked today to address the donors, to somehow explain the importance of these scholarships. And the only way I can do that is through the story of my daughter Amanda, who is 19 years old, born long after my father passed away.

    Amanda was a theater geek growing up, spending every free moment in productions of one sort or another. Getting her to study for her Bat Mitzvah was difficult, more of an obligation to her parents than anything else, yet I still cried uncontrollably during the service, much to the surprise of my wife Amy, who had never seen me so emotional. 

    I was crying because “l’dor vador” had fully hit me: with neither of my parents alive to witness this rite of passage, I truly felt like the elder statesman in the family. 

    We belong to Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, and after her Bat Mitzvah, with Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ and Rabbi Julie Weisz’s encouragement, Amanda went to Camp Newman for the first time, a place she’d return to every summer after, going from camper to CIT and now counselor. It’s where she’d meet HUC student and Or Ami rabbinic intern, Julie Bressler.

    Amanda would immerse herself in Judaism during the summer because during the school year, with rehearsals every day and twice on weekends, she rarely had time for religious school or youth group. So I was surprised when, at the start of her senior year, she asked to join the confirmation class.

    I tried to persuade her against it because I didn’t want her to make a commitment she couldn’t keep, but she shot me down immediately.

    “Are you denying your only child a Jewish education?” 

    I told you she had a flair for the dramatic.

    So she went to confirmation, where she and the other students met with Rabbi Paul or Rabbi Julia every few weeks at a local restaurant to discuss Jewish values and ethics, but more importantly, to struggle with defining Judaism for themselves while getting to know their clergy in a way most of us never would have imagined a generation earlier.

    The year ended with a Confirmation Shabbat Service, and I promised my wife I wouldn’t cry this time. At the service, each of the confirmands spoke about one experience that informed their Judaism. When Amanda got to the bimah and began speaking, with a poise and warmth that enveloped everyone in the sanctuary, well, I broke down crying.

    “Again?” my wife said.

    “Amanda’s up there channeling my father.”  

    Now we were both crying.

    That night, I saw Amanda take ownership of her Judaism.  How did that happen? How did her Judaism blossom so beautifully?

    It happened because of the virtuous circle the Reform movement has created, between the synagogues, the URJ camps, and most importantly, the Hebrew Union College, which feeds them both. It happens because of the influence of rabbinic students like Julie Bressler, now a rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, Massachusetts, who helped develop my daughter’s leadership skills at Camp Newman; and Rabbi Julia Weisz, who nurtured my daughter in ways too numerous to mention at Congregation Or Ami. Both graduates of HUC Los Angeles. Both recipients of scholarships while here. 

    The next summer, when Amy and I visited Amanda at Camp Newman for Shabbat, she told us she was giving up theater to pursue a career in Jewish Youth Engagement. So a pending Gap Year spent working in regional theater became a year working at Or Ami, creating innovative programming for the Youth Group under Rabbi Julia’s tutelage, and forming a strong bond with yet another HUC student, Rabbinic Intern Elana Nemitoff, now a rabbi at Temple Israel of Westport, Connecticut.

    Another year has gone by, and my daughter is now a freshman at Oregon State University, where she just completed Sorority Rush. She told us that when the young women of the sororities asked her what she planned to do after college, she replied “I’m going to rabbinical school.” 

    It was Amanda’s not so subtle way of informing her parents as well.

    We didn’t push this on her. Sure, maybe she’s got some of my father’s genes – after all, they say it skips a generation – but just as significantly it’s because of the influence of three who have passed through these doors – Rabbi Julia Weisz, Rabbi Julie Bressler, and Rabbi Elana Nemitoff-Bresler – first mentors, then friends, and maybe one day colleagues, who, along with Rabbi Paul Kipnes, encouraged my daughter on her Jewish journey. 

    The Hebrew Union College made a video two years ago whose theme was “We Are There.” The Hebrew Union College was there, all along my daughter’s journey.

    To the donors here today, all I can say is what I know firsthand: your generous gifts don’t influence just one student; rather, they ripple – l’dor vador – from generation to generation. Kol hakavod.

  • Kvell and Tell – October 21 2019 – Men’s Night Out
    mens night out 2
    mens night out 1

    When we first created Men’s Night Out at Congregation Or Ami, we hoped that an occasional gathering of men would lead to friendships and meaningful conversations. Over the years, Men’s Night Out has succeeded in that and more. When the men from Jewish families gather at a congregant’s home, we schmooze (kibbitz or talk), eat a light but tasty meal, and connect over shared interests, work or just being men from Jewish families. Each gathering includes a deep conversation with Rabbi Paul Kipnes about engaging topics, including how to respond to antisemitism, being a father/son, how do we define success, creating civil conversations in a polarized world, and what does it mean to be a man today. Each gathering attracts men from age 28 to 88, which has provided fascinating connection that transcends age and generations.

    At the conclusion of Men’s Night Out, Rabbi Kipnes randomly divides the participants into troikas (groups of 3 men) who pledge to get together in the next month for breakfast, lunch, or a drink. These troikas have led to lasting friendships, new business connections, and deeper connections to the congregation. Head to orami.org/rsvp to find out about each future Men’s Night Out.

  • Kvell and Tell – September 15 2019 – Food Forward, The Story of a Truck
    Cong Or Ami - Truck Update 8-26-19
  • Kvell and Tell – August 28 2019 – Henaynu

    Henanyu – “We Are Here”

    When the Henaynu Caring Committee heard that Blake Green had his tonsils and adenoids removed, chair Susie Gruber sprung into action, delivering a card and a toy to keep him smiling as he recovered. When Susie received this note from Blake, then she too was smiling. If you or your loved ones experience illness, surgery or even a simcha (joyous moment), please let Or Ami and our rabbis know by calling the synagogue or emailing wecare@orami.org.

  • Kvell and Tell – June 16 2019 – Father Knows How. When Will I?

    Father Knows How. When Will I?

    My daughter’s texts woke me out of a deep sleep. I usually sleep through cell phone vibrations, but on some cosmic level my subconscious brain knew that she needed me. She needed guidance about how to handle the flat tire she got… on the other side of the country.

    So thumbs flying across the iPhone keyboard, I counseled her on contacting AAA, talking with her employer about being late to work, and calmly kept her company while she waited.

    Hours later she called to thank me, wondering when she would ever know how to do this kind of thing herself.

    Later that week, my middle son called, seeking my guidance on signing up for his company’s cafeteria plan. How much should I designate, he asked?

    So I advised him, as best I could, knowing full well that it was at best an educated guess. He wondered when he would know how to handle this all this all by himself.

    My third child had me reviewing a lease for a house a group of them were renting at college. We read through the lease and as best I could I pointed out the salient issues and counseled him on how to approach their landlord. I wondered, when did I become so comfortable advising others on such matters?

    My wife Michelle reminded me that many times in our relationship, when I was still in my twenties and thirties, I would call my father for advice.

    When I got that flat tire while the two of us went away together overnight. Worried about driving too long on the spare tire, I called him. My dad told me just how long I could go before getting a new tire.

    When Michelle and I were driving up the California coast during our first trip out west to meet her family. During Passover, we approached Anderson’s Pea Soup restaurant in Bulton and I couldn’t remember if we could eat peas during the holiday. My dad knew the answer: peas were kitniyot and therefore could not to be eaten during Passover.

    When I was leaving my first job, I could not imagine how we would ever make it through. My dad told me about his first significant job loss, and how, afraid for their future, he nevertheless marshaled his courage and developed a new plan.

    I realize now that at crucial moments in my life when I needed to figure out how to do something, my dad always seemed to know. Just like he knew how to make a pinewood derby racing car, fill out college scholarship forms, and cash U.S. savings bonds. Just like, until very recently, he was the one to call when one of the kids needed to fill out a W-4 tax form.

    I am now in my early fifties and my dad recently celebrated his 83rd birthday. I always wondered how he gained all that wisdom and I wondered if I would ever gain that depth of wisdom to be able to help my children when they needed to navigate their lives. I suppose that like me, when he needed to know, he just somehow figured it out or knew who to ask for the insight.

    Now, when my kids ask when will they know how to do this “all by themselves,” I tell them: you will know how to do all this when you have to. It may not be until you have kids of your own who call you for guidance. At that point, you wil listen to the issue, try to figure out what needs to be done, decide who can help you think it through, and – like me right now – do your best.

    If all else fails, do what I sometimes still do: just try to imagine what your own dad would.

    -Rabbi Paul Kipnes, June 16 2019